Friday, July 29, 2005

Oh well

As most people (accurately) point out, it's virtually impossible to have an opinion of what I should call my manuscript if you haven't actually read the manuscript. I definitely appreciate the comments, though, and as of yet have no earthly idea what to call this thing. After some thinking about everyone's comments, I thought about this: Simone suggested that I put the poem about Mary into the manuscript, which I will surely do, so in light of this, I'm contemplating the title of that poem, which I like a lot, as the title of the manuscript:

leave, light, entropy

There seems to be a stillness about this title, yet also a movement that either will happen or really wants to happen. I'd like to think that my poems hold an energy like this. The word entropy is certainly an enticing one. It even has the word "trope" in it, which makes it even more tempting. I hope I can figure this out soon. It's hurting my brain. I think this might be my favorite so far.

On a lighter note, my husband, Brian, suggested the title "catastrophic sandwich nugget" to really entice the reader. I mean, who doesn't like sandwiches? And it's pretty poetic. Oh well, he tries. Not bad for a computer scientist, I suppose:)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Manuscript title mayhem

I'm hoping for a big response to this post, so rally the troops. I'm (once again) changing the title of my manuscript, which I just can't seem to get right. First it was catastrophe, which I like a lot but severalf others didn't, then face the asking dance which I got some good responses to but I'm not sold on and neither is Simone, who is currently and graciously reading my manuscript for me (what a doll!!!). So here's her suggestion, torn ever so gently from my poem "Face the Asking Dance" :

eye, electric field

I like it a lot. The comma bothers me though for some reason and I'm contemplating

eye electric field

for various reasons. Or maybe with caps.

Eye Electric Field

Or if commas are your thing

eye, electric, field

which I think is slightly intriguing. But I need some help fo reals, peeps. Let me know what your vote is PLEASE. Don't be shy.

abecedarian time

Time for more games! Some of my attempts at abecedarian, though none very valiant. It helps to try, though, to push yourself out of normal conventions, like I tend to overuse the construction ____________ of __________. I can only do that once in an abecedarian :)

After blue Chinese
drums, everybody found glass
hiding in jupiter’s king lightning.
Maximum nexus opens
peonies, quill
reverberating slowly
there under various whispers.
X-rated yellow zygoma.

Aftermath bellows carefully,
drifting elephant fever
gathers heather. Impossible.
Just keep longing muscle necks
open properly. Quality refers simply
to underbelly violet. Warsaw. Xanthus yippee zydeco.

please feel free to post your attempts. . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

fun with words. . .transmutation::genesis

My friend Scott and I have been playing word games based on the subconscious associations on I gave him a list of ten words from one of my poems with which he had to free associate and he gave me 10 words from one of his poems, etc. and we have written poems generated from the list(s). It seems a useful exercise to me because it takes words from someone elses lexicon and melds them with your own- often poets can get stuck in ruts, using the same word or image over and over again (I use the word blue obsessively. . .whether I like it or not). Anyway, here's what I came up with, the list then the poem. It's a fun game. . .feel free to join in on your blog and post your link in the comments.

  1. rearview: black storm sky
  2. voice: yodel
  3. sobriety: sticking
  4. litter : plastic
  5. totaling: layer
  6. ferryboat: barnacle
  7. glacial: filter
  8. transmutation: genesis
  9. blinks: blanks
  10. face-down: favorite ice cream

transmutation:: genesis

Like eyes in your rearview mirror, not mine
but black storm sky in a funeral of ice. Like voice,
yodel from a small crevice of wall
above your headboard. Are you stuck

in this undertow of unfamiliar walls,
recurrent dream parsed into reality
until you remember me more
as a plastic doll than love? Tell the story:

he says it first on the ferryboat, under three
layers of fog, barnacles growing on our elbows
and teeth. Somehow we can feel
the glacial chill of water, totaling,

festering and curl. No sunburn or filter,
no transmutation of twig into snake, but a hint,
a flash of how naked we are against a blank sky,
gray limbs blending with the blinking gray slap

of ocean chop. What about waking up
together? Sobriety in pink morning sweet rolls?
Face down in a mound of pillows saying
“blackberry” over and over again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Resin: a little too sticky?

