Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Note: To Anyone & Everyone I've Ever Insulted or Been Mad At or Aggrieved With or At 'n stuff like that

You may have to tie me down and hold me to this, come, oh,the harsh light of Saturday, Jan. 2, 2010, but I am making an effort here and now to release my boundless anger,

some of it Swedish in that the insult (perceived) was minor and most likely related to a breach of etiquette or expectation that, jeeze, how was the other person to know what I was hoping for? think of

those Bergman movies with some broad and her nervously shaking slim hand breaking a cocktail glass with the force of repression (not to mention unloading an eyeball into a glass) and

some of it Russian--from the Caucus (which I will misspell unto death) and remarkably energetic in its blind determination to dislike (think Georgian Stalin) and

some of it Polish, as in a little misguided. You heard about the Polish lesbian? She keeps sleeping with men.

and a little Crenshaw District, a little funky and alien and somehow very very right, such a bizarre and blessed gift that has been, and

most of it 100 percent Sarah Sarai, pig headed, self-centered, very funny, quite intelligent, sweet, generous, unexpectedly artistic yet self-absorbed or, best guess, not having the skill to understand the trajectory of an emotion, its path in AND OUT the body.

New slate. Much love. As my sainted (ahem) mother said, Girls, how can you expect world peace if you keep fighting among yourselves. Ma had a point.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A jump on the new year

Resolutions are liquid promises left outside in freezing weather--they're gonna cloud over and snap. So like many a wise person, I don't make them.

Some years I write a list of my accomplishments the previous year, which I plan on doing--although it'll be private. This Sunday I was at a tea, a High Tea, mind you, hostessed by a friend and fine poet. At one point there were maybe thirty women in her typically small New York apartment, each of whom was jaw-droppingly accomplished.

We each shared a little of this past year and what we looked forward to in 2010. I think it has a beautiful look to it, this new year fast upon us, this 2010. Given the difficulties since 2001--even before the attack, there was the dotcom crash which effected me (the dotcom I worked for tanked); my mom's passing; and then 9/11.

I can't resolve to have my three works of fiction published because I'm too old and cranky to offer my body to any publishing executive--or at least with any efficacy. But I am going to try to get them published. "Them" means: my short story collection Name Varies, my novel--The To-Do List Manifesto, and my connected novellas--From the One End of Heaven in print. I didn't try at all this past year.

Maybe I'm inspired to write this because of the KCRW Bach-a-thon playing this week. Papa Bach was incredibly productive in all part of his life. He had that genius thing going for him, by which I mean he didn't hesitate. He wrote.

I will finish editing/writing the second novella of From the One End of Heaven, which is A Vote for Ross Perot. I will write letters to agents. I want money for the novels. I'm on unemployment insurance, which is, of course, a blessing, but not working or rarely working means I am alone too much.

I feel like I'm blabbing. Time to clock out. See you soon.

Bach at the organ from:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Movie review: It ain't that complicated, honey

I love watching rich people in movies. It's not a dirty pleasure; it's escape. The first twenty minutes of a scary movie, wherein everyone's life is idyllic and split-level--oh I can't get enough of the fantasy. I almost regret it when the man across the street turns into a serial killer (Disturbia) or the attractive fellow forces his seat mate on a plane to help him with a presidential assassination (Red Eye). The jocular interactions between Thelma Ritter and Jimmy Stewart (Rear Window--a particularly great Hitchcock)--and the promise of Grace Kelly before the digging starts across the way--heaven.

But all of the above hint at some recognition that these idylls are just that, cushions of privilege. There is a contrast. Heaven, without the knowledge that there are a slew of folk sweating it out down there isn't nearly as much fun.

I don't even have a TV but have managed to sneak in various versions of Law & Order. The episodes I like best provide a plausible but completely unprovable (by me) view into the lives of the wealthy before they are murdered, plundered, accused. The background is a somewhat gritty New York; the cops are street smart. The contrasts satisfy.

There are no contrasts in It's Complicated, with Meryl and Alec. I just got back from a $6 matinee. They live in the toniest homes of tony Santa Barbara. They have three perfect children who were slightly stung by their divorce but somehow brave life with their fully paid academic degrees; in fully paid automobiles; guaranteed lives of product placement. Their teeth are straight and white; were they to tithe ten percent of their income they would still bank a solid six figures to live on, annually.

The scary thing is, minus the anorexia, crank addictions, embezzlement, this movie may depict some people's lives. I lived in Bronxville for three months (only three months, true), but what I saw--Bronxville, 25 minutes on the train from Grand Central--houses more CEOs than Greenwich, CT--was this same kind of willful, sheltered and self-imposed version of "bliss." It's a received version. Nothing original, individual, authentic.

The acting is good, the dialog sucks. Even if director/writer Nancy Meyers is directly quoting her group of galfriends --who frequent the ultimate cliche of an upscale coffee/chocolate croissant haunt--must the most repeated word be, "amazing!" I got tired of hearing that in 1997. Alec, Meryl, Steve Martin, the kids. To all of them, all things good are "Amazing!"

Oh. And every character's empathy is expressed in an, "I get it." I get it, dudes.

Incidentally, Steve Martin in on Haldol until the final fifteen minutes of the movie. Have these people really led such insulated lives that everyone's reactions are girlish or childish--over and over and over? Meryl is constantly batting her eyes and sighing and fanning away menopause flashes--yeah, "I get it." And the kids are like ten year olds who just said "the bad word" for the first time.

Spare me Santa Barbara. Spare me the working but idle-minded rich. I'm not saying I wasn't diverted, I was. And that's why I'm bothering with a film review. Because what could have been a good movie, some equivalent of "Up in the Air" with its very watchable take on America in crisis is instead a testament to a Laurel Canyon life, an L.A.-perfect life, cleverly transported an hour north. And not a Laurel Canyon with hitchhikers or pockets of dopers on food stamps.

Nancy Meyers. Grow a pair. But kudos to you for having the cajones to try and make us believe THERE'S NOT EVEN ONE BLACK PERSON in the world. Hey, the son's just graduated from NYU. Couldn't he have a quirky music/math Asian roommate? Gimme something, Lady. I DON'T get it. Amazing!

The image has nothing to do with the movie. I just felt like it. Do you get it? Amazing.

Friday, December 25, 2009

3rd review of The Future Is Happy, this in Prick of the Spindle

The online journal Prick of the Spindle, which has been thriving for a few years now, just published a generous review of my book.

Here's an excerpt from the review, which I invite you to finish reading at the link below. From Juliet Cook's review of The Future Is Happy:

Sarai’s breed of spiritual infusion is much more resonant, because it is a lively cross-breed. She speaks in a specific language, redolent with varied life experience and details culled from those experiences. Cosmic references interestingly coexist with everyday objects. In “Front Yard (I Have No Mythology),” Sarai writes:

My lace bustier has slender ribbons attached
to the nine or so planets. Await with a shiver
my dance that says mortality.
I jut one hip and you’re revealed
as, well, tragic. I snap the crushed grapeskin

of your life to obeisant heavens which shuttle you
farther out. Although you might wonder what’s next,
I’ve got a bead on things.

