Saturday, October 31, 2009

About poetry: I don't believe in free will

A poem of mine was recently accepted by a review. These things happen. These things are what poets who are foolish as I am think life is made of. (It's not. Life is made of 360 degrees plus a galaxy with swirling planets and burning patient stars. Life is made of Steamboat Willie plus infancy. Life is made of palms on skin plus revolution of every sort.)

The poetry co-editor suggested I send an additional batch of poems -- as many as possible -- so editors could select an additional poem. Feverish me sent off twenty or thirty more poems. I hadn't even figured out page breaks on

The review accepted one more poem. Fine. I have a poem accepted therefore I exist. Fine.

But when I later took another look at the "additional" poems I excitedly sent off - my resubmission was shortly after my book was published, so everything I sent was relatively new - I realized I'd sent incomplete and sometimes awkward work. I knew, not for the first time, that given my battles with focus and clear thinking, the incredible effort it takes to whittle away enough of the stuff around me, to gently befriend my "self" with all its confusion, resentments and fantasies, the "self" that's taken so many years to produce Sarah Sarai's first book, that, practically speaking, I can only be sure of five or six poems at a time.

Why am I writing this? To learn something about myself. To possibly learn to contradict what I believe about myself. To get it out. See, as far as I'm concerned, my book is a miracle. I now know there'll be other books - one novel is ready, the two novellas are almost ready, the next poetry collection is being formed. They are standing on the shoulders of giants of literature, but also on my confused inner linebacker.)

I don't believe in free will. All these years of giving free its due, of being fair, of being judicious about my role in things, I realize I no longer believe in it, in free will, the ability to utter a saucy "no!' to distraction and get the job done.

Why? Because exercising my will is too difficult to be considered a routine choice or path. I try. It's easy to be willful. That's a knee jerk, a promise of danger, a reflex, a chance to say or do something that will bring me shame, a chance to repeat stupid patterns which I learned or which I created. Why don't I believe in free will? Because I have this sense my every action is predestined by my physiology, my body's chemistry, my brain's receptors and neurons. To exercise free will, I have to yoke a double team of reluctant oxen to my chest, and pull.

That isn't free, that's punishment. Granted, the reward for that punishing motion in a sane direction is serenity and sanity, but if that is free will, then free will as debated by philosophers is far more difficult than suggested. (Granted my knowledge of philosophy after Hobbes is a bit light.)
I know I am a complainer; maybe the above is a complant and I'm too close or arrogant or (oh please no please no please no) self-pitying to accept that the slew of thirty-something poets with good work out there are like Helios able to work with their team of oxen and horses every day, able to make the sun shine every day. I feel better if I allow the sun, Helios-led or simply inevitable, shine on my life. Am I a self-absorbed poet? Sometimes, sure. But sometimes I'm absorbed with the $100,000,000 Bloomberg has spent on his 2009 mayoral run. Or with putting Cheney and Bush aren't in stocks for commiting heinous acts of savegery. Or with why racism is stronger than ever in the face of its inevitable demise.

I believe in free and I believe in will. That's a start. Without writing poetry I wouldn't be able to celebrate either.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What I Choose To Remind You: Sarah Kent, Clark, Superman ". . .with / dazzled flourishes. . ."

I was very excited the day, a few years back, I saw a DVD of The Adventures of Superman, the t.v. show from the 1950s, starring George Reeves.

Watching the show was less exciting than anticipating same but I was struck by the episode's concern with threats of bombs, and nuclear fission fear.  It makes sense, of course, but there it was, the country's anxiety on the screen.

I was also struck with the backstory, mainly Clark's mom, Sarah Kent. Sarah? I was so proud! But also not sure they got it right and so did a little research and discovered her name was Martha in the comic book. Why the change, I don't know, but my identification with her, and my overidentification and my great affection for that series, our old black-and-white t.v., for Jimmy and Lois and, well, everyone, got me thinking.

Remember, also, I went to a Protestant Sunday School where we read the Bible.   I know a few things oldey, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into a fiery furnace in the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar was the bad guy (he's not mentioned below).  If you don't know Bible stories I suggest reading them as they can be terrific.  If you don't know our shared mythology, Clark Kent, the planet Krypton, Kryptonite, et al., I insist you hit the links.  Meantime.

