Sunday, January 30, 2011

The temporal in poetry

I told Sheila Graham-Smith (see below) that time is the great enemy. What artist doesn't obsess about time?

Here's some good time poetry. These sections are taken from a long poem called "Realm of Ends" that appears in Ann Lauterbach's Or To Begin Again. By the way: If you like a poem, I suggest typing it out. It helps you know it.


Francis turns. He has something to say. He has an
announcement. He says, snow in summer and falls silent.

A single egg in the nest. Francis turns.
It is not metaphysical; it is merely distraction.

Time passes. The nest is empty.
The snow, bountiful. A girl dedicates her last weeks

to a show of force. She writes gracefully about force.
Francis turns. He seems weak and small and without volition.

Thus the bird lands on his head.
Thus there are radiant seconds.

Is it reliable? Not the garden. Not the bed.
The streaming elocution is more or less prosaic.

The bird lifts up onto the bare branch.
The tree, an elm, is dying, almost dead.

Francis is indifferent but the bird, a cardinal,
shines on the barren branch.

Tit tit tittit tit hovers the weary pragmatist.
It is hoped, by Francis and the rest, that she

cannot know heartbreak, not
the melodrama of the nest's margin of error.


All day in the fir trees, night remains.
Time passes. Francis is immobile, bereft.

He has recalled the condition of stone.
He has resumed his incalculable origin.

And so the second comes too quickly,
follows too quickly upon the first.

Others, mobile and incidental and lush,
attest to the perishable variety at large:

shark, polar bear, other political incidents
having little in common with the immobility of Francis.

A fence and an alarm, a cat and a cradle,
these also are not acceptable, not progression.


The day has become abstract; I cannot know it.
It spits and complains as if it were real

but it is only a matter of time.
How, for example, forgetting

becomes opaque.
As if, dark on dark, an inert stone.

Francis is only a sentimental stone.
Francis is impoverished and mute.

Francis is a fiction of the glare, turning
into the Tuscan sun, under the juniper, among flowers.

Doves perch on his head and shit on his sleeves.
This is an example of natural observable fact.

Yet the day is opaque
despite recurring flags in the graveyard

lending their gala strophe to the forgotten;
despite the fantasy of the saint

turning in his soiled robes
under the heavy lemon trees, the ornamental

beds: rose, lavender, creeping thyme.
Along the path the lovers come

through the thrash of sunlit leaves,
the heavenly scents of lemon and rose.

The day is a tide of sensual foreboding
in the salty sweat of their backs

riding on white linen
in a luminous small room

in the taste of cool wine on their swollen lips.
The day, for the lovers, heaves with potential.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ego Links

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Little joke

Pickle walks into a bar.

Bartender says, "Why the sour expression?"

Pickle opens fire, kills 7 including the bartender.

A little precision, please, Baby

So, this happened in December, but I just saw it today: In The Week, poet Timothy Donnelly recommends six of his favorite recent collections. Of Raptus by Joanna Klink, he writes, "Part of what makes Klink’s poems so remarkable is their refusal to rely on the ironic tones and gestures that are stock-in-trade among her contemporaries." Again, this fallacy that irony is a filter, a trick, a tone, a gimmick, a layer on top of the default, toneless baseline of sincerity. But no, sincere and ironic are both tones, both choices poets make. Saying that sincere poems "refuse to rely on ironic gestures" makes as much sense as saying that ironic poems "refuse to rely on sincere gestures." It's like saying that Shakespeare's sonnets refuse to adhere to the 5-7-5 syllabics of traditional haiku. Or that "The Waste Land" refuses to mention pandas. (There aren't any pandas in "The Waste Land," are there?)

Another line about irony that recently irked me: John Gallaher quoted this bit of a review by Cole Swenson on Monica Youn: "Though the book’s overall pose is highly ironic . . . , the ultimate irony of the book is that these poems are ultimately not ironic at all, and so risk a sincerity that our time has very little time for." I'm sorry, what? I don't know the context, but doesn't this violate the basic rule of logic that for any given property A, a thing cannot be both A and not A? How can the poems be both highly ironic and not ironic at all?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Give me your eggcorns, your folk etymologies

I used to think the word "memento" was spelled "momento," as in, a trinket by which to remember the moment. I'm convinced many others have made this mistake. What are your eggcorns? John used to think "bedraggled" was pronounced "bed-raggled," as in, all raggled from bed.

