Category Archives: poetry

May/June Books

Like a lonesome cowboy and a wanderin’ hobo, I will soon be taking my leave of this humble island – for a month, that is. I survived Game of Thrones, I survived the semester, I survived many big editing projects. A childhood friend from Colombia came to visit, as did my sister (her first visit to the UK in thirteen years! As my uncle observed, Granny was only 89 then, as opposed to 102.) And now it is time for the wind to blow the empty husk of my body away *praying hands emoji* For twenty-six days, I shall be like a free man in Paris, unfettered and alive, nobody calling me up for favours and nobody’s future to decide. Blessed be. I don’t know how many more times in my life I’ll be able to take off like this so I’m going to enjoy and appreciate the hell out of it!

What, pray then, did I read over the past month and a half?

Sci-Fi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read two sci-fi books, The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresán and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (the sequel to Ancillary Justice, which I read earlier this year). Bottom of the Sky is the more ‘literary’ of the two, a homage to Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, in terms of content and style. I very much enjoy Fresán’s raw energy and enthusiasm, even though I found the main plot (a love story between two guys and a girl) kinda babyish.

Ancillary Sword I arguably enjoyed more. Much has been made out of Leckie’s “experimental” narration, in which gender isn’t specified; everyone is narrated as ‘she.’ This… isn’t that weird? I mean, come ON.

I like the central concept of the trilogy very much – it’s basically narrated from the point of view of an A.I., the central intelligence of an Iain Banks-esque spaceship, who becomes trapped in single human body (to put it very simply). I like the strangeness of Leckie’s narration a lot; she’s definitely created a world that feels very “other” – characters never nod or shake their heads, for example, they always gesture. And I like how Leckie is always specific about what language they’re speaking, what terms do and don’t translate. The themes of Rome-esque empire expansion and colonialism are also very cool, even if a bit heavy-handed at time. So yeah, I would recommend this one, with the caveat that I sometimes find it hard to understand what’s happening on the page – not because of the narration, but because I find myself craving just a bit more BASIC KNOWLEDGE about how things in this world ACTUALLY WORK. Like – how is the narrator able to communicate/watch the other soldiers on the ship, for example, when she’s no longer an A.I.? In this case, it’s like I basically just had to arbitrarily tell myself “okay, I guess this is a rule in this world, she can still watch her soldiers even though she’s no longer an A.I.” without having any idea of the LOGISTICS behind this. Like, can all captains of all ships do this, or just her, because of her A.I. nature? I WANT TO KNOW.

Anyway, I look forward to finishing the trilogy.

Books by people I vaguely know/am connected to

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UGH, sometimes I suffer from a terrible ennui of trying to stay ON TOP OF MY READING, especially of books by people I know/am vaguely connected to/want to support, and sometimes it causes me TERRIBLE GUILT. Does anyone else ever feel that way??? There must be a word in Japanese or Icelandic that describes it. But I am not perfect; I am only human.

In any case, I was able to read Your Fault by Andrew Cowan, Mothers by Chris Powers, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal and Stranger, Baby by Emily Berry. Your Fault is written by my former teacher, the first person who ever made me feel truly validated as a writer, like I was someone who had something worth saying, AND FOR THAT I WILL BE ETERNALLY GRATEFUL. So it pleases me to say that Your Fault is genuinely a deeply interesting and provocative book: narrated in the second person, with the narrator looking back on his life in 1960’s England, it’s an examination of masculinity, judgement, and shame.

Chris Powers and I share the same publisher, and his debut book Mothers a very strong collection of stories, with recurrent themes of travel and escape. The story set at the wedding in Mexico, in which a guy’s on-and-off secret lover is now the groom, was probably my favourite (who doesn’t love a hot illicit shame-inducing make-out session in the dark, amirite?).  The Doll Factory is a historical thriller set in Victorian England and while historical fiction is not my thing (with the exception of Hilary Mantel), I REALLY enjoyed reading this; it was the perfect book to read during marking season, when I needed something relaxing and enjoyable to wind down with in the evening. It’s dark and Dickens-esque and has a good plot. And Stranger Baby was a poetry collection by one of my favourite poets, Emily Berry, an alumni from the same university as me, and was just as strong and memorable as I expected it to be (my favourite was this poem, which closes the collection).

