Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

Chapter One
Once, a portion of the wind gathered together. The wind was unfettered but was not content. We have traveled over the body of the world and yet, and yet, and yet. As it watched the creatures of blood and skin, Wind desired such clothing, such -ness, and to walk upon the earth. Let us make ourselves in the image of man and of animal. Wind spoke its desire and was made man and beast both.

A sudden rain pelted the few locals and fewer tourists still on the street. Most, on the way to the lots and garages where their cars sat, just ran, splashing through neon. Others took shelter in a small bar, The Accidental Accentor. Two Sailor Jerry style swallows flashed and flitted above the door, oblivious to the downpour. Inside, a young man wrote the seventy-first review of “The Accent” on his smart phone for a bourgeois, hipster website. Another lined up a shot at the pool table. Except for a petite bartender whose bleached curls had gone limp, everyone in the bar was male. Most male of all was a long-legged good tipper. He sat at the bar, trying not to think, trying instead to focus on the perfume of the blonde. She placed a reservoir glass in front of him and poured a dose of absinthe. “You know I didn’t order this.”
She smiled and continued the ritual by balancing over the glass a spoon decorated by small holes. On the spoon was a small sugar skull. “Day of the Dead.” That was right. Only a few days. She let water drop slowly over the skull until it dissolved. Together they watched the absinthe change color. She broke the spell of the ceremony. “I’m Elizabeth.” Her shadow fell, broken across the wooden bar top and the empty stool beside him onto the parquet of the floor. He couldn’t be sure it was human.
“This is an unexpected treat, Elizabeth.” He held the glass up to the light. Luminescent and cloudy green, it reminded him of something that was not his last drink of absinthe.
One of those who had escaped the rain and had been standing at the door as if it would let up any moment came up to the counter. “Um, there’s a homeless girl outside,” he said.
“What do you think I can do about it? What you’re scared of her?” Elizabeth snapped.
“It’s,” he faltered, “it’s raining. I think someone might need to pick her up.”
“I can call the police, but they won’t come.”
The man laid another tip on the counter and stood. He shrugged on a tailored, hooded trenchcoat. “I’ll see about it.”
There was a girl outside. Indigent yes, but homeless, he thought not. She paced right past him holding her skinny arms akimbo over her head. She must have freaked the boy out because she was talking to herself and occasionally glaring into the warm light of the bar. What is she saying? He listened.
“Six hundred thirteen, six hundred seventeen, six hundred nineteen, six hundred thirty-one…” Her face was contorted and strained. She looked like she was having the mother of all migraines. He wondered if the counting helped or made it worse.
“Why did you have to go and make it rain like this, sweetheart?” he asked.

They were coming after her, and they were in her mind, so she couldn’t get away. Oh, closer and more terrible. She said her charms. They were screaming. She hated their faces, their changing faces, her faces. Somehow each was her and not her. Somehow she understood that each was an atom of her body. She didn’t have a word for they were. Not atoms, quarks. Not quarks, light. No, not light, but moving energy nonetheless. Neutrinos? As she searched for a name, they slowed. As she waited for a better name, they advanced. They began to pull at her violently, wanting violence. A great bear roared. She thought, this must be part of my psyche, the part of me that wants to survive. Isn’t she ferocious! Will she save me? But the shadows were still tearing her. The bear put herself between the girl and the violent, but they reached through the bear. What? What? Did I make it rain? The violent disappeared. Even the bear left. She became aware of the rain and of her place in it and of the man who had called her from the darkness. And then, it began again. They were yelling. She screamed back.
So many voices, and then a snarl in the darkness. The smell of wet fur. A man’s arms. “Who are you?”
He gave her a name. She only remembered part of it. She hung onto the syllable, and when she began screaming again, it was that phoneme she stretched and twisted like concertina wire. Then, it seemed as if he had stepped through the night, just one step, to a door and a table and a distant light. Smoky voices and faces snaking like smoke and flame in the shadows.

