Song and Bloom

Amy Lowell "Lilacs" reminds me of Walt Whitman ("When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd") in its reach but its far shorter lines betoken a far different relation between botany and geography than Whitman's lament. Lowell has us on a whirlwind tour.

Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers [...]
New England is Lowell's purview. Whitman's is the continent.
Sea-winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,
I’ll perfume the grave of him I love.
Lowell claims a country; Whitman, comrades.

And so for day 321
31.10.2007

Is Tugging

At first I thought there was a missing "d" so strong was the tow of the next line and the speeding eye — an avoidance of where we find ourselves.

as if the thinking could bring me
where death is not an is
instead of where I found myself
I thought that the speaker was trying to negate the condition of death and hope himself to the place where death is not. But there is no accident. "where death is not an is" is not the condition of the dead speaker — he is where death is.

is not and is

Caught in the poetry of Brian Henry and the opening to his Quarantine. Mesmerized by the tension of being and not-being.

And so for day 320
30.10.2007

Kiss Without Substitution

In the poem it is first introduced as a transcription of graffiti. By poem's end it is sitting like a manifesto - set off in its own section - the concluding words to "The Protestant" in Tin Can Tourist by Scott Hightower.

there can be no substitutions
for the metaphysics of our senses,
no substitution for the poetry of our lives
I like how the no substitution observation gets repeated. It is as if we are at some universal grill and must choose from the menu and we have few options for customization. And yet the phrases "poetry of our lives" and "metaphysics of our senses" point to great variety — it's the plurals at play that intimate a certain richness.

It's not just a celebratory recipe for hedonism. Hightower is quite capable of making us register pain's particularities. For example, in a poem about his mother's polio he concludes with her at her dressing table and conveys how what may be ordinary to most becomes an ordeal.
Morning she cried brushing
Her hair. The pain was simple.

Her perfume bottles glimmered:
"There will be pains that will not
Leave you with a kiss."
"Polio and Counting" in Part of the Bargain

Whose pain is on display here? Mother's obviously. The poet-child too? What timelines hover in the mention of kiss... no easy cure for the "petit bobo". Here a kiss is but a point; pain is persistent. And the bottles continue to glimmer, a sign not of the limits of poetry in our lives but its ever changeable valence influenced by the metaphysics of our senses.

And so for day 319
29.10.2007

Fluidities and Agitations

May Swenson has a line somewhere about "unconceived / fluidities and agitations" which put me in mind of Mary di Michele's Mimosa and other poems where slight but significant variations take place under the sign of water which is fitting as the poet plays with her name relating it back to its meaning "of the sea".

"So It Begins" begins identically to a poem that appeared earlier in the book "Full Circle". Indeed it is only when you get to the last lines does the difference come to the fore and then only if you are diligent and flip back to review what you had read earlier. This ends "So It Begins"

for the greater song of the sea to sing in,
whatever the water gives me, I give back,
with my open and singing mouth.
This is what ended "Full Circle"
for the greater song of the sea to sing in,
whatever the water gave me, I gave back,
with an open and singing mouth.
Slight change in tense and possessive adjective.

It is a similar attention to shifting perspective that animates the title poem which is constructed in three sections: father's story told in the third person; monologue by one daughter; monologue by the other daughter. Here are the conclusions that offer shifting variations on a picture of family dynamics.
I. Mimosa
[...]
The good life gave him a house and money
in the bank and a retirement plan,
but it didn't give him fruitful daughters,
his favourite makes herself scarce
and the other looks like her mother.

II. Martha's Monologue
[...]
Disappointment is the unthinking brush
bloated with chalk dust and the promise of a better life.
I only want my fair share.
I want what's mine and what Lucia kicks over.
I want father to stop mooning about her
and listen to my rendition of Mimosa.

III Lucia's Monologue
[...]
I have his face, his eyes, his hands,
his anxious desire to know everything,
to think, to write everything,
his anxious desire to be heard,
and we love each other and say nothing,
we love each other in that country
we couldn't live in.
Martha's "want" and Lucia's "love" come to the reader like small waves. There is no such motion in the third person view of the father. His are not the rhythms of waves but those of a gardener tending a vegetable patch and yielding seasonal offerings of zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, tender peas and Italian parsley. With eye on produce and his concern for fruitfulness, Vito, the father, misses the rhythms of Martha and Lucia, fails to see them moving as persons.

