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.



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Friends and Strangers,

I haven't been here regularly lately, but I have been working. . .

Please check out my new online journal of poetry!   W W W . P I S T O L A M A G . O R G

If you like it, do me a favor and link it, or send it along to other readers.



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The title to Jean Valentine's new book LITTLE BOAT seems to me indicative of her work in which the domestic and the seen become fragment and artifact in memory. Valentine's poems enact the artifact of language, in which fragments, bits, sensual flashes bear the weight of metaphor. What is the "little boat" and what does it mean? The literal sure, but intuitively we expect--even understand--that it is also something more. The body that bears our spirit? The book that carries our voices and poems? Certainly. In Valentine's work, a fragment of domestic language delivers the weight of feeling, the spiritual weight, and still maintains ineffability. In Valentine, metaphor is mystery, like experience. In Valentine, furthermore, experience IS metaphor, and meaning--spiritual.

In the poem "La Chalupa, the Boat" her poetic strategy is clear: to mark experience with intuition, a blind understanding. Inside the "blue boat painted with roses, / white lilies--" she says "I am poling / my way into my life. [. . . .] It seems / like another life". Her poetry, for me, is experiential, phenomonological. She's not giving us narrative journalism, to record exactly what happened when she was twenty, but a kind of shorthand for intuitive experience, for an abstraction: spiritual memory. Even more importantly, she does so without granting us any kind of discursive understanding. We're not told what kind of lesson any experience should offer. If her poetry gives explanation, it is so she, with a blindfold on, can understand the perameters of intuitive knowledge, which Kant said should be inexplicable. Inexplicable knowledge? Ah, true poetry.

In some poems there is an elusiveness reminiscent of Williams, as in "Gray":

"the order of the mother"
one degree Fahrenheit

News Armature:

Expect sleet or snow[. . . . . ]west coming east

[ . . . . . . ]You may not have wanted to be there
[. . . . . . .]It may have been because of the pain

helicoptor[ . . . . . ]on your left side
man asleep
child[. . . . .]on your right

But it is precisely the elusive nature of meaning that embues her work with such compelling and credible force. In very few lines, she insists on tenderness toward mystery. In the 6 line poem "All around the house" she describes the outline of a room, around which "they" are lying:

All around the outside of the room I was given
they were lying, uncovered
in plastic rags, newspaper, rusted tin;

lying right up against the aluminum siding
of the room I'd been given,
as if it gave off warmth, the siding.

Instead of explaining the literal moment, journaling the historical incident, here Valentine is explaining emotional memory--she is journaling spiritual incident. "They", "the room", "the siding", "the warmth", even the fact that the speaker is "given" the room, all begin to take on metaphorical import. The repetition of "the siding" at the end is a kind of carress; it announces love. The conditional "as if" helps to imply a larger meaning than the literal. It implies more than the literal when we ask ourselves what the poem refers to. That simple phrase supports another reading, for isn't this a poem aout the body and the spirit? A mother and children? A rented room and puppies huddling against it for warmth? Whatever the literal might be, the metaphorical certainly speaks to our desire for comfort, for kindness, for deliverance, for warmth.

Valentine's poems, moreover, seem to question whether there is any difference between history and dream. For Valentine, the daily spoken is the broken artifact of meaning, and even religious language takes on this weight. In her poem "But your touch", the "Lord" is an artifact of both Christianity much as it is of Eastern Hinduism throughout the rest of the book. Valentine often refers to Lord as "Madonna", one place directly to "Mary and Gnesh" and later in the book it becomes relative to other Eastern Buddhas. In this book we must ask ourselves what is the "Lord"?, much as we had to ask ourselves what is "the little boat"? Again, Valentine insists on intuitive meaning, and not dogmatic definition:

But your touch was everywhere, Lord
to be accomplished
though no one could see it
A great human thing was being accomplished
:[. . . . .]it drew every last part of him
into you

[. . . . . . . . . ] : the lost sailors, diving for mines
off Korea. Every white hair,
black hair, every invisible
threshold, course and fine.

In another poem, "Lord of the world!", we might even say that "Lord" is something gnostic, pagan, a being that witches conjure:

Lord of the world! [ . . . . .] soft
unconditional galaxies,
look at me look at me! [. . . ] faraway

animal made out of dots
up in the other sky, Woman! [. . .] please you
nurse my child, please

nurse my other child.
Rub my hand discovered
caught in the prisoner's hand, rub
with your milk his hand.

Here we experience the human consolations desired by the speaker: "look at me", "nurse", and "rub". But equally as important is the way the religious overture of the poem is driven into the prison. Who is the prisoner? In this, our era, we certainly feel a pang of history. Abu grave, anyone? This underlines the metaphorical prisoner that each of us is, each of us with a body. Valentine's poetry succeeds for me in reminding us that the political act is also a spiritual act.

Friends and Strangers, in her poetry we remember that experience is mystery, and that real memory is a kind of dream.

To my soul (2)

Will I miss you
uncanny other
in the next life?

And you & I, my other, leave
the body, not leave the earth?

And you, a child in a field,
and I, a child on a train, go by, go by,

And what we had
give away like coffee grains
brushed across paper . . .

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It's eleven thirty at night Friends and Strangers and I'm craving a cup of coffee. It's Friday night and I've got a French film with Isabelle Huppert in it and her two twin sons. Think quiet Cain and Abel meet Freud reading Shakespeare's HAMLET. I also have a stack of books here I'm madly in love with, though I haven't opened them. Bolano anyone? Or Ugresic's MINISTRY OF PAIN , or MY NAME IS RED by Orhan Pamuk? A small novel by A. Bioy Casares, or an essay, something by Batailles, or a chapter from Kristeva's POWERS OF HORROR. Pain, Horror, Beauty--my favorite spectors. It's a wonderful Friday night to be so alone. I haven't been here online in a month. The movement is moonlight, its musical touch and absence. How do all of my days and hours appear like this one drink? Oh speaking of Shakespeare,

(My younger sister--whose marriage I wrote this past summer--called tonight drunk out of her mind, listening to Rufus Wainwright croon some tune to impossible love and asked me what I was doing, how was my week? As soon as I said making coffee, reading, the gunshot of her silence fired! Oh I'm such a dork, so filled with instensity I'm lost to everything, to everyone alive. Why do I worry about it? Relent. What's the line from Rilke's sonnet? "What pains you most? To it assent. If drinking is a bitterness, be wine.")

