Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tips for Success!

A discussion arose (like a wind from the east, etc. etc.), as such discussions will, on how to get published - first book, second book, poem in journal, story online . . . It happened on a listserv, I, to which, belong. I posted my first book blog from just down the way (scroll down the way), but also wrote (and now in a pique of self-adoration I quote my very words):

"Advice, after a while, can sound like a Cosmo cover:

*Ten Ways to Get Your Book Published!
*Seven Tips on How to Please Your Publisher!

Maybe we could try for Prevention:

*Lose Five Bad Poems by Thanksgiving!
*Walk Your Book to the Publisher in Thirty Days!
*What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Poetry! (A lot!)"

So Susan Rich, she who has authored The Cartographer's Tongue, Cures Include Travel, and The Alchemist's Kitchen (forthcoming), responded with these three crispy nuggets:

*How to Tell If Your Publisher is the Faithful Kind (Before the Contract is Signed)
*What Your Mother Didn't Tell You About Being a Poet
*How to Believe in Your Own Book (Ten Tips on a More Confident, Lyrical, You)

If you have a handy tip, please share it in a comment. And remember:

*You Too Can Be A Successful Writer! Aim For The Stars And You'll Be All Sparkly!

photo of Edwin Hubble. Title of page: Tips for Success in Observational Astronomy

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ekphrasis, Yom Kippur, Christ Consciousness, St. Sarai

El Greco's
St. Bartholomew
I am at odds on Yom Kippur. I was raised a Protestant. My father was Jewish. I am a half-Jewish, Sufi-esque, Swedenborgian Christian who doesn't who doesn't go to church but spends time in churches when the congregation is elsewhere occupied. In New York many stunning churches are open during the day so I can sit and think on the confusing mess of our warring loving natures; ours and mine.

Museums serve a similar purpose, not to discount art for art's sake. Looking at art for looking at art's sake.

It feels good to post this poem here today. Once I learned the Jewish holiday / observance cycle -- and I was in my late thirties by then --  my internal clock a.k.a. voice within opened to its holiness.

The first draft happened at the Met as I was looking at a Flemish painting (pictured), "St. Christopher Carrying the Infant Christ Child" by a Follower of Dieric Bouts This poem was published in The Mississippi Review, a journal which, alas, has folded, and is included in my collection, The Future Is Happy. It was a "best of the web." 

St. Sarah Sarai Carrying the Infant Christ Child

Creeping, is what a saffron sun is doing,
creeping out from a past it will soon revisit.

I hike my blood-red tunic to my thighs
with one hand while the other, well,
in my arms, well, always a child,
always delivered to us in indrawn-
infant stillness, as if creation
holds its breath because, really,
all this is over so much too soon.

Isn’t making art remembering
what we knew? Why not, then, salvation?

The water over rocks cold on granite—
quartz and orthoclase—and slick moss.
I’m the last person who should be entrusted
to carry Him, me of the angry sinner school.

And I would forswear sainthood and irony,
I would, for this one, held against my heart.
Sarah Sarai. Mississippi Review, The Ekphrasis Issue, Volume 14, Number 4 (2008)
Editor Jane Armstrong

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First book advice #2: no apologies, please

My dearest ones. Yesterday I cautioned against trying to produce a perfect poetry collection. Today's variation on the maelstrom of worry which accompanies a first book is: Don't apologize.

Initially and characteristically I poo-poo-ed my work as soon as it was accepted. (Such a negative pose is ransferrable to fiction, nonfiction, music, photography - pretty much any project in which the sleeve reveals an at least faint outline of the heart's presence.) All of a sudden, I was "over it." So over it, as if every poem I'd written up to that point was no more than a warm-up exercise for the poet I was meant to be.

Knowing me as I do (and don't), my attitude was a device of my little devils of self-doubt, a way to keep me small and disallow great feelings of pride and joy which are warranted by the publication of a book. God forbid I be happy. Ya know?

A friend, not the same friend who warned against publishing a "precious" book, came to the rescue. She wrote, "There was a point when I was embarrassed by my first book because the later work was so obviously better to me."