What I Choose to Remind You

Is that I, Sarah Kent, am
Earthmother of Superman,
rocketed to our planet
for safekeeping when
his homeland imploded,
which is what the universe
did prior to becoming
the universe, and with
dazzled flourishes of
an illuminated manuscript
illuminated really fast.
Like Moses bobbling in
sun-gold rushes, Clark was
a foundling, and like Shadrach
Meshach and Abednego
survived fires unscathed,
Clark’s of impact with
this planet–more than many
I’ve seen do. I raised him
to be respectful and cheerful
kind in an American way.
I am an American Sarah
embracing the visitation
with one joy-spilled tear
and the other Vidalia-sliced
for the stew. I didn’t laugh
but taught my son his civic duty
of salvation, which his new world
seems to need with every turn.

Sarah Sarai, pub. in Juice: A Journal of the Ordinary, 2008, and in The Future Is Happy, avail. from Small Press Distribution.

The artist is Gustave Doré.

Poem: A Rhetorical Inquiry Into the Moral Certitude of Cause and Effect

I wore the "pink fuzzy bunny ears" in second grade--a lovely memory and interlude in this poem.

A Rhetorical Inquiry Into The Moral Certitude Of Cause And Effect

Today we picked tulips and
stubbed our big toe and went
to war and lost a bunch a arms
and feet and shit and gunned
down a dozen fifty people
and got tired and took a nap
and had a family and raised
a mess a kids and picked
daffodils and scratched our
finger bad and then we went
to war. We blew up some big
stuff and little stuff and people
tall and stupid crying babies
and a whole lot a us puked
and we were buried or they
put us on these lame cots and
we got better and met girls
and boys and had families and
glued pink fuzzy bunny ears
on our sister's headband for
spring assembly and then we
killed a whole lot more people
cause we had to go to war cause
we picked lilies and sneezed and
after you pick lilies and sneeze
or something they send you to
war. Don't you know anything?

Sarah Sarai Eleven Eleven Issue 5, 2008,
and in The Future Is Happy (BlazeVOX [books])

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A short-short story: The Really Deep and Proving Slobberoni Kiss

The day Uncle Otto motored me to the Gymnasium in time to make the bus for summer camp, Mama and Papa were wonked out on the floor of our chateau, sleeping off ten years of craftsman-like study of the arts of distillation.

“Little muffin nose.” Uncle tweaked my child-like proboscis, a tweak that would cause sinus blockage in my adult years—but who knew? We were young, granted I was ten and he was forty-five, but young-er than we are now. He cupped my quivering chin in his broad hand the size of the chunk of granite I perched on the next two weeks as I pondered the shadow which had fallen over my life. I felt, as one can feel in the mind’s memory, even then the big wet one he laid on me.

Yet that was it and I was chaste.

Several years later, after my sweet sixteen party at La Plazita, Grandpapa, that twinkle in his eye so like a firefly made of papier-mache doused with kerosene and lit aflame, joked, “Munchen, your education is incomplete, correct?” He leaned over to me, the faint blend of peppermint schnapps, Peppermint Patties, and Depends wending its way in my neo-womanly nostrils so ready to inhale adult scents.

“Little sesame seed,” he teased. My lips, eager to taste all that life has prepared on its half-price-after-9:00 p.m. banquet of delights, parted and felt a tongue wriggling its way in and around my teeth. This was, after all, Grandpapa, a man of experience and also, let’s not forget, a dentist with a nice practice on the upper east side of a small duchy the size of Uncle Otto’s hand. And yet that was that.

Even beloved though contrary, and, to some, dotty Aunt Bertholde, fresh from a lifetime of self-recrimination and badminton, had a go as we ascended the staircase at Vichy Sousa, and strolled towards our rooms, hers actually being in a hotel some meters away. She pressed me against the wall. “Ever tried this?” she lisped. Her hummingbird tongue tasted my gummy honey, darting here, there—yet not everywhere.