Other books I read

Okay, now onto the “juicy” stuff. Lord of all the Dead by Javier Cercas was purchased by me (along with three other books – SO MUCH FOR MY BOOK BUYING BAN!!!) at a European-themed literature event, at which Cercas was in attendance. During the talk he spoke about his interest in writing about what truth means – what we want to hear versus what we want to tell, what should be written vs what needs to be written (yes, I took notes on my phone while he was talking – I am OBSESSED with this man, let me tell you. OBSESSED). He talked about how a common theme in his fiction is how to deal with the inheritance of the civil war, and if Soldados de salamis was a vindication of the best past of the country, then this book, Lord of all the Dead, is the acknowledgement of its  worst. The book is about his mother’s cousin, a teenager who joined the Fasicsts at seventeen and died two years later in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. So basically, there’d always been this awkward shadow cast over Cercas’ youth – the fact that the family “hero” had been fighting for the “wrong” side, and had arguably died a pointless death. Can you be noble and pure and still fight for a mistaken cause? How can decent men be drawn to fascism? At the talk, Cercas said, (paraphrased from my notes):

“It’s quite easy to know what to do with the ‘good’ past. But what do we do with the bad past? Conceal it? Invent it? I thought when I was young, I could not deal with it – this family member who was a heroe in famly lore, a young man who went to war to save our family. We are our heritage. I am my family. I am my country. Know it. Acknowledge the complexity. Understand it. To understand is not to justify. To understand is the contrary – it gives you the instruments to not make the same mistakes. If you know your inheritance, you can understand it; you can control it. If not, it controls you and you repeat the same mistake. I write not to be written. I became a writer to avoid becoming the things that wanted to confine me.”

SO INTERESTING, no? The other aspect of the book I found super fascinating was its discussion of heroism. The title comes from the Odyssey, from a part in which Ulysses confronts Achilles in the underworld with Hades. Achilles is described as the perfect man, the ideal hero: someone who gave his life for a bigger cause, and died a “perfect death.” As the Greeks didn’t believe in heaven, Achilles would live on in the equivalent, in everyone’s memory: as man who did what should be done. Ulysses, on the other hand, is a man who grows old – the opposite of Achilles. And so we have two competing viewpoints of masculinity, of what it means to live a “good” life. And in the confrontation with Ulysses in the underworld, Achilles acknowleges that he has made a mistake: I would rather be humble and alive as opposed to lord of all the dead.

Powerful, fascinating stuff. Definitely my favourite book of this reading period.

The Lighthouse by Allison Moore and Nocturnes by the always reliable Kazuo Ishiguro were also two very strong reads. The Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012 and published by the always reliable Salt Publishers (ugh, that’s another reading list I can never stay on top of – supporting the indies. THERE ARE TOO MANY BOOKS IN THE WORLD! TOO MANY! I CAN’T HANDLE THEM ALL!!!). Ahem. Anyway, Lighthouse was a strong read and I think I’m quickly becoming a big fan of Moore’s readable, understated style. The Lighthouse is a very ‘simple’ story on the surface level – the story of a man on a walking holiday in Germany – but it feels like there’s a lot more going on underneath – a terrible sense of dread and tension, an obsession with smells (the narrator’s job is manufacturing artificial scents), flashbacks of a weird quasi-incestuous relationship with the neighbour who becomes his stepmother. I think Moore is going to warrant a PhD thesis overview of her work one day.

I only just finished Nocturnes yesterday, in this weird period where I don’t want to start a book that I’m not going to be able to finish before I leave. I’d never read short fiction by Ishiguro before (are these the only short stories he’s ever attempted?) but I unsurprisingly really enjoyed this. There some very strong stories here, especially the third one, “The Malvern Hills.” I was surprised by the amount of SLAPSTICK and COMEDY in some of these stories (especially the second one) – who would have thought Ishiguro had it in him!!

I liked how most of the stories felt like metaphors for writing – in fact, I’m CONVINCED that’s what they are. The title story, ‘Nocturne,’ about a sax player who gets plastic surgery because his ex-wife thinks that’s what will make him successful, has a lot of interesting bits about what true talent is – what it means to be successful. And the last story, “Cellist,” about a self-professed “virtuoso” cell player who’s actually never touched a cello in their life, was also really powerful – Bolaño-esque in its considerations of what it means to be a “true” artist. The last paragraph, in which we glimpse someone in the future, bitter and twisted, is really affecting. And I like the Gatsby-esque position from which the story is narrated – by a band member who seems to find contentment and enjoyment in his art, even though he’s not super famous or “successful” in a way that mainstream capitalist society would recognise.