She urged me to forego the questionable pleasure of feeling superior to oneself, a kinky way of thinking indeed. I stopped myself from telling excited friends I was feeling disconnected from the manuscript. That feeling sure hasn't lasted. I am connected to my book. Very. I like it. I am proud it. Hello, world? Read my damn book!

I could have done a fair amount of damage to myself and my book by putting it out there that I was really better than that! Whew! The silly and true fact is that I love the poems (The Future Is Happy). Whatever self-doubt I felt in October 2008, I am not feeling it now and am so happy I quickly learned to exhibit restraint.

My friend also emailed, "Let yourself enjoy its strengths. Most important of all--don't deprecate the work in any way--even if you feel that way yourself, others won't, and if you suggest to them that it's not your best work, that's how they'll look at it, and that's hurtful."
The impulse is universal. A compliment to your outfit is met with, "This old thing?" and so on.

I love my book and everything in it. I didn't italicize some (about three) words in the final draft which I meant to. I see a mistake on the previously-published-in page. I wouldn't mind flawless, but I have a strong and, as I wrote in yesterday's blog, all-of-one-piece book.

Feedback has been fabulous. Let me tell you; my sweet mother, wherever she is, well, hanging out in the cloud over there, is so proud, as is Pop, rattling ice cubes in his heavenly Scotch.

I hope some of you will take the time to read my book and appreciate its heart, quality, spirit, tenderness, humor and wild imperfection.

And as you assemble your work of art, be thoughtful. And when your work of art is out there, be proud.
first review:
buy from Amazon:
Mary Martin, Peter Pan, "I Gotta Crow"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

First book advice: The Future Is Happy

Now that my first book, the poetry collection The Future Is Happy has its own page on the SPD (Small Press Distribution) website, I am ready to talk.

Now independent bookstores can order it, and independent book readers frequenting independent bookstores can buy it. This is big. At least for me. The Future continues to be available from Amazon, my publisher (BlazeVOX) and from me.

I'm a lucky duck to get published over-the-transom. I did try four or five contests run by literary presses or university presses, didn't win, knew I could not afford the fees and slightly mistrusted the process (not fair of me, really), so I started searching elsewhere.

When my manuscript was accepted I was given a piece of advice, as if advice were a cherry pie I could gobble down. A friend with three books out told me not to try for a perfect book.

"It'll lock you in. You'll always have to live up to it. Who wants precious?"

I appreciated permission to be imperfect. Those gem poems of mine were in the book, but so were poems a little more ragged - though loved by me. Who's to say in the long run which is a more meaningful experience of a poem? Well, the reader is to say. Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler. But really I write for greater closeness and salvation, corporate and always mystical.
The way is sure but it's got to be varied. So many are on the path.
Because my book was accepted during the ongoing economic meltdown, there were delays and more delays. By the time I received the first proof I saw a few things I wanted to change.

With Geoffrey's (my pub.) blessing I swapped out a few poems. As with any project, time away offers perspective. My reasoning in choosing new work, some of it written after the book was accepted, was to make the whole more whole, the more whole stronger, but not to make it perfect.

I am not a perfect person and less so a perfect poet. I am not a perfect poet and less so a perfect person. A stream of hot radiant light is focusing my next book. I have nothing to live up to, in following The Future Is Happy, but nothing to live down. I am proud of it, amazed it ever happened - I am sixty - and ready to be ready.

Note: Cover photograph by Susan Tamany.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

O! Poetry Foundation, thee is a silly goose

Something on The Poetry Foundation's website just made me laugh. Its "Around the Web" page lists categories of interest to poets, and the funny category, for two hundred million, Alex, was "Regional Poetry."

You have, no doubt, heard the term "Regional Theater." Coined in New York it translates to "not New York City." I've lived in cities with thriving theater scenes--Los Angeles and Seattle, among them. I know. For a fact. That New York City theater is not "the" best. It's just often but not always real good. The term "regional," however, casts a shadow over the quality of any other city's theater.

Now Chicago, where Second City (ahem) improv group famously works out, where the Poetry Foundation is based, is calling itelf the epicenter of poetry by referring to all other poetry centers as regional. Don't tell me The Foundation was blind to this when they set up the page.

