31 December 2008

Barbara Guest

[from Barbara Guest's The Red Gaze, Wesleyan, 2005]

Freed Color

The branches are placed in a wet cloth,
clover reaches out.

They cannot locate a blue vine.
Purple fills the agenda. Red is on the plant,
the setting of a hibiscus tree.
They are warned not to linger in the purple shade.

Are these bitter colors? Are they accompanied
by rhyme to cheer them when they cross
into that land where color is rare?

They hasten to make use of freed color
who bends to no one,
who dwells in a tent like rhythm
continuously rolled.

To stop the riot of color, to hasten the quiet paucity of rhythm,
to sleep when it is time.

And doors open into a narrow surprise.
The jingle of crystal follows you everywhere,
even into the whistling corridor.

The Red Gaze (Wesleyan Poetry)

30 December 2008

Mark Haddon

[from The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, Mark Haddon, Vintage, 2006]


Horace Odes I:4

Spring and warm winds unlock the fist of winter.
Winches haul dry hulls down the beach.
The ploughman and his animals
no longer love the stable and the fire.
The frost no longer paints the fields white.

The moon is overhead. Cytherean Venus
dances with her girls. The Graces
and the spirits of the trees and rivers
stamp the earth while flaming Vulcan
tours the massive thunder-forges of the Cyclops.

It's time to decorate your oiled hair
with green myrtle or with flowers growing
from the soft earth. It's time to find a shady spot
and sacrifice a young goat to the woodland god.
Or kill a lamb if that is what he wants.

Death's sickly face appears at the doors
of shacks and palaces. Rich Sestius,
this short life makes a joke of long hopes.
Pluto's shadow hall, those ghosts
you read about in stories, and that final night

will soon be snapping at your heels.
And then you won't be throwing knuckle-bones
to win the job of drinking-master,
or ogling pretty Lycidas, who'll drive men wild
until he's big enough for girls.

The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea: Poems

29 December 2008

Sandra McPherson

[from Sandra McPherson's A Visit to Civilization, Wesleyan, 2002]

Toy Soldier
          circa 1930

With the ethereal radio man,
his spinning wheel of fine wire,
and with the disheveled wounded,
who are legion, child, you play,
but your favorite is the warrior
whose hand is raised to smite
this gong with whatever
that musical utensil is called,
that weapon against gongs
that makes metal suffer
great shudders of urgent tone.
They swamp the jittery lull.
And see: As it would not be
in the symphony, the instrument
is shingled "Gas Alarm."

And when, child, you make
believe, the small gong swinging
in the current of your breath,
you imagine the performance,
whole round quavers ebbing,
and you know you should
envision the strangling mist.
But why, when you're safe?
The soldier hasn't struck it yet.
His mask's filtering eyes
match battered tin camp cups,
let him search the mud-green
blasted battle map, sigh in
no toxin. Toxin, tocsin,
you play with the names.

He is no toy Tchaikovsky,
but a child cannot know that yet.
The instant the alarmist's
duty becomes music,
it re-composes the world.
Except it save someone,
a whole symphony's
worth of men,
it sings without the slightest
resonance of the sublime.
Is there no sorrow with a toy?
Eventually there is,
but it may take year upon year
to reach that threshold
when the child amused
into manhood will volunteer.

A Visit to Civilization (Wesleyan Poetry)

28 December 2008

Mark Strand

[from Mark Strand's Blizzard of One, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998]

A Suite of Appearances
(part III)

How it comes forward, and deposits itself like wind
In the ear which hears only the humming at first, the first
Suggestion of what is to come, how it grows out of itself,

Out of the humming because if it didn't it would die
In the graveyard of sound without being known, and then
Nothing would happen for days or weeks until something like it

Came back, a sound announcing itself as your own, a voice
That is yours, bending under the weight of desire,
Suddenly turning your language into a field unfolding

And all the while the humming can still be detected, the original
Humming before it was yours, and you lie back and hear it,
Surprised that what you are saying was something you meant,

And you think that perhaps you are not who you thought, that henceforth
Any idea of yourself must include a body surrounding a song.