So overall, a truly enjoyable collection. I love that Ishiguro’s stories have such heart in them, and that he’s so obsessed with themes like regret and “the life not lived.”

Now I just need to decide what books I’m bringing with me in my suitcase… I might be REALLY strict and restrain myself to my Kindle, and The Makioka Sisters, and maybe one other ‘big’ book I can read on the plane…

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Filed under books, contemporary, non-fiction, poetry, review, short stories

Random poems for a tough week

What a tough week for women! I donated to RAINN. And I read a lot of poetry online, which I hadn’t done in a while. Here are some I found that I liked:

A Whole New Poetry Beginning Here
(Adrienne Rich)

This is what I am: watching the spider
rebuild — “patiently”, they say,

but I recognise in her
impatience–my own–

the passion to make and make again
where such unmaking reigns

 

Everything is Everything
(Gabrielle Bates)

Things seem to come naturally to people
that don’t come naturally to me.
At fifteen I knew how to be a parent
but not a sibling. My mirror neurons
are so overactive, I move my lips
when Homer & Marge kiss.
To speak even gibberish after sex
is to ruin something. This morning I forgot
to write my daily affirmation 15 times.
Now I’ll never destroy white supremacy.
Alexa, play Blessings by Chance the Rapper.
Alexa, is it raining? If you’re recording this
please tell the 45th president I wish he’d die.
Tell anyone who will listen. My exile outfit
is already in a pile, gray on the gray floor.
I zipper it off in bed & step out naked.
When I open the fridge, its cold gust
hits my skin; I open too & it leaves me.
Cleanliness is close to godliness & I
am the opposite of both. My husband left
a single egg with a note. I’m sorry, darling.
A track meet happened yesterday.
Good luck, brother. Outside the rain pauses,
sunlight hits the TV in a quick gash,
& I kiss the egg. We could all be kinder.

 

MORNING EN ROUTE TO THE HOSPITAL
(Maggie Nelson)

Snow wafts off the little lake
along Route 66, momentarily encasing the car

in a trance of glitter

Live with your puny, vulnerable self
Live with her

 

SOUP IS ONE FORM OF SALT WATER
(Heather Christie)

I am making borscht   please do not laugh at me

I seem to have ruined my soul           the quality of

television programming grows stronger all the time

soon we will live in the ocean             we will all return

to the ocean    my hands are bright pink        like I

have been applauding you for hours              my love for

you is louder than I know       I saw a show last night

there were four thousand brides left in Iceland        I

was laughing   but it was not funny    the brides

looked embarrassed   and cold          I must not wash

anywhere but a tidepool        I must use a starfish to

scrub at my hands      I am writing this to say           I am

not leaving you forever           I am going to get better

and then I’ll come home

 

Sorrow Is Not My Name
(Ross Gay)

–after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbour sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

–for Walter Aitkens

 

Break Up
(Jody Porter)

State, you have been reckless with my heart
and these endings hurt. I cannot trust again
your wheedling face and pillow talk.

What about those honey days?
Those tended gardens and bread for all?
State, I feel like a fool.

I trusted you and you sold my walking shoes
to someone who only taxis.
So thanks.

State, I’ve killed the children we would’ve had together
and buried them with my passport.
Don’t call.

 

As I believe I’ve stated before, I’ve been reading The Magic Mountain with an online book group. Here’s a tangential rant I went on in the email discussion:

This is a bit of a tangent, but something that’s really been helping me get through this week and all the horrible, awful news coming from the U.S. about the treatment of women, is the idea of using CARING as an antidote to VIOLENCE and HORRIBLE THINGS IN THE WORLD. I was really affected by how women everywhere were just SO UPSET by the Senate hearings, but in a way it also made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one – feeling connected to others, like I’m not alone, is a really helpful way to fight depression for me (my meditation app also encourages this!). My favourite Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari says the same thing, that the role of “caring” needs to be more emphasised in society (rather than, say, making money or growing businesses) – and what with A.I.s taking over jobs, we need to turn a switch in our brains and rethink what we see as “valuable work” – namely, raising children! Should be paid! BECAUSE IT IS WORK! But love is such a weird thing in contrast to work, because you can give out an infinite amount of it, something capitalism would find very confusing.

