28 April 2006

Sarah Lindsay

[from Sarah Lindsay's Mount Clutter]

Olduvai Gorge Thorn Tree

He kept dreaming of a tree, dreaming
of a tree, dreaming of a tree
and its sound like a hush,
and it seemed he could open
his mouth when he woke and make the others
know something they didn't already know,

his tree. But he woke and he couldn't.
He kept thinking of a tree. He made a tree
of his arms and called to the others,
but all he could say, all they could say,
was tree, not that one, no, not here,
tree. They were hungry, shrugged and went on.

Later a leopard dragged him some distance
and left him on the remains of his back,
his plucked face tilted up, and a seed
fell on the stub of his tongue
in his open mouth. Took root,
sent a finger between his teeth

that parted his jaws with its gradual thickness
and lifted its arms full of leaves that fed
on what was in his braincase
and mixed with the sky, and made
a sound in the wind that was
almost what he wanted.

27 April 2006

Alice Fulton

[from Alice Fulton's Cascade Experiment]

My Diamond Stud

He’ll be a former cat burglar
because I have baubles
to lose. I’ll know him
by the black
carnation he’s tossing:
heads, he takes me,
stems, the same. Yes,
he’ll be a hitchhiker at this
roller-rink I frequent, my diamond
stud who’ll wheel up shedding
sparks & say “Ecoutez
bé-bé. I’m a member
of a famous folded trapeze
act. My agility is legend, etc.”
keeping his jeweler’s eye on
my gold fillings. He’ll know
what I really want: whipping
me with flowers, his fingers’ grosgrain
sanded smooth, raw
to my every move. For our tryst
we’ll go to travel-folder heaven
& buff-puff each other’s
calluses in valentine tubs.
He’ll swindle the black heart
between my thighs
dress me up in ultra-
suede sheaths, himself
in naugahyde. No,
leather. He’d never
let anything touch him
that wasn’t once alive.

26 April 2006

Susan Stewart

[from Susan Stewart's Poetry and the Fate of the Senses]

because poetic voice is informed by, often indeed formed by, the imperatives of rhythm and repetition, its volition is problematic — more problematic than, say, the production of discursive sentences in prose such as these. We will see that this doubled movement in poetic production, toward mastery on the one hand and toward being mastered on the other, has made poetry suspect as a force against reason and valued as a means of ecstasis. . . . Tactility, manipulation, and externalization remain the “touchstones” or reality . . . and the wind as a force of possession the vehicle of transport and self-transformation. . . .

What do we mean when we speak of “voice” in poetry? To indulge in such creative writing workshop clichés as that of “the poet finding his or her own voice” is to substitute a reifying and mystifying version of subjectivity for what is in fact most profound and engaging about poetic voice — that is, the plays of transformation it evokes beyond the irreducibility of its own grain, its own potential for silence. The “object” of my love for your voice emerges in the relation between my history and the uniqueness of your existence, the particular timbre, tone, hesitations, and features of articulation by which all the voices subject to your own history have shaped your voice’s instrument. In listening, I am listening to the material history of your connection to all the dead and the living who have been impressed upon you. The voice, with the eyes, holds within itself the life of the self — it cannot be another’s.

25 April 2006

Laurie Sheck

[from The Willow Grove by Laurie Sheck]

The Stockroom

I watch the boy shoot up.
His head woozes back, eyes fluttering lightly
into what land, what dreamy repetition, separateness, deferment,
grainy black and white of this sleep that is not sleep?
He closes his eyes but I still watch. I am a child. I do not know
       who he is,

or how he’s wandered back
into the stockroom of this store. I am supposed to be up front
where it is light, helping to sell buttons, pencils, keys.
I am supposed to walk around in the safe glare,
the sharp-edged present tense.
But here in this dim room behind the aisles

the boy crawls slowly toward a wall
that used to be part of the bakery next door—brick ovens three
       feet deep
with rounded tops like quaint old-fashioned doorways,
crumbling now, and damp, his head swaying like a battered stalk.
He leans back into the oven-dark and shivers,
scratches his cheek with one hand and then the other;

