Cori A. Winrock’s first book, This Coalition of Bones, debuted from Kore Press in April. Her poems have appeared in (or are waiting in the wings of) Anti-, the Best New Poets anthology, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, From the Fishouse and elsewhere. She won the 2012 Summer Literary Seminars’ St. Petersburg Review Award and is a recipient of a Barbara Deming Individual Artist Grant. She just finished her third year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry at SUNY Geneseo. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their daughter Sallie.
(Photo by Lindsay Crandall)
Your first book, This Coalition of Bones, was published this year by Kore Press. What can you tell us about this collection’s themes and goals?
The book is split into four different sections that use various types of portraiture to investigate the mutable records of memory, the body, the archive of domestic spaces/relationships, and the self. There’s a mixture of fragment and form in my exploration of the internal versus the external as well embodied opposites: memory as a physical entity and anatomy as an emotion. The poems also focus on other kinds of transformation and transfiguration: iron-jaw artists, anatomical models, and magicians become part of the everyday while factories and suburban families are uncovered as curiosities. The manuscript was a finalist for a number of contests and Kore picked it up in its 2011 competition, so I have actually been in a liminal space waiting for the book to come out and simultaneously writing new poems. It’s thrilling to finally have it in floating around in the universe! As I head off to give my first readings for the book I’m having a sort of reconnection-celebration with the pieces—which feels like enacting some of the memory elements that the book confronts.
Something that I find particularly interesting in your work is a mixture of images from the natural world with images from domestic spaces. Often, this creates a stunning surreal effect, as in “Hospital Bed in Early December Woods”. How do these two realms, which some people might think of as disparate, converge in your mind, and what is the relationship between them in your work?
I have been interested in exploring what constitutes the borders of the internal versus the external for a while. In part this stems from a background in neuropsych that propelled me in my first collection to consider the anatomy of memory and the body as merging with landscape and relationships and domestic spaces. I only recently realized just how much I am compelled to both microscope and amplify the domestic (or internal) through a framework of the natural world (the external) and vice versa.
The initial concern of my more recent poems, the political/gendered/mythological representations of marriage roles, was dislocated quite a bit by the unexpected death of my mom. As my grieving unfolded in language, a lot of my lines started slow-transforming into explorations of contemporary elegy. In particular this has taken the shape of a kind of postmodern pastoral elegy—not so much focused on the more traditional idyllic life of the natural world in connection to death but on placing the domestic space in a pastoral stetting in order to mourn a loss in a more public way: to expose the private sufferer, to make mourning accessible in a literal sense: a kind of bereavement you could physically happen upon.
What I found so astonishing about grieving such an up-close loss was how I could find myself, fully and unbidden, returned to the particular theater of trauma at any given moment. I have done a lot of traveling and stayed in some fantastical, inspiring, and scary-beautiful places, but I can’t think of anywhere that is more of an un-believable panorama than the Emergency Room/ICU: people are either revived or not. If I hear an ambulance, or see one driving on the highway, scenes from the hospital and all that anxiety seem to grow up around me in a tangible way. There’s a kind of post-traumatic stress to an unexpected and bodily death. I could be anywhere and feel I was in the somatic and emotional space all over again: in the woods I am also in the ER; in my car, I am also inside the back of the ambulance in front of me; in the grocery store I’m in the waiting room. This feeling of an intense and intimate scene emerging in and around me mimics what it is for me to enter a poemscape—walking into a space where language and lyric infrastructure materialize around me. In mixing the domestic and the natural I want to generate the sensation of finding oneself in two seemingly disparate places at once in real time, in the body of the speaker and in the body of the poem. There’s a kind of fairytale quality to trauma I’d like to capture—how it recurs and revolves and repeats with slight variation. The bone house, how it cathedrals in our grief and keeps it from rattling about at others. But I’d like those skeletons to be allowed out.
Sometimes poetic devices like surreal imagery and stacked metaphors allow for a certain degree of tonal distance, yet many of your poems use these devices while also employing first person pronouns and direct addresses to an intimate “you.” How do you think the confessional mode is complicated by lyricism, fragmentation, and surreal imagery? Is the distinction between a confessional or autobiographical “I” and a lyric “I” important for your work?
I’m intrigued by the act of trying out a craft technique that is historically associated with one outcome to see if I can create an altered outcome. I think a continuous alchemy of image can also be used as a way of creating emotional intimacy—of getting at the speaker’s internal state in a tangible/externalized way. As an image shifts and shifts again, it is possible to appreciate more and more of how a speaker identifies or reacts to the both the internal and the external landscape. In my first collection, this move aims to capture a self or a relationship at a particular transformative moment in memory or body—a kind of flashpoint. In my current poems I have been exploring how stacking metaphors and fragmentation can create a sense of intimacy truer to understanding a geometry of loss.
The elegies I’m writing are personal and connected to my own experience of anguish, but there needs to be something more at stake—my speakers still need to startle/surprise me (and the audience) with their decisions and actions. If I felt super wed to the autobiographical-confessional mode I would miss out on what it is to write into the unknown—to find myself wondering if my speaker can actually undress the body of a loved one who is not her lover. As a non-autobiographical self, the poem’s speaker is free to do what I, or others, may not or could not do. So I’d say the poems are pushing for a kind of hybrid confessional-lyric. I’m attracted to the illumination or exposure of the private sufferer without relying strictly on the factual. I crave something beyond an approached emotional proximity—I want the audience to be entangled, to be both the speaker and the body of the dead, the vessel toward which the speaker is grieving. Choosing a direct “you” also allows me to implicate the audience—to see themselves as the deceased, not just to relate to the living speaker: to blur the boundaries of who is the survived and who is the dead. I want the “you” I am addressing to be the person I am elegizing and also not—even though it means that I must over and over find her dead. There’s a sort of acceptance and denial in choosing this kind of address. To be surprised again that someone is gone.
I am also thinking of elegy in the traditional sense, as a song of lament—one that, as in ancient Greece, was antiphonal—could touch on the personal (via the lead singer) as well as on the communal response (via the chorus and the community itself). Often, when someone was asked to compose a song of lament, it would not be sung until the next death occurred—so the elegy read was actually meant for another. This forwarding of the personal appeals to me. I want to be able to play all the roles, I guess. And for the audience to as well.
Who are some of your literary influences, and what are you currently reading?
Part of my interest in dissecting the confessional and lyric “I” as well as using the continuously alchemized metaphor comes from being a Plath scholar. I taught a major authors course on her last year and spent a lot of time pressing against the view that Plath is confessional—I just don’t agree that she is in the classic sense. While her speakers at times seem intimately confessional I don’t think they represent a singular, or autobiographical-authorial self.
As I talked about a bit already, I think contemporary poetry has a real space for doing wild things with the form of the elegy. I’m currently compulsive-researching and absorbing anything I can connect to this exploration—from the more traditional Greek elegiac couplet to John Donne to Emily Dickinson to contemporary influences such as Aracelis Girmay, Tracy K. Smith, Anne Carson, Anna Journey, Corey Van Landingham, Rebecca Lindenberg, and Eleni Sikélianòs. I’m also reading mouthfuls of pastorals and postmodern pastorals—the contemporary apocalyptic landscape in these appeals to me, having grown up watching the aftermath of industrial railroad/canal towns in upstate New York as they went to seed: blocks of only bars and churches make for their own kind of sorrow.
My craft and elegy obsessions are currently crossing streams as a series of poems structured around Francesca Woodman’s photographs, specifically her notebook Some Disordered Interior Geometries. I see her take on the self-portrait as less about confessing something personal so much as using her body to stage something, allowing for an estrangement from her self. In her photographs she also uses a shared vocabulary of props that had already been cropping up in my poems—gloves and mirrors and various heirlooms—as amassed metaphors. Finding her work a few years ago felt like finding a visual version of the poems I wanted to be writing.
To be true to this hot second, here’s what is stacked on my office floor: the latest issue of Gulf Coast, Frances Justine Post’s Beast, Cole Swensen’s Gravesend, Bahnu Kapil’s Humanimal, Monica Youn’s Ignatz, Andrew Allport’s The Body | of Space | in the Shape of a Human, Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion, The Pocket Library: Poetry: Elegy and Hymns, M.H. Abrahams’ library copy of The Pastoral Elegy, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrl, Four Elemental Bodies by Claude Royet-Journoud, and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons. Danielle Pafunda and Natalie Eilbert’s poems have been open in tabs on my computer for the last month.
The miracle of 3D printing has allowed us to replicate Van Gogh’s severed ear using DNA from his great-great grandson. The ear is now on display at the Centre For Art And Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, where patrons can ask it any question they like. What would you ask?
I’m curious what it might be like to be a one-way conduit between the living and the dead. But that feels too heavy. So instead:
If I cup your ear, like a shell, will you hear the ocean in my hands?
Finally, tell us something about this poem you’ve included below.
This poem was included alongside yours and the all-around fantastic poems in Best New Poets 2013. This piece is likely going to be the title poem for my current project. I stumbled across the word débridement a couple years ago and felt it captured a number of elements I was focusing on—to debride something means to remove damaged tissue or foreign objects from a wound, but it comes from the French unbridle and originally bride. As the poems I was writing began shifting more toward elegy the title seemed even more fitting. This piece is one of those rare ones that seemed to write itself, coming together in only a few drafts. It functions as a kind of craft-map for the obsessions I’m currently courting—the hybrid confessional-lyric, metaphor stacks, the domestic in the natural, and physically expansive lines; it also has direct links to the Francesca Woodman pieces and the use of the heirloom and props. Though the poem had already been published in Versal, I was terrified of sending it off to Best New Poets—I admire Brenda Shaughnessysomething fierce and I didn’t want to face a rejection for a poem that felt so integral to my current poetic space. I got the email that the piece was chosen for the anthology the day I came home from the hospital with my first child—it felt like such a positive omen for the new poems.