Ugh, fuck last week. Stay well, friends.

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Filed under poetry

Goodbye May

Personalia (Mary Ruefle)

When I was young, a fortune-teller told me that an old
woman who wanted to die had accidentally become
lodged in my body. Slowly, over time, and taking great
care in following esoteric instructions, including laven-
der baths and the ritual burial of keys in the backyard, I
rid myself of her presence. Now I am an old woman who
wants to die and lodged inside me is a young woman dy-
ing to live. I work on her.

The Kookaburras (Mary Oliver)

In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to stride out of a cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, pressed against the edge of their cage,
asked me to open the door.
Years later I remember how I didn’t do it,
how instead I walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn’t want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.

Poem for Right Now (Catherine Pierce)

In protest I say the word iridescent.
In protest I say the word vesper.
In protest I say that I am in love
with this day, this exact day, this rain
on the thousands of dead leaves
in my backyard and the mourning dove
and the faint growl of the garbage truck
a few blocks over. I am in love with it.
In fucking love. It’s true that now
a mushroom cloud billows behind my eyes
all day. It’s true I fall asleep drafting letters
in my new language of pitchforks.
I know the chopping block is vast. I know
it has room and stomach for everything.
But my tongue and my head are mine.
So in protest I say the word liquefy.
In protest I say the word gloaming.
In protest I will remember how once
my friend and I walked through an alley
in a strange city, and my friend wore
a paper dragon in her hair, and the city
was five o’clock gold all around us.
In protest I say the word dragon.
There are days I’ve carried like candles
to light the rest of my life, and I will not
let the new days snuff them out, though
the new days are trying. Watch me hold
a decade-ago snow night, moon-bright
and silent, right next to my hammering rage.
Watch me house halcyon next to protocol,
lagoon next to constituent. I am trying
to become a contradiction machine.
I am poorly oiled, but every day I creak
awake again. The rain is heavy now
against my screened-in porch,
and the gutter that years ago my husband
patched with duct tape is still holding.
At this point, repaired is more accurate
than patched. It’s still holding, and in protest
I marvel over that. In protest I marvel.
In protest I say incandescent, liminal, charcuterie,
embrace. I think acquiescence is a beautiful word,
too, but in protest I put it away. There are
other beautiful words. Like lunar. Like
resistance. Like love, like fucking love.

“You’re just looking for a way not to be alone,” I told him. But Saul said, “There is no way not to be alone.”

Anne Tyler, Earthly Possessions

“People without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.”

Flannery O’Connor, in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” from Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (FSG, 1969)

“Reconnecting to art and to writing helps me believe in the goodness of other people. When I prove to myself that I can be empathetic and interested, I become less isolated in the present and far less afraid of the future.”

Stephanie Powell Watts in this week’s Writers Recommend (Poets & Writers, 2017)

“Working hard and faithfully on what you love will pay off and bring quality to your life. Sitting and writing, even on the awful days, is just a glorious thing to be able to do.”

Ralph E. Rodriguez, in Laura Maylene Walter’s “Tell Me I’m Good: The Writer’s Quest for Reassurance” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2017)

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Quotes for January

“Writing requires the concentration of the writer, demands that nothing else be done except that.”Carlos Fuentes

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Maeve Brennan’s advice to writer Tillie Olsen (as seen on Twitter)

“Surviving Love”
Linda Gregg

I work hard at managing, grateful
and spare. I try to forgive all trespasses
and give thanks for the desert. Rejoice
in being alive here in my simple world.
Each evening I walk for an hour, paying
attention to real things. The plover
sweeping at my face to get me away from
its ground nest. An ant carrying the wing
of a butterfly like a flag in the wind.
A grasshopper eating a dead grasshopper.
The antelope close up, just staring at me.
Back in the house, I lie down in the heat
for a nap, realizing forgiveness is hard
for the wounded. Near the border,
between this country and the next one.