Tuesday night October 23 I went and saw Ian McKellan and the Royal Shakespeare Company play KING LEAR. I couldn't begin to tell you what this night meant for me. Great theater changes you. This night changed me. Its small, unnameable levers pressed, lifted. The locks came unjambed. Something not, was. I lived longer than my oldest moment. I've watched every possible version of this play you can rent, and they all fall flat. Lear's anger with Cordelia in the beginning has always been something I couldn't understand, except mathematically. Except as plot. It's incomprehensible, even when Paul Scofield, or Lawrence Olivier, or James Earl Jones (a version I was hoping great things for) attempt the hurtle of this first scene.

Of course there is the question of nature and fate. The first time I cried in the play is in the scene of Lear's return to dignity, as he realizes himself, and finishes his tantrum: "Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?" Perhaps this is what we are, filled with dignity and failure and an inability to become either thing fully. Our lives are beautiful and flawed, and we don't get better than we are, and we struggle to know with any kind of real satisfaction, the necessary why of our existence. We cry, he sings to the blinded Gloucester, to know we have come to this great stage of fools.

So here is Ian McKellan each thing: royal, foolish, wise, mistaken, stubborn, divine, weak, angry, noble, transformed, modest, dignified, and failed. In the best sense, I believed in him. In the end of the play I was struck with something I hadn't fully realized before, something I can't fully explain. It's the difference between seeing Goya's sunflowers in a brochure, or online, and seeing them for the first time in a museum. Context--the performance of the thing, the LIFE of the thing--killed me. As Lear lays down his three daughters all in white to die, and Edgar speaks to us at the end--as Trevor Nunn's vision fills the stage with gold and white from above, and shadow and rubble behind, all dressed in a rising organ chord, raised minor--I had a new sense of what it means to feel that a play is cathartic. It's not so much having escaped a devastation, but the dark elation of facing the ruin of what a human life is--our own human life: this is what means that I will live and die, and in my skin know the difficult ardor of navigating one time to an other: "The oldest hath borne most. We who are young shall never see so much or live so long." Our skin will be torn into our secret life, and our failure as a person will marry our great ambition, and we will be beautiful and lost, singing our answerless songs and that, Friends and Strangers, is the sad fucking truth.

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Since my last funeral I've been wearing a thumbprint, a gold leaf with two diamonds melted into it. A kind of amulet. A remembrance, but also a totem against forgetting that we leave here with nothing. What we've made is our brokenness, and this attempt itself is our meaning, our beauty. I think of Mishima and Plath, Crane and Arenas, Hamlet and Ophelia, and their two kinds of suicide. Any philosophy of suicide is divided between feeling and choice. What is bravest, noblest, most honest? Something different for me as the deaths of my two grandfathers. Two visions of being left behind: one grandmother who hasn't forgiven herself and so the world is meaningless ruin. One grandmother who seems to weigh the world with sorrow and laughter, memory and wonder. Which is the more orphan in her frailty? I'm not asking rhetorically. They both look forward as if it were the only past. I'm looking for an enemy but find my beloved. And I know that wearing my nugget of gold feels more Borges than Lowell:

The Enigmas

I who am singing these lines today
Will be tomorrow the enigmatic corpse
Who dwells in a realm, magical and barren,
Without a before or an after or a when.
So say the mystics. I say I believe
Myself undeserving of Heaven or Hell,
But make no predictions. Each man's tale
Shifts like the watery forms of Proteus.
What errant labyrinth, what blinding flash
Of splendor and glory shall become my fate
When the end of this adventure presents me with
The curious experience of death?
I want to drink its crystal-pure oblivion,
To be forever; but never to have been.

Friends and Strangers, here is my cup of never, my cup of always, my coffee in the night. Here is my brief letter to you to sail the vast numb harm of the infinite, against which we leave only pieces of who we are, our art and satellite, our artifact, the ruins of a memory, the stage of it glowing still backward in the mind, and this--

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The door is fallen down
to the house
I used to try & pry open,
in & out,
stiff tears.

I sit underneath the cottonwoods--
what am I meant to be doing?
Nothing. The door is fallen down
inside my open body
where all the worlds touch.

by Jean Valentine

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Swift wind! Space! My Soul! Now I know it is true what I guessed at--

Eternity lies in bottomless resevoirs . . . . its buckets are rising forever and ever,
They pour and pour and they exhale away--

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars--

Large, turbulent, brave, handsome, generous, proud and affectionate--

I rise extatic through all, and sweep with the true gravitation,
the whirling and whirling is elemental within me--

Walt Whitman

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Tata, the dark country of your eyes
still buries
your life inside of me.
Once you were a fisherman

and young, slinging your nets & spearing
Tilapia to sell at the coast-market. Old Man, when the Sea
violently swept your small boat back to her darkness,
La Lucia, you took up your guitar like the light

strumming those long helixes under
the waves. Pouring Tequila onto the rust of your last
coins, you started singing the coro: Cuidado, cuidado que te quema,
Candela. I hear you,

Paletero, Drunk with Amazing Sadness
while in your bare feet you went dancing

dust to chickens. The brother you loved fell down
stabbed in a knife-fight & died
for sleeping with another man's wife. The mother of your sons
has slept now these six
years in the earth, & you know too well that Here
sharp pains release intense joys

for now that you're old your face has grown stern with Musical Silence, Abuelo.
Don't forget us, tenderness
throwing your fist up laughing to Eternity
the sky, Old Odysseus

gesticulating your funny lament, Aye gente! Nunca,
Nunca vamos a llegar
a la luna! Tata,

the dark country of your eyes
still alive has been buried
here inside of me.

