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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Long Grass Books no. 5, Corey Mesler

Some Identity Problems

Corey Mesler is a penpal of mine—met in the e-aether some time after he reviewed a book of mine for the Memphis Commercial Appeal—and so I want to pay some notice to the fact that he has published that most-ignored thing, a book of poems. FootHills Publishing has stitched up Some Identity Problems as an attractive book, generous in its profusion of poems.

You will never meet this amusing, charming poet and novelist on tour because he is agoraphobic and stays home in Memphis, but you can meet the joy, whimsy, love, anxiety, and contradiction in his poems. Many of these poems are modest in scale but have reach. As a whole they are kaleidoscopic—swerving from low to high in diction, playful, belated in feeling or elated, revealing a persona that struggles to find a center, meaning, worldview. He frolics in the realm of the absurd, then evinces a heart of ripped-open sincerity. He bumps from sacred to profane, leaping from monkey to man to deity. His favorite tropes involve repetition and variations on it, startling metaphor, and the yoking of opposites—a Barcalounger linked to mythic depths.

If you wish to buy a copy, the ideal place to buy is from the bookstore that Corey and his wife Cheryl run in Memphis—Burke’s Book Store, the oldest bookstore in Memphis, founded in 1875. That’s what I’m doing because I can support the book of poetry and bookstore at once. Mine is beautifully signed, so be sure and ask for an inscription!

If you'd like to ask Corey a question here, feel free!
I'll roust him for an answer.


The red book we keep high on a shelf
where children can’t reach.
The blue book is for those who won’t
read anything else. The black
book is where I write everything down,
the names of the children,
the reasons we keep the books, and the
way out, if that becomes necessary.


I will paint the paper sky
with pinpoints of light,
put a smile on the
waif-like moon.
I will walk with you onto
the sunbeams
that color our porch like
a prism exploding.
And, in the end, if the
wayward universe
will not bend to our every
wish, I will filibuster
god to give you all the
comforts of home,
on this rickety planet, even
as she speeds through
space on a collision course
with eternal profusion.


“A lonely moon is mirrored in the cold pool.
Down in the pool there is not really a moon…”

By remote water I have sat
thinking of this and that
and speaking names into
the water, as if there I would
receive back echo. Those
who no longer are near,
those who no longer care,
all those who took me into
themselves and then moved on,
I talk to the river about them.
The river itself is never still,
but it answers something in me
which is deep and almost beyond
recollection. It answers that those
names are now made of silence.

Yet another addition, October 30th: I took a peek at Corey's publisher, and feel that I have been remiss in neglecting to mention how interesting and industrious they appear. Poet and publisher Michael Czarnecki writes of the small company that "FootHills Publishing was formed in 1986 for the purpose of getting into print the words of poets who found it hard to get their work out to the public other than at readings or in the occasional magazine. The first few books were published in conjunction with Great Elm Press, operated by Walt Franklin. Since then, FootHills Publishing has released more than 250 chapbooks or books." The company has all the virtues and determination of a cottage industry: "I do the editorial work - Carolyn handles the book production and shipping and our two boys, Grayson (16) and Chapin (12), help with production. Grayson also assists with some design work. All of our books are now hand-stitched and we have received many compliments on the quality of the work, both in content and production." The picture of Corey's book below doesn't show the stitching, but it's quite evident and attractive when one sees a copy, as is the good quality of the materials. I looked them up and see that they are just barely west of the finger lakes, and probably got as much snow as we did yesterday...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fiction & Politics, with a dash of poetry

What I have learned from and since writing a post about the current election:

1. People may hate politics but they can't seem to stop talking about it; this is not like the case with poetry, for example. What would the world be like if people talked about poetry as much as they talk about politics? What would the world be like if we had a poetry these days that was deserving that kind of talk and interest? When will we again have a poetry that is again deserving of our fervor? When will we have a poet who is able to tie the shoes of W. B. Yeats or Blake or Shakespeare? Now there's a Messiah complex! Yes, I am fleeing the topic.

2. The reason I fly the topic is that I continue to have a great distaste for politics, which I regard as an inevitably-corrupting enterprise with little “place for the genuine,” beginning as it so often does with lawyers (caveat: I do know several honorable ones) and going on from there. I would never write a novel about politicians because the pen would fall from my fingers in boredom, despite the importance of their shenanigans. Just talking about the whole subject bothers me . . .

