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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Queen of Infinite Possibility

I could post a mysterious picture and not explain it one bit.

I could muse about the poems of Bei Dao, as I am reading them and will review for Oyster Boy. I could tell you how he transformed moonlight into grains of wheat that were people.

I could bemoan Sunday's simultaneous uprising from tub and toilet that flowed into the one room in the house that has to be carpeted--and my life with dehumidfiers, fans, and ripped-up carpet propped on bottles to dry.

I could talk about my yesterday with boys of 14 at the Cooperstown Fun Park and the subsequent wakeover, not yet over, no, not yet over.

I could tell why, if you are a kid or a kid-hearted adult, you ought to read Leon Garfield's Smith.

I could assure you that my fortune cookie said that you, dearest of all readers, really ought to get close and personal with The Throne of Psyche. Because I certainly cannot sell my books door to door like the Fuller Brush Man and a certain Canadian poet, male, conveniently male. Because: poetry is good for the soul. And if you have no soul, poetry may fill that absence and give birth to something strange that eventually you are forced to call . . . a soul.

I could share good news wholly unrelated to the perils of old houses.

I could complain mightily about the high cost of multiple college educations, currently balanced on top of my middle-class head and pressing downdowndown.

I could shout into my computer, or at the modem which is currently on the fritz (an e-squatter, I do wonder whose network I am on...)

I could ask you to find my missing car keys, lost in the mayhem of moving flooded articles.

I could attempt to tell you about a series of mystical, overpowering events that transformed me forever.

I could explain exactly how ordinary I am, and exactly how wonderful it is to be an accepted person in a familiar place with rooms and gardens and trees.

I could turn a cartwheel in words.

I could threaten, wheedle, and cajole. I could pass the hat.

I could rejoice in the splendor and radiance of the day in which, at last, there appears to be no rain. (I do rejoice.)

I could dance around the subject of trees, always inspiring.

I could frolic.

But instead, I shall not.

I shall not post.

Not at all, not bit or whit.

I prefer not to: and yet am no Bartleby.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wales Album: visiting Meri Wells, part four

Meri Wells by the fireplace.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins with a Meri Wells friend.

The gallery by night...

Leaving Meri Wells
Welsh poppies by star- and porch-light.
And when I return to Ty Isaf,
a Meri Wells "bishop"
stands by my bed.
Meri Wells is everywhere at Ty Isaf.
Here's the guardian of the paddock...

...or else the guardian of the garden below.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wales Album: visiting Meri Wells, part three

The owner of a crafts gallery in North Carolina has prodded me to get moving on the Wales Album; she wants to see more pottery... So off we go to Wales once more. Be sure and click to make the images larger if you want to catch Jack in the garden or glimpse poppies and bluebells.

Meri Wells with me and cups and the feet of Peter Wakelin.
Clive Hicks-Jenkins behind my little camera.
The barn ruins in the background...

"We can't all be Mad Hatters" --Wizard Howl
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside--
    from Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Swing,"
       from A Child's Garden of Verses

Peter's feet again leading the way over a slope
decked out in English bluebells and mango-colored
and orange Welsh poppies.

A Meri-flock a-flying--

A rabbit friend, come to hide in the bracken
and munch on bluebells and poppies
and forget-me-nots.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rue for A. E. Housman from "The Throne of Psyche"

This is part of the underpainting for "Touched,"
the painting that adorns the hardcover jacket
and paperback cover of The Throne of Psyche.
If you look at the book image below, you'll see
the designers made an interesting change.

It's a lovely, cool Saturday evening with the birds starting up the twittering machine. I'm a bit sleepy, thanks to waking up to another poem in the night . . . So here's a little poem from The Throne of Psyche for your passing-by pleasure. I must have been thinking of Housman's poem, "With Rue My Heart is Laden," which regrets the loss of golden lads and lasses and ends with rose-lipped girls sleeping under the fields where roses fade. And I definitely was remembering that he fell in love with a classmate, a young man who was a close (but not that close!) friend--and who later married (without inviting poor Housman, alas) and took his bride to India. He died before Housman, and though I said on video at West Chester that he died there, I believe Moses Jackson actually died in Canada... He was a traveling sort of fellow, it seems.

Meanwhile Housman found his reward in holding the Kennedy chair in classics at Cambridge, where he managed to make major contributions to his field. He was not, it must be said, famous for being kind to students and was ruthless about poor scholarship from other scholars of Greek and Latin poetry.

