the thing about erasure poetry is you don’t get a blank page to stare at
but if you keep looking ideas will emerge like deer trails in the woods, some petering out after a few dozen yards, others leading you to things you never would’ve seen otherwise
today’s raw material for erasure was short and relatively lacking in concrete imagery so my choices seemed few. interestingly for a process that might appear to be pretty far removed from anything confessional, it was only when I allowed myself to express some emotional honesty that it turned into something like a poem. or at least something good enough to blog
finished Charon’s Cosmology so it’s on to Simic’s next title with Braziller, Classic Ballroom Dances (1980)
this is one i don’t think i’ve read more than once before, and a long time ago at that—the least familiar of Simic’s early books. that’s what a difference it makes never to have owned it
on this current Simic binge i’m paying attention to how and how often he writes about the natural world. a lot of straightforward ecopoetry bores me after a while but the people mixing in surrealism often don’t appear to have much to say. when Simic writes specifically about nature he does appear very much to have seen or heard what he’s writing about, and there’s usually a point of view being expressed. and he uses language from natural history in poems that aren’t strictly speaking about nature, such as “Species” in Charon’s Cosmology — not prominently but it’s part of the mix
The bird who watches me
from the branch of an apple tree
A black bird
for whom a strange man
in the ruts of the road.
And among the willow trees:
before water made up its mind
to be water.
My sister says if I drink
of that water I will die . . .
That’s why the heart beats:
to waken the water.
Charles Simic, from Classic Ballroom Dances
i have strong feelings about the whole peaceable kingdom thing a purely colonialist ideal of a tamed and sanitized nature devoid of wildness but Simic’s deceptively simple poem exposes the violence and danger that always lurk just beyond the frame. and also the possibility…
the ending reminds me a bit of the way the legendary blues pianist Jimmy Yancey would always switch from whatever key he was in to B flat for the last few notes of a piece: less dissonance than wildness, an opening toward something other
i used to spend a lot more time in the woods after dark. but some time last summer i got tired of being snorted at by deer, squeaked at by weasels, chittered at by flying squirrels and once even run into by a fox (i think). the night creatures need time without what must be the incredible stress of having humans close by
so i still go for walks at night sometimes but i don’t sit out in the woods nearly as often after dark and mostly stick the porch
just as i finish that sentence the barred owl says who! as in who do you think you are
(which is slightly unfair because they are the friendliest of owls)
I don’t like to write about poetry i don’t like so i guess i won’t, other than to say that whether or not a book has been widely hyped seems to have little relation to whether i’ll end up liking it, except insofar as the hype is based mainly on what the poems say rather than how they say it. i don’t care if we align 100% ideologically, if your poetry is too didactic i will stop reading
such a serene experience taking a leak in the nearly full moonlight
Dear April your daffodils are as late as I’ve ever seen them
their yellow buds ease open like swimmers dipping a toe into the cold and the wet
I’m sitting on the ridgetop and as i wrote that last line two deer came up behind me caught my scent and bolted, bounding down the steep, rocky slope toward I-99
Dear April today is a moss and lichen day, the tree trunks dark with rain under heavy skies and the gray-green sleeves of their upper limbs
It’s almost axiomatic i think that any place where you have a close encounter with a charismatic creature becomes forever marked by your memory of its presence. approaching this stone seat where i had a brief staring contest with a coyote a month ago, i noticed a somewhat wolfish piece of old lichen-encrusted pine
earlier, standing in the kitchen i’d started humming that song “the bare necessities” from Disney’s original animation of the jungle book and a few lines of a new bear poem came to me:
as for the bare necessities Balu I am still looking
I have been unbearable to some but like you
I am a sluggard I go to the fancy ants
my tongue works far harder than my teeth
yeah I thought i’d just throw in a fun little riff on a Bible quote there because I have an imaginary audience of fellow KJV nerds. oh hell yeah
Dear April I read one poem in the course of half an hour sitting in the woods. is that good or bad? Charon’s Cosmology still
