May 2011

This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series Poetics and technology

At her blog The Palace at 2:00 a.m., Marly Youmans has an on-going series of interviews with writers and publishers called The House of Words. One afternoon last February, I sat down and wrote a few thousand words in response to a series of questions she sent me, and promptly forgot about it until a couple months later when the first installment appeared (#20 in the series). Marly posted a few installments, illustrated with photos she found at Via Negativa, then went on vacation for a month… in the midst of which, somewhat surreally, she and I actually met up in Wales. This was the very first time we met, despite the fact that we’ve known each other for several years and are only about a five-hour drive apart over some of the most lovingly maintained highways in the world. Anyway, the interview finally resumed in the third week of May, and just concluded a few days ago. Here are the links to the pieces in order, with a brief quote from each to give you a flavor. If you have comments on specific points I raise in the series, please leave them at Marly’s blog rather than here so as to keep the discussion in one place.

Part 1
Friends started telling me about Blogger that summer, but like most literary snobs I turned my nose up at it, both because of the absurd and ugly word, “blog,” and also because of what I was hearing about blogs in the mainstream media: that they were filled with worthless minutiae of people’s daily lives and/or links accompanied by minimal, uninformed comments. It didn’t seem at all attractive.

Part 2
I’ve come to feel that blogging and poetry writing are an ideal match, at least for those of us who are shameless enough to share imperfect drafts with the world.

Part 3
The push to come up with new content every day was transformative.

Part 4
I feel like a bit of a hypocrite: I run an online journal, but almost never submit my own work to journals unless invited. But mostly that’s because very few journals consider previously blogged material, and I write first and foremost to feed the blog.

Part 5
In general, I think the best medicine for discouragement [at not getting published] is to join a community of writers, online or in real life, and focus on the writing rather than the writer.

Part 6
There are just so many opportunities for collaboration now — I don’t see how any serious writer can fail to be excited by that.

Part 7
Generations of poets have been taught to be absolute perfectionists and struggle against every word, because we all know how mortifying it is to have to look at a poem in print that we’ve long since revised. Being mainly self-published and mainly online does allow for a more fluid conception of one’s work.

Part 8
It gradually turned into a regular magazine, though we’ve never gone so far as to issue periodic issue-dumps, as other online magazines do, preferring instead to remain bloggish, with new material at least five times a week, and comments activated for every post.

Part 9
I fear a lot of people start blogs these days on the advice of editors or agents who neglect to tell them that the most important trait of a good blogger is generosity.

Jack-in-the-boxwood, Wales (photo by Marly)
Jack-in-the-boxwood, Wales (photo by Marly--click on the photo to visit her post)
Marly Youmans and Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Marly Youmans and Clive Hicks-Jenkins take a spin through the art gallery

This entry is part 72 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

Some days, I dream a snatch of a poem
standing on a rocky cliff, waiting to rebuff

a tsunami. Only a little phrase, language
rubbed with the odor of the sea, a spray of oil,

a veil of orange. For now, everything is warm:
too warm, too still, too soft from lying in the sun

with its mouth open, waiting for what brings
the coolness of water. The bird on a twig

with its breast rouged red is a prayer.
The bird is a question, or the bird

is an answer; or the bird is a letter.
It flies away. There’s always change.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Thanks too, to Risa Denenberg for her piece today.

This entry is part 71 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

Some days I am nothing
but a hand clumsy at Braille,
feeling for eyelets as I fumble
for the laces of shoes in the dark,
for all the loose ends and bones
of my dislocated selves. A sparrow
chips away somewhere, dutiful
at the task of widening its own
corner of morning. I hear it and
want nothing more than a handful
of seed to bring it home.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

I’ve compiled a Memorial Day playlist on YouTube, which you can watch there on auto-play if you like. It’s one hour and four minutes long. For those who prefer to pick and choose or listen in increments, the videos are in order below. (If you’re reading this in a feed reader or email inbox, you may have to click through to the post to see the embeds.)

For non-Americans who may be unclear on the holiday, there are three things you need to know about Memorial Day: 1) it used to be called Decoration Day, and it’s traditionally a time when families decorate gravestones and mourn the dead — something we aren’t always very good at doing — then eat lots of potato salad and barbecued chicken; 2) as the country has swung to the right in recent decades, it’s become more of a patriotic holiday, a time for especially celebrating the sacrifices of dead soldiers, which are generally regarded as more significant than the sacrifices of dead school teachers or dead coal miners; and 3) it’s generally regarded as the beginning of the summer vacation season, not that most Americans really know how to chill out. We like to think we do, though.

Anyway, here’s the mix, lightly annotated. Feel free to post links to your own picks in the comments. And remember, don’t eat potato salad that’s been sitting out too long in the hot sun, or you may be joining your dear departed sooner than you’d planned.

1. Cordelia’s Dad: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”

2. John Prine: “Paradise”

If you’re from a military family, I respect the fact that the deaths of soldiers hit especially close to home, and perhaps epitomize sorrow and loss for you. I’m from a family of nature lovers.