It seems to me it’s not that Sarai has no mythology; it’s more that no one view takes precedence. Everything has its place: sometimes the placement seems unlikely, but somehow it all converges into a cohesive and engaging whole. . . cont:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Metaphors, Masks, Clarity, Roripaugh, Corn: I'm learning how to write

A few months ago I jotted some lines in response to a friend's comment questioning the depth or validity of impersonal public mourning--a pile of bouquets honoring a stranger's death. I knew, or believe, those flowers do indeed represent a sincere grief, and not mawkishness.

The lines I wrote had to do with a scene in Crime and Punishment. Raskilnikov dreams of a horse being beaten to death. It's pretty gruesome, but that is what came to mind, then Princess Diana and the outpouring when she was killed. My thoughts moved closer to home, America--New York and L.A.--cities where I know teenagers are killed by random bullets.

It was all a good idea for a poem but I couldn't move it. The lines sat on the virtual page in my computer. I considered deleting, but didn't, more out of laziness than any belief the poem would ever get legs. But a few days ago, it did. I can't say why, but I returned to it, partly because it was there in the long document that holds all new poems, and I was there. I worked on it every day with glee.

This morning it occurred to me to question my memory of the Dostoevsky. Given that it once took me about fourteen tries to get the name right for Achilles' friend (Patroclus) killed in that war, I knew I should not rely on memory. What I wrote above is correct, but I hadn't remembered it that way. And if I couldn't remember--for my own poem--why should I expect anyone else to?

In the time between my first draft and this morning I read Lee Ann Roripaugh's latest collection, On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Southern Illinois University Press). I can't overstate how fine, marvelous, astute, rhythmic, sensual, funny, tragic, transformative and insanely affecting Roripaugh's work is. And what lingered in my para-conscious mind, relative to "For One Who Questioned the Grief," the poem mentioned above, was how clear her work is.

The easy word is accessible but that could be wrongly read as easy, which Roripaugh is far from. As a professor, she has a bead on how all sorts understand and think about poetry, true, but more than that she has the gift--which may also be sheer willingness to write draft after draft--of creating luminosity in the everyday, a caterpillar, a midnight drive home, "the flittering plop of moths."

Not one of the poems in this collection begins, as "For One..." did, "No one mends the horse's leg, / not Raskilnikov, not Fyodor."

I can laugh now. What was I thinking? Not very poetry-y and quite a reach. This is not Tom Sawyer getting Huck Finn to help him paint a fence. Not a paraphrase of "the best of times, the worst of times" & co. In other words, not a reference it's relatively fair to expect readers to remember. It's a reference that must be retrieved from the memory banks, if not Google.

As of this morning the poem opens with, "When a stranger is killed and laid to rest / at the alter for Public Mass of Remembrance." I'm not saying that's my high point but it's clear. For me it's risky in that I'm stating where I'm headed, what this poem is going to be about. For me, that feels--repeat--risky. My training--in life, not poetry--was to be clever. And stylistically, again in life, to hint rather than state. Of course my nature is more blunt so there's always a battle.

I was prompted to write this entry in response to the remarkably thoughtful Alfred Corn's Weblog. His essay today,
Metaphor, Masks, Coding
is an exploration of a poet's decision to metaphorize rather than be "straightforward" (Corn's word). The title is almost Margaret Meadish, as if we poets were so distant from our culture as to think we needed masks from any dimension as intercessionary devices.

Anyway, I have felt, over the past month, that I am just beginning to know how to write a poem. Sometimes I purposely metaphorize (nasty word) or create a metaphor because I am bored. In the same way a poet told me to meet her at the little yellow man. When I got to the street corner in Brooklyn there was no little yellow statue. She'd been referring to markings on an online map. This last little incident is hardly conclusive but does demonstrate poets' odd ways of seeing and describing the world.

Note: Sorry I still haven't figured out links, here. Sigh.
The image is young Margaret Mead with an Eskimo mask.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: The Future Is Happy: "cheerful without being nauseating"

Here's the second review of The Future Is Happy. This one by poet Jee Leong Koh. His blog "Song of a Reformed Headhunter" offers a rich repository of poetry, art and music reviews, with insights into being and existence.

Sarah Sarai's "The Future Is Happy"
If a poet can be cheerful without being nauseating, Sarah Sarai is she. Her optimism is undergirt by a restless intelligence, a hardheadedness about the world, and a willingness to be vulnerable. She hears happiness in a tenor sax and hipness in Count Basie's Band. Music buoys her sufficiently to dance and sing:

There's no foot in the grave, only the dead.
Swing time. Bebop. If you need more, I can't help you.
(from "The Future Is Happy")

to read the rest of the review, go to:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dear Santa: a short letter

Dear Sanna Clauz,

Please tell Mommy an Dady I miss them an hope they like wings an singing all the time.

An please promise me that you will never (ever) (ever ever) EVER, let anyone (anyone) (ever) do a remake of Auntie Mame. Cause I think it is perfekt even if the lil boy is annoyng an stuff. It makes me hapy n that lady* is the bestest acting lady ever an not anyone can be as good as her. She moves good like Soupy Sales but differnt like a slinky if it was Soupy Sales and tall and skinny with nice hair. I like the Upson Downs. I like the people I don't like in the movie. They are good to not like people because they r funny an mean an I can figure it out. I am sorry that nice man fell off a mountin. Oh well.

I read the book an stuff cause I am smart an I can read books an it was good, I like the pages they felt thick, it was a librerry book an it was a long time ago. It coulda had pictures but I dont rememer an I liked the movie. The book was Auntie Mame, too. The movie was the best. My fren says that if you need a auntiedepressant this movie'l do it. So please listen, Sanny, an let it be.

Thank eU.

Yr frien,


*note from Sarah's guardian: "That lady" refers to Rosalind Russell, pictured above, descending and upstaging a staircase.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Snowflake Rocks: perfection and art

Funny. On my way to get coffee this morning I thought about many extremely gifted poets whose work I admire greatly but who I might bypass in my search for inspiration (in art, life, death). I thought about me, more than twenty years ago, when I began writing fiction.

I spent a few years trying to write my first mystery novel that didn't fly (tried a few others that didn't fly), and found short fiction in the process. Being in love with Cheever's stories, Chekhov, Flannery O'Connor and others I am slighting only because I have the memory of one hand clapping, I felt honored, heck, relieved, to even be involved the process. The crossover from ne'er-do-well to writer, reckless and easy, justifies an oddlife.

I was in love with the smallness of the form, the Indian minature-ness, the possibilities a small story held for perfection. I crafted and rewrote, in hopes I could like God create a jewel. I don't say that's the case of the poets I allude to above, that they spend years rewriting or foolishly attempting to sing as an angel, but their end product, however wonderful, can't compare with my snowflake. This does not, and should not, bother any poet or writer. This is about acceptance appreciation and love of my voice. If I don't love it, how can I nurture it?

This is an assessment of my goals, not of others' goals. My goal in poetry is to find God, to heal the world, to create consciousness. I don't mind if my poems, carefully wrought though they are, or at least labored over, get wild and strange. I'm a little wild and strange and okay with it. Hey, I'm stuck with it.

(Caveat. I can only labor or a word in a poem if I am able to stay alert. I wonder if I don't sleep through some phrases, or give up, or OCD my way out. Total consciousness work, a perfection of its own.)

White paper snowflakes dangle by the counter and float on the walls at my coffee place. I asked about them this morning--when I came in it was just me and two kids behind the counter. They told me I'd get a free small coffee if I made one. As Jama handed over a piece of paper and scissors I felt a jolt from space. I'd been listening to Sun Ra at home. That'll prepare your mind to be a landing strip for the ships. I knew mine would be different and that if I TRIED to make it look like every other, or any other snowflake, I'd fail. It's been that way my whole life.