there aren’t too many poets so brilliant that a practiced reader can’t anticipate where a poem is going from one line to the next but Simic is one of them
there are natural landscapes like that, so full of surprise that even a practiced hiker can’t imagine what’s around the next bend. we call such places old growth if they’re forest
if we truly pay attention they confound every effort at an easy narrative
there’s nowhere i’m really going with this thought but feel free to expand upon it at your leisure
but there is a terrifying arbitrariness to our choice of narratives isn’t there
what does this mean in the age of the novel and the TV script that it might not have meant in the age of the ballad and the epic, i wonder. in slower times people might’ve had more time to think their own thoughts but history suggests that many if not most of those thoughts, especially where war was concerned, were utter dogshit
in a time of war we are reminded of the immense destructive power of official narratives, our propaganda more insidious than Russia’s because, at least in its liberal version, so few members of the professional/managerial class even recognize it as propaganda
and so we are being memed and emoted into a war that could end nearly all life on earth
Dear April there was a raccoon on my Mom’s back porch late this afternoon when i got back from my walk and at first we were excited because, you know, not really all that many raccoons up here
but then we noticed how skinny and how scroungy her fur and she seemed to have a limp no wait she’s staggering oh hell poor thing must be rabid
and our neighbor came over with a shotgun because all i have are rifles and a shotgun is the right tool for this grim but necessary job but the raccoon had disappeared probably under my house
Dear April i won’t lie: seeing that raccoon stagger felt like a haiku moment
poets are monsters
I don’t want to end on such a dark note so let me instead leave you with a haiku by a living master of the art, John Stevenson
this is from his 2004 collection with Red Moon Press quiet enough (one of the two books that came yesterday from bookshop.org)
leaves budding a little girl spinning in her dress
such a pure, perfect, timeless moment. with that is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-metaphor frisson I get so often with Buson
Dear April when I open my laptop this morning Poetry Daily which i have set as my home page has a poem by George Szirtes called Stag Beetle
beginning with a rhyming quatrain and switching into prose like an inside-out haibun but it works because whatever Szirtes writes tends to work because the man’s a genius and I say this based on years of reading his blog and social media posts — probably the most prominent poet I know to regularly share rough drafts online as Luisa and I do
I love love love poems that evoke the lives of other beings a la Francis Ponge who’s kind of the gold standard for that but there are many more and “Stag Beetle” is a great new addition to that corpus—
When propped up at 45 degrees it suggested a renaissance nightmare, the perfect rejection of humanism, but now, in my palm it simply sat like a philosophical problem.
I’ve met George socially a couple of times but it’s not surprising in a country as small as the UK that we have friends in common and let’s be honest sometimes the poetry scene in the US and Canada feels pretty small and familial as well
albeit a mafiosa family riven with rivalries some of them pretty bitter but the family will take care of you if you take care of it (and I don’t)
so I open my inbox and am happy to see that my friend Patricia aka PF Anderson is once again doing NaPoWriMo, kicking it off with a narrative poem about domestic violence and refugees called Imagine
I subscribe to Patricia’s blog Rosefire Rising for just that reason seeing her poems appear in my inbox every day in April I don’t do this for many poets but hers is a valuable voice of witness and the sort of poet all too often overlooked in our culture that tries to pigeonhole people: someone highly educated in the craft but employed in an unrelated field, who has to be extremely disciplined about setting aside time to write and rarely has any time left over to send work out
but at least there’s blogging
the next poem in my inbox is from another old blogger Risa Denenberg — Cul-de-sac at Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY also a narrative poem and beautifully done
one of the unique things about this periodical is the editor’s note at the end of each poem, just a sentence or two by Christine Klocek-Lim saying what she loves about it
Editor’s note: This poem lures the reader inside the narrative with calm imagery and the speaker’s quiet lawn rebellion until halfway through, when everything crystallizes into a sharp, piercing moment of clarity.