“Do you smoke?” This was a woman who asked few questions, and this was not one of them. She held out a hand-rolled cigarette, and the girl took it. teɪ bent to light it for her. “Drink this.” The woman poured the still-whistling water from the kettle into the white porcelain cup. The water swirled into the tea infuser and swirled out pale orange. The girl took a wary drag from the cigarette and was surprised to inhale something warm and almost sweet like honey and vanilla. The others talked above her head as she hunched over the steaming cup on the small kitchen’s over-sized wooden table.
“What did you give her?” teɪ asked softly.
“Does it matter? She’s stopped screaming. She’s not even talking to herself. And,” she paused, “the rain stopped. Listen. Yes, it stopped. I think I’m doing a good thing here.” The woman swept her long bangs out of her eyes. It was early. The dark circles beneath her eyes had a softening quality—harsh on her pale face, but good for the appraisal of her soul. teɪ was pleased. Daylight hadn’t even gotten up for this, but she had. The woman slid a souvenir ashtray from Colorado onto the table.
teɪ glanced at it. “And what you’re doing for her matters. I’m sorry. Thank you.” He looked at the top of the girl’s head and then to the woman separated from him by the girl in her chair. “Can she stay with you?”
“I knew the moment you brought her here,” her voice rose. She sighed and whispered, “I don’t want to do this. Please.” Her bangs fell back over her face.
“Please,” he reached out and twisted her unruly hair together. He was surprised the woman let him, but he pinned it back with a bobby pin that he’d managed to make appear out of thin air. She cut her eyes at him. He smiled. “You never know when you’re gonna need to pick the lock of a lady’s boudoir.”
The woman laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder, “I don’t think that will work with any lock I know of.” Her voice hardened.
“I’ve been known to change a few locks in my time.” He spoke softly still, but his white teeth flashed in the near-dark of the room.
“What am I supposed to do with her?”
“Teach her.” At this, the girl looked up drowsily from her tea and cigarette.
“This is retard—I mean, not something I want to do; therefore—”
“I’m leaving now. Take care.” He tossed his coat over his arm and took a couple of long steps backward, bowing out of the kitchen. “I’ll come back to see how things are going.” He turned.
“You can’t keep leaving strays on my doorstep!” But, teɪ just curved out his fingers into the air in substitute of good-bye as he left the apartment.

Light and warmth. Warmth and softness. A quietness. Oh, there was the sound of city traffic outside and human voices, outside and from the rooms above, and the noises of a mother busy in the kitchen (a mother?), but within? Within it was her own heartbeat and her own voice, very unobtrusive and respectable, and nothing else. And she no longer felt like she was falling apart. So, Dulcie turned and hugged her pillow not having anyone else to share the moment with. But she did! She slipped out from under the heavy quilt and went to open the door. She looked out from the small crack and could see, from the restaurant-style unisex sign, a bathroom but not the kitchen and not the woman from last night. She must have drugged me. Dulcie realized she was in a clean, white college t-shirt and underwear that was not hers. She felt that, under the circumstances, it would be okay to nose around a bit. She closed the door and began to quietly open the largest drawers of an antique high-boy. The first one held an array of neatly laid-out bras, none of which Dulcie could wear without padding. The second one was stocked with running shorts and t-shirts like the one she was already wearing. She picked a pair of shorts with a drawstring, put them on, and pulled the string tight before folding over the band.
The living room and kitchen were separated only by the table and its set of six chairs which were positioned as to not touch anything other than linoleum. The table wouldn’t have fit on the carpet anyway. Except for a small walk-way from the kitchen to the door that branched off to allow traffic into and out of the bedroom and washroom opposite, boxes and an odd assortment of furniture, stacked and smooshed together on one side of the room, took up all the available floor space. “Hello,” Dulcie called tentatively.
The woman from last night dried her hands off on a towel draped through the fridge handle. She turned to look at the oven and at the shelves in the kitchen. “Hi. I just finished making lunch. We’ll get out of here after we eat, I think.” She glanced at some boxes near Dulcie’s feet. “I’m getting a little claustrophobic with all this stuff everywhere.” She finally met Dulcie’s eyes. Dulcie smiled quickly. The woman looked as if she would cry, but otherwise, she was beautiful, somehow plain and beautiful at the same time.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes. Just tired. It was late,” the woman hugged herself, “or early when you got here. Are you cold?”
“No, I’m so fine. I promise. This is not the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me. But, no I’m not cold.” She thought about it a moment. She looked down. “Oh! Can you see my nipples?”
The woman had a full-bodied laugh, and Dulcie not only joined her in that but also closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around the first decent human being she’d met in a long time.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

more NaPoWriMo

So, I am having lots of good ideas. It's hard not to sit down and not only hammer out each poem but burnish it to a smooth shine. I can't wait to edit some of these.
Here's today's.

