Monday, June 29, 2009

The Ambivalent Queen

The parade of vanities is everything hoped for
and nothing gained or a few chipped teapots gained
but none to win you out of hock.

A Rolex with diamond fittings whispers

sweet somethings from its enjambed arch.
You in the back of the shop

whimper common apologies circumspect in
entitlement which everyone (everyone) enjoys
though none according to worth.

A professor stared at her breasts and to her protest
said, But you’re not wearing a bra,
which is not much of an abuse as things go,

things, unsayable [Rilke].
Life is brutish, nasty
and short-haired as a cat’s accordion, a lyrical
magnificence of purring.

Smirk at the brutish and nasty, cower
before faith’s illogical residence,
its solitary and universal habitation in

every room, its golden thread winding north
of parade and pawn shop.
The cats leap,
and we are also almost willing to follow

but for palace corruption,
flocked wallpaper,
blue wigs and powdered insincerities
so basic to this toy and plaything

as the ticking Rolex pours tea into
saucers and we make love in flowered cups
and illogic is giddy with hope.

Like Wings

What can be said. Speed is
a calling. Desire is a bidding.

Judgment rises from steam
and then where?

Fortune is the heart of
two chambers like wings

and the instinct to soar,
migrate, see the world

and its topographical
gestures. Topography is

the back of a woman seen as
desert or a reptile's spine.

You have not learned to trust
(the muted instinct).

You'll be of an unblinking star
when the muddy nest won't do.

Will you be bold or
pretend finally to be human.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

In Search of the King and Love

The messenger strains to find the king.

The writer searches full throttle for a valued word.

The perfectionist shoots an arrow to her crimson heart.

The king is behind an arras, hiding from the messenger. Why won't the servant wear livery anymore, he fumes.

The messenger removes his jacket when the pigeon drops leavings or leaves droppings on his shoulder.

The scullery maid longs for package-deal love.

Into her kitchen the messenger walks.

He is the one, the scullery maid knows.

He wants nothing but to find the king and get help with dry cleaning.

The writer considers "futility" "honor" "Sierra Leone."

Orgasm is overdone but titillating.

The arras senses it should have been born gay. It longs to be a dress.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Brave One

I’d marry Jodie Foster, if only to fatten
and teach her what God wants from us
or would if God tramped the planet in
the finite, clueless on enlightenment.

Humanity’s an abrupt artform, tolerated
by the pageant and caught, a filigree in
the pretty scrapbook, amber, held to
sparkling effulgence.
Our marvelous
past’s in your palm; conjecture polished
by Scheherazade’s scramble for more.

In the Sudan, Jimmy Carter was stonewalled.
Let’s agree there’s something holy in the story
slipped into his pocket by a walking filigree.

And Jodie Foster?
Recites Emily Dickinson
gems as she prowls New York for the usual
reason: to kill until she’s moved past the pain.

(pub. in Sprung Formal/Kansas City Art Institute, 2009)

Friday, June 26, 2009

won't you

stupid lucky fool
Andrei Rublev


self-seeking understudy
diva’s death wishing/

second lyre to
Orpheus’ first/

thrill world’s
juddering heart/

lugged squeaking

{pub. in The Columbia Review, 2008}

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Writers Block, A Cautionary Tale, Sebastian Venable

I wish you could have met me when my memory was formidable and stunning, a paean to family influence. Someone might say "Glenn" and I'd shout "Baxter" while my oldest sister would shout "Gould." High fiving wasn't the thing in those days, and it would be hard to imagine anyone in my immediate family, known for tapping our short fingers on each others' backs in lieu of a warm hug, doing anything so normal.


You, or anyone similar to yourself, could have knocked me over with a feather or two when I recently watched Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer on DVD. Maggie Smith, as haughty, genteel, brittle and southern Mrs. Violet Venable -- Violet Venable, yes -- is remarking that her son Sebastian was a poet.

Poet! I didn't remember that (I thought aloud). Of course as soon as Mrs. Venable says he wrote one poem a year, it all came flooding back and I watched the train wreck in all its poetic fluidity as if it were beautifully wrought true crime, which might not be far from the case.

Sebastian was a predator. I nosed around the Internet a bit, the word “homosexual” was used to describe him, and it’s not inaccurate insofar as he was attracted to his own gender, but really, would you consider a male who seeks out prepubescent girls a “heterosexual”? Creep-to-criminal works for me. His last days on earth, in Mexico, Sebastian scavenged among the poor and hungry.