"Regional Poetry," as opposed to the other kind of poetry?, is apparently found in New York (Poets House, 92nd Street Y, etc.), Seattle (Hugo House), and a few other places.

I know. Fair is fair. Revenge is sweet. Though I think it would be new and brave to forget "regional" and just talk of poetry. Will an Istanbul link, soon to appear, I hope, be considered regional? Are all the many fine poets of Minnesota's "The Loft" simply regional?

And City Lights Bookstore? A wellspring of regional poets? Buffalo? Philly?

It's just silly. That's all. Silly. Trust me, I understand what it can feel like to do battle with the provinciality of the biggest small town in the world, but I still hope for innovation. Our world? Fractured and dangerous. Poetry? A chance to show us this terrified world and offer a new and better vision.

Maybe regional poetry centers will be up to the task.

Note: TPF throws around a lot of money and for a good cause. My argument is with the term only. Also, I wouldn't mind getting a poem in Poetry some day. Stranger things have happened, but usually they aren't legal, or they involve mushrooms.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Open Mic Poets: I owe you an apology

I write these posts in a flurry--which is good--I've finally made peace with imperfection; and so I sometimes have second thoughts on what I've written.

Point being, on June 14, 2009 I posted "Open Mic Etiquette {Note to Poets}" and commented on an increasing tendency to deliver long introductions to poems, and that this tendency was most common to poets of the open mic.

What do I even mean by "open mic poets"? Well. Poets who love to read their poems aloud, who enjoy the company of other poets at open mics, mostly held in coffee houses or bars. By and large, open mic poets, as I here define them, don't submit their work to literary journals, or do so only when the journal is tied to one of the open mic venues they frequent.

In New York City, for instance, Evie Ivey's Green Pavilion reading in Brooklyn, a monthly reading series "under the chandeliers" at a funky coffee shop with a large backroom, recently published a slick, well-executed anthology of Green Pavilion poets--poets whose work, whose names, don't appear in publications with a greater circulation.

Okay, definition over. Thing is, when I advised open mic poets against explaining their poems prior to reading them--let the work stand on its own, I suggested--I wasn't exclusively addressing open mic-ers.

In fact, one of the most annoying readings I had attended was of Poetry poets, Poetry being one of the superstar journals of this field. The reading was held at Housing Works Bookstore and featured four poets. The first two poets to read explained their work at length, revealed various resentments held against editors who'd rejected their work, or considered their time at the mic to be a first draft of a memoir. (Much autobiography.)

The final two poets simply read their poems. The final two poets were Philip Nikolayev and Mary Jo Bang. Nikolayev, who is bi-lingual (Russian and English), placed his poem in a context. I don't remember the specifics, just that he offered one or two sentences of introduction--he was born and originally educated in Russia and sometimes listeners are eager to know if his work is a translation or his own.

Mary Jo Bang, also calmly laconic in her notes to the audience, told us a poem she was about to read followed a particular form. And then she read her poem. The emphasis was on the work, not what led up to her writing it.

All of this is to simply urge all poets to trust their poetry to do the work. To trust the listeners to figure it out. Each listener may take away a slightly different "it," one feeling sorrow in a poem, another a tender wit. We can't really control other people's reactions, we can only try. Sometimes I wonder if that isn't why some poets write poetry. And if so, good for them. Just don't explain away your impulse.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Emily Dickinson and the Holocaust: Why

I received an e-mail last week from Ezster Rimar, a student in Hungary, telling me she was presenting a paper on one of my poems at the conference "Witnessing Responses: A New Generation's Perspectives on the Holocaust" (held at Károli Gáspár University of the Hungarian Reformed Church, Budapest, September 9-12, 2009). With her permission, I am posting her presentation here. Ms. Rimar's insights into the poem, "Emily Dicksinson Is Jewish," are sharp and sensitive; what impresses me even more is her interest in assessing the poem and not the poet. I've pasted the poem, first published in Fine Madness in 1997, at the end. Following that I include my e-mailed responses to Ezster. And a general note on the poem: My placing Emily in the attic was a trick of synthesis. In a moment objects of my hybrid attention and hybrid debate (hybrid - I am Christian and Jewish) coalesced. I sat and wrote.

