One formula I'd like to model is that of the teacher. I'd like to find ways to acknowledge (if not measure) values of teaching within the poetry by practitioners of excessive life practices, poets like Brenda Coultas, Bernadette Mayer, and Kimberly Lyons. In anticipation of Kimberly's reading at the Project Wednesday, I can share an un-copy-edited version of my review of Kimberly's Saline, forthcoming in Talisman, along with thoughts about Bernadette and Brenda. Here's how I begin.
Poets can be teachers even when emotional or aesthetic withdrawal visors them from the artfulness of their lessons. An equivalence to pedagogy is assumed, let's say, when a poet's language proceeds from a lived praxis. This can be conveyed topically through a persona, the habit of an identity picking up trash, for example, an alertness that comes complete with a meta-view while bunking on a Second Street bum bed pad, awash in social history and poli-science.
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I'm sorry I'm in a bind here if I'm caught answering your poem I'm instantly labeled one who is fixated on the problem, so hooked on it I'm still reading and now writing about it (it's ok if I'm doing it in poetry but I'm not, I'm not writing poetry here) and so I'm condemned as one of those weak people with "the problem that I'm afraid to speak of," well, I'm going to what the frick I'm going to because I'm touched by your poem which is a whole heck better than sinning or some such so I'm grateful and so what if I'm not headed for heaven or wherever right now so I'm happy I'm NOT ANGELS BUT ANGELS
-- I'm MANDRAGORA
-- I'm HEAD ON
-- I'm BODY WITHOUT SOUL
-- I'm PEPI, LUCI, BOM Y OTRAS CHICAS DEL MONTÓN, of Almodovar.
-- I'm Love in thoughts, of Achim von Borries,
-- I'm Pretty boy, of Carsten Sonder.
-- I'm Breakin' out, of Olivier Peray.
-- I'm Young gods, of Jukka-Pekka Siili
-- I'm You I love, of Olga Stolpovskaya.
-- I'm The accidental hero, of Laurent Jaoui.
-- I'm Lilies,
-- I'm To the Extreme, starring by Julie Depardieu, Sebastian Roch.
-- I'm Salmonberries,
-- I'm Lola and billie the kid
-- I'm LA CLASSE DE NEIGE, oof Miller.
-- I'm CLOSE TO LEO, of Christophe Honore.
A poet's guide.
1. Never touch the intimate parts of your body, especially when in front of the computer during the writing process.
2. Avoid being alone all other times, as much as possible. Find good company and avoid people with similar problems.
3. If you are associated with other persons having this same problem, you must break off your friendship. (Never associate with others having the same weakness.) Don't suppose the two of you will quit together, you never will. You must get away from people of that kind. Just to be in the presence of that sort of person will keep your problem foremost in your mind. The problem must be taken out of your mind and put down on paper for your poetry.
4. When you bathe, do not admire yourself in a mirror. Rather, save the fleeting images for when you are alone with paper and pen, or in front of the computer screen. Never stay in the bath more than five or six minutes -- just long enough to bathe and dry and dress and then exit the bathroom quickly and go to a room where you will have some wholesome friend or a member of your family present.
5. When in bed, if that is where you do your writing for the most part, dress yourself for the night so securely that you cannot easily touch yourself down there, and so that it would be difficult and time-consuming for you to remove your clothes. By the time you started to remove protective clothing you will have sufficiently controlled your thinking, and you can start to write!
6. If the temptation seems overpowering while you are in bed, get up and go to the kitchen and eat something and start writing, even in the middle of the night, and even if you're not hungry and think you're not inspired, and despite your fears of gaining weight and writing crap. The purpose behind this suggestion is that you set your mind on something meta-abusive rather than actually touch yourself. You are the subject of your thoughts about doing it (so to speak).
7. Never read competing poetic material if it's too suggestive. And never read about your problem. Keep it out of mind. Remember, "First a thought, then an act." The thought pattern must be changed. So write about it. You must not allow this problem to stick in your mind. So spit it out on paper or on the computer. When you accomplish that, you soon will be free of the filth of the act itself.
Samples of poems noted in the Book Review: "When you ran towards me, I said, Stop there, / stop now, you'll end up / in a stranger's life..." And, "Buttercups circle the planks / of the old wellhead / this May while your silken / gardener's body withers..."
A schlub's a link to, not a hang with.
Gorgeous gets in.
Coffee House Press 2005
Ange Mlinko monitors weather, follows people, abides children, walks in gardens, takes in architecture, monuments, libraries and brownstones, reads in cartography, genealogy, and travels. Jeepers. I'm seeing epiphenomena here. I hesitate to say I don't believe in ghosts, unless they're a "bear hug of smog" or "beans infusing the cream," as Mlinko wills it. And before Starred Wire I hadn't imagined that a mix of imaginary landscapes and brisk realism, typical only of Elizabeth Bishop, previously, could be pulled off today, finically, urbanely, that is, with requisite erudition cavorting against chiffon-like strokes of a painter's light, as in "Everything's Carousing": "Even the Baroque get lost in it. / Grass vests the dirt lest wind, twanging the skyscrapers // that merely sleeve the elevators, as we go sleeveless / except for the atmosphere, file it under 'oceans.'"