Also: An undisclosed number of people, not knowing what a French exit is, have assumed it to be a sex act. Praytell, if it were, what would it be?

Monday, January 24, 2011

My mini-review of Nick Demske by Nick Demske is up on Like Fire (one of the Open Letters blogs); thanks to Lisa Peet for posting it and Nick Demske for writing the book. Here's an excerpt:
Demske’s cadences and rhymes often read like good rap, even when they’re not directly referencing it (as in “My Name Is” and “Pop Sonnet”). The constant third-person self-references, too, are hip-hop-esque (“Remind me what it’s like to be offended, Nick Demske”), but also ghazal-like—this book is never more ridiculous than it is serious, and for every knee-jerk sex joke there’s a flash of brilliance. The last poem, “Fully Dressed in an Empty Bathtub,” especially hints at the very real pain this art was born of: “I could’ve killed // Myself that night, but instead I plucked these shards from my flesh, licked / The lacerations. Fashioned this glowing mosaic.” Nick Demske is a fearless debut, razor-sharp and full of hooks.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Faux Indian food

Every year when we're both home for Christmas I ask my brother to make Indian food. He's a white guy, obviously, but he makes incredible Indian food in the southern style (no onions or garlic). We usually have aloo gobi and a green bean dish, plus this tomato chutney that is pretty much my favorite thing. (I always ask him to make extra and without fail there is not enough; I want a spoonful on every bite, basically.) This is a perfect meal for my family to eat together because it's vegan and gluten-free but my meat- and bread-loving parents like it too. It's also a rare treat for me to sit back and drink wine while he chops away, because usually when I eat in I'm doing the cooking.

As much as I like this food I never attempt to make it myself. This is partly because it's relatively labor-intensive, and partly because I want it to remain special. Tonight I decided to make something similar but easier, using the oven instead of the stovetop for the aloo gobi and canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I wasn't really trying to re-create my brother's dishes, but they came out very close in the end. Delicious and a little bit like Indian french fries and ketchup.

Aloo Gobi Ish

1 small head cauliflower
1 pound or so yellow potatoes, about 3 medium, peeled
5 or 6 whole garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
ground cumin
ground coriander
garam masala
cayenne pepper
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 425. Cut the cauliflower into florets or slices, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the potatoes into sticks 1/4-1/2 inch thick and wide and 2 inches long (they should look like stubby fries). In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower, potatoes and garlic with the lemon juice and zest, the spices, and several goodly glugs of olive oil. The spices are to taste; I probably used 1/4 tsp of cayenne, 1/2 tsp of garam masala and a full teaspoon of everything else, including salt. Toss it all around to coat all the vegetables with the oil and spices. Spread it out onto two baking sheets (unless you have a really huge baking sheet) and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the veggies are getting brown, crispy edges. At this point it's easiest to consolidate everything onto one sheet, then toss with the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and lemon juice if necessary. Serve with basmati rice and mucho tomato chutney, recipe below. Enough for 2-3 with leftovers.

Tomato Chutney

vegetable oil and/or butter
brown mustard seeds
cumin seeds
1 fresh jalapeño, sliced into rounds, including seeds
a little minced fresh ginger (optional)
1 big can of tomatoes, whole or diced
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil, or a combination of oil and butter, in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, jalapeño and ginger if using and let sizzle and pop for about a minute (should smell yummy). Dump in the tomatoes, cinnamon stick, sugar and salt. Stir and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer away for about half an hour, or until it reaches a thick, chutney-like consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary; it should taste like a sweet, spicy, jammy ketchup. If you have leftovers, this would be good on regular old fries or roasted potatoes, with cheese or on a grilled cheese sandwich, on eggs, etc.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm not from Caledonia or anything, but ...

This song literally brings a tear to mine eye. (Helps if you're already kind of sad.)