he smooths his itchy skin, scaly, purplish-red.
What tense is it he drifts in? What tense in which memories rise up
disguised so they won’t stun, mixing with this musty air,
these towers of cardboard boxes held in the eerie sway
of so much want? What tense in which we sit,
the boy and I, and do not speak, the dark like a god

and our small bodies like errors
the god wants to take back again, out of his created world?
And what tense in which the musty dampness holds the ovens
like moldy unrocked cradles, eye-holes, graves,
and street-cries skip and flare above our listening, but they are
from back here, as if they could not touch us, yet still here?

The drawers of the cash registers clack open again and again
like solved equations, while the boy breathes so softly,
his hands clutched into fists now
as if trying to protect something hidden, keep it safe.
There is the dark of his closed hands, there is the oven-dark,
and then the larger stockroom dark. I think there is no tense for this—
how he rubs his palms into his eyes

then slides his bony shoulders and thin face toward the light
of the narrow doorway, the long aisles
just out of sight, and then turns slowly back.
Land of transactions, of tactics, sirens, cries—

it is what waits outside this dark and doesn’t want to know this dark.
Aisles of clocks, of kitchenware, venetian blinds.
He looks up from the dimness and damp brick, his eyes drifting
before me, into what abrogation, what refusal
of earthly terror, earthly place?

18 April 2006

Carol Peters

My friends and I have been writing prisoner's constraint poems. The poetic alphabet contains lower-case letters that have no ascenders or descenders. Mine from yesterday:

canoe winnow

         -- for Jilly Dybka: a prisoner's constraint

we earn
a worn savior
a warm mirror
a woman's reassurance

we seize
moon sneezes
maize over rice
men in mouse ears

we examine
voice over
vicious winners
verses as manumission

we mean
noise in vain
noxious suasion
names as services

we cause
air waves
iron creases
excess nerves

we vow
raw manure
race winners
reason over worms

we rouse
an inner sense
an asinine caress
an onion’s sorrow

we woo

16 April 2006

15 April 2006

Louise Labé via Annie Finch

[from The Body of Poetry by Annie Finch]

Sonnet 18: Kiss Me Again
by Louise Labé
translated by Annie Finch

Kiss me again, rekiss me, and then kiss
me again, with your richest, most succulent
kiss; then adore me with another kiss, meant
to steam out fourfold the very hottest hiss
from my love-hot coals. Do I hear you moaning? This
is my plan to soothe you: ten more kisses, sent
just for your pleasure. Then, both sweetly bent
on love, we'll enter joy through doubleness,
and we'll each have two loving lives to tend:
one in our single self, one in our friend.
I'll tell you something honest now, my Love:
it's very bad for me to live apart.
There's no way I can have a happy heart
without some place outside myself to move.

13 April 2006

Larry Levis

[from The Selected Levis by Larry Levis]


for Philip Levine

The cop holds me up like a fish;
he feels the huge bones
surrounding my eyes,
and he runs a thumb under them,

lifting my eyelids
as if they were
envelopes filled with the night.
Now he turns

my head back and forth, gently,
until I’m so tame and still
I could be a tiny plastic
skull left on the

dashboard of a junked car.
By now he’s so sure of me
he chews gum,
and drops his flashlight to his side;

he could be cleaning a trout
while the pines rise into the darkness,
though tonight trout
are freezing into bits of stars

under the ice. When he lets me go
I feel numb. I feel like
a fish burned by his touch, and turn
and slip into the cold

night rippling with neons,
and the razor blades
of the poor,
and the torn mouths on posters.

Once, I thought even through this
I could go quietly as a star
turning over and over
in the deep truce of its light.

Now, I must
go on repeating the last, filthy
words on the lips
of this shrunken head,

shining out of its death in the moon—
until trout surface
with their petrified, round eyes,
and the stars begin moving.