My snowflake looks like a tribal mask, simple, rectangular, jagged and if you don't mind my saying so, arresting. Yes. I'm bragging about my paper snowflake. It is, as one esteemed journal wrote in their we're not taking this batch but send another as you have an original voice note, different.

The short stories I wrote in the past are wonderful and careful. I futilely hope they can be collected and published. Whatever. But my poems are channeled. That's that and Merry Christmas, my children of light and affection.

Friday, December 18, 2009

For Drungil: why I am a positive thinker but don't like happy thoughts

I keep holding back on talking about this part of my life.

My poem Part 2 of 2 Parts: Background to “Every Day I Write God a Letter by Way Of Maintaining Connection & Lessening Rage” -- which follows my poem Part 1 of 2 Parts: Every Day I Write God a Letter by Way Of Maintaining Connection & Lessening Rage in my collection, lays it out. Christian Science mother. Worse than worse case Christian Science scenario, being my mother's unsuccessful twenty-freaking-year attempt to pray away cancer. And THEN the fun began.

As deeply fond as I am of American positive thinking, slyly proud of its link to American "can do" and help of self, to our balanced belief in order by ordering, i.e. to-do lists, championed by the Aristotle of the States - Benjamin Franklin, I have an equal and opposite reaction to my fond reaction.

My rebellion against the implicit insistence that I didn't have a body, that flesh was a trap, that we could think away disease reached its height when I refused to go to Sunday School. I was thirteen or fourteen, and did not make my case rationally but dramatically, by tearing up a piece of C.S. literature and throwing it at my mother.

Oh, the shame I carry for that. I love my mother, who passed in 2001, so much. So many years ago and I realize how I must have broken her mother-heart which had already suffered with my three sisters' typical rebellions. My father is a whole different thing. And that, of course, was the point, breaking her heart, getting back at her for various things, and many of which were out of her control. Home sweet home.
So, lovely Drungil, you walked into a trap that's been set for most of my life; it automatically resets itself. I'm always ready, tensed to fight, to say no, to resist, react. What did Drungil do? She sent me an affirmation from Louise Hay, whose parents were Christian Scientists and who is an alleged queen of American Easy Breezy Good Feeling.

Truth is, I like affirmations. Truth is, when I was at the height of my battle with Satan Himself (that's how I'm going to epitomize my self-destructive thinking and behavior), I would copy out pages of simple affirmations from Florence Scovel Shinn, another American original. She wrote The Game of Life and How to Play It; Your Word Is Your Wand; and other titles I hesitate to list because they all sound hokey and simplistic, but I endorse them. My father was a rager and a drinker and both engender bad thoughts which I imbibed. In my thirties, a friend in Seattle gave me a tape on positive thinking. Another friend who'd known me since high school commented, "That's [negativity] always been your biggest problem." My goal has been to blow that shit up.

I am a friend of positive thinking, also Swedenborg, Spinoza, Socrates, Aristotle, Augustine, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard. No one thinks their way anywhere, not even Mr. Spock, and if he couldn't do it, well, what of the rest of us. We can prepare the psyche (breath, spirit, soul) to receive impressions of the beauty and hope of the world.
The image is of Mrs. Shinn (as she's referred to) ( ).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fiction: Washing, pub. in Webster Review, 1988


by Sarah Sarai
published in Webster Review, 1988

I saw this guy at the laundromat, an older guy, fifty or something, using up about ten washers. I watched how he worked them and I could tell someone had packed him off to do the week’s wash because there were little notes. ‘Blues together. Warm regular. Dry polyester.’ ‘Bleach. Whites. Hot.’ ‘Gentle cool. Dry five minutes only.’ And such. I didn’t know if it was his daughter or wife or if he was nuts and being taken care of by a stranger who used him to get the clothes clean.

He said something to me and I was polite but didn’t answer back. I never do right off. I saw a book in his back pocket. I figured this guy was kind of solid to bring a book to the laundromat. I was determined not to leave with any damp clothes this time and you know how it takes years for jeans to dry so I was socked in and I watched him deciding if he would snap or not if I talked to him. People are snapping left and right and probably not entirely in laundromats but they seem to feel more comfortable in laundromats after they snap. You know that if you don’t have your own washer.

“How do you like your book?” I asked. Let me tell you. This guy didn’t bat an eye. We could have been in bed, close, with me asking him to please move his arm a bit, he was that relaxed.

“Well, I like Mr. Thoreau,” he said, moving in front of my face. “I think we should all go to the woods, don’t you? I read this once a year. I read all the time, don’t you?”

I shrugged. I remembered Thoreau because my English teacher in high school was this ex-hippie who got wet-eyed when he read the stuff out loud. I don’t read that much. Magazines. And if a book looks like it’ll go quick, then I might pick it up.

“I’ve been reading about the effects of light,” he said. Then he went over my head with candle power, but I didn’t mind because I knew he wasn’t snapping, he was just probably smart.

“And space. I’m reading about space.”

I’m no expert here either but, “I’ve seen Saturn up at Griffith Park telescope,” I told him.

“That’s wonderful,” he said. “That’s marvelous.” He had a pleasant voice—and was my height, 5’-5”, with a paunch that was hard, strong arms and short hair. “I’ve been reading about personal space, you know.” He touched me, my arm, with a finger.
Normally I cringe into my shoes when people get near and I’m not ready but I didn’t feel my body jolt and I didn’t have to give him any kind of angry look. He wasn’t trying to move the conversation because most guys would dive in after a lead-in like that. I was leaning against a folding counter, my arms resting on my plastic basket full of clean sheets. They were warm and I wished I could rest there forever. I kept an eye on the dryers. One stopped. I dumped the damp clothes in with the other drying clothes. This guy had his notes to read and he worked the dryers and then was back. I shook out a few blouses with the underwear that had clung to them.
“And what do you do, my dear?” he asked.

I had some old cotton underwear that I kept even though they had holes, because you have to have underwear. I put them under the blouses real quickly. I had the black underwear my girlfriend told me to get, because it would do the trick, she said, and I folded these. I looked at him to see if he noticed and his eyes did and I tucked them into my basket. They were pretty.

“I work with my cousin,” I said. “She runs a day care center. I help with the kids.”

“Ah.” He nodded. “the children.”

My jeans were still whirling in the dryer. “Yup, the children. They’re sweet. It’s okay.”

“My wife teaches.” He mentioned a grammar school in Hollywood. “She loves it. Those children charm her. Do you have a few who charm you?”

I smiled because of course the kids were dolls. I’m not a maniac.

“I knew it,” he said and got red. “You’re good with them.” He got white again. He was pale and showed red easily I realized. He had a stubble and his eyes weren’t so clear, but then I have to tell you I was no gem. I’d had a few drinks the night before which I’m not supposed to do because they make my allergies worse. The Santa Anas made my allergies flare, so I was bleary-eyed and confused in my head. October’s a pisser in L.A.