“El amor nunca trae nada bueno. El amor siempre trae algo mejor.” —Bolaño, Amuleto

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I often wondered: is it some kind of trade-off? Do others have to lose so we can win? —Zadie Smith, Swing Time (a beautiful, brilliant, compassionate & open-hearted novel… best Zadie Smith I’ve read yet)

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Filed under poetry, quotes

Cheltenham & UK Proof cover

I have been very busy with edits recently (both for the collection and the dissertation) and have thus sadly had less time to read for pleasure than I would like. Hopefully this will change soon. However, I did go to Cheltenham last week for the literature festival, as part of Faber’s proof party. This was my first festival-type reading in support of The Lucky Ones. I’d done a similar reading before, in support of my pamphlet The Tourists at the Daunt Books festival a few years ago, which was good preparation for an introvert like me. I was on a panel with Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat and the upcoming The Doll Funeral, who was so kind and full of advice about Everything. Her partner gave my traveling companion a business card for his mole-killing company–how cool is that? How does one get into mole-killing? #FutureGoals

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UK proof cover! The final one won’t look like this, but I’m really digging the red.

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Onstage on Cheltenham. My mother’s childhood best friend lives nearby and was able to attend, so thankfully there was a familiar face in the audience. It was also amazing getting to meet tons of other people who are obsessed with reading.

I obviously have a lot of Thoughts and Feelings about having finished the book (to put it mildly), but I guess all there is to say is that I worked on it as hard as I could, it feels very personal to me, and I’m glad I’m working on the next one.

I look forward to posting more book reviews soon…! For now, here’s another poem by the great Mary Ruefle that I read recently:

White Buttons

Having been blown away
by a book
I am in the gutter
at the end of the street
in little pieces
like the alphabet
(mother do not worry
letters are not flesh
though there’s meaning in them
but not when they are mean
my letters to you were mean
I found them after you died
and read them and tore them up
and fed them to the wind
thank you for intruding
I love you now leave)
Also at the end of the street
there is a magnolia tree
the white kind
that tatters
after it blooms
so the tree winds up
in the street
Our naked shivering bodies
must be at some distance
missing us come back
come back they cry
come home
put down that book
whenever you read
you drift away on a raft
you like your parrot
more than you like me
and stuff like that
(dear father
you always were a bore
but I loved you more
than interesting things
and in your honor
I’ve felt the same about myself
and everyone I’ve ever met)
I like to read in tree houses
whenever I can which is seldom
and sometimes never
The book that blew me away
held all the problems
of the world
and those of being alive
under my nose
but I felt far away from them
at the same time
reading is like that
(I am sorry I did not
go to your funeral
but like you said
on the phone
an insect cannot crawl
to China)
Here at the end of the street
the insects go on living
under the dome
of the pacific sky
If Mary and Joseph
had walked the sixty miles
to Bethlehem vertically
they would have found
themselves floating
in the outer pitch of space
it would have been cold
no inns
a long night
in the dark endless
and when they began to cry
the whole world would think
something had just been born
I like to read into things
as I am continually borne forward
in time by the winds like the snow
(dear sister
you were perfect in every way
like a baby
please tell brother
the only reason
we never spoke
was out of our great love
for each other
which made a big wind
that blew us apart)
I think I am coming back
I feel shoulders
where a parrot could land
though a tree would be
as good a place as any
You cannot teach a tree to talk
Trees can say it is spring
but not though bright sunlight
can also be very sad
have you noticed?

 

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Filed under events, poetry, The Lucky Ones, update, writing

A few poems

Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Maggie Smith

***********************************************************

Station Island – XII (excerpt)

and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick, saying, ‘Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike  your note.’

Seamus Heany

***********************************************************

And It Came To Pass

This june 3
would be different

Time to draw lines

I’ve grown into the family pores
and the bronchitis

Even up east
I get by saying goddamnit

Who was that masked man
I left for dead
in the shadow of mt. shadow

Who crumbles there

Not touching anything
but satin and dandelions

Not laid his eyes
on the likes of you

Because the unconnected life
is not worth living

Thorntrees overtake the spot

Hands appear to push back pain

Because no poet’s death

Can be the sole author
of another poet’s life

What will my new instrument be

Just this water glass
this untunable spoon

Something else is out there
goddamnit

And I want to hear it

C.D. Wright

***********************************************************

Isn’t there something

Isn’t there something in me
like the dogs I’ve heard at home
who bark all night from hunger? Something
in me like trains leaving,

isn’t there something in me
like a gun? I wanted to be
loud squirrels, around the trees’ feet,
bees, coming back & back

to the wooden porch,
wanting something–and wooden planks,
wanting something. To go back into
a tree?