12 April 2006

James Meek

Thank you Jai Clare for pointing me at James Meek's novel, The People's Act of Love, long-listed for the 2005 Booker Prize. A fine read about imaginary real worlds: Siberia in the early years of the 20th century, a sect of castrates, a prison camp, cannibalism, the Czechoslovak Legion. A taste:

He touched one of the apprentices on the shoulder and the man got up and stood on a flat rock near the edge of the clearing. He stretched his arms out horizontally on either side and began to turn on one foot, quickly reacing such a speed that his body blurred, like a top, and he lost the appearance of a man. He looked to be of a lighter substance than the still world around him. I thought he might rise from the rock and begin to float up into the trees. A second apprentice walked over to him and, after some minutes spinning, the figure slowed, returned to its Earthly substance, and fell, sodden with sweat and with eyes closed, mumbling and smiling, into the arms of his fellow. . . .

At night when he couldn't sleep he'd kneel by my bed, put his hand under the blanket and stroke my ribs, running his fingertips in the troughs between them, rubbing the pit where my stomach'd been with the palm of his hand, kneading the hollow from hipbone to hipbone like a baker smearing dough. He said: "Do you want to know what I'm doing?" I said "No." He said: "I'm feeling for your heart." I lay still on my back and let him do it. I wanted to ask him for bread. I was afraid to. His fingers were rough and warm and down through the bones and flesh I could feel him shaking as he wept. Sometimes his tears fell on my face and I opened my mouth. He couldn't see in the darkness that I was drinking them. In the morning he'd take half my ration. . . .

11 April 2006

David Wojahn

[from Mystery Train by David Wojahn]

The Assassination of Robert Goulet as Performed by Elvis Presley:
Memphis 1968

                That jerk's got no heart.—E. P.

He dies vicariously on "Carol Burnett,"
Exploding to glass and tubes while singing "Camelot."

Arms outstretched, he dies Las Vegas-ed in a tux,
As the King, frenzied in his Graceland den, untucks

His .38 and pumps a bullet in the set.
(There are three on his wall, placed side by side.)

The room goes dark with the shot, but he gets the Boys
To change the fuses. By candlelight he toys

With his pearl-handled beauty. Lights back on,
But Goulet's vanished, replaced by downtown Saigon:

Satellite footage, the Tet offensive,
Bodies strewn along Ky's palace fences.

Above a boy whose head he's calmly blown apart,
An ARVN colonel smokes a cigarette.

Elvis Moving a Small Cloud: The Desert Near Las Vegas, 1976

                after the painting by Susan Baker

"Stop this motherfucking limo," says the King,
And the Caddie, halting, raises fins of dust
Into a landscape made of creosote,
Lizards, dismembered tires. The King's been reading

Again—Mind Over Matter: Yogic Texts
On Spiritual Renewal by Doctor Krishna
Majunukta, A Guide on How to Tap the
Boundless Mental Powers of the Ancients.

Bodyguards and hangers-on pile out.
His highness, shades off, scans the east horizon.
"Boys, today I'm gonna show you somethin'
You can tell your grandchildren about."

He aims a finger at Nevada's only cloud.
"Lo! Behold! Now watch that fucker move!"

10 April 2006

Paul Celan, Albert Camus

What stood by you
appears on every shore
mown down
into another image.

- Paul Celan
Glottal Stop
translated by Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh

A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

- Albert Camus

07 April 2006

Ann Deagon

[from There Is No Balm in Birmingham by Ann Deagon; originally published by David R. Godine, 1978; second edition by St. Andrews Press, 1997]

Customs of the Esquimaux Women

They do not stalk the caribou
tall-boned over hard white.
Kneeling fur-trousered low to
the bleak of ice they cut one
pure hole, prise up its flat moon.
In under sea the muscled seal
like dark pigs root for air.
One woman loosens furs, dips one
bare breast into the breathing hole:
its nipple spurts a thread of scent.
Seal veer and rise, their snouts
nudge, nuzzle, strike. The woman
screams, they grapple, tug the black
clenched beast on ice, hack off
its head, the woman's cry still coming hoarse,

             Nights in the igloo she crouches,
softens stiff skin between her teeth.
Beside her in a shallow stone
seal blubber flickers the whole night.