Blizzard of One: Poems

25 December 2008

Miguel Angel Asturias

[from Miguel Angel Asturias's Strong Wind, tr. Gregory Rabassa, Delacorte, 1968]

They became desperate as they faced the sea. Their quadrilateral lives were broken against the infinite curve of the horizon. They felt uncomfortable outside the quadrilateral of their daily lives, living in houses which were long dovecotes raised on stilts. Up above they slept, their rooms and their extended comforts. Below, basins to wash the sweat from their clothes, because what most passed through those washbasins was the sweat of a man, of a working beast. Below too, the kitchens, and the hammocks where they spent most of their lives. And the houses matched the shape of the farms where they worked, quadrilaterals which stretched out one after the other. Their horizon was formed by those green parallelograms covered with banana trees in geometric rows set at equal distances, and the houses in the so-called yards were wooden oblongs, dovecotes that were longer than they were wide. Outside and inside their houses they lived within the same geometric figure, harmless at first, but hostile and disturbing afterward. The sea, therefore, made them desperate. Their eyes followed a line that was different from that of the quadrilaterals in which they spent their monotonous lives, a geometric monotony that was nullifying them, always between boards, sometimes between the boards of a coffin, a quadrilateral that was also longer than it was wide, and boards too with the bills they owed the storekeeper, with nothing ever left over from what they earned with their work.

. . .

The Shaman dissolved him, picked him up with the tips of his fingers, as the trembling of his breathing blended with the small moans of a little old man and took him to the cave of bats, of bats made desperate by lice and the heat, unable to fly because they were asleep. Those wind bats who keep the wind rolled up in cobwebs in the web of their wings, and which they release once every hundred years, if the Shaman does not let it be released before. The hungry lice grew fat-bellied with blood as he passed through there, buzzing like a malaria mosquito, and from their eyes there emerged circles of sliced onion, circles and circles and circles, as if a stone had been thrown into each eye. His forehead was like a toasted leather headband. The hand of the Medicine Man drew the sticky sweat off his hair so that it would not fall into his senses, which he had daubed with a compost made of mint leaves.


24 December 2008

Martha Ronk

[from Martha Ronk's Vertigo, Coffee House Press, 2007]

"I keep looking in the windows when I walk by"

When she crosses under the Gulf sign with her folded umbrella
        in the bright sun.
When she sees the limp hair of the swimmer.
When she holds her limp umbrella next to the limp dress.
Others have their morning routines, cayenne pepper in green tea,
a walk from hither to yon, repeated rituals of ruin
as if we mourn our own demise daily in the thick of it.
A book with photographs of crumbling columns,
stone facades broken into phantom bits,
an entire day given over to dust and shaking out the rain
from the spines of the umbrella, from the torn parka she put
        in the play.
I keep looking in the windows when I walk by hoping to see how
        to do it.
If I see the body I was looking for it is almost always mine.

Vertigo (National Poetry Series Books)

23 December 2008

William Blake

[from William Blake's Milton: Book the First, 1804]

The Mundane Shell, is a vast Concave Earth: an immense
Hardend shadow of all things upon our Vegetated Earth
Enlarg'd into dimension & deform'd into indefinite space,
In Twenty-Seven Heavens and all their Hells; with Chaos
And Ancient Night; & Purgatory. It is a cavernous Earth
Of labyrinthine intricacy, twenty-seven folds of opakeness
And finishes where the lark mounts; here Milton journeyed
In that Region calld Midian, among the Rocks of Horeb
For travellers from Eternity. pass outward to Satans seat,
But travellers to Eternity. pass inward to Golgonooza.