When I find out I’m pregnant I bury my wedding dress
in the front yard—letting everyone in the neighborhood watch me
peel the blue satin over my head: my slipless figure & a shovel.
The school bus slowing its yellow dredge to witness the anxiety
of the uncovered. I dig a tunnel to my grandmother straight through
my mother—her old flowerbulbs empty rattles, their bodies now fists
in earth. I lick my ungloved hands & gather fragments of bone & leftover
teeth into my mouth. How else to feed the matryoshkaed body, its double
hummingbird hearts? Ashes. Ashes. In the tunnel I uncover a nightgown
I sloughed off as I lost my virginity to a song about elevens; crawl back into
its florals & incorporeal sense of expectation—the assistant’s glittering self
sawed open to applause. Down here my new cluster of cells can’t echo or mirror.
It lullabies me with replication. Tells me to revisit the rooms I flooded
just to peel off the wallpaper, to uproot the ugly azaleas from the family
before & before. When I arrive at my childhood I undress
the house like a wound.
--Cori A. Winrock, originally published in Versal, Issue 11 and reprinted in Best New Poets 2013
I watch a cat video and
Then Google a Japanese
Sex webcam but lest
I download a virus
I instead watch badgers
Cunningly escape their
Enclosure on Youtube.
On newyorker.com in vain
I search for a sentence from
An old John Updike story --
‘She saw that his death
Was not far off’ – and then
Watch Michael Jackson’s 1983
Moonwalk debut on Youtube.
I Google Diane Varsi
And on Wikipedia I read
How in high school she
Was branded an outcast
And was called an oddball
And on Youtube I watch
A clip of her in Peyton Place.
I briefly visit weather.com,
Watch another cat video,
Then on voyeurweb.com
I join the millions of viewers
Of the Freestyle Photo section
But decide that Voyeurweb is
Worse since the site was redone.
I Google Henry Howard
The Earl of Surrey, Pinky Lee,
Patsy Southgate, Selma Hyack,
Rabbi Louis Binstock, Earl Scheib,
And Maury Youmans, an obscure
Bears defensive end who played
College ball at Syracuse University.
Rudyard Kipling never Googled
Anything in his life but in 1897
He wrote our navies melt away.
Marry, ‘nuncle, the mind of man
Is what melts now! Cat videos,
Like the film Prehistoric Women
Of 1950 plus the 1967 remake
Are Googleable and viewable
On Youtube so can I Google
Laurette Luez and find out
Everything about her with
Photographs and even a pic
Of her grave? Let’s see. Yes!
On this day in 1989, Sir Laurence Olivier breathed his last. The great actor was eighty-two when he shuffled off this mortal coil. He mastered accents and disguises. As a young man he played the romantic ("Wuthering Heights,""Hamlet," "Rebecca"). In middle age he brought Othello to life, and he had enough in the tank to play the good guy Nazi hunter in "The Boys from Brazil" and the sinister insidious Nazi dentist in "Marathon Man," which is the best movie about dentistry ever made, and begins with a great car chase pitting a Holocaust survivor versus asn unrepentant Nazi, although in some ways it is unsatisfactory despite the excellence of the acting (Roy Scheider in Paris, Dustin Hoffman on the track around the reservoir in Central Park) for reasons worth consideration (someday). Olivier and Gielgud play two important Dads in "Brideshead Revisited," which was tohe hottest thing in highbrow TV in 1982 and '83.
Laurence Olivier was born in Dorking on May 22, 1907, sneaking into Gemini but with as much Taurus trailing him as clouds trail the blessed babe in Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode." Olivier was grandiloquent. The risk of overstatement was always at hand. Luckily it was not he but others who wrote the scripts. At the moment of his birth, Jupiter was approximately 180 seconds away from an exact conjunction with Neptune. The association with romantic characters of passion, melancholy, and excellent elocution -- Hamlet, Henry IV, the master of Manderley, and Mr Darcy come to mind -- is implicit.
The dialogue among the earth (Taurus, Capricorn) and air signs (Gemini) in his chart account for the temperament but also the ability to make the practical adjustments needed as middle age succeeds youth and makes way in turn for elder statesman status. Olivier shone in all three periods of productive adulthood. There is more yin than yang in his chart and his bisexuality was well-known but no big deal. He was crazy about Danny Kaye, and look at tge lascivious looks he, the imperial Roman , gives to slave Tony Curtis in "Spartacus."
The fact that his Venus is in Aries while Vivien Leigh's Venus is in Libra may help to explain the legendary heat and intensity of their initial attraction in 1937. When she played Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind" two years later, while he was lurking in the moors in "Wuthering Heights," they were just about the most glamorous couple in Hollywood (and the competition included Clark Gable and Carole Lombard). She was magnificent but her nervous disposition coupled with two miscarriages (1945, 1955), a diagnosis of tuberculosis in her left lung (1944) and the natural decay of the aging process led her to extremes of depression. The marriage lasted twenty years. He was a gentleman but saw her loss of physical beauty as an accusation made by nature or the fates. The aging of that face made her role in "Ship of Fools," where she plays an aging women who travels with paid companions, so poignant.
After the divorce Olivier married actress Joan Plowright and spent his late eighteen years with this sensible and intelligent woman. No one remembers the name of his first wife, however. If you know to whom he was married (for ten full years) prior to Viv, you could win big. Hint: her name was Jill Esmond. But who was she?
Larry became Sir Laurence in 1948. Not until many years later did people learn that Olivier in Hollywood in th early 1940s was a foreign agent operating in behalf of the British government to try to recruit the US into the war. This could have been foreseen if one had factored in the fact that Gemini was his rising sign -- and his moon was in Virgo! (Source: David Niven.)
Sir Laurence (later Lord Olivier) and Marlon Brando were the exact same height (5'10) but otherwise had little in common. (The same goes for Mick Jagger and Victor Hugo.) Other Geminis born on May 22 include Richard Wagner and Arthur Conan Doyle, which pretty much explains the dynamic of eccentric British empiricism and high German myth-making that encircles the Brunhilde of virginity with the three rings of masterly artistic flame over which the hero must leap in the dramatic depiction of Sir LO's life.
Olivier won the best actor Oscar in 1948 and founded the National theatre in London in 1962.
It’s Throwback Thursday. For those of you who aren’t on social media, that means we all post Polaroids of ourselves in the ‘80s, or something like that. I wasn’t very interesting in the ’80s, since I mostly just ate fruit rollups and watched cartoons. So today I’m throwing way back to 2003, when I was a freshman in college—but also to the ‘60s.
News recently made the rounds that Anne Sexton won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry basically by default. According to David Trinidad, Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry reveals that while she wasn’t at the top of any of the judges’ lists, she was the only one on whom they could all agree. Plath was also in the running, though she was dead by then. Of the comparison between the two, one of the judges, Phyllis McGinley, wrote “Both women are neurotics and their poetry is based on the fact.”
Confessional poetry gets a lot of flak for this very reason, and it’s often worse for female poets. It used to irk me that Plath and Sexton frequently got lumped together as “the suicide girls,” when they clearly had different styles and distinct voices. In the classroom, I saw their biographies too often overshadow their work. Why didn’t the same thing happen to John Berryman, who also committed suicide? Why didn’t W. D. Snodgrass’s Heart’s Needle get put down as simply neurosis in book form?
I was troubled mostly because I thought this biographical focus belittled these women’s work—and certainly biography can be used that way—but in truth, it was both Plath’s and Sexton’s reputations as suicide girls that initially appealed to me as a beginning poetry student. The first collection of poetry I bought was Plath’s Collected Poems. Sexton’s Selected was the second or third. Until I discovered them, I had some vague, unfortunate notion of poetry as a highfalutin genre of bald white men lecturing to me in rhymes about nature and the true meaning of life.
Whose life? Not mine, it seemed. I was a freshman in college, and I was in the middle of an emotional crisis (as most college freshman are). I felt like a failure for wanting to give up on my dream of becoming a painter. Everybody around me looked talented and happy. I was depressed, drinking a lot, and thinking about death often—not just practically, but also conceptually, which is important creative work. I didn’t want to be comforted (and when it comes to poetry, I still don’t). I wanted the dark, the dramatic, and the feminine.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
(from Plath's "Tulips")
O little mother,
I am in my own mind.
I am locked in the wrong house.
(from Sexton's "For the Year of the Insane")
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
(from Sexton's "Her Kind")
When I read lines like these, I felt I had a stake in poetry. There was palpable frustration in these poems, and brashness channeled into imagery and music. Furthermore, these were women who had found success through their art not by ignoring their personal experiences, but by tapping into them. For me, that represented a new possibility for my own (troubled, female) voice.
I wanted the literary equivalent of PJ Harvey
I didn’t devote myself to Confessional poetry, but it was my entry point, and I think this is true for many young girls.That’s certainly not to say that one must be an angsty teen to appreciate Plath or Sexton, or that their work is immature, or that they should be grouped together as a matter of course. (Most poets would agree that Plath is a master of craft and language and should be studied as such.) I only mean to suggest that, while we shouldn’t always be reading poetry as memoir, thinking about poets’ biographies (including neuroses, suicides, etc.) is OK, and perhaps even beneficial for beginning poets—if it leads to further consideration of the work. Why avoid talking about these things (or anything) in art?
Furthermore, I think it would be a terrible thing to impress upon young poets the idea that any initial identification with a poet’s “neurosis” is amateurish or shallow. People identify with poets as people (rather than simply poets) for a number of reasons: race, class, gender, sexuality, culture, region. There’s nothing wrong with that, because of course, poets are people. Many students will get to know these poets’ work through stories of their lives (and yes, their deaths), and that's not always a bad thing.