“I’m okay with kids.” Work is never my favorite subject. I’ve lived alone since I kicked my boyfriend out and I have discovered that the more I live alone the more I get used to it. I’ll probably end up like some ghost lady in a movie who wears wispy dresses and roams, eyes staring like a punk dancer. I wouldn’t mind if I kept my apartment clean. Every day and night for two weeks I’ve filled my sink with water so the dishes wouldn’t draw roaches and the food on them wouldn’t get hard. There’s only about ten dishes. I don’t like to cook any more. The water seeps out and the dishes stay in. All ten or so with my forks and spoons and knives.

“This town was great when it was a company town,” he said.

“You in the industry?” I asked.

“Not now, no, not now. But when I was a boy, on my way home from school on Halloween, two friends and I tied up a girl and left her. It was at Yucca and Cherokee.”

Now here he had me. I mean I thought my radar was out-of-whack for years. I could almost hear the snap the mind must make when it goes under. Then he saved the day.

“And it was just a prank.” He sighed. “She told on us and the police talked to my mother and all of us ended up having to divert ourselves after school so we wouldn’t get in trouble. I had to take ballet. I was the only boy.” He was getting into it, moving his arms around, getting red again and I could see how his spirit was into ballet but I didn’t see his body at it. But really, who cares. I know he didn’t always have a paunch.

“I could do everything better than the girls - the jumps, the spins. And when I stopped resisting the girls, growing boy that I was, it was wonderful. They all wanted to dance with me.”

“So, what, you danced?”

“I did everything.”

“Were you in the movies?”

“I was under contract. The dancing led to that. It was nothing then, really. You just walked in and signed up.”

I’d seen old movies about that and I nodded.

I was pleased my clothes were getting good and dry. When they stopped whirling I knew it was time to fold, time to go. I said, “excuse me,” and pulled the last of the lot from the dryer. He brought his own armful in a metal cart. Probably the five-minute bunch. We smoothed and creased.

“You’re a classic,” I said.

“Yes,” he nodded. “Yes.”

I was considering sitting on my basket to make my clothes fit. I had a three-block walk home. That’s not all that bad, but who needs to lose clothes? He still had clothes drying and I couldn’t see prolonging the whole thing. Besides, he had a wife. I thought she’d be nice and I thought about seeing if there would be some invitation. Maybe I would get asked over for coffee and they would be this nice warm couple and I’d get that home feeling I always think would satisfy. But then I thought the whole thing could go real bad quickly and I thought if I went home right then I’d wash my dishes for sure.

“Well, I gotta go."

“Yes." He seemed surprised. “You take care of the children. That’s important.” He looked at me. “I think you know that.”

I said, “yes,” although I wasn’t so sure. Everyone says kids are important, but what do they do? They become adults and they leave their sinks full of dishes. What’s so important about that?
I walked along Franklin two blocks and then turned right and soon I was at my apartment, or at the walkway. I wished I had to keep walking up the hill where the people have money. It seems to me if you have money you can go to clubs and meet nice people. My old boyfriend wasn’t that great. I ended up going inside. Put down my basket. Things were quiet. Real still, like some of the air had been sucked out and what was left was pulled too thin. I left. I grabbed my keys and I walked down the walkway and to Franklin and to the laundromat. He was there, putting clothes on a hanger, doing a better job than me. I don’t bother. I’m not much for all that.
“Hello.” He said it brightly and I didn’t have to feel foolish. “Glad you chanced by,” he said. “Help me load all this up in my car.”

“Sure.” It sounded fine.
His car was old, a bug. We were careful with the clothes, laying them on the back seat.
“Well,” he said. “Where shall we drive to?”

“Why don’t you come over?” His eyes moved weird like I had pinched them. “I didn’t mean to insult you. I just thought we could have some coffee.”

He looked straight forward. Beats me what he was thinking. “Coffee would be wonderful. Let’s go.” I gave him directions and we were there in a minute and I apologized for my mess before I unlocked the door, and he said he didn’t mind which is what I had thought he would say.

I told him to sit when we were inside, but he wanted to help me in the kitchen. I just didn’t want him to see the sink. He wouldn’t know how long those dishes had been there, but still. He insisted he had a knack with coffee so to save myself, I said, “Let’s have a beer.” That sounded fine. I got cans from the refrigerator.

He sat on the couch. It had stubby wooden legs and came with the apartment. I sat on a wicker stool. “There were sixty of us on contract,” he said.

“What did you do? I don’t get it. Were you in the movies?”

“We did anything. It was a broad contract. We just did anything.”

I moved next to him on the couch. I surprised myself.

“I’m married,” he said.

“I know you’re married.” I’d seen his wife’s clothes. She wore a lot of jersey tops. “A lot of people are married.” It doesn’t mean much, you know. Single or married, it doesn’t mean much. And maybe his wife wouldn’t be nice after all.

He turned to me so we were shoulder to shoulder and he touched my arms. He still had a stubble and I remembered how I looked. I wouldn’t have blamed him for leaving.

“It’s true,” he said. “I could kiss you.” He didn’t move. He let go of my arms and sitting there, finished his beer. It went down fast. “You just wait. We have to discuss this.” And then he was in my kitchen getting another beer from the refrigerator.

Who needs this, I thought. Where he had sat was his book, Thoreau. I opened the book and I tried but I couldn’t understand a word. I drank some. I felt dumb and generally not so good. I had this book in my hand and nothing else. I heard noises in the kitchen. It was water and dishes. They were finally getting done. I took my index finger and put it on a word. “The.” That one I knew. I figured if I kept moving it along and reading, something would get through. I did for several pages and finished my beer and finally I saw sun: “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.” I understood what was being said and I decided not to press my luck. I read that sentence a lot of times and then closed the book.

“I hope you don’t mind.” He was back, drying his fingers on his pants. His fingers were short.

“I’ve been reading Thoreau,” I said. “‘I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.’”

“Splendid.” He pointed. “Now, let’s put your clothes away.”

We did that and made the bed up, with my clean sheets and hung towels in the bathroom.

“Do you like these?” I held up a pair of the black underpants.

“They’re splendid,” he said. “More than that and you know it.” He sat on my newly-made bed, grabbing my hands as he did so and drawing me close. “You’re young,” he said. “But we have met. Our souls have met and I like you. I know you.”

“You know me,” I said. “What do you know? Tell me.”

“I know you’re a woman who is,” he paused, “her work. Who is ... the children. Who craves companionship,” he paused again, “union with a man,” he finished.

I sighed. He was off the mark. In the shadows. I sighed once more and then I spoke.

“That’s neat,” I said. “But I have things to do now.”

“You and I and Thoreau,” he said. “We are bedmates.”

“Huh,” I said. “But I want to be alone.”

“Bedmates of the heart and soul.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “But would you please leave?” I stood, zipped out to the living room and opened the door. He followed.

“This isn’t what I expected.”

“Me neither,” I said. “But I don’t expect much.”

“You’re young. I’m married. All is foolishness.”

I thanked him.

He kissed my forehead and left. I went into the kitchen. It looked nice. He’d even scrubbed the sink. I took a beer out of the refrigerator and brought it to the living room and sat on the couch. I didn’t open the beer. I just held the can to my forehead where he’d kissed me. I pulled back the curtain so I could see a sliver of the way up the hill. I felt lonely, of course, but the hill was green and those houses were inspiring up there. I made it through that Sunday in better shape than I’d been in for a while.

"Washing" by Sarah Sarai was published in Webster Review, 1988, vol. 13, no. 2.

Monday, December 14, 2009

From Clever to Poem

I want to capture this process what it's relatively fresh.