It's rare that I have a mixed opinion of a book, and it's even rarer that the mixed feelings have any power either way. But after reading the 2004 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets award winning book, Resin by Geri Doran, I am torn like a weathered cornfield. It is clear the Doran knows how to put together an image-- the book is ripe with beautiful, fierce moments of lucid sight filtered all too consciously by the lyric speaker, utterly aware and in control of the things around her. The opening image of the collection, in fact, speaks the exact inaccuracy which moves me between loving and hating this collection:

The sky fell open to the map of the constellations.
Earlier the snowmelt reconfigured the field.
I tried to describe it, but the field transformed
into the plains of the soul pressed flat.

Here we have an image, nicely constructed, though perhaps a bit cliché to open one's first collection of poem with, but nonetheless. Then a mirroring: the sky with the field, making the image of the sky a bit more interesting. Then the poets annoying intrusion, the speaker's statement of, "hey, here I am, trying to describe everything to you just as it is, but life is just too complicated to do it." If the speaker fails in the telling, that's fine. Represent it through contradicting images, competing sources of light, a sound of a machine from faraway entering the landscape. I don't want to hear how hard the poet is working to provide me with the art. Just give me the art, complicated or sincere.

Meanwhile, poems like "Self Portrait as Miranda" are complex in construction, vivid and unstable in a very tasty and scrumptious way. Opening up with a beautiful account of place, "My story begins at sea, in the bitter liquid./ If not, it would begin in Florida, along I-95". Here, Doran creates a beautiful parallel of landscapes, which she carries on throughout the poem quite amazingly, mirroring the dramatic stage of Shakespeare's Tempest with a "lime-green motel" in Florida (could there be a tackier image?) which seems to be relating a separate incident told by the speaker. Brilliant. But she intrudes again, if only for a moment. As if she can't trust the reader to gather the consequences of the images, Doran can't resist pushing the moment just a little too hard and telling the reader just how to interpret the images:

As the crew, in desperate but unspoken straits,
wishes belatedly for a drag on the anchor.
Frequently, we are thus carried along.
Frequently, de profundis, we struggle ashore

to find ourselves, if not stranded, then beached.
We are inclined to be grateful for land.

Are we? Really? She has pushed too hard, breaking the carnal rule in poetry of telling instead of showing. The "we" here is ambiguous, though not in a tantalizing way- in a way that removes the reader from the poem more than it locates him/her in the poem. Are "we" on the ship? In the lime-green motel? Swimming in a sea of profundity? It's hard to tell. And in the case of this poem, which comes so close to succeeding, it's tragic.

The poem of most interest to me is buried at the end of this relatively short, 51 page collection. "The Bitter Season" is written in four sections which are labeled as a sequence of letters, 1-4. Again, Doran places us in a landscape, sparse but populated with ghosts and faceless men and women who exist in isolation, in darkness. Letter III and IV are the most innovative and interesting of the poems in this collection, representing a disjointed and confused voice that seems to be constantly suppressed by some sense of order of "God" evoked throughout (which I just don't buy). In letter III, the images are allowed to explode without interruption, and we are left with a soggy pile of poem by the end, but this time in a good way-- in a way that poet intended, I would guess. The momentum moves into the next section, which is my favorite part of the collection. Letter IV is the closest Doran comes to music; the springs of this little pearl are tightened and it's ready to burst:

Our plumb line found vertical. Gravity's
fantasy. Now I live hardscrabble on this hill.
As if on the sheer, with pebbles rolling down.
Where it is level, I am offered large stones
that resemble sarcophagi. (. . .)

While we are again placed in a landscape, it is one of abstract and impossible location. Like the speaker, we are dislocated, but delighted by it. . .the pressure is released just slightly by the language. There is also tension, however, created by the inevitable hang of gravity.

It's hard to bite my tongue about the religious overtones of this book- they are insidious and overwhelming in a grotesque, George W. Bush rhetoric-of-Democracy kind of way that caused me to throw up in my mouth more than once when I read it. It is my zero-tolerance-for-god-poems-meter pushed way into the red. Thank godd there is some ambiguity to the speaker's relationship with GOD or this book would be completely ruined, run amuck in the cornfields and Florida heat of lime-green hotels.

unconscious mutterings from lunanina (thanks to Lorna)

  1. Believing::gone into language gone
  2. Invasion::battle of red bicycles in sand
  3. Boys::two teeth and blue eyes
  4. Island::tree not like a vine but a funnel
  5. Repeatedly::and I'll ask you again
  6. Normal::that it would be so easy
  7. Hex::sex
  8. Tuxedo::shaving cream and streamers
  9. Virgin::should have flushed the toilet
  10. Cereal::eyes in the o's are unreal

