A HYBRID NOTEBOOK OF POETICS AND PORNOGRAPHIES

Pornography Disclaimer

This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered  all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.

28.10.08

WHITE APPLES, GREEN APPLES, THIEVES

On of the books I slept with last month is Factory of Tears by Valzhyna Mort, a bilingual text translated from the Belarusian by the Wrights (Franz and Elizabeth). 

Belarus, if you don't know, was part of the Russian block, and it has a volatile political history. It has been a "part" of Russia ("White Russia") Lithuania in the 13th century, and Poland. It's been split between Poland and Russia, and in WWII the Nazis occupied it. Most of the fallout of the  Chernobyl explosion of the 80's blew into it and since its independence in 1991, it's had a terrible time with the corrupt authoritarian leader, Lukashenka, who has cancelled elections, run a police "death squad", and been criticized by the EU and US for human rights violations.

That's a little history. 

The author has published a single volume of poetry in Belarus in 2005, I'm as Thin As Your Eyelashes, a title that I find curiously confusing. Is it a problem of the translation or an abyss between us culturally? The poem itself is without title, a mere four lines, just the phrase. I'm not sure what it means, and though it feels provocative, it also feels melodramatic. Delicate, but dangerous. Vision, but with the silken threat of pain. Is it related somehow to the political history of the place? Despite my difficulty with her original title, and in contrast to my small frustration, here's the opening poem to this English translation, both morbid and archetypal:


Belarusian I


even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn't tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future
a gymnast on a thin thread of the horizon
was performing there 
at the highest pitch
bitch

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you anymore
but riding in those dark cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us
and snatch us veiled

completely free only in public toilets
where for a little change nobody cared what we were doing
we fought the summer heat the winter snow
when we discovered we ourselves were the language
and our tongues were removed we started talking with our eyes
when our eyes were poked out we talked with our hands
when our hands were cut off we conversed with our toes
when we were shot in the legs we nodded our heads for yes
and shook our heads for no and when they ate our heads alive
we crawled back into the bellies of our sleeping mothers
as if into bomb shelters 
to be born again

and there on the horizon the  gymnast of our future
was leaping through the fiery hoop
of the sun

. . . . . . .
I don't know much about V., whose name is vampiric and lovely, except that her bio says she lives in the states and a few of these poems reference U.S. cities: "Fall In Tampa" "Florida Beaches" and "New York". She's won a number of awards overseas and this collection is published by Copper Canyon.  Thankfully this bilingual collection fares with a better title, one that reflects her work, or at least this collection of translations, to a much more satisfying degree. A work in which human suffering is partially the work of governments, human bureaucracies. I wonder, incidentally, what an "American" poem would look like, a brother to this poem, in which an American author attempted to mythologize the American experience. (In the peripheries I'm thinking of a line or two by Ai. . . ) 

What I love about this book: it thinks politically without serving up a "political" poem. I'm thinking of those poems with cities, or countries, or types of people as titles: those mentioned above and "White Trash" "Berlin-Minsk" "Polish Immigrants" and "Belarusian II". These are poetic portraits in which we get a sense of both being part of these places/people as well as the mythos of our experience there.  Take these stanzas from "New York":

a gigantic pike
whose scales 
bristled up stunned

and what used to be just smoke
found the fire that gave it birth

champagne foam
melted into metal 
glass rivers 
flowing upward,
things you won't tell to a priest
you reveal to a cabdriver

What we find in this stanza is true of most of her poetry--her sense of metaphor is energetic, a motivating force of the language. In fact, her best poems are lyric and satisfyingly difficult in their use of abstraction. We might call this surrealist technique, though it seems to me a way to pursue an archetypal truth about places and people. If poetry is a way to express the hidden experience, the experience hidden beneath the dull journalism of even our most difficult experiences, our politicized lives, then here is V. Mort pillaging the depths: 

Hospital


when someone spends a lot of time running
and bashing his head
against a cement wall
the cement grows warm
and he curls up with it
against his cheek
like a starfish medusa
and senses
how the body uses memory
to bind it to the earth
and he waits there for the moment
when his eyes turn
into wobbling tops
and the whole colorful universe
appears like the deep
hole in the sink

. . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can!