Analysis of the poem "Emily Dickinson is Jewish" by Sarah Sarai
by Ezster Rimar

Why this poem
2 years ago, special elective course on E. D.
Task: read poems about her.
This -> interesting title (E. D. Jewish?)
Focus on her in the poem...but why Jewish?
What are the similarities between her and the Jews of the Holocaust?

The poem
Free verse: no rhymes, no clear rhythm -> suggest distraction, restlessness, uneasiness
Unusual stanzas...four lines, 2, 3, 3, 1, 3...no structure, no harmony, no balance
Emotions flowing out just the way they are.

First stanza
We are in the attic
Attic: dusty, mysterious, dark, no light, perhaps no windows, old things, antiquities, forgotten past, bats, ghosts, Charlotte Bronte’s mad ex-wife Bertha (Jane Eyre)...good place for hiding, you don’t go there without an explicit purpose

E.D.’s restricted -> there is something she can’t say/do...makes her stay in the attic and hide her “selective nomadic soul”. Selective: discriminating, selecting like deciding what is good & what is bad? Nomadic: no fixed home, wanderer...her soul is a wanderer. Is Jewish soul a wanderer? Has it got its home where it can feel safe? Has it got the comfort of a home where it can express freely what it feels?

Listing the things E.D. misses: bees, frogs, “sovereign woods”..., nobility, beauty, nature, simplicity...all in few words...how we don’t value them when they are there naturally... 
Squinting at dust, the Oriental carpet, a creaking plank...images, objects from the attic. Squinting -> not being able to see clearly, there is something disturbing in the picture. Oriental carpet vs. creaking plank: carpet soft, dulls the noise of steps, oriental = mystery, sg. unknown...Creaking plank: loud, dangerous, meaning death for pirates...if you walk the plank... don’t know what’s going to happen...when are you going to fall into the water and die, suffocate...

Second stanza
Clear allusion to E.D. with death carriage (“because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me”). Deliberation...won’t abandon! No intention! Come what may! She knows “doors slam shut on his train”. Finality. No way back! Once doors slam shut, it’s over. Train -> like train on which Jews were transported to camps.

Third stanza
Introduces Austin, E.D.’s brother, and his wife Sue. Nice pic, w/ children laughing, bringing life, vitality into the attic. Sue also stows things for E. In case she returns...again the most important things. Maybe crusts and laughter are enough for happiness...
Bread crusts: parts thrown away by so many. Precious for those in exile.
Jew-in-white: important picture in E.D.’s life...wore white all the time. White: symbol of purity, peace, angels, wedding (bride’s gown), in some cultures funeral also...also white associated w/ ghosts...if the woman in the attic wears white and is a Jew, perhaps...ghosts from the past up in the attic.

Fourth stanza
Shows a possible outcome. She could die there, or be captured. No other alternative. She will not go from the attic from her own will. She will not just appear as if everything was all right. She can die there, or be captured. And, whichever happens will happen by force.

Why? “Muslin’s soft scratch”...you are restricted...fully. Completely. Are not supposed to do anything. No movements, no noise...even a fine material, like muslin, when touches the desk sounds as loud as “clicked boot heels”. It gives you away. It is not your friend. But you wear it. You wear your white muslin dress. Perhaps that’s all you have left from your normal life. The life that you had to leave behind. From that life before you began to hide in an attic.
Clicked boot heels: obvious allusion to German soldiers. They are loud, merciless, cruel...they will get you and, as the next line says, will “force” you from the attic...

At this point -> thought of Anne Frank...the Dutch girl, hiding with her family from the Nazis, writing her diary, which is found after she is captured and taken to the camp. Diary: important...she’s got a desk...she writes. The diary tells stories, feelings, intros situations, her attitude. Fears and hopes. Wishes. What they are missing...coffee, a nice bath, eating something good, visiting friends, going to the cinema...just like in the first stanza, where we read what Emily was missing. Simple things. Nothing extraordinary. Just everyday things.

Interesting: muslin vs. loud clicked boot heels...feminine vs. masculine, beauty, tenderness vs. violence, force, crudity, cruelty...life vs. death. Think of oriental carpet vs. creaking plank -> also finery vs. cruelty, crudity...