Monday, July 25, 2005

stopped. cry

a new poem after Scott Glassman

stopped. cry

you return to the tender. bloodsing. a victor in sending. what could be billowing. quagmire. pile. complacent burial of mango flesh. in the shallow. pitch. slide of the long distant cry. it winds into drums without you. think of calendars. mondays in tubular bliss. a raincoat of lightning in a storm of ink. i know that it takes a filament. flip. back outward. mystery only on. not like a sun, like a crater. wine, licorice. wish in a field. the last taste is still here

A poem by Alice Notley and some thoughts

I came across this poem several months ago when one of my students showed it to me. Not only was I overwhelmed by its beauty and startling disaster, I was breathless with a sense of understanding that I don't often encounter in experimental poetry (which is actually why I like a lot it, but that's beside the point, I suppose. . .). Right now, I am focusing my concentration on issues of subjectivity as represented by the "I" in experimental women's poetry (some with feminist motives, but not all) and this poem strikes me in a way that many other's fail me:

Dear Dark Continent
by Alice Notley

Dear Dark Continent:

The quickening of
the palpable coffin
fear so then the frantic
doing of everything experience is thought of

but I've ostensibly chosen
my, a, family
so early! so early! (as is done always
as it would seem always) I'm a two
now three irrevocably
I'm wife I'm mother I'm
myself and him and I'm myself and him and him

But isn't it only I in the real
whole long universe? Alone to be
in the whole long universe?

But I and this he (and he) makes ghosts of
I and all the hes there would be, won't be

because by now I am he, we are I, I am we.

We are not the completion of myself.

Not the completion of myself, but myself!
through the whole long universe.

This poem actually TRACKS the division of subjectivity of the speaker in a way that I have yet to see in other poems- it acknowledges the existence yet simultaneous erasure of existence of the singular "I" in the context of parenthood. Yes, the veil is lifted; maybe this is why I relate so very much to this poem and it shakes me so interiorly- I feel the division- the split- the bifurcation- the cleaving- the mitosis- the fracturing- of my "self" on a daily basis. In the Lacanian sense, I am constantly in service of the other, yet Lacan could never understand what it truly means to be devoted, if only for a little time, to the complete creation and care of another living being because he has never carried a baby for 9 months and given birth, only to have a small mouth attached to your breast literally sucking the life out of you for another six months (or some unnamed variable of time). The giving of birth is a forced evacuation of the self- a forced evacuation of the voice- and it takes months (maybe years? I know I'm not there yet!) to relocate a self inside, a voice with which you can speak with ANY authority.

Is it possible that this is why women are so comfortable in the place of divided subjectivity. . .we are always already serving someone in the sense that we have (or at least were born with) ovaries and a uterus and the biological capability to produce another person who you will serve for the rest of your life? Is it possible that we are comfortable eschewing the lyric "I" because many of us have no concept of what it means to speak from one voice, one persona, one single stream of certainty and conviction because there is no such thing in our reality?

I feel like experimental poetry that questions mainstream notions of authority through restructuring of language and subjectivity is a powerful tool. In reading the introduction of Lyric Interventions by Linda Kinnehan, I am struck by her polarization of poets Adrianne Rich and Rae Armantrout- Rich on the side of presenting feminist messages in clear though discursive narratives with a centrally located speaker, Armantrout on the other side arguing for a revision of the lyric structure, which as the langpo movement argues, is another way women are kept down by "the man". While I understand Rich's argument, it seems like she is underestimating the capability of women to understand a complex subject, which I think is a mistake. Take Gloria Anzuldua's essay “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness” for example in which she literally spells out the mestiza double consciousness, but all the while in very clear yet poetic language. Poets like Theresa Cha, who was Korean American, and Haryette Mullen, who is African American, also represent this double consciousness (or triple, or quadruple, or. . .) through a complicated speaker who questions herself and the structures of language within which she operates.

My advisor and I are still in search of the answer to the question "What makes women's writing inherently different from men's writing?" This may be part of the answer. I hate to be sexist and say that a man cannot create something that I can create because he never gave birth but I feel like there is something true to that statement. That I had fully sustained another living being for over a year, in-utero and out, makes me someone who knows how to serve the reader, to offer myself to another in a way that only a mother can, to have something taken away from me that only a mother has had taken away, left with a pile of mush that is constantly doing 10 things at the same time and trying to please 8 people while juggling grapefruits and milking a cow. Or maybe there is no answer and I am being essentialist and sexist. But I know that I often cannot locate myself inside of myself, that if someone put a gun to my head and said "write a poem with an authoritative lyric 'I'" that I would have to come up with a big steaming pile of crap that was purely fabricated out of what I thought they wanted me to write, not out of something that felt real and accurate to me like the multiple-subject "I" that I mostly write out of, " because by now I am he, we are I, I am we" and there is no other way to speak out of "I" but out of "WE".

