Friday, September 30, 2005

I'd never read the Pearl before, and am finding it ravishingly beautiful. I used to be able to kind of muddle through Middle English but no way, no how, now. So I'm wholly reliant on J.R.R. Tolkien's translation--you forget the guy was a scholar, and not just a major inventor of 20th century geek-culture. But he's facile at keeping the rhyme scheme true, and I bet there's a host of sonic effects he's conscious of too, which he's incorporated and lend themselves to that luminous sense of wholeness good translations maintain.

It's really the story that gets me though. A guy loses his pearl, and has a dream-vision of it, dressed in pearls (!) chiding him to not be focused on earthly possessions. Reading it, two aspects struck me, regarding those-poets-who-would-follow-this-anonymous-poet (who is known as "the Pearl poet" . . . how wonderful would it be to write a poem people called you by?). One, the periodic density of the word "woe" is similar to Milton's. Two, how incredibly much the tone, as well as the characterization, reminded me of Herbert (not to mention Spenser--always Spenser). Now there are characteristics of the Pearl which mark it as unmistakably pre-Reformation, but it is nevertheless surprising to me that the poetic (and, entwined with that, the religious sensibility) of these two highly Protestant poets can be so clearly seen in a Catholic poet two and a half centuries their predecessor. I mean, not surprising once I assimilate it, but I guess because those pre-Reformation religious poems I am familiar with do not smell similar to Herbert et al., I always thought of this sense (which I have not, notice, actually defined here yet--and will probably leave for a future post) as uniquely post-Reformation. Very interesting.

A certain delicacy of conceit towards one's relationship to the eternal . . . majesty is one-on-one, face-to-face; still top-down, but not impersonally so . . . probably something along those lines. I'll save it until I'm done with the poem.

I have to think about why I am so drawn to the poetry of this period. I find it heartbreakingly beautiful.

Here's the speaker responding to the pearl, when told he cannot cross the river and live with her in further paradise until after death:

"If my doom you deem it, maiden sweet,
To mourn once more, then I must pine.
Now my lost one found again I greet,
Must bereavement new till death be mine?
Why must I at once both part and meet?
My precious pearl doth my pain design!" (28.1-6)

"Why must I at once both part and meet?" That line could have been written by the author of "Love (III)," no? Lovely.

And this poem also suggests itself to me as a bridge between Dante and Milton. I mean, the connection there I see reading PL, but I couldn't see Milton assimilating such a Catholic, let alone such a great, poet without the usual ferocious down-taking which accompanied all such adoption-of-predecessors. Filtered through the Pearl, though, I could see something. This is pure conjecture, and may dissipate in the morning, or the morning after, like usual.

Conjecture + blogger = bloviation. Welcome to my thoughts.

Also, it's possible that the translation itself highlights these effects. Whatever. I'm loving this poem. I'm also beginning to tell Jonah the story of Beowulf again. He loves the whole arm-getting-ripped-off thing. As long as it's comfortably light outside, that is!

update: it took me until 1/3 of the way through to realize the pearl was a child of the speaker who died young . . . explains that sense of heartbreak, at the very least. In general (and I think this is pretty obvious to most readers) I think it's better to find such things out from the text itself, in your own readerly time, even if it means you miss some definitive stuff in the beginning, than from external introductions, which leave you running behind someone else, perceptually speaking (this attitude is, of course, what got me in trouble with Ulysses those years ago!).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Why don't they build it at the crash site in Pennsylvania?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

There's something unsettling I'd like to point out here . . . in this article, towards the end is the mention that families of 9/11 victims want the "millions of tons of rubble from Ground Zero to be treated as human remains and given a proper burial rather than dumped in a landfill like garbage." My first response was, that such an action was quaint. Then I remembered a time, not so long ago, when such an action would have seemed the appropriate thing to do . . . a little strenuous, but all the more right for that.

So I can't tell, having, in the last five years, gone through so much with my own illness, one result of which has been a constant and immediate intimacy with the transcient nature of what is normal (including the possibility of mortality), simultaneous with the national crises we've all experienced/witnessed. Does such an action seem quaint because its possibility is reported alongside the spectacle of years of seemingly-random slaughter in Iraq? Of floating, decaying bodies in New Orleans? Or maybe because my own, personal experience of health, health's fragility, and medicine's less-than-rumored capabilities to keep us healthy, has resulted in a sense that control of such issues (life and death) are a matter of crowd control, like so much else is? All this together? I really don't know. But things have changed a whole lot in the last four years. A whole lot. Sometimes it just hits you.