For this reason, I also think it’s okay for beginning poetry students to write about their personal lives. Some instructors discourage this, but often there is rich material in students’ experiences that can be mined in a number of ways not limited to confessional poetry. (I understand the reluctance to read yet another cliché-laden breakup poem, but this is really a problem with form, not content). Remember what the second-wave taught us about the personal being political? Sexton’s Transformations poems blend childhood trauma (not limited to her own) with fairy tales to question cultural values and gender stereotypes. In “Lady Lazarus,” Plath uses the event of her suicide attempts to challenge readers’ notions of the confessional mode and provoke questions about the relationship of tragedy, poetry, gender, and exhibitionism. Using one’s personal experiences doesn’t preclude engagement with the world.
Tomorrow: My last post--an interview with poet Cori Winrock!
We need line 12 for our crowd-sourced sonnet!
'Tis a game anyone can play.
It elevates collaboration and chance to an esthetic dieal." -- Manny Kant
Here is where we are right now:
How like a prison is my cubicle,
And yet how far my mind can freely roam
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon
Thence to the true hell: the heat of Tucson
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.
Freedom starts, or ends, with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.
It's a game, a contest, a stunt, a cunning stunt, a lovely extroverted poetry pastime. Try it!
Kenneth Koch would have approved.
Today I’d like to focus on one of my favorite contemporary poets. Lo Kwa Mei-en is from Singapore and Ohio. She is the author of Yearling (Alice James Books, 2015), and her poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, and other journals. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about her work.
Your first book, Yearling, was recently selected as the winner of the Kundiman Prize, and will be published next year by Alice James Books. What can you tell us about this collection’s themes and goals?
Yearling is about adolescence and the transformative stuff that shapes it, so the book is obsessed with initiations, ordeals, and homecomings, or lacks thereof. The links between humanity and animality are a recurring theme, as is the question of how certain forces may grant or deny someone their personhood.
The greatest goal I have for Yearling is for it to sing, rather than to say.
Part of what I most admire about your work is what I see as a kind of maximalist sensibility when it comes to language--for example, the relentless texture and play in "Babel / Aubade". In a recent article for the Boston Review, Stephen Burt describes the "nearly Baroque" in contemporary poetry as “art that puts excess, invention, and ornament first.” Using this definition, do you see your own work as nearly Baroque (or dare I say, nearly nearly Baroque)?
Maximalism! I love it! Although the poems in Yearling owe a lot to those craft elements, I hesitate to just say “yes,” because unlike the poems explored in Burt’s essay, my poems are seriously untroubled by the question of whether poetry and/or beauty is useless for being devoid of utility (and therefore of societal worth.) Audre Lorde said that “poetry is not a luxury,” and I believe in that, for all of the reasons laid out in her essay of that same title.
That said, my most recent work (including the “Babel” series) might be flat out Baroque. Where the poets presented in “Nearly Baroque” make extravagant art “without adopting pre-modernist forms,” I am very much in love with inventions that are too old to have an author: heroic couplets, sestinas, abecedarians, and sonnet crowns have been on my mind. And while I also do not sound like Richard Wilbur, it is in part because I am still listening to Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Burt goes on to say that “these nearly Baroque poems bring to the surface questions about all elite or non-commercial or extravagant art.” How is this aesthetic related to the notion of accessibility in contemporary poetry? Do you think about accessibility in your own work?
“Nearly Baroque” raises the question of whether an extravagant poetics can be justified in a world ravaged by excess, and the idea of accessibility constantly asks if a poem’s beauty justifies its failure or refusal to result in a clear experience of the world for the reader. While “Nearly Baroque” takes ornamentation seriously as a craft element, both lines of inquiry suggest that beauty itself might be ornamental, extraneous to subject, substance, or even “truth.” This is a hugely important question for this era, and not just for poets.
I do think about accessibility—very much so—but not in terms of the binary of “Is it?/Is it not?” (The unspoken question that I think should come after that is “To whom is this supposedly accessible, and what assumptions am I making about their ability to access this poem?”) I am more interested in the huge range of experience that can be accessed or created with the craft and play of language, a range that I find to be greater than the perspective of any one poet or reader. I think this is because singing and saying offer up different thresholds and challenges and revelations to the reader.
In addition, issues of actual access, when held alongside how we talk about the aesthetics of (in)accessibility, change the conversation in difficult ways. I love Burt’s terms, because they suggest societal as well as poetic conflict. What is elite is by definition inaccessible, but what determines an elitist poetics? An anti-utilitarian aesthetic? What about a rhetoric that alienates people of color? How does VIDA’s work on gender and access to cultural capital change how we identify the root of literary elitism, or inaccessibility? If it’s a fondly-told joke that poets can’t make a living wage by publishing poetry, but we have developed a cultural economy in which we cite names of magazines and institutions in cover letters instead of our actual poems (can we imagine replacing the names of venues in which our poems have appeared or are forthcoming with the titles of our five strongest poems?), then by what definition of capital do we figure out whether a poet is commercial or not? I think it is because of the systemic concerns raised by Burt that we cannot determine accessibility on the basis of aesthetic sensibility alone.
Your poems also use persona and fairy tale & folklore motifs. What does your work gain from these added layers?
Received narratives and voices are, for me, as perversely, gorgeously full of potential as are received forms like the sonnet or sestina. They are ancient like a religious ritual is ancient. There are rules which the imagination must obey or break. We already know how the story ends (and why), so the myth of a poet’s originality is compromised from the get-go and the stakes are kind of insane, which is how I prefer to function if at all possible. Like a strong conceit, working in a fairy tale turns the creative work into a utopian act of commitment. I think that’s what any work gains from an acceptance of and attention to art that is so un-contemporary it does not even have an author. Go wild or go home.
Who are some of your literary influences, and what are you currently reading?
Some of my influences are Sylvia Plath, John Donne, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Terrance Hayes, and Emily Dickinson. As a pro-extravagancist, I could always give you more! I am reading Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire, Inger Christensen’s it, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy, Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, and Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion. I’ve been drawn to a lot of utopian or post-utopian works lately, with the exception of Charlaine Harris’s Living Dead in Dallas—I haven’t gotten to it yet and am not sure if Sookie Stackhouse is more of a dystopian or utopian figurehead.
The miracle of 3D printing has allowed us to replicate Van Gogh’s severed ear using DNA from his great-great grandson. The ear is now on display at the Centre For Art And Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, where patrons can ask it any question they like. What would you ask?
Where does it hurt?
Here's a poem from Lo Kwa Mei-en, first published in Crazyhorse.
Man O’ War
—November 1, 1947
Before a field locks its horizon in place. A martial
claw of cardinals freckles the sky half-red. Before
a sea change can bolt the chambers of your sixteen
-handed heart. The ghost of long grasses is hauling
behind it a blanket of perennial trophy. The meadow
ghost is so deep it turns itself out. Before the god
of the wild miles, of gorgeous and brutal unshod
grace can come for you, her flank as high as yours
and burning higher than the fires of photographic
light. Bulbs of velvet gold wink in the insect night
like meteors sailing, each mate a larval ocean
tossing beneath the constellation like your head
in a hold. The ghost of plateau says even the
chestnut blade of your face was, once, dirt of a star,
a bold specimen from a giant long gone. Before
the females feed knowing in the fields, unparallel
gods, early ghosts, slipping into dawn. You are old,
and slid into the stalls like a beloved bullet, and then
out. Out, out, a muddy track sparrow brightly
spat at you who will head stunning sons in what
nobody calls a circle. Nobody buys a singular loss
can saddle you to the knees. Before the god of war
you kneel in blown Kentucky blue, she a trigger, she
color of dove, of endless miles, her skull a moon
outstretched. Her nostrils at your neck bleed two hot
banners of breath. The grass sweats gold. Fences turn
to ghosts of mythic cost, padlocks for eyes. Before
your ghost can see right through them. A report of
wings leaps from the long sea of dawn and the god
-- Lo Kwa Mei-en
Yesterday I wrote about Rust Belt and ruin poetry mostly in terms of content and motifs, but today I’m thinking about form and style. What kinds of sounds and structures, for example, acknowledge and respond to post-industrial (or industrial) ruin?
The Hum of Jamaal May’s book (from yesterday's post) refers to a kind of music made by both man and machine, challenging the natural/manmade binary. In the post-industrial age, this binary is false, outdated, and irrelevant. Our food is engineered and chemically altered, our soil and water sources are laced with pipes, drills, wells, and fracking fluids (more hidden Gothic monsters). By the same token, however, our bodies are bolstered by titanium limbs and pacemakers, our pets are implanted with microchips, and we can replicate our cells in laboratories. For better and worse, we live in a hybrid world, and the natural is no longer strictly natural.
A post-pastoral poetics recognizes this. How is it reflected in form? Hybridity is one answer, but that can mean many things—blurred genre lines, multiple voices and modes of communication, aesthetic juxtapositions—which can look radically different.
In Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins (Norton, 2012), the post-apocalyptic world is rife with unsettling post-pastoral imagery:
His apiaries are empty except for dead queens, and he sits
on his quiet boxes humming as he licks honey from the bodies
of drones. He tells me he smelled my southern skin for miles,
says the graveyard is full of dead prophets.
. . .
When you ask about resurrection, he says, How can you doubt?
and shows you a deer licking salt from a lynched man’s palm.
(from "Our Bodies Break Light")
This last image can be read as hopeful, but it reveals (remember that an ‘apocalypse’ is an 'unveiling') a dark truth about the natural world: it thrives on death. In the literal sense, this is old news—animals kill and eat other animals, worms and vultures feed on corpses, decomposing organic matter nurtures soil and roots, etc. The newness of this image has more to do with its corruption of the Romantic notion of the pastoral as bucolic, nostalgic, a salve for urban industrial life. This is what Brimhall’s apocalypse (of war, of social or ecological collapse, etc.) reveals.