As Bishop had her New York moments, her "Varick Street," her Brooklyn "cloud of fiery pale chemicals," Mlinko has Dear Soho, Riverside Park, a "Secret Chelsea," yet Mlinko is entirely tuned to New York pacings and sensual logics. This is never more so than when Mlinko speaks of other places like Boston (her former hometown as well as Bishop's): "Venice must be like Boston, on the water / north of things' center..." She advises, "One can make the room of coincidences the bedroom" which she assumes is "Like that secret rose garden at Harvard" (Radcliffe, actually). More urgent, the New York qualities we most could do with suffuse this poetry: the worldly reference -- "Boolean chastity," "Taoist gestational how-tos"; the crazed simile -- "The winter trees look like Catherine Deneuve"; and the nuttier conceit -- "You'd have to hair-spray a dragonfly / on its way to the Faerie Queene"; along with the crucial, appositional everyday data reminiscent of NY's first generation -- "Logs are crossed in the fireplace. / The casserole is put out on the porch to freeze. // They invite me to sniff the new freesia body bath set. // ...The subdivisions age."
I return to Bishop, though, to underscore Mlinko's world-centered, life-transformative accomplishments. Early poems of Bishop's were marked by non-soporific, precisely illustrated reversals of figures and facts, a "Man-Moth" whose shadow "is only as big as his hat," vistas turned upside down "Sleeping on the Ceiling" and "Sleeping Standing Up," a preference for the iceberg with "correct elliptics" over the tour boat. Mlinko similarly arbitrates between ghoulish realia and imagined alternatives, recognizing, "I could...be original every time, for the conversions / that inspiration is. A phantom face value haunts me, / but the inverted library; candles at the bottom of the pool; / these are the ghosts of the glass house designed / to be invisible in a wilderness..." Mlinko adds, simply, "life is a thesis," and she almost means it. It's a set of theses, down-to-earth, which she also calls dreams where "there is communication between interior and exterior, as they say of labyrinths." She traipses through all these "adult doldrums" despite a "cortical wrinkle" or two, "cognomens spilled from burlesques" and "the slumber of driving," because, among other secrets, she knows the difference between "Transformation vs. Encryption," between "false rich and the false poor," between socialism "on the firing line" and socialism "on the railroad rainbow," a practical acknowledgement, in short, of "a glow on the horizon / that is also my sunburn...it's too late to be meteoric, silly."
There are several poems without precedent, even as they pick up theses from elsewhere in the book. "The Intrigues" is one instance. I have already cited some of its text ("phantom face value...in a wilderness"). The poem accelerates with prime mergers of metaphysical and practical inversions, "shadows feint across paths fallen trees." Here Mlinko reaches semantic dissonance of a tall order. "If it is spiritual to have applications to make, / dogs patterning imprimatur, let flowers grow always in defiles / gluing flame to flame..." These words are part of another transformation in which "thinking the landscape...is the true outside." Enough is omitted to beg for greater "relations in light patterns," the design that is unseen but implicit in the pressed horn and brake of "spiritual" and "imprimatur." Rather than attempting a language that is more knowing, Mlinko leaves the full figure out, only to assert her applications toward its end and a "nicer noise." Her aim is modest and affirmative, to see "a kind of painting / different ways around the park," bleaching and blurring with life, "not to be trapped in a dream." This is said as Mlinko raises the taboo word, "ghost." She observes that the ghost "goes about with a movie / playing on the underside of my umbrella" as it "devolves into dew blobs and whispers / of the lawyers..." Returning to the lawyers conquers the problem of gravity and of taboo, an unfeigned way of sharing a life of different ways around it all.
The Bad Days Will End
[Self-published pdf] 2005
I empathize mightily with postlanguage gloom and distemper, taking as they do their pyromania from a world turned completely against nongovernmental gothic and the pitiable flame, much less the forwarding motion, of an individual's non-neurotic decadence. Dana Ward knows pre-ash-to-ash is built into the embodied species, the ones with "the / softness of arms, though insipid / in this light's unseemly contentment." We "brothers from whom love was kept / in a terrible family," with ashtrays for chests, children and honeybees and all charred animals, burning along with the sun and its morsels of "overflowed" light, we're all, well, "I can not walk with you ... the base of your house is on fire." In 21 fairly brief poems, off-rhymed, ripe for scansion, Ward recovers the peregrine conceits that parcel the blame to the sender, "our reckoning...threshing / in flamboyant slowness"; "a two-throated song"; "decorous unity, blind"; "simple tranquility, call it a town so to leave it." I'm not aware of another poet now who substantiates his discontent and call-and-response to the canonical likes of Rimbaud and Nerval: "It hurts in this way like the premium bookings, the reading we get on our knees, the first reading I'm losing my flowers all over the place." Ward shows that, "eclipsing the impusle," kissing an oligarch brings you down, "even the hand-basket seems to agree." Of course, there is always the distress of affection, for "there is no distinction in hating oppression & loving you." I despair of my future without The Bad Days Will End. I think you can get yours by e-ing Dana Ward, editor at cypresspoetry.com.