Los the Vehicular terror beheld him, & divine Enitharmon
Call'd all her daughters, Saying. Surely to unloose my bond
Is this Man come! Satan shall be unloosd upon Albion

Los heard in terror Enitharmons words: in fibrous strength
His limbs shot forth like roots of trees against the forward path
Of Milton's journey. Urizen beheld the immortal Man

And Tharmas Demon of the Waters, & Orc, who is Luvah

The Shadowy Female seeing Milton, howl'd in her lamentation
Over the Deeps. outstretching her Twenty seven Heavens over Albion

And thus the Shadowy Female howls in articulate howlings

I will lament over Milton in the lamentations of the afflicted
My Garments shall be woven of sighs & heart broken lamentations
The misery of unhappy Families shall be drawn out into its border
Wrought with the needle of dire sufferings poverty pain & woe
Along the rocky Island & thence throughout the whole Earth
There shall be the sick Father & his starving Family! there
The prisoner in the stone Dungeon & the Slave at the Mill
I will have Writings written all over it in Human Words
That every Infant that is born upon the Earth shall read
And get by rote as a hard task of a life of sixty years
I will have Kings inwoven upon it, & Councellors & Mighty Men
The Famine shall clasp it together with buckles & Clasps
And the Pestilence shall be its fringe & the War its girdle
To divide into Rahab & Tirzah that Milton may come to our tents
For I will put on the Human Form & take the Image of God
Even Pity & Humanity but my Clothing shall be Cruelty
And I will put on Holiness as a breastplate & as a helmet
And all my ornaments shall be of the gold of broken hearts
And the precious stones of anxiety & care & desperation & death
And repentance for sin & sorrow & punishment & fear
To defend me from thy terrors O Orc! my only beloved!

18 December 2008

Walter Murch

[from Michael Ondaatje's The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002]

I formulated this idea during The Conversation -- probably because we wound up taking so much away. It went from almost five hours to less than two.

As I began to eliminate things, I would have the feeling that I couldn't remove a certain scene, because it so clearly expressed what we were after. But after hesitating, I'd cut it anyway . . . forced to because of the length of the film. Then I'd have this paradoxical feeling that by taking away something I now had even more of it. It was almost biblical in its idea of abundance. How can you take away something and wind up with more of it?

The analogy I came up with was the image of a room illuminated by a bare blue lightbulb. Let's say the intention is to have "blueness" in this room, so when you walk in you see a bulb casting a blue light. And you think, This is the source of the blue, the source of all blueness. On the other hand, the lightbulb is so intense, so unshaded, that you squint. It's a harsh light. It's blue, but it's so much what it is that you have to shield yourself from it.

There are frequently scenes that are the metaphorical equivalent of that bulb. The scene is making the point so directly that you have to mentally squint. And when you think, What would happen if we got rid of that blue lightbulb, you wonder. But then were will the blue come from? Let's take it out and see. That's always the key: Let's just take it out and find out what happens.

So you unscrew the lightbulb . . . there are other sources of light in the room. And once that glaring source of light is gone, your eyes open up. The wonderful thing about vision is that when something is too intense, your irises close down to protect against it -- as when you look at the sun. But when there is less light, your eye opens up and makes more of the light that is there.

So now that the blue light is gone and the light is more even you begin to see things that are authentically blue on their own account. Whereas before, you attributed their blueness to the bulb. And the blue that remains interacts with other colours in more interesting ways rather than just being an intense blue tonality.

That's probably as far as you can go with the analogy, but it happens often in film. You wind up taking out the very thing that you thought was the sole source of an idea. And when you take it out, you see that not only is the idea still present, it's more organically related to everything else.

In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, the one thing that is never talked about is the reason, the real reason, that Raskolnikov killed the landlady. If Dostoevsky actually explained why he killed her, everything else would be minimized and it would not be as interesting and complex. It reminds me of something my father said when people spoke about his paintings. He related it to a comment Wallace Stevens made: that the poem is not about anything at all, the poem is what it is. It's not there to illustrate a point.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

15 December 2008

A. E. Stallings

[from Asheville Poetry Review, issue 18 volume 15 no. 1, 2008]

Garden Findings

I found beneath the tangled stems and furls
Of peppermint, a string of seven pearls,

Perfect and translucent, white as milk,
Connected by a strand like spider silk,

Eggs of a kind -- resilient to the touch --
And wondered what had left this gleaming clutch

Here on the brink of warmth, with August done.
I thought of lizards dazzled in the sun

Or brilliantly enameled snakes, and since
The autumn was already dropping hints,

I took them in, and kept them moist and warm,
And peered inside to see the future form

Cloudy in those crystal balls. The catch
Was when I watched the brood begin to hatch --

Two probing horns, then with a sort of shrug
Out silvered the liquescence of a slug,

Devourer I had fought all summer long --
And everything I'd cherished had been wrong.