The only other easy-to-miss part of this poem is that line, "For yours is dust, and you are not." I meant for it to work in two ways: that is, Housman is dead and therefore "not" to the living; and he is not dead in the sense that his poems in A Shropshire Lad have managed to allure readers for quite a long time now.

The poem was originally published in Books & Culture.


To have one love for all your life
   And it as dear as breath;
To lose the shape of what you loved
   In distance, then in death:

Yes, what a funny world it is,
   Where this is not the worst
That can happen--and daily does.
   The mouth that did not thirst

For yours is dust, and you are not.
   Yet heedless of all doom
The children shout immortal joys;
   Again the roses bloom.

And here is the cover or jacket
of The Throne of Psyche
with the rather surprising change . . .
(Detail from the final picture, "Touched,"
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.)
Mercer University Press, May 2011, 106 pp.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Marja-Leena asks a question

I enjoy going to Marja-Leena's site and think you would too.

Yesterday artist Marja-Leena Rathje wrote me a letter and asked about the truth of a post from a website she visits—it’s a useful site about books from Finland. The post argued various things: that women writers are judged and marketed by age and by looks; that the “old” and “ugly” have trouble finding publishers and agents; that women are sometimes asked not to write “too intelligently”; that foreign agents want to know book-sale numbers, looks, and age only; that “the media does not care whether writing is “the stuff of classics or reduced-calorie-ice-cream-human-relationship prose,” only that it has attractive interview fodder; that readers are underestimated by publishers; and that such writing and marketing beliefs as these “won’t result in art.”

These plain old facts of the way the world works are ones that I have long understood about the mainstream writing world in the U. S. After all, the states have led the globe in moving the focus from substance to celebrity. Substance in this case means art rather than the ephemeral and good books rather than weak ones. Pause. Caveat: I affirm this despite the fact that there are still great book reviewers and feature writers, agents, and editors out there, and honor still flourishes where it can. But I find it telling that these ideas weren't obvious and simple for Marja-Leena, who is a bright woman, accomplished and active in the arts.

So.  I acknowledge the justice of those remarks and their seemingly intractable nature:  then what can the woman who writes and aspires to art do? How can she navigate the world as it is?

She can seek to embrace a circle of readers who are loyal to her and support her work—that’s what big-house publishers once wanted for their “stable” of writers. They strove to provide and grow a “readership.” It’s not an easy thing to do, and she will be often on her own in this effort. She may be often discouraged by this obligation and feel that there is not enough time and that making new work is more important—that precious time to write is scarce when the needs of job and family (perhaps a spouse, perhaps children) already divide her pie of time. But in the 21st century she must certainly add this push toward community to her list of things to do.

She can hope to be part of a glistening spiderweb stretched across the globe; she can hope to find readers who will care that she is able to continue to publish (and the truth is that selling a certain number of books is always part of that ability to publish in the future) and so will buy and read her books and tell other people about them. She must have a certain confidence in and hope for the good will of others and the power of word-of-mouth.

The writer can look beyond the big-house monolith to university and small presses if she finds she is stymied in the larger system, her "progress" doomed by the fact that her promotion is so limited. But even in a less aggressive world she will find that she must sell to help her publisher and herself, though the demands are not as great as they are in a large mainstream house where she is often expected to produce numbers without sufficient promotion.

But most of all, the woman who strives to make the most beautiful and meaningful poems or stories or novels she can make must know some greater things. It's out of fashion to aspire, like Keats, to "the pantheon." Didn't postmodernism give a last smashing blow to that  shelf of writers' busts, mostly men's and often not at all pretty? But she must be out of fashion, this imaginary woman--this woman who exists in many shapes and with many faces.  Like Cather, she must sit down with the best, whatever the sex, whatever appearance they wear. Unlike a "celebrity," she must have humility in the face of what has gone before. Like Rilke she must follow the star that inspires revolution of life, like Austen she must learn how to write in the family parlor, and like Dickinson she must set aside any lack of notice from the world. She must attempt to be an Amazon, a version of that Blakean, Yeatsian archer who strives "to shoot the arrow of desire out of this flat plane of time and space"  (Stauffer, The Golden Nightingale.)

In such company, she can know that it is not ultimately about sales numbers or her pretty or not-pretty face—she can know soul-deep that it is not in the least about media or glitz or “youth culture” or celebrity or trivialities or the run-amuck American obsession with selling. She is in that world but not of that world, and so she can know what matters.