Desire is lithe, and as transient as a phoneme.
Christ, that proud bitch tearing over the yards!
A couple of curs and Ezra’s bluetick fly after her
turning their heads to nip at each other mid-leap.
And there’s my own on the scent. Law would be
on any man’s side to shoot her,
but no man with a dog in the race would.

This is verymuch not what it is supposed to be.
Here's my translation from the other day and the original.

Hälfte des Lebens
By Friedrich Hölderlin

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.
Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.


Yellow pears hang there,
there thick with wild roses
the land [a reflection? a kingdom.] in the sea
in whose holy sobering water,
sweet swans drunk on kisses,
you dip your heads.

Sorrowing. Where can I store up,
for my wintering, flowers
and sunshine and shadows on the earth?
The walls stand speechless and cold
in the wind which makes
weathervanes chatter.

This is a pretty liberal translation. My literal translation was almost perfect for what it was, but I wanted to translate the tone, if not the meaning, more than just the words.
I'm excited about translating, now. And have already picked out a couple of volumes of poetry by living German writers that i want to try to read/translate.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NaPoWriMo update

Day 2's poem came from notes I took in a meditation workshop with the poet Tony Trigilio. It's a small, pretty poem, and I like it. For Day 3, I used to find the 25 most used (root)words in my poetry (I only used 15 poems though), and then turned variations of those words into a teeny, tiny doesn't make much sense poem.

Over water, body
knowing down through long
lovestill watched day,
dark seen lights,
river, sun black god
leaving words’
blue hand grown.

I also put that information in and got this:

For Day 4, I finished the terzanelle I had started on the theme of the "Family Secret." I started with a free verse poem a week or so ago, and after Tony Trigilio read his villanelle composed of phrases from arguments Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife had in their KGB-tapped apartment, I wanted to see what different forms would do to what i had thought the poem was going to be about/the language/etc. It's not too bad, I might mash up the best lines of the formal versions (I might do a ghazal next) and the free verse original to form a new, better poem.
I started writing about whether or not there is sort of a child-molester gene, but the villanelle became more about women's culpability in social disparity (if that makes sense), in continuing the same patterns, I guess.
I haven't finished Day 5's translation, and haven't even started Day 6. So tomorrow, I'm going to be behind. It's okay, though, the few breakthroughs I've had are, for me, the point of this month-long exercise.

Friday, April 1, 2011

NaPoWriMo 2011

So, a couple of years ago I tried National Novel Writing Month, but my mom got cancer and a gazillion complications with surgeries and stuff. So, I put that on hold. I'll try again this November. I watched my husband back in '08 write a 100,000 word novel in 3 weeks, so it can be done. However, writing a poem a day will be good practice for me to send my inner editor/cop out for dougnuts while my writer/thief gets away with the heist. So, here's a struggling thing. I'm trying to get rid of my super-narration. Most of the time, I wouldn't post any of my own poetry on my blog, but this one doesn't really have anything I'd keep but the idea behind it.