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I'm getting to this a bit late tonight, but Rigoberto Gonzalez blogged me for the National Poetry Foundation along with my Beast of Pleasures!

Thanks to LorcaLoca for blogging it too. It's part of Rigoberto's Wednesday Shout Outs. . . and if you haven't bought my book yet, you should . . .

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In other news, I began a critical reading and writing course this week with Whitman's "Preface to the Leaves of Grass". It's a first year course but I was really shocked by my students' responses, mostly because I remember reading this as a student and feeling floored by the brilliance of Whitman's assertions, the ecstatic litanies of the Self as fount and source of the Sacred, the body as nation, his great anthem of morbidity and flesh: "all beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain"--in the inclusive nature of his vision, which doesn't erase differences; as it summons variety it anounces equally the worth of our prisoners and our laborers and our leaders, and links kosmos to breath, being to non-being. He's as blasphemous as he is transcendent, not to mention ahead of his time for civil rights, women's lib, and gay marriage. Most of what he says might well be an indictment of our contemporary political climate, especially considering that everything coming out of President Bush's mouth transforms our nation's idea of itself into sick militaristic hunger.

My students, on the other hand, feel Whitman is dramatic, "over-the-top", confusing, and of all things: boring! Huh? Whitman's epic extravagance is worthy of Ovid, Homer, his litanies worthy of the Bible. How do you get "boring" from Whitman questioning existence: "What is marvellous? what is unlikely? what is impossible or baseless or vague? after you have once just opened the space of a peachpit and given audience to far and near and to the sunset and had all things enter with electric swiftness softly and duly without confusion or jostling or jam. The land and sea, the animals fishes and birds, the sky of heaven and the orbs, the forests mountains and rivers, are not small themes."

I listen to my students and think there must be a place in their lives where they thirst for a substantive beauty. It can't all be textmessage and pop glam: I love the new Britney single as much as the next idiot ("It's Britney, bitch!")--the title "Gimme More" is about as flat as they come, and still I'm foaming at the mouth.-- But here's Whitman actually giving this "more" to us, and I'm disturbed by all the scoffing:

"Come to us on equal terms, Only then can you understand us, We are no better than you, What we enclose you enclose, What we enjoy you may enjoy. Did you suppose there could be only one Supreme? We affirm there can be unnumbered Supremes, and that one does not countervail another any more than one eyesight countervails another . . . and that men can be good or grand only of the counsciousness of their supremacy within them. What do you think is the grandeur of storms and dismemberments and the deadliest battles and wrecks and the wildest fury of the elements and the power of the sea and the motion of nature and of the throes of human desires and dignity and hate and love? It is that something in the soul which says, Rage on, Whirl on, I tread master here and everywhere, Master of the spasms of the sky and of the shatter of the sea, Master of nature and passion and death, And of all terror and all pain."

Harold Bloom calls LEAVES OF GRASS "the American Torah" and Whitman "our anointed one, hardly the American Jesus, but certainly the American literary Christ." Whitman's projected for us a national identity as much as a spiritual vision which we've all but failed to forget, much less assume! This is the real music our heated spirit craves pulses summons and bestows. It's a completely other experience to consider this a nation of sacred beings who carry with them spark and shade, who carry with them their own deaths inside, who carry with them at all times the livingdying freshness opened and rising, downward-falling blossom of their lifetime, all the seconds and stars and years and lightspeeds, all the expected despairs and accidental flashes of happiness, memorable and exact, all the sights and passing private ecstasies of being simply awake. Then living itself is a kind of poem, a kind of monument we create, a kind of vision that loves what we'll never preserve, perfect, or even understand. "I never know why, Forever Live and Die." (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark). Tonight, I'm drunk with it. VIVAS! to all of us who endlessly try and hope endlessly and endlessly triumph only to return to nothingness and tears, who endlessly fail and endlessly fill again ourselves with this largeness. . .

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Today my favorite is section 18:

This is the thrill of a thousand clear cornets and scream of the octave flute and strike of triangles.
I play not a march for victors only . . . . I play great marches for conquered and slain persons.

Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall . . . . battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.

I sound triumphal drums for the dead . . . . I fling through my embouchures the loudest and gayest music to them,
Vivas to those who have failed, and to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea, and those themselves who sank in the sea,
And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes, and the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known.

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Friends and Strangers, I should be up this late working on my syllabi for Fall classes--especially since I ordered a new set of books!--instead I'm up reading Alex Lemon's first book MOSQUITO. Another dream, another fight, another / ripped by light--mouth-locked, licked / ecstatic--lost as a sucked moon & lashed, tongued / bright and banished: that's how I feel after reading him, the black blast of his poems, a jacuzzi hotjet in my mouth. In Mark Doty's Introduction, he insightfully points out that pain and language enter a syntactical relationship, one that can result in utterance, or cliche. If pain destroys langauge, "style, unlike the defenseless body," Doty poignantly remarks, "has a sort of permanence." I resist this statement momentarily, but agree that the style of our poetry will outlast this body of ours that filters it.

Unfortunately for Lemon, it seems that every mention of his book is inextricably related to his brain surgery, as if the pulp of that hidden organ were some fruit broken open, torn apart across a rock, and the poetry seeded grit and gleam. There is a haunting of Plath here, where poetic insight seems always to be reduced or to condense her suicidal struggle. I guess I'm thinking also of a recent review in the NY Times of the poetry of prisoners at Gitmo (approved by the US government) which remarks that the verse itself is bland, absent of real poetic insight, juvenile, useless on the page and borne only by the fact of these prisoners' predicament. It's annoying to me that so many reviews and commentaries of Lemon's work feel it necessary to relate the poems to his medical condition, as if that in itself amounted to poetry. Even if Plath's predicament was suicide, and Lemon's, brain surgery, the incantatory excitement of their poems, the visceral drama of their poetry, cannot be relegated to experience, but to craft.