She can know that creation is beyond gender, though not beyond birth.  It is about instilling so much life into words that a story or poem comes to have a kind of life of its own: to be a new thing in the world. It is about the lonely room where the creator brings something out of nothing. At times it may seem to be about the hard chair, patience, and obsession. For the novelist it may be the sometimes laborious knitting and unknitting and re-knitting of the dream. It may seem all hard chair and no light.  At times it may seem to be about not quitting. But all that is just being a kind of servant, attendant on creation, ready and prepared for something to be born. 

At its best and highest, creation in words is about the joy of streaming language, the water from the fount, the light coming into the world. It is about the fire in the head and the exuberant chase of beauty and truth. And the woman who is a writer? She may join that wild hunt, whatever her age or face.

 Art without end, amen.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Angel from the Land of Sleep

"Angel Entering a City," Graham Ward.
Graham can be found at his blog and website.
 If you go to his blog, you can find out that he
was a Boy Dalek. If you go to his website,
you will find many wonderful pictures.

This morning I wrote a poem, "The Angel from the Land of Sleep and Dream Bestows a Gift." Nothing terribly unusual about writing a poem, of course; a certain number of slightly mad people do it all the time. But the part that I especially relished about this one is that I have not written a poem or story in my sleep for quite a while, and this time I woke up around six a.m. with the first three lines of a poem in my head and a very strong image in my head. (What is the word for writing in one's sleep? And if there is not a word, what should it be? Dormigraphia? Wrooze? Wrleep?)

Despite the fact that I am not a morning person, I leaped (not all that gracefully) out of bed and grabbed a pen and a piece of paper (which just happened to be a flyer advertising "Bach for Cello" with "David Gibson, cello" and "Dr. Bruce Harris, piano." I happen to know Dr. Harris, and he looks absolutely nothing like a piano. Nor does David Gibson resemble a cello, though he looks more like a cello than Dr. Harris looks like a piano.) I rushed into the next room, raised the blind a couple of inches, flipped over the flyer, and proceeded to write down the rest of the poem as it sluiced in from wherever poems sluice in-from. Delicious start to the day! No doubt I looked not like a cello or a piano but like a poor little mole who needed glasses. Or at least like a me who needed glasses. Which are now perched on my nose. Lucky for you, or this would be even more nonsensical than it is.

Here is the epigraph: Diary entry, 23 June 2011: Awakened by the image of a portrait in the style of Graham Ward, along with the first three lines of a poem. I wonder, if I tell him, will he paint it? Truth confessed: there is no diary. That's just a literary fol-de-lol. I don't have time to keep such a dawdly, lackadaisical thing as a diary. But now I am going off to write a letter to Graham Ward. Good-by!

Oops, back. Just remembered that I am not going to write a letter to Graham Ward because I am going to take a boy who had his middle school graduation last night to band practice. He's going to play for the high school graduation this weekend. Definitely farewell this time, and if anything in this post seems a little weird, chalk it up to the fact that not-morning people should not waken at six. Except in this case, they definitely should. And did. And so on, tra la!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wales Album: roofs above Cardigan Bay

Gorse, Aberystwyth roofs and chimney pots, Cardigan Bay.

A glimpse of the roofline of The National Library of Wales,
where the Clive Hicks-Jenkins retrospective
in housed in The Gregynog Galley.

Aberystwyth roofs stepping down, down, down
to Cardigan Bay, with a view of the ring fort hill.

The ring fort again, and Cardigan Bay only a faint smudge.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Praise for "The Throne of Psyche": Kim Bridgford

When I think of Marly Youmans’ work, the word that comes to mind is “magic.” By this, I mean not only her language, but her evocation of mystery. Youmans’ poems always seem utterly new and startlingly familiar. Moreover, she has admirable range in terms of subject matter and tone. While I tend to favor her poems about the mythological, Youmans shows astonishing skill, whatever the subject. She is a poet working at the height of her powers.

          Kim Bridgford, editor, Mezzo Cammin
          Director, West Chester University Poetry Conference

The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Michael!

Bassett neurologist Michael Miller says Vietnam's pediatric hospitals
should focus less on technology, and more on old-fashioned physical exams.
 Here, Miller examines a boy during a week-long humanitarian mission in March 2011.

Back to basics for Bassett neurologist in Southeast Asia

--Trang Ho, special correspondent
Source: Columbia Magazine March 2011
and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons website.