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Can't handle the wait

I guess I've never submitted such a large volume of poems over the summer because, well, this is ridiculous. I worked hard for several months, sending out at least three batches of poems every week- that went on for about two months starting in March, and then I would just resend what I would get back somewhere new. Of corse, the response time varies, and I'm more accostomed to the 2-3 week rejection than I am to the 3 -4 month rejection. I sent a long docu-poem "Daybreak"(a research-based piece about and for the women of Afghanistan) to the Marlboro Review in March and didn't get a rejection until a few weeks ago. . .I halfway imagined they might actually take it. Anyway, after being rejected from the pies-in-the-sky like Denver Quarterly, Iowa Review, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, I started submitting to places recommended to me by friends and random places I found on the web that I thought looked cool and fit my aesthetic. Bought a few subscriptions and purchased a few sample copies, sent out more stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff. And now I'm plum out of stuff. It's bizarre. For so long, I would dedicate at least 2-3 hours a week just to submitting, but until I write some more stuff worthy of publication, I'm just playing the waiting game. It's brutal. I figured things would move more slowly during the summer months (all publications I've ever edited were on hold over the summer, in fact) but this is ridiculous. I still have poems out to Conduit and The Southeast Review from the beginning of March but I am afraid to query them because of some horror stories I've read on other blogs, like editors saying "Leave me alone, I already rejected your crappy poems" etc. Does anyone have a take on the ettiquette for such a thing? I mean, if they're not going to take them, I want to send them somewhere else. If they are, well then, I don't want to miss my chance of getting into their mags. I'm perplexed. Is it kosher to simultaneously submit if you haven't heard from a publication in, say, four months? Or am I just too obsessed and need to sit back, relax, and let the rejection letters come as they may (and maybe the occasional acceptance. . .)? Four months just seems like an awfully long time to wait.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get reading done for my exams but my insane son has developed a case of mommy-addiction. I ca nbarely leave the room without him screaming bloody murder, nevertheless leave him with the babysitter. I doubt I'll be able to be ready for exams in April only studying on evenings and during nap times- something's gotta give.

We braved a sweltering evening of clothing exchanges and poetry on Monday, and unfortunately for me, my first glass of wine went straight to my head and stayed there for most of the night. Most of my comments were lacking, to say the least. Here's a picture of us, glazed with sweat and Chianti. I scored some awesome clothes from Simone to round out my new wardrobe. And we said goodbye to Mary, which was utterly sad, and I still don't have a sense of closure about the whole thing- she's been such a good friend and confidant through this whole baby thing, it'll be much more lonely without her here. But her new job in Akron sounds amazing and her new house is awesome, so onward and upward.

Monday, July 18, 2005

I will miss Mary

A poem I wrote for Mary Biddinger, who meets with our poetry workshop for the last time tonight. She will be sorely missed.

Leave, Light, Entropy
for Mary Biddinger

The white bark appears, even though
it’s not winter. The landscape, caved in
by the squeeze of intimacy,
holds you as a vanishing point.
A complacent valley. Like the bird back, you channel
dry wind into eventual breath. Sing
to me once more, given the number of days.
If your braids will allow it.

We keep our names, like scavengers,
close and underwater. It wouldn’t be like this
if the moonlight was the same color:
yours a rusting red, mine green and fading. We share
the knowing otherwise. Precincts.
Heat and our own eventual collapse. But the opal,
with clear intention,
is the fire of you. Dirt floors of a log cabin,
two people like planks, reach through.
Of what remains,
send me the owl in an envelope.
The word for her rustle of trees.
I will owe it all to you.

My mother twisting each timber
of hair, weave me in a circle
like a basket. Who are you in the blanket
of another place? Are you still a cannon,
ripe with powder,
coming out of an unnamed battle? We’ll call it sycamore
by looking at the leaves. Plainly, sweetly, spread out
like three fingers, untying a message
of partial sun. Bark rind cutting our hands; clearly,
we’re holding on too tight.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A safe place?