His cousin Catherine was his companion in Mexico. She flipped as a result of witnessing Sebastian’s viciously disgusting though (again) poetically fulfilling death. The poor and hungry boys descended on him. Killed him. Ate his flesh. I am not sure if he was still alive when they began gnawing.

Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread for which he was imprisoned all those years. The boys’ imprisonment preceded their revenge.

Anyway, the point is, really, that if Sebastian had spent more time writing and less time prowling, he might not have been mauled and eaten alive.

For you, yes, you, see, writing poetry can sustain a person. But it’ll take more than one poem a year, pals.

"The work of a poet is the life of a poet and - vice versa, the life of a poet is the work of a poet…you can't separate them." Mrs. Venable

The illustration is by the artist Glen Baxter, and certainly if you Youtube Glenn Gould you’ll be able to hear all sorts of astonishing variations on Bach.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mark Strand (reminds me of Anwar Sadat). Part II on slam & performance poetry reviews

A few years ago I went to see Mark Strand read at the Cornelia Street Cafe. I would be happy to observe Mark Strand pouring over a train schedule or working through one of Pound's Cantos, but, in fact, Mark Strand was to read aloud his poetry.

Of which I am a great fan, or at least a fan, how great am I, after all, well, not very. I was not disappointed. As Octavio Paz has written, “Mark Strand has chosen the negative path, with loss as the first step towards fullness: it is also the opening to a transparent verbal perfection.”

Prepared though I was to be charmed by verse, I was unprepared to be charmed by Strand. I'd never seen him in person. When the saucy, yes saucy, cocktail waitress drew near him—he was onstage at this point—he gave her a look, the like of which I have not seen since that photo with Anwar Sadat and Richard M. Nixon.

Sometime in the early seventies, Nixon went to Egypt. Sadat, Egypt's president and a great man, offered entertainment worthy of visiting dignitaries. Belly dancing. The photograph, from Life or Time, revealed a remarkably uncomfortable, even for him, Nixon, while the look on Sadat's face was, hmmmmm, appreciative

In our touchy times, and I'm okay with touchy, I am called to emphasize that in no way am I saying the visionary Sadat, later tragically assassinated, was improper. He was, however, human, and clearly able to enjoy what was before him.

Strand's face when the waitress approached to see if he wanted a refill. It was a, Send her to my room look. Sometime this Spring I went to see Strand read, alongside other poets, at the Bowery Poetry Club in an evening designed to mix writers of his ilk, i.e., Poetry Society of America members, however they're elected, etc., with high school performance poets. It was a great evening.

What impressed me most that night was the quality of performance poetry. Not all the young poets had me reevaluating the form, just as not all poets at an open mic are a call to reevaluate poetry. (Just as not all prizewinners . . . ) But there were two young women, both about to head off to college, I believe, who were extremely gifted. Images, rhythms, timing. Performance.

I didn't remember those two until after I posted my blog last night, about performance poetry and its reviewers. I gotta say, reviewers, step up. It's a new world (or a constantly self-reinventing one). Thoughtful reviewers will be rewarded with images of Strand, Sadat or belly dancers.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Slam poetry and the reviewing thereof

Poet Victor Infante wrote this, elsewhere:

So here's what I think the world of poetry needs: A regular column or space in a high-end, respected and decently distributed mainstream literary journal dedicated strictly to the discussion and critique of slam and related non-establishment poetry: why and how it works, what does and does not deserve to survive from the canon, what deserves more attention. It's mission would be to explore what fromt he alternative has been sublimated into the maisntream, and to look past the standard arguments for what's new and important.

He mentioned this was part of an ongoing dialog between himself and friends, as it is an ongoing dialog in the poetry world (big world, lots of poetry, lots of poets).

Every form of art and art maker deserves attention. Music in its constant rebirth, from drumming to chant to weird Chinese opera (sorry) to Mozart to Ali Akbar Khan to Stevie Wonder (well named) to native American flute.... I note that in The Onion,  reviews are more of popular music, whereas The N. Y. Times or The New Yorker review pop, jazz, classical, "world" (a word meaning not made in America, as "regional theater" means not produced in New York City).

Here's my question. Is being reviewed the goal? What is the value of a review? To create buzz, get attention?

Here's my other question which I hope serves as example. It's about music, not poetry. Can a music reviewer write as much about a Pete Seeger folk song as she could write about Schubert lieder (or weird Chinese opera). Even with the Beach Boys' sophisticated harmonies or Laura Nyro's rhythms, are either as rich for mining by a critic as a song by Billy Strayhorn or Satie?

