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.

25.8.10

LOVE, WOUNDS and CLOWNS OF WAR: Dunstan Thompson

Lately I've had some time to think about gay relationships and what they mean to me as an adult. How many of us have something like an extended family, a constellation of burning, sustaining friendships that carry us through sickness and happiness and the dark aches and sobrieties, and how often the myth of the "one", the idealized, if strange marriage that straight men and women seem to have a natural trajectory, a pole to which they are drawn to or repulsed by, a kind of moon that is a moon that eludes me. I feel more catholic than ever. Love, as Iris Murdoch philosophized, is the dream of something more than ourselves. Because we are compelled and we never find it. Human destiny, I find myself lost, like a character in Cocteau's White Book, or Reinaldo Arenas' Color of Summer, one of the many failed minstrels of longing and desire, one of the countless broken-hearted clowns on night parade, Picasso's sad version or Hernan Bas' sexy, heroine sheik hooker in the garden with a terrific and absurd belief in love. 

So it is I come to Pleiades Unsung Masters Series: Dunstan Thompson, On the Life and Work of a Lost American Master edited by D.A. Powell and Kevin Prufer.  Dunstan, a young poet in the 1940's and a vet from WWII, published two collections of poetry: Poems (1943) and Lament for the Sleepwalker, The Phoenix in the Desert, a travel book, and one novel, The Dove with the Bough of Olive. According to his ex-lover, he continued to write prolifically, though he never published again. Prufer, in the introduction, writes that Dunstan is "a poet weirdly attuned to the war even as he made moments of it complex, even baroque, beauty and sensuality. Here was a soldier who finds in the war not mere futility or valor, but desire, sensuality, and a kind of horror that is both deeply personal and all-encompassing." 

I feel as though I come to Thompson's early sonnets through the lens of say, Yusef Komunyakaa's meditations on war which are both violent and lush, sensually stunning. Take these lines from “Songs of the Soldier”, for example:

Death is a soldier and afraid

Like you. If he could talk, he’d tell

The world how he was hurt. This sad

Faced, grave eyed, beautiful as steel

 

Young man, his sex a star, has pride

That sharp, unshadowed, surgeon’s light

By which heroes are turned inside

Out, their flamboyant guts put straight

 

Or lopped off. His dripping wounds bleed . . .

 

At the beginning of the poem he writes, “Death blows boys to ribbons.” We couldn’t ask for a better line to describe the eros of Thompson’s strategies. A blowjob is deathlike celebration. Blood and his disrobement. Flesh that is style, and a wound that is surprise.

Here is the first poem of the book:


This Loneliness for You is Like the Wound 

 

This loneliness for you is like the wound

That keeps the soldier patient in his bed,

Smiling to soothe the general on his round

Of visits to the somehow not yet dead; 

Who, after he has pinned a cross above

The bullet-bearing heart, when told that this

Is one who held the hill, bends down to give 

Folly a diffident embarrassed kiss.

But once that medaled moment passes, O,

Disaster, charging on the fever chart,

Wins the last battle, takes the heights, and he

Succumbs before his reinforcements start.

Yet now, when death is not a metaphor,

Who dares to say that love is like the war?

 

 The last 6 lines of this sonnet strike me for their contemporary echo of the AIDS epidemic. For me they have an eerie resonance not of the literal war, the Whitmanian attentions to the patient, but of a more recent consideration of men in love in a time of sickness. Mortality becomes a sobering charge for someone who realizes that the body fails, and its failure is an unpoetic reminder that we are alone.

There's something heightened here about the relationship between battle and health. Death is not a metaphor when it is death. This finality rips us from poetic reverie, the rivers of romantic idyllic intensities. Though Dunstan has his share of them in lines like, “Only the cold phantasmal rose burns out-of-doors. / Inside, the lamps are lit.” and “Too little time / Is left for love. When we come back, what welcome home / will he award our wounded eyes?” Some moments are wrought with beautiful melodrama and are arguably delicious and t00-heady, self-indulgent, as “That, lately lying altar for his ardor, / Uncandled, scandalizes him, afraid he / Has lost his lifetime in a moment’s murder: / He is the sinner who is saint instead”. But Thompson balances them with strikingly contemporary starkness: “the heart is worn / Out among whores and storefronts and the lack of you.” And “swear / Love to the dead. A war means this.”