And so for day 318
28.10.2007

Exit Exceptionalism

It is like a dream journal meets a glossary complete with cross-references and see also suggestions.

After you, dearest language. Marisol Limon Martinez. (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2005)

Let's take a trip, shall we?

AMERICA: BANDE A PART
A little group distinct in its positioning ... and what does "BANDE A PART" reveal?
BANDE A PART: The end of the FILM. No one dies. They drive to SOUTH AMERICA. A RED LINE traces their movement around the WORLD on a GLOBE. The SCREEN reads Fin.
So we have intimations of closure. One more hop through the references.
FILM: [an extensive two and half page entry]

SOUTH AMERICA: BANDE A PART

RED LINE: [no entry for RED LINE but an entry for RED: BANDE A PART, BIRD, BLOOD, BLUE, CARE, CHANDELIER, CLASSROOM, DRESS, FUNERAL, HEXAGON, LAST SUPPER, MADRID, MAKEUP, MAN, MIRROR, PINK, PORNOGRAPHY, SCROLL, STAIRS, STAR, THEATRE, UNDERWEAR and an entry for LINE: BANDE A PART, FUNERAL, METRO, PINK, ROOM, SCROLL, STREET]

WORLD: BANDE A PART

GLOBE: BANDE A PART

SCREEN: BANDE A PART, CHAIR, COSTUME, FILM, HEXAGON, HOUSE, ISLAND, PORNOGRAPHY, SCROLL, VIDEO
Only through FILM and SCREEN and the RED [broken] LINE does the story continue. Otherwise it circles back upon itself. Overdetermination at work.

And so for day 317
27.10.2007

States of a poem called Black Tuesday

May Swenson's elegy for Martin Luther King cast as a set of beatitudes and collected in Iconographs is marked by the traces of the peculiarities of composition by typewriter. The word "blessed" occurs often but it is marked with an apostrophe above the second "e". This is accomplished by backspacing and almost impossible to reproduce in a world of computer keyboarding and even with features of Unicode there is no guarantee of success for composite overlay characters may not display properly in a browser. And even the editor of the Collected Poems, Langdon Hammer, alters the typography to an acute accent over the "e". But it could go the grave way and give "blessèd" as in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "The Blessèd Damozel".

I think there is something to be said about trying to preserve Swenson's visual detail as it appears in the 1970 publication by Charles Scribner's Sons. Why? Because that return via backspace to either crown the "e" with an apostrophe or to place below the apostrophe an "e" is a physical trace of the returns that the the poem itself tropes upon as the slave claims freedom and the gyres of history whirl through each individual life. For example,

Blessed the neck
of the black man made
muscular by the weight of
the yoke made proud
bursting the lynch rope.


True to the nature of Iconographs the typewriter leaves us with a more home made experience than the typeset. And hand crafting has its importance.

And so for day 316
26.10.2007

In Between Out

Nick Piombino. "The Aural Ellipsis and the Nature of Listening in Contemporary Poetry" in Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word ed. by Charles Bernstein.

The effect of the "aural ellipsis" in poetry allows that, at certain points, the poem may exist within an indeterminate site of significant verbal experience that is simultaneously physical and mental, objective and subjective, heard aloud and read silently, emanating from a specific self yet also from a nonspecific site of identity, coming toward comprehensibility and disintegrating into incoherence.
Piombino then maps this inbetween space onto the "holding environment" of Winnicott's transitional space. This seems plausible. However when he then reaches for Walter Benjamin's work on the "aura" he appeals to Benjamin without admitting that Benjamin was in any event critical of the appearance "aura" — this a view that is absent from Piombino's appropriation (which progresses by way of a celebration of archaic magic incantation as being like "aural ellipsis").

This of course makes me want to reflect on the geometry of inbetweeness. And whether it is apt. And to consider at least just how many oppositions can be aligned along continuums. Stripped of the allure of "aura", the transitional space accommodates (sometimes without mapping into opposite pairs) a heterogenuous content. The ellipsis holds a lot. And it hold this lot without the appeal to oppositions. There is room here for the transversal à la Guattari.