Finally, Dad, no longer deferring to sweet liqueurs, called me to his side. I had reached my maturity. Papa coughed several times; cleared his throat. “Kitten?”

I purred.

“You know I’ve let your entire trust fund fall through my hands like chafe through a very large and open space?”

What is one to say?

“Well, you’re going to need something to fall back on.” He drew close as if to finish what others had begun. I pulled back. “Do you know what you’re doing?” He protested. “You could have one heck of an entry in that diary you’re always scribbling in.”

Night became day, and time became tide, and Tide became colorfast. As to Papa and I, the limits I draw around love may be petite and my ignorance of life not inconsiderable, but my memories are licensed and my estate in my lawyer’s dukes, with dark tufts of hair on each finger.

I wrote this in 1997 when Kathryn Harrison's memoir The Kiss created a bit of a scandal.

A fly's buzz: closer to the heart of poetry

Cornelius Eady was the guest teacher at Acentos last Sunday. Acentos Writers Workshops, of the Acentos nonprofit, are held at Hostos Community College in the Bronx on Sunday afternoons. Created to welcome Hispanic poets, the workshop are open, by which I mean, even a white girl like me can go.

I'm not a workshop person, or at least haven't been one. I'm a Cornelius Eady person, however, and not just because Facebook kept directing me to his page when I logged on. (See link below. ) (This stopped a few weeks ago.) Eady's a poet I like to read, plus he does a lot for poetry.

In the workshop we wrote a "Bop" poem (a complaint in three stanzas with the refrain lifted off a song; my refrain was Absolutely nuthin.) and two poems which held ye olde magnifying glass to specific moments, one of our choosing, one our first kiss. That's workshoppy stuff, which doesn't make the exercises invalid. In addressing the specific, persona, fiddling around with time, Eady referred to a Dickinson poem and asked the group if we knew it.

"I heard a fly buzz when I died." You've heard that, right?

The room became a weary nod, as if people had been asked if they'd heard of the Depression, or World War II. I gather the poem is read and analyzed in every English class; as a matter of fact I hit it up when I taught Comp 101. Dickinson's poem doesn't need anyone's enthusiasm anyway. This is poem is quite satisfied being itself, thank you very much. As it should be.

The deal with "buzz" is, we're asked to believe the writer has posthumous access to paper and pen. Or asked to consider how we die in little ways or how to memorialize intense moments. I'm posting this poem here because I think it will do me some good. Every poem or poet I embrace with my 3,000 Loving Arms brings me 0.000000000000000000001 millisomethings closer to the heart of poetry.

Ever zeroing in, I offer Emily.

I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable, — and then
There interposed a fly,
With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
I could not see to see.
. . . Emily Dickinson
Previous posting mentioning Cornelius Eady and a temporary identity problem I was having on Facebook:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

R.I.P. Jack Wiler: Fun being him

I'm pretty sure the first time I saw Jack Wiler read was at the Bowery Poetry Club's New Year's Day reading. I'm very sure the first time I saw Jack Wiler read I knew he was a great poet.

He read one of his extermination poems. Few poets know extermination as Wiler did, much to poetry's loss. He worked for a bug and rat business, in sales and advisement, as I understand. The poem he read was about killing roaches but either it's not in his collection or I can't find it right now. It is, however, a wonder of a poem, detailed, true, funny. It is, like all of Jack's poems, simultaneously accessible and beyond my reach. I can understand it; I can't understand how he wrote it.

In search of the extermination poem I paged through Fun Being Me. I don't own I Have No Clue. What's so remarkable, again, about Jack's work is its effortless and successful attention to the commonplace. He writes brilliantly about the hardest thing to write brilliantly, let alone well, about: life.

I'm preoccupied with God and gods, the soul and her progress, the great way, the next stop. Wiler writes about wanting to have sex again. About wasting away from the disease and coming back to life. He writes a poem to his nieces. "You're two white girls in a world that is changing." The changes are good, as if the promise of a better world to come can come in the world that's here.