Though the introduction makes an argument for the innovations of his poetry, one disappointment is that the folio of Thompson’s poetry is short, a mere 42 pages, and 20 pages of that is a late, previously unpublished long poem in sections, a meditation on the Biblical figure Mary Magdalen. Apparently, the reason his 2 collections have not been reprinted is a stipulation by Phillip Trower, Thompson's long-time lover and companion and literary executor, as per the poet's own wishes. The rest of the book is an involved collection of essays, both reflective and critical. Though I'm grateful for having all these voices in a single place, I wish I could get my hands on a xerox of a single collection. There's something sad to me that I can't get the poet in his own version of himself, even if he came to a point in his life where this version embarrassed him. Who can say who we are when we are unfathomable. I also lament the story of his born-again-Christian tendencies, the monastic celibacy he and his partner maintained through his later years when he wrote more “Christian” verse. I’d much rather read his accounts of growing old with someone, and what that must have been like after WWII, instead of his laborious account of a dead saint. I long for the version of himself that could have spoken more deeply to someone like Thom Gunn than Hart Crane.

2.5.10

THE NEW UNREAL OF BEAUTY

"And it is in the middle of the night that we ourselves most resemble those events and those times which can no longer contradict what is said about them or the stories or analyses or speculations of which they are the object, just like the defenceless dead, even more defenceless than when they were alive and over a longer period of time too, for posterity lasts infinitely longer than the few evil days of any one man."

Javier Marìas, Fever and Spear

. . . . . . .

My grandmother lying in her hospital bed is the beginning of her great silence. A cancellation that sees into the faults of her eras, the great poverty of married women in the middle of the last century, fed "shit on a shingle" during the Great Depression, silenced by her parents and sent back to her husband like some smudged Ophelia, scorned by her grandchildren for being unable to become anything else, misunderstood by her daughters and sons, who want always to idolize her with vicious love and blame.

Why does life seem like such a waste, no matter what works are remembered, regretted, wished for, facted into being? Wearily. The hospital bed. The tubes and juices. All of it antiseptic, like a resort. Like being drugged up in an airport.

The last lover in his aphoristic monologue of blissful ego-mania, his infantry: "the most important, beautiful, amazing, wonderful thing is monogamy."

My one raised eye-brow in the dark: "I don't agree." Because I think the mask we wear protects us from the difficulties of our own inherent infamy. The skeptic heart beats because it must, as relentlessly as it must, until the final shocked rest robs us from us. "Lovers are boundaries." "Life is being able to see Contradiction Equals Beauty."

What is "Un-Beauty"?

. . . . . . .






















How does a poet write history?

Adrienne Rich: "Amid profiteering language, commoditizing of intimate emotions, and public misery, I want poems that embody--make into flesh--another principle. A complex dialogic, coherent poetry to dissolve both complacency and despair."

I hope I will grow up into stronger poetry. Re-reading Rich's Dream of a Common Language, because I like those love poems that refuse privacy, their brave considerations that admit despair without legitimizing or romanticizing it. Because I want to write something that has a necessary pulse, in letters that travel by newspaper, digital billboard, satellite, graffiti.

Also reading those Floridians, with their maniacal metrics. Especially Michael Hoffmann, whose blend of prescient vernacular, linguistic dexterity, and alliterative humor results in stark presentations of personal incidence and curious elegy. There is something so ash-like about his poetry that nonetheless offers us a generous intellect; facts in his work are graceful precisely because they do not seek to be more than themselves. I love that. I crave that. I fail that.

Max Beckmann, 1915

Nurse, aesthetician and war-artist:
not unpatriotic, not unfeeling.
Calm--excitable. Noted yellow shell-holes,
the pink bones of a village steeple, a heated purple sky.
Bombardments. Tricks of the light. Graphic wounds.