At times Lemon's attention to the flesh is brutal, but in its murder, in its lit seizures of pain or love or joy, we find him like a saint of bodily limitation, beckoning us to the spiritual reward of suffering, which is the access to Beauty:

"Feel my wrist,
it is a coda dragging its feet. I click
my teeth like cymbals. Hold
your hand to my chest, I'll baptize you" ("Juke Joint")

So from Plath, Lemon inherits the visceral clarity (and the curse of biographical affliction), and perhaps from Hopkins, metrical desperation, something sprung from a pulse that's heated, panicked at the idea that it might not say everything before it can't. In the title poem "Mosquito" he writes, "You want evidence of the street / fight? A gutter-grate bruise & concrete scabs--" and in "Corpus," he whips us forth, with the immediacy that accompanies desperate, last-attempt, gallows entreaties:

"Send posthumous letters in neon,

scribble love unreadable. My body is sweet
with blasphemy & punk teeth, memories

of slam-dancing underwater.
Tonight the absence of rain

is the mouth-open rush to noise:
a hurricane of wasps throat-clambering"

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Friends and Strangers, it's nearly 4 a.m.! I don't know how I'm going to be a bit of racing green, early next week's mornings! TV's all bad and it's too late to eat. These are pure and lonely hours, but not sad--Lemon's poetry is that sustaining, necessary work that renders language uttered relic, that speaks into your own mortal heart's repeated pause like a demon who whispers, tyrant of love. Lemon's work is real poetry, temptful morsel. Curseful blessing. I like to eat it, tang leaf, black meat, to watch the black flight fall--I like to listen to him tell me "Moonlight / confounds us nasty & the heart / murmurs." Tonight I went to a birthday party and wallflowered my own absence like a blue shadow. Here I am, finally, with someone. I love this book.

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"But always it will be never . . . . . It will be too late and lustrous

Into me lightning everywhere and you lovely

And leaching out of our chests. . . . . . . . . .All of us

Coming. . . . .Anvil-tongued . . . We will be

Sundered with light"

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INFAMOUS. How disappointed I am to reach the end of this 2006 film of Capote's self-destructive quest for a novel! I loved CAPOTE, for its quiet glamour, and for Hoffman's portrayal of a dramatic, careful, stylish if not self-centered, driven and emotionally confident, even distant, cultural aesthete. I was skeptical to watch this version based on Plimpton's biography--and now I know why: it fails in exactly the ways Miller's version succeeds. Toby Jones' Capote is a tripping stereotype of the witty big city queen, falling over himself as he flings the slug of his body at each new stranger he sees, arms flailing to his sides, unattractive and prissy, to interview them. She's a vulgar caricature, and even the accent comes off affected. "Suck my cock you cocksucker" a prisoner shouts down a runway of cells, "I don't snack." Another asks him,"You want to eat my asshole you bitch?" "I prefer it to your face" quips Capote, as he clicks down the cell block like a model on a runway. These scenes are funny and I almost forgive the portrayal of Capote as a social fraud, who finally reveals himself at the end of the movie with embarrassing, forthwright sadness.

I rented it because I wanted to see what another actor could do, another director, and McGrath's vision has the charm of socialite gossip, taking Plimpton's book as cue. After the first ten minutes you can forgive, even begin to forget the Jones' adolescent, clumsy--almost desperate to be liked?--version of Capote, for these sycophantic social scenes in which he carouses with his "Swans", the elite ladies of cocktail entertainments and attentions. But halfway through the film, we experience a terrible descent of soap opera proportion into the psychosexual drama that magnetizes Capote to his Murderer, complete with the awful self-indulgence of romantic confession (Your mother committed suicide? Ah! Mine too!) a mock-rape (in which Perry Smith punishes Capote for the title of the book by stuffing a black rag in his mouth and ripping his pants), and the nauseating moment where Smith admits his homosexuality ("I'll tell you what punishment is for me--its hoping there is someone for you and after years of no one, you find him and you can't have him.")--culminating in a KISS. So in the end we don't even have a murderer, but a lonely, lovesick closeted, misguided small town guy looking for his true love.

Here's where Jones' vision of Capote really falters for me, because as he reveals the author's desires and hidden failures, it's almost impossible to tell if he's still lying and manipulating his murderer in the interest of his novel. It's as if, in the end, he can't find a center for Capote as a character, driven novelist or erotic fantasist. It's ALL an act, always self-consciously done, and even if this makes his Capote PAINFULLY human for his flaws, it also reduces him to a queer looking for love in an over-acted, and can't we say it now? played out version of a gay bildungsroman gone wrong, gone criminal? Don't we have better movies doing this, say THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, or AMERICAN PSYCHO? This is beside the point, since what's nauseating isn't so much the acting as the screenwriting itself that begins by building a kind of portrait of eccentricity and brilliance, insinuating the self-destruction of the author and thereby his vision of the world, and instead coughs up the wet eros of a bad romance novel, in which Capote's great despair is depicted with all the flushed embarrassment of a schoolgirl crush ("I can be myself with you. I don't want you to die." Or after Perry's death: "He said he loved me and he always will.")

I mean, o.k. Capote was fucked up, but do we really need a movie to portray him as a sad, vulnerable, needy bitch? I read him, and he's smart, driven, eloquent, surprising and unbearably exacting as a story teller. He's ATTRACTIVE and to die for good on the page. He's fucking beautiful, with all the Keatsian trouble that afflicts that word, that leaves our "heart high-sorrowful and cloyed". I guess what I don't like about this movie is that despite some good performances (Bullock as Harper Lee, Sigourney Weaver) the ruin of Capote as an author by the experiment of his final novel not only becomes a bad romance, but it gives us this version of Capote the man that is just too pathetic to love or admire. Make him a fiction worth our adoration, for christsake! At least we still have Bennett Miller's CAPOTE--which I vehemently recommend over McGrath's INFAMOUS--and Phillip Seymor Hoffman, prince of drag, to make for us a worthy idol of literary sainthood.