Jack writes why he loves his town and hates a noisy neighbor; of pleasures of barbecue, Jersey, women; of friends and their children, their music, their cheer and love. Of disappointment. I hear many attempts by many poets trying write of the everyday and most attempts, honest and heartfelt, don't get the lead out. Don't move beyond the personal. Because although a poem may be, on one level about meeting a friend Midtown N.Y. at Jimmy's ("Pilgrimmage"), it's got to be about something more to be a worthy poem. Each of Jack's poems were about this and that.

The final poem in Fun Being Me is "The Names of God." The poet has dreamed the names and they include "a classroom and it was full of dogs" "dead blossoms from the flowers I've planted" "when a great man is struck down."

Jack's been struck down. As he wrote on Facebook, "I've been a bad, bad boy." That led to the disease. When I asked him to sign my copy of his book I suggested he write, To Sarah, the best lay I've ever had (not relevant to our acquaintanceship). He wrote: For the sweetest woman on the planet. When I asked him to write a blurb for my book he said yes.

(His family has asked his poems not be republished at least for now.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stroking the Poem: Planchette by Juliet Cook

I don't get these feelings much anymore, but I used to, feelings of being little little, doll-like little, small, a little player in a tiny house by toy train tracks where my sister's electric ran past little houses and tufts of trees. Feelings of having pastel blood and cashmere skin. I imagine it to be, if not universal to young (whatever) women, at least easily accessible by many. There is a part of many of us which is Glass Menagerie-bound, an inner Laura archetypically frail and dependent. (With age -- and I probably am twenty years older than poet Juliet Cook -- that part, if resilient, can change.) Too hopeful and slightly depressed and charming. (The male equivalent might be: too boastful and slightly aggressive and charming.)

Revived as it is by reading this chapbook, my little little Sarah part identifies with and recommends the poems in Juliet Cook's handmade, lace-tied chapbook Planchette. My girlish twists are classic urban; hers are punk and goth -- the chick who sits in the back of the class, smart, prescient, a reader. From 'Hippomancy":

My sloppy cocoons, my soft-looking cardigans
in muted hues like hollow seashells like
bright fizz dulled by narcotics. Luminosity
taken to the matte. Naying flatly at the naysayers.
Dolled by narcotics, two blue pills to
match my eyeshadow. Pretty coordination
or lack thereof. . . .

"Pretty coordination" -- what a phrase; distinct to the universal female (which doesn't exclude men). Images are infused ("muted hues like hollow seashells" "bright fizz dulled by narcotics"). The two blue pills may or may not be part of Cook's life, though I don't expect autobiography. Our lives are our material. Our art mixes our material with imagination, psyche (soul, spirit, breath) and sheer good luck.

While hypomania is a "mild mania" I have heard in arenas more esoteric than Webster's, hippomancy to be linked to divination. Which brings me back to that early girl. Whether the blue pills are valium or more "narcotic," in the poem they serve as emblem of the "secret bruise" Cook writes of, of the "Dream of white fizz" and its powers.

I'm figuring "white fizz" can nullify the bruise. Pills do what pills will do. Mind will continue to struggle, as will spirit, thank God. Hence, poetry. The fizz feels chemical, feels alchemical, and that's part of Cook's intention, to draw the reader into a mysterious, suspect but real world. Sir Isaac Newton, let's remember, was an alchemist. Poem titles reinforce this ouija + girl world: "Planchette" "Cataract" [seeing] "The Spindled Girls" "Stained Bloomers" "Ghost Doll"

Cook repeats words from poem to poem -- as the chapbook unfolds it self-mimics, which unites the ten poems. The bruise of "Hippomancy" is foreshadowed by the bruise in "Parlor Tricks." "Our fancy dessert plates burst / with lurid peonies, so swollen, / bruise-colored, almost lewd, but already wilting at the edges." The parlor - isn't that where Laura had her glass collection? In "Omen," "The parlor shrinks / into a crawlspace. / Pink liquid fizzes furiously."

The fizz, the experiment, the bruise, the change. From "Planchette":

Something is wrong with me.

I can't make things happen.

I'm trapped inside a little glass bunny.
I quiver inexplicably,
but never move smoothly across.