this is a feature I haven’t seen anywhere else but it gives the magazine such a down-home feel
and I admire how she embraces the informality of social media in her editorial style and how she recognizes the utility of blog software for releasing content DAILY
and her capitalization of DAILY suggests maybe a bit of frustration with other poetry editors who persist in releasing periodic content dumps because they can’t break themselves of a print-based scarcity mentality despite the fact that blog software has been with us for 20 years and every other sort of magazine understands how to release content in the digital age </rant>
two emails up it’s the latest daily offering from Rattle and this time I don’t know the poet one Jackie Bartley an evocation of a mother, with the sort of deep empathy one looks to poetry for
Rattle‘s thing is to include a short statement from the author instead of a bio at the end and I am all for this — it reflects an editorial focus on what would be of most interest to the reader rather than what serves the writer
so today Jackie Bartley writes
The hum of my mother’s Singer as the bobbin filled was as soothing as a Tantric chant, a single note resonating with and giving rise to layers of sound. I still relish that sensation: sound and sense in synchrony; word and idea unwound and rewound to form a poem, a compact and tightly layered version of story or state of mind.
my final poem of the morning before i head out for a hike is Luisa’s latest at Via Negativa which went up overnight: Binuro which I love because pickled foods fermenting in underground darkness is extremely my thing
the poem works as a lyrical definition of the title I think based on three minutes of web searching binuro
yesterday found me reading under an umbrella to protect the book from graupel
then i noticed what the poem was saying
i’m being cagey about the author because i ended up finding the poems not to my taste
it’s warmed up to where the flies can buzz and that’s important for two reasons:
there’s a lean and hungry-looking wolf spider prowling the leaves around my feet
i’m re-reading Charles Simic
and flies are to Simic as angels are to Blake
Simic at least in his early books is so full of genuine wisdom, one feels, even if the precise lessons may be hard to articulate
they’re quite like Sufi teaching stories in that regard
so they bear re-reading every few years which is why I’ve been filling in the missing titles in my collection, including this one, Charon’s Cosmology, his third with Braziller after Dismantling the Silence and Return to a Place Lit By a Glass of Milk (yes i’m reading them in order)
such ugly covers! such beautiful paper, binding and printing! truly a pleasure to open, in part so i no longer have to look at that ugly-ass cover
even though i’ve never owned this book i remember parts of nearly every poem
but which parts? maybe only the most obvious ones i think obsessively re-reading “The Elders”
which does begin “I go to great troubles” so perhaps I should
and then wouldn’t you know it I’m joined by another reader
In a country that now regards money as the highest good, doing something for the love of it is not just odd, but downright perverse. Imagine the horror and anger felt by parents of a son or daughter who was destined for the Harvard Business School and a career in finance but discovered an interest in poetry instead. Imagine their enticing descriptions of the future riches and power awaiting their child while trying to make him or her reconsider the decision. “Who has recognized you as a poet? Who has enrolled you in the ranks of poets?,” the trial judge shouted at the Russian poet Josef Brodsky, before sentencing him to five years of hard labor. “No one,” Brodsky replied. He could have been speaking for all the sons and daughters who had to face their parents’ wrath.
Dark ThingsNovica Tadić; BOA Editions, Ltd. 2009WorldCat•LibraryThing•Google Books•BookFinder
4012 A.D. An archaeologist from Alpha Centauri who specializes in the Late Anthropocene has uncovered a strange text. Dark Things, it’s called — the work of a Serbian poet and a Serbian-American translator. She knows little of the wars and genocides that convulsed Serbia in this period, and only fragments of 20th-century poetry have survived — mostly copies of A Coney Island of the Mind, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and Jewel Kilcher’s A Night Without Armor — so she is not sure how to classify the writings in this miraculously well-preserved text. But based on existing knowledge, she and her colleagues generate several competing theories about its origin and purpose:
1. It’s the collected sayings of a Zen or Sufi teacher. The combination of standard syntax, non-specialist language and recondite, gnomic or hermetic meanings strongly suggest utterances intended for an audience of initiates to some religious mystery. How else are we to understand lines such as:
Poor us, we are all kings
when we gaze at the starry sky.
The rabbit is in the pot, the broom is behind the door.
(“While You Count The Stars”)
Strangers came and took my sheepskin coat.
Now, what will I cover myself with? Only with prayers
and with the light, trembling wings of a moth.