Jean Valentine

***********************************************************

Are all the things

Are all the things that never happened, OK?
–The wide river at dawn, the hippo’s lifted face
–The slow, violet curtains of Antarctica light
(Hide you under the shadow of their wings)

And all the things that came–
The awful, and then love on earth, OK?
my own friend?          where you are?

Jean Valentine

***********************************************************

Lo Fatal

Dichoso el árbol, que es apenas sensitivo,
y más la piedra dura porque ésa ya no siente,
pues no hay dolor más grande que el dolor de ser vivo
ni mayor pesadumbre que la vida consciente.
Ser, y no saber nada, y ser sin rumbo cierto,
y el temor de haber sido y un futuro terror…
¡Y el espanto seguro de estar mañana muerto,
y sufrir por la vida y por la sombra y porlo que no conocemos y apenas sospechamos,
y la carne que tienta con sus frescos racimos,
y la tumba que aguarda con sus fúnebres ramos
y no saber adónde vamos,
ni de dónde venimos!…

Ruben Dario

***********************************************************
My Life Was the Size of My Life

My life was the size of my life.
Its rooms were room-sized,
its soul was the size of a soul.
In its background, mitochondria hummed,
above it sun, clouds, snow,
the transit of stars and planets.
It rode elevators, bullet trains,
various airplanes, a donkey.
It wore socks, shirts, its own ears and nose.
It ate, it slept, it opened
and closed its hands, its windows.
Others, I know, had lives larger.
Others, I know, had lives shorter.
The depth of lives, too, is different.
There were times my life and I made jokes together.
There were times we made bread.
Once, I grew moody and distant.
I told my life I would like some time,
I would like to try seeing others.
In a week, my empty suitcase and I returned.
I was hungry, then, and my life,
my life, too, was hungry, we could not keep
our hands off our clothes on
our tongues from

Jane Hirshfield

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return to spain

Just like three years ago I went to Spain, the south this time, I lost my passport for the second time in seven months, I miraculously found it, my friends are the most amazing people ever, I ate bread every day, I read The Beast by Óscar Martínez and My Struggle 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard (both amazing, excellent, I will review them soon), I came back to England, I’m working on my edits, I’m working on my PhD, I have a few weeks left of teaching and marking before summer, I still work in the library but no longer in the outreach office, I have a part-time gig marking papers online for extra cash, I told my landlord I would stay in this house for one my year, my cat got into a fight and had to wear a cone for ages but has now recovered, I went hiking in Thetford Forest, it was extremely sunny today, I am ready and waiting for summer, summer, summer, summer!

(Here are some photos, and two poems:)

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To My Twenties (Kenneth Koch)

How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman–
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another–and water!
I’m still very impressed by you. Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone? Oh in what lucky fellow,
Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend
X—- N—-, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living. I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren’t a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

Oath to my former life (Bob Hicok)
It used to be enough to be bigger
in soul by any means,
whether climbing the water tower
drunk or coked or driving
to the frozen lake on mushrooms
to throw up as the ice breathed my skin in and out.
I can offer no more literal
description of pilgrimage
than seven black pills
and holding my hand
over fire when pain
as the extent of the world was perfect clarity.
If not my overturned dog
moaning at the wanderings
of my fingers across her teats
and just a beer shared with my wife
as two girls across the street
in t-shirts etch their thoughts
with sparklers into the air
is the life I want of all
possible miracles, I promise
to remember how to roll a joint
while steering with my thighs.
How to stand in one corner
of a room while looking at myself
waving back at me. How to have
a mouth but no brain, to sell oregano
to men with guns, to fall asleep
in the middle of a room
like babies do, with my ass
in the air and face on the floor,
to wake in this posture
with sunlight washing my skin
and go out for coffee and a slower
life. How to say yes like a river
jumping off a cliff.