Joyelle McSweeney (who has written about the post-pastoral) incorporates post-pastoral ruin (of bodies) into her own apocalyptic vision. In her “King Prion” series from Percussion Grenade (Fence, 2012), mass production (of food) meets (meats) nature in the form of a prion, the type of fatally infectious protein that causes mad cow disease, a consequence of bad factory farming practices. The result is a musically frenzied voice that employs language as an infection, allowing each word’s sounds to spill into the next so that syntax and even meaning seem always in flux:
Crepe’d up a knife blade ladder on
Spectator shoes or gladiator sandals
Cut to the glut, Fata Androgyna,
To the fat of the matter.
The play of the form colonizes its content, mimicking the subject. The poem progresses lyrically more than logically. Likewise, linguistic mutations and lyric jump-cuts lead us through “What Work is by Philip Levine,” in which Levine’s old line of men waiting for work transforms into “a shipping line, corporate freight incarnate.”
And a vein is an artery of another color
but disguises itself when air touches it
like a server farm inside a shipping container
Knows no air
And ne’er shall be severed from its energy source
The laboring human body mutates into a server farm, veins and arteries into wires and data paths. The ‘ruin’ here looks shiny and modern, less like garbage—it is “the munificence/of a sucking century and its empty gold coat.”
I want to talk about this empty gold coat. We are surrounded by flashy products—disposable products so flashy that even our garbage glitters. In a poem that references Levine’s work, I can’t help but think about the irony in this fact, given the economic and ecological decay in which we live—due in part to the dysfunction of the post-industrial economic system, and in part to the product-obsessed culture born of that industrial economy in the first place. The gold coat is decadence in more than once sense.
It’s also an aesthetic. In his article on “the nearly baroque” in contemporary poetry, Stephen Burt describes an aesthetic “that puts excess, invention, and ornament first”—which, not so coincidentally, also seems likea great way to characterize consumer culture. All gold coat, no body—since the ‘natural’ human body seems almost obsolete. In the context of the poem, this image is post-pastoral, and in a way it is also baroque (perhaps more than nearly). If the (nearly or fully) baroque is concerned primarily with formal pyrotechnics, then it is a poetic manifestation of this age of artifice, overflow, and flashy junk. And if it is this excess that has created ecological, economic, and social ruin, then the baroque can be an aesthetic of ruin. photo: George Thomas
When I say ‘junk,’ it’s not an insult. I think there is room for quite a bit of variety in the category of the baroque, but McSweeney has made it clear that she wants to “go all the way”. Her voice is excessive, ecstatic, hyperactive, and in this way reflective of the things that fill her poems—infections, chemical irritants, consumer goods.
A baroque aesthetic can also say a lot about class—another connection to the post-industrial US economy, in which the middle class is forced by and large into the lower class. I use these terms in an economic sense, but there is, of course, another interpretation. As Johannes Göransson points out, the baroque is often thought of as tasteless (low-class).
Now, I’m not in the business of making manifestos, but an aesthetic that draws attention to formal excess in order to question the value of consumer culture, class distinctions, and cultural taste-making seems incredibly important and contemporary.
Tomorrow: an interview & poem from Lo Kwa Mei-en!
Ringo Starr—born Richard Starkey—celebrates his 74th birthday on July 7th. (Fellow Baby Boomers, don’t freak out…just lean over, put your heads between your knees…breathe deeply…) Everybody okay? Good.
Ringo replaced the famously fired Pete Best as the Beatles' drummer in 1962. One reason for the move was that the rest of the boys thought he was limited as a musician, but it’s also said his personality just didn’t fit with the others—not as “fun loving.” So Ringo got his shot.
Things can be tough at first for a young rock band. Gigs in skanky venues with dodgy sound systems. Crashing on friends' sofas. Riding around in a van that's on life support. Club owners who try to shortchange you. Belligerent drunk guys, pissed because their girlfriends are are making cow eyes at you. It’s you against the world, and you tend to stick together.
But once you succeed other agendas emerge, which is why so many bands implode when they hit the big time. If you want a long run at the top there’s a delicate ecology to maintain. For a while the Beatles pulled it off. They had two alpha dogs who worked well together and wrote most of their songs—John the politically and socially conscious one and Paul the tunesmith with the brilliant sense of melody. And George, the spiritual center of the band whose ego could handle John and Paul’s creative control and who made sure everybody played in tune.
Then there was Ringo. Some casual music fans never rated him very high as a musician because he wasn’t a “viruoso.” But he enjoys much respect among his peers; he was an absolute metronome—a fantastic timekeeper. And listen to any Beatles song while concentrating just on Ringo. I’ll bet my lunch money you won’t hear a single cut where you think, “That’s a cool song, but I wish there’d been a different drummer.” His drum parts were always just right.
And Ringo had the perfect personality for this particular band. They needed a joker. Or more accurately, a wise fool. If things started dragging in the studio during a long session, or John and Paul started getting on each other’s nerves he’s crack a joke to lighten the mood.
But not even Ringo could smooth over the tensions that flared once Yoko hit the scene. John committed an unforgivable sin recognizable to anyone who’s ever been in a band; he brought an outsider to recording sessions and let her make critical comments about the music. Although it's unfair to blame her for breaking up the band; she was just the catalyst. John's attention was already elsewhere. Ringo tried to play the peacemaker, but it was clearly time to move on.
Ringo had a great ride with his lads from Liverpool. He's comfortably settled in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's a mega-millionaire. He's on the road now with "Ringo Starr's All-Stars" because he enjoys it, not because he needs the cash.
Not bad for a kid who spent two years in a sanitarium with tuberculosis and was first exposed to music when the staff got him playing percussion in the hospital band to give him something to do...
Charles Coe is author of two books of poetry: “All Sins Forgiven: Poems for my Parents” and “Picnic on the Moon,” both published by Leapfrog Press. His poetry has appeared in a number of literary reviews and anthologies, including Poesis, The Mom Egg, Solstice Literary Review, and Urban Nature. He is the winner of a fellowship in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Charles’s poems have been set by a number of composers, including Beth Denisch, Julia Carey and Robert Moran. A short film based on his poem “Fortress” is currently in production by filmmaker Roberto Mighty. Charles is co-chair of the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union, a labor union for freelance writers. He has been selected by the Associates of the Boston Public Library as a “Boston Literary Light for 2014.” His novella, "Spin Cycles," will be published in September by Gemma Media.
I’m from Ohio. If you’ve ever met anyone from Ohio, you may have noticed that they love to talk about Ohio—but not in the same way that New Yorkers love to talk about New York (You won’t find better Thai food anywhere else!). That is to say: a lot of Ohioans have complicated relationships with their home state, especially if they’re from a Rust Belt city.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what this region has to say for itself in contemporary poetry, and I’m clearly not the only one thinking about this. There has been a spate of new books about the Rust Belt in the last few years, and some interest in a new subgenre sometimes called Rust Belt Noir and/or Rust Belt Gothic (no vampires needed). While most of these books are novels or collections of short fiction, many poets have also been increasingly concerned with post-industrial ruin.
In Jamaal May’s collection, Hum (Alice James, 2013), post-industrial Detroit is more than a setting. The city merges with the book’s human subjects to become a character itself:
Look for me
in scattered windshield beneath and overpass,
on the sculpture of a man with metal skin grafts,
in patterns on mud-draggled wood, feathers
circling leaves in rainwater—look.
In the Gothic tradition, the haunted castle plays as important a role in the narrative as any of the characters. It houses the secrets and horrors that move the story forward, hiding and revealing them as needed. In May’s poems, Detroit is a Gothic space haunted by its own past, and a space in which the speaker ultimately discovers truths about himself. The act of searching and uncovering drives May’s collection forward. Take this passage from “Mechanophobia (Fear of Machines)”:
Come rummage through our guts
among fistfuls of wire, clutch,
pull until the LEDs go dark.
Our insides may be the jagged
gears of clocks you don’t realize
function until your blade gets stuck.
The current that sparks, scrambles up
fingertips, hurrying to your heart
will not come as a hot, ragged
light—you won’t notice when it arrives.
May’s imagery is almost frightening at times, but fear is also ever-present as a concept, lurking in this series of phobia poems (Athazagoraphobia, Aichmophobia, Mechanophobia, Macrophobia, etc.). The pulpy supernatural horrors of the Gothic tradition manifest here as real-life fears, and the mundane becomes magnified. In “Athazagoraphobia (Fear of Being Ignored),” typical anxieties of adolescence take on more weight given the setting—a city ignored, a bankrupt city, an elsewhere:
I used to bury plum pits between houses. Buried
bits of wires there too. Used to bury matches
but nothing ever burned and nothing ever thrived
so I set fire to a mattress, diassembled a stereo,
attacked flies with a water pistol, and drowned ants
What’s dead and gone never stays buried in this collection, as the motif of alternately burying and uncovering returns almost obsessively. There is something unsettling about this act, but it is what allows May's speaker to learn how to live in his particular –post (post-industry, post-adolescence, etc.). This digging isn't entirely negative, nor is it simply a balm.
photo via mrholle
Writing about the Rust Belt can be understood as a form of apocalyptic writing. (I know that for Youngstown, the sudden closing of steel mills on Black Monday was certainly an economic apocalypse.) The word ‘apocalypse’ shares roots with the Greek term apokaluptein, which indicates an uncovering or disclosure (think also of the word 'revelation,' as in the Book of Revelation). A new generation of writers in the US has set to work digging through the ruins of the industrial economy that was collapsing just as they were being born, and they are unearthing revelations of their own.
In “Greetings from 41°6′0″N 80°39′0″W,” poet Allison Davis (a fellow Youngstown native) writes of the difficult and painful digging involved in looking back and asking questions about a city’s decline:
Understand the city is steel,
both sides of it. There is no way
to make it talk, to avoid
the wreck, the tangle of shape
worked up into a point.