"Glass bunny"? No wonder I remembered Laura. Fortunately, Planchette's persona is not waiting for the fabled gentleman caller to save her. If anything, blue pills are a stand in, and by sheer mention of them, Cook dismisses their power without dismissing potential usefulness.

Blood Pudding Press, Cook's own, offers Planchette as a soft and strokable, jeweled and flocked treasure. Eat of the pudding.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I Love Movies: but fear movie stars can be hypocrites

One strong family memory, from our little tract house in Encino, is my mother, father and sisters in front of the television watching movies. Not blankly. Not hiding behind TV trays - that came later. We interacted with these movies, mimicked them, brought them into our lives. For us, James Cagney, Robert Mitchum, Betty Davis, Joan Crawford worked as a Saturday Night Live skit does today (or at least did in SNL's golden era) -- nonsense, mockery, a bit outre. Political correctness is tangential to this posting, but also central.

Jimmy Stewart in Harvey, Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nora and Nick Charles in The Thin Man series, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. An absolute panoply of white people. No argument there, but nonetheless charming and entertaining. (Sidebar: White people, myself one, are soon to be an antique race with celebrated charms and destructive and self-destructive flaws.) Writing and acting was crisp and my family would imitate lines, "cover" them. Have you ever heard jazz musician/guru Sun Ra's cover of "Elephants on Parade" from Dumbo? That's a best-case example of a cover: a celebration of the original through translation into his brainy, exotic, playful, husky, planetary music.

I'm a little planetary today, myself. I'm on the planet of outrage. A long list of celebrities, few of whom I have as much fun watching or imitating as the originals, have famously come to Roman Polanski's defense. They are signing petitions. They are declaring his a fair rape. They are choosing this escapade to make their stand, which is, essentially, "I'm a celebrity. What I do is different from what you, my public does. If I take advantage of a girl, hey, it's to be expected. If you do [and you are not rich or famous] well, do your time."

All these Hollywood stars have at stake is my anger which won't affect them in the least. Besides, they are not going to jail like Mohammed Ali did in his protest of the Vietnam War. I admit I feel a little odd coming out against Hollywood liberals; that's a Republican tactic, Rove-worthy; ah well, I've had stranger bedmates.

What really bothers me and has for years is the number of Hollywood liberals who say they are for gun control and more-or-less against smoking tobacco products - but who allow their photos - the movie star straddling a gun, holding a gun, coolly leveling his or her aim; coolly holding a smoke - on posters everywhere. On billboards, in the subways, in magazines, newspapers, everywhere.

Tell me. Does it do anyone any good to see --on a billboard or poster -- Jodie Foster or Denzel Washington or Bruce Willis or or or or or or or or hoisting a gun? I'm not taking on the content of movies. I'm taking on the advertising. If images aren't important then movie stars are of no importance anyway. If images are important, movie stars impact and create our culture -- on the street - I live in a walker's city where every block has bus stops or kiosks with posters parading either gun chic or sex chic (heroin chic/anorexic models + bra and skivvies ads showing genitalia through tight briefs or cleavage at eye level. So a six-month old in a stroller is prompted to begin his or her hypersexualized, violence-neutral life.

In the poetic tradition, violence, brutality, love, idylls, the seasons, melancholy, gods, God, spirituality, nobility, normalacy coexist. I don't know that one supercedes the other. Each phrase has an integrity. With the image, particularly cinematic images caught on a poster, the moment of battle or affection is caught to exemplify the abnormal as normal.

Hollywood. Get over yourself. Roman Polanski: Hey. I lived in L.A. when the Sharon Tate murders took place. It was a nightmare! You have been through horrific events, from childhood on. You are not a typical screw up, but in the long run, you did screw up. Jack Nicholson skates through. You don't. It might not be entirely fair, but it is real and it did happen.
No one contests the rape.

America imports violence and hypersexuality. I have a responsibility to speak up. Hollywood has a responsibility to shut its entitled mouth. It should be about entertainment. It should be about storytelling, a tradition old as woman, old as man, meant to instruct morally, artistically, playfully.

