Monday, April 30, 2007

Ruefle Intermission - World Poetry Tour

Currently, I have 7 Mary Ruefle books on the floor at beside - all through the University of Akron's awesome Ohio-Link service. They are just visitors, with me a short while.

Tristimania was the first book of Ruefle's I read, and my first reaction was What the Hell?

My second reaction was she has rue in her name. I have wood.

My third reaction was what the hell.

Analogy: Mary Ruefle's poems are the Marx brother who comes up and puts his leg over your arm.

The back cover blurb I might write:

Ruefle's poems are (not always but often) an erratic mix of near non-sequitars, and apparent contradictions that conspire to surprise with an unpolished polish that lights up the world I thought I knew. Her funky, ad-lib voice flies from comedian to blues singer in the blink of a word. I adore her.

THIS JUST IN: Indeed I Was Pleased With The World came out in 2007 - that makes 10 books. Anyone read it, have a take on it? Isn't there a rule about how many single volumes you throw to your readers before you give them a selected or collected? Sigh. I think I have a poetry crush.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Miranda July - Book Promotion

My wife, Laredo, just sent me this. Bar none, it is the coolest, smartest, hippest bit of self promotion I have seen in ... ever?

Meet Robert Sund

Robert Sund is one of many poets I came to through Sam Hamill – who, if my memory is working, wrote a couple of those “letter” type poems to him. That’s how I got his name. The first collection of his I read was Ish River and it remains one of my favorite single volumes of poetry. (Northpoint Press maybe.)

He is tagged as a “poet of the Pacific Northwest” and many of his poems, brief in style and tone like the Chinese poets he loved, celebrate the plants, bugs, and other critters of the region.

Sund died in 2001. His Collected Poems and Translations, titled Poems from Ish River Country, came out in 2004. If you have not read Sund much, or at all, I think he’s worth a long look. There is a charity of heart and mind in his work that makes his work essential to me.

If you go here there is a wonderful tribute to his life and work that is loaded with lines from his poems. Here are a couple of his poems I typed up to get you started.

Grey Afternoon in Seattle During the Viet Nam War

This is what it’s like here.

The kittens look up from the floor like calendars.

Across the street, the Jewish family
is thrashing about,
I wonder what they’re up to today,
making a movie maybe.
A couple of weeks ago she asked me, that nice
neurotic mother—
please sir if you would park your car right there
my son he likes to park there
you know the boy just came home from Viet Nam last week
they stole his tape deck and all kinds of
tapes, the poor boy you know he didn’t get very much
money the army you know what they’re like
and he just got back he saved his money
he didn’t have a chance
to listen to them yet.

I said, yes, I’d move my car,
“No hard feelings,” she said,
and I went away shaking my head inside
Jesus H. Christ.

Centuries Go By

In the world of men
centuries go by leaving
little trace.

A blossom in men is
like a cathedral,
seldom built.

It must be that in schools
when the blackboard is being erased,
under the sweeping hand,
some words
disappear forever.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Germinal - Uncollected Roethke

Here's an uncollected (pretty sure), maybe unpublished, Roethke poem.

Replete with the usual mix of seeds, pipes, moisture, sprouts, the color grey ... it also has undertones of Dolor. Root Cellar and Forcing House cover this territory better, but I like it a bit.


Slowly, slowly, without cracking the thinnest varnish,
A building settles.
There are many changes without the drama, days without sunset,
Merging of mist and mist, boredom upon boredom;
Cities of fog and ambiguous pigeons;
Lacklustre eyes that see only grey like the lion.

Drop by drop the last grey day leaks through a rain pipe;
A potato sprout pokes through rotting burlap;
Cold seed, long buried in a crush of mud and sticks,
Begins to stir;
In the vein, in the long vine,
Time matures.

Roethke Outtakes - 2

Continuing with the Roethke outtakes. Here is a version of Long Live the Weeds with the lines he ultimately changed, cut. The final version comes after.