Hat tip to Diana of the blog Feminine Things, who put it on a mix.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

La di da

  • Really, what is the big deal about the trenta? It's for iced drinks, right? A 31 oz cup full of iced coffee does not contain 31 oz of coffee, which is 99% water anyway, not pure liquid calories. When you order an iced tea in Texas, by default the glass is like 48 oz (and with so much ice you leave the restaurant with a wicked chill in your bones, and have to sit in your sun-loaded car for five minutes baking back to a normal body temperature). Anyway, I'm pretty sure people who drink a lot of coffee actually tend to be thinner, so why is the media turning this into a "This is why you're fat" situation? Have you ever been to a Starbucks? They're mostly full of good-looking affluent people. Guess what, weight and health in general correlates a lot more with the size of your paycheck than the size of your beverage. (In related news, studies show people who drink alcohol weigh less on average than people who don't.)
  • I got my contributor copies of The Monkey & The Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics, which includes my essay on "moves" in poetry. Poetry teachers of the world, take note! Here are a couple of excerpts:
  • The Throwaway Pun
    The Throwaway Pun can be distinguished from a pun proper by intention and context. Similar to the Poetic Allusion as Joke, the Throwaway Pun tries to “have it both ways.” It’s an overtly authored joke that seems to apologize for itself or admit its own limits (outside the context of, say, a limerick, a pun is a cheap kind of humor). Take the following line from “Play it Again, Salmonella” by Jeffrey McDaniel: “I’m a cardcarrying member of a canceled party.” Even the title seems to come equipped with built-in groans. Another: “ACTUALLY SAY LA VIE” from Karl Parker’s “Horn o’ Plenty.” This move is borrowed directly from the school of American comedy that celebrates bad jokes as good jokes as long as they are told with awareness. This is a variety of camp.

    Intentional Ambiguity
    Intentional Ambiguity is another product of postmodernist/deconstructionist criticism (i.e., the reader’s interpretation is as valid as the author’s intention; neither has primacy). Take, for example, the phrase “I run a toy glue factory” from “I Had My Headphones On” by Karl Parker. This could be interpreted in at least three ways: 1) I run a factory that makes glue used in toys. 2) I run a factory that makes toy-sized or pretend glue. 3) I run a glue factory that is itself toy-sized or pretend. In the unreal, or nightmare-real, world of the poem, these options seem equally likely. By withholding any disambiguating signs or information, the poet suggests that such “facts” have no consequence, and that poems do not traffic in facts in any case. In a way, Intentional Ambiguity is related to the unreliable narrator of fiction.
  • Lunch was rigatoni with pea/parsley/almond pesto. SOTD is Bulgari Black.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oh, also

I have three poems in the new issue of Denver Quarterly. I've wanted to be in this journal since I was a wee grad student, so, yay for checking off life goals.

What's up with CB2? It seems to say: "I want my stuff to look like it came from IKEA, with the comfort of knowing I paid more."

The Care Bear School of Criticism

A list of adjectives that a class of college students used to describe The French Exit:
  • blunt
  • explicit
  • intellectual
  • darkly playful
  • depressing
  • confusing
  • annoying
  • kind of a hassle
  • hard on the first read, but rewarding on the second
  • hostile
  • off-putting
  • funny
  • indulgent in a good way
  • neurotic
  • ego centric, but not in a bad way at all
  • disorienting
And via the instructor: Most people really liked it, but a few "couldn't stand it" because it "pissed them off." Which is great, b/c that made for an awesome discussion. And the people who liked it went to bat for it.

This clicks with two things I've been thinking about this week. One, this post from the OkCupid blog about the "mathematics of beauty." They analyzed a bunch of profiles to see how a member's attractiveness rating correlated with response rates. Did the hottest people always get the most messages? Turns out it's not that simple: Two women with the same average rating will get a different response depending on how much variance there is in their ratings. A 7 who everyone agrees is a 7 doesn't do as well, at least in the world of online dating, as a 7 who some people think is a 10 and a few people think is a 1. So it's better to be polarizing than merely cute.

Two, what is it with students thinking everything's depressing? John is teaching a short story class for ESL students right now, and he's been busting his balls trying to find happy stories at their request. Guess what? There are no happy short stories. The kids always think whatever he brings in is depressing. But that's how literature is! This isn't Everybody Loves Raymond.