Confused, in pain, and unable to walk, a 14-year-old girl rides piggyback on her much smaller mother, who is carrying her to see Dr. Michael Miller.

For them, it is a godsend that the clinical professor of neurology from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Bassett Healthcare Network happens to be volunteering at Nhi Dong Hospital 1 in Ho Chi Minh City this week through the Project Vietnam Foundation, a non-profit that provides pediatric care to the country’s underserved populations.

Bassett neurologist Michael Miller says Vietnam's pediatric hospitals should focus less on technology, and more on old-fashioned physical exams. Here, Miller examines a boy during a week-long humanitarian mission in March 2011.

Doctors at Vietnam’s 1,200-bed national pediatric facility couldn’t diagnose the girl’s problem, even after doing an MRI scan and observing her for 10 days. But experienced eyes and ears managed to discover what had eluded technology.

After spending a half an hour with the girl – more time than any other doctor at Nhi Dong could spare – Miller diagnoses her with Brown-Sequard Syndrome. Unfortunately, the rare form of paralysis, caused by an injury to the spinal cord, can’t be cured. But Miller recommends physical therapy that could dramatically improve her quality of life.

After doing rounds with Nhi Dong’s doctors and teaching them about neurological treatments in the U.S., Miller recommends that the hospital adopt simple procedures like Apgar scores, an easy way to assess newborn health, and head circumference measurements. Such tasks merely require time – not expensive technology – yet could dramatically improve quality of care.

“They think technology is going to be the answer to their problems when really, getting a full history and doing a thorough physical exam is the most important thing,” Miller says.

Aside from providing goodwill, Miller wanted a chance to see, first-hand, diseases eradicated long ago in the Western world, such as polio, tetanus and botulism. Things he has only seen in textbooks. “This is like practicing neurology in Paris in the 1840s or London in the 1890s or New York in the 1930s,” he says. “There’s much to learn.”

Even though he had to pay for his own airfare and lodging to volunteer in Vietnam, Miller is willing to do it again. He is surprised at how much fun he’s having, even though he can’t understand the language.

“I simply find the people joyful and charming,” he says. “They’ve been very open and kind.” For those interested in donating to the Project Vietnam Foundation, even money for little things, like hand sanitizer in all the hospital rooms to prevent the spread of disease, can reap big benefits.

“It’s amazing how far a little bit money can go here,” Miller says. “People are doing wonderful things with a pittance.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

The symbol in poetry

Because I do not have a picture of a golden nightingale,
I shall instead toss in some birds-of-paradise...
Siem Reap, Cambodia, Fall 2009

I am still enjoying Donald A. Stauffer's The Golden Nightingale: Essays on Some Principles of Poetry in the Lyrics of William Butler Yeats (New York: Macmillan, 1949.) I love the way he used Yeats as a kind of lens to say larger things about poetry.

Professor Stauffer held degrees from the University of Colorado, Princeton, and Oxford; he was a longtime professor at Princeton, a Rhodes scholar, a Guggenheim recipient. Like so many of his generation, he was also schooled in war, a Marine and an Air Combat Intelligence Officer. He wrote a number of books, including a novel and critical books on the nature of poetry and the "intent" of the critic. As a thoughtful critic, he appears to have been useful to both other critics and to poets, and that is an aim almost lost in our time. He died at 50, only three years after this book was published.

Here he is on symbols and Yeats.

* * *

"I am now certain," Yeats writes, "that the imagination has some way of lighting on the truth that the reason has not." What are the characteristics of these imaginative poetic symbols?

1. Each is unified and indivisible.

2. Each has a meaning--since Yeats is no theorist of "pure poetry," content to rest in the ineffable name.

3. Though a symbol is as indivisble as a perfect sphere, one may view its hemispheres, seeing the permanent expressed in the particular, the dreaming in the waking, the boundless in the bounded.

4. This complex meaning is untranslatable; it cannot satisfactorily be expressed in other terms.

5. Each symbols is inexhaustibly suggestive, rooted in the past, whether the past is that of the artist or of mankind.

6. Each symbol has a moral meaning, in the wide sense that a sympathetic awareness of reality makes men better.

7. Each symbol is self-creating, and cannot be deliberately sought.

8. Each symbol grows slowly, its existence often realized before its meaning is understood.

9. Every artist has his central symbol, or a group of related symbols that form a dominating symbolic pattern.

10. And finally, this unified symbol constitutes a revelation.

This, then, is Yeats's decalogue on symbolism, consistently expressed throughout his writings and exemplified in his poems. His own words may give body and beauty to these related propositions, with reinforcements and echoes in the notes. A poetic symbol is unified, meaningful, complex, untranslatable, inexhaustibly suggestive, moral, self-creating, slow-growing, centrally important, and revelatory.