Long Live the Weeds - Early Version

Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm,
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil,
(All things unholy or perverse,)
All things unholy, marred by curse
The ugly of the universe.
(These do I cherish, that provide
A burden for the back of pride,)

The rough, the wicked, and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit,
And earn the right to stand or sit,
(Hope, love, create, or drink and die, --)
Hope, love, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.

Long Live the Weeds - CP Version

Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm!
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil,
All things unholy, marred by curse
The ugly of the universe.
The rough, the wicked, and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit,
And earn the right to stand or sit,
Hope, love, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.

Loins, Thighs, Breasts - Roethke Outtakes

I found quite a few early and alternative versions of Roethke poems (in his collected letters I think) and typed them up years ago. A lot of pages actually, and I will post a few more as the weeks go by.

I have tried to call out with parenthesis and italics those lines, words, etc., that don’t appear in the final Collected Poems version, or lines that change, punctuation adjustments, etc. I am sure there's a better way to do it, but you'll get the idea comparing the two. Here is the first.

To My Sister – Early Version

O my sister remember the stars the tears the trains
The woods in spring the leaves the scented lanes
Recall the gradual dark the snow’s unmeasured fall
The naked fields the cloud’s immaculate folds
Recount each childhood pleasure: the skies of azure
The pageantry of wings the eye’s bright treasures
(Remember too the loins from whence you sprung the limbs
Within the grave before you have this love)

Keep faith with present joys refuse to choose
Defer the vice of flesh the irrevocable choice
(Rejoice in narrow thighs in)
Cherish the (wintry) eyes (the buds of breasts) the proud incredible

To My Sister – CP version

O my sister remember the stars the tears the trains
The woods in spring the leaves the scented lanes
Recall the gradual dark and the snow’s unmeasured fall
The naked fields and the cloud’s immaculate folds
Recount each childhood pleasure: the skies of azure
The pageantry of wings the eye’s bright treasure.

Keep faith with presents joys and refuse to choose
Defer the vice of flesh the irrevocable choice
Cherish the eyes the proud incredible poise
Walk boldly my sister but do not deign to give
Remain secure from pain preserve thy hate thy heart.

Thighs, loins, breast buds? Good cuts if you ask me. The turn at the end of the final version is quite a leap from the early version. I am always interested in comparing versions when I can find them, mulling over why maybe this word, why not the other. More of a curiosity for me than anything.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Great Enigma - Transtromer

The title of Transtromer's new Collected poems comes from the last line of the last poem of the book. A haiku that goes like this:

Birds in human shape.
The apple trees in blossom.
The great enigma.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meta-Free-Phor All - Colbert vs. Penn

Old news maybe. Sean Penn takes on Stephen Colbert in a Meta-Free-Phor all. The link goes to One Good Move. Scroll down a bit to see it. Pinksy moderates.

Dog Days of Summer

We are thinking about getting a dog. No more Betas, no more crickets (though the cricket really was cool - babies and all). Here are the two breeds we are looking at
for the time being. Any one have one? Benji on top, Norwich terrier on the bottom.

Good Mail Days - Transtromer Haiku

My Poetry East copies arrived over the weekend.

Really felt great to see my poem on the page. After not writing or submitting work for so damn long, I am glad to be getting back into a rhythm. (It helps too that the weather loves me again and is finally warming up.)

And today, more great mail. I got the Collected Zbginiew Herbert and new Collected Transtromer from Amazon. I may not come up for air for a while.

ADDENDUM: Just opened the Transtromer to find A) it's a New Directions pub and shockingly, there is a table of contents - not simply the usual index of titles in the back. When did they start doing this? Guess it has been a while since I bought a ND books.

And B) Not only are the last four pages haiku (written in 2004), but there is a group of haiku in the collection (previously uncollected) from 1959.

Friday, April 20, 2007

What Do You Read and Reread?

I was reading a post by R.J. Gibson about his rereading a particular book and got to thinking about which books or book I most frequently reread and I was surprised to realize it is not a book of poems.