Stalwarts of the Demolicious series found their sea legs Sunday, crossed Central Square, and reopened at the chiller-than-thou Enormous Room. (Drift upstairs from the hard-scrabble sidewalk to something pulsing in the Amsterdam-Morroccan lounge like a Luomo-Tessio Moonbotica remix ...) This is one of those art canteens you know about in advance, since its only I.D. is an emotionally detached red elephant on a glass paneled door, beside Central Kitchen. Upstairs, another red elephant, all emotions, center stage, Michael Basinski brought the new series to pre-melt, putting on his "one work reading" that felt part hoe-down, part revivalist, or totally missionary, improv style. Basinski's mission is more a blanket permission to rig up and sacrifice sound and visual materials of great variety, spinning and propelling them in a wildly errant tease. Basinski started by his calling out "saloooms" for about five minutes, followed by his noting black dots on a page, "let's call them horses," he urged, "horses be inside my head." Basinski's improv pushed the horses into twisting Greek sounds like the kyrie, first, then a latinate litany that segued to a "water and wine" sermon in which he cracked up: "I am the genitals of the angel of July...clicking the head of a tiny chicken."
Basinski demonstrated intriguingly irrational techniques. Making "music" by reading syllables of numbers in any order. Shifting vowels in words, simple phrases. Communion with the audience by eliciting words with x's, and chanting back the resulting list. Reading fragments from a Buffalo pennysaver as iambic verse. Each shtick evinced a central tenet, "all forms are equal and have equal opportunity to enter the poem." Accomplished multi-media-ist, performer and teacher of poets, Basinski proves he's also a jester for good, ad libbing his way into prehensile transluscence in which poetry is a life at play.
Jimmy goes for Seth.
Kasey asks this guy.
Ron S invites Dr. John.
Brenda phones Lindsay.
Xtina rings Willow Alyson Hannigan.
Nada leans on Kate.
Nada and Lee Ann fight over this one.
Not to get morbid, if there were e-mail in heaven, Rodrigo Toscano could channel Danny.
Gabe Gudding would no doubt host the Donald.
Drew might try Wally.
Moi-meme, I'm inviting Kate II.
Ashbery's folk were failures for generations, belligerent father, mom who drank, kid brother who died young. A neighbor (who?) in the family's farming village paid (why?) to send Ashbery to Deerfield Academy, putting him on a slicker track, but so slick that a classmate stole his poems, publishing them in Poetry (how was that resolved?). MacFarquhar has little to say about the Harvard nexus or Auden, and nothing about Some Trees. So we skip to Ashbery on a Fullbright in France "to improve his French." This was the time, according to MacFarquhar, Ashbery "ended up" composing "fractured, dissonant poems that went into his second book."
Moving from chronology, I find it unnerving to read this quotation attributed to Ashbery: "I've always felt conflicted about my sexuality, feeling that I shouldn't be homosexual, that I should try to change." Then I read he went into psychoanalysis after college "with this goal in mind," MacFarquhar offers unironically, but money ran out. That's such a dear excuse for perpetual conflict. By the way, Ashbery's always been hard up (no mention of contracts, stipends, the MacArthur, etc.), so like most poets, other than Billy Collins (growing hungry you forget), Ashbery has been working a tedious day job forever, it seems, writing reviews when he was younger and later, and even today, college teaching.
MacFarquhar completely loses it when she claims Ashbery is more "interested in the making of poetry...than the poetry itself." This is followed by the profiler staking out a witness position as Ashbery composes before her the first two stanzas of the poem "Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse." Before she reprints these stanzas, she pens: "He begins to type."
There is no news in this piece about how Ashbery writes. MacFarquhar relates the affect of John Cage's chance procedures in helping Ashbery during a dry period decades ago: "the idea of composing by chance made [Ashbery] think about writing in a completely different way." That way is characterized by Ashbery, cited by MacFarquhar, as "managed chance." But how this term and the processes it entails become poetry is unspecified. Confusedly, MacFarquhar drops further discussion of Cagean technique for dreary tautology, asserting Ashbery "likes the idea of words coming out of his unconscious but he isn't a purist about it." Likes the idea? Purist? MacFarquhar shows a gift for airy, bourgeois atmospherics as she attempts to analyze recursive processes Ashbery might commit to on weekends, shuttling between his apartment in Chelsea and his homestead in Hudson, NY: "At some point he stops bothering to read over what he's written already before starting to write again...so it might be five or six days since he last worked on it." She adds, reassuringly, "He has a sense that everything will cohere somehow, though." How many triggering devices are missing here? "At some point"? "bothering to read"? "what's written before" -- what and how far back is that what? "somehow"? And doesn't the time lapse deserve examination; doesn't it play into the dynamics of managed chance?
This profile is an NPR-like exposure for Ashbery, and I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm disappointed nonetheless that MacFarquhar tells the story of the not quite virtuous poet as performing seal, an Episcopalian who may not believe in god, a manager of chance who jumps up from his recliner to type out unrevised stanzas that conclude, "We were lost just by standing..."