* * *

I must leave my myths and symbols to explain themselves as the years go by and one poem lights up another.
   --Yeats, Poems, 1912

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dryadic: among beech and maple

No matter how much the old beech raised up arms
against us, we could not help but laugh,
even when it boomed and whistled.

Little forests sprang up on the elephant's foot...

The wish bone of the giants.

The dryad drew the parrot into the tree
where it stayed, dimly visible from the outside.

Lithe Willendorf Venus. Not stone but tree.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Creative Joy / West Chester

Poet Jennifer Reeser and West Chester Poetry Conference
Director Kim Bridgford at a 90th birthday party for Richard Wilbur.
As he told me that his birthday was March 1, I hope he has had a long
Mad Hatter's tea party sort of celebration.  June 10, 2011, West Chester.

How does poetry delight us? To begin with the most inclusive reason, poetry delights us as a manifestation of energy. A poem is an act, and should give us the certainty, the reflected pleasure, that comes from participating in a successful accomplishment.  --Donald A. Stauffer, The Golden Nightingale, 1949

Several attendees wishing for a signature from Richard Wilbur.
Poet Rhina Espaillat at left.  June 10, 2011.

If you would like to see me with a brilliantly lit nose (stage lights, not alcohol) and hear me read some poems, you may wander over to youtube, where poet Annabelle Moseley has posted videos of the Mezzo Cammin 5th anniversary reading:  Kim Bridgford and moderator, Rhina Espaillat, Julie Kane, Leslie Monsour, Annabelle herself, and me. A video of the conversation at the close is also up. Individual readings by each of the participants have been posted as well. 

Three poets at a birthday party:
Jennifer Reeser, Kim Bridgford, and me.

The final joy of the artist is creation, and the greatness of his creation will depend upon the completeness with which he embraces and accepts all materials.  --Donald A. Stauffer, The Golden Nightingale, 1949

The laughers are poets Leslie Monsour and David Mason.
You can catch the birthday boy at right, next to Rhina Espaillat.

There is in the creative joy an acceptance of what life brings, because we have understood the beauty of what it brings, or a hatred of death for what it takes away, which arouses within us, through some sympathy perhaps with other men, an energy so noble, so powerful, that we laugh aloud and mock, in the terror or the sweetness of our exaltation, at death and oblivion.  --W. B. Yeats, The Trembling of the Veil, 1922.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why the People Disliked Art, Circa 2005: dead ends and ways forward

Michael Miller, Sphinx, July 2006,
Μουσείο Ακρόπολης / Acropolis Museum
Here is a poem first published in Electric Velocipede and included in my new book, The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2005.)  Before I wrote this poem, I was thinking about how most people simply can't read a great deal of art criticism any more--such prose being another unintended victim of Modernism and its heirs. If you're not "in the club," much of contemporary art criticism will not make a great deal of sense to a casual or serious reader and is a kind of "lunacy." (That idea is a source for the recent book, The Rape of the Masters, an enlightening and painfully amusing read.) And yet I was rather fond of reading art books as a child and teen: and shouldn't an art book be open to a bright young person? It's sad to think that what should be an "open book" would now be a closed one.

The poem makes a turn from the abstract art-criticism epigraphs toward what is terribly real and toward what matters, and in doing so leaps straight for the classical world, the tragedy of Oedipus (who was both seed and unwitting seeder in his mother's womb), and one of the oldest, hoariest, most meaningful, and most forbidden rhymes in English letters, womb / tomb. It rejects something contemporary and flawed in order to dive back through the tradition for renewal: in my mind, the only way to move forward into the future.

Michael Miller, Sphinx
from the Acropolis Museum, July 2006
Why People Disliked Art, Circa 2005 

. . . invents puzzles out of non sequiturs to seek congruence
in seemingly incongruous situation, whether visual or spatial . . .
inhabits those insterstitial spaces between understanding
and confusion.
      --Trinie Dalton

       . . . the rumblings of a new movement to bring those shifts
into earshot, diagramming their overlap as a corporeal sphere
of listening . . . an oft-referenced vertex in sound art’s expanding scaffold.