06 April 2006


[from Sound and Form in Modern Poetry by Harvey Gross]

Syntax, the order of words as they arrange themselves into patterns of meaning, is the analogue to harmony in music. Like harmony, syntax generates tension and relaxation, the feelings of expectation and fulfillment that make up the dynamics of poetic life. Suzanne Langer remarks:

The tension which music achieves through dissonance, and the reorientation in each new resolution to harmony, find their equivalents in the suspensions and periodic decisions of propositional sense in poetry. Literal sense, not euphony, is the “harmonic structure” of poetry; word melody in literature is more akin to tone color in music. (1)

Syntax gives us the arc of “literal sense,” the articulations of meaning. Like harmony in music, syntax makes connections, strengthens ideas, and relates thematic material. Eliot himself emphasizes that music in poetry does not inhere in word melody and tone color, but in the harmony of meanings and connections:

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that all poetry ought to be melodious, or that melody is more than one of the components of the music of words. . . . The music of a word is, so to speak, at a point of intersection: it arises from its relation first to the words immediately preceding and following it, and indefinitely to the rest of its context; and from another relation, that of its immediate meaning in that context to all the other meanings which it had in other contexts, to its greater or less wealth of association. (2)

The reverberation of words, their semantic resonances, are the shifting tones in the harmony of intersections and associations.

Eliot’s syntax carries the bass line of his prosody. Through a deliberate and idiosyncratic use of repeated grammar and repeated words, Eliot achieves qualities common to both music and poetry—the feelings of arrest and motion, of beginnings and endings, of striving and stillness.

(1) Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge, MA, 1942), p. 261.
(2) T. S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (New York, 1957), pp. 24-25.

Pattiann Rogers

[from Firekeeper by Pattiann Rogers]

The Family Is All There Is

Think of those old, enduring connections
found in all flesh—the channeling
wires and threads, vacuoles, granules,
plasma and pods, purple veins, ascending
boles and coral sapwood (sugar-
and light-filled), those common ligaments,
filaments, fibers and canals.

Seminal to all kin also is the open
mouth—in heart urchin and octopus belly,
in catfish, moonfish, forest lily,
and rugosa rose, in thirsty magpie,
wailing cat cub, barker, yodeler,
yawning coati.

And there is a pervasive clasping
common to the clan—the hard nails
of lichen and ivy sucker
on the church wall, the bean tendril
and the taproot, the bolted coupling
of crane flies, the hold of the shearwater
on its morning squid, guanine
to cytosine, adenine to thymine,
fingers around fingers, the grip
of the voice on presence, the grasp
of the self on place.

Remember the same hair on pygmy
dormouse and yellow-necked caterpillar,
covering red baboon, thistle seed
and willow herb? Remember the similar
snorts of warthog, walrus, male moose
and sumo wrestler? Remember the familiar
whinny and shimmer found in river birches,
bay mares and bullfrog tadpoles,
in children playing at shoulder tag
on a summer lawn?

The family—weavers, reachers, winders
and connivers, pumpers, runners, air
and bubble riders, rock-sitters, wave-gliders,
wire-wobblers, soothers, flagellators—all
brothers, sisters, all there is.

Name something else.

04 April 2006

Gerard Manley Hopkins

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.

I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, lét be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size

At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
’S not wrung, see you; unforseentimes rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

03 April 2006

Cole Swensen

[from Goest by Cole Swensen]

The Future of Sculpture (excerpt)
          Cy Twombly, Sculptures, National Gallery, Washington DC, 2001

The Future of Light

Give the box

back to the weal (the sun peeled) to a line, which is thin, to a dim
Give it back to him.
As the white brush brushes over you again you are counting time run
into the sun (until it equals)

                                                        Throw the sun into the box.
The box is painted white. By your own hand
the sun was hauled into view and proved to be
a pale thing off which the paint is flaking.