Three Sundays ago I started a new poem. I was at the Met. The spark was in the collection of European art, one of my favorite wandering zones--where, as an acquaintance said, "it's all that Jesus, all that blood." She volunteers at the Modern.

Not mine to worry about my love, why I love. Just grateful to love art.

I'd wandered there and here and as usual was grumbling to myself about inadequate signage. I explained to two very sweet college students that flash bulbs could damage the paintings. I might be overdoing it but what's wrong with an effort towards conservation.

I think--think--the students were pleased to be told the art was archived online; the reproduction would be better than any they might snap. So there I was in everyone's business and world but mine, when I stopped short.

What was this? The painting that nabbed me was Jesus Christ at the Last Judgment, making decisions. It was a little eerie, as if he was deciding who should go to the right or the left with all the historical associations there. My mom said Heaven and Hell are here on Earth and we can make our lives either. Not going to argue, but there is a part of my Christian-Jewish-Sufi being that entertains a teensy concern about the next phase. I know what I've done.

I was enough unsettled to settle on a bench and write a draft of a poem. A few days later I input it, then every day I edited, crossed out, honed what was turning out to be one of the cleverest pieces the western world had ever known. I was soaring.

I like to keep the latest print-out of a poem by my bed so I can take a look when I wake or any time it catches my eye. One of these times it hit me like a tiny brick--I don't need a ton--that I wasn't writing a poem. There was no tension between the scan the words the music the breaks. It was a paragraph from a book I wouldn't buy, an idea, a clever leaden pastiche that no one would want to read, including myself.

Since I do most of my work online once I've written out the first draft, I can't reproduce the drafts themselves. (I don't archive. I'm not T.S. Eliot. Getting anyone to buy The Future Is Happy is work enough, let alone worrying if a library will purchase my letters. I'd probably make more from a med. school purchasing my body.) When things are hopping I go to the library daily to print out.

I gave into my sinking awareness. I deleted. I sacrificed. I sacrificed more. I kept reading it out loud.

It's been over a week since I figured out that was I was working on needed a sea change. I keep reading it out loud. It will be a poem. I'm even pushing to say something. My emotions have led me around for so much of my life--true of many. What a nice trick to mine them. To rise from the well and make my golden way.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Palming John Ashbery

Predictably, there's a lot of buzz about John Asbery's latest poetry collection, Planisphere. When you're John Ashbery (which is the case for only one person alive today, readers), everyone wants to chime in—and loudly so—on your work. But, and here I take a bold risk, everyone is missing the point.

Everyone? Yuppers. Everyone except me.

The point is, ahem, not that John Ashbery enchants with fluid association and disassociation of verse but that he has soft hands. Really soft hands. Yuppers. I know this because I shook one of them this October in the New School Auditorium.

I was there to hear a friend in the Best Poets reading. My friend was the only reason I was there. My first memory of the New School auditorium (ground floor) is painful. It was in 1996. I was fairly new to New York. Had lived in Seattle for about ten years and enjoyed the city's open and relatively inclusive writing community—at least that was my experience.

The Poetry Society of America was hosting some event in which various members of the Poetry Society of America were being honored by other members of the Poetry Society of America as audited and voted on by the Poetry Society of America. What I encountered was an auditorium of men in suits, many with impossibly skinny women by their side. Glad I wasn't on trial, because this was not a jury of my peers. Nothing wrong with being a man or having an inclination to date a status symbol (or beard). Still the room was not was I had grown accustomed to, which was varying hues of skin tone and dress. Oh poor me, I felt alienated. In New York City? Imagine that.

The Best Poets 2009 event attracted a similar group. David Lehman, who contributes an enormous amount to poetry, I really admire him, is creator, executive editor, driving force behind the Best Poets series. I don't know him but I have to assume he's heard the complaints. A friend pointed out to me that the "Best" series a financially going concern. I don't know what else to say about that, right now.

On the night I mention I saw only one nonwhite person or person of color in the audience, although the next night I featured at a reading and a student in the audience told me he'd been there, too. That makes two. Whatever the reasons, I felt a little lonely. I'm a little tired of my own tender affection for my own tender feelings so if you're annoyed with me, pal, I hear ya. The friend I'd come to see was with old friends of his and his wife. (We reconnected recently, after a thirty-year gap. We're not close but we have history on each other which can be a comfort.)

I spotted Mark Doty who I know in passing; told him I'd liked his poem. He was warm. He is warm. But had to rush off. I went back into the auditorium and there in a miscellaneous row of seats, with a small coterie of disciples, sat Lord John of Ashbery, St. John, John Ash Wednesday Bery.

I wanted to speak, to tell him I'd brought his books to Bellevue Hospital outpatient last November and December when I was fighting my way to normalcy. I was at Bellevue to get a scrip for Zoloft which, for me, is the difference between life and oblivion. I wasn't standing on street corners preaching the end of the world--which would be a honest activity, all globally considered; I just wasn't sleepin--to a remarkable extent. That I rescued some good poems out of that time—"Hockney at Bellevue" will be in Parthenon West Review, and a few others I owe to Ashbery. I would bring one or two of his collections with me during the long waits while we got my situation sorted out. (They don't just write you a prescription although, ultimately, that's what they decided to do, in my case.)

At one point a Bellevue security guard mistook me for Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory—"she's writing!" I would wander away from the waiting room with its blaring television and work on a draft of a poem in my trusty spiral--not the fancy kind from France but the $3.98 kind (which seems outrageous). I hate ads and daytime t.v. The regular guard would smile and wave me through the metal detector. I wished him a Happy Birthday on his day.

St. John at the New School auditorium would have understood, but I couldn't manage to say anything. He probably already understood. John Ashbery subsumes my experience and imagination. I asked if I could shake his hand. He smiled sweetly and widey—my telegraphed way of saying the clouds in Creator's blue firmament parted and Michelangelo's hand of God reached out.

And I shook hands with John Ashbery. What a soft and warm palm. What comfort. I was a sea shell curled into it. Ashbery's energy--the energy I felt in his palm--is strong, kind and balanced. I've been in and out of energy work since the late seventies (remind me to write about that), trying to heal the body (much of which I did heal) and I can feel energy, whether it's stuck or swirling. Trust me.

So all this talk of imagery in Planisphere,Helen Vendler's review in the Sunday Times, countless other reviews--beside the point.

John Ashbery, American's cherished poet (not necessary our best), feels good. In this wickedly competitive poetry arena, what better compliment?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Don't Fear What You Fear: Oedipus Object Lesson

When I began writing I wrestled with subject matter. I felt I should be writing about Oedipus and Jocasta. The classics, as I wrote in my last entry, were too much a part of my life, or at least it felt that way. For someone who claims to be haunted by classics I've read a lot of suspense novels--and do know my pop references.

I was still working my way into a natural writing style, by which I mean, trying to sound like myself.

That's the best writing, writing that sounds like the person. I know that from working with students and reading friends' work. It's same as the difference between indicating an action, as actors in a melodrama do--putting their hand on their brow to indicate worry--and method acting--being the character in her or his moment.

Back to writing. A short story of mine comes to mind: "Washing." I'll explain why, later. Published in Webster Review out of Webster University in Missouri, it's a two-character tale of a woman in her early twenties who meets a much older man at a laundromat. He's a Hollywood classic--someone who was in the industry from age nine or so. Lives near Franklin parallel to and north of Hollywood Blvd. Has many stories to tell about the business. His stories are authentic. I lived around that area and heard those stories from similar characters.