       –Lucy Raven

Another way of accounting for this overall emptiness or lack
that the painting bespeaks is that the Female Child enclosedwithin this geometric or ideological box is also trapped in an ideological box: the lack of the father’s E, his penis.
     –David Lubin

Can you compare this lunacy
To an ordinary thing?
Imagine, say, an animal
That pads into a ring
Of bones to sleep. A bit afraid,
You think to creep on by,
Not wishing to arouse a beast
And meet a lustrous eye
Or hear a crinkle of the wings
Or tightening of thighs—
This is a spot of mystery,
This is the Vale of Sighs
Not far from Thebes. If you’re a man,
You’ll have pictured the breasts
And dreamed the passion of a kiss.
The Sphinx’s face arrests
All who pass near. The Theban gods
May make you glad or vex
Your life with trial: you are bones
Or Oedipus, the Rex.
And all this means so much to you;
It mattered from the start
If that chorus of olive trees
Were accident or art,
Whether your flesh and seed would root
Inside your mother’s womb,
If you were born to kill your dad,
Blood crying from the tomb.

The Throne of Psyche
Mercer University Press, 2011, 106 pages
Hardcover jacket and paperback cover
from "Touched" by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Monday, June 13, 2011

Praise from novelist and poet Philip Lee Williams

A new edition from Philip Lee Williams.
The brand new paperback from the University of Georgia:

A Distant Flame, winner of The Michael Shaara Award.

I am back from the West Chester poetry conference and may post some pictures if  I ever find out what I did with my camera... Meanwhile, my longtime penpal Philip Lee Williams has posted the most generous and extravagant piece of praise about my work and The Throne of Psyche in particular  I could never have expected such a thing as this! Phil's lovely essay appears on his new blog, The Divine Comics. I am abashed and pleased and grateful all at once!

The Throne of Psyche
(Mercer University Press, 2011)

And you know, such marvelous praise is helpful when it comes to poetry because I have recently come to the conclusion that selling a book of poetry in the 21st century is hard.  As hard as taking a pair of pliers and yanking out a hen’s teeth.  As hard as incising a line on an Egyptian basalt scribe. As hard as stopping a tantrum with a feather and a whisper. As hard and shrapnel-like as a dried shard of political correctness. Etc.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The House of Words: the Annex

June 12, I amend my life:
I have been rather naughty
and shown Gary Dietz in playful moments:
this is actually what he looks like.
He rarely looks as he did
in the "Attack of the Killer Inbox"
photo or the button-eye "Elluminate"
photo. Rarely. Honest.
Those of you who came by earlier
were dratted lucky to see them.

I am fresh back from the West Chester poetry conference (more about that later, when I am genuinely "fresh") and thinking about The House of Words again. This time I'm linking to an article by my former student Gary Dietz (the era when I taught is so very long ago that he is quite, quite grown up, a sparkling outside-the-box marketer and a marvelous single dad of Alexander) on his As you can see from the photographs pilfered from his facebook page, Gary has not lost his sense of fun. So take a giant step over there to read his "Middleman be gone!" article.

If you have been following The House of Words, you may be rather amused by his summation of it! And he has a challenge for those of us making art in the 21st century...

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Red King poems at length at AT LENGTH

Here's "King of Finisterre" by my correspondent Graham Ward,
who I hoped to meet in Wales and did not, alas.
Find more of him here:

Poetry editor Jonathan Farmer has picked thirteen Red King poems for At Length.

Here's what the conspirators say about the magazine:

At Length is a venue for ambitious, in-depth writing, music, photography, and art that are open to possibilities shorter forms preclude. As a print-friendly online magazine, we create ways for readers, listeners, and viewers to interact with noteworthy long work, and other publications have noticed. Among those who have recommended our writing and interviews are, NPR online, The Awl, and, which called “The Decisive Ones” one of the year’s 20 best essays. Best American Poetry 2011 will feature our selection of poems from Major Jackson’s Holding Company.

And here are the first three lines of each poem to entice the passer-by to leap to At Length:


What does it mean to be a fool?

Is it to reel about the world
Like stars made out of icicles,

In a green seed
Hidden in a shell
From the first walnut tree,


Riven, scorched to the root,
I offered my palm, sprout-pale,
And caught one bloody drop.


The forest Fool, all geared in green,
A slough of blackened leaves his bed,
His rags as tattered as the leaves.