It's always been my intention to create a classroom that is a "safe place" for my students: a place free of judgments of people's race, gender, culture, sexuality, wardrobe, body piercings, haircolor, class, etc. As someone who has been teaching in the college system for almost eight years now, it's been a challenge at times. I remember seeing Charles Bernstein talk at CU Boulder and he said, "We're all racist. We need to stop trying to hide it because denying our racism only makes things worse." (paraphrased) I suppose on some level, he's right ( though I wouldn't compare myself to KKK member for example). I have a hard time defining my generation's relationship with racism because the conversation has been squelched for so long. . .it's just something we don't talk about. Or we talk about "how bad it used to be" while giving ourselves huge pats on the back for our advances. But to say we don't still struggle with it is bullshit, I'm afraid, myself included. When I think about the "safest place" I've ever workshopped my poems, I think of my present writing group- a collection of well educated, mostly white women within 15 years of my age. Is this wrong? I don't know. But I suppose in many ways, creating a "safe place" means creating a place where everyone can discuss their prejudices, stereotypes, and preferences without being judged on a scale of 1-10 but instead to look at the issues in a light of greater complexity. It's not black or white- it's a three dimensional diagram of relationships and until we realize that, and even until I realize that completely, we're going to have a rough time. Or we're going to stay trapped in this binary which is obviously hurting people on a daily basis.

A recent interaction with a fellow blogger has raised a lot of these issues for me, in the context of poetry and the bigger picture of the world. A new irony becomes apparent to me even as I write this- my post about Geof Huth was originally longer and criticized fellow bloggers for being racist and sexist (mostly because I assumed that both people were white male of privilege, which was a false assumption). Just as I was grateful for the interview with Huff for opening my eyes to a different way of thinking about poetry, I was unable to unlock my paradigms of gender and race classifications, jumping to conclusions when I probably should have thought more critically about the situation. I don't condone racism or sexism, but I need to open up my black-and-white perception to include a deeper consciousness about these issues. This won't be easy, but I suspect for others who have a lot further to go, it will be a lot more difficult. It's about personal responsibility in the Dr. Phil sense of the word, I suppose, but with more of a poetic spin on it, if you will.

Am I allowed, as a white woman, to make statements like this when I haven't experienced racism? I grew up in a pretty ghettoized part of Connecticut and there were only 3-4 white kids in my class. My brother was the only white kid in his 2nd grade class. I know what it's like to be different. I grew up thinking the whole world must be like this- that I must be the minority. I sang in my best friend, Nakia's, gospel choir and loved every minute of it. I miss the ignorant bliss of those days. Now it is assumed at every corner that because I am white, I am racist. Following Bernstein, I think it's time to say because I am human, I am racist and assume the responsibilities that go along with that. Easy for me to say? No way. To this day, one of my best friends is black. Another close friend full Mexican. My favorite poet, Korean. My favorite teacher, Chicana. My husband, 1/4 Mexican, 1/4 Italian. My son, 1/8 Mexican, 1/8 Italian. It's a three-dimensional issue, not to be solved by name calling or conclusion jumping or finger pointing. I’m in the middle of it all, enmeshed as much as anyone.

I remember being so annoyed in a pedagogy class I took at CU years ago because we were talking about "cultural responsibility" in the context of teaching "enough black authors" etc. etc. I was pissed that Toni Morrison would be taught in this context because in my mind, she is not a "black author". She is an amazing author. She is one of the best fiction writers in the last half of the century as far as I'm concerned and should be taught because she's amazing. Yes, there are acknowledgements that will need to be made to her culture- you can't avoid them if you actually READ HER BOOKS, so can't she exist in the world of literature as just worthy of being taught? This goes for SO many authors as well that I don't have space to name them. Each piece of literature can be taught within a context, but a context should not necessarily necessitate the reading of a book, per say.

And, of course, ten months ago, I entered the most important teaching position I will have in my life- the position of mother. With the risk of being overly sentimental about the whole thing, I will say that I hope Eliot’s generation does a better job than we are doing. It is clear that we don’t really know how to talk to each other like civilized human beings (myself implicated) because our view of reality is skewed and defensive. We are all “more subjugated” than the other, all “more victimized” than average, so we’re missing the mark when it comes to communicating with each other. We’re uncomfortable. Because there’s always an elephant in the room that we don’t know how to describe. I hope Eliot’s generation can come to better terms with this problem, but how do you teach someone to talk about something that you’ve never been taught how to talk about? I’m working on it, and that’s a good first step, no?