The paradox is that there is no satisfactory answer to be found in the wreck, yet there is no way to live in it without searching, digging, trying to uncover and recover the past. But what can be made from ruin? A post-industrial poetics (more tomorrow on what that can mean formally) offers the possibility of an answer to that question. Rust Belt and ruin poetry is a generational response to Philip Levine’s important poetry about the working class. In cities now devoid of the manufacturing jobs upon which they were built, the streets are still filled with the refuse of industry—not just byproducts, but the discarded, ruined products themselves—the broken windshields, wires, and LED lights of May’s poems. Digging, rummaging, scrapping, foraging, and uncovering are the new jobs of the working class. (I mean this both metaphorically and literally—think metal scrapping, thrifting, reselling.)
I think poets are putting this concept to work in poetry of place that represents not just the Rust Belt but a new, unfortunate era of US history. And I’m not talking about nostalgia. I mean a scrappy kind of poetry that represents the contemporary experience of trying to scrape together an existence in an economic and ecological apocalypse. But I also mean a poetry that defamiliarizes the sad Rust Belt narrative through strange new music and imagery.
Tomorrow: The Aesthetics of Ruin (Pt. 2): Post-pastoral.
after David Markson
Poet has been trying to eschew emotion.
Impartial directness, Poet wants.
I was born like this. I had no choice. I was born with the gift of the golden voice.
graveled Leonard Cohen one night at the Kimmel Center.
I’m crazy for love, but I’m not coming on.
You can’t really put it that way anymore.
Which is to say, Poet knows that sentimentality is out of season.
All men say ‘What’ to me,
wrote Emily Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
Poet has heard the joke becomes serious with space; to make sentiment felt, one should make it cold.
The bones of Amelia Earhart & Fred Noonan on Gardner Island.
The bones of a man & a woman.
The bones of a turtle beside a turtle shell.
Nearly everyone has four of them — broad flat muscles, known as obliques, that attach the ribcage and the pelvis on each side of the body and, until recently, have not really been part of the sports lexicon,
wrote sportswriter Michael R. Schmidt in The New York Times from April 11, 2011.
What are your “poetic tasks”?
Poet has been collecting fragments in a marble notebook.
Poet is interested in fact.
Madonna of the Rocks. The Kit Kat bar.The contact lens.
Sometimes Poet enjoys a good snow drifts metaphor, or an ashes metaphor, or an autumn leaves metaphor.
The dead metaphor.
…with the music chased all out of her soul…and the seven small demons all in again.
Some of her poems include the appearance of a black tuxedo kitten.
Cat and mouse, cat and mouse! But which is the cat and which is the mouse?
It seemed to her that there were certain places on the earth, which naturally brought forth happiness, as though it were a plant native to the soil, which could not thrive elsewhere.
How much beauty one can find, can't one?
wrote Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo.
Poet, at times, enjoys the intensely personal.
All that is personal soon rots.
Or the grand gesture.
On New Year's Eve in 1853 Benjamin Waterhouse hosted a china, silver, and candlelight dinner inside the iguanodon skeleton at Crystal Palace. The first course was mock turtle soup.
For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken. It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.
And when Amelia Earhart wrote: In those fast-moving days which have intervened, the whole width of the world has passed behind us – except this broad ocean. I shall be glad when we have the hazards of its navigation behind us.
Couldn’t those words be whispered to a lover?
Once Poet had a therapist to whom she did not unburden her soul.
But she unburdened a little.
I am not long-enduring; I am not cool and dispassionate. Out of pity to me and yourself, put your finger on my pulse, feel how it throbs, and – beware!
That must have been difficult, Dr. Lobianco said.
Provided the feelings are real…
Lately, Poet’s writing has been cool to the touch.
A poem that has abandoned the poet.
Poet has been repurposing what she likes.
Negligence is the mind in motion.
Objectively, Poet should be thinking of her future.
Poet knows she has a lot to live up to.
Pia Archangel a newscaster
Pia Cayetano a politician
Pia Christmas-Møller a politician
Pia Clemente, a film producer
Pia Conde, a journalist
Pia Cramling, a chess player
Pia Degermark, an actress
Pia Di Ciaula a film editor
Pia Douwes an actress
Pia Getty a socialite
Pia Gjellerup a politician
Pia Guanio a television presenter
Pia Guerra a comic book artist
Pia Gutjens a border collie breeder
Pia Hansen a shooter
Pia Haraldsen a tv personality
Pia Hontiveros a tv personality
Pia Johansson an actress
Pia Kjærsgaard a politician
Pia Lindström a television anchor
Pia Carmen Lionetti an archer
Pia Elda Locatelli a politician
Pia Maiocco a musician
Pia Miranda an actress
Pia Nielsen a badminton player
Pia Nilsson a golf player
Pia Nilsson a politician
Pia Reyes a model and actress
Pia Sundhage, a footballer
Pia Sundstedt a cyclist
PiaTajnikar an athlete
Pia Tassinari a singer
Pia Tikka a film director
Pia Tjelta an actress
Pia Toscano a singer
Pia Waugh a free software advocate
Pia Wunderlich a footballer
Pia Zadora an actress and singer
Pia Zebadiah a badminton player
Pia Zinck an athlete
Though sometimes your name sounds strange attached to another life.
And still another Pia wrote,
The angel dwells on the other side of subjectivity.
Poet wants to become untrapped.
To be a feather again instead of a plummet, to float and not to drag.
Or, maybe, Poet just wants to live unabashedly with abundance.
The Capuchini bone chapel.
Belief in irrelevance, perhaps, Poet lacks.
If the body in its failure remains
A nest, if the soul chooses to return
Poet has been watchful.
Poet has been too silent in booths and bars.
Messages in a bottle which might or might not get picked up,
Paul Celan said his poems were.
It is possible that Poet has been letting others speak for her.
I am a crowd, I am a lonely man, I am nothing.
A tree sprang up. O sheer transcendence!
Poet wants to be wild.
For the wildest imaginations have their speeds and obsessions.
How to abide.
The most natural thing in the world.
Everything in this room is edible.
“Thrall” borrows words and phrases from Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Michael R. Schmidt, George Eliot, Rope, Gustave Flaubert, Vincent Van Gogh, William Butler Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Amelia Earhart, Charlotte Brontë, Berthe Morisot, John Irving, “Pia (given name)” entry on Wikipedia, Pia Tafdrup, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Michael Waters, Paul Celan, Rilke, and Roald Dahl.
That's the boy, she'll say,
that's the boy in you -
sitting on some bench, or beach
gazing into the same
maddening distance. It's
the boy in her, she says,
that likes the girl in you. Ah, to be
a person, that's hard
enough. Sleep now. Get some sleep,
that's the boy.
-- Andrew Johnston
'Juliet' is from Andrew Johnston's most recent book, Do You Read Me? (2013), a collaboration with typographer/artist Sarah Maxey. Comprising 26 poems with accompanying pictures, one for each of the alphabet call signs, the collection offers an inventive and sonorous ensemble of colour-bands, sound-waves, patterns of thought and voice. It also contains a memorable meditation on that dubious New Zealand invention from the 1980s, the bungee: 'It was on the bungee jump / I was introduced to / the art of oscillation / ... it was on the bungee jump / my smile became a frown.'
Born 1963, in Upper Hutt, New Zealand, Andrew Johnston has lived in France since 1997. He has published five collections of poetry and, in 2009, co-edited with Robyn Marsack Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poems (Carcanet/Victoria University Press). In 2004 he founded The Page, a site devoted to on-line literature, reviews and poetry, which he edited until 2009. (The site continues under the lively stewardship of John McAuliffe and others at the Centre for New Writing, Manchester University.) Johnston's double-sestina, 'The Sunflower', is deservedly considered one of the best New Zealand poems of recent years (it can be read in full here.
More poems, essays and other material: http://andrewjohnston.org/
At funerals you get a sense of 'team':
"He bore his burden well"--stifling a yawn;
"She wasn't someone you'd enjoy tea with,
exactly, but--"; "They kept on keeping on."
Each mask that hides a life receives tribute:
"He was adored by dogs"; "She set a tone";
"Behind her drinking lay a golden heart"--
old age become a village of its own.
I was too young; I couldn't comprehend
how deficits increase over the years--
I shunned their ledger-faces for my books,
determined not to end up in arrears.
What will they say of me? "His load was light."
"And for all that he didn't seem too bright."
-- James Cummins
DDB: Jaded Ibis Press is an imprint of the multimedia company, Jaded Ibis Productions. We publish and produce literature, art and music that are intellectually, culturally and environmentally sustainable. Our titles consist of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and hybrids. We’re best known for writing that reaches far beyond conventional literature.
Since January 2011 Jaded Ibis Productions and its imprint Jaded Ibis Press have gained national attention for our innovative business model and intrepid explorations into the newest literature and digital technologies. Jaded Ibis Press, its editors and authors have been the subject of feature articles, interviews and reviews in Forbes, Poets & Writers, The Brooklyn Rail, The Believer, Hyperallergic, Lambda Literary, American Book Review, and many other print and online publications. Our books have made a number of “Best” lists, including four list in O, the Oprah Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, and others.
Recently, we’ve added three new series:
SW: The poetry at Jaded Ibis Press attempts to combine disparate experimental urges and new literary models in ways that maintain connective tissue to the tradition of poetries predating our present moment. We like writing that strikes out onto new territory without losing sight of what produced it, and we even have a martial term for it: Reconnaissance Literature, or the literature of the forward guard. This guard scouts on its own but maintains communication and crucial interests with the rear guard, in mutual interest. And though we want our writing to be bold, dissonant at times, chaotically musical, to push back against its sole category as literature by illuminating it with fine art, music, technology, and though we need it to transcend normative, accepted modes of communication and art, we still like it to be lyrical at times, always intelligent, clear and beautiful, and not a muddied reworking of the experiments of the past. I am certain Debra Di Blasi covered the technical aspects of how the press is different—the collaborations with visual artists, the technological innovations—such as the fact that we produced one of the first novel apps ever made—but we are guided by a deeper principle. Such innovations are anchored in this belief in the present of literature as a bridge between the future and its glorious, albeit daring and experimental, pasts.