                          In Time the Wind Will Come and Destroy my Lemons
                          Rome 1987

Everything white is turning
into a white wall
                          And we . . .

Dave Smith

[from Little Boats, Unsalvaged by Dave Smith]

Most epithalamiums don't merit the ink, but here's an exception.

Oyster Beds

             On the marriage of Lael and Hunter Eley

Wicked, I called them, ridged shells soft-folded, tide-shifters,
clingers to white dull walls of homes I could never live in, so

I thought. Then slipped among the inner rooms of shells, heaps,
pier-holders, little joists, sepulchral cities of families, quiet’s

blizzards of tiny fish, too, feeling’s shapes, edge schools
that pump and nudge and woo the eye that falls upon them.

These seemed easy to understand, crowds of dreamers in blue.
But I had no taste for what dark gouged, slurped, raked, beds

of lumps like saltwater foam some god commanded to be flesh.
I knew what they were. One in summer light opened on me.

Where it lay in water’s bed, sunning, I walked, not warned.
Then the white of bone slipped out, my foot’s blood flowed,

teased stain of me large, mysterious, that left on us surrounding
touch like a first kiss. Mud shone as if torched that day. Skins

of sails cut the harbor to a room, bobbers left shoes, watches,
rings, near-naked in light, walking sand, knee-deep flirting it.

For you I’d gone forth. Now I heard old words: come on, heart,
give the thing your try, blest are willed-together ones, sweeter

opening, and chillest tides strike seed. I walked swallowing in
your uplifted loving face, by marsh and hill, lying nights alive,

rivulets of salt scaling us, life’s mouth wide. We knew it. Gulp,
you said, it’s good. We would eat, be whole together, then rise up.

02 April 2006

David Wojahn

[from Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982 - 2004
by David Wojahn]

Radnóti in a Trench Coat

The lyric will be worked to death, on a work detail.
Worked until it’s trochees & ellipses for the State.
Worked to its Natural State, which is a trench coat filled with entrails.
Its grave could fill a soccer stadium. (Now hit delete.)
70,000 punctuation marks, virgules & a singing corpse, fortunate
to sing inside a trench coat in the Balkan snow.
Inside the pockets of the trench coat (now hit
enter), words that speak Hungarian, aligned in rows
like galley-slave oars. Row Row Row your trireme
to Actium to burn & sink. The lyric works until it drowns.
(Press undo & the program crashes.) The lyric’s brain
accommodates the bullet unsuccessfully. It comes
out the forehead & is lodged inside a tree. (Now press
exit, now press close.) Now the shovel & the black earth.

Note: Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944), a victim of the Holocaust. His final poems were found in the pocket of his overcoat after his body had been exhumed from a mass grave.


Yes, I'm doing it, isn't everyone?

Barbara Presnell

[from Unravelings by Barbara Presnell]

What a Woman Will Give Birth To

Two years after her
so-called spell,
two years of carrying her belly like a brick
and waking up nights to voices in her head,
to the everyday feeling she was just not herself,
doctors reopened the wound.
In the closet of her sunset womb
they found a pair of rusted scissors,
one white glove, a feather from
a mockingbird, three small marbles
(one cat's eye), size 38 Washington
Dee Cee overalls, a handful of baby teeth,
the Vienna boys choir singing "Ave Maria,"
a 1905 buffalo nickel,
the one hundred and twenty-first psalm.
Not long after they cleaned her
out and closed her up,
the emptiness they left behind
killed her.

Yesterday in Asheboro, NC, I studied with Barbara Presnell in a poetry workshop sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society . Thank you Bette Burgess for organizing and participating, Kay Fetner for the almond-coconut cupcakes, and all the other poets who participated.