An insecure twenty-something. An older guy at a laundromat. No Oedipus. No Jocasta. Not back then.

Last night? December 12, 2009? Yup. They finally strolled into my writing. I'd visited a friend's writing group; got the time wrong so was only there for the last go-round. We were given a one-word prompt and off we went. The word? "Hollywood."

At first I wrote prose about teenage years--living over the hill from the Blvd., how all I had to do was traverse Barham Blvd. and there I was with the runaways. What's on my mind recently is my need to break into my fog.

Two pages of writing and I couldn't handle any more prose. Long-hand is how I write first drafts of poetry, not fiction (or blogs). A poem fell from my pen like silvery mercury. Earlier that day a different friend had reminded me about Sophocles, author of Oedipus Rex. The incestuous couple, Oedipus and Jocasta, was on my mind.

The myth is so strong and knowledge of their mistakes so implanted it's sheet joy to play with. I don't want to write out the unfinished poem's energy so I will stop. I wrote this because I suspect it will help me navigate memory. The battle is often with paralysis. I am figuring it out and fighting.

And, my dear friends, I am writing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Day My World Changed: it ain't just about classics, honey

It was an Aha! moment.

I was editor-in-chief of a small, monthly newspaper, Northwest Ethnic News, published by a nonprofit with a conservative-sounding name, The Ethnic Heritage Council. Several generations of editors before me (I was the only to last more than two years) settled the paper in a left-leaning, open-minded political terrain -- inter/cross/multi/many ethnic/peace/love/freedom. We covered arts and issues related to Seattle ethnic communities.

Our president was an ethnomusicologist with good friends in Seattle's jazz world. Our board included Northwest Native-, African-American-, Swedish-American-, Samoan-American (and on) activists. I turned press releases into small announcements, comissioned articles and interviews and conducted some myself on politics and on arts, music among them. Music was all around, Indian and Pakistani, Northwest Native, African (one word to describe a continent isn't fair, I know), Scandinavian, Irish. Tablas, drums, fiddles, ouds, horns, pipes, harps . . .

A quick tribute to my parents: Although my childhood was fraught, yes fraught, with glorious classicism--Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, El Greco, Rembrandt, Dante (and so on)--my parents never said a word against rock or soul. I was allowed diversity, although the feel of my first 18 years is of having those names (Bach, Beethoven . . . ) hammered into my flesh every day. Yeah, my father talked about having seen Art Tatum in the Village, and my mom had a Rogers and Hart songbook on the piano, but I will stick with FRAUGHT. As soon as she left home, one of my sisters turned forever more to country; one to rock and world; one to opera (which my father didn't like) and when she disallowed that, well, I'm not sure where she landed.

In my forties I met a few people--a second cousin of my father; my cousin; a friend of my mother's--who knew my family when I was a kid--and there aren't many--and they were nervous to talk about art with any member of my immediate family. It was about my father using his thwarted energies and intelligence to wow.

So here I was, working at a nonprofit, in my metaphorical cloth coat, i.e. I was a humble and shy extrovert, receiving yet another of my life's gifts of music -- I can define my life by its musical periods (and, up to another point -- by its spiritual eras).

I would like to be able to tell you I was at a concert for gamelon or festival of drumming that I suddenly saw the light. It was, in fact, at work. In the office. Doing the routine. Swearing at PageMaker, spilling coffee on my desk, or writing. And I saw it:

There is no food chain in music. One type is not superior to another. I wasn't simply comparing Indian ragas to European string quartets, making the conversion from one form of classical to another. I suddenly understood that the hierarchy I'd grown up with was invalid.

What a release.

I had/have friends who don't understand my exhilaration. They weren't raised with all sorts of enforced attitudes. Other friends think I'm crazy or simplistic or a turncoat. They can't let go of Euro-classicism, not out of love -- we may defend what we adore--but out of an inability to loosen up and accept. (The same sort who turn their noses up at graphic novels without ever having given them a chance.)

I want classical orchestras to exist and to thrive. In every city. I want music conservatories encouraging study of Schubert and Wolf lieder to carry on. I just don't want to exalt them above all other forms of music or musicianship. I've talked to jazz musicians who say their classical training was invaluable in learning jazz timing, and of course there are jazz musicians who learned on the job.

I'm rambling. The main thing is not that it's all good. It's not all good. There are still masters of each art form and excellence continues to be a tribute to muses and goddesses and gods of Orpheus.
But it is all different than I was led to believe for so many years, even when my ears informed me of lacks in my childhood appraisals. My parents gave me a great gift of Euro-classical; a friend in San Francisco offered me was essentially a master class in listening to, in his case, Bach cantatas (he ran a coffee house, The Coffee Cantata--the original--not the one on Union--for years). My sister schooled me in jazz and ragas. My brother-in-law in funk. My instincts were for soul. My job as editor opened me to world. My time with contra dancers was all about fiddletunes. Being alive in America infuses me with rock and with roll. Alternative radio stations, which flourished in the 70s, allowed all sorts of music to whisper in my ears, more of it alternative forms of rock, as opposed to imaginative and fanciful New Sounds in N.Y. public radio (WNYC 93.9FM), which is alternative in terms of all the above plus dolphins and whales. (Tune in, listen, it's well worth your time.)

So at my desk I had a white light experience. I climbed out of box. The horse had a different color. Merriment in Oz.

A privilege. Opening up to change? An honor. And man, it's like a total trip.

(The paining is by George Littlechild, an artist we featured in the paper.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poem: Smiles of a Summer Night

The Times' Sunday Magazine included a tribute to Ingmar Bergman shortly after his death. He'd taken years to connect gut and body, to weather a personal climate of emotions. Finding purchase on myself was similar; a long haul. I remember being fascinated with the life cycle, care and feeding of emotions--how were they ingested and released? Were we all supposed to feel? Feel? I had not a clue.

The other notable Bergman/Sarai connection is strawberries. Best dessert of childhood--from my all-Swede ma (born in Queens): strawberries smashed on buttered bread and sprinkled with sugar.

Smiles of a Summer Night

Until age 39,
Ingmar Bergman
couldn’t feel,
and then I’d bet
sluice gates
were spared
a flood. In
mysterious space,
Earth sets back of Moon.
Planets notably hang,
or glide ellipses,
without rest, with-
out holidays or joy.

It isn’t so bad,
being human.

I was 34 when I
my cartographer’s
etched landform
bobbing in waters
restless with monsters.
I was mass, the equal
of height and weight.
I floated, hemispheric,
in myself. No sluice
here either, but,
with age, something
to educate dreams.

Rest, Ingmar Bergman, now silent and learning.

Sarah Sarai; pub. in Flaneur Foundry, 2009

& included in The Future Is Happy, available from SPD or Amazon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jack Wiler: one more time, maybe not the last time, here's Jack

A few of the good people of New Jersey organized a tribute to Jack Wiler here in New York City this afternoon. I just got back from it and will describe while my feet unthaw (see this morning's blog on cold weather--and walking).

I was prepared to take notes on names and memories, but the bar at Le Poisson Rogue on Bleecker was too dark to deal with a notebook, and anyway, who wants to spend three hours with great people while jotting particulars. I had a beer instead and enjoyed the background noise of a Bowie tribute band rehearsing next door.