Now I am re-considering that boredom and contemplating how the current runners might appear in fiction and find that I have underrated them all--there is no one who, dwelt on with sufficient curiosity, will not begin to show possibilities as a fictional person. Palin, who has enormous vim (a highly desirable trait in a paper person) and is peppered with contradictions, might bag a major role, while Biden would make an excellent malaprop-style minor figure in a comic tale--his acts leavened with and undercut by humor. Obama: I’d go straight to the instant when his wife finally found something to be proud of in America, and I’d explore that two-edged Messiah impulse. McCain: I’d bee-line to those dogged, determined, sweaty years of survival in Vietnam.

3. Alas, I still have huge reservations about the current election plots and various unreliable narrators among the media. That means I am still unsure about the story circling around my own party's candidate. He is certainly attractive in his manner and appearance, and I hope his inner self proves worthy of the outer one.

4. "Have something that matters to you more" (credit: Annie) is wise, and I suppose is the way I have generally behaved—often averting my eyes from debacle. No doubt I will go on doing so.

5. I still don't imagine that what I think matters a whit, but I write it down to thank those of you who left a note to suggest that it might, even though it doesn't! On the other hand, those who left a few words probably couldn't help it because of the pressing logic of “People may hate politics but can’t help talking about it.”

Credit: Thanks to photographer Lauren Burbank and for the patriotic barn.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Unsplendid - "Near the End of the World"

I have a poem in the near-new Unsplendid, "a journal of received and nonce forms." You can take a look at the magazine my heading over to, where there's much to be read. Or you can hop straight over to "Near the End of the World,"

The poem is true to itself, but it's not how I actually feel about the fate of poetry in general! Instead, it sprang from a passing mood and is true to that mood. Other recent poems are at and elsewhere, and there are a good number of older ones at
CREDIT: The above triptych is one of a series that alternate as cover of the current issue. They are by Fabian Birgfeld, and there are more of these "interior landscapes" inside--do we call it inside? or just elsewhere, very elsewhere--as well as a statement and information about Birgfield, who has a website at

Friday, October 10, 2008

Claire, again


My first book of poetry is still in print—thank God for university presses and small presses and for all those who care more for art than for Bookscan numbers—and I’ve been reminded by an energetic young sales manager that it might be good to add a link here. Should you want a copy of Claire, you might think about buying directly from Louisiana State University Press so that the press and the book will receive that vote of confidence. It’s no secret that almost every volume of poetry is now hard-won. Should you desire any book of poetry by any writer, the same logic for purchase applies.


“Dollars damn me.”—Melville

“People who say they love poetry but don’t buy any are cheap sons-of-bitches.”—Kenneth Patchen

I’ve mentioned that rather rude quote before. It always sticks in my brain--used to be taped on a bookcase in the Bull’s Head Bookshop at UNC, perhaps by Erica Eisdorfer, the manager. She was a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and now has a book forthcoming, The Wet Nurse’s Tale. More about that another time.


Here are a couple of poems from the book. I think they were first published in The Carolina Quarterly. They were written a long time ago...

“Snow House Stories” came from an anecdote recounted by my husband, although he was not my husband yet: a young woman and young man crossed Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, announcing their engagment to the family of each. The woman plunged through the ice mid-way; after a long search in the icy water, the man caught hold of a slip of hair and pulled.

The “orphic” voice refers to Orpheus, who could make even the rocks respond to his music and who journeyed down to hell to retrieve his beloved, Eurydice. In the end, he was not quite so lucky as this young man.

I tried to write this poem many times, once typing my long hair around the patten of my typewriter—writers are quite nuts in funny ways. One day the poem appeared, fully formed, like good old Minerva out of the brain of Zeus. That's called a heroic simile.

To Michael

Our district's bedtime tales of snow are cruel.
The steps of toddlers, moving back and forth
Between two doors, the sled runs to a pond.

At Mirror Lake a woman slipped through ice
And drank the cold. In blue twilight she saw
Lucent souls of lost unlucky children

Suspended in the ice, or floating past
In sodden hoods and gowns, unharmed by smiles
Of pike. Claire spoke; then she forgot all words.

The man detected nothing. Logged, his sleeve
Now strained in silence that the blackbirds fled.
He felt the world attending as he fished.

Next he could feel the stars kneel at his back.
And he could feel the planets stare to think.
Then particles were getting in his eyes.

And afterward he proved the orphic voice
To be a kind of choking, stop and start.
The leastmost tendril crept across his wrist.

She didn't want to come. She didn't want
That birth. Claire wanted nothing. Still, she was
Upraised by hair from water's placid womb.

It seemed there was no link with nature's dark.
And after all, she lived. The neighbors sprang
From shining homes to help him lift her forth.