Under his coat, next to his ribs,
the collected work of some classic would fit.
Without a friend or acquaintance,
alone like a bone in a soup plate…
2. These are clearly lyrics for an otherwise unknown death metal band named Novica Tadić, who had an old man as a mascot. Consider:
I’m a cross of human flesh
on which nothingness is crucified.
You are all-powerful, you are a giant.
No mother gave you birth.
Every street is too narrow for you.
You pull back your shadows, burn holes with your eyes.
Everyone gets out of your way.
(“You Are Mighty”)
We’ll drink each other’s blood
as we have always done
and won’t dream of it anymore.
(“Someone Whispered to Me in a Dream”)
Time races on, bearing you along
toward your last
3. It’s a reporter’s notebook from the global conflict between reason and irrationality, which eventually spawned the Endless War:
an ocean of hatred splashes over me every day
Dark things open my eyes,
raise my hand, knot my fingers.
They are close and far away,
in a safe hideaway
beyond nine hills.
Out of some old thing
(a hideous ruin of a building)
people peek outside
They slap their heads,
chatter, stick their tongues out
Twist their mouths
in every direction
(“Out of Some Old Thing”)
4. These are Wikileaked communiqués from the Serbian ambassador to an unnamed superpower, possibly Hades.
Tonight he shows me
his wire-glass-and-flower hairdo
Ah he unbuttons
his silk vest
ah, even so, he has a body—
and a gold watch
We don’t know what he did,
where he went, what he suffered.
He stares at us crossly,
answers to the name of Rat.
(“The Seventh Brother”)
He needs to be an infamous and marked man—
it makes no difference for what reason.
A bird started to sing
on a clear day
over the gallows
Wind lifted the ashes
and spread them
over other ashes
(“A Bird Started to Sing”)
is being woven
and cut to measure
5. This is a 20th-century version of a much older text, a lost gospel attributed to the risen Lazarus.
On a low chair, the book opened by itself.
A gust of air blew— it was the Lord’s breath.
May the earth be easy on him,
since it was only today that we noticed
he was alive.
(“About the Dead, Briefly”)
it’s not easy for the dead to carry water
oh black she-goats black goatherd
you need to put your life in order Lazarus
make it clean as death
oh you risen from the dead
(“Whisk Broom 50”)
I wandered everywhere
like a God’s fool.
Whatever I acquired—I lost.
what I gave life to—died.
Go into town and buy a spade
as if intending to turn over a garden.
Instead, find your humble place
in the village graveyard,
swing high and dig yourself a grave.
Set it up, decorate it, write on it.
Find your humble place
in a world gone mad.
6. Finally, and most convincingly of all, a scholar of 20th-century children’s literature suggested that this was a children’s book that had grown up and gone wrong, after an abusive childhood.
Again that dangerous confusion
of things and people.
I see an ashtray next to a dozing armchair
and say it’s a baby-ashtray.
In the pantry: bottles-maidens.
In the tavern I spoke with a human cash register.
covered with nets and shining scales
walks down the hallway
beating a drum full of mice
Old shoes in the rain
next to a dumpster
wait for the one who will pass this way
Carrying the shoes in his hand,
he’ll find my room and bed
and will lie down in it and then vanish
just as my dream about him comes to a close.
I found an empty cardboard box
and sat down in it
My mad old sweetie
will pass this way and buy me
(“In Front of a Supermarket”)
Hey, little marsh, reed, cattail and water lily.
flies flies the gray crow.
here, there, there’s no one in the rotted boat.
let’s set out for the open waters.
let’s turn and lie on our backs forever.
The nanopress is a single-publication, purpose-formed poetry press that brings together, on a one-time basis, an independent editor’s judgment and gravitas and a poet’s manuscript. The combination effectively by-passes both the poetry-contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by existing poetry presses, while still applying credible ‘quality control’ measures to the published work.
Giving up writing is easier than persistence because–surprise!–nobody much will mind if you give up. It’s not like giving up a job with a salary; there are few reproaches, and in fact many of your near-and-dear will heave great buffalo sighs and snort with relief. People will be glad to think that you may be a solvent person some day, rather than a struggling writer with the usual garret, heaps of foolscap, and bargain Toshiba laptop.