Makes me feel like rereading Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain," actually. Though I don't remember it well enough to know exactly why.

p.s. Not that I don't sympathise with the families and their desire. I would feel the same way. But so often these years we've seen other such sane and reasonable desires thwarted for the stupidest reasons. And families torn (literally) apart for malicious, or at the very least, brutal, ones.

It's funny, how what eyes you bring to the game becomes part of the score: I like this Martha Ronk poem Josh Corey samples (~ 3 paragraphs down), though I'd've described it as a poem owing much of itself to Stevens, some to Williams, and a fair bit of its phrasing to Merwin (that penultimate line is so Merwin, to me, that if I conceived of it I'd probably be too embarrassed to write it down or, if I did, to show it to anybody). And not much in the way of post-avant. But that's just me.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Now that's a movie review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I meant to post these back when, but forgot (wonder why?) until memory brought them back this morning:

I received these comments on rejection notes (different ones), all in the month of March of this year:

"While we admired some of the writing, we felt you've left little for the reader to do, little for the imagination."

"These poems are too obscure, portentious, and frequently narcissistic . . . for our contemporary snippy marketplace."

" the linguistic push of these poems needs to be explored more--the tone is flat throughout."

Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

And I never link to any Onion articles because I assume everyone reads them, but I have to point out this one this week . . . it is hands down the funniest/most awful thing I've read regarding Katrina (though my favorite Onion article is still, and may always remain, this).

I think this site, for the Speakeasy reading series, is the best I've seen a reading series set up--check it out, even if you don't live in NYC.

(Among other features, anyone who has questions for David Lehman can find him there, 9/27-10/2.)

Doesn't that Ammons tribute sound like a great reading? I'd love to be there. At least I'll be able to listen, afterwards.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


By request, back to where we started . . .

So next year, Dara and I were in ap english together. In the beginning of the year, the teacher assigned projects for each author—Dickinson, Donne, Steinbeck, Yeats, Faulkner, Shakespeare, are some I remember immediately—on a volunteer basis. When he came to Joyce, everyone kind of looked around fretfully to see who would take the plunge--I already had my hand up, curious because of his rep, and Dara, seeing no-one else volunteering, thought it was stupid to be afraid like everyone else and so poked her hand up. So it was us, and I got to begin learning Joyce and get really close to Dara (how's that for writerly sentimentality?) at the same time. We actually spent all our time talking about her boyfriend (who was in rehab at the time), or about my non-girlfriend S-- B--, and never got any work done. I spent all my time alone (when I wasn't at my friend Bo's ostensibly studying for AP physics and really playing wargames & listening to the Talking Heads until 3 am) trying to puzzle out Ulysses w/out any guides (no one told me about Budgen, etc, just to go look for books about U-- in Alexander Library. I ended up, by prediliction, with heady marxist critics and other inscrutabilities, not the basic outlines I needed) ( also, I was the kind of student who frustrated all his teachers, esp. English teachers; they just couldn’t get me to think the way they wanted me to, and I was too earnest/stupid to realize the game wasn’t really education in any creative sense, so I kept trying as if it was. Just so you know.). When it came time for our presentation, Dara read pretty much directly from the Cliff Notes (because she had done no other work, and knew what the teacher wanted) and got an A, and I, for all my effort to grapple directly with the text, got a C (and a stern note that such a presentation, in college would deservedly fail). I imagine, in retrospect, my presentation was solidly incomprehensible.

By this time, we were very good friends, very comfortable with each other. We used to sit on the hill overlooking Donaldson Park and talk for hours, or walk our dogs in said park. Once, she helped me shop for clothes, I remember I bought a nifty striped shirt, and also a great loud pair of plaid shorts—they were my favorite things that Dara helped me pick out. So the next day, I wore them together to school, I remember walking into English class and Dara & S— B— bursting out laughing at me. And I had no idea why, even after they explained.

At the end of the year, we would go to the prom together. Dara asked me, and I said maybe, if S—B— wouldn’t go with me. Then I was going with J— L—, until J— L— and I weren’t going out anymore, and by then S— B— wasn’t free to be asked, so Dara & I went. As friends, of course. We had fun. The first night she got really drunk and puked in my shoes. Then we drove to a house in the poconos and because it was raining and we were in her best friend Deb’s Tercel, and we went off the appropriate road and into a large puddle (impromptu pond, really), we ended up wandering through silent rainy woods looking for help (me & Dara, Deb, and E— J—, another girl/woman—I felt very protective, and very not-up-to-being-so-if-the-need-arose), the silence interrupted once by a shotgun shot (hunting season). I was in full neurotic mode, and so was E— J—. Dara & Deb couldn’t stop laughing. Then we found a hermity family who helped us, and then finally the party vacation house, where all my plans for opening my heart to S— B— were ruined—ruined!—so I got drunk with a bunch of my guy friends and puked in Dara’s shoes. Then she took care of me and finally I passed out on the only mattress available—a crib mattress—face down, so when I woke up I couldn’t walk for my knees having been bent so backwards so long. Oh, the drama. Can you take it?