Friday, July 15, 2005

On a lighter note. . .

I thought this picture was funny and sickly poetic at the same time. The crazy lady feeding my son alcohol is my mom, Montessori School teacher extraordinare, Barbara Carignan. The guy holding him is my father in law, Bill Pontarelli, a dentist (and great clarinet player, BTW). And to think that only a few minutes earlier, my mom was worried about feeding Eliot a graham cracker. . . To be fair and avoid Children Services from taking my child from me, he was only chewing on the glass b/c he's teething, but it sure looks funny.

Where lyric meets language, or the corner of Irving Park and Sheridan

Part of my reading for this week includes selections from a book called American Women Poets In the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language. Like any thorough scholar (hehe), I began with the Introduction, which strived to define the lyric but never really took the next step to define the language aspect. The intro is by Juliana Spahr, a poet and critic of and about, mostly, language poetry. She says many things that perplex me about the lyric tradition- they seem too abstract in the context of something that has become so abstract itself (I'm devoting a whole PhD list to figuring out what the freakin lyric tradition is, for crap sake!). On the first page of the intro, she says, "Some argue that lyric's intimate and interior space of retreat is its sin" (italics mine). She follows it with "because the lyric retreats, it resists," which I just really have a hard time contextualizing, especially because she presents these statements in an effort to DEFINE the lyric. Does it retreat from the outer aspects of the world to focus inward on the speaker of the poem? I would say no. How does a lyric resist? What does it resist? So vague. She later goes on to say something a little more useful: "Many poets here (as in the collection) speak of lyric as the genre of and about impossibility and difficulty," or, in other words, the structure of the lyric gives a firm ground with little room to play, which is an especially arousing aspect for the most experimental writers in this collection. After reading on a few more pages, we figure out that a lyric has one speaker which most people may assume, but is not always anymore a definition of the lyric. . .I often write lyric poems which speak out of a fragmented or divided subjectivity- more than one voice, but it looks like Spahr isn't accounting for this, which seems to be an oversight in my perspective. That's about all we get. And there literally is no mention of the tradition of Language poetry- she seems to be taking this knowledge for granted. I suppose by doing a poet-by-poet account of each aesthetic, she accounts for a lot of the holes in the argument, but I'm still left to wonder a bit about how these voices all connect in this project. Where does Lyric meet Language? At the intersection of "invention"? I suppose if the reader takes the time to truly map out how each poet (Rae Armantrout, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Lucie Brock-Broido, Jorie Graham, Barbara Guest, Lyn Hejinian, Brenda Hillman, Susan Howe, Ann Lauterbach and Harryette Mullen) manipulates or executes these two traditions/genres (?) and finds the point of intersection in each poet, this could be interesting (sounds like a plan). Maybe Spahr is leaving the connections open for the reader to make them, which I suppose is an interesting tactic in terms of a sort of rejection of closure.

I do applaud the way this book contextualizes each poet and really creates a picture of each poet, more so than most books like this. I find that most books like this highlight the critics, not the poetry, whereas in this book the poets are the critics. The book has three sections about each poet: a selection of their poetry, a chosen critical "poetic statement" and another critic's take on their poetry. It is so well balanced and harmonious. . .maybe a bit too harmonious even. It is pretty common knowledge that a lot of the poets in this collection are a bit ambivalent to any kind of label, and poets like Lucy Brock-Broido wrote an essay called "Myself a kangaroo among the beauties" which is essentially a critique of more experimental writing and an attempt to define herself in the context of that tradition. Kudos to the editors for including this essay in the book, but should there be more of a HEATED dialogue as opposed to being "hopeful about the lyric in the beginnings of the 21st century." I mean, there's nothing wrong with being hopeful, but the hope should come out of the reality of the connections of these texts and poets, not a fictional anthologetical (how do you like that neologism?) harmony.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A new way of looking at poetry

Geof Huth, “The Bowl of Her Eye” (10 Jul 2005)