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So all along I've been trying to understand what this blog means for me, since I didn't grow up, like my youngest brother and sister, 18 and 20 years old, with the internet to make themselves. I started it thinking it shouldn't be too much of a diary, since I've got one of those and I didn't want my personal life to become a record. I think I've changed my mind, to some extant. Friends and Strangers I love you. I secretly stop in and suck up your glam gossips, and I've tired of those sites that do so much proseletizing there isn't enough of anything dirty or human. I'm going to give a little more of what I like to get from you. I changed my outfit too, because school starts Monday and I need a new look. oh and in my desperation I gave myself a new Mohawk:

DOG by Tomaz Salamun

Dog! what do you do with your hair?
You roll in the mud like a pig.
You stand up and spray me.
You blink and yawn.

Dog! who was your mother?
Don't you have brothers and sisters? Did
they all leave you and go to sleep behind
some corner? You're hungry. Lazy and mongrel.

Dog! I have never seen you before.
You run on the street and stop.
You run on the sidewalk,
then on the street.

Stars will fall on your head.
You are strange. Leave the
tin cans alone.
Dog! you are so strange.

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Reading this week Hicock's INSOMNIA DIARY--I wanted the new one, but the bookstore didn't have it. . . I don't know, I've touched his books in the stores before but never actually bought one. I think I've been scared of how easy he sounds. I'm nervous about what that will do to me. I'm always on the lookout for a poem that tastes like fois gras--so good it's bad for you, and a little controversial to boot. I like a little scandal in my mouth. So I was thrilled to open this book and find lines like this:

Drunk, I kissed the moon
where it stretched on the floor.
I'd removed happiness from a green bottle,
both sipped and gulped
just as a river changed its mind,
mostly there was a flood in my mouth

--I don't even seem to mind that this kind of drunk lyric is so readily domesticated by the next few lines (because I wanted to love the toaster / as soon as possible, and the toothbrush) and I think this is how H. balances romance with "the boredom of living". It's been a roller derby of a summer what with depression, a wedding, my family's illnesses, deaths and disowning, and the drug-high of my new book--departures all, intensely born. I accompany them with laughter and a sad eye. My younger brother just left for Paris for the year. Where are you, right now? On what train? In what unknown distant dawn? My friend Enda today said that he'd seen his favorite sister only a small handful of times in the last seventeen years, and he wondered how many times there were left in their life to see one another. I was going to say I wanted more time with my family, or more time to write, but I think I'm less of a lament than I used to be. I want my time to count for something, with my loves, and with my hairdos!

. . . . . .



. . . . . .

Tonight I'm filled with doubt, until a few lines put themselves right. Then a walk, toward the waves leaving sentences none of us can read, and a moon with its sharp rind, archer's green, lash of the ecstatic. . . and then I sighted a few stars whose names I knew, arcturis and mars, and I let myself be seduced by a bit of darkness, and some shells broke like half-clocks under my feet and I heard the small deaths in the water, and some salt spoke to the whorl of my ear, saying I didn't know you / were coming so soon / without your mystical brothers , and then I combed the books there for a few more talismans against believing our hearts are worthless:

"The Trees" by Phillip Larken:

The trees are coming into leaf
like something almost being said;
the recent buds relax and spread,
their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
and we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
in fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

and Miltos Sachtouris:

"Only my soul whispers
in my ear saying:
it grew dark you grew dark
aren't you scared?"

and tomaz salamun:

"Blockheads. Murder is
an ingredient of love."

Friends and Strangers,
good night.

. . . . . .



Two nights ago around one a.m. we had an earthquake here in Southern California, 4.6. It was north of where I am, and our area sort of ticked a bit deeply. I was awake doing my usual middle of the night internet surf, procrastinating with wandering fascination. There was a sound like a hoof in the ground, but from far off, and leviathon-sized. The gallop came at us and disappeared. The earth pronounced itself. What's the Plath?

All night I shall gallop thus impetuously
Till your head is a stone, your pillow a little turf
Echoing, echoing.

Friends and Strangers, we live in paper houses. Pollo was scared and ran from the bed, where he was sleeping, and into my lap at the desk. Earthquake! I scooped him up and ran out to the beach to see if we should head higher. . . Now I'm swept up in thinking about King Lear and Salmun Rushdie's novel, THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET.. .

The most striking thing about Lear is the role of nature. Bloom says something about it being the archetypal mother which Lear rages against becoming, as he tries not to weep, but I love it for the uncontrollable chaotic power that it unleashes. Lear hasn't been able to control himself, he suffers the fate of his own personality, rages against being, against the unfairness of being old and mortal and powerless, and Nature answers him, both inside and out. I think this is our struggle too, always with nature, our own, the world's. . . By the time he learns humility, it's too late to save himself or anyone. In Rushdie's novel, the major earthquakes of the decade lead him into a strange contemplation of theoretical physics, and tears in this world where an earthquake is a kind of doorway people can disappear into, open up and swallow us. Song for Rushdie is part bacchanalia and part death-summons. . . Then there's this new one by McCarthy, THE ROAD, which is primordially dark and difficult, people are homeless and thrust into the unforgivingly harsh mouth of the natural world where creatures have to eat and find shelter. People are strange, rough survivalists, and our loves bear us abstractly.

In LA there's always talk, and sometimes a good t.v. movie, about the next Big One, a major quake right in the middle of the city (which lies directy atop the San Adreas fault). The quake is inevitable, and overdue!, and every once in a while I get myself in a panic. Buy a bookbag and fill it with necessities: dry foods, cash, clothes, water, pens, a little journal, and a few books. Funny that the books trouble me most. If my room collapses, this bedroom by the sea will be the perfect grave for me. It's got my art, and my books, and my bed. But leaving it. . . I guess I don't have a question about being stranded on a desert island, I have a question about the three books you can carry in an earthquake, in an apocalypse. Friends and Strangers, what are your three books? I take that back, if you were forced into hiding, into flight, into exodus, into night--what is the single, manageable book you'd steal with you? It has to be realistic! No hardbacks, no large books.