An aviator overflew him in the rose night,
buzzed him, performed for him. Friend or foe? Libellule!
A room of his own in a villa. Kriegsblick.
Medics intellectually stimulating,
one, from Hamburg, familiar with his work.

A commission to decorate the baths
--an Oriental scene, how asinine!--
deserts, palmettos, oases, dead Anzacs, Dardanelles.
A second fresco, of the bath-house personnel.
One thousand male nudes per diem.

A prey to faces. Went for a squinting Cranach.
A man with half a head laughed at his sketches,
recognising his companions. ('He died today.')
'Several hours' tigerish combat, then gave up
the assault'; his description of a sitting.

Some esprit de corps. Marching songs
weirdly soothing, took him out of himself.
Ha, the amusing pretensions of a civilian
trying to commandeer a hotel room.
English prisoners, thirsty mudlarks, plucky, droll.

In the trenches the men had kissed their lives goodbye.
A ricochet, a sniper. In the midst of life.
Crosses plugging foxholes, stabbed into sandbags.
A man with a pistol, head down, intent, hunting rats.
Another, frying spuds on a buddy's grave.

The Flemish clocks told German time.
Sekt and Mosel to wash down the yellow vin de pays.
Dr Bonenfant, with his boozy babyface.
'We poor children.' A commission
to illustrate the army songbook. Invalided out.

(Michael Hoffman, from Corona, Corona)

. . . . . . . .

But while his frenetic brushwork and highly complex, metaphysical iconography have much in common with German Expressionism, Beckmann's paintings never succumbed to the Modernist tendency to render the world abstractly. In his 1938 lecture "On My Painting," Beckmann explained: 'I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.'

. . . . . . . .

The question is not how does a poet write history, but how do we poets make the unreal real.

. . . . . . . .

27.4.10

I COULD BE ILLEGAL


. . . . . . . .


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Tom Tancredo

. . . . . .

Nor can the push of charity or personal force ever be any thing else than the profoundest reason, whether it brings arguments to hand or no. No specification is necessary . . . to add or subtract or divide is in vain. Little or big, learned or unlearned, white or black, legal or illegal, sick or well, from the first inspiration down the windpipe to the last expiration out of it, all that a male or female does that is vigorous and benevolent and clean is so much pure profit to him or her in the unshakable order of the universe and through the whole scope of it forever. . . .

The proof of the poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.

Walt Whitman, Preface to the Leaves of Grass

. . . . . . .





16.4.10

AWP: A JOURNAL OF THE TIMEWARP: 2010

I love AWP.

I love the plane, the sleeplessness, the sea of insecurities. I love the faces swimming out at you as if from the book jackets where they keep. All you famously shimmering minnows. I love your sweet glances and your rash, judgmental disappearances.

I love to smile like a thief.

Apples, oranges, coffees, chocolates, a sweater, 12 new books of poetry.

I don't love your turkey legs, your homelessness, your dry elevation sickness.

I love your blue horse Luis Jimenez.

Your convention center Blue Sex Bear.

I love your superciliously necessary cane, with its silver handle and its sealed blade.

"Everything is so unbearably ridiculous and subjective, because everything contains its opposite: the same people in the same place love each other and cannot stand each other, what was once long-established habit becomes slowly or suddenly unacceptable and inadmissable--it doesn't matter which, that's the least of it, the person who built a home finds himself barred from entering it, the merest contact, a touch so taken for granted it was barely conscious, becomes an affront or an insult and it is as if one had to ask permission to touch oneself, what once gave pleasure or amusement becomes hateful, repellent, accursed and vile, words once longed for could poison the air or provoke nausea, they must on no account be heard, and those spoken a thousand times before are made to seem unimportant (erase, suppress, cancel, better never to have said anything, that is the world's ambition); the reverse is true too: what was once mocked is taken seriously and the person once deemed repugnant is told: 'I was so wrong about you, come here.' 'Sit down here beside me, somehow I just couldn't see you clearly before.' That is why one must always ask for a postponement: 'Kill me tomorrow, let me live tonight!' I quoted to myself. Tomorrow you might want me alive, even for only a half an hour, and I won't be there to grant your wish, and your desire will be as nothing. It is nothing, nothing is nothing, the same things, the same actions and the same people are themselves as well as their opposite, today and yesterday, tomorrow, afterwards, long ago. And in between there is only time that takes such pains to dazzle us, which is all it wants and seeks, which is why none of us is to be trusted, we who are still traveling through time, all of us foolish and insubstantial and unfinished, foolish me, insubstantial and unfinished me, no one should trust me either. . . "