An interesting interview with visual poet, Geof Huth (located through Ron Silliman's blog) really gets the wheels turning about how to define poetry. I'm currently in the process of developing a syllabus for a class I've never taught, ENGL 103, Introduction to Poetry. A literature class, not a poetry writing class. I have to teach them what "poetry" is. . .though it is really starting to sink in that poetry is a world without boundaries at this point. We may have a traditional view of it or we may have a radical, evolutionary view of it, but all in all, the notion of poetry itself is an abstraction far beyond what I have ever really conceived of. And yes, I am resistant to saying that an inkspot on a page is a "poem" because it is making a comment about text and visual representation at the same time, but at least I understand that this interpretation exists and that there is actually a theory behind it. Mr Huff actually has some amazing pieces and a quite interesting philosophy about the genre, which really makes a lot of sense when spelled out. I do also have a hard time with the fact that it seems to be another white male intellectual indulgence, but I should be used to that in academia and outside of it. I'd love to see what an african american woman poet/artist can do with this medium, for example. Something slightly more interesting in a lot of ways, I suspect. But I hate to be "that way"- but reading the interview, they didn't mention one single woman working in this medium- are there just no women who do it? Or no women are notable enough to mention? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

All the talk of Langauge Poetry is getting to me. . .

Can anyone make any sense of this? I suppose if you say anything about "desire" you'd be right on. For some reason, this poem keeps reminding me of an old line in my poem "February": "That the end of every poem should be naked" To me, this whole poem is naked. (Is it just absolutely boorish to quote your own poems while explaining your own poems? I suppose it's boorish to explain your own poems at all. . .) Enjoy the newest concoction, pun intended.

bear in the air

you follicular me corps me
annotate me balloon me
you prod me diethylstilbestrol me
get over it in the cotton
if it’s open to getting

you billboard me diverge me
study me cosmic me
you amygdaline me oliver me
strange pluck of recent cymbal
like your undone mystical thrust

you fenugreek me rayleigh me
gabardine me hydrofuge me
pin me to a lupine forest without
mush drawers mechanism of sorting

you venturi me command me
ossify me barnacle me
beautiful ocean in a handwriting cassette
instead of knowing instead

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

an interesting article for those of us who are addicted. . .

An article in the SF Chronicle about writers who blog. Oh, the affliction. i think I'll switch to heroin. It's easier on the eyes.

A reconnection!

I'm very excited to reconnect with a teacher I had at U of Colorado, Lorna Dee Cervantes. She is the poet I've worked most closely with, well, ever, and I lost touch with her when I moved to Chicago. I found a link to her blog from Ron Silliman's blog, which I read when I have time. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she writes quite frequently there, and more importantly, that her new book is coming out in the fall-- a book that has been many years in the making. I was thinking about her this morning as I was running, and this is surely a really exciting time for her. She has all sorts of release parties for her book and is releasing a limited edition chapbook as well with edited versions of her most famous poems, "Bananas" and "Coffee" (some other cool poems Here) which I think is really cool. I read somewhere that she has been anthologized in over 200 books, which is a true testament to her talent in more than one way- she has become an important symbol, not only for Latinas but for American poetry in general. Her voice is super authentic, in a desperate active way that I really admire--listen to me, she seems to be saying-- in a way that is hard to ignore under any circumstances. One of the things I remember about how she read my poetry and helped me with it is that she was interested in ME as a person, poet, and future poet in a way that most others teachers neglect. I remember her attention to the way the rhythm of my running pace often entered my poetry, which I still believe even now. That's just cool. But I think so important, and I've really tried my best to incorporate this into my teaching practices as well- I mean, we teach poetry for god sake. And we're not new critics. Anymore. And even though Joe Amato likes to rave about how there is no such thing as voice, I think he's wrong, even in the context of Langauge Poetry. I think in many ways, voice is all we have. It's the mechanism through which we use language, and Lorna's poetry is a testament to this. I made a comment on her blog that the best way to experience her poems is to hear her read them, and I do believe this. Another thing I remember about Lorna is that she would host all graduate poetry workshops at her house. She would have these great spreads of food and drinks, and TRULY open her house to the students. How amazing. And our discussions in those workshops were so focused and rigorous, amybe even more so because we were comfortable and relaxed.

I'm excited, especially because I'm moving to Boulder in the next year and now will have someone to talk to about poetry!