And so for day 315
25.10.2007

Where Arises Language Passing

Nicole Brossard has always been a writer ... with the erotics of the advent of language and articulations. No less a theme in ... "Museum of Bone and Water" in the collection of the same name translated by Robert Majzels and Erin Mouré.

What intrigues me is the location of the speaking subject vis-a-vis language. It is not some small little voice at the back of the mind. Its components are out there.

on the line of the horizon as on the screen
we tear the alphabet from dawn's arms
And further on in a subsequent section we come to a set of phrases that can serve as a pendant to the torn alphabet
a theory of vanishing in mind
in each phrase the background murmur of farewell
It is almost as if mind vanishes. But spacious mind captures the vanishing. Holds it.

And so for day 314
24.10.2007

Nostalgia and the Non-sequitur

I have no idea why these lines remind me of the title of the Truffaut film Le Dernier Métro.

There is nothing so homesick-making
as the ecstasy of a fellow transient.
Perhaps it is a hint of locale - Paris - that makes such scenes possible.

"In the Luxembourg Gardens" by Lachlan MacKinnon collected in Montrerey Cypress.

And so for day 313
23.10.2007

Sclerosis

These lines on Elizabeth Bishop by poet May Swenson refer no doubt to Bishop's alcoholism. The poem was never published in Swenson's lifetime. It appears in the Utah State University Press 2000 publication of Dear Elizabeth: Five Poems & Three Letters to Elisabeth Bishop

Elizabeth's liver is tattooed
     with the intaglio of an indigo turtle.
The figure is startling and memorable but potentially too flashy and Swenson is at pains to down play the fireworks. She continues
Not emblazoned—
     that would augur prominence
and a definite who's who-ness
     No-nobodyness is the ultimate
achievement achieved
     secretly, invisibly but indelibly
inside.
The editors have supplied a title that reads like something out of Stein: "Somebody Who's Somebody". And to be sure not everybody is a somebody with some body part described by tattoo, intaglio, and indigo turtles.

And so for day 312
22.10.2007

Elms Elongated

For the sheer gorgeousness of the title (which are also the concluding lines of a poem), Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies Across the Nacreous River at Twilight Towards the Distant Islands ... but also for the one line that turns upon spelling out a length of vowels.

He made no answer for a time, squinting out at the ancient ellum
That rose and descended again on the knob of pasture
I have hunted for the meaning of "ellum" and can only come to the conclusion that Hayden Carruth is hearing the word "elm" through the Latin "ulmus" and is inviting the reader to carry the eye through the apprehension of the tree that rises straight-trunked into the air to its canopy which falls back towards the earth like an open umbrella, a large open umbrella, a very large open umbrella.

And so for day 311
21.10.2007

Habituation

Blest in its cussedness.

there's a woman who tires
of picking up after her lover
so she nails his underwear
to the floor
From Barbara Carey "Routines Are Your Life" in The Ground of Events.

This might be remembered as simple anecdote. But the line endings make one mindful of the poetry. The exhaustion hangs there in the first line and by the third you can sense the frustration banging away.

And so for day 310
20.10.2007

From Photograph to Poem to Free Flow

Michael V. Smith has a suite of poems in What You Can't Have that is based on black and white photographs by William Gale Gedney of "dirt-poor families in 1960's Kentucky". Smith has a sharp and keen appreciation of plot — where the story might go — and it is this turn to possibility that provides his closing moments with poignancy. Take for example the closing lines of "Play" which sums up the life faced by playing girls.

On the line: an undershirt,
a dishrag, a diaper.
The metonymy traces out a life course. If in this case the girls are assigned a trajectory destined to a drudge-like motherhood, in a poem a few pages on in the series one encounters the figure of the girl yoked to the life of the mind whose destiny is hitched to sort of escape from circumstance. "Intellect" too ends with a vision of a future. But mark the individualism of the solution.
One night her mother woke to her shadow
beyond the door frame, walking away
her daughter, the girl with ideas.
It is not as if nonconformity is being celebrated; an other path is simply being noted.

And so for day 309
19.10.2007

Oneiric Composition

The description of dream reminds one of the structure of story.

People think dreams aren't real because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes ...
Neil Gaiman. Sandman.

I like how puns and memories are yoked together. I provides an image of language as a vast random access device.