16.10.08

A KING CAN MARRY A KING

So in case anyone was confused,

of COURSE I'm voting! 

I had a minute in those debates where I was shocked and offended enough to say it to myself (I'm not voting for these creeps I love), but it was short-lived, angry, and really not useful. 

In California we're worried about Proposition 8, which tries to overturn the legality of Gay Marriage in our state. It's pretty important, since many couples have had their marriages legalized, illegalized, legalized, and now under the threat of being illegalized again.. . The whole thing really highlights the absurdity of the issue, and the idea of marriage itself. What's so offensive is the fact that a marriage can be nullified arbitrarily by the state.

The offensive have taken a lot of money to play these awful commercials constantly on our televisions: a small girl comes home from school with a kid's book: Kings and Kings. Mommy, she squeals delightedly, today I learned that a King can marry a King and I can marry a Princess! The mother's face darkens with concern and the law professor from Christian Conservative Pepperdine University steps forward to tell us that this scenario is already happening in Massachusetts and parents have no recourse to complain.

As if a child's book could make you gay.

As if schools teach anything about marriage in the first place.

As if children don't watch television and listen to the radio and use computers and don't know that there are different kinds of people all over the place.

I remember Crane's invitation:

Come, it is too late, too late,
to risk alone the light's decline.

Here's a youtube video I like, that spoofs the mac commercials in our interest:


10.10.08

DEAR AMERICA, DON'T BE MY VALENTINE


So this has been bothering me since the Vice Presidential Debates:

Already upset by the Republican approach to just about every spectrum of the political agenda, I have decided to vote for Obama. It took me a second. I LOVED Clinton. Bring her back, I say. 

O.k., then I got over it. The more I see McCain (fearmongering) and the more I see Palin (I mean, the first time she travels out of the country, she makes sure to get footage of herself firing an AK-47? Really?) the more proud and necessary and importantly I feel about my vote for the Obiden ticket. 

Then in the middle of the Vice Presidential Debates: the gay question. The uncomfortable shifting in the room. The squirm on Palin's face when she insinuates that she has gay friends and family. The awful burst of laughter from the audience and the candidates to be relieved of talking about us, the gays. And that cold, sure, resonant NO, when Biden firmly responded that he does not believe in gay marriage. 

Why haven't I read more about this? 

Friends and Strangers, let me tell you, this HURT me. I am a tax paying, loyal, responsible citizen. I am trusted to teach college students how to think and write critically. I contribute to my community and to society in a significant, if not seriously under-appreciated way, poorly PAID FOR BY THE STATE. Here I am, an intelligent and involved member of this country, and my own party, who I believe in, who I've been fervently speaking for, arguing for, who I've sent my hard earned money to, has now openly and nationally disavowed their support for me. I've never felt so marginalized in my life. Growing up Chicano, I knew, was often told, but I never felt I was on the outside of anything. I had rights. And I knew it. I was different sure, but I felt in myself a sense of equal humanistic footing. I was shocked into disbelief when I was called a "spick" in the hallways of my traditionally white Arizona college prep high school. But my friends of color and I felt a sense of self-propriety. No one could mistreat us legally. We knew we were equal. 

And with one cruel word, one coldly spoken, monolithic no, I suddenly felt that I did not belong, that those things I believed in did not qualify me to be held as an equal. I don't think a word has ever hurt me as much as this one, spoken so clearly and easily and awfully to our nation.

This whole conversation about the difference between civil and religious ceremony is a load of crap--it's a distraction, a way of saying we're not the same and that we shouldn't be treated the same. It's a way of minimizing the significance of the relationship and the idea of the relationship between gay couples.

I don't want to get married. I never have. But I do want to know that as a human being among others, I can be allowed the idea of a sacred pursuit. Not to mention the legal rights associated with that devotion! The great irony is that I've written and officiated three of my sisters weddings and one of my cousin's. 