By which I mean: Is it plausible (and this is a question) that some forms of poetry and other of the arts have more reviewable type components. NO WAY am I saying one form of music (and by extrapolation, poetry) is "higher" on the food chain than the other. I was smothered in classical in my childhood (though, oddly, rock, jazz, soul, funk were not disallowed). Sometime in my late thirties I had a huge realization: Classical was not top of the food chain.

That was a big moment for me, especially as I hadn't been able to listen to much classical (short of chant, chamber music, art songs and some relatively modern French composers) for years. You'd have thought my parents waterboarded myself and my sisters while singing (Mom was a soprano) praises of the old boys.

(I realize you might not have thought waterboarded back then, but you could have considered a drip water torture or electric shock or the like.)

A review or critical analysis can open something up. Last Friday I mentioned on this here blog that I was going to hear local poet Michael Graves give a lecture on James Wright's  Shall We Gather at the River. It was a completely worthwhile evening and much in the book opened up (that phrase again).

A jump rather than a conclusion: I would like performance poetry to be opened, more. Go ahead, critics. Teach.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Prayer - Hafiz

The Place of Weeping [Hafiz]

A whole church has been moved.
What does “art museum” mean

one corduroy five-year-old stunned
by a splash of antique likeness?
A fountain’s echolocation for his
divine heartbeat? If I’d a brought it,
I’d hand him a Lady Liberty to stop on.
Father and son lured to this temple
inside a reverie like an emerald so
fiery the kid’s shroud palm is scarred
dead center. Lured by what?

Tears silly to be spilled for beauty?
Chisled marble and gray stones
were ferried like conquistadores
over a numbing ocean to humble
the new world. Roll your own,
ladies, and hear the satisfying whish!
of a bright Russian doll halved at
its belly ravenous for chimes, the call.
Mohammed says prayer is better than
sleep. Art is prayer. Redemption is
fleeting, but by the cool temple fountain
awe works this kid standing, mouth open.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Alcohol Not Good for You, They're Sayin' - Here's to you, Carrie Nation

So there's an article in the Health section of yesterday's New York Times website, formerly known as the New York Times newspaper. Sayeth the article: the wisdom that has become commonplace - a drink a day is a healthy pour - is wrong.

And was tested (the assertion that alcohol can be good for you) in that quasi-scientific way that wisdom, theories and wishes are tested: poorly and with many assumptions. Funding for the clinical trials at various universities has often been provided by Big Booze.

"Some researchers say they are haunted by the mistakes made in studies about hormone replacement therapy, which was widely prescribed for years on the basis of observational studies similar to the kind done on alcohol." I remember that. One day I was on hormonal replacement therapy, the next day I was terrified I'd allowed myself to fall for the hype, and stopped taking the pills.

Another possibility, author Roni Caryn Rabin poses, is that moderate drinkers who are healthy are healthy because they are Aristotelian (well, the article doesn't mention him). They practice moderation - Aristotle's golden mean - in all things, alcohol consumption among them.

I am not against booze, and I drink now and then, but I must say, I see it cause more harm than do good. Over and over. After the Civil War, when so many men were ravaged by the years of brutal battles, drinking picked up, and over the next fifty years reached a sort of critical mass, so that Carrie Nation, who was born during the Civil War, staged her famous temperance campaign.

Prohibition doesn't work. I don't know what does. I just found the article interesting. Read it for yourself .

photo: Carrie Nation in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Odysseus Tying Himself to the Mast - Happy Bloom's Day

Yes, Molly Bloom fans.

Yes, devotees of stately plump, etc.

Today, June 16, is Bloom's Day in celebration or commemoration or expression of constant awe for James Joyce's Ulysses, loosely based on The Odyssey. Loosely as in easy as a rent boy. As in blowsy as a whore. And then there are various articles of clothing such as your oldest t-shirt or a gypsy-like blouse purchased fifteen years ago at a yard sale, or a muu muu you're reluctant to pass on. What if you retire early and to a trailer park? Hold onto it.

Loose, but epic. Also epic is my need to exercise self-discipline. To write a short blog every day (I've done good, lately). Work on fiction and poetry every day. Work on work. Jobs. Upkeep. Odysseus tied himself to the mast so he wouldn't be tempted by Sirens. A short-term solution.