And so for day 308
18.10.2007

Special Piercings

Lachlan Mackinnon. The Jupiter Collisions. "A Crane Speaks".

It's not the bird. It's the hoisting mechanism at a rocket launch facility. The rigging's tautness and the speaker's "gauntness both recall"

mice playing on those weed-cracked concrete beds,
once Mercury's, once Gemini's, when space
was new,
             lost gantries at Canaveral
from which the rockets rose like arrowheads
to smash the heaven's azure carapace.
This is the end of the poem and I admire how Mackinnon marshals the assonance of the last line and the alliteration of the penultimate to emphasize the thrust of the image.

And so for day 307
17.10.2007

Miniature Tumbleweeds

We have planted a burning bush at the base of a smoke bush. We appreciate the horticultural joke even more as the blossoms of the smoke bush appear well before the autumn-turn of foliage sets the burning bush ablaze.

Imagine my pleasure in coming across a description of a smoke bush in Hayden Carruth's Asphalt Georgics [the last poem in the book — "Shake, Well Before Using"]. The voice at work in the poem calls them, the blossoms, "smokers" and will at some point compare them to tumbleweeds.

bout this time every year, the last
     week in August, them
things, whatever they are, them bunch-
     es, like they say resem-

ble smoke, see, them little smokers,
     they bust off and the wind
blows them every whichway over
     the whole street like some thinned-
The poem is about way more than Cotinus coggygria. It is also about pondering ephemerality. But done in this voice, like all the others in the poem-portraits of Asphalt Georgics, bringing a certain vivid character to the fore. As only a unique take on language and botany can yield the moniker "little smokers."

And so for day 306
16.10.2007

Mass and Momentum

Barbara Carey. Undressing the Dark. "weighing it up".

This poem begins with a detail that within a few lines morphs into a huge size.

One fingernail
from the Statue of Liberty
weighs 100 lbs.,
a little less than me.
And the next stanza continues the comparisons
but twice the weight
of a sack of No. 1 Northern
wheat, and two hundred times
the standard jar
of rich-blend Nescafé
And the poem continues through some meditations on the nature of faith in the computations of judgement to conclude
and the faith
that it all adds up,
like multiplication
tables or prayers

something meant
for the believer in us,
something we raise
monuments to
The enjambement and the short lines are a key to the enjoyment of this poem. They lend their support to the tension between the monument and the everyday and together underscore the progression of accumulation that raises out of the mundane, the monumental. And the belief is not in some metaphysical force but in the ordinariness of drinking coffee and living our lives.

And so for day 305
15.10.2007

Filmic Matters

A quotation and three diversions.

Barthes. "The Third Meaning: Research Notes on some Eisenstein Stills" trans. Stephen Heath in Image, Music, Text pp. 66-67.

If, however, the specific (filmic of the future) lies not in movement but in an inarticulable third meaning that neither the simple photograph nor figurative painting can assume since they lack the diegetic horizon, the possibility of configuration mentioned earlier <note>Barthes here provides a note about other arts and pictograms</note>, then the "movement" regarded as the essence of film is not animation, flux, <pb n="67"/> mobility, "life", copy but simply the framework of a permutational unfolding and a theory of the still becomes necessary, a theory whose possible points of departure […]
What is the motor of "permutational unfolding"?
Kari Kraus has helped me sense that conjectures are special types of questions that connect questions. What? If not this, that. If not that, then this. If not this or that, then what? Novelty resides in recategorization.
What is the motor of "recategorization"?
Years and years ago (actually a scant decade ago), in the context of an exploration of the discourses of cognitive science and narratology, I pondered how questions can be used to lift and lodge sequences, i.e. how our human curiosity (propensity to ask questions) informed how we exploited the inherent narrativity produced by our interactions with the world. That exploration into the role of the question as exploiter of narrativity was missing something: how questions themselves connect.
Answers are open to mutation.

And so for day 304
14.10.2007

French Matters

There is in French a distinction between the nouns matériel and matériaux.