Finally, here are a couple of videos from Plummer’s Hollow that complement this past week’s podcast, “Creatures of the Night.” Thanks to our neighbors Troy and Paula for doing such a great job documenting the local wildlife with multiple trail cameras and sides of venison for bait.
It ends before it ends, “neither in the title nor in the poem,” and I feel sorry for flames that started out as feathers. A sparrow darts into the cedar tree and doesn’t come out — I’m watching — and the tree twitches all over like someone with a bad case of scruples. Novica Tadić looks a Trojan horse in the mouth and finds a comb.
There are many ways to descend and this poet knows all of them. He goes down to the salt cellar and finds the unknown soldier’s unknown uniform, maybe. And he would try it on, and listen to the martial music, and pledge fidelity with the tip of someone else’s tongue. Yesterday, my mother watched a large, dark milk snake mating with two small garter snakes, and refused for a while to believe in what she had seen: out of such refusals is this kind of poetry made.
The cast of characters includes something monstrous on every other page — most often a chicken, or “the life-giving zero.” Musical accompaniment is provided by “a drum full of mice” and “a giggle made up of the screams of the dying” — that kind of thing. The poet disappears into the set.
At this point in my reading (p. 51, “Nightingale”), a log cock alights on the side of a nearby birch, crest bright as a stop light, and starts whaling away with his deconstructionist’s hammer and nail. Someone opens the night curtains and discovers that the streets are filled with marchers: all the city’s cats have gone on strike. “Our Jesus” is “a pincushion,” a hairdresser campaigns for God’s empty seat, and an anti-psalmist prays for the ridicule of his enemies. Against the white of the page I can make out the blur of a hair on the end of my nose, that almost-invisible flesh-colored companion of all my reading.
It’s Holy Saturday, which means (among other things) that we have silence from the quarry over the hill. The poet says “now” and it sounds like an imperative to me, he says to bring a chair outside and I get the feeling I’m being watched, which of course I am: everything watches everything else, as Tadić says on a page I’ve already lost track of. “From the penetentiary quarry/ the song of songs reaches us,” he writes. (Or Charles Simic does, at any rate.) It’s all there in black and white — the magpie, I mean. Page 90. You can’t miss it.
(Click on the thumbnail to go to the book’s page in Open Library.)
The woods were full of question marks, Mom says at dinner. They’re migrating north. I am suddenly sorry I didn’t go for a walk in the woods. Instead, I spent an hour in the bottom corner of the field, crouched beside the artifically enlarged spring we call a pond, waiting in vain for the wood frogs to resume the chorus I’d interrupted when I had to change my camera batteries. After forty minutes, a single frog re-emerged; at least six had been quacking and fighting when I first got there. Even though I was watching the pond intently for the slightest sign of movement, the frog just suddenly materialized like some kind of amphibian ninja, floating motionless on the surface with a small lump of mud for a hat. He drifted back and forth in the breeze, not moving a muscle. Watching him watch me — this creature that can freeze solid for weeks or months at a time, his heart stopped — I too began slipping into a trance. I was reminded of Charles Simic’s “Stone Inside a Stone,”
On the border of nothing and nothing.
Fossils of the wind.
But what wind?
You can’t step twice in the same river —
With a stone you can take your sweet time.
The sun was sinking, and the temperature was dropping back down into the 40s. My fingers grew numb around the camera. I caught sight of the red-spotted newt that has been living in this spring for the past few years, feasting on frogs’ eggs and tadpoles and reducing the once-teeming wood frog population to a half-dozen long-lived survivors. The newt glided insouciantly along the bottom, and I couldn’t help wondering if this was the real “lizard in the spring” in the old Appalachian folksong.
Later, when Mom hears that the wood frogs had been out, she says she’s sorry she went for a walk in the woods instead. It seems we each took the other’s walk! But on the way back up the driveway to fix supper, I paused to admire a clump of newly opened coltsfoot at the edge of the driveway, small suns in a firmament of blue-gray stone.