I don't know how it feels for gay republicans to be so openly refused by their party. For myself, I felt disappointed, orphaned, disavowed, broken-up with, abandoned, and alone. What a bunch of pussies! Or as they say on Dan Savage's Lovecast: what a bunch of scrotes! I really loved Joe Biden, trusted him, shit I even thought he should be the one running for president! But hearing that response, and the pat "well at least you both agree on something"--so that the ONE point that both parties can agree on is the ridiculous idea that gays should be able make a sacred pursuit together, to make and pursue promises, to create a kind of ceremony as monument, and to have the same economic rights recognized by the state as our neighbors and family and co-workers and employees, well

It made me feel like I didn't want to vote for anyone. I paced my room. I'm not voting. I am so not voting. Disbelief, and a realization. I mean, what are we? Persons criminal. Profane. 

I've come around, but I'm not done being angry and in love.

So here it is. I was asked early this year to edit an issue of OCHO magazine, due out February 2009. Dear gay Friends and Strangers, dear Fags, Dikes, Trannies, Transvestites, He-she's, She-males, Tomboys and Mamas-boys, Lesbos, Fudge-packers, Muff-divers, Bears, Twinks and Closet Freaks, Butch and Lipstick, Hairdresser or Harley-rider, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green--Dear family, dear people of color and other,

Friends and Strangers, please forward this to everyone you can.  Please forward this to your friends, family, peers, professors and students:

This is my call for queer poetry, essays on poetics, and reviews of works by queer poets for the 2009 OCHO magazine DEAR AMERICA, DON'T BE MY VALENTINE issue. 

Your work does not have to address the politics of this post. The purpose of this issue is to highlight and bring together a strong sampling of diverse work by queer authors in the contemporary American poetry scene. 

Please submit your work as a single word doc attachment, pasting your cover letter and bio in the message itself, to: dontbemyvalentine@hotmail.com 

. . . . . . .

FRIDAY NIGHT CONSTELLATION


. . . . . . . .

Tonight I'm staying in with a book. Peter Hoeg's The Quiet Girl. I've loved him since his first novel, The Borderliners, about a boarding school in Iceland and the young boys who survived it. I think I even tried to write something about the boy sneaking out to the shed to steal gasoline and set the school aflame. . .  swans on fire, swans of ash, or some such nonsense. 

Haven't been able to put away my September Reads. They're littering my desk. I guess I'm not finished. Or they're not finished with me. 

Re-read Cormac McCarthy's The Road
Thom Gunn's Boss Cupid
Frank Bidart's Watching the Spring Festival
Yusef Komunyakaa's Warhorses
Antonio Lobo Antunes' What Can I Do When Everything's Burning
Jenn Currin's Hagiography
Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles
Adam Zagajewski's Eternal Enemies
Jaime Sabines' Tarumba
Valzhyna Mort's Factory of Tears
A chapter from Georges Batailles' The Absence of Myth
and one from Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror

They're a pretty noisy crowd here. Maybe in the next few nights I'll take on a few of them so I can put them away. Constellation of poems, lines, feelings. . .   "This is how dead men haunt their murderers dreams."

Windy here, off the beach. 
Up in the leaves, a storm. Not really, 

just the eucalyptus acting like the sea.

. . . . . . .

9.10.08

DEATH GREEN KISSES

. "If greenness 
were woven into weather, 
. into jackfruit & lotus
blooms, how could there be
.  death in my mouth?"

Some lines from Yusef Komunyakaa's long poem, "Autobiography of My Alter Ego", from his new work WarHorses.

Today I spent about 3 hours trying to get a prescription about a month old. You wouldn't believe the disconnected, indifferent, careless, and hurtful experience. Phone call after phone call after impatient pharmacist after phone call. My prescription in her hands. White and cheap in the Long's CVS off Main and Rose. Two bottles 50 bucks I don't have. Finally, after the humiliation and argument, I pay what I don't have. 