NA: Could you say a few words about your background as editors?
DDB: Sam and I are both educators and award-winning published writers, and thus approach acquisitions and editing from those idiosyncratic perspectives. Also, we’re not youngsters. Sam’s over 40 and I’m over 50, and we’ve been reading, writing and publishing our own work all of our adult lives. I emphasize our ages because it attests to the amount of literary knowledge we’ve acquired — and we don’t read pap. Also, the mind processes information over the course of time, analyzing and reassessing and comparing/contrasting a burgeoning accretion of information. Sam and I read outside of literature, too, which is why we’re also friends. I read heavily in the fields of physics, neurology, bio and computer technologies, primatology, and entymology. I also keep current and well informed on global politics and economics. And I travel. A lot. I now live in Hong Kong, and my husband and I still have an apartment in South Africa that we visit every year or so.
Specifically regarding editing:
I do hands-on editing of our books, sometimes giving “assignments” to an author so s/he will go back and more effectively rewrite parts of the manuscript. What’s very important is that I not futz with the writer’s idiosyncratic style, that whatever changes I make improve that style within its own parameters — not within mine.
I think the diversity of my background does exemplify how I came to run a multimedia publishing company and make certain aesthetic decisions: I set out to get a degree in journalism and did study for a while at University of Missouri-Columbia’s famous Journalism School. But I’d already been “tainted” by poetry, having taken every course possible with Larry Levis and Tom McAfee. Eventually I earned a BFA in painting—though Kansas City Art Institute allowed quite a lot of exploration in other disciplines like video, bookmaking, and writing. While there, I wrote art reviews for The New Art Examiner instead of turning in art history exams because my professor thought I was wasting my talent writing test essays.
A few years ago when I taught in The Netherlands, a metaphorical distinction between my students at home and my Dutch students took form in my mind. If my American kids waved their arms and shouted at the world, my Dutch ones in their small country of small houses, cars and portions held it in the palms of their hands examining it carefully and quietly. This came to mind recently when I was reading Michael Collier’s 2012 volume of poetry entitled An Individual History. Collier’s forbearers may have been Irish, German and French, but he himself is very Dutch. He holds each of us in the palm of his hand and gently probes us, parts our petals, lifts our scales, finds things in us we didn’t know were there. And himself. Michael Collier is often the subject of his own circumspect scrutiny.
“I’m glad now I didn’t tell my mother,
after the urge to do so passed, the hundredth time
I throttled my teenage pecker and in despair,
and only half believing I had sinned, wanted to confess.”
Collier is the kid you don’t notice sitting in the corner watching, the nondescript guy across the train car, the mild mannered accountant you are surprised to learn writes poetry. In fact, lack of pretence is basic to his poetry. He is a master of detail, but his detail is taken from the most everyday corners of experience and memory: his mother’s Singer sewing machine and turquoise kitchen, his father’s arthritic knee, a swimming pool vacuum cleaner, a bad dentist, televisions, Nash Ramblers and dogs:
“shoe chewers, sock swallowers, book gnawers, food gobblers;
haters of sirens;
noble, conscionable, unconscionable;
shit eaters, butt sniffers, crotch probers, ass and ball lickers, tail chasers;
farters, deep dreamers, barkers, howlers, whiners, criers, piddlers, shitters”
At the funeral of a young classmate, Collier’s son apprehends the impersonality of the world in the fact that the undertaker has parted the boy’s hair differently than he did: “Why did they do that to Brendan’s hair?”
In “Grandmother with Mink Stole, Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, Arizona, 1959,” he writes:
“She who wore the pelt, the helmet of blue hair
and came to us mint and camphor-scented, more strange
than her unvisited world of trees and seasons,
offering us two mouths, two sets of lips, two expressions:
the large, averted one we were meant to kiss and the other
small, pleading, that if we had the choice, we might choose.”
As you might suspect and in fact can see, Collier is not at all afraid to be accessible. This lack of fear we might expect from a twenty year old kid who came east from Arizona looking for poets because he wanted to be one. He found William Meredith who became his mentor. So cocksure was Collier of his calling that one wonders if Meredith had any choice in the matter. It is with equal confidence that Collier asserts that in painting he prefers still lifes to abstracts, and with which he addresses his readers, including the several generations of whom have learned to hate modern poetry because it makes them feel stupid:
“The boy with barbed-wire tattoos braiding his biceps
won’t listen to what his classmates say
about Yeats and ‘The Wild Swans at Coole,’
and when I try to mediate, he interrupts me,
not with words but with his lunging head,
half shaven, half in dreads,
the face unequivocal with rage,
and then the mouth’s abhorrence,
lips pressing like a strangler’s thumbs
choking the words he’d rather kill than say,
‘Swans, fucking swans,’ as if he knows precisely
what they are: sleek, vicious stand-ins
for the sad, divorced, abandoned
heart’s longed-for wrong.”
Collier’s choice of and attention to detail is like Vermeer’s; it makes the ordinary remarkable. Take his poem “The Oracle.”
“Choke off the wineskin’s spout is what Appollo’s oracle
tells Aegeus, king of Athens, when he goes looking
to cure his infertility, which was not the same advice
my neighbor Alice O’Neill offered me
as I sat in her living room, watching her nurse her son,
who was nearly three, pushing the boy head
against her breasts that were flattened, come to think of it,
like wineskins. His knees pedaled her thighs
as he sucked and foraged, and an eye oculated the room
like the ego’s manic periscope marking what was his from hers
and scrutinizing me as if I were foreign matter,
social debris navigated with cries and squirms,
while the TV shed its blare of light and sound.
And then like the casual, misdirected oracle I deserved,
she asked if I wore briefs or boxers
and before I could answer, she said, ‘Boxers,
that’ll keep them loose and cool.’
And that was all she said, all she needed to say,
as she shifted her angel child to her other breast
when he began to fuss.”
Michael Collier is the author of six volumes of poetry and one of essays on poetry and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He teaches at the University of Maryland and is the past poet laureate of that state. He is also director of The Breadloaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College
But I prefer to think of him a middle class kid from Phoenix who entertained himself on sweltering hot summer days lying on his stomach reading books and falling in love with literature.
Nick Courtright’s poetry in his new volume Let There Be Light (Gold Wake Press, 2014) is serious stuff that refuses to take itself too seriously. It is all about discovering the light, lyrical and profound in that which is ordinary, and it is on the intersection of these three that Courtright focuses his keen eye. He says that the woman upstairs,
“pounding about the floor
in tune to her workout video
is this close to God. I believe that,
why not? Sillier things have caused enlightenment,
the palm of a man
on the forehead of another, the heat
of holy water upon the nape
of a neck, the father of a daughter realizing
what he cannot control…”
Courtright finds wonder in life to be sure:
“Many minutes pass,
and marvelous springtime eyes its own predictable mess
as new life trembles beneath the wind.”
But he also discovers some wonder and certainly invitation in death:
“All our lives are crossing the Alps.
It’s cold. It’s cliff face and sheer drop.
And it’s more than possible
a large cat of the wilderness, or a large dog in its pack,
will prepare your pathway for you.
It’ll invite you into its mouth, where it’s warm.
You may be tempted to go.”
There is at least reassurance in Courtright’s treatment of death and in his relentlessly personal address to the reader as if he is taking us by the elbow or maybe even the lapels.
“Half the world is lost in the canyon,
half of the market
and of the lamplight, and half the raspy voices of children
who eat stones for breakfast. Half the world is lost.
Do not be worried. It was always lost.”
In Courtright’s poems death can be sad and wistful but is seldom tragic; it is a fire we tease, poke at, dance about and maybe even warm ourselves beside before it consumes us. At its most threatening and insidious it diminishes the joy and beauty of life:
“Why? Because apples were tributes to the seasons,
carrots were tributes to the sun,
almonds were tributes to the eyes of angels,
and leaves were tributes to every leaf. But who left those apples
long past their brilliance
on this land? Who, in doing so, compromised all the world’s tributes?”
Sometimes as in The Human Experience death fails at even that:
“In just a few short minutes a lunar eclipse will reveal itself.
From a mere two hundred twenty-one
Thousand miles from earth
the missing slice of the moon almost perfect,
as if it were a perfect bite made by a perfect, godly mouth.
This bite mark may conjure
a memory of apples
which could easily
lead to Eden, and to depravity
and desire and urges and lust, and straight
back to Venus,
the romantic image of utter, absolute beauty.
But what is not absolute beauty? Let’s be serious.”
Perhaps this is because Courtright’s voice is inclusive, philosophical, wise, balanced and always has eternity in view; indeed his viewer sees everything from afar:
in the middle of a bridge
to gather her breath.
She stands there in the middle
and she can look to her left
or to her right, and she can look up and down.
But all this looking is only that, because on this bridge
the middle is where she is, and this is a very long bridge:
When it comes time to end, no worries.
When it comes time to end, no worries, no worries.
When it comes time to begin, no worries.
When it comes time to begin, no worries, no worries, no worries.”
In Courtright’s poem Lost on Planet Earth, all of these things come together in a traffic jam of life, endless streams of the coming and the going barely avoiding collision, destination intuitively if indefinitely understood, equilibrium careful if casual. It is all a matter of faith.
“When we go missing, we can blame
the search team, the rescue squad, the fleet of helicopters
competing with the calls of wild birds.
We can blame the earthworms
moving the land beneath us, the day
both too long and not long enough,
and the fact that, in these new bodies, we have
only so much time.