The book is Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. I believe he is making a living these days as a motivational speaker.

I bottom out pretty badly from time to time, and when I am in the unhappy place I tend to reach for this book. Can’t explain why. I must find hope, solace, a mirror of my own misery … not sure I need to know why it takes care of me. It works and that’s what matters.

Which book or books, poetry or otherwise, do you find yourself rereading?

P.S. Hollywood managed to turn the story into a steaming pile of shit when they made it into a movie.

Empathy Belly

A little silliness for Friday. This catalog was a kick, though I have since lost it. I should have ordered the Nervous System shirt while I had the chance.

This is an older poem I placed in The Panhandler, and here's the poem's epigraph: the best source of innovative & educational products on medicine, health & childbirth.


Waiting for the belly. This too
is practice. Instantly discover

what it feels like to be pregnant,
the catalog says. My Empathy Belly

is late, though. Fetal kicking, shortness
of breath, bladder pressure — the whole

nine yards sewn into one weighted vest.
I am close to worry, though. I think

the man in the ad for the belly, smiling warmly,
happily holding his belly, could just as easily be

well-fed as pregnant and I remember
my grandpa rising from the table

and holding his domed gut in the same satisfied way.
That these two conditions appear so similar to me

is disturbing. I fear this could confuse my pregnancy
experience, despite the product’s excellence.

Stevens Again

Another Stevens' poem I really like. It seems uncharacteristically personal.

The Night-Wind of August

The night-wind of August
is like an old mother to me.
It comforts me.
I rest in it,
as one would rest,
if one could,
once again—
it moves about, quietly
and attentively.
Its old hands touch me.
Its breath touches me.
But sometimes its breath is a little cold,
just a little,
and I know
that it is only the night-wind.

Ponch Gets His Due

With the weather finally warming up I thought maybe I was sensing a little magic (and a lot of pollen) in the air. Now I am sure of it. Estrada gets a Hollywood Walk of Fame star. About time, eh?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gubbinal, Wallace Stevens


That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.

That savage of fire,
That seed,
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

Online text © 1998-2007 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From Harmonium | 1923

Crappy Kid Drawings

High brow critical commentary. Crappy kid drawings.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


A few of my own haiku for a change.

Great sites and dedicated writers like Bill K and Matt Morden have me scrounging around for something to post. Since I have not written anything new for a long time now (shame shame) these oldies will have to do.

for a moment
the new kitten
half in half out

odor of
blown out candles --
moonlight entering

finishing your letter
morning glories closed

dry spell--
the hard nests of mud wasps
that began as rain

Favorite Worst Line

Reading through the Renaissance poets again - and finding again this line that just drives me nuts. From Campion.

There is a garden in her face.

So, I thought I would ask, what is one of your favorite worst lines of poetry.

Tosa Diary - Tanka

I am pretty sure I was grumping a few weeks back about so many haiku (those originally composed as part of a larger work, dairies like Narrow Road etc.,) being published, anthologized again and again, without the prose passages that they cap. And here I go putting up a tanka from the Tosa Diary. One of my favorite tanka, one of my favorite diaries. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.

Now that I see them
I come to understand myself.
Age-old the pines
And green upon the Sumi Inlet,
but I before them white with years.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Haiku, Hinton & Chiao

As some of you know from my older posts, I lost my first son. He was born, lived six weeks, and died back in 1998. That said, I am forever looking for poems that take up the subject of loss, grief, especially re: children, for models for my own writing.

I have written about it finally, after many years. Mostly haiku, The brevity of the form, I believe, was about all I could sustain given the subject matter. (Thank you Issa.)

Here is a book (not haiku) that I really connected with, The Late Poems of Meng Chiao. It is translated by David Hinton (who’s body of work is beyond amazing), and below is an excerpt of my favorite poem from it: Apricots Died Young.

Apricots died young in blossoms still nipples. Frost cut them free, and their scattering made me mourn the child I had long ago, so I wrote this poem.