Poet Jack Wiler, author of three books, Fun Being Me and Divina Is Divina (the latter forthcoming) from CavanKerry Press, and I Have No Clue from Longshot, was memorable in flesh and word. Most everyone at today's event knew him better than I did and it would feel presumptuous to resurrect their tales of Jack, but there was a theme or two I'll share. His poetry is precise, freighted, accessible and real deal. His work wasn't enough known and sometimes he regretted that, and sometimes didn't have enough ego to believe in himself.

Hemingway's "bullshit detector" had been installed in Jack at an early age and functioned well. As is the case with those who detect even a smudge or two here or there, let alone the ubiquitous abundant steaming piles Jack freely expressed his distaste-to-anger, something I very much appreciate, as that's my chore-to-gift (access to free expression). My turn at the mic I read his poem "The Names of God" which I mention in my other Jack Wiler posting.*

He was a salesman for an extermination business off-and-on for over twenty years. I'd be interested knowing how he came to that, but have a theory why he stuck with it. His boss, the pres. of Acme Exterminating Corp., had to be one of the good pieces of fortune of Jack's life. Robert Stien knew Jack was a poet, sometimes went with Jack to his readings or the Geraldine Dodge poetry festival in Jersey. One time an extermination biz colleague worried, "Extermination is not Jack's number one priority, poetry is." Stien laughed. We all laughed.

There was only one tribute that bothered me, from a poet who suggested Jack's accessibility was the result of a reader not having to plow through mythological or Biblical references. I don't think that comment would have made Jack happy. He wrote about what he wrote about. He read tons and was raised by a reader -- his mother. References weren't his calling in poetry, but I doubt he had an aversion.

He had a rich, full life. He had a tenderly open mind. He was loved by many. He will continue to be read by many and very likely for a long time.

My previous post on Jack:
///Thanks to Danny Shot, Joan Handler and many others for today.

It's Cold: walking, toughery, the female metabolism, D. H. Lawrence

It's cold outside. The month is December, I feel a barbarian invasion at the window along my bed or maybe the barbarian impulse within, to kill and skin an animal and wrap its fur around myself.

Sorry about the word "barbarian" with all its social and historical trickery. I'm reading The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, soaking up its thousand tidbits about fourth century politics, seventh century saints, the forgotten, the victims, the victorious. Point? The "barbarian" is on my bed and the cold is licking at tall windows.

I go as long into winter as I can without turning on the radiator, to keep the air cleaner and me tough. My parents would, as legend goes, leave me out for an hour a day in a baby carriage (a baby was I) in the frosty winter on Long Island so the impulse to tough it out is in me.

But when I was in my twenties and thirties I was always freezing. It was the frosty winter of Los Angeles. "Ach, young women," my mother would say, imitating my Swedish grandmother. She was onto something, the young women part, and our hormone balancing acts, not daredevil but devilish. Back then I was under exercised-one of the reasons I left L.A. for Seattle-I wanted to live someplace I could walk.

I remember freezing or thinking that was the case my first years in Seattle. I also remember walking up and down Seattle's hilly streets. I remember (to use a coined phrase) returning to Seattle after a few weeks in L.A., or that summer in the Bay Area (remind me to write about that) and needing to reclaim my new city by walking from Ballard along 45th to the U district, from Montlake to downtown to Queen Anne. That's a lot of walking and it was compulsive.

Like a cat spraying or dog sniffing. Really. Try to stop me. Even last Wednesday night when I was in Queens around 83rd Street (off the 7 train). I was thrilled to be on new-to-me streets and had to push myself to find my destination. All I wanted was to walk and explore. The area was much like any other area off the 7 train but still . . .

So we can assume my metabolism has upped and warmth isn't the issue it was in younger days. Not sure how a scientist would compare Los Angeles weather with New York weather. Not my concern.

Oh the famous walks of Wordsworth in the Lake District. Oh those D. H. Lawrence characters going for their three-hour strolls in the English countryside after a Sunday dinner. I no longer marvel but simply wish I did even more of it, walking. An hour on flat city streets has nothing on hikes in the wilds (however defined in gem-y England).

It's cold outside and my fingers have walked a few meters over the keyboard. My coffee cup is empty. Time for tea. Time to get outside again.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Satisfaction in Ink: why I like being published in journals

Last night I took the 7 back from a poetry reading in Queens--a borough I rarely visit, though I rarely visit any borough other than Manhattan. My swift passage and descent into Grand Central Terminal's earthy core on this return home was not unaccompanied. I was with my friend Jane, a good poet who bills herself as a performance poet.

"So do you have any readings coming up?" she asked. Jane, whose financial circumstances are different from mine, flies to the west coast and abroad to give readings. She also runs a series in Manhattan (her entrepreneurial circumstances are different from mine too; she is an entrepreneur; I'm not, at least not so far).

The only readings I could come up with were at a memorial service this Saturday and a featured reading in March 2010. There will be a few readings I am part of, and at least one radio interview. My dance card is not as empty as a widow's bed. How empty is a widow's bed, anyway. It could well be a'bursting. But I don't exactly need a speakers bureau to broker my public appearances.

Our conversation got me thinking--and not defensively. Knowing I'm sensitive and umbragey I monitored myself so I could figure out what I really thought and wanted without my ego or fear of being considered less than getting in the way.

And I realized I love being in literary journals. I adore the thought that one or two or three poems of mine are at a party with one, two, three or more poems of from ten to fifty poets, are bound and on a bookshelf, are in someone's hands and working their way to that very special someone's imagination. Or that my poems are online, a venue more available than grocery stores and laundromats in L.A.—and they are open later than in New York.

My life in poetry felt difficult, unsatisfying, half-lived before I had a book published, but now that The Future Is Happy is out there, I am still quite excited about the thrill of individual poems being accepted and displayed. Displayed because poems are now online and available, therefore, 24/7 to billions of readers, at least theoretically.

Submitting poems to journals requires bookkeeping--I keep two sets of records, one in a black leather book my niece gave me a few years ago, and one in a table on Word. It's tedious being things straight and remembering to notify editor H when editor Q has selected poems sent to both. Assembling the packages of five or so poems requires thought and time. It takes time to submit my work; odds are that 5-7% of my submissions will be accepted. I found those percentages in an article.

I like the game, however. I write to be read. I won't deny the spark of pride when I get Bingo--my poems (or stories) are selected and presented. Yes, I absolutely love to read in public. I'm a strong reader, not always perfectly confident, but I present well. Or well enough. What's all this about? Poetry. It's not just line breaks, my friends. Sure, Rilke published early but by the end, when he was producing his better work, circulated his poems among friends and ignored the public. I love Rilke. Probably more than I love Whitman who gave his poems to anyone who would accept them. Like God, I am who I am. A poet. Oh hear me read. Oh read me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sarah Sarai 2.0

On Thanksgiving Day, a young woman seated next to me at my lovely and gracious hostess' table asked about the focus of my blog.

I didn't know what to say. Sure, poetry, but there are poetry bloggers who assess poetics as a pure field in great depth. I more often make use of poetry to spring into some aspect of the world, or at least my world.

I've been itching to start writing more about my family and childhood. Something about this public forum draws me. Something about writing directly into this little box, running a spellcheck and publishing, leaves me satisfied, as if I'm accomplished something. And maybe I have.

So and therefore and thusly I added "memoir" to tagline for this blog. I agree with you. "this life" should cover memoir, but I wasn't sure the phrase was enough of an indication of what's to come.