Harrap's (French-English dictionary) provides the following definition

matériel: plant working stock (of a factory); implements (of a farm, etc.); stock-in trade.

matériaux: materials.
A little more on the distinctions from the Robert Méthodique
matériel: ensemble des objets, instruments, machines utilisés dans un service, une exploitation (opposé à personnel).

matériaux: Les diverses matières nécessaires à la construction (d'un bâtiment, d'un ouvrage, d'un navire, d'une machine).
It is a distinction that can trip up people. It helps to remember that matériaux go into the construction of matériel. I have an inkling that this lexicographic feature of French may play a role in understanding what Deleuze and Guattari mean by body without organs.

And so for day 303
13.10.2007

Grapes Grabbing Attention

Roo Borson describes in "Kensington Market," collected in A Sad Device, in a quasi-hallucinogenic fashion, bunches on display.

They glow, violet marbled with green,
and the bees dance over them
like boxers in a ring.

They are nipples engorging before your eyes.
They are eyes.
There is more to this poem but the kernel quoted here is indicative of the many turns the poem takes not allowing you to settle in any given perspective for too long keeping you alert for the coming black eye...

And so for day 302
12.10.2007

Syntactics

Every object and phenomenon can be read as or through a syntagm.

Iain Chambers. Border Dialogues: Journeys in Postmodernity (Routledge, 1990). Captures my heart with this description of Jarman's Caravaggio (1986).

This is hardly parody or pastiche but rather an intelligent seizure of the traces of the past that flare up in the present.
And my mind was caught by the suggestion that image culture involves a mode of perceiving that relies on making sense of sequences...
Inaugurated by the modern impact of photography and cinema, we are today in the midst of a radical permutation in our sense of vision. It involves a modification that may turn out to be a significant for how we understand the world as the introduction of geometrical perspective during the Renaissance. [...] This particular organization of matter, this sense of perspective (and position), has increasingly been supplemented and then radically modified by techniques, which are never merely "technical," in which the languages of representation are themselves increasingly foregrounded. In this marriage of technique and logos it is increasingly the syntax of such languages, rather than their referentiality, that proposes a further mutation in perspective.
One can read this as anticipation of database narrative à la Lev Manovich. It is the parenthetical "position" and the emphasis on syntax that bring to mind for me the Lyotard of The Differend and there among the examples we read of the necessity of enchaînement, linking, and phrasing.
136. Enchaîner est nécessaire, un enchaînement ne l'est pas.
All traces that flare up in some sense belong to a regime of discourse. They may of course travel and be taken up in some other regime. Parody and pastiche may under a specific regime become intelligent seizure.

What I carry away from all this is the attention to syntax allows for constant interrogation of context since all is removable and thus branchable.

And so for day 301
11.10.2007

Tears Provoked

Grief. One gets it. When one writes one gets grief.

One of its sources is teachers.

Take "Anecdotal Evidence" by Daryl Hine in A Reliquary and Other Poems. The anecdote in question is set up by reflection upon the nature of sleep and secret keeping.

[...]
Night after night a horrible hiatus,
Unfathomably deep and dreamless sleep
Seals secrets it hardly seemed worthwhile to keep
[...]
Some even greater than, at least as great as
This. One time I was upbraided by
Mr. Sweet in Social Studies Class—
That prudish prick, that homophobic ass!—
For writing a poem to another guy.
My indignation then did not surpass
My shame today that he could make me cry.
This is vivid for me since when I was an adolescent, I too experienced an adult reducing me to tears. I went to high school in Kapuskasing. I loved writing. I was very proud when the April 1978 Poetry Toronto Newsletter published a villanelle that I had composed. The poem was dedicated to my English teacher Mrs. Sadie Keyes. I of course gave her a copy. She showed it to colleagues in the staff room. The vice-principal thought the piece was horrible in the treatment of its subject and called me in for a stiff redressing (I ended up in tears but had the presence of mind to go directly to Mrs. Keyes herself to ascertain her reaction). She was pleased with my effort and during the course of our conversation provided me with great advice: "Don't let Life get in the way." Which meant for me permission to dedicate myself to writing (and to use what may come my way in the effort). The incident in retrospect captures what the poem called "Old Women and Her Creation" was meant to show: her creation is the dreaming of a writer [She had told a class that she once wanted to be a writer and still did; the poem builds upon the expression of the wish and envisions a new torch bearer to the dream]. Of course after the vice-principal's interpretation I bent to revising the poem. Here are the two endings:
Frustrated dreamer,           She fosters a dreamer,
older, lonelier           whiter, lonelier
cold in her winter,           cold in her winter,
             
she has lost laughter           She has last laughter:
there remains no myth.           there remains no myth.
She dreamt a writer           Some scribler dreams her
cold in her winter           warm in his winter
1978           1980
A few words — a different temperature. Revisited thanks to another's memories of crying.