Fumbling with latches
thick with purpose.
But not to open, no.
I am joining
sky halves with repository below.
At least, I’m trying.
Reconsider the mask,
its artificial colorings,
those terrible lips.
Who told this box
it had latches?
Who told this box
it was not of one piece?
Who put the corpse between them,
words I pretend to use
but use me?
Only be offered through
aperture of Geb and Nut
the moment before the strepitus
the moment without prejudice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

chapbook review: Heather Cadenhead's Inventory of Sleeping Things

Heather Cadenhead’s chapbook Inventory of Sleeping Things (Maverick Duck Press 2010) collects what is probably a “best of…so far” for the young poet rather than poems unified by a major theme. That’s not to say the eighteen poems are void of recurring motifs; the palette of diction, image, and emotion seem to have been limited by design in this miniature, this small, rather abstract portrait of intimacy and ambivalence regarding it. For Cadenhead, love is the tie that binds, but is more “SOLD sign/ taped to layaway items” than invisible, slack, silken cord. Poem after poem she buries any optimism for relationships in dread (dread of loss of identity, dread of the finite including mortality), but even in this bleak repetitiveness a child’s handful of delightful, lyrical lines and phrases shine. As Horace tells us, the great work of the great poets, if we care to look past the varnish of their names, is merely a few bright, shining strings of words.

The poem that opens the collection “The Cracking of Bones Makes the Same Sound as Falling in Love” contains this: “You’ve gotten used/ to a heaven filled with telephone poles, but I want/ a sky that swallows ideas…” This sentence is musical. In fact, it could make two lines of nearly perfect trochaic hexameter, but broken up over the pattern of regular speech (as Frost might say), we get a different kind of music, one charged not by drumbeat but by accusation. The following line masquerades as the poem’s best one, “I want to know/why falling in love feels like listening to bones crack…,” but this is a game poets play with the trust of their audience. It sounds true…if one isn’t really listening. Maybe poets should play this game so we become better questioners of such declarations, better seekers of truth—so that we ask, what does falling in love feel like if not like listening to bones crack? Whatever the answer is, the combination of pleasure and revulsion continues in the chapbook with “So I Picked Up the Pieces and Threw Them Away” and more subtly in other poems.

“So I Picked Up the Pieces” is just as fleshy and ready to be peeled as its protagonist. “You asked if you could peel my layer,/ and I nodded, handing you a spearing knife…You slid your instrument over me,/ and I felt my skin fall off…I could see my fruit,/ Fleshed across a hidden core./ And you saw, too”. Maybe it’s ars poetica, maybe a poem about surrender or violation of the body, or is this a religious poem? I must admit I looked for religion or at least spirituality from the editor of Basilica Review, an online journal that “seek[s] to broaden the label of Christian poetry and art.” As I use a paring knife to peel my fruit rather than a “spearing” one, I had to hope that, in combination with the ecstasy of the scene and the penultimate piece of the chapbook “Autumn Claims My Bones,” Cadenhead was trying to guide her reader to something else, something beyond a simple metaphor for the male sex organ. From a translation of Saint Teresa of Avila’s autobiography Book of My Life: “Then the angel plunged the flaming spear through my heart again and again until it penetrated my innermost core.” Poetry should bring us to more poetry, to art, to music, to science, to history…This isn’t the only poem in Cadenhead’s brief collection that was the answer of another poem (see Harold Bloom). Read “Autumn Claims My Bones” and Sappho’s “One Girl” and Carl Phillips’s “Aubade: Some Peaches…” Read “Moonblock for Moony Days” and Mark Strand’s “Moontan.” Paste William Meredith’s “The Illiterate” over Cadenhead’s “Illiterate.” Read the entire chapbook and then Robert Lowell’s “Man and Wife.” I ask you to read these poems as companions to one another not competitors (with the exception of the “Illiterate” poems).

I am disappointed with the revision of “A Coat on a Love Seat, Translated.” Should I even be mentioning a version of a poem not printed in the work at hand? I’m not sure, but I believe that the internet’s influence on the way poetry is written, disseminated, and read should cause us to rethink the limits of publishing and critique. The original “Coat” can still be accessed on the website of the online journal Up the Staircase. The cutting of two strophes has resulted in each remaining strophe becoming a possible “translation” of the coat or what that coat reminds the speaker of; for instance, the speaker on a bed and pine cones on the limp grass which in turn are like women on chaise lounges. However, as readers, we lose the more tangible and relatable image of the woman who must work both inside and outside the home. We lose the message that keeping house—not just keeping it tidy but keeping it whole—is work. And, we lose the perfect, concise way Cadenhead had conveyed the tedium of the balancing act required of the “working woman” and wife in the simple refrain of “I work, I work.” Also, I am afraid that the poem as printed in the book may have been a casualty of the micro press. The last lines on the page look to be a mistake being identical in capitalization and punctuation to the lines from two pages prior. Despite the fact that it might be an error, I delight in the way these lines suddenly convolute the “rain” and the “you.”

