Archive for April, 2010

Sharks in the Rivers

We’ll say unbelievable things
to each other in the early morning—

our blue coming up from our roots,
our water rising in our extraordinary limbs.

All night I dreamt of bonfires and burn piles
and ghosts of men, and spirits
behind those birds of flame.

I cannot tell anymore when a door opens or closes,
I can only hear the frame saying, Walk through.

It is a short walkway—
into another bedroom.

Consider the handle. Consider the key.

I say to a friend, how scared I am of sharks.

How I thought I saw them in the creek
across from my street.

I once watched for them, holding a bundle
of rattlesnake grass in my hand,
shaking like a weak-leaf girl.

She sends me an article from a recent National Geographic that says,

Sharks bite fewer people each year than
New Yorkers do, according to Health Department records.

Then she sends me on my way. Into the City of Sharks.

Through another doorway, I walk to the East River saying,

Sharks are people too.
Sharks are people too.
Sharks are people too.

I write all the things I need on the bottom
of my tennis shoes. I say, Let’s walk together.

The sun behind me is like a fire.
Tiny flames in the river’s ripples.

I say something to God, but he’s not a living thing,
so I say it to the river, I say,

I want to walk through this doorway
But without all those ghosts on the edge,
I want them to stay here.
I want them to go on without me.

I want them to burn in the water.
by Ada Limón (born 1976)

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Mary Scrimgeour

“As I make my journey in the world I record what I see in notebooks and then translate my recordings into images and stories that I give back to the world. Taking my cue from my father, an inventor and industrial designer, as well as Leonardo da Vinci, I am extremely influenced by the notebooks of designers and inventors; the thought process and what that looks like on paper or canvas. Whether a bowl, a car, a flying machine or a work table — how these all came about is what fascinates me.” Mary Scrimgeour

"Bird Talk" - 12" x 12" - oil/mixed media/canvas

4&20 Blackbirds, 30x40" Mixed Media on Canvas

"True North Star" - 30" x 40" - oil/mixed media/canvas

"Traveling Light" Mixed Media on Canvas 24 x 24"

"Safe Home" - 24" x 24" - oil/mixed media/canvas

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Yasunari Kawabata (Japan, 1899 - 1972)

The following excerpt is from the Kawabata’s novel The Old Capital, published in 1962:

The Flowers of Spring

Chieko discovered the violets flowering on the trunk of the old maple tree. “Ah. They’ve bloomed again this year,” she said as she encountered the gentleness of spring.

The maple was rather large for such a small garden in the city; the trunk was larger around than Chieko’s waist. But this ancient tree with its coarse moss-covered bark was not the sort of thing one should compare with a girl’s innocent body.

The trunk of the tree twisted slightly to the right at about the height of Chieko’s waist, and just over her head it bent even farther. Above the bend the limbs extended outward, dominating the garden, the ends of the longer branches dropping with their own weight.

Just below the large bend were two hollow places with violets growing in each. Every spring they would put forth flowers. The two violets had been there on the tree ever since Chieko could remember.

The upper violet and lower violet were separated by about a foot. “Do the upper and lower violets ever meet? Do they know each other?” Chieko mused. What could it mean to say that the violets “meet” or “know” one another?

Every spring there were at least three but no more than five flowers on the violets in the tiny hollows. Chieko stared at them from the inner corridor that opened onto the garden, lifting her gaze from the base of the trunk of the maple tree. Sometimes she was moved by the “life” of the violets on the tree. Other times their “loneliness” touched her heart. . . .

Japan's bell cricket

The Bell Crickets

Chieko had begun raising bell crickets four or five years earlier, long after she had first found the violets on the old maple tree. She had heard them chirping in the parlor of the home of her school friends, and had received several as a gift.

“The poor things, living in a jar . . .,” Chieko had said. But her friend had answered that it was better than keeping them in a cage and letting them die there. She said that there were even temples that raised them in large quantities and sold the eggs. It seemed there were many who had similar tastes.

This year Chieko’s bell crickets had increased in number. She had two jars. Every year about the first of July the eggs would hatch, and about the middle of August the crickets began to chirp. But they were born, chirped, laid eggs, and died all inside a dark, cramped jar. Still, since it preserved the species it was perhaps better than raising one short generation in a cage. The crickets spent their entire lives in a jar; it was the whole world to them. Chieko had heard the ancient Chinese legend of a “universe in a jar” in which there was a palace in a vessel filled with fine wine and delicacies from both land and sea. Isolated from the vulgar world, it was a separate realm, an enchanted land. The story was one of many such legends of wizards and magic.

Of course the bell cricks had not entered the jar in order to renounce the world. Perhaps they did not realize they were, so they went on living.