 

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Some poems; one quote

Body, Remember

Body, remember that night you pretended
it was a film, you had a soundtrack running
through your head, don’t lie to me body,
you know what it is. You’re keeping it from me,
the stretched white sheets of a bed,
the spinning round of it, the high whining sound
in the head. Body, you remember how it felt,
surely, surely. You’re lying to me. Show me
how to recognise the glint in the eye of the dog,
the rabid dog. Remind me, O body, of the way
he moved when he drank, that dangerous silence.
Let me feel how I let my eyes drop, birds falling
from a sky, how my heart was a field, and there
was a dog, loose in the field, it was worrying
the sheep, they were running and then
they were still. O body, let me remember
what it was to have a field in my chest,
O body, let me recognise the dog.

                                              Kim Moore (amazing poet + reader!)

*

Song

I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab
which is typical
and not just of modern life

mud clambers up the trellis of my nerves
must lovers of Eros end up with Venus
muss es sein? es muss nicht sein, I tell you

how I hate disease, it’s like worrying
that comes true
and it simply must not be able to happen

in a world where you are possible
my love
nothing can go wrong for us, tell me

Frank O’Hara

*

My Young Son Asks Me

My young son asks me: Should I learn mathematics?
What for, I’m inclined to say. That two bits of bread are more than one
You’ll notice anyway

My young son asks me: Should I learn French?
What for, I’m inclined to say. That empire is going under.
Just rub your hand across your belly and groan
And you’ll be understood all right.

My young son asks me: Should I learn history?
What for, I’m inclined to say. Learn to stick your head in the ground
Then maybe you’ll come through.

Yes, learn mathematics, I tell him
Learn French, learn history!

Bertold Brecht

*

The Sensual World [excerpt]

I was not prepared: sunset, end of summer. Demonstrations
of time as a continuum, as something coming to an end,
not a suspension; the senses wouldn’t protect me.
I caution you as I was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

Your body will age, you will continue to need.
You will want the earth, then more of the earth—

Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
It is encompassing, it will not minister.

Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,
it will not keep you alive

Louise Glück

*

Le Livre de Ma Vie

I love you.
But who is the I
and who is the you?

Mr. Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head

Please accept the pressing in
of your eyes.

Here are your glasses.
A book for the evening.

In the book a person
is smiling at you.

Smiling and smiling
like a mother over a baby.

Remove the pipe from your mouth
and smile.

Help me behave,
weeping in the dark earth.

Mary Ruefle

*

Terrible Deer

I am in a hospital bed when I feel an overwhelming pain in my stomach. I am sure I am going to die if I don’t get any help. Nurse! Nurse! I yell, but no nurse comes. There are no signs of any nurses. There are no signs of any other patients. There are no signs that electricity has been invented. There is no glass in the windows. I get up from the bed and walk slowly out into the corridor. Some papers are swept up in a breeze across the floor. Someone please help me! My water broke! My pleas echo in the corridor and then it finally happens. The terrible deer that has been clawing and biting at my insides for years crashes out of me and spills onto the tiles. It then quickly leaps into the night through the window. I can hear it dash through the bushes. I can hear it splash into the ocean. I can hear it tear at the air in the sky. It is the world’s problem now.

Zachary Schomburg

*

“From my mother: grace under pressure; the uses of mystery; how to get what I want. From my father: how to disappear, how to not exist.

I was born free, I’ve had the time of my life and for all we know I’m going to live forever.”

Ali Smith, The Accidental

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Optimistic poems :)

Letter to Kizer from Seattle

(Richardo Hugo)