There seems to be some grand misconception, along the lines that eating fat will make you fat, that a story or poem with conflict or tension will make you feel conflicted or tense. OK, well, yeah, actually, it should do that! Art should shake you up a little, not just pat you on the head and tell you everything's going to be OK. In any case, I don't believe for a moment that these kids are actually coming away from a book depressed. If it moved them that much, they'd like it. If you're levying "it was depressing" as a complaint, you're probably feeling nothing. But "you gotta say something."

P.S. This is no real critique of the students who read my book; it sounds like a really positive response overall, and pretty much what I would expect. I'm just resistant to the "it's depressing" reaction to literature.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Things I like, beauty and food edition

I love when people tell me what to buy. So here's some stuff to buy:
  • Clif Kid Twisted Fruit: When I was a kid, Fruit Roll-Ups were pretty much my favorite food. Good fruit leather is still pretty high up there, but it's hard to find. Old-school Fruit Roll-Ups are ridiculous now; they're all like, mojito-flavored and tie-dye and turn into Silly Bandz. And at a natural foods store it's hard to find ones that don't contain flour and aren't overly firm. (The grown-up thing to do would be to substitute dried fruit, but only a few dried fruits are sufficiently chewy and tangy.) These are nearly ideal. They come in a thick rope shape so you can really get a good bite in there (like when you would mash up an FRU into a ball), and they're so intensely flavored it's hard to believe there's no corn syrup. I need to figure out a way to order these in bulk off the Internet.
  • Poblano Farm Salsa: This has that super-thick, cooked-down tomato texture and taste, almost like tomato paste, with a lot of tang and sweetness. (Are you sensing a theme here?) The one I have (mild) contains no poblanos, despite the farm whence it came, but rather guajillo. Mild enough you can basically eat it with a spoon, which I like to do with top-notch tomato products. Cooked tomatoes have replaced Fruit Roll-Ups as my favorite food.
  • Lee Kum Kee Sriracha: Huy Fong is the more famous version, with the rooster on the bottle, but I prefer LKK. It's got a thicker texture (again, more like tomato paste) and a distinctly different taste, both sweeter and more fermented, and therefore more complex. It's also not vegetarian; I think it contains fish sauce. Sorry.
  • Kind Bars/Lara Bars: The only healthy(ish) snack bars I've found that don't have that ooky chalky texture/taste from protein powder. Also, they're all gluten-free, and it's easy to verify if one contains cashews (I'm allergic), whereas with a Luna bar you have to scan through like 90 ingredients.
  • Liberte Mediteranee Yogurt in Apple Crumble: This is just stupid delicious. They use some special process to get the fat level up to 8%. A triumph!
  • Trader Joe's Gingerbread Coffee: One of the best flavored coffees I've ever tried -- it's just ground coffee with little bits of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, so it doesn't taste all fugazi. (I also recommend sprinkling some ground cinnamon in with your regular coffee. Like, into the grounds before brewing, not into the brewed liquid.)
All right, now for some beauty stuffs:
  • Nude Lip Balm: I have a hard time finding lip balm that doesn't make my lips itch. Usually ones with sunscreen don't work. I like Vaseline/Aquaphor, but I find they tend to melt and get liquidy when you buy the little portable tube. This costs something like $14; I don't think I'd ever spent that much on lipstick, much less chapstick, prior to this purchase, but I was deeply in need of a lipcare solution! This is very thick (I have to use my fingernail to get it out of the awkward little tub), but it melts on contact. Feels great, no smell, no color, no flavor. I've even put this on dry patches on my face, in a pinch.
  • Neutrogena Body Oil: After I moved to Boston my dry skin got even drier, so I load up on oils and fatty body butters (see below), best applied right out the shower. The Neutrogena formula is really light and absorbs more quickly than other oils; not sure how they engineer that, but it works.
  • Body Shop Body Butters: I stick to the really oily/nutty ones for extra dry skin (Almond, Shea, Brazil Nut, Olive). They're pricy but a tub lasts a long time and they often go on sale.
  • Aussie Three-Minute Miracle: One of the few haircare products I've bought multiple times over the course of many years. Cheap as dirt, makes your hair soft and untangly. By the way, if you're still washing your hair every day, stop! I converted to the every-second-or-third day schedule this year and it no longer gets all staticky in the winter. I still get it wet in the shower, but I just use conditioner, no shampoo, until it my scalp starts to look oily.
OK, your turn, what should I buy?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Before my time/What I ate for dinner

When I was in ninth grade I used to write a message on the back of my left hand every day. It wasn't a note to self, it was a note to the world. I basically invented the status update, no?