And so for day 300
10.10.2007

Humbling Exercise

Peter Jay in the introduction to The Greek Anthology and Other Ancient Greek Epigrams gives pause — English has not always been spoken everywhere.

Translation is an art of fiction. There is the fiction of the translator, who pretends to be another poet at another time, writing in a language that men had not yet begun to speak. And there is the fiction demanded of the reader, who must believe that the poem he is reading is at the same time an ancient poem and a modern one. When translation is successful, the translator and the reader conspire to have their cake and eat it.
I like this image of the inexhaustible consumption of goods. There is an almost Alice in Wonderland aspect — never knowing if one's self will grow large with an expanded view (eat me) or one's self will diminish in a tide of temporal relocations (drink me) like the reading a language that men have not yet begun to speak.

And so for day 299
09.10.2007

Zooming Past Theory

At first I thought it was a screed against jargon. Then I approached it as a defense of narrative in cognitive activity. None of this satisfied me. I am a believer in the big word for the big occasion and a true sport when it comes to tracing the narration (the manner in which a story is conveyed) as much as outlining the narrative (the story). So I looked again at where my resistance was ringing out clearly.

Oratory, on the other hand, is unambiguous in its meaning. Oratory: place of prayer, to persuade.
The author that I am reading thus begins her second paragraph after having contextualized the practice of theory as one of argumentation and one that implies that which cannot be shown cannot be known. Argument, demonstration, testimony, evidence. It is all a circle for her. It is ironic that that positioning "on the other hand" set up a circular argument, one based on would be exclusive binaries. There is theory there and oratory here.

But for me, theory is a way of looking, from the Greek theoria view, speculation from theoreein look at. And as such is close to one of the meanings of "prayer" that is overlooked. Prayer as persuasion is of course the situation of petition. One is asking some more powerful being for intercession in one's affairs. But prayer according to Funk and Wagnalls International Edition (1958, 1959, 1960) has a number of synonyms including: adoration, devotion, invocation, litany, orison, petition, request, suit, supplication. So yes there is asking for a favour but there is also respecting and honouring.

And so I return to theory making as a type of reverence for the object that is being speculated about. There is in looking upon a bestowing of honour. It is worth my while to think about this in whatever set of words may be appropriate. And then later there may be storytelling and imparting of wisdom. The magic and the show & tell are distinct and are not opposed but complementary. Especially for those who do not see it as a worthwhile project to hang on to a "sacred self". Sometimes the sacred is best approached by letting go in a pure act of speculation.

It is from such a space that I resist Lee Maracle. Oratory: Coming to Theory (1990) and am not with her except in the resistance to victimization.
I want to know who is going to be there with me, resisting victimization — peacefully or otherwise, but always stubbornly and doggedly struggling to re-claim and hang on to my sacred self.
I resist. I am stubborn. I struggle doggedly. I will not bark out my prayer. I will not pray. But I will reverence and soar on speculation. I am born to the camp of theory makers.

And so for day 298
08.10.2007

Hanging Out With the Kids

In the one interview collected in Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions Toni Cade Bambara offers up a wonderful portrait of Langston Hughes and his "violations" of the rules at the library. First he wouldn't take off his hat and he had nice hats. Second he would come into the children's section and third he would actually engage the children. All very unusual. She remembers:

As you know, in those days age borders were very strict and they were heavily patrolled. [...] It was the same thing with the library. So, Mr. Langdon (as we thought he was called) would come into the children's library, would stroll along the windowsill; looking at the sweet potato plants stuck with toothpicks hanging in the wide-mouth amber jars, and he would comment on them. We would always be looking at him thinking, Is he the stranger our parents always warned us against? Was he the pervert we had to watch out for? What was he doing in the children's library? Then he would come and sit down with us and spread out his work. He was always very careful about space. If his book hit yours, he would say "Excuse me." I can't tell you how rare that was in those days. Nobody had respect for children or their sense of space. Well, he would be writing, reading, and pondering, and then he would look up and break the third rule — he would talk. He would ask us what we're doing. What kind of homework we have. Do we think it is intelligent homework? What was on our minds? The man was a knockout!
I particularly like in this portrait how the the respect for space serves as a prelude to meaningful engagement.