Charlegne Place.

Gurl.

I love your Cake-up. Your Crazy. Your slumber party melt down.

Bitch, where my jackpack?

Who's DNA is this dangling on a floss outside my 29th floor window?

"How do you stay sane at this thing? I feel like's it's sucking me dry! I cried through that poem, that standing ovation, it's too much. How do you keep yourself from going crazy?"

I make my billion promises and then I break each one.

I skip as many poetry readings as possible. I walk out of each of 2,729 panels I sit down in.

I give lots and lots of kisses. I talk shit. I text message rudely and incessantly.

I ask Jean Valentine to sign me in a crevice.

I leave a day and a half early and sneak off to Boulder, Colorado, where a mountain boy has promised me raw sugar.

"The sad one doesn't know what to do or how to behave, trying first one thing and then another and then the opposite of each, racking their brains for ways of making themselves interesting again or forgiven even though they don't know what fault it is they've committed, and nothing works because they are already condemned, they try being charming or unpleasant, gentle or surly, indulgent or critical, loving or belligerent, attentive or uncouth, flattering or intimidating, understanding or impenetrable, but the result is confusion and a lot of wasted time."

I waste time, I waste time. With my dear ones, in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, all afternoon, all my wasted time is laughter, laughter, sushi, cab rides, embraces in the middle of a street because of cancer, because of the romance of not having a working cellphone, because my TCells are normal, because you licked my coat the color of a cherry ludenz, because your skin is Picasso-esque today and you're cracking up, old, bad, long gone, you're on your way out and you're here in my arms, the way the truth is, the same way I'm alone but I'm with you for a minute, too. I'm here for the monumental burning of these scarce islands, for a little fierce face time, to swim near you but not with you, with you but only for this Time as it blurs me from your sight.

Stranger, I don't care, I don't. Not about the sea filled with the frenzy of your reflections.

I'll park my ass in the back of Falling Rock Tap House on Blake street between 19th and 20th.

I'll gossip motherhood and primitive visions and WILLA I will read your story about stealing a car radio when you're ill.

I'll get lost and try to walk back through the black neighborhoods off Colfax, prancing around in my red leather belt and tight 7 Diamond designer jeans, while Gurl gets crazy tryn to pee in a church. Beware all ye slaves that enter here.

I'll hang on to that Oskar for dear life, for dear life, and watch my Self dissolve in the black mirror of my sunglasses as he puts them on and lays his childhood across my cashmered heart.

My press is dead, my beautiful book's press is dead. Long live my only fucking press!

Babyfucker. That's the book I wished but did not steal!

I did steal Fever and Spear by Javier Marias. He might as well be writing about all the refracted blisses of the timewarp of AWP, all the misunderstandings of the unwelcomed, the mindless and chattering self-inflations, the sheer egomaniacal endlessness, the bartalk and the insincerity, the good rough and felt affection, the brief reunions and intentionally missed elevator-encounters, the mask, the flutter, the yearning, the yawn, the flinch and sharp revolt, the spasms and spasms of laughter and true friendship, the straight-forward recognition of those I touched and held, touched and held, their finally palpable visitations, their small leavings, and the quake I felt at having been close to them for a time. Friends and Phantoms. With you. Time that is now fled. Time that is a hesitation now distorted into love. And an irritation that I never will deny.

. . . . . . . .