One liner
Emily is forced from this attic. She is found out. Short, factual, no illusions, no explanation, real. Very real.

Last stanza
The final picture. Showing weakness, exhaustion, hunger...giving up. Not able to fight. To say anything, go against the power. “Faint breath” definite sign of it.
Stanzas lapped in smoke: smoke, again reference to death camps, burning the dead. Smoke: hiding evil deeds...also giving them away. Gives mystery to “stanzas”. They are there, but perhaps will never be found. However, they will rise into the air, they will become free. No more restrictions, no more fear, no more confinement.

“Poems as long as one letter, rise.”
Reminding of those short messages, those sighs and silent utterances that were inscribed into carriage walls, whispered in the dark, suppressed in the brain, and let out into the smoke. We must not forget, or neglect these one letter poems. These must stay in the memories so that the world can remember not to repeat the past again.

Why E. D.? She was a lonely woman, who could not come to terms with the world around her. Her father was authoritative, accepted no opposition. Emily’s views, especially those concerning religion, differed from those of her father. She, however, could not reveal them. She did not care about the issues of the world surrounding her. She turned from the detested outer world to her own, created one where she could avoid embarrassing social situations, meaningless conversations, and rejection.

Attic 2: mind...back of the mind...suppressed memories, thoughts, hopes and fears
Her fears, her hopes and wishes, her inability to communicate makes her a good agent for this comparison. The Jews of the Holocaust also had to hide. Not only physically, but also they had to hide their convictions, their beliefs. They hungered understanding, acceptance, they wished for normality, simple, everyday things. Just like E. D., who many times wrote only to her desk, unwilling to have her works published, Jews of the Holocaust, and we might definitely take the case of Anne Frank, also kept their deepest thoughts secret from the world.

Psychological bond between 19th, 20th, and all the centuries. Fear is never different. Whether self confinement or society presses one...must not be allowed. People are the same in all centuries.

Emily Dickinson Is Jewish

Emily Dickinson is Jewish and hides in an attic.
Restriction and Emily's selective nomadic soul breed
Speculation. She misses bees, frogs, familiar sovereign woods.
She squints at dust, the Oriental carpet, a creaking plank.

Emily won't abandon Death's carriage.
She knows doors slam shut on his train.

Austin's wife Sue stows bread crusts
And the children's laughter
For her Jew-in-white.

Emily could die here or be captured,
Muslin's soft scratch on the desk
Loud as clicked boot heels.

Emily Dickinson is forced from this attic.
Faint breath and her thin tongue.
Stanzas lapped in smoke.

Poems as long as one letter, rise.

...... Sarah Sarai



Dear Ezster:

I found your insights and analyses to be on the mark, and I thank you for your sensitivity. If you don't mind, I add a few thoughts, at random. Please note that none of these thoughts is meant to replace or criticize your critique. The attic: It is also a place to write--Virginia Woolf's fabled room of one's own. Your conclusion: Yes, Emily was lonely and unable to tell her authoritarian father her mystical versions of religion. But I would argue with the sense I receive in reading your that paragraph that she is a victim. She wasn't only lonely. She wasn't totally isolated. And God knows, that woman had a visionary inner life that had to offer many satisfactions. I suggest she was extremely lucky to know the confluence of genius, originality and opportunity. [[[[[Granted, her life--happy, unhappy, voluntary, forced, personality disorder, genius (well, that's not debated), straight, gay--provides an ongoing debate for readers, scholars, feminist scholars--and more so than Elizabeth Bishop's or Robert Lowell's or Poe's or Rimbaud's or Coleridge's or many of the many famed alcoholic/addict poets of literature.!]]]]]

. . . Sarah

And thanks to anyone who reads this blog entry. Ezster, please stay in touch. S.
The photo is of Emily Dickinson's portrait, as depicted on the mural at West Cemetery, Amherst.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My M.F.A. in very concrete poetry was earned in a nonresidential treatment center: a perfect submission letter

Working on perfecting your submission letters? Here's a template. "When the Sun Sets Like a Nice Salmon Mousse"
Dear Editor:

Enclosed are three of my six poems. The others appeared, like the Riddler in a Tarot deck, in South Dakota Lit, North Dakota Letters and The Dakota Fanning Review, along with its web presence, dakotafanningreview.blogspot.com.