On the Fool’s long walk to the King’s city,
He met a gypsy in a rowan grove
Who told him how he rooted in the woods

(Black letters, through and through, were wound:
The names of sins, the years, the crime:
The thorns that pinned the words to flesh.


The little cottages
And churches huddle close
Around the castle-flanks.


Dashing along the pebble paths,
Sending up sprays of white: the Fool
Is chasing the Red King’s shadow.

The Fooloon Song

The minnows in the sea
And brittlestars that bite
All laugh with the Fool’s glee:


The wind came rustling in the leaves.
The rustles sounded like a fire.
The Fool was burning in the sound.


The Red King goes with magnifying glass
And kneels so long he whitens in the snow:
The winter wind is tossing the big firs


Bewitched, the Fool is watching acanthus
And oak–the bristling leaves of Christmas flame–
When the Royal Alchemist empties salts

Made by the Fool

The Mirror King
Just the same: contrariwise.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The House of Words, no. 33: Luisa Igloria on daily writing practice

The header to Dave's "The Morning Porch."
From a detail of "Paper Garden" by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Earlier in the series, Dave Bonta talked about his "accidental" collabration with Luisa A. Igloria. Here the poet and professor discusses her ongoing morning-porch project. Luisa Igloria's ninth and most recent book is Juan Luna's Revolver, winner of the Sandeen Prize (Notre Dame, 2009.) Visit her at her website--and visit her Morning Porch poems and their inspiration via Via Negativa! Luisa was born in Baguio City, the Philippines, and now lives in Virginia, where she is director of the M. F. A. program at Old Dominion University.  She is the mother of four daughters.

Addendum, 12:20 a.m.: I can't resist adding a link to Luisa's latest Morning Porch poem: there is the beggar queen of The Palace at 2:00 a.m., dreaming on her throne of words. And very fine she is, too! Thank you, Luisa!

From having read the fine poetry that Dave Bonta and Beth Adams gather into each issue of qarrtsiluni journal, I have some familiarity with their blogs and websites, and so I’ve visited Dave’s microblog The Morning Porch before. But in a lull just before Thanksgiving last year, I read Dave’s November 20 observation of a pileated woodpecker inching up the trunk of a locust tree “like a pawl on an invisible ratchet”  and I thought: what a cool image, what a cool word-- pawl-- and immediately I wanted to turn it into a poem. It’s been about a hundred and fifteen days since then, but what’s happened is that I’ve been writing daily poems in response to Dave’s The Morning Porch observations. I really didn’t intend for it to turn out into the daily “devotional” that it seems to have become, but now I’m thoroughly hooked.

What I’m happiest about is how I’ve incorporated it into my daily writing practice, and that the simple rules I’ve set for myself seem to work well in terms of getting me to that place of focus and attention where there is the potential for making poetry happen. My rules are: I don’t have a fixed time for visiting The Morning Porch to read the latest line Dave’s written. But when I do, I try to respond immediately, without premeditation, composing as I go. I try not to belabor what I find in the starting “trigger”-- because I don’t see myself obligated to respond via a form of poetic reportage. What happens instead is that the bit of image or language that first catches my eye or ear, meets what I bring to that moment (a combination of many things- what I may have been reading or remembering recently, what kinds of questions I might be asking that particular day). Finally, I try to do all of this in thirty minutes, forty max; I feel that if I go over this time limit I set for myself, I will be belaboring the whole enterprise too much.

For instance, Dave’s TMP observation on January 28 was “The silence of falling snow. When my furnace kicks on, the three deer digging under the wild apple tree startle and run down the slope.” When I read that, the first sentence, “The silence of falling snow” coupled with the image of “the wild apple tree” had a certain beautiful gravity that felt-- and sounded-- almost biblical. The wild apple tree and the three deer digging also made me think immediately of medieval tapestries, rich with illustrations of plants and animals. From there it was a short leap to recalling stories in bestiaries like the Physiologus. It has these famous animal allegories like the one of the unicorn which only lays its head upon a virgin’s lap, or the phoenix which immolates itself and then rises from its own ashes on the third day; or the pelican that gouges its own breast to feed its young its own blood. I also recalled the famous engravings that Pieter van der Borcht had made of some of these stories, and I refreshed my memory by looking at a few online images. The one I mention in the poem, of the lion and lioness breathing upon a stillborn cub in order to bring it back to life, spoke urgently to me perhaps because some of the difficult questions I am living at this time of my life involve pondering what it means to be a parent, what it means to struggle with raising children with difficulties; pondering what our (my) individual choices have brought to bear on our particular dynamic as a family. All of these came together quite rapidly in the composition of the poem, which I see now is just another form of asking the questions which I continue to grapple with on a daily basis. I don’t-- or the poem doesn’t-- necessarily answer these questions. But there is a certain kind of release in being able to confront them even briefly in this form. The quote from Aquinas that I use as epigraph is something I thought of later, after I’d written the poem.


“Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
Quae sub his figuris vere latitas…”
["I adore you devoutly, O hidden God
truly present under these veils..."]
—St. Thomas Aquinas

The silence of falling snow perhaps is like the hush
that lives somewhere in each moment of great
preparation: as for instance in Pieter van der Borcht’s
medieval copperplate engraving, when you would not know,
unless you read the captions, that the fierce and terrible
mangled faces of the lion and the lioness are from
their desperate expenditure of chi so that their stillborn
cub might live— under the gnarled cypress and rock,
see how its body writhes, stretching and coming to at last
under the double blowtorch of breath. And what of the meal
that the pelican gathers for her young from the cabinet
of her own breast, bright speckled clusters of blood from
the vine? Feathers fragranced with cedar, the phoenix
bursts into flame then crests from its ashes on the third
day; the unicorn comes to lay its head on the virgin’s lap,
and the foliage glistens like a page of illuminated
text. Orpheus knew, afterwards, the dangers of looking
too closely at the silence, of doubting what it might bear.
Think of him ascending from the depths, not hearing
her voice or footfall, not seeing her face. This morning,
also by myself, I bend to attend the furnace’s smolder.
Three deer digging under the wild apple tree
in the garden startle and run down the slope.

The poems that come out of my engagement with the prompts on The Morning Porch do not all have the same tenor. That’s perfectly fine and really to be expected. I’ve really preferred the recklessness of not having a really fixed subject to guide me into the writing. After all, poetry is about “the ineffable”, isn’t it? Some of the poems I’ve written are the result of little happy accidents, like misreading. For instance, on February 4 Dave’s TMP observation was “Dim sun. Trunks and branches still sheathed in ice glisten, surrounded by duller companions like glitterati on the streets of New York.” Perhaps I was hungry, or my glasses need cleaning, or I needed more coffee-- whatever it was, I read “Dim sum” and the result was the (I guess) food poem which I’ve copied out below--

Dim Sun, Dim Sum

Dim sun, your soft
floury edges today
make me think of steam
clouds under a wicker basket,
pillowy mounds of dough
pulled into a pucker
atop sweet or savory buns…

Let the glittery icicles
on twigs and branches trade
their hard-edged, fishnet-
stockinged gossip above us all,
here at an oilcloth-covered table
in a little hole in the wall
where the air is fragrant
with ginger and scallions
and dark plum sauce.

On March 14, Dave’s TMP observation was “Scattered snowflakes wander back and forth like lost souls. I watch one explode against a branch of the dead cherry. The croak of a raven.” That morning, before I visited TMP and before I started working on various tasks at my desk at the university, I was looking at some of the photos on various news websites from the earthquake-devastated towns and cities in Japan. I was particularly riveted by the photograph of a woman weeping, surrounded by broken beams, pulverized concrete. But beside her, inexplicably, neatly lined up, there was a pair of cherry-red rubber boots. And I wrote this poem, where I re-imagined the “croak of a raven” in Dave’s original post as an elegy listing the names of really more than a thousand dead:

Landscape with Red Boots and Branch of Dead Cherry

In a photograph, a woman sits on her haunches
amid a sea of debris. Her feet are bare. A pair of red
rain boots caked with mud perches neatly at her side,
the way they might rest in a parlor. The sky is the color
of rain, the color of heaving things: water a wall
surging over highways, toppling cars and beams
and lorries. The past tense is already active here—
fields have lost their stenciled borders; there’s little left
to read in maps. Above the burning cities, snowflakes
scatter, wandering back and forth like spirits. I watch
one explode against the branch of a dead cherry.
Croak of a raven making the shape of a thousand names.

Which is to say, after these examples, that inspiration really comes from many disparate sources. What I try to do in these daily encounters at Dave's The Morning Porch, is to keep myself open, limber, and receptive to the organic totality of all that may come together in the creative process. I think that this is the way most of us work, anyway-- one handhold after another, feeling our way toward that scent, that sense, that feeling which first enticed us with the idea that it might become a poem.

Norfolk, VA; 10 April 2011