21.3.10

POET AI: Corpses, I Give You These Flowers

January 2, 1947-March 19, 2010

When I was 18 I followed the poet Ai. She was walking across campus in Arizona and though I didn't know who she was, there was something so serious, so attractive about how sure-footed she was, that I instinctively knew I wanted to see where she was going. It is strange to feel so compelled, but there I was, following her on foot off campus and into a strip mall and finally into a small pawn/antique shop where she bent over the jewelry. I was struck by her look, her dramatic black and red outfit, jeans and cowboy boots, her hair pulled tightly over her skull into a dark bun, the large turquoise gleaming on her hands and ears. A figure so obviously of the Southwest desert, I was reminded of my mother, of the witch of my mother's childhood. I wanted so badly to say to her how much I loved her turquoise ring, though that wasn't it. What it is, I still can't say.

It wasn't for two years, until I was in Norman Dubie's office, which is more like a tibetan shrine, filled with smoke and photographs, old postcards, typed poems, dried blossoms, that I recognized her picture. I was in shock, because it was so clear to me that this was the same woman I had followed into the pawn shop, in whose silent peregrination I had been so mesmerized. He laughed, touched his white beard, and told me her real name, which he said she had never liked, and said I should have said hello, that she probably would have liked to have some tea with me.

Several years later she and I danced together at AWP in Palm Springs. She loved Moby. She loved wearing her black leather pants and blood-colored jacket. We struck up a kind of friendship, or at least that's how I will remember it--I was in my early 20's, mad and poor having just moved to the beach, and she had just taken a leave of absence from OSU and moved to San Marcos, Texas, where she held the Mitte Chair in Creative Writing for a year--and we kept in touch over e-mail. She was always brief, direct, her sentences sparing, filled with affection and humor. When my first book was accepted for publication, she wrote simply, "Salud. Miguel." I will always love those two words, for what feels to me like a wine-heavy pleasure. She often wished me regular work and peace with my life, and we talked about the desert, which she missed and loved. Not long after her mother died, our e-mails became intermittent--I didn't know what to say to such a large and frightening loss, I was young and stupid, and we lost touch.

It's hard to say how important she is to me, because our friendship was so private and in some ways, too brief. She was older, accomplished, mysterious, attractive, and a poet! and I was terribly young, naive and ridiculous--Her poems were the first contemporary poems that I liked, for the audacity of their images, the ferocity of their voices, the musicality of their lines, which had for me an echo of the modernists and an unflinching sensibility that always felt thrillingly brave.

I first heard her work in an undergraduate classroom. We were to find a book of poetry and give an oral presentation of it to the class. One of my peers read to us "The Kid", and ever since then I've been her fan. When her last book Dread came out, I paid for it.

Today, finding out that she's passed, I'm quietly, intensely sad. I wish I could send her an e-mail. I wish I could ask her how's life. I wish I could open my mail and see her again.


The Kid

My sister rubs the doll's face in the mud,
then climbs through the truck window.
She ignores me as I walk around it,
hitting the flat tires with an iron rod.
The old man yells for me to help hitch the team,
but I keep walking around the truck, hitting harder,
until my mother calls.
I pick up a rock and throw it at the kitchen window,
but it falls short.
The old man's voice bounces off the air like a ball
I can't lift my leg over.

I stand beside him, waiting, but he doesn't look up
and I squeeze the rod, raise it, his skull splits open.
Mother runs toward us. I stand still,
get her across the spine as she bends over him.
I drop the rod and take the rifle from the house.
Roses are red, violets are blue,
one bullet for the black horse, two for the brown.
They're down quick. I spit, my tongue's bloody;
I've bitten it. I laugh, remember the one out back.
I catch her climbing from the truck, shoot.
The doll lands on the ground with her.
I pick it up, rock it in my arms.
Yeah. I'm Jack. Hogarth's son.
I'm nimble. I'm quick.
In the house, I put on the old man's best suit
and his patent leather shoes.
I pack my mother's satin nightgown
and my sister's doll in the suitcase.
Then I go outside and cross the fields to the highway.
I'm fourteen. I'm a wind from nowhere.
I can break your heart.

. . . . . .
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.