Even now I'm not sure. We'll see. Please return to find out. I love having company.

AIDS: My first to go

I flash in and out on remembering the name of my first friend to die of AIDS. It was over thirty years ago.

Friends gathered—I'm the very least of the "we" here and I'm not being humble—a care committee whose work intensified, of necessity, toward the end. While Sanderson's original life was sometimes aware, sometimes unconscious; had bumps, starts, stops, triumphs, loves, his death was conscious.

It's been over thirty years since he gave me a singular piece of advice. Sarah, let the weather support you. I think of those words often and make it so. Breezes, Humidity, Ice Storms. They are all acts of something greater than me (Nature, the Universe, Goddess, She, the Divine).

This year, 2009, early, maybe February, I hit a new high regarding my awareness of weather (or weather "conditions") and Sanderson's advice. I realized there is to be no complaining. Yes, I know about Katrina and monsoons and Indonesia and the damage. I am not the one to explain the existence of suffering, though on the simplest level, I've had heat rashes since I was a little girl on Long Island. That's one of my earliest memories, being uncomfortable in my skin, and the relation to external weathers.

But day-to-day, which is pretty much all I know any more, I see it all as a gift, so when someone complains about rain or fog or cold or other usual inconveniences of the natural world I can't figure the person out. Don't they know?


Let me tell you about my friend
Sanderson. Well he’s dead,
but what’re you gonna do — the first ones died
in that Rapture of malfunctioned immunity.
My early dead read histories of women
his last six months.

You know how it is when you stand still in
Spring because a breeze is
teasing the green of light from trees?
Sarah, Sanderson said to me.
I admit I get real emotional.
Let the weather support you.

What is it about white people?
A chunk missing here and there.
Don’t run your panties through
a hand-crank wringer.
Delicates need a special cycle and
color is just a metaphor.

In the great Pacific Northwest, sky
is every type of blanket shaken over you
every two hours. Sanderson,
in the way of the dead, goes on retreats
there in the still early stage of whatever-
afocusofmine as that here and now, this this,
their perfumed spring, those bills, gunshots,
a certificate of appreciation gotten kinda dusty
in its dime store frame — all enough diverting.

Oh yeah, did I mention?
He also said, I don’t understand
why all the women don’t kill all the men.

So it took years for me to understand why not.
Of course I’m damaged, and needing more from
my icon of grace, on what to allow to support me.

Sarah Sarai, first published in Main Street Rag, 2008, and included in The Future Is Happy, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blurb and Be Blurbed: or, as ye blurb . . .

Blurb is not an attractive word. Visually it is at best whimsical, a bulging clown. Audibly it is the anti-onomatopoeia. A bl-ur-b is written in praise?
But it is.

From Wikipedia: "The concept of a 'brief statement praising a literary product' dates back to medieval literature of Egypt from the 14th century. The concept was known as taqriz in medieval Arabic literature." From medieval Arabic literature to God’s ears.

Movie blurbs are laughable—there are so many “best” movies of the year according to blurbs, Oscar ballots could be bound books rather than short lists.

As for fiction, I once heard an author—a good writer—at a reading—state he didn’t have time to read the books he blurbed. Maybe he was being flip?

It’s blurbs on back covers of poetry collections that interests me here, although I never gave them much thought until I had to ask poets to “blurb me.” I asked five and four agreed. (Their comments are at the end of this entry.) I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t admire their work and when I read the comments, I found temporary residence in another world where Sarah Sarai is a temple goddess of 3,000 loving arms and one heart, where chocolate is iridescent, where seersucker is the fabric of royalty.

The Future Is Happy is a first book. The fact that four poets were willing to link their names with mine made my present happy.

I don’t know that blurbs are necessarily useful or even necessary in helping me select books I like. Even if admired and beloved John Ashbery or Rita Dove recommend a book I’m not necessarily going to buy or like it. Taste is individual.

An acquaintance commented, on a social networking site, “Attention poetry publishers: when sending promo for a new book, don't even bother sending blurbs. Blurbs are bullshit and everyone knows it. Send sample poems and some kind of description. Really. A movie trailer shows scenes from a movie, right? Common sense. And poetry books are way more expensive than movie tix.”

My reaction was immediate and kneejerk, not to the sentiment (such as it is) but to the sweeping generalization. “Blurbs are bullshit and everyone knows it.” Are they? They reveal writing quality of the blurber at the very least, but also can convey a sense of WHY someone liked the book. Even briefer, they give a sense of the book.

This same poet added, “I just think it's a stupid custom, largely unquestioned although everyone I know mocks them.” EVERYONE?

Anyway. I'm not a total idiot. Every field is fixed at times by which I mean, some poets write praise they don't mean. I have read stupid blurbs of generic praise. I have doubted some poets ever internalized Camp Fire Girl, Girl Scout or Boy Scout codes of honesty.

You know. I was going to write my reaction to the blurbs on my book but realized I would be blurbing the blurbs which might invite another blogger to blurb the blurbs of my blurbs. Search on the BlazeVOX [books] catalog for a blurb written by one Sarah Sarai (for Charles Freeland’s Eros & (Fill in the Blank).

And, ta-dah, here are mine:

Sarah Sarai’s poems are charged with the terrible presence of the now and the dangerous fact of words. This is poetry as it should be. Scary, strange, generous, intensely in a physical world while illuminating an unimaginable spiritual world. This is writing that sings. The song it sings is the song of our hearts.

—Jack Wiler (Fun Being Me, I Have No Clue)
With both wit and tenderness, Sarah Sarai rigorously navigates the dialectics of knowledge and not knowing, thinking and being, the fantastic and the quotidian, the spiritual and the earthy, in language that is by turns crisp and lush. These are heady, whip-smart, funny and moving poems in which time becomes fluid and vertical—high-rise pageant of art, ephemera, filigree and memory through which our physical and temporal bodies spark and fall much too quickly.
—Lee Ann Roripaugh (On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year; Year of the Snake; Beyond Heart Mountain)
How often we hear it: "No ideas but in things." But Sarai throws pie in the face of such doctrine, and a tasty pie it is. Here, abstractions such as connection, morality and "sloppy forgiveness" form the crust of her work. But the filling, juicy with the polymorphous perversity of a living breathing world, teems with a compote of voices, textures, colors. Socrates, James Brown, Anna Karenina are tossed together with bebop, chili peppers and "100 billion neurons nipping maybe 268 mph." So much to chew on! The poet serves it all with an uncommon heart and broad-ranging intellect. The result is writing which is naked, urgent, frisky and sublime.
—Nina Corwin (Conversations with Friendly Demons and Tainted Saints; Inhabiting the Body: A Collection of Poetry and Art by Women-editor; Fifth Wednesday Journal-poetry editor)
Sarah Sarai’s poetry is hot-wired and hip-swivel all the way up the spine! Emily Dickinson is Jewish and Moses breaks tablets for stellar sex. She’s retained the best of modernism (especially that syncopated variable foot Charlie Parker bop in the word-love) and moved onto new red earth for her own vision. Eat this book! It’s terrific.
—Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire; Blues for Unemployed Secret Police; Keep Your Head Down-a memoir)

Buy The Future Is Happy from Amazon or Small Press Distribution.

Links to reviews are HERE!


See also: Polonius on Acid (re: art of the blurb)