I haven't posted a little recipe since July! Time, she flies, like an especially adamant and annoying bird. Here's what I ate for dinner, basically a variation on one I already posted, which is why it's not really a recipe.

Green and White Pasta with Garlic and Lemon

Put a big pot of water on to boil. Melt a chunk of butter (2-3 tablespoons) in a saucepan and throw in three or so sliced garlic cloves. Cook the garlic on low heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until it's fragrant/not raw. Dump in a handful of chopped fresh parsley, the zest and juice of one lemon, a small container of plain Greek yogurt (full fat or 2%, please; fat-free yogurt is a scourge; it's Scourge McYuck), and half a tub or so of whipped cream cheese (look, this is just what I had around!; you could class it up with goat cheese or a big handful of grated parmesan), plus a big pinch of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper (plus a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like it spicy, ay yi yi). Turn off the heat and just move it around a little; it doesn't have to cook, but you want the cheese to start to melt. Meanwhile, salt the water when it's boiling and add about 12 ounces of chunky pasta (such as penne or cavatappi; I used this); when it's got two to three minutes left, add two cups or so of broccoli cut into "bite-size florets." When both the pasta and broccoli are done, drain (reserving about half a cup of pasta water) and return to the pot. Throw in a couple of good handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves, then add the sauce mixture. Stir to combine, adding pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. You might want to keep the heat on low to wilt the spinach and help it all get good and dishy. Yum, right? Serves fourish. Please note: Everything is negotiable, but substituting works better than simply subtracting (e.g., use peas and basil instead of broccoli, parsley and spinach, or ricotta instead of yogurt) and you can always add (e.g., sundried tomatoes, white wine).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Not my experience of the world

Do some people really believe that everything is about sex? Or do they just like to say "Such and such is really about sex" because talking about sex is supposed to be sexy?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Physiognomy Geometry

At some point in the past decade I noticed that my collarbones form a perfectly straight horizontal line across my torso. This is unusual, no? Or is it only unusual for women? Women's collarbones are exposed much more frequently than men's. They normally form a slight V, an obtuse angle.

This week, I noticed that the bottom of my eyes, in face-on photographs, also form a straight horizontal line. See below (I only just got a computer with a webcam and I was testing it out. Verdict? Crap photo quality!):

IS THIS WEIRD? My eyes aren't eye-shaped. It's like a profile view of an armadillo. Just focus on the eye part. A hieroglyph of a beetle. Or the rising sun.

Step into my boudoir

I had a long gchat with my perfume friend Brian Pera last night and he posted a good chunk of it to his blog. You can read it here. Are you familiar with this genre of YouTube video? The "My Favorite Perfumes" genre? I kind of really want to make one. They're a delight.

Here's a chunk he didn't post:

brian: You told me today you apply on the clavicle and the wrists?
7:55 PM me: Not always the wrists -- sometimes the outer surface of my forearms, and in summer sometimes on my upper arms (closer to my nose). Never on my hands, because I don't want to risk washing it off.
brian: oh my. That's so specific. The outer surface of your forearms.
That's impressively militaristic
me: Yes, so it can waft up as I'm typing!
7:56 PM brian: see this is how I think too. But I put it on the backs of my hands, so that whenever I want I can just shove my hand right up in my face
me: Also, if I sniff my arm, it kind of looks like I'm just wiping my nose with my arm. Which I guess isn't that classy anyway.
We're so logistical.
7:57 PM I usually spray at the base of my neck, not directly on my neck, so some gets on my shirt.
Then if it wears off my skin, I can still smell the fabric.
brian: Okay, I laughed out loud. because I do the same, and I thought, oh, I'm so sneaky. If anyone looked at me they'd think
7:58 PM I'm just rubbing my nose. Then I started to see pics of myself and in many of them my hand is at my nose and I have this weird look on my face
me: Ha! Weird, like, ecstasy?
Once a friend noticed me smelling my perfume and thought I was doing it because I was nervous.
Little does she know
7:59 PM brian: Not ecstasy, no.
me: More cerebral
brian: Kind of like...deranged. It's not an attractive expression
It's furtive
me: Deranged! Excellent
brian: Like I'm thinking how to make it look less weird than it is
Like less of a compulsion
me: Failing, clearly
brian: the way some people
who eat a lot
8:00 PM do it in secret
like they put a little at a time on the plate
and eat it in the kitchen, standing up
so that it's "on the go"
me: I do that sometimes. I get one last bite as I'm packing the leftovers.
Addictive behaviors.
8:01 PM brian: I get one last bite over and over. It's like writing a letter and you keep adding PPS's
me: It's funny that we still do P.S.'s in email, when you could just go up and add it in.
8:02 PM brian: See, this is what I meant about you and about poets
They have this way of looking at things
I don't know how to describe that
me: That's like my specialty. I could do that all day.
brian: It's observational in a sort of microscopic way.
8:03 PM me: I like banter and I like theories. Very small or very big. I don't like sort of "What did you do today" type talk that much.
8:04 PM The meso layer
brian: Yeah I don't either but you get to be a poet and I just have ADD
me: Shut up, you make films. Those are detaily.
8:05 PM And also Big.
8:06 PM brian: that's true but in order to make a film feel truly like a poem you need so many people and so much time and as the producer you have to think big and small, zooming in and out so much to think about the big and small picture. This is why I'm going crazy. I just want to focus on the details. I'm not a muralist much.
Does this translate into your perfume habits somehow?
the meso thing
me: Mmm, that's true. With poetry I don't have to depend on anyone else. I also always hated "group work" in school.
8:09 PM Maybe you could think of rich perfumes with lots of layers and complexities as "big theory" scents. If Ellena is the middle layer, I'm not a fan.
8:10 PM brian: Me neither. I try to like him, and sometimes I like him for a couple minutes at a time.
But it's like standing talking to someone at a party who really just keeps saying the same thing over and over again. "How you doing, then?"
8:11 PM me: I almost always like the top notes, but then I start to feel like top notes are all there are.
So yeah, that guy at the party is all top notes
Mr. Small Talk Top Notes

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

  • Holy crap, who is Nick Demske? His book is blowing my mind. Actually it's the first book of poetry I've picked up in the past couple months and wanted to read past the first poem. I can't stop making little notes so I'm going to have to review this.

  • When I lived in Houston they didn't have curbside recycling. You had to collect your recyclables in bags and then drive them down to the nearest recycling center. (Because there is nothing you can do in Houston without driving.) This was pretty fun, because you got to throw all your glass bottles and jars down into the glass pit, and the smashing sounds were about as satisfying as a good golf whack. One day, after having finished a paper (not sure if it was philosophy or linguistics or what) and driven out with my recycling and smashed some bottles, I distinctly remember thinking, I'm good at life. GEEZ. I was pretty good at it, back then. It's not that I've gotten worse, but I'm at a higher level. Life as Tetris: I can't always keep all my blocks in the bottom half of the screen anymore, and sometimes holes are unavoidable.

  • Self-promotion corner: I've got a couple readings coming up, one in Cambridge and one in New Haven. The New Haven reading is next Saturday, 1/15, 7 p.m. at Detritus (71 Orange St.). I'm reading with Karen Garthe and Paul Legault. Then on Monday, 1/24, 8 p.m., I'm reading in the Literary Firsts series at Middlesex in Central Square (with Jonathan Clark, Andra Hibbert, and Colin O'Day.

Also, I've got a few poems in the first print issue of Dark Sky Magazine; Kathy and I have a couple of collaborations in Super Arrow; and big thanks to Coldfront for including The French Exit in its Top 30 Poetry Books of 2010 feature and calling it "one of the best first books of the year"!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two good poems

It's been a little while since I blogged about poetry. Lest my poetry people feel forlorn, forsaken, here I go. These are two poems I like, and some things I like about them. Both poems are narrative, but unspool their stories in unusual ways.