Next installment – we kiss!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Interesting-looking micro-fiction online journal, Staccato, is calling for submissions until October 15. If you're interested, check them out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Blogoview, take 3

Blogoview, take 3.

"What is your favorite poem of your own?" is the question, today given second life by Jeff Bahr. So hell, here's mine. I wish I could write like this all the time. But I'm still surprised anyone else can make sense of it.

The Smell of Warm Grass, and Shakespeare’s Majestic Silence

are the open last October day
of warmth arisens which we cannot but
mistake for spring. Think April; think Perdita

blushing, proof that art is what we are
most when most ourselves—I don’t mean art
like lying whispered out ears, making up

what those ears hear like dolls of eden-stuff
we foul out of each breath for our shame
as her father did, lost to himself—

but listen to her words, how she becomes
what she perceives, and how her lover, listening
with his tongue for her, savors a satiety

which satisfies itself. If ears can hear,
if ears are what I think they are—empty
bubbles filmed with light rising through empty

me—if perception lives, a low-branched sparrow
too simple to confuse October, April,
too simple to forget to not sing, and I

film with this smell of green the risen silence,
pretend it is spring again without the must-
be-death-hard interlude, the awful white

passed through, box of dust and radiators,
kleenex, hacked bedroom lonely as a crypt,
Perdita, gentle bird, come remind me,

back-silver your silence, let me smell the Earth
settling with a bellyful of sun,
let me know myself why I grow vocal

in this down-light crusting March-frost-deep
a crow’s back as if on and in were equal;
presager memory, gone and not gone, I want more

and less than that man who, it seems, when
he felt the last balm-day, the second spring
arrive as I now, knew, as you, sparrow, know,

to stop singing and, thus emptied, to perceive.

(originally published in Antioch Review)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I often hear/read people talking/writing (this morning, here & here) about giving their manuscripts an 'arc', and like everyone else I see that such books are in vogue, and have my thoughts as to why, but more important for a book of poetry, even those projects tightened to resonance with continuity and resolution, is rhythm. Rhythm, not arc, it seems to me, is the way to find your poems into a book. Or, at least, something else to look at if sustained projection isn't your extrapoetic organizational thing.

Just a little word of encouragement for the grand-vision-impaired, from these eyes.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ok, shop question:

I had a few poems accepted at a certain journal around 2 years ago (October of 2003)--I was told they would be published in the Fall or Winter of 2005. Then these poems were part of the psa chapbook ms, due to be published in December of 2005. So I called said journal, to make sure everything was cool, and was told they'd get back to me. That was June. So in August I sent an email, asking what was happening, no response. Now, this journal has been in some tumult--new editor, and the old poetry editor has been replaced by a brace of co-poetry-editors. They've moved to a new building. They've tinkered with the journal's format pretty significantly. Apparently they are cutting sharply back on the old poetry editor's backlog of accepted poems. Which is fine with me, really, if they would just have enough consideration to say so and let me try real quick to place them somewhere else.

So my question is--how much longer do I wait before trying to place these poems elsewhere? I mean, I suppose there's a chance this journal is still interested in them, though it seems to diminish every time I think about it.

And follow-up question: is it too late to try and place any as-yet-unpublished poems from the manuscript? I know this sounds stupid, I just really have no idea how the whole submit-wait-rejoice-or-resubmit process I'm so familiar with at this point goes when the poems are coming out in a chapbook in a few months.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Well, the Friends School is a no go. I've been recovering nicely, but even so my health won't support the commute. This became clear fairly quickly.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Beautiful babies--Halcyon has some companions, Olive Cameron, born to Deborah Ager, and Emily Jane, born to Suzanne Frischkorn. Wish them welcome, if you like!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Trickle down.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

As far as reconstruction goes, simple thought: lots of unemployed people in New Orleans, and lots of work to be done rebuilding New Orleans: FDR would know what to do. I know that's an overly simplistic idea, but I think a New Deal type thing would do wonders both ways.