The long-term solution is watermelon seed slippery. And so I shall now eat a slice of watermelon and contemplate the seed. And how I trundled from Ulysses to Odysseus without much of an explanation or the self-discipline to write a bridge, a transition. And absolute joy that those women in the upper right-hand corner look a bit like me (stately and plump). Sometimes artists get it right.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran - The World Is Ennobled by the Protest

With far less to lose than Iranians, who don't know our level of civil liberties by a long shot, Americans {of the left} {myself included} let the false election of G. W. Bush go by, remember, the Florida election, the chads, the deceit and manipulation, Jeb Bush.

Yes, Gore let go. But so did the rest of us.

And now I see hundreds of thousands of Iranians, including women in this socially conservative nation, protesting.

America {my country} {yes, my home} is not the world leader, anymore. Not in courage, strength, resources. We owe how many trillions to China, and how much more to other countries? Okay, maybe I'm mixing this up by bringing in China in a discussion of Iran election protests. And I need not flagellate, just because progressives {a loathsome word} have become regressive in protesting.

So thank you Iranians. There is one true God who loves us all and may this God protect you. I don't know that America is up to the task. I get the sense that the world has been patting us on our shiny heads and letting us think we're still in charge. Regardless.

Go, Iran. Go, Iranian women. Go, Mousavi.

{The photo is from December 2008.}

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Open Mic Etiquette {Note to Poets}

Dear Poets,

When you read your work at an open mic, it is not necessary to explain the poem. It is not necessary to share with the audience the city it was written in or weather conditions outside the window of your garrett while you were writing. Were you happy or sad or full of knowledge and/or wisdom from just having completed reading Gibbons' The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? Not really necessary. A brief mention could be interesting but that's all. Perhaps you used an unusual word in your poem, such as, say, abducent nerve.

Well, okay. I grant it might be of value to inform your now slavering public that an abducent nerve is:

A small motor nerve that has one task: to supply a muscle called the lateral rectus muscle that moves the eye outward.

{Challenge poem: Use "abducent nerve" in a crown of sonnets.}

But even that is really truly unnecessary. Perhaps your poem references Paris, not the Paris of croissant and Yves Montand but Paris, Texas. Maybe maybe maybe you can mention that before reading.

But really. Truly. HERE'S MY POINT, FOLKS, AND PLEASE NOTE, THIS IS A BLOG, NOT AN OPEN MIC READING. Let the poem, a compilation of words, space and time, do its own talking. Let the audience understand what it understands. If there is a doctor in the house, ha ha, even she might miss abducent nerve, because the thrust of the poem is about bravery or love or redemption. But the doctor will have listened and heard something new and brave.

You can't control what your audience hears. You can't control how your audience interprets. All you can do is read your poem. And it is so very tiresome and insulting to be told:

"This is a poem about love," by an eager poet. I, for one, want to make the discovery on my own. And if there is any merit to the poem, I will. Without the poet's help. Without a five-minute lecture.

Of course if a poet goes on and on before reading his or her poem because he or she is oblivious to the audience, or narcissistic, well, what's to be done but to leave the reading or avoid that poet in the future. I go to poetry readings to encounter poems, not poets.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Richard Wright's haiku . . . (he's a master of the form)

A few years ago I was blown away -- not because I am fragile, although I have my moments, but because the intensity of discovery had strength, velocity, daring and the coveted element of surprise (not yet in the Table of Elements).

I saw that the novelist Richard Wright had written haiku. No. I saw that Richard Wright was a master of haiku, the Japanese poetic form. Richard Wright, as you recall, is what is often called a "black" novelist because he was black, and his novels Black Boy and Native Son describe, among many things, what it is to be black in America.

So, yes, I suppose I am describing myself catching myself in a somewhat white attitude, i.e., surprised a "black" novelist wrote haiku. Can't deny it. I had to read this book I found at St. Mark's Bookstore. And I saw that Wright turned the haiku artform upside down. Inside out. Mastered it and made it his own. Made haiku urban, specific and universal.

Wright wrote many of his over 4,000 haiku when he lived in Paris. Of those about 800 are in This Other World (Arcade Publishing). Here are some:


I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.


Keep straight down this block,
Then turn right where you will find
A peach tree blooming.


Make up you mind, Snail!
You are half inside your house,
And halfway out!


You moths must leave now;
I am turning out the light
And going to sleep.


Little boys tossing
Stones at a guilty scarecrow
In a snowy field.


Tossing all day long,
The cold sea now sleeps deeply
On a bed of stars.


A silent spring wood:
A crow opens its sharp beak
And creates a sky.


So cold it is now
That the moon is frozen fast
To a pine tree limb.


The big light in the fog
Was but a little lantern
When we came to it.


In this tiny pond
The great big lake in which
I swam as a boy?