Don't fondle these pearls. O hands of ice,

fondle pearls and they're quick to fly.

And don't cut spring short, sudden frost.

Cut spring short and that blaze of beauty's lost.

Still nipples, tiny blossoms fall in tatters

tinged pure as a child's robes long ago.

I gather them, never filling my hands,

and at dusk, grief empty, return home.

It must be this same thread of tears

piercing the hearts of spring trees:

before blossoms opened anywhere,

flake after flake fell to the blade.

Spring's life never lasts, it's true,

but my lament over frost is already

impossibly deep. Instead of blossoms

bathing streams, tears bathe robes.

At our son's birth, the moon was dark,

and when he died, it began to shine.

Moon and child, they stole each other

away. O scarcely lived child of mine,

what's it like, blossom after blossom,

if not endless blue heavens in lament,

sweetness falling into earthen dust,

nothing left to bloom in other times?

Calamity infecting a child is natural:

blossoms mostly fail. Still, I gather

ruins of the heart, a spent old man

cradling love's debris in endless night.

What can be said once sound dies away?

And once hope's dead, song's useless.

Old and sick--no child, no grandchild,

I stand like bundled firewood, alone.

Poets on Anatomy

Three jobs I would rather have:

A guy who names candle scents.

A guy who names paint colors.

A guy who renames parts of the human body.

Taking up the third in this list, while the names of things as they are didn't stop Stevens (dry cattarhs) I wonder what would happen if we approached the renaming of organs, parts, et al., using say, kennings.
Surely, names like epiglottis, uvula and others which are not descriptive of function (unless maybe you are a medical expert) would be better off. No?

Go ahead, pick a part ... a thingy ... and rename it. Remember, do it in the form of a kenning: Whale road, sail road, etc. for the ocean. You know.

Transtromer & Herbert: New Collected Editions

Came across these over the weekend. A Collected Edition of Zbigniew Herbert titled simply Collected Poems, and Transtromer - The Great Enigma - also a Collected.

This almost makes up for fact that George Oppen's Daybooks have still not released and that Mary Ruefle has no collected edition. Note: If you are into Oppen, I can tell you which back issues of Sulfur you want - three or so back issues have substantial excerpts from his Daybooks.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What's Up Doc - The Power of the Imagination

Here is an curious book: Imagining Monsters, re: a fantastical occurence involving a human giving birth to rabbits. The Mary Toft hoax. I almost finished the Toft book but someone loaned me The God Delusion and I was forced to abandon it.

I am deeply moved by monsters - be they in books, movies, the White House. I have always been drawn to this kind of subject matter, our response to monstronsities, the grotesque, our need in some cases to invent monsters to explain or excuse. Raeblais' giants, Greek mythology. Creature from the Black Lagoon (can he be on the same stage?). I love them all. But back to the book.

Here is a synopsis I grabbed from Amazon.

"In 1726, an illiterate woman from Surrey named Mary Toft announced that she had given birth to seventeen rabbits. Deceiving respected physicians and citizens alike, she created a hoax that held England spellbound for months. In Imagining Monsters, Dennis Todd tells the story of this bizarre incident and shows how it illuminates eighteenth-century beliefs about the power of imagination and the problems of personal identity. Mary Toft's outrageous claim was accepted because of a common belief that the imagination of a pregnant woman could deform her fetus, creating a monster within her. Drawing on largely unexamined material from medicine, embryology, philosophy, and popular "monster" exhibitions, Todd shows that such ideas about monstrous births expressed a fear central to scientific, literary, and philosophical thinking: that the imagination could transgress the barrier between mind and body.

In his analysis of the Toft case, Todd exposes deep anxieties about the threat this transgressive imagination posed to the idea of the self as stable, coherent, and autonomous. Major works of Pope and Swift reveal that they, too, were concerned with these issues, and Imagining Monsters provides detailed discussions of Gulliver's Travels and The Dunciad illustrating how these writers used images of monstrosity to explore the problematic nature of human identity. It also includes a provocative analysis of Pope's later work that takes into account his physical deformity and his need to defend himself in a society that linked a deformed body with a deformed character".