Dear Condor: Much thanks for that telephonic support
from North Carolina when I suddenly went ape
in the Iowa tulips. Lord, but I’m ashamed.
I was afraid, it seemed, according to the doctor
of impending success, winning some poetry prizes
or getting a wet kiss. The more popular I got,
the softer the soft cry in my head: Don’t believe them.
You were never good. Then I broke and proved it.
Ten successive days I alienated women
I liked best. I told a coed why her poems were bad
(they weren’t) and didn’t understand a word I said.
Really warped. The phrase “I’ll be all right”
came out too many unsolicited times. I’m o.k. now.
I’m back at the primal source of poems: wind, sea
and rain, the market and the salmon. Speaking
of the market, they’re having a vital election here.
Save the market? Tear it down? The forces of evil
maintain they’re trying to save it too, obscuring,
of course, the issue. The forces of righteousness,
me and my friends, are praying for a storm, one
of those grim dark rolling southwest downpours
that will leave the electorate sane. I’m the last poet
to teach the Roethke chair under Heilman.
He’s retiring after 23 years. Most of the old gang
is gone. Sol Katz is aging. Who isn’t? It’s close now
to the end of summer and would you believe it
I’ve ignored the Blue Moon. I did go to White Center,
you know, my home town, and the people there,
many are the same, but also aging, balking, remarkably
polite and calm. A man whose name escapes me
said he thinks he had known me, the boy who went alone
to Longfellow Creek and who laughed and cried
for no reason. The city is huge, maybe three quarters
of a million and lots of crime. They are indicting
the former chief of police. Sorry to be so rambling.
I eat lunch with J. Hillis Miller, brilliant and nice
as they come, in the faculty club, overlooking the lake,
much of it now filled in. And I tour old haunts,
been twice to Kapowsin. One trout. One perch. One poem.
Take care, oh wisest of condors. Love. Dick. Thanks again.

My Literary Career

(Bolaño)

Rejections from Anagrama, Grijalbo, Planeta, certainly also
                  from Alfaguara,
Mondadori. A no from Muchnik, Seix Barral, Destino… All
                  the publishers… All the readers
All the sales managers…
Under the bridge, while it rains, a golden opportunity
to take a look at myself:
like a snake in the North Pole, but writing.
Writing poetry in the land of idiots.
Writing with my son on my knee.
Writing until night falls
with the thunder of a thousand demons.
The demons who will carry me to hell,
but writing.

October 1990

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Amazing Emily Kendal Frey quotes

I know nothing about poetry. Virtually nothing. But I do know is that this collection spoke to me on a deeply personal level, and I enjoyed reading it very much. How did it do this? And why? How does poetry do anything? Why do I like some poets and not others? What must a poem have in order for it to “speak” to me? Is it simply that I prefer contemporary poems that express relatable ideas in straightforward language?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. What I do know is that I thought these poems were amazing.

I also know that I saw Jurassic World recently. It was an escapist film and “entertaining” enough. It also made me deeply uncomfortable. Like it was espousing the very things it was pretending to make fun of (like corporate advertising, or a deadening Infinite Jest-like drive for more-more-MOAARRR entertainment). God!! What a world we live in. Anyway. Jurassic World made me think of the deadening, flat language in these poems (how’s that for a connection?). As though that’s the only appropriate way to express these contemporary themes of technology + alienation.

Other themes and/or reoccurring imagery in this collection: the Greeks. Birds eating each other. The Journey of Natty Gann. Deadening, numb, flat, affectless style; peculiar dark humor.

Lines I underlined:

  • “I want to cut up photos of flags / Send a stripe to you.”

  • “The cheapest thing to do in winter is get a disease.”

  • “You sit on a log / What’s sadder than a car / At the beach / A car parked.”

  • “I got so sad I remembered being high in high school / How we pretended to be mummies, arms by our sides / Or chiefs of forgotten villages”

  • “The industrial revolution killed a lot of people”

  • “I wish you didn’t have so many small people on your face”

  • “White people who think feelings are interesting”

  • “What’s this time bullshit / I want dilemmas involving god and coastal highways”

  • “There’s a video of me crying / I was going to stream it live in your bedroom / But I couldn’t find your bedroom”

  • “I can see someone is failing / A great failure might occur”

  • “A pigeon drags another pigeon to a tree / Eats”

  • “You want to put the cold egg of her breast into your mouth”

  • “People eating and eating and eating and eating / I guess there’s a point to it”

  • “The moon hurting itself on the sky / Waiting one day longer to die”

  • “I leave the room so hard it burns a hole in the bed”

  • “Don’t die, summer / There are wolves among us / We promise to make more art”

  • “I don’t want my donut” / “… lob my machines into the cold swollen river”

  • “The question is always whether to be kind / To whom”

  • “Give the birds their ocean / Delete the god document / You’ve got to get inside language to be free”

  • “Let me be shitty a little longer”

  • “When a woman talks / A few people listen / I’d like to suggest that when a woman talks we listen”

  • “Even though I have this giant problem in my pants / I am not going to do anything”

  • “Teach me to cook with green garlic”

Buy this book! Highly recommended.

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