This first one is by Karyna McGlynn:
A Red Tricycle in the Belly of the Pool

the live oak over the nursery got a disease
they could only save one limb
it wasn't surprising; it wasn't that kind of nursery

a girl rode her red tricycle around the bottom of the pool
the pool had no water; it hadn't rained

the girl kept smelling her hand
it smelled like honeywheat, or the inside of a girl's panties

someone said, race you
she nodded okay and pedaled like hell
after three laps no one had passed her

she looked over her shoulder, lost her balance
ripped her hands & knees on the blue concrete

the one limb on the live oak curved like a question
would she need stitches again

there was already ink under her skin & iodine on her tongue
or was it the other way around

she could see black thread bunching
sewing centipedes under her skin

her throat burned and she couldn't move her legs
it wasn't a tricycle
it was something she couldn't get her foot out from under

she hated to stop or lose her shoe and, I'm sorry
the pool was full of water
I included this poem in the course packet for a seminar called "The Poem and the Idea." I love the way it tells its story. It's delivered with a certain uncertainty, as though depending on a faulty memory – or is the speaker simply a liar? (That "I'm sorry" is so sneaky, it could be sinister.) I've said before I hate description. The trick of this poem is that it uses description deceptively – you're forced to visualize the scene, and then, at the end, you have to revise your mental image. The water floods into your image as water floods into a pool. This poem also seems to describe a way of experiencing things, as though understanding were only available after the fact. (Isn't it?) We receive reality in dispatches.

This one's by Joyelle McSweeney.

Others were more economical than I. But I
had my red marble. I had action
figures weighting down the drapes
on tiny threads. That twisted and got smaller.
One door led
to a more economical room.
Perhaps a more economical view. The girl
across the hall was the same girl.

I climbed out across the telephone wires. I thought
they'd hold me, like the webbing of a lawn chair,
and like a wedding or a lawnchair they didn't. I kept
pulling chunks out of the hummock. I fell with my
fists full of humus. Into, of course.

At home the state-painter was painting the ghost oak. And
the window around the oak. The room around

She came from the same
town in Iceland.
Whither and whence I
came. O-ho!
With her eye
she came and came.
With her weather
eye she came.

I saw the damage this was doing to the van
would not cost six hundred dollars.
I pedaled off in my car.
My car got smaller.
It wouldn't fit my littlest brother!
It fell over.
Fell, of course, into.

Back at the ranch, it was a tenement.
I was a tenant of the studio-apartment.
I was building a house in French.
Expectorant--I was self-enlightened,
my efforts self-directed and sustained.
To the tune of eighty-seven dollars
I debated a suitable depth. A squirrel
at each level of the fence

with an apple for a face looked on blandly.
I mean red. Red-faced. Blindly.

Heavenly stage set comes
in on wheels and wheels around.
The fish wind up the concrete ladder
because they believe it's better
to reach a higher part of the rive.
to pour themselves out
while I pour myself into
the form that has survived.
my father leaves tomorrow
and he leaves this
afternoon. This is before
I set fire to my room,
pouring water in the electric baseboards
trying to wash a tiny brine shrimp
off the wall. It might have lived.
This is after my mother,
her father dead. Lay in bed.
Heard the Skylark song.
Like the McGlynn poem, this poem seems not quite sure of its story. At times it has a making-it-up-as-she-goes-along quality, at others it's like the reporting of a dream, full of illogical leaps and holes and misrememberings. But there's a seriousness, even an urgency, in the voice so we feel something is at stake, this isn't just a lot of hooey. Still, it's incredibly playful, really saturated with wordplay; it's as though the language used to tell the story could time-travel back and change the story. (In the real world there would be a story; in poetry there is only the language.)

I think the McGlynn poem works mostly on the macro scale; with a different ending it wouldn't be so remarkable. The language is lovely, filmic, but it would stop there, at description. The McSweeney poem is most remarkable at the micro scale; it's full of little moves (puns and polysemy, definition by negation, exposed revision), little songs and little worlds.