Monday, July 11, 2005

The realm of the abstract

Being too abstract is something I'm often accused of in my poetry. My constant goal is to blend the world of the concrete with the abstract- to fill in some of the void of the abstract with the concrete while not completely uncovering it. I admire the abstract, I am fueled by the abstract. I feel that things that exist too much in the concrete world have a tendency to be boring or overstated. And I am VERY averted to being boring. Some would argue, though,that the abstractions in my poems create a similar effect to boredom- instead of being lost in the realm of the tedious, thay are lost in a world quite the opposite- a world of non-reference, a world that exists not in a vaccuum, but OF a vaccuum. A workshop that I took last semester from poet Chicu Reddy called attention to my abstractions quite often. A lot of times, I agreed with the criticism. Often, I did not. I'm OK with people not always being able to "enter" my poems in the traditional sense of entering a poem. In fact, I'm happier that way.

The fabulous poetry workshop that I am part of (all women, thank you!) met at my house last night for talk about babies, pets, and poems. A fellow group member, Katia Zalkind, said something so profound about my poem that it brought tears to my eyes. She had really put her finger on a pulse in my poetry that I had never realized but knew immediately when she said it, that she was dead on. She said "the images are concrete but the relationship is abstract". That is exactly what I was going for i that poem, and many others, to be honest. Often this is exactly the effect I am going for- the images fill in the void of the relationship, as images do (meaning this in the Roland Barthes sense of the image/love relationship) and hopefully by the end of the poem, the reader can feel the sense both of an absence and presence, both a void and a clarity of vision. How often do we wallow in the void of relationships, clinging desperately to the slip of paper he left on your pillow years ago in a far away world? The relationship becomes the paper, yet it is also everything outside of the paper- the emptiest space of death. I am amazed by Katia's insight into my poem, but I shouldn't be. She lost someone very close to her recently, and often this kind of reality can make someone aware in a sense that the rest of the world is not. It's like you have an open wound that wouldn't otherwise be sensitive, but now the nerve-rich flesh is exposed to the world and everything is experienced in a different way. I felt this way when I had my son. The first three months were filled with a strange awareness of my own sphere of reality (a new sphere, mind you) and a brutality that is unparalelled.
I thank Katia for her insight and hope I can continue to create the sense of abstraction to which she called attention. . .though I'm a little nervous now. It's like now you know everyone is watching. . .

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A new poem

I've been reading a book called Reluctant Gravities by Rosemarie Waldrop, and I really love the bend it gives on gender. It's comprised of conversations between a man and a woman which are all "on" something, like "on the horzontal" or "on heiroglyphs" for example. There are also interludes and songs (stanzaic, mostly quatrain poems which seem especially lyric) between some of the conversations. She manages to retain beauty, hold a contingent flow, yet still maintain a fractured sense of narrative all the while keeping up a sort of wierd dialogue between genders. I really like it. I love how wierd but beautiful it is. It's a relatively new book too, 1999, which is one of the most recent books on my reading lists (Oh, the irony). The combination of reading this book and having a really wierd dream about some tall, thin guy I don't even know but in whose presence I "felt" so very comfortable and alive, I wrote this poem, which I have no idea how to even talk about. I'm worried about the gesture at the end, which I actually borrowed from the movie The Company which I just saw the last 10 minutes of the other day but was struck by how fre words were spoken and how much gesture and image represented the narrative. It seems a bit out of place (as much as anything can seem out ofplace in a poem like this) but I'll see what my poetry group thinks of it on Sunday when we meet. Worry that the "he" and "you" are too alike and that I have not built the tension enough between these two characters. The form is wierd, too, almost like a sonnet but it has 9 line stanzas instead of quatrains. Which, I suppose, makes it absolutely nothing like a sonnet. But it has a sonnet feel to me.

The façade of a certain aspect

He was a taller version of reality
unlike a pigeon or any hyacinth. I rested comfortably
against his bin, my weight unreal and sliding, my neck
against a cloud in its own dimension. He could be any
dreamface, the thinness of backbone
in glistening silence. I know I will see him again
because he lives here, in the mud, in the green clay
I found you in
so long ago.

I try to remember the conversation,
the floating feeling a sleeve of maybe.
I say I will give you everything I no longer use,
spoons and where to get there. Suddenly we hold hands
on the electric street inside of me. I want him
to make the move
out of this synchronized walking, out of our elbows
rubbing together like kindling
blow blow trying to spark.

When I see your face it’s more like an aquarium
than a river. It takes me nowhere
but moves so gracefully within itself. I want to smooth you again
from the inside
but we don’t know what that means
even though. It confuses our octagonal sense of desire
which only now hits us from two angles. You can’t even hear me
in the mornings, our eyes almonds in the cream of daybreak, clinging
to a patterned wall.
I wave goodbye and mouth the words, as if across a stage,
I will see you after some time.