I realize the above is "all over the map." It's a first take. Mr. DeMille, I'll be ready for my second, soon enough.
photo of Angelina Jolie, great caregiver and earthmother. right.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"So conscience was eased" : MFA writing programs

Richard Price is one of the more fortunate graduates of an MFA program. While at Columbia he wrote The Wanderers, a hit as novel and movie, and his subsequent work succeeded in all sorts of ways. If any writer could without hypocrisy hype writing programs, he's that writer. But when asked directly about MFA programs even Richard Price had this to say: "They're cash cows for the colleges." He wasn't entirely happy saying that, I thought, but said it, he did--as one of several writers on a panel (on writing) I saw about a year ago. I didn't ask him the question, by the way.

Cash cows.

MFA writing programs are constantly discussed but have yet to be analyzed in an original way that reveals just why they attract so many. I have more to say than I'm going to here and now and defer. In a recent blog, poet Alfred Corn came as close as I've read, by assessing his time as a teacher. He doesn't condemn or defend, and ends his essay, which you can read in full here, in understated conscience. He's one of the few teachers to be frank about student loans. From Alfred Corn:

"On the most general level, I don’t question that writing courses help class members be better readers, and I wish that more people realized the value thereof. Being the chief isn't the only worthwhile goal in life: being a member of the tribe is a noble and honorable estate. It also seems likely that most MFA candidates will acquire the habit of reading new works of imaginative literature as these appear, a solid cultural value. (It would be interesting to know what percentage of the readership for contemporary literature is made up of former writing students.) But the tuition costs and resulting debts began to climb to terrifying levels, at least in some universities. So conscience was eased when I gave up regular teaching. I do occasional workshops, where the tuition isn’t stratospherically high, and that satisfies my wish to work at the classroom context. Sometimes people seem shocked when I say that all I do is write. But writing is (and in truth, always was) a full-time occupation."
image from:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Uphook Press: you say. say. opens in Philadelphia

A poetry reading is a grand event; each has a unique gravitational pull. Force of attraction variables include poets, location, cost, time the sun sets, Mercury's apparent motion, willingness to embrace the cosmos, intensity of need to see a throbbing heart under glass.

Sometimes a trip to Philadelphia is called for. Sometimes you meet up with five friends at 9:45 a.m. at 8th and 34th in front of the Tick Tock Diner and board a Bolt bus. You freelance and your boss is willing to give you the day.

Some of your party will be well-dressed. The Romanian will wear a suit that will convince you he affects a frilly cuff at his wrist. He doesn't. The Britisher's long bright coat will blend vintage mod and Italian couture. The youngest, in old tennis shoes and a hoodie without pretense, is natural as sleep he can't shake off. There will be a woman torn from Chicago, her hair the color of the chemical symbol Pt + an atomic number of 78; she is in black. You will allow one native of New Jersey to join you, but only because his shirt is brown silk and he pops with ideas. And you? Insecure, you will wear jeans, black boots and a sweater, but carry a full wardrobe -- strappy sandals, two suits, five blouses, every pair of shoes you ever owned -- in your pack. Who can decide at 8:30 a.m. what to wear at 7 p.m.?

On the ride to Pennsylvania, each of your friends achieves daily morning reclamation of the soul, something often not possible until evening, after work, kicking back. Having succeeded in reestablishment of humanity, the parts are effortless in becoming a whole (chatter, sharing an apple, favorite poems, movies, ideas).

Ben Franklin lures you all to his home, wine cellar, famous lists and genius, if only to remind your group of your limitations. But then, the Liberty Bell is flawed, but uber emblematic. Of course there is food and a cocktail, too much horseradish. By 6 p.m. your group has arrived at Robin's Bookstore, (now Moonstone Arts Center) for a reading series 25-years old.

You state the great rule of readings: Whoever shows up is exactly the right person, and you are proven uber wise. Because the reading - three poets anthologized in Uphook Press' you say. say. - in concert with the room's history and all occupants - bring life to life, word to word, poem to listener. Christian Georgescu, Thomas Fucalaro and Sarah Sarai (suit with flounces at his wrists; warm hoody and sneakers; now in a black skirt and pink sweater).