We can fault the immensity of the galaxy, the smallness of the
of the human soul,
which have their way with the light of the sun
as it is brought across the backs of whales, or harpooned
across the face
of the empty moon, deep
in the black soup of night.
When we go missing, we can heave our blame
Into the wind
of our grandparents’ grief and love
the unspeakable desire
of the first two cells
who came together
in the petri dish of an early ocean.
We could even blame America, the outspoken, the rich.
Or we could take credit
for our missing,
for how we wandered from where we were born
that the maps we chose were outdated, all the roads long gone
or curiously mismarked,
that each stop we took into the plain, or into the plan
was in fact into the forest,
where what was watching us
was watching itself.
And maybe, when we are finally found
our finders too will have become lost,
and will have discovered not only us, but themselves.”
Nick Courtright is a native of Ohio who teaches at Concordia University in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two sons. His first volume, Punchline, also published by Gold Wake Press, was a National Poetry Series finalist in 2012. His verse has appeared in The Southern Review, The Boston Review and The Kenyon Review Online. The chapbook Elegy for a Builder’s Wife was published by Blue Hour Press.
Bob Glassman is an Evanston, Illinois, writer, editor, poet and maker of books who has written an epic prose poem called Abscission Layer that is one of the most original pieces I’ve ever read. If it recalls any other artist, it is William Blake (a Blake print appears on the title page) because it defies categorization, invents its own form, explores the unexplored and is quite literally handmade; Glassman binds and stitches each small volume with fastidious care.
There are five characters in Abscission Layer. I think. They flow in and through each other mixing, melding and morphing together in ways that make us reexamine our own literary assumptions and boundaries and ultimately our own realities. The main character is the nameless narrator whose lyrical and weary voice we come to know well although we never see the person behind it. Then there is the narrator’s grandfather, an immigrant tradesman and union organizer who is a figure of pride and rectitude for whom what matters is respect, the family and “the common good,” his father, a well-known, well-traveled botanist finally reduced to helplessness and despair by age, his friend J and his lover A. What the latter four have in common is that they are all dead, that they are lost to the narrator, that they exist only in his dreams and memories:
“But there was also A on the lakeshore. The titanium white impasto clouds applied to the sky with a trowel. The water as green as blue can be. Like a little child, she wanted a seashell, childlike expression near the lake, wanting a shell, disappointed, colored with a personal paint box, remembered sadly, the inability to give her what she wanted, not able to find her a seashell. Never able to give her what she wanted. Wanting to protect her from disappointment, to heal every wound for her, every past wound, every future wound, find her a shell, the innocence of a child remembered, colored with emotional paint in memory, glazed until it lives like a work of art.
A golden dream interrupted again, as usual. Praying to God to allow the dream to come again. Time collapsing into a vortex, unrecognizable time like so much elapsed debris, mangled time. No peace at hand, a damaged man filling all space and time.
Do you know…what it means…to be…falling?
She’s falling…and…she’s in…deep danger.
She’s falling and…she’s in…deep water.
I’m falling…and…I can’t get up.
In Glassman’s mind, words and hands, time is timeless, space is forever falling away, personality has soft margins and it is often difficult to distinguish amongst consciousness, dream and memory. Glassman deftly persuades us not to try. He asks us to surrender to the work and when we do, we enter a visionary mindscape.
“Even this dream, and every dream, destroyed, vaporized by an old man missing big parts, a clock that no longer keeps time, a collision of past and future, a catastrophic collision ripping the world apart. Wanting only to dream again, the body aching, the head aching, the throat dry, a drink of water needed, the throat aching, the throat vibrating…the throat vibrating? Why would the throat be vibrating?
Thank you…for…your concern.
Please send…someone here…to talk to.
This chicken salad…is…inedible.
This food…is all…we’ve got.
This time…is all…we’ve got.”
The recurrent motifs in Abscission Layer are of isolation, decay, falling, the universal and the mundane and the infinite and the very finite. The medium through which all these swim is time itself:
“…a wild beast, unfit for human contact, never well understood, but the humans always desperately trying to measure and control it. The time actually a transference, a scapegoat, the real monster being chaos, but time, capable of being measured with a mathematical system, an attempt to bring structure, and therefore meaning, to the chaos. A goat upon whose head the sins of the people are placed before being driven into the wilderness, a poor stupid goat, time. A shepherd’s crook used as a gnomon, or an elaborate Egyptian obelisk requiring engineering and manpower, both conceived as means of capturing a shadow, assigning order to the energy of the sun, and the result the same, the attempts to impose order on the chaos always futile, but the attempts never stopped, a testament to the persistent hope of mankind.
How much…time…have we got.
That’s all…the time…we’ve got.
How much…chicken…have we got?
A few more…meals are all…we’ve got.
A few hours…are all…we’ve got.”
Glassman takes his title from botany. The abscission layer is the surface of separation a plant forms when preparing to shed its flowers, fruit or leaves and ironically an act of creation preparatory to dormancy or death. In that way it is like this unique and quite extraordinary work of art.
Another thing that Bob Glassman has in common with William Blake is that he is largely unknown in his own time. He has a tiny circle of readers and admirers. If you’d like to be amongst them and order a copy of Abscission Layer, it is available in Kindle Format and soon in paperback from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Abscission-Layer-Bob-Glassman-ebook/dp/B00L6GLPHY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403461035&sr=8-1&keywords=abscission+layer
I once heard Kurt Vonnegut says a writer has to believe that what he’s writing right now is the most important thing anyone has ever written. That was hard for me in the beginning because my Presbyterian minister father taught me to be modest, humble and circumspect. At potluck suppers in the church basement, we always waited to be the very last in line. I never learned how to be important.
Then I met David Lehman. In high school an English teacher told David that he was a poet, and he believed her. The day I met him he stuck his head out of his dorm room door as I was entering mine for the first time suitcases in hand and asked me, “You don’t have a copy of The Paris Review with you do you?”
“The new Paris Review. I’ve got a poem in there. Hi. I’m David Lehman. I’m a poet.” I did not see a poet. I saw a gawky, pimply, eighteen year old kid with a New York accent and a Yogi Bear lilt in his voice.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said. “Pete Ferry, Undersecretary of the Interior.” David didn’t seem to hear me. He shook my hand. David and I were students in a summer program at Oxford and after sharing a plane ride, had been bumming around England on our own for a few days. Oh, we had a good time with David for a couple of weeks. We (three of us had come together from Ohio and had never even been to New York - we were groped in Times Square and charged eight dollars a beer on Second Avenue - much less London) had chips on our shoulders, a bit of residual Midwestern adolescent anti-Semitism, and an absolute phobia about being ugly Americans. And now one of us was David, our worst fear, the ugliest American of all, a New York Jew. So we mocked him, imitated him, asked him stupid questions (“Do poets wear boxers or whitey-tighties?”), and it all missed him (“I don’t think it really matters. I wear briefs. Kenneth Koch wears boxers. This I happen to know because I once came home to my apartment to find him playing the violin in his boxers for a graduate student in comparative literature. She was quite beautiful.”) For a couple of weeks we huddled together talking about all the stupid things David did and said, and then he did something stupider. He challenged John Fuller to a poetry reading. We were just mortified.
Fuller was one of our dons. He was young, handsome, witty, wry, bored, very British. He was also a rising star among British poets and the son of Roy Fuller who was the sitting Poet laureate of OxfordUniversity. Fuller accepted, and on a Wednesday evening after sherry and shepherd’s pie, we sat back gleefully to watch David’s vivisection.
John Fuller began the evening with some nakedly deprecating remarks about his young challenger from across the sea. He was at least annoyed, perhaps insulted. We choked on our laughter, bit our thumbs, but David beamed at us oblivious, certain that we were all on his side or certain of something, at least. Then they began to read. They took turns standing at the podium trading short poems. We were quieted. David wasn’t that bad. David was pretty good. We looked sideways at each other and raised our eyebrows. After half an hour David said that he would now read some of the New York poets who had influenced him: Koch, Frank O’Hara, David Shapiro.
“No, no,” said Fuller with a wave of his hand. “Read your own stuff.” They read on. David was damn good. After an hour Fuller took the podium and looked back at David. “Got a long piece?”
“I have one long piece I want to read. If you have something, too, we’ll read these and then go home.”
“Well, I have one, but I’m still working on it.”
“Try it. I want to hear it.”
“You first,” said Jon Fuller.
And David read a poem called “Supercargo.” He shuffled pages and started quietly, perhaps uncertainly, but his voice rose and rose with the poem, and he stood forward on his toes although he was tall to begin with. He was wonderful. When he finally sat down, we found ourselves clapping.
Fuller took the podium and looked down for a long moment at his loose sheets. “I can’t follow that,” he said finally, and sat down, too. Oh we had a party that night. The girls dangled their bare summer legs from our dorm windows over the Cherwell River, and we all laughed and sang and passed a hashish pipe and bottles of Spanish Graves. We toasted David all night long.
For the rest of the term, I spent as much time as I could with David Lehman. We ate Chinese food because David was homesick, hitchhiked to the sea shore reciting poetry between rides and made plans to go to France where David said “the vegetables all taste like fruits.” Before the end of the summer, Fuller, who had a little basement press, had published a broadsheet of David’s poetry (I still have a copy of it somewhere), and I knew I wanted to be a writer and was able to say it aloud, at least to myself.
-- Peter Ferry
Thanks to the repair work that's ongoing here, there's a temporary platform and scaffolding outside of our windows on the second floor. I was able to climb out on Sunday to take a few photos of the 44th annual Gay Pride Parade, which marches down 5th Avenue and turns west on 8th Street. Click through the slide-show to spot the celebrity in the crowd.