Any bets on how GWB goes about it?

One thing about the debate between K. Silem Mohammed and Michael Snyder regarding what is or is not a sonnet--they both seem pretty fixated on a nominal notion of form--14 lines, rhyme & meter--but these qualities are only part of what a sonnet is, and I think of them as outward manifestations, rather than the soul--manifestations organic with the form, and expressive of what makes it what it is (the way our hands, w/ thumbs and so much capable dexterity, are manifestations of our intelligence, or sneakers are of our feet). So, in this formulation, I'd say the soul of the sonnet is the proportion it manages--that is, it offers enough, but only enough, space, for a solid proposition to be developed, and then a turn, and then a conclusion; and even then only if you are practiced at such gymnastics.

In Olson's term (though I don't think extending all his terms to the argument would work), I'd say the form offers a great ENERGY. Rhyme and meter allow for more precision, let you hit your marks more gracefully and flamboyantly but we are no longer Renaissance makers--it seems obvious to the point of tears that an appropriately-rhymed & metered 14 liner is far less a sonnet than a poem which has none of those three qualities yet maintains an appropriate proportion (imagistic, emotional, syntactical are the qualities I tend to think of as primary), tension, and elegance (though you can use the word neatness, or even 'justification', as in giving the feel of a well-built architectural unit).

Often they are aren't named sonnets--sonnets are pretty good at representing 'one unit' of thought (this is where I get to describing a little more fully what I consider the 'soul' of the sonnet to be)--which is to say (you can hear Derrida in this definition, as well as Lao Tze) a feeling/perception, its negation/expansion, and their resolution, such resolution often presented as logical though, in the final analysis it isn't, is more a matter of architecture. By architecture I mean in the way a sea-bird's need for solid ground to land on after a long flight is a matter of architecture, so our minds, turning through one complete thought-unit (and thought has a wave-function to get a little technical, I'm measuring, in that regard, from peak to peak say, or trough to peak, however you want to have it), finds a need to wrap up that leg of travel and rest.

So I'd say that Kasey's taunt-example "Fourteen" both wouldn't exist w/out the idea of sonnet and is very far from one--is more of an anti-sonnet (not really a poem at all, decadent in the classical sense of the word), meant to taunt those who would consider the soul of a sonnet measurable by counting lines. Meant to, except I don't think KSM meant that, because his approach is overly material and, also, considers a sonnet nothing more than a product of its mechanical parts, just like MS. So while he extends that function, by inference, more catholically than Mike, they both, really, are operating from the same impoverished definition of what a sonnet is.

Both are sensitive readers, and this seems to my eye more an expressive lack on their parts than a perceptual one, if you know what I mean. Putting how one feels about poems into words is a dicey business, and received definitions often make the job easier. So caveat (though I hope this is obvious from the post itself): I write this with respect for both of them.

Caveat two is, I have not gone back and read all the posts on the subject they have made (though I did skim), so this may in fact be a reaction to a dominant facet of their discussion only; that is, they may have touched on more than the sheer mechanics here and there, I don't remember. If so, take this as more of a 'this is how I think of the sonnet' moment, a 'why I think the sonnet is still important' moment. That is, the sonnet is still important unless you are revolutionary enough to want to overturn certain thought structures which are basic to at least the world I know, back 600 years. Which I can understand, though I wouldn't advocate.

Friday, September 02, 2005



Past the landscape is how I would start
to reassemble my family
in that landscape is time
in that home
is where we move
my body was me and now
my body is my near landscape
my home
was an extension of my senses
here is the kitchen barstool
I’d eat my Cheerios in
feel from out my hand for its steel body
here is the coo of pigeons
under my eaves half waking me
half-way into morning
listening out my ear
for their bellies’ repeating
my father and my mother wander
bedroom to den
to basement, finding always
only me to argue with.

That house is grown
into me now, is ghostly.
“Our body is a house,”
the ancient meditationist says,
“we sit to allow our souls
to guard our house in great safety.”
Great safety means in step with time,
and then no time;
great safety means looking for nothing
that is not here
but what is not here?
I listen and listen, and my home
is yet my senses, my family
what is left

You know, Seth is absolutely spot-on, in all ways, with his writing regarding the New Orleans hurricane aftermath.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A long and varied list of aid agencies you can contribute to, if you have the ability/desire & haven't already.

And by the way, if the gas prices are making you choke, you might want to visit my brother's web site and check out how he drives, essentially, for free. Off the gas grid is pretty cool, and pretty cheap, too.

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