Subscribe to Asheville Poetry Review.

C. D. Wright

[from C. D. Wright's Rising, Falling, Hovering, Copper Canyon, 2008]

But the son and call-him-Al actually did get back and make it to class on
Está comiendo mi coco she phoned the friend
who had picked him up at the station
who had never heard the expression she was so pleased with herself for using
from a dated phrase      This phrase is never used in Mexico her friend assured
                                                                            He is still eating my head

If you give your fears a shape      her friend suggested
you break free of them      This was before the bad diagnosis
After she is assured he is back      from the sea
she concedes      He is going to be OK      He'll make his way
Recalls a woman she met at the women's prison      the literacy teacher
(not an inmate) who had several ex-husbands under her belt
and had one son (not by the federal judge) (that husband didn't hunt)
but by the one who sold indigenous rugs      the son from that marriage
A very fastidious boy      always in the shower always changing
from one white shirt into another      she worried about him
she came in the house one day and smelled squirrel
He swerved he said but still hit it      he thought it would be a pity
to leave in the road      so he brought it home      skinned and rubbed
its still soft body down with oil and rosemary      stuck it in the broiler

He'll be OK      she thought      this fastidious son      He'll make his way

During the time she knew he was on a bus      without a wallet      she knew
     this much
because he left a message on her machine      hurtling as Mexican buses tend
     to go
she could only say      Está comiendo mi coco      He is eating my head
                                                                                             He was gone

Rising, Falling, Hovering

13 December 2008

Fady Joudah

[from Fady Joudah's The Earth in the Attic, Yale, 2008]

Morning Ritual

Every morning, after the roosters
Crow back whatever prayers were passed
Down to them that dawn
From the keeper of their order up in heaven,

I drink my coffee
To the sound of squealing pigs
Being bled to death
In the market up the road -- the same market

Where I buy my fresh bread
For my peanut butter and jam. The pigs
Are bled through an armpit wound.
You can see it coming throughout the day before,

Hogs tied sideways to the backs of bicycles,
Tight as a spine, going as far as the border
Where the price is right. You will pass them
On the asphalt to the town I get

The peanut butter and jam from. They know
The bikeways out of nowhere
And suddnely they're alongside your jeep.
I lie: only goats are taken to the border.

The goats are bled differently,
And skinning is harmless after slaughter:
All you do is a vertical skin-slit
Between the shinbone and Achilles tendon,

Stick a thin metal rod
Through it, up the thigh, pull it out
Then blow, mouth to hole, mouth to hole,
Until your breath dehisces

Fascia and dermis, reaching the belly:
Your hands
Should even out the trapped air.
Between blowing and tapping

The animal is tight as a drum.
Now the knife that slit the throat.
Who knows
What you'll need skin for.

The Earth in the Attic (Yale Series of Younger Poets)

12 December 2008

White House response

On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your correspondence.

We appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.

Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House cannot respond to every message.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

11 December 2008

10 December 2008

Kelly Cherry

Read Kelly Cherry's essay, "Authority," in New Letters.

If you can obtain a copy of this issue, read Mary Jo Bang's splendid new 21st-century translation of the first five cantos of Dante's Inferno.

08 December 2008

David Micah Greenberg

[from David Micah Greenberg's Planned Solstice, University of Iowa, 2003]

Schoolyard with Boat

       "The child plays at being not only a shopkeeper
       or teacher but also a windmill and a train."
       -- Walter Bejamin, "On the Mimetic Faculty"

Our horizon thickened, dropped lower like grain.
There was no grain. And it was dawn again.