And so for day 297
07.10.2007

Crumbs of Fire

In a prose poem from The Whole Night, Coming Home Roo Borson offers a set of sentences that remind one of the ghazal form. The sentence clusters hang separately like couplets and they resonate — there is some inkling of a reason for their proximity even if one cannot quite express the creative tension they embody.

A paper kite, mauve in the light that has already forgotten us, still tugs at its string, attached to the earth somewhere.

This is when it is first detected, not as a thought, but because of the surprise. When the smell of the fuchsias comes tolling.
These are the concluding sentences of "Fuchsias". The colour mauve is of course an element that ties together the kite in flight and the tolling of scent. And in the hands of such an accomplished poet, the very description of these flowers as "crumbs of fire" floats in the mind like, well, as she calls them, "crumbs of fire".

And so for day 296
06.10.2007

Rise Up Rhythm

Seen on a T-shirt.

DIG
DA
RID
EM
It took a double take to capture the essence. And when I did, I really dug the link between the power of chant or drum and the casting out of the undesirable: rhythm to be rid of them. If only change in the world were a matter of incantation... necessary but not sufficient. I fondly remember the goddess chant of the Radical Faeries. Charlie Murphy's "Burning Times" incorporates the chant by Deena Metzger: Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna. And it was through the Faeries that I first heard a rendition of the inspiring "Brother Warrior" by Kate Woolf. Insufficient but necessary.

And so for day 295
05.10.2007

Careful Hanging Careless

You may not care for the spot she is heading for but you must admire the route she takes. This is the conclusion to a poem:

In the sun's wake I almost succeeded in becoming
a boy, fastening myself to a tree limb, then to solitude
then to loneliness, then to nothing at all.
It is from "The Woman Question" in All-American Girl by Robin Becker. What is gripping is of course the progression of the tricolon. And what is haunting is that the ending picks up the image of boy and tree which earlier in the poem was the object of envy: "When I was a child, I wanted to be the boy across the street / who hung upside down from a tree and didn't care / that his shirt fluttered over his bare chest." The memory makes the intimations of mortality all the more poignant. And recollected in a reversal the nothingness, the loneliness, the solitude becomes grounded in a fastening, a clinging to not just memory but to a desire to inhabit the body without inhibition, to be free.

And so for day 294
04.10.2007

Honour Roll

Poets mentioned by Richard Howard in Paris Review (Spring 2004, No. 169) interview.

Muriel Rukesyer
Amy Clampitt
May Swenson
Marie Ponsot
Jane Cooper
Mona Van Duyn
Pattiann Rogers
Madeleine Defrees
The listing itself appears almost as a Homeric catalogue of heroes.

And so for day 293
03.10.2007

Etiquette for Book Lovers and Others

Three things you should say to a writer:

  1. Thank you (for reading this evening, for producing this book)
  2. It made me think. (It moved me). [NOT it reminded me of my own memory or experience.]
  3. All the best with your next project.
Simple tripartite structure available to any well-bred guest. An acknowledgement that someone took pains to produce and present something; some nominal statement endorsing the worth of what was produced; good wishes for the future. It is as formulaic as the greetings of hello and good-bye and every bit as effective because it is formulaic. It is a structure with countless variations and practice makes perfect, so…
Rita, thank you for assembling these fascinating photos; I was particularly moved by the images of the women in the asylum; and I look forward to the results of your next project — safe travels.
Unembedeed: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson, Rita Leistner.

And so for day 292
02.10.2007

More Moon

Lunar meditations that have me shivering at the modest repetition of the word "more" and thrilled that intimations of mortality provide occasions for such eloquence along the slippery spine of syntax.

Because, once looked at lit
By the cold reflections of the dead
Risen extinct but irresistible,
Our lives have never seemed more full, more real,
Nor the full moon more quick to chill.
James Merrill. "Voices from the Other World" in The Country of A Thousand Years of Peace.

And so for day 291
01.10.2007