Most recently I was a paint stripper, a male stripper and a glued strip over the lintel needing sanding. I converted Cardinal Newman to a screened deck, didn’t share feelings but created pretty good replicas, showed my body a fair time {I’ve had worse}, did the same for the Allies, flew the Atlantic, walked the Pacific, rode handrails from first to second grade, lifted shocks, made a name for myself of natural fibers which I wove into a tail fit for Mr. Ed.

Until I discovered ancient history was history I was a Cretin. I huffed puffed rice, ate it, blew a full house down, molded gold into Jigglers, told only a few close squirrels. I was the oracle at Phoenix International, the gadfly of Milwaukee. It was I who fired the shot that started a revolution in menswear, following which I mended an emperor’s new suit after he fell on the playground during Parcheesi practice. I became an armoire’s armoire and a hydraulic lift’s pump, proved a quart-sized Thermos to be center of the universe, rolled over my options, turned my coat, scared some fairies, repented, rebuked, recanted and on my deathbed spilled cracker crumbs.

I never missed Married With Children, yet found my key to the Greek citystates, yet lost the way to make work work. I spread jam on my husband, bought airspace, set up camp and tangled with a sticky web during deception practice. I alone bit a tarantella.

I served, projected, was shot from a papal canon and studied Latin in traction. When the Rapture came I ascended and when it clocked out banged my elbow. I typed “cast” many times.

My M.F.A. in very concrete poetry was earned in a nonresidential treatment center. Hope you enjoy my poems “Ode On, Baby,” “Ode In, Thor” and “Odeyoos, Amigos.” They sing like horses and disappear when the sun sets like a nice salmon mousse.

Thank you very much indebt,
Poesy Parker

"When the Sun Sets Like a Nice Salmon Mousse" is reprinted from The Future Is Happy, BlazeVOX [books], Sarah Sarai, 2009. Order from Amazon or Small Press Distribution.

* image from Old Maps Expeditions and Explorations. This one of Dante's world.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ray Carver: short stories follow the heart

I loved Ray Carver's work but I had to be won over.

In L.A., in the eighties, I heard an editor from Black Sparrow Books praise his spare, lean prose and remember—quite distinctly—thinking: Yeah, right—spare, lean—load-a-crap. Not long after, I bought Where I'm Calling From—the cover art was so cool—at Chatterton's on Los Feliz, was home by 11 p.m. and didn't go to bed until I finished reading, which, given its slim volume-ness didn't take all that long, I suppose.

But still. I sat in bed turning page after page, marveling at the stories as works of art. I had begun writing short stories and aimed for each to be the equivalent of an Indian miniature or emerald or string quartet. Given that it is now 2009 and I've not had a collection published (though about a dozen have been in review), I don't know if anyone cares about my efforts. If they don't they don't. I have some faith in the market (no faith in the crooks who manipulate it).

A fairly recent New Yorker article set right or claimed to set right Gordon Lish's intrusive editing of Carver, thus making Lish the kingpin of the spare, lean rep. Maybe, maybe not. But Lish wasn't the kingpin of Carver's uncanny ability to tap into the zeitgeist and he was not the one to make palpable American hope and American despair.

Carver did that. His characters are not memorable as individuals. They are a series of husbands and wives who drink and smoke and cheat. Sometimes they encounter the miraculous as in "Cathedral" where a blind man reveals his understanding of gestures of visual art. Or opposite of the miraculous, the chilling, as in“So Much Water So Close to Home,” in which the the body of a young woman is left like a case of beer in a cold river while a group of men have their weekend in the wilderness.

Between the two stories, God is present or God is present in Her absence.

A slew and then another slew of Carver fans have published affective appreciations. So why me, now? Because of Beethoven's late quartets. I heard mention of his late sonatas and remembered something I read in an interview with Carver. He said the late quartets were for the young and the early quartets to be savored in old (relative, of course) age.