I switch mine out all the time. I find they have to be small to fit in the emergency bag, and three is really too many. It's terribly unfair. I know there are more important things to save, and I'd probably like to grab some Homer, sometimes an Ovid, but for me. . . right now . . . Beckian Fritz Goldberg's LIE AWAKE LAKE, a little copy of MACBETH, and Jean Genet's MIRACLE OF THE ROSE, oh kay and I just threw in a little novel by Clarice Lispector, HOUR OF THE STAR (it's smaller than a book of poems, so I don't care). Now they really just don't fit. They're too heavy.

I'll have just a copy of Jaroslav Seifert's poetry. Yep, that's it. That's my one book. Because he writes things like,

I still return to the places
I used to love,
and I feel as if I were stroking
an amorous fold of velvet


What we now see in the sky
is just a dead satellite
and the jaws of its craters
chew upon nothingness

and all in the same poem!

This whole thing makes me feel cruel. It's picking from your most beloveds and saving one of them from the dirt, the dark execution. Reynaldo Arenas is not happy with me at the moment. . . maybe he'll have to be resurrected.. . Who to give back to the wall in the ground? I feel like a mother saving one child over the rest, on one my hip, the rest smothered in the earth. O horrible, horrible. Most horrible. We leave this world too quickly, and how are we to take it with us? How do we not die? To live is to be in exile. To live is to bury your life along the way.

I'm burying my loved ones alive!

. . . . . .



. . . . . .

In his post over a week ago 4amSonnets caused quite a little disaster with his comments about J.K. Rowling and her adult fans. I hope he forgives me for bringing it up again and even reposting it, as it compels me into a topic I feel very close to: the ways in which the trappings of fairytale, fantasy, and myth are used by contemporary poets:

"The truth is that I have never read a Harry Potter book and do not care to. I have no resentments against J.K. Rowling and wish her every success in the world--which she seems to have had. I simply think that adults should read adult books (so many great books, so little time), unless they are reading children's books aloud to children. Yes, I have seen the movies because I watched them with my kids. Yes, we have the books so that the boys can read them, when they get around to them. But for adults? With so many good books to read, so much great poetry? Please. There aren't enough hours to read all of Tolstoy. Don't waste what time there is reading Harry Potter."

First I just adore his forthright judgement and bald disdain for those adults who flock at the latest adolescent craze, perhaps in the same way they might mob the stores for something like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," or other superficial, book length "studies" as entertainment. On the other hand, I do have some sympathy for those of us who like to read as a form of entertainment. Aren't these genre books themselves doorways into other hungers? Louise Gluck, for example, has said she prefers genre crime novels in her periods of poetic gestation. I"m not really interested in a debate about the craft of Rowlings work, which like most genre work might lie more in its plot development than its poetic or lyric abilities. . .

"Entertainment" strikes me as a word important to our childhood, where we are entertained by our own imaginitive curiosity, a word satisfied by a good nightmare, a strong fairy tale, boogie monsters and the devil and santa claus and tooth fairies and saints and heaven. It's a word that bears the corruption of adult pursuits. Helene Cixous says reading is dangerous. If we haven't stolen the key to the library, if we haven't killed our family, then we aren't yet reading. Reading indulges our desires and our superstitions. When I think about this fabulous craze to read the Harry Potter saga, I'm comforted by the way very serious-minded adults are corrupted by it. Wait all night for a book? Skip work? Read a novel in a night? Discuss it? Sure it's not Tolstoy, but its doing some of the same work.

When I think about this in relation to poetry, I get very excited. Charles Simic--something must be right in the world!--has just been appointed U.S. Poet Laureate. His later work isn't so much bound to the trappings of fairy tale. It's more interested in small photographic dramas, sometimes in brief lists that reveal the extraordinary truths (sometimes brutal) of our regular lives--and I think his point is that life IS extraordinary, because the mind is such a child in its entertainments: sex, faith, philosophy, politics, nature, love and pain. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of prose poems THE WORLD DOESN'T END, a kind of biography of sorts, but one filled with the trappings of fairy tale. His later book, NIGHT PICNIC, is filled with poems that hybridize an adult sensibility with a child's dreamish fantasy (and aren't we all children in the end? Isn't that what it comes down to on our deathbeds?):

Night Picnic

There was the sky, starless and vast--
Home of every one of our dark thoughts--
Its door open to more darkness.
And you, like a late door-to-door salesman,
With only your own beating heart
In the palm of your outstretched hand.

"All things are imbued with God's being--"
(She said in hushed tones
As if his ghost might overhear us)
"The dark woods around us,
Our faces which we cannot see,
Even this bread we are eating."

You were mulling over the particulars
Of your cosmic insignificance
Between the sips of red wine.
In the ensuing quiet, you could hear
Her small, sharp teeth chewing the crust--
And then finally, she moistened her lips.

One gets the feeling, after reading Simic, that our adult preoccupations with existence are not as important as our sensual, bodily desires. This is a further endictment of philosophical and religious edicts, since if what is spoken in the poem is true, this leaves us with an animalistic, even predatory God--what, then, is salvation? Different than we thought, but still mysterious. Belief is a kind of nightmare here, where the faithful come to us with gross passions, which in the end are slenderly our own.

It's striking to me the way fairy tale provides the framework for this kind of investigation and even indictment. I can think of whole books that use similar strategies. . . Popa's WOLFSALT, Hughes' CROW, and more recently, Carson's AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED, Fritz Goldberg's BOOK OF ACCIDENT, Szporluk's IDIOTS & EMBRYOS. I'm thinking some of these rely on mythic trappings more than fairy tale, and it also strikes me that there are a number of works that deal primarily with revisionist mythologies, books by Sexton and Broumas and even Gluck. But I'm more interested in how authors build new visions, new entertainments, original fables, forcefully creating their own psychological totems. This is in keeping with the work of Blake and Yeats (or HD, Herbert) and related to Jung's work with archetype. If the fairy tale illustrates a warning by means of violence, myth forges symbols for our variant desires.