A cautionary note: the book is fairly graphic in its account of the pieces parts aspect of the "births".

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Mother's Poetry Anxiety - A Call for Poems

One of my insane fears is that I will some day dive into water (even fresh water is under suspicion) and at the last minute see the wide open mouth of a shark as I go in, head first. My mother, she is afraid of poetry. Not that it will eat her head, but that it will humiliate her, make her feel stupid.

Ciardi used to say "how does a poem mean" as opposed to "what does a poem mean" - it has been a while since I read the piece, but I think he was angling for an approach to reading poetry that calmed some of the anxiety people can feel about poetry, a view that tried to ease them away from worrying so much about what the poem was trying to say and focused on the music, language, rhythm. I thought of all this as I talked with my mom about poetry a night ago - about her wishing she could "get it" but never feeling like she "got it" - which is why she does not read it.(The recent conversation at John Gallaher's Blog about "accessible" poetry comes to mind as well.)

I shared some poems with her that I thought might help demystify poesy:

1. WCW's cat stepping over the flower pot
2. Lorine Niedecker's You Are My Friend
3. Yeat's When You Are Old
4. Rolf Jacobsen When We Sleep
5. Harry Martinson's No Name for It
6. Robert Graves' Down Wanton Down (just kidding about that one)
7. Denise Levertov's The Batterers

Also, I told her there were plenty of poems I did not 'get' which delighted her a little too much. I read some Geoffrey Hill to her which I love, but do not always 'get'. In the end, the deal we made was this: I would put together a collection of poems (very fancy photocopies expertly stapled together) that won't humiliate her, and she agreed to give them a try. That is where you come in (if you care to).

If you wanted to put together a list of poems to share with someone who had spent the last 40 years of her life convinced poetry is beyond her, which poems would you gather?

Send me poem titles, or the poems themselves if you have access to them. I thank you. My mother thanks you.

George Seferis: Haiku

Here’s a quick take from the journal of George Seferis. Interesting enough read. Much about his work as a diplomat. And a few entries on Mrs. Zen - this curious little figurine he made out of a walnut shell.

Kikakou, one of Basho’s pupils, presented this haiku to his master:

Look, a dragonfly,
remove its wings—
a pepper tree.

“We mustn’t abuse nature,” Basho scolded and told him to reverse the haiku if he wanted to make it better:

Look, a pepper tree
add wings –
a dragonfly.

Cid Corman, Sam Hamill, Haiku

I think this Clayton Eshelman bit is a great extension of something I read in an Alice Oswald interview, how she works toward experience in the process of formation as opposed to experience "remembered" in her poems. Language as enactment vs. language of interpretation in Eshelman's case.

"Two American poets translating haiku by Basho. Corman: language as enactment, the reader interprets. Hamill: language as interpretation, the reader abandoned. Corman is deft where Hamill is pleonastic and inaccurate (crickets don’t sing; cicadas don’t cry)."

wild seas (ya
to Sado shoring up
the great star stream

High over wild seas,
surrounding Sado Island:
the river of heaven

summer grass
dream ruins

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

under the helmet

Ungraciously, under
a great soldier’s empty helmet,
a cricket sings

into absorbing
cicada sounds

Lonely silence,
a single cicada cry
sinking into stone

In a haiku-like poem of his own, Corman writes:

The cicada
isn’t singing;
that sound’s its life

Thoughts, preferences? Agree, disagree with Eshelman.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Apple for Texas

For me, it was Cummings' love poems that mattered. Here is a little poem I made (with him in mind I realize) for my friend, Texas. I cannot help myself. She's adorable.


As you bite
into it I thank
the green apple –
just hard enough
to make the tendons rise,
the way they do
sometimes, in your
slender neck – for showing
how you’re put
so beautifully together.

I am working on the leap between the dashes -
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