The Uphook trio, the publishers/editors Jane Ormerod, Ice and Brant Lyon, have created an anthology beautifully designed and selected. And Jerry, of Robin's/Moonstone in Philly, and also videographer for the Bowery Poetry Club back in N.Y.C., enthuses about Robin's, poetry, Bowery. Everyone is satisfied for being there, including the audience, one of whom performs his poem, a saga of water, race and respect.

You won't leave for New York until 11. So. Your friends rarely see you drink and hardly know what to do with you, but that's so often in the case in your life you barely notice. By 1 a.m. you are back in New York. Stanzas: friends, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, a Revolutionary church. Linebreaks: hues and intonation.

Poets anthologized in you say. say. include Matthew Zapruder, Patrick Cahill, Samantha Barrow, Suzanne Heagy and others. For more about Uphook Press see:

For more about Robin's Bookstore/Moonstone see:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Is Good News for Poets

American poets may be luckier than I thought. Bearing in mind a Czeslaw Milosz quote that's been nagging at me for a few weeks, "the privilege of coming from strange lands, where it is difficult to escape history," a version of the Chinese, May you live in difficult times, I previously worried I was, as an American, too privileged to write poetry that mattered. Me, or any of us.

But the Nobel Peace Prize committee has made me aware of just how challenging my times, here in America, have been. The prize wasn't awarded to Obama for specific actions. After all, the Oslo decision was made, as I understand it, shortly after Obama's inauguration, when he was still forming his cabinet and choosing drapes.

I woke up around 3 a.m. last night with the realization that America has been far worse off than I ever understood. America, with our dishonestly (first term) elected President Bush, with our dishonest war, our uncared-for children, our illiteracy, our obesity, our quest for continued global domination without any thought for the actual globe we are trying to dominate - and - very importantly - and - our influence - the fact we are a superpower - the dominant economy, even now - has been on its deathbed, writhing, for years.

And ready and able to take down many countries along with us.

So although Obama clearly didn't have much chance to prove himself in his second week in office, or even in his first nine months in office, the Nobel committee felt the stir of something new. Spring. Hope. Change. Buzzwords that weren't lies, even if: Obama didn't help the people of Gaza. Even if: the war in Afghanistan shows no sign of ending. Even if: even if: even it.

The Nobel people and much of the world saw just how sick America has become but unlike terror cells, haters, they have been cheering for us to get well.

WE DO LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES, Americans. I want my poetry to mean something to my readers (and I know I don't have many, but I have a few). The more it's wrought of sweat (craft: drafts: reading of other poets) and the experience of living in a world that makes little sense (hey, I've done copyediting and proofreading for financial institutions where 10Ks (government filings) 'explain' why fabulously wealthy people should remain fabulously wealthy; I've worked for educational publishing concerns that grew in the wake of the No Child Left Behind act - a lot of teaching for the test - little read education - a lot of teaching-for-the-test books SOLD; hey, I've worked in advertising (enough said?); and on; and on).

It took the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to assure me I and we and you have a chance at writing poetry that can effect its own style of hope and change. The global community needs that from all poets. America is an innotive and generous country; Oslo knows that. I feel the love.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Book of Practical Pussies: poetry in a bustier

The Book of Practical Pussies is a dream to review but for the prospect of some businessman at the next table at my little coffee house/office observing me study ink drawings of pussies in bustiers or spreading them as if for Hustler.

Sure, I can tell the businessman, The poetry is really good. And he can argue with equal validity, So are the articles in Playboy.

But, dear poetry-lovers, cat-idolaters, pussy-strokers, sensuous kinkoids, crotch-shot admirers, the poetry and prose in The Book of Practical Pussies is worth a read. Consider: Co-publisher is Lee Ann Brown's Tender Buttons press, and Lee Ann Brown wrote Polyverse, one of the more remarkable - original joyful and true - books of poetry I've read of late. As the friend who recommended Polyverse understated, You really should take a look. She's done something, there.