The death in my mouth is green. I'm raving envy. The war in my life is the body's restless privations, the infinitessimal clocks springing loose into dust and perfume. I'm flaring out, bluing to cold so slowly it seems like I'm a flowering corpse of a man. Walking around, trying to feed myself a few pills, a cup of strong coffee, some sweet black cake. Thank god there's a little chocolate to smear on my face while I cry. 

Oh and the respite of the lovely, lovely fog, on the way home, blurring everything in its blissfully cool distortions. Mist to blur the green palm trees, the idiocy of the nuclear blue sea becomes the rain color over a tin roof, gun-softened and metallic. Oh rain, oh white. Voices of the homeless yelling over a shopping cart, the regular prostitute yelling she's gonna murder some bitch tonight, and my bicycle squealing past. oh good breath, pillow for my night. Good puppy to rush me with your little hot tongue, to cover my face in your small fervent kisses, joy-crazed, happy, home alone.

7.10.08

OBAMANOS

FORM 
IS 
THE 
BURDEN

This is a spraypaint graffiti tag on the building at the corner of Brooks and Pacific, about two streets south of where I live. White lettering, caps, on walls painted dirty avocado. Feeling it today in my limbs, not my poems. The last two nights have been hypnotic, the fat half moon falling leaf-white then smoldering dark bronze. Tremorous flame, around midnight it crashes, hot torn orange peel snuffed into the ash of a black sea. A loud cold blackness. It's so rare to be so perfectly alone. You can almost taste your own satellite. To the north, the Santa Monica Pier, the new digitalized lighting on the ferris wheel computer blue, stutters and rolls. Outward, standing between two darknesses, say between two shores in a late Rothko. Not sad. Severe, enthralling. Speechless abyss, and on the edge of it a feeling. Where else does the blood tend, if not toward some crude lettering. I was here. I was here. I was here. 

I'm voting for Obama. 

I was watching the debates, worried by the McCainimal. I don't understand how a campaign virtually parallel with this administration--whose approval rating is at %16--can appropriate phrases for change. Their misguided passion over environmental issues seems to me indicative of their whole philosophy, that proposes something logical, even inarguable, and then insists that something destructive is the only way to achieve it. As in, Yes, we should be an energy independent nation--but as our awareness of global warning is at its peak, the last thing we should be doing is drilling for oil in our nation's nature preserves! Our politicians might learn something from taking a little walk alone in a darkness so big they are orphaned. They might learn something by reading McCarthy's The Road. When the son asks his father if they will ever have to eat another person, even if they're starving, he says, never. The boy understands. They are starving, but they're trying to save something in themselves. That something is what I think McCain loses sight of. He's so hungry for the win I think he's lost any ability to stop, to listen, to find a center, out from which any substantive help can be found. He's lost that silence in the middle that can nourish him. He's insatiable, spitting and salivating, wolfmad. He's in that ring of Dante's hell that is most American, the ring of hunger and no satisfaction, thirst and thirst and thirst. It's pure capitalism. Shallow, flooded, wasteful. The wet scraps of our romanhood falling by the cannibalistic wayside. 

The boy in McCarthy's novel understands with an archetypal naivete, a primitive ethics,  why they won't ever eat another person: "because we're carrying the fire." McCain's fire is literal, ravenous, and destructive. Obama's fire is metaphorical, spiritual. I like that he's slow to answer, that he's contemplative. That he weighs what's at stake in the long run. There's something handsome about a deep patience. Maybe I'm a romantic. I am. I need to be to care--I need a reason to pay higher taxes, I need an idea to believe in, I need to feel that I am part, that I participate, that I matter, that my money and my life contribute to something beyond what I can see and do on a daily basis. America, where are you? I'm dying to believe in you. McCain's a madman. Obama . . . a mystery. A myth. I want it.

And then today,--clearly biased, but still worrisome--this:



My photo
I've got one foot in the grave and the other's in my mouth.

Poetry Disclaimer

My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.