The snow kept on, tireless, wide spaced as stars.

“The Arabic Lesson” was written during an unhappy time in my life—the sort of thing we have all experienced and would prefer to skip next time around. One of my pleasures in that time was knowing Amal, a girl growing up, the daughter of my friend Anne. And now she is grown and married and living still, I believe, in North Carolina.

For Leila Amal

Clear green flies mating in the bamboo leaves,
Everything as in a Japanese
Poem, the lees
In a glass, curtain trailing
Its far perfume…
The children from next door
Were leaning in the leafiest places,
Straight bodies growing curved—their longings streamed
Past sliding doors.
The children taught:

Say riha, say amar, hilal, the words
As useless as the spinning sands, but Claire
Said them to hold
The feckless flies that bred
In air, d’ow
That languished on the leaves,
The great, greeny dustjacket of a world
Where somewhere rockets pistoled and ash clouds
Filtered up.
Staring at sift

Of light on leaf, Claire thought of turning thirty
—an end!—some promises in writing made
By a fortune
Cookie, grief of being
No more, no
Better than she should be.
And dreamed a tale of ancient single self,
Toy queen of glass who broke to babel all
These casts of mind,
This sex, this race.

And then Claire looked—the children were leaning,
Who owned more names than she did for the world,
Who taught her love
And really going crazy
On the same day—
And saw that they would know
No better how to grow than she, who knew
Not the pure, incantatory names
Of light and leaf
So many ways.


Samuel Menashe, New and Selected Poems. Here’s a Dana Gioia essay about Menashe. I became interested in him because he was championed by that marvelous poet, Kathleen Raine. William Logan, Reputations of the Tongue. It’s important to know the critics that make people angry. James Fenton, Children in Exile and Partingtime Hall. And I’m rereading James Matthew Wilson’s ongoing series, “Our Steps Amid a Ruined Colonnade” at Contemporary Poetry Review.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Frolics, various

Updatery department: Lucy of Box Elder has pointed out to me that artist-Annie-who-moved-to-California is working on a picture for "Static." Go see ( There are several versions, so you can see changes, too. Last month I wrote some poems for a little book in honor of Clive Hicks-Jenkins and his 2011 retrospective (I'm early! Such a lovely and unexpected sensation), so I've had ekphrasis on the brain lately. I always enjoy seeing what people dream and make in response to my writing. Those lightning bolts look like creatures, though ones I don't want to meet up close. Thank you, Annie...

Next up on the anthology front: "Static" in Extraordinary Engines, ed. Nick Gevers (Solaris). Pub date for this all-original steampunk collection is September 30th.

I finally joined Dickens in wreaking a certain kind of mysterious and lively death on a character, and I can reveal that this was an extremely satisfying experience. In fact, riotous fun and maximal steam was had in the writing of this story. Moreover, I have evidently raised my family status because a mother who writes a steampunk story is more appealing to preteen and teen children. Why this should be, I do not know, but one of my old editors at FSG, Robbie Mayes, guarantees it.

Speaking of children, I am glad to say that my mother spoke to somebody in B's dorm who said that he sees B yacking in the lobby constantly or else riding his bike. Evidently the mountain bike is noticeable because everybody else thinks it's too mountainous to ride a bike on campus. So at least he is practicing his social skills and getting lots of exercise! Meanwhile, he keeps adding courses and has passed the audition to enter the theatre arts program. Go, B! So it looks like a double major in history and musical theatre if we don't yack and ride bikes to absolute excess.


Overheard just now: Mike and N have already woven a diamond-pattern seat for the Shaker's elder chair that Mike made for my father when he became debilitated. Now N is helping to weave a flame-stitch seat onto a Shaker bench.

Mike, evidently feeling mightily sentimental: Some day when you're an old man and your mother and father are dead, you can tell your grandchildren how you made this bench for your mother when you were a little boy.

N, 11, blasting through the treacle skies like a red-hot rocket: I'm going to tell somebody before that.


Recalled from yesterday: R, 16, is talking to her friend M during a rehearsal for Grease. The two are doing a little bit of chatter-patter as part of the background, so it doesn't much matter what they say.

M, with enthusiasm: I think boys are nice!

R: I'm a cat person myself.


Yes, I've been perfectly perfect in my horribleness about blogging. Or about not blogging. And I'm way overdue to talk about lots of new books by people I like, so I'll try to come back soon... What have I been doing? I've been committing more poetry, polishing the summer's very long poem, answering or postponing various requests, and generally pinwheeling about like a cat on ice who wishes that she was as clever and fast as a chimpanzee on skates.