And I recalled I was a little embarrassed when I mentioned my trendy affection for Carver to a brilliant journal editor I happened to meet when I was at a summer seminar for secondary educators. This editors discovered new voices and he made great choices. He seemed surprised I was of the masses, with Carver and also with my then affection for The Color Purple, which he perceived not as bad but as mass market and not sophisticated.

Sad truth: Back then more than now but I still struggle to like who and what I like and not think of anyone else, not try to please.

I will have more to say about Raymond Carver. After all, I ruined a great pair of truly sophisticated dark glasses because of him. But that will come on another day. Today I am remembering what is is like to be a fan. I am in the stands and cheering out my heart.

My heart is strong and my cheers are loud.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beckett on a golf course: Steve Tills / Rugh Stuff

Steve Tills is done with the tedious. Rugh Stuff is not his first book of poetry - there are two preceding this - but it is, as he writes in his bio note, his "first book of poetry written in a foreign language." As Tills knows, the language-of-the-everyday can be a tedious (his word) English, and Rugh Stuff is anything but tedious.

This poetry collection is original, demanding and playful. Title and references are to golf, a sport about which I know nothing more than Scotland, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods; and to watch it on television is anesthetic and sleep inducing. But in combining two lifelong loves - golf and poetry - Tills lets go of his "own most tedious poming [sic] over the years"and allows us to witness his breaking through the [tedium of] self to the place where something else new and alive happens. Tills' poetry projects over the years include the blog and journal Black Spring.

Read the following outloud:

The feathery,
the rubber
and fluffed and shied and sklentit

The smooth surface hacked,
then hammered,
no longer fit for play
Do you hear the lilt and rhythm, the description by onomatopoeia, by sound? "...dooked/and fluffed and shied and sklentit" creates good and satisfying sounds - and sounds are a poem's helix. How those cries and whispers in our ears mesh is part of a poet's and poem's individuality. It is irrelevant that I don't always know - for sure - what Tills is talking about regarding the specifics of that slow game of walking, swinging, estimating. Certainly a poetry-loving golfer will have an enriched understanding of this book, but the argument for "relevance" (reading olde Sappho or Plato or Dante in college) has been won by anyone who loves Sappho, Plato and Dante. My freshman comp. students did. Good writing clears the brush from its path.

I believe Tills when he writes, "The beauty of this game/is mostly non-verbal." As is true of a sunset or meadow - and still we need to describe nature's beauties and our love's cheek. "Golf is several games of some/Fools for illusion and a selection of stix laid out, end/over end by, bye (in the grip of)/these pools of perfection, the knot/in everything until nothing's/the score that adds up . . ."

That's the metaphysical life, where the score doesn't add up (is above beyond greater than the sum of its parts), and golf is "over 'nd over, odd collection of clumps/in the mixed baggage, the fixed/delusions of manure, the fat split second/chants for par done, cries from the prefect's life,/the perfect knife, the bleeding/and dirigeable walk in the park."
The prefect's life, the perfect knife. My foot's tapping. Like the piano, poetry is - or can be - a rhythm instrument.

Tills has an eye and ear for fellow golfers, with their lusts:

"Whet? Melt 'um, gooey, Lassie
gits raw afternoons, she
cunna love yer balls; he
just ta'es her as he plays?"

cunna love yer balls? My imagined and stereotypical foursome of golfers - bankers and insurance salesmen - becomes, for Tills, a trope of the common person as they are "deliberating so much/over the scoreboard,/counting strokes/instead of breaths/or blades of grass,/or angels/in the lonesome clouds."

Neglected, the clouds and metaphysical kingdom are lonesome; but Tills' attentions surely brighten a metaphysical kingdom's day.

Rugh Stuff. by Steve Tills. theenk Books. ISBN-13 978-0-9647342-4-1

Samuel Beckett: "Just under the surface I shall be, all together at first, then separate and drift, through all the earth and perhaps in the end through a cliff into the sea, something of me. A ton of worms in an acre, that is a wonderful thought, a ton of worms, I believe it."

Beckett on a golf course: I used this phrase in describing Tills on a listserv. I'm stealing here, but from myself.