Finally I arrive at my “last things.” In Adrienne Rich’s essay “When We Dead Awaken,” Rich identifies the problem of male-dominated culture misnaming woman’s needs and being. Inventory of Sleeping Things looks at that misnaming in the most claustrophobic, if not the most intimate, of environments, the co-inhabited home. A poem like “A Man Names Things” reassures me that I’m not entirely wrong about my interpretation. The themes of ownership and identity which I briefly touched above are gender-neutral; both the “you” and the “I” mistake his or her own desires and fears for the other’s needs. In “Raven,” for instance, the speaker provides us with two stanzas of hope and then these lines:

If I am alone, I am not whole.
What I want is this: Bare
fingers pulling bread from
the same loaf, a glass of wine
from a shared skin, a deep burial.
There, the ground will swallow us, together.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of poems like “The Astronaut’s Lost and Found,” (I believe it’s telling that the ones I liked the most had more than a good dose of magic realism in them. A review is just an opinion after all) and followed the reasoning of the arrangement of poems (the side-by-side house poems were a nice touch, like decorative support columns), but wish that the chapbook had been treated more as a form and that it had freakin’ page numbers.

I invite Heather Cadenhead to respond to this review. After all, this isn’t workshop wherein one must remain silent while her peers praise and criticize her (and how much of our practice of ignoring the poet has to do with previous generation’s lack of all the communication tools we now have? Not saying I want the poet to interfere in my reading of his poems; I don’t like to be managed that way, but as an experiment…) I would be more than happy to post her response here believing dialogue can be beneficial to the appreciation of poetry especially to those not so arrogant to have already formed one immutable opinion of it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Reflection: When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision

I'm trying to keep track of what I read and what I think about it and I had to return my library books, so now I'm presenting you with a bit of my self-directed study in Twentieth-Century American Poetics (I'm using the book edited by Gioia and others). My hope is to be able to formulate, despite the fact that it might change in the next week, by the end of reading and writing about the essays in this book (and others maybe), my own poetic theory or something.

on Adrienne Rich’s “When We Dead Awaken”: Writing as Re-Vision, 1971

According to Adrienne Rich, Henrik Ibsen’s play When We Dead Awaken is about the male creative have made of woman and woman’s awakening to that use. Like his contemporary, Bernard Shaw, Rich invites us to consider what will happen to society/culture “when we dead awaken.” (Note: I am currently reading the play, and while certain Rich’s synopsis is valid and likely an example of re-Vision, I would wager most critics or fans of the piece would say it was a bit more “universal”—but read on to find out what Rich thinks of that.)

Rich uses this idea of waking in the sense of opening one’s eyes and she transitions quickly to a call for Re-vision which is the “act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction.” Re-vision, is not just a poetic theory, but a political call for action, and it calls toward women, the “special” ones –those in academia and of certain economic classes—and artists, to validate their struggles and privileges by helping less “special” women through a Re-vision of the culture through critique of its old texts, writing of new texts (and text here means “art”) and perhaps not just history but historiography. “We need to know the writing of the past,” Rich declares meaning, I believe, both that we need to know past writing and that we need to know how the past has been written down or transmitted to us. “We need to know the writing of the past…not to pass on tradition but to break its hold over us.” Underlying Rich’s entire point is the faith that life will imitate art or that, “What we see, we see/ and seeing is changing.” Rich seems so much more optimistic than I expected; I hear her saying under all these other words, yes, poetry matters.

Rich’s essay moves from the broad, the public, the this-affects-us-all to the narrow, the private, the-this-affects-me. As she navigates us from the one point to the other, she talks about the misnaming of woman and her needs by male-dominated culture. Writing is re-naming and re-visioning. Critiquing tradition and literature allows us to see how “we have been led to imagine ourselves” and the way we live so that “we can begin to see and name and live afresh.”