Waves darted out of the snow, turned to wind.
The snow waved as out a flawed window.

The wind made odd furrows through the field.
There was no time between lines.

Dawn and not, reflected presently.
Culled, the snow overturned and was now.

What when not, repeated the wind. Children
pulled in a blind row against it.

The resilience of children grows
with the instability of progress.

When bright snow sheared and dulled
I believe no matter. No note guards the gate.

* * *

Negation in retrospect, although not prospectively
culls in 'scape' the grating of canvas or progress.

Not words alone pleased me, said the flag
lines will not meet. The white cord chimes on the pole.

Not words alone the flag hangs, knowing
held back, as uncertainty means negation

struck down, the corrective open to learning
is sustainable in ignorance.

A gull a prospective self
billeting in the wind is resistance, in a mind

knowing resistance and measuring in it
progress, self-iterative spanning. The gull sweeps

belief. But what learns? Not what is to be learned. What learns --
when snow folds on threshing snow

when the lesson is valuable
gain will not cull in loss, snow is a thorn of it.

The snow on brick chalks and thins.
Red lines and white are drawn together.

Children brace by succeeding each other
in the wind, eyes shut to glare.

The gull sweeps and its shadow into snow
furls -- a steel share

as snow is in breathing motion like a bird
shaking snow from crest.

Miseducation risks correction within its own
frame. A crop

is a decision of field. Harbinger of space, white winter,
work with me while I live. When I do not, do not work.

Planned Solstice (Kuhl House Poets)

06 December 2008

Kay Ryan

[from Kay Ryan's The Niagara River, Grove Press, 2005]


People should be
open on top like a cup.
A piece of bread
should be able to sop
some of us up.
We should be milk-like
or like wine. We should
not have to be trying
to get our caps off all the time.
The storybook boy
attempts the simple gesture
of baring his head
for his emperor,
but another hat has appeared.
This happens over and over.
Who does not share
his despair of simplicity,
of acting clearly and with dignity?
And what pleasure can we find
in the caps, brightly feathered
and infinitely various,
that pile up so high they bury us?

The Niagara River: Poems (Grove Press Poetry)

02 December 2008

Olena Kalytiak Davis

Harriet is a great blog, and the most recent blogging crew, particularly Olena Kalytiak Davis, Forrest Gander, Javier Huerta, and Linh Dinh, have been stupendous. If nothing else, read Olena and Forrest's recent posts:

Olena: "i don't want to craft jewels or even jewel boxes anymore. and i have already tried showing/shown my tools. now i guess i really am again asking: why build?"

Forrest: "If our perceptual experience is mostly palimpsestic or endlessly juxtaposed and fragmented; if events rarely have discreet beginnings or endings but only layers, duration, and transitions; if natural processes are already altered by and responsive to human observation, how does poetry register the complex interdependency that draws us into a dialogue with the world?"

another good reason to publish online

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt halts acquisitions

01 December 2008

Robert Adamson

[from Robert Adamson's The Goldfinches of Baghdad, Flood Editions, 2006]

Walking by the River

He walked waist-deep
through his thoughts,
emotions, a tangle of vines
and tree-creepers.

His words were finches,
flying before him
as he swung his arms --
scrambled paragraphs.

A waterfall sounded
ahead of his walk,
chipped words cracked
with each step. He came to

a calm place, opulent phrases
in bloom: purple-fruited
pigface, the blackthorn's
blue-black sloe.

The Serpent

Twenty crows gathered on a branch,
bare in the early summer's heat.
We strung a bow from the willow tree

and used bamboo for arrows.
The afternoon thrummed with locusts.
Clouds at the end of the sky

were alive with thunder that shook
the corrugated iron. We were wet
with sweat -- it was a hundred degrees

that day. Granny said, hot as bloody Hades.
It was Christmas time -- the girls
were up for holidays -- and we were

playing under the verandah. The sun
spread a golden glow in the calm
before the gathering storm

as the first snake of the season
came slithering out of the fowl yard,
leaving us its red-checked skin.

The Goldfinches of Baghdad