Amid the daisies
Even the idiot boy
Has a dignity.


My cold and damp feet
Feel as distant as the moon
On this autumn night.


A flood of spring rain
Searching into drying grasses
Finds a lost doll.


On my trouser leg
Are still a few strands of fur
From my long dead cat.


I cannot find it,
That very first violet
Seen from my window.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How Cool Is This? Poetry. The Shield.

So tonight I'm going to hear a fine local poet, Michael Graves, talk on James Wright's
Let Us Gather at the River. And he's going to lecture at

a diner. How cool is that. In my life? Cool. Also cool is that I watched, via Netflix, all of the seventh season of

The Shield, about this lying, cheating, scheming charismatic L.A. cop played by Michael Chiklis. The Shield got me because I cannot resist

cop shows and have even less resistance to cop shows staged in L.A. or New York. The last few episodes were double roasted. Good and bad cops played by terrific actors allowing momentous feelings of betrayal, hatred, love, botched loves on their solid faces. They're not about being pretty boys or girls. They are about strength in art.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not a Failed Blogger | Working on Novel

Apologies to any one of my zero reader(s) who anticipated something or other to read (here), anything witty or wise or at the least diverting enough so as you were sucked down slick surfaces of the vacuum-power void you would not know what was happening

because Sarah Sarai would have sent your reflexes on a wild goose chase. But that did not happen

because you are alive and in the pit of dim feeling that constitutes your every waking breath, not to mention a few sleeping breaths. My excuse: I'm finishing

shaping my novella (two of two) (both related) (same character, forty years apart) and it's challenging. To say

the least. (To say a little more, the two novellas combined are thusly entitled: From the One Side of Heaven.) Am also writing

a review of The Book of Practical Pussies (Tender Buttons Press) which is such an interesting collection of cat erotica and human sin (I'm messin' with you about the sin). And eventually

this blog will see reviews of books and movies and sin and whatever else I feel like reviewing. So, dear non-

reader (of this blog). Hang in with me.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Willows weep with me, near me, for me

Thanks to the ever-amazing Molly Gaudry, editor of Willows Wept Review. She just published my poem "And What If" and even withstood my initial lackluster spelling (of John Ashbery's name). He brings the poem to its grand finale.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vote! for This Journey In (album) by The Rebirth

Here's the deal.
Go to
and vote. Now.  The Rebirth is a hip and much-loved r&b, soul, funk group from L.A. My nephew is on keyboards and vocals. 

More the The Rebirth, here:

Offhand remark from a New York City teacher on the Bloomberg spin

"Don't let Bloomberg fool you.  Fools with two years teaching experience are being made supervisors, there's grade inflation, inflated hours for teachers [to meet Bloomberg's meaningless demands], and almost no supplies."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Which Door Closed

Begin with bantam spongy fishes dehydrated; willy nilly pitched
            along with glo rocks the neons of a six-pack of cotton
            panties anymore and magic culled from mushroom planet
            books where—in classifieds—you see an ad—finally—
            you want to respond to:
                        “WANTED (read the small notice, printed -
                        oddly - in green):  A small space ship, about
                        eight feet long, built by a boy, or by two
                        boys, between the ages of eight and
Some days we love the people the people quiet in their
            fresh-faced Hello, Sun trot of sustenance, and doggies
            offered one last pee before life and key turn inward
            for an indeterminate spell.
Some days we balk at making cross with the sorcery of
            a doorframe.
We summon the inspiration of personal catechism (has one
            Arthurian blade a little tough to access, a faithful white-
            foam geyser spouting like a tabby-whiskered preacher
            towards Heaven, and seven peacock feathers beloved
            of Terpsichore, the very muse herself, when the west
            was wild with longing).
Some days fish rehydrate, swell with the surprise of dimension
            and spirit, make a joyous pivot into traffic of the infinite

Cameron, Eleanor. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet
Little Brown.  New York: 1954.  ("Which Door Closed" pub. in The Smoking Poet.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Poem: Outside the Ritz-Carlton

 Outside the Ritz-Carlton

Pine bowers and electric stars
strung on the canopy over-top
three blonde bouffants of scrappy
imperfection with locks straying
like deft housecats into heated
territory familiar and claimed.
Three high-heeled pair of black
boots and as a yellow cab glides
to a perfect stop, three cigarettes
smashed until their fanned glow
is hypothetical as any after-life,
including reincarnation which
aligns with a felt logic of follies
we blindly interpret as suffering.

Sarah Sarai, published in Helix (Central Connecticut State University), 2008.