In this in-between moment, when Rich is trying to connect me/us/our with her, I begin to feel disoriented. Rich was born to a doctor/professor at Johns Hopkins and graduated from Radcliffe after winning the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Four years after that book was published, she published a second. By the time she wrote what I have in my lap as part of an anthology of poetics, she had published at least three more books. She says she has been allowed to think of herself as special because she did not threaten the male privilege of naming her “special,” but at least the Man had named her and saw her as a poet which she desired to be named. In a society driven, it seems to me, not by art but by the exchange of commodities, by having a commodity, a book (or being given a book, which is sort of what a first book prize does) she can no longer threaten the male system by which things are named (nominated and dominated). For poets, a book currently acts as a name-tag or museum placard. Without one, who knows what to call us, what I am? I am neither saying, yet, that to be liberated for the pursuit of Truth or something like it, something like poetry, calls for a united denunciation and refusal of prizes, books, publication in little magazines nor that the prizes, books, and publications make one less of an artist, at least that wasn’t my intention. I’m still thinking about these things because I am young in multiple ways and can’t fight off the desire for recognition, to think myself special and have others think it, and silly as it might be to the more educated, the wiser, the harder, the ones that have been there-thought that, I’d like someone to say, hey listen, she’s a poet, so yes, what she says matters.

Rich’s dilemma to “consider [herself] a failed woman or a failed poet” allows my return to her obviously well-intentioned example of herself as a woman working under male-created assumptions and judgments. One assumption: “poetry should be ‘universal.’” What Rich realized is that “universal” meant “nonfemale.” Rich uses her private life to illustrate how the assumptions of what a woman should be/do and what poetry is/does are male-constructed myths that we can (I believe she means should and are and will but I’m not there yet, not entirely) break from through writing, through our own creations. The creative process and the traditional female role proved difficult for Rich to synthesize (and this continues to be the case for female artists that have also chosen—how much it was actual, informed choice is debatable—to marry and have children). This part reminds me of Kristeva’s “Women’s Time,” because it has to do with our language being connected with time or how our time is put to use:
“I was writing very little…partly from the discontinuity of female life with its attention to small chores, errands, work that others constantly undo, small children’s constant needs…my anger and frustration were hard to acknowledge in or out of poems because in fact I cared a great deal about my husband and my children…For a poem to coalesce,…there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is in no way passive. And a certain freedom of the mind is needed—freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched way.”

Rich includes her own early poems to show how she was subconsciously working with themes of thwarted feminine imagination, male/female dichotomies, etc. which she now works with consciously. The formally and visually constrained poetry of her student days seems to have been unraveled, snipped, torn, stretched until it became something that seemed more to her like a poem than an exercise. There is craft present in “Thinking of Caroline Herschel…,” the most recent of the poems she provides in the essay, but it is a craft of deconstruction and fragmentation. It is the demolition before the new house is built, an obvious try at breaking away from male language and allusion in order to construct her own. I’m not well steeped in Rich’s poetry, but that’s a part of this process. I will read her with purpose. I wonder has the renovation continued and what stage is it in now.

Rich speaks about her life and her own poetry, I think, in order to validate the personal in poetry, the I. She is in essence saying that speaking from one’s experiences isn’t necessarily self-indulgent but can be, in fact, political. Women writing about women and about themselves is perhaps more political than men writing about the same things that make up the news. “In condemning U.S. imperialism or the Chilean junta the poet can claim to speak for the oppressed while remaining, as male, part of a system of sexual oppression (which, Rich suggested, is the model for all oppression). The enemy is always outside the self, the struggle somewhere else,” she says. Re-Vision might be another way of saying that in the male myth, the male-centric narrative, it’s the wars, the Big Things that matter, but the little things, the women (and “women” stands in for much more than that which is female) who are washing their clothes or hanging someone else’s clothes out to dry, are part of the story. We just have to see that it’s so and tell it and re-tell it, because that part of the story matters.

I thought this was a well-written piece, still relevant over thirty years later, and Rich put into concise, quotable sentences things that had been less organized, but already present, in my mind.