3. Joni Mitchell: “Big Yellow Taxi”

More quotable than than the previous song, if not quite as much of a tear-jerker for me.

4. Son House: “Death Letter”

A Delta Blues masterpiece. The quintessential song of mourning for a dead spouse.

5. Floyd Red Crow Westerman: “Custer Died For Your Sins”

O.K., here’s where it gets a little more political. My conservative friends might want to just scroll down to #14.

6. Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit”

When people talk of “sacrifice” in the context of building America, here’s what I think of.

7. Pete Seeger: “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”

Good ol’ Pete.

8. Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Universal Soldier”

9. Phil Ochs: “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”

Not sure we need two minor-key anti-war songs in a row, but I couldn’t choose between them.

10. Patricia Smith: “34”

Yes, it’s a poetry recitation — but by a four-time winner of the Poetry National Slam. Let’s just say Patricia Smith is one poet who knows how to rock the mike. “We reached for the past like it is food and we are starving…”

11. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong: “Summertime”

12. The Dresden Dolls: “Shores of California”

As probably anyone in their 30s or 40s will recognize, the video is a parody of an MTV video for “California Girls” by David Lee Roth (q.v. if you have a strong stomach).

13. Dead Kennedys: “Viva Las Vegas”

Jello Biafra is the Phil Ochs of my generation, I think. “Kill the Poor” was my first choice of a DKs video for the mix, but this Elvis cover had the better video (scenes from the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). It also seemed like a good way to set up the following video — yin and yang.

14. Don McLean: “American Pie”

Sorry, I know it’s the epitome of nostalgia and all, but I love it.

15. Johnny Cash: “Hurt”

This entry is part 70 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

Someone— who?— years ago
traced the lines on my palm to read

by candle-glow what the crossways meant,
the breaks, faint spiderwebbing wrapped

around the edges of my hand to say
how many children I would have,

how many loves, how many times
the heart would bend to the swallowtail’s

random dance. What coins changed
hands, what turn of fortune spilled

its fickle evidence of numbers
on the table? Some years are silken

threads that loosen quickly from flimsy
moorings; some years are patient

caterpillars inching up the rough-barked,
bunioned trees— Any day now a god

might unfurl its wings to rend the canopy;
any day now, that radiant and elusive life.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

This entry is part 69 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

“You write to become immortal, or because the piano happens to be open, or you’ve looked into a pair of beautiful eyes.” ~ Robert Schumann

Nymphalis antiopa (Linnaeus 1758)

Little herald of the soul, more sedate
than the hummingbird who comes
in search of sugar, who flashes in and out
of the emerald leaves to drink
nectar from the throats of flowers—
you circle the porch and yard three times
before coming to rest behind my chair.
At first, I think your name has come
from the same springs as reverie,
that wistful song spun from childhood.
And it could very well be, though your
bistre cloak, sooty umber edged
with blue or white, lies open like the covers
of a book of reckoning. The chimes
clink half-finished tunes in the garden
and I hold my hand over my heart
because I know it knows no rest:
it does not want to mourn what
passes from this life, just yet.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins in context
(l-r) Clive points out hart's-tongue fern; Jack on bridge over Ystwyth; sand martin nests in the riverbank; Basil the Shetland pony; Clive in front of his painting "Green George"

The conclusion of our May 5 walk around Clive’s neighborhood in rural Wales, near Aberystwyth. (It should stand on its own, but do listen to Part 1 if you haven’t already.) I’m grateful to Clive for taking the time to show me around in the midst of frantic preparations for the launch of his retrospective exhibition just two days later (for more about which, see the series of posts on his Artlog). We’re also lucky he’s such a great communicator, because as the naive quality of my couple of questions about his painting demonstrate, my general knowledge of art is woefully inadequate. Nevertheless, somehow this walking conversation with Clive has turned into one of my most satisfying podcasts to date, I think. Give a listen.

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

This entry is part 68 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

A change of linens, pillows plumped and
mattresses flipped over, spritz of mist

smelling of warm cloves and milk— then finally
I might fall asleep. Sometimes, deep in the night

it rains; and in the morning I find it hasn’t been
a dream. Tarot waiting to be read on a wet

driveway— random lilac, red maple; sharp
green spades that cradled gardenias: what

do they know of warnings and misfortune?
Leaf of the cherry, red heart, organ of fire:

I name you as if I could thread your bones;
I name you not knowing your mystery.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

This entry is part 67 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

Yellowing aerogramme passed from hand
to hand, creases striped with naphthalene dust,

salt-tang over sleepy villages— here’s
the broken line of hills, the sweep of coast

caught in a curl of cursive, shadowed
cul-de-sac of consonants bent at elbow

and knee. I’ll never know again the knotted
lace of curtains behind which we as children hid,

convinced the sounds behind the heavy doors
were the dead coming to claim our souls.

Here in a sunlit house not my own, I polish
the furniture and floor with oils smelling of fruit

until the heart of the wood is glossy
as an oriole’s song, and the rooms

where you come to me again
are a palace of leaves. Summer light,

thick as honey, pooling in squares at our feet:
we ask to be touched, before being taken.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.