A few weeks ago I was looking for something to listen to, searching out – as I often do -- a mood, a tone. I picked out Horace Silver’s Re-entry, a compilation of live dates from 1965-66. As with many of Silver’s CDs, Re-entry was pure toe-tapping fun. The joyful tunes stuck with me for days afterwards. So I felt an immediate sadness when I read about Silver’s death last week because his music -- especially “Cape Verdean Blues” -- was still very much alive in me. I’m sure the sadness was heightened by the knowledge that most of the jazz figures I grew up with and loved are gone now and I’ll never get to see them again.
As part of the Blue Note “stable,” Horace Silver, along with artists like Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Miles, Monk, Freddie Hubbard, and Booker Ervin, produced endless numbers of great albums during the hard-bop era of the Fifties and early Sixties. Jazz had a cultural cache then that it doesn’t have now: jazz musicians would play on TV, their images would grace the covers of TIME and NEWSWEEK. Jazz was a signifier during that time-- authentic or not -- for being cool or hip. These artists made music that was relatively accessible (funky beats and melodies galore), identifiable and yet full of playful invention: this primarily rhythmic music grew out of gospel and R & B as well as post World-War II bop traditions and the “Blue Note Sound” was characterized by a capacity to swing and by artists who were very accomplished – a few self-taught – on their respective instruments.
Horace Silver was a special case: first of all he was an innovative composer, creating a stew of Latin and African rhythms to add to that thumpy gospel, bluesy sound. He perfected the jazz quintet (led by tenor and trumpet players), a trend that had became popular with Blakey when Silver played in his band in the early Fifties. For a decade or more Silver’s recordings were especially well-loved: when he played at the Half-Note or the Village Gate you’d often see lines around the corner, because folks who knew his recordings wanted to see him live. A half dozen times I was among these fans, sometimes lucky enough to get in and listen.
Silver had a distinctive style, a recipe, as it were. Generally the songs began by establishing a rhythm with a strong two or three beat bass line. Then the piano might come in briefly to state the theme and the horns would join in to play the head (either in harmony or in unison), which sounded to me something like a waterfall, the notes cascading in a downward progression, or a roller coaster, down and then up. Then Silver would solo: usually a series of block chords with the left hand and while he approached melody with the right hand (mostly using one or two fingers). He played modest and relatively brief solos while letting his horn players carry the weight of improvisation. His solos’ substantial pleasures came from rhythm, the piano as a percussive instrument. Though an ingenuous composer, his own solos were rarely especially inventive, they just had a recognizable sound: a great beat and an infectious melody.
So Silver had a distinctive style, a signature sound: the pleasure of that signature was like welcoming a familiar voice, a member of the family. The danger of a style of course is calcification, resulting in a dulling of the listener’s senses. We all know poets with distinctive styles who wrote the same poems over and over again until we stopped listening: repetition made the work predictable. I wouldn’t say that he sought out commercial success (though it’s never been easy for jazz musicians to make a living so many artists of the ear hoped for a “hit” like Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”): time just seemed to pass him by. I associate his wonderful music with the world before the civil rights movement and Viet Nam. Before all the black rage and innovation that came from the likes of Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. Jazz became more challenging: in the shift to “free jazz” melody and rhythm no longer seemed to suffice: it reflected neither evolving musical nor minority experience. To advance the art and to reflect the artist in the world it seemed like one needed a huge capacity for improvisation and the kind of roughness, rage and darkness you might hear in the percussive piano playing of a Cecil Taylor or an Albert Ayler. He became aware of the rift: On a ’68 record cover for “Serenade to a Soul Sister,” he’s quoted as saying that he didn't believe in allowing "politics, hatred, or anger" into his music. One might suggest Silver came from a more innocent time, but the Fifties were by no means innocent. Retrospectively, the Fifties and early Sixties reflected a relatively comfortable and joyful period for jazz; it was a time when musicians digested Parker and Gillespie and extended their discoveries. Of course the British Invasion arrived then too: the Beatles and the Stones’ in many ways displaced jazz as a popular music. And now we live in an world that rarely welcomes difficulty; serious jazz artists mostly go to Europe and the Far East to play their music. But in the years before the revolutionary change, esp. in Horace Silver’s case, you could virtually dance to the music.
Re-Entry was for me probably the last really successful adventurous date of Silver’s band. Oh Silver continued to compose, occasionally often for larger bands, sometimes with strings, sometimes suites in the Ellington mode, even occasionally evoking the earlier funky style, but none of the dates that followed had for me the vitality of Silver’s wonderful decade plus of successful recordings, from 1954 to 66.
As with many live dates Re-Entry cuts stretch out and I associated the album with the kind of impulsive risk-taking that many studio recordings lack. But listening to the album again after Silver’s death, I can also hear restlessness in the horn solos: Joe Henderson’s solos -- as they were whenever he played with Silver – were fresh and inventive, but by this time he’d also listened to and absorbed some Coltrane. Two years away from his own Black Narcissus, he was already moving on, and when Silver plays after him the music takes a turn to the conventional: his solos seem static, a little too familiar. Woody Shaw, just finding his own way, was also moving away from the hard-bop sounds of early LeeMorgan and Clifford Brown (great trumpet players who also provided a model for the second trumpet player on Re-entry, the highly underrated Carmell Jones). The cuts on Re-entry represent for me the apex of Silver’s accomplishment: we hear developed versions of so many of his great upbeat songs (like “Song for My Father,” “Cape Verdean Blues,””Senor Blues””Sister Sadie,” “Filthy McNasty” and “The African Queen” that still give us pleasure (I only wish they’d played “Nica’s Dream,” one of my all-time favorite Silver tunes). These songs have all been covered by any numbers of musicians since that time, so Silver’s music will certainly live on. But this album also suggests the end of an era: ultimately the most imaginative solos belong to Henderson.
Finally I’ll never forget one beautiful Silver ballad, “Peace,” though I’m thinking now of how it was heartbreakingly played by Chico Freeman. It’s a great tribute song, a wish, a longing, an acknowledgment of bereavement. It sums up for me the loss I feel in his absence. He captured a time in jazz, and it’s hard to think of anyone funkier that Horace Silver. My toes are still tapping.
Ira Sadoff is the author of seven collections of poetry, including most recently True Faith (BOA EDITIONS,2012), and Barter, and Grazing (U. of Illinois), a novel, O. Henry prize-winning short stories, and The Ira Sadoff Reader (a collection of stories, poems, and essays about contemporary poetry). This fall Sadoff's Palm Reading In Winter will be reissued as part of the Carnegie-Mellon Classics Series. He teaches at Colby College and the MFA program at Drew University. Find out more about Ira Sadoff here.
When we were children our mother used to put us to bed at night and entertain us on long car trips with poetry. We loved ballads, and she knew a bunch of them by heart: The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and especially Kipling. My very favorite poem of his was The Ballad of East and West. And when we did the dishes after dinner, there were four positions, one for each of us: washer, dryer, putterawayer and reader. In this way we recited lots of poetry, read a good bit of Charles Dickens, and in the process learned to love the spoken word, the sound of literature.
In 1960 when I was fifteen my father’s father died, and my mother and I drove my grandfather’s old ’55 Chevy home to West Virginia from Ashville, North Carolina, on windy mountain roads. It was an ordeal. My mother was a tiny woman not five feet tall and never a good driver. I kept her spirits up and her mind distracted from her fear by requesting poems, and she recited them one after another. I don’t think we exhausted her supply even on that long drive.
Then in college I had a freshman speech class in which our professor talked about the oral tradition of literature that was especially strong there in the Appalachian hills. He invited us to recite any bits of poetry we might know. Someone said a limerick, someone else some Ogden Nash doggerel, then there was a song lyric and a verse or two of Robert Frost. I said the opening lines of The Ballad of East and West:
Oh East is East and West is West,
And never the twain shall meet,
Til earth and sky stand presently
At God’s great judgment Seat.
But there is neither East nor West,
Border nor breed nor birth
When two strong men stand face to face
Tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.
When I stopped, the professor looked at me hopefully. “I don’t think you are finished.”
“Well, I guess I know a little more.” I got through the next few lines.
“Go on,” he said.
And I went on. To my amazement, I knew the whole thing, all ninety-seven lines of it. If my memory serves, I’d never seen the poem on the printed page. I knew it only from hearing my mother recite it.
This little story is not about my powers of memory which are quite ordinary. It is about the powers of poetry which are not.
waiting at the bus-stop
all I can think about
is how my hovercraft is full of eels
but it’s not, of course it’s not
my hovercraft is practically empty
my eels are few
in fact they’re not eels at all
but a netload of whitebait
and it isn’t even a hovercraft
I've never owned a hovercraft in my life
I wouldn’t know what to do with one
it’s not even a dinghy
it’s a reusable eco-friendly shopping bag
and they’re definitely not eels
and not even whitebait
the truth is, I've never been whitebaiting
they’re just vegetables
and I only have one thing to say:
now, baby, now
-- Janis Freegard
Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Janis Freegard has a background in botany and the natural sciences--territories her poems are intent on celebrating, excavating, reconfiguring and subverting. 'A Life Blighted by Pythons' is from her first collection, Kingdom Animalia, published by Auckland University Press in 2011. Within the zoo-like enclosure of that book, she collects and catalogues numerous species, inspired by the Swedish naturalist and 'Father of Taxonomy', Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78), about whom Freegard writes on her blog. Like the most interesting bestiaries of past eras, her poems tell us more about the human condition than they do about the natural world of which humanity is a part. What exactly is going on in Freegard's 'blighted life'? A Freudian psychologist would have a field day with her ensemble of snakes and hovercraft. Is the poem propelled by love or lust or neurosis? Or is it simply the product of a hyperactive imagination? For the record, there are no species of snakes living in the wild in New Zealand, although there are a great many eels. And there are no public hovercrafts; the only examples are in the service of eccentric millionaires.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.