What surprised Chieko most about the bell crickets was that if she happened not to put in males from elsewhere, the insects that hatched were stunted and feeble, the result of inbreeding. To prevent that, cricket fanciers would often trade male crickets. Now it was spring, and the bell crickets would not begin to chirp until late summer. Still, there was some connection between the crickets and the violets blooming in the hollows of the maple tree.

Chieko herself had placed the bell crickets in the jar, but why had the violets come to live in such a cramped spot? The violets bloomed, and this year too the crickets would hatch and begin their chirping.
Translated by J. Martin Holman

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Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) won the Pulitzer for a posthumous publication of her "Collected Poems"

So many things come to mind when I hear the name Sylvia Plath: A comment a poetry teacher made once about reading Plath in the bathtub and dropping the book in the water because she felt haunted by Plath’s presence; the 2003 movie Sylvia with Gwyneth Paltrow; a conversation I had with W.S. Merwin about Plath and her husband Ted Hughes when Merwin and his wife at the time, Dido Milroy, lived in London near them; a reading of The Bee Meeting by James Tate as he marveled at Plath’s ability to keep a voice all the way through a poem.

I think of the comment by A. Alvarez in the clip from the Voices and Visions video below: “[In 1962, Plath’s] poems had become unstoppable. She had hit the motherload. . . . She had gone through and found the reservoir. She was writing poems of an order that seem to me quite extraordinary for this century, not just one a month or one every two months which is what she’d done before. She was writing two or three a day as though she’d tapped the motherload to end all motherloads of her creativity.”

I think of the dialogue between Plath and Peter Orr in the 1962 interview and Plath’s comment about toothbrushes:

Plath: In a novel, for example, you can get in all the paraphernalia like toothbrushes one finds in daily life. I find this more difficult in poetry. Poetry is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far so fast in such a small space that you’ve just got to burn away all the peripherals. And I miss them. . . . I like trivia, and I find that in a novel I can get more of life, perhaps not such intense life but certainly more of life. And so I’ve become very interested in novel writing as a result.

Orr: This is almost a Dr. [Samuel] Johnson view of poetry isn’t it. What is it he said that there are some things that are fit for inclusion in poetry, and there are others which are not.

Plath: Of course as a poet I would say poof, I would say everything should be able to come into a poem, but I can’t put toothbrushes in a poem. I really can’t.

Plath with her husband, the poet Ted Hughes

I think of the large vinyl records I listened to when I first studied poetry at the University of Memphis in 1989. I was amused by her voice and tried to imitate the cackling, witch-like quality I heard in the recording of her poem Ariel.

I think of reading her novel The Bell Jar on the beach in Florida as a young girl when I was first married.

I think of a comment Plath made about finding her voice as a poet as she looked at the moon through a tree one night. I thought she found her voice that moment in some magic, serendipitous way. Similarly, I misunderstood my mother when I was five years old as I stepped out of a swimming pool and she wrapped me in a towel. She said, “It turned winter,” and I thought she meant it turned winter that instant and wondered it could happen so quickly and my mother knew when.

As a baby poet, I too wanted my moon tree experience, that moment when I would be standing in the right place at the right time, the light would be shining through the trees just so and I would find my voice.

What is the voice we hear in Plath’s poetry? It is theatrical and dramatic and solitary. When the voice cackles, it echoes in a room alone. This is a voice spotlighted on a stage in a dramatic monologue. Each Plath poem seems like a precursor to a death scene, This is my dramatic monologue on bees before I die. This is my dramatic monologue on horses. I see her standing beside a dug pit with a skull in her hand like Hamlet:


Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees! — The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Berries cast dark
Hooks —-

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else

Hauls me through air —-
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel —-
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

Plath did commit suicide in 1963 at the age of 30. When a person commits suicide, there is a point they realize they can’t reverse the process. They feel a terror the living don’t understand. That’s the voice I hear in Plath’s poetry, the terror of a woman wanting to return to life and unable to. It’s there in every detail of every poem, in the cheesecloth and the bee boxes, the candles and poppies and pearl buttons. It would have been in toothbrushes if she had chosen to write about them.

Peter Orr Interview in 1962:

Voices and Visions documentary:


Other Pulitzer finalists in 1982 were Charles Wright for his book The Southern Cross and Dave Smith for his book Dream Flights.

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James Schuyler (1923-1991) won the Pulitzer for his book "The Morning of the Poem"

The following excerpts are from A Nest of Ninnies, a novel written by John Ashbery and James Schuyler and published in 1968. This preface was written by Ashbery in 2008:

“James Schuyler and I began writing A Nest of Ninnies purely by chance. It was July 1952 and we were being given a lift back to New York from East Hampton, N.Y. where we had spent the weekend as guests of the musical comedy librettist John Latouche. . . . We were in a car being driven by the young cameraman, Harrison Starr, with his father as a passenger in the front seat.