WARNING (2) by Beckian Fritz Goldberg

In a fire near the river,
a wolf burned the hair off his face
back to the pink creature--

They were drinking and they threw on
gasoline. They were howling
and unnerving the spirits--if
there were spirits--

They were only boys, new
at atrocities.

Don't ever come close.
Don't ever be fascinated
or they'll push you in.

You'll come home
unrecognizable, like the dead--
everyone at the dinner table

passing the salt past you. Glitter.
Whiteness. "Oh,

how we loved you, starry eye."DARK EROS by Larissa Szporluk

She smirks, sets herself up
on a cinder cone--How does
it feel, she asks the old mountain,
to have no choice but to feel?
Succus of Anoton's glottis.
Rumbles, plutonic debris.
Feel this, she hisses into his
sphinctor, then does something
evil with fruit--oh, the power
to cry! Oh, to be able to cry!
His mouth is under the sea now.
The past is a quasi-fetish.
I was the only child, but my
obsession with you was divine.

. . . . . .



. . . . .

The Chelsea Hotel. New York. Haven for Art, Family, and Ideas--what's happening when the Bards are disappeared?

We need our champions! We need the Bards to believe more in our Art and less in our bank accounts--We need people who know how to value the valuable, know how to discern the superficial for the unseen gifts of creative accomplishment, the work of engaging our lives in a meaningful way--and that the artifact of our struggles is not invaluable, but worth more than our rent, our debt, our mortal taxes--

Viva Bards!

Bards Adelante!


Casebeer and Joe.
Artist and Musician
for the Heartist Revolution--


. . . . .



Friends and Strangers it's HERE! The reprint of my book of poems is finished and in my hands and it's just fabulous I absolutely LOVE it. Julio Galan's painting, No te vayas (1999) is one of my favorites and I'm really intensely grateful to his family for allowing me to use it for the cover after he died almost a year ago. . .

When the first edition came out I was too young. It went into a box under my bed and didn't tell anyone for months. This time it's a great shield, a door, my flag!

Plus it's the hottest cover out there--



Friends and Strangers, I don't know what's going on with me, as I haven't been here in over a month! I wrote a wedding. And then I agonized over it. And then I sucked it up and performed it. I'm envious and glowing like some green jewel at 4amSonnets for his June poems, but mostly I spent my early summer working on this wedding. Now my head's full of HAMLET and summer essays to grade, a couple of reviews and a new essay I'm working on, but the real work is in a current just peripheral and intense enough to make me both depressed and crazed--

Here is what one of my colleagues at school wrote me about my wedding to assuage my panic:

"Your poem is intensely romantic. It is also, as you
wondered, morbid in that its backdrop seems like
sunset more than sunrise. In other words, your poem
is a cabernet more than a pinot."

That made me feel great! I'll take that any day--Basically it's a pagan vision of marriage, something Prufrock worries is impossible--and I think my sister had a couple of ultra-conservative midwestern republican in-laws none too happy about it, but in the end we were happy.

"The earth recedes from me into the night,
I saw that it was beautiful . . . and I see that what is not the earth is beautiful.

I go from bedside to bedside. . . I sleep close with the other sleepers, each in turn;
I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers,
And I become the other dreamers.

I am a dance. . . Play up there! the fit is whirling me fast.

I am the everlaughing. . ."




. . . . .

What is a Kaleidoscope? In Rekdal's new book, THE INVENTION OF THE KALEIDOSCOPE, it is a telescope of fractured identity, a symbol of the self in collision with society, history, Other. It's a refraction of the many golds of who we are at once, all of our mirrors looking at one another in a single body. It is our bodies that politicize us, give us historical and social context, and often we have to struggle to see clearly the pieces of who we are in the tides of living among others. In my last post I mentioned that this is a book of confessional reveries, odes to art and broken relationships, fruit and pornography, bodies in light and history--and they are. They are odes that wonder over Self in the variable contexts of the body.

. . . . .

This week I visited the Ghetty museum to see the first contemporary artist exhibit they've hosted: Tim Hawkinson's ZOOPSIA. Five pieces, each of which transform our vision of self and creature: In "Leviathon" the delicate skeleton of some sea-dinosaur is actually a spine of ascending and descending white faced rowers, each with a pair of miniature oars that look larger and smaller; his oars are ribs, the spinal cord an arching line of human-boated figures, fine chalk and bone-white. As in his other pieces, distance is the transformative power in this work. Also, our forgotten animalism. Also, Hawkinson's ability to remind us that we impose human meaning on the natural AND that we make a totem of the unnatural: as in a realistic black bat made of shrunken and melted RadioShack plastic bags. Of course, my absolute favorite is a wall-sized collage of glossy-photographs cut out and pasted onto a foam canvas: "Octopus"

The black of the background is perfectly anonymous and the pink beast seems to float and unravel itself in a subArctic depth, which is also the depth of dream, of abstraction in the human mind. The pink of the creature is actually the palm of Hawkinson's hand and each tendril a blown up foto of his finger. The octopus itself is lined with thousands of enlarged fotos of Hawkinson's puckered mouth for suckers, some the size of a fingernail, others larger than your face or fist. There's a beastliness that is both disturbing and erotic! At first you're caught in an amazement at the strangeness of the creature, in an attraction to its alien beauty, and then you're gasping at the sheer magnitude of the mouths, that are sexually ugly and wet and reminiscent of assholes and shaved pink parts.. . It's a real shock to realize its not some strange creature at all, but something we know very well about ourselves, our hands and mouth. And then you realize that you're also a creature, made of ugly stuff, made of sexual darkness that is actually very bright. You realize that we are beings who both kiss and bite. It's a really wonderful poetry he's made, a kind of surrealism of the eye that tricks you into seeing two things at once, and one that reminds us of the violence of the body that loves and hungers, hunts (figuratively searches, philosophizes, imagines, seeks "the spheres" as Whitman wrote, "to connect them") and violently kills, murders, brutally intimate and vengeful.