Since neither Jimmy nor I knew the Starrs very well, we at first contented ourselves with observing the exurban landscape along the old Sunrise Highway (this was before construction of the now infamous Long Island Expressway). Growing bored, Jimmy said, ‘Why don’t we write a novel?’ And how do we do that, I asked. ‘It’s easy — you write the first line’ was his reply. That was rather typical of him — getting a brilliant idea and then conscripting someone else to realize it. Not to be out maneuvered, I contributed a three-word sentence: ‘Alice was tired.’

James Schuyler, John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch in 1956, all members of the New York School poets.

And we were off, on a project that would keep us entertained for months and years to come. Jimmy immediately created another character, Marshall, Alice’s petulant brother. Passing through the village of Smithtown, we noticed an archetypal suburban white house with green shutters that we decided would be the home of our protagonists. After retuning to New York he and I would meet regularly, sometimes several times a week, to work on the ‘novel.’ It never occurred to us that it would one day be published and people would read it — at the time we were unknown and unpublished young poets with no apparent potential audience. But we had fun, accumulating characters and incidents, usually with a few drinks for stimulation. . . .

Schuyler in 1943, enrolled in sonar school at Key West

By [1965] I had a publisher, Holt, and a sympathetic editor, Authur Cohen. He eventually asked the question that editors of poets often get around to: ‘Have you ever thought of writing a novel?’ I remembered Jimmy’s and my collaboration, which by this time we seldom thought of, and described it to Arthur, who was interested. This proved the stimulus we needed, and we began working on it again in earnest, finishing it, to our satisfaction at least, in about six months. We decided to bend our own rules a little to achieve this: instead of just alternating sentences, we allowed ourselves to keep writing solo for as long as we wished — whole paragraphs even. Arthur liked the end result, and it was published in the spring of 1968 by Dutton, where he was now employed. . . .

What we were also attempting, perhaps without knowing it, was to recreate the 1930s world of our childhoods, spent in two small towns of western New York state. The radio programs (especially Vic and Sade and Easy Aces, which offered mildly astringent parodies of American life, small-town and urban, respectively), the magazines (Life and Good Housekeeping), the glitter of downtown, the movie marquees that changed two or three times a week — these were the ephemera that surfaced while we wrote, and which might require footnoting.” John Ashbery, 2008

Chapter One

Alice was tired. Languid, fretful, she turned to stare into her own eyes in the mirror above the mantelpiece before she spoke.

“I dislike being fifty miles from a great city. I don’t know how many cars pass every day and it makes me wonder.”

Marshall smiled at her and continued to remove the plastic covers from a number of dishes he had just extracted from the icebox. Kicking out her housecoat, Alice moved to the kitchen table and picked up a chicken wing.

“I don’t know what you’re keeping in that icebox, but it makes everything taste funny.”

“It must be that half a cantaloupe you didn’t eat,” Marshall said agreeably, “though I don’t see how with these covers.”

“I don’t know what you’re trying to prove. I don’t think you will either. Unless you’re trying to imply that I don’t eat because I’m unhappy, which I readily admit.”

“Now, Alice, please don’t put those wing bones back in the bowl.”

“Why don’t you admit that you enjoy my unhappiness?”

“A supper of leftovers isn’t a very cheerful prospect, but that’s the price of entertaining guests. I could have made a casserole out of these things, but you always say you like to know what you’re eating. You didn’t seem unhappy last night.”

“What happened last night? You certainly can’t mean that a pickup supper and a rummy game would affect my spirits.”

Marshall made no reply, but dumped some coleslaw into a dish that had pickled beets in it. Alice went to the window and looked out of it, as though commenting on the view which it disclosed. On the six-lane superhighway just beyond the hedge, cars thundered by, bound for the dramatic New York.
Other finalists for the Pulitzer in 1981 were Richard Hugo for his book The Right Madness on Skye and Mark Strand for his book of Selected Poems.

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Donald Justice (1925-2004) won the Pulitzer for his book of "Selected Poems"

One of my teachers at Vermont College of Fine Arts was taught by Donald Justice at the University of Iowa in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He told her when writing a poem to imagine panning in on the subject matter with a movie camera. Decide what people are in that scene, what objects, what sights, what sounds? It helps place the words in context.

I attended a reading by Justice in the late 80s where he was asked about the difficulties of rhyming and writing in forms. He laughed and said it was more difficult for him not to rhyme and not to use forms. I’ve included two of his poems below. The second is a villanelle.

Another American poet, Mark Strand (born 1934), said about Justice, “From the very beginning Justice has fashioned his poems, honed them down, freed them of rhetorical excess and the weight (however gracefully sustained) of an elaborate diction. His self-indulgence, then, has been with the possibilities of plain statement. His refusal to adopt any other mode but that which his subject demands — minimal, narcissist, negating — has nourished him.”