. . . . .

Rekdal's poems are awake on what identity is--the beautiful failures of our understanding. She works through description, building a lyric intensity in each poem toward what might be called prayer, or at least something that has the same ecstatic abandon. This is not to say her poetry is without the burdens of craft. In a 36 stanza terza rima she describes visiting an installation of suits of "Armor on Display":

The woman drags her youngest daughter off the case,
pink mouth suctioned like a fish's to the glass
upon which she's puffed her lacy

lips wide open: one toothed and dribbling kiss
blown to this suit of armor on display, corrugated as tin,
shoulders steeled with scales

. . . . . . . . .
. . . One suit looks like blackened
wood, burnished to the gleam of a nightmare.

But it's the nightmare I'm most interested in, wanting the dregs
of battle still smeared in the dents, tufts of wood
caught in the ragged steel, tears where pegs

of iron shattered through. I want thick moons
of rust, shirt scraps clinging to the gaping neck, the deckle
joint from that arm half torn away, loose

and delicate to the touch, hanging like
a rotten tooth. Everything exposing in thought
or imagination flesh freckled

with blood, gleaming through. If it's history we want
then let's have it: its futile pomps and dust,
its boredom, gore, and desperation, the pliant

vulnerability each suit implies and would let
us enter. If death or sadness is to be shared,
I want to strip away sex and distance,

all these panes of glass and metals brightly perfected
by a renovation that haunts through being too
perfect, removed from any sensation

. . . . .

The largest of Hawkinson's work is this hanging organ, a pipe instrument of plastic bags and large metal horns that looks like the white balloons of our body's organs, intestines, liver, kidneys, lungs, all hanging above us in the Ghetty's front lobby. There's a strange sanctity about entering a room of the white counterparts to our red and black insides. Death is white. So is heaven. Is God. In this installation our insides, our very morbid innards float above us as an emblem of working song. Again in his work, the gross of the flesh takes on an air of mystery, beauty, spirituality. The human bag of slop that is the body becomes a totem for divinity, a literal instrument for transcendence, for creating music, the very symbol of our humanity that has struggled, like Odysseus, toward its own godhood, or at least toward being able to define what for a person "godliness" might mean.

. . . . .

I don't know if I'm doing justice here to Rekdal's work, which is one of the most satisfying books I've read.

There is no way for me
to avoid the white now;
no method to describe what is truly silent: blankness composed
of pale self hatreds . . .
Still, I want to see if something could be anchored, here
where dark feeds
on dark, wet on wet

More than anything you come away with a feeling that failure is a condition of our love, and that our struggles--with Art and History, with our relationships with lovers and nations, objects and beings in nature--are in turns ecstatic and bewildering, hopeful and sad. Bound as we are to the to body's place in the world, Rekdal sifts the struggles of our identity and witnesses for us as best she can, their imperfect but necessary longing.

. . . . .



I really love Paisley Rekdal's new book of poems, THE INVENTION OF THE KALEIDESCOPE. Big, fat, confessional reveries--glowing odes to art and broken loves, in their variable forms and subject matter: pornography, family, self and fruit. Her lyrics sting, sing, singe the edges until the spirit feels--"deliciously, yet delicately, fired." I'm finding it difficult to write about, because the poems are layered and dramatically centered. Each poem is a "clear song

of the dreamer's reverie--this one note--broken
or turned sweetly inward, romance of self
with self, awareness stirred

. . . . .

This week I'm married to Bjork and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. All horn and sail. California, fog or high knifing green. It's the end of the semester (FINALLY) so I'm split between grading term papers and final exams and dreaming about my re-print which is due out later this month.. . Summer school starts right away, but it's such a relief to feel myself at the end. These semesters feel like they go on forever. My secret May is filled with white turned inside-out, my beautiful hanging entrails, like Hawkinson's song at the Ghetty, UBERORGAN.. .

. . . . .

Here are a few more bits of her gold:


"One day, you'll be half asleep in the dark, listening to a radio
play in another room, and feel yourself
suddenly filling like a jug with the cold
awareness nothing more will ever happen, the disaster
of your old ambivalence, the familiarity
of desire's wolfish teeth sinking into the body.
The body, as if it didn't belong to you anymore."



. . . . .

. . . . .

The whole deep river
of the train goes by: fool--fool--fool--fool--fool--fool--fool--

. . . . .

"When the test comes back positive
not a shield not a flower

not even a feeling
I don’t believe it

the body and its sick pleasures
what flowering

gorgeously ruined


boats of my body
what has changed"

. . . . .

I write for myself and strangers.

. . . . .

. . . . .

"It was weird because my blood was outside my body."

. . . . .

"We all have to make a choice.
The world turns on the lights and has coffee.

We all have to make a choice, should we
jump, leap out of the windows?--out

of our lives?" We'll be here, like this. Like
the world: One morning

you're having coffee and then you're reaching for
a stranger's hand, some cliffside

of the new life begins in darkness
blue warmth of a heartbeat

Save me. Save
yourself. Orphans
of beauty; Orphans of accident.

"You have to make a decision. It's what you're left with
against being

left alive." After the explosion
inside. After the fallen city, the avalanche

of static blackness--
"Alone, each of us will have to choose."

. . . . .

I have secrets.


I have a secret life I need--

(You are
a room of my own online)

. . . . .

My Letters make me feel like a Ruiner.

. . . . .

. . . . .

Friends and Strangers, it's what we have against.
are we to know what.

Are we to do if.
Blood or unseen energies--

collapse. (whispered) My
Flesh, My Foe, My Only

Knowing and True
Night. You are the galloping inside me.

. . . . .
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.