The Evening of the Mind

Now comes the evening of the mind.
Here are the fireflies twitching in the blood;
Here is the shadow moving down the page
Where you sit reading by the garden wall.
Now the dwarf peach trees, nailed to their trellises,
Shudder and droop. Your know their voices now,
Faintly the martyred peaches crying out
Your name, the name nobody knows but you.
It is the aura and the coming on.
It is the thing descending, circling, here.
And now it puts a claw out and you take it.
Thankfully in your lap you take it, so.

You said you would not go away again,
You did not want to go away—and yet,
It is as if you stood out on the dock
Watching a little boat drift out
Beyond the sawgrass shallows, the dead fish . . .
And you were in it, skimming past old snags,
Beyond, beyond, under a brazen sky
As soundless as a gong before it’s struck—
Suspended how?—and now they strike it, now
The ether dream of five-years-old repeats, repeats,
And you must wake again to your own blood
And empty spaces in the throat.

In Memory of the Unknown Poet, Robert Boardman Vaughn

But the essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal: it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory. T.S. Eliot

It was his story. It would always be his story.
It followed him; it overtook him finally—
The boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

Probably at the end he was not yet sorry,
Even as the boots were brutalizing him in the alley.
It was his story. It would always be his story,

Blown on a blue horn, full of sound and fury,
But signifying, O signifying magnificently
The boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

I picture the snow as falling without hurry
To cover the cobbles and the toppled ashcans completely.
It was his story. It would always be his story.

Lately he had wandered between St. Mark’s Place and the Bowery,
Already half a spirit, mumbling and muttering sadly.
O the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

All done now. But I remember the fiery
Hypnotic eye and the raised voice blazing with poetry.
It was his story and would always be his story—
The boredom, and the horror, and the glory

Other Pulitzer finalists in 1980 were Dave Smith for his book Goshawk, Antelop and Richard Hugo’s Selected Poems.

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The Love-Hat Relationship

I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship.
It is the relationship based on love of one another’s hats.
The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial.
You don’t necessarily even know the other person.
Also it is too dependent on whether the other person
is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats,
but they’re not something to build an entire relationship on.
My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.
Try having like-hat relationships with one another.
See if you can find something interesting about
the personality of the person whose hat you like.
by Aaron Belz

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Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet

At this height, Kansas
is just a concept,
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn

no larger than the foldout section
of my neighbor’s travel magazine.
At this stage of the journey

I would estimate the distance
between myself and my own feelings
is roughly the same as the mileage

from Seattle to New York,
so I can lean back into the upholstered interval
between Muzak and lunch,

a little bored, a little old and strange.
I remember, as a dreamy
backyard kind of kid,

tilting up my head to watch
those planes engrave the sky
in lines so steady and so straight

they implied the enormous concentration
of good men,
but now my eyes flicker

from the in-flight movie
to the stewardess’s pantyline,
then back into my book,

where men throw harpoons at something
much bigger and probably
better than themselves,

wanting to kill it, wanting
to see great clouds of blood erupt
to prove that they exist.

Imagine being born and growing up,
rushing through the world for sixty years
at unimaginable speeds.

Imagine a century like a room so large,
a corridor so long
you could travel for a lifetime

and never find the door,
until you had forgotten
that such a thing as doors exist.

Better to be on board the Pequod,
with a mad one-legged captain
living for revenge.

Better to feel the salt wind
spitting in your face,
to hold your sharpened weapon high,

to see the glisten
of the beast beneath the waves.
What a relief it would be

to hear someone in the crew
cry out like a gull,
Oh Captain, Captain!
Where are we going now?
by Tony Hoagland (born 1953)

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Jean Dubuffet (France, 1901-1985). Many of Dubuffet's oil paintings are thickened with sand, tar or straw to give the work a textured surface.

Oil and enamel on canvas (88.9 x 116.1 cm). Cow with a Subtile Nose, 1954.

Oil on canvas (39 3/8 x 31 7/8 inches). Wall with Inscriptions, 1945.

Oil on canvas (45.7 x 35 inches). Trinité-Champs-Elysées (Champs-Elysées Trinity), 1961.

Oil on canvas (35 by 45 3/4 inches). Vache Tachetée (Cow with spots), 1954.

Illustration for "La Lune Farcie" (The farce of the moon). The words below the image are about sitting in the good dust of Paris (at a restaurant) in the shade looking at menu. There are the remains of nail and hair clippings nearby. Childhood memories muddle one, fairy-like places that are erased, driven out across the joyous squares to the place where all the world enters the dance. Who loses gains (qui perd gagne).

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Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy

Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
“Is this all there is?” Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls
“skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.
by Terrance Hayes (born 1971)

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