She's done something here, in conjunction with KRUPSKAYA Press. Nine writers, plus a scary good artist Michelle Rollman, marries lithesome, whimsical, weird and sexy line drawings of cats and kitties and pussies in states of dishabille, of silk dress, and sluttish undress, with word.

Writers are Camille Roy, D-L Alvarez, Yedda Morrison, Scott Macleod, Jocelyn Saidenberg, Kevin Killian, Robert Gluck (with an umlaut over the "u"), Dodie Bellamy and Lee Ann Brown. From Yedda Morrison's "Harryetta the Slum Puss," a persona piece, a bit of a dramatic monologue midway in the book, Harryetta tellin' it like it is, sister.

"Toms are always leaving parts of themselves inside me so when I purr 'OK, Tommy, turn over' and you respond, just by raising your middle, 'No please, I'm an ass cat, do it there, just a hair bit higher,' I do." I say, you don't have to be a cat to be a cat.

So there's that. It takes brass to address sex, its confusions, power and sloppy joys, to flaunt sexuality. The Book of Practical Pussies is brassy. Flaunty.

Camille Roy's "History of the Slut in my Relationship" hints at the feline, works on the issue: "The problem with sex is that it fires the harder life." As the first poem and opening volley of this book, "History..." leaves the animal issue ambiguous. A "spreading butt" is a spreading butt. It's a strong somewhat solemn poem. Opposite is a drawing of a kitty licking her rear; she is all kitty but for one raised leg in a silk stocking with a seam, and a Chita Rivera high heel. You can get things done on heels like that.

Elsewhere is "Cat Scan," one of a series of poems by Kevin Killian. A little silly, that title, but not the whole. "You lie on your back, flimsy gown of paper, / and a cat walks down your body, / your forehead, your throat, sternum, stomach / and so forth, til the tiptoeing creature stares / back at you over his shoulder. / Kevin, you are going to die."

Robert Gluck's (umlaut over "u") smart dialog between Mr. Fox and Miss Kitty began long before Tender Buttons Press stitched itself to his slacks, as "Chapter XXIV," the title of his contribution, suggests. We've met Fox and Kitty before, right?, in an English frolic. This tradition of dressing up the creatures is old, magical and, in Gluck's ("u" + umlaut), piece, well referenced (in the sense of a jazz solo referencing a few bars of the songbook or Schubert). Fox and Kitty are civilized as two Oscar Wilde drawing room snipers. "'The trees and dirt path darkened as your head slid down the front of his pants!' Miss Kitty sat as stiff as a basalt pharaoh. Mr. Fox sniffed the air.' Are you smoking with him?'"

If one of Dodie Bellamy's older aunts, a parent, an incontinent, farting, demanding, selfish soul, needs care, Bellamy has been schooled by living with -or for- her cats for many years. Hers is the kind of sexing loving eating living that is nonstop as life; "Blanch and Stanley" is a three-page single paragraph of cats licking, butting, stroking, demanding. "Fur fur fur fur everywhere and always the stench of urine he kneads my lap he kneads my tit, he rubs his face against my tit and drools."

One last story, Scott MacLeod’s “Pussy in Hollywood,” a series of cat porn stage directions. “Showing us a close-up of her nice breasts as she has sex with a tom doggy-style.” “Having sex with a tom against a sink in a bathroom and then stopping to talk for a bit showing us her breasts." More writers, surprises, drawings.

The Practical Book of Pussies. KRUPSKAYA / Tender Buttons (a collaboration). 79 pages. Paperback. $15. Go to for information on where, how, to buy (now).

A Vote for Ross Perot: from my novella

The Interview

“Leave now,” the receptionist on 11 warned Princess. “Run, go, get out of here, don’t turn back.”

“He’s coming down?” Princess already knew this lawyer could be tough. Already she knew. She needed work. Already Princess knew: This lawyer broke rules—good; screamed—not good. Two wives, she already knew; she knew a fiancé called the office one day to cancel as wife three. So she already knew: He was single. Also known: So was Princess. What in a lawyer who might be her boss could be overlooked? Or a husband? What in her life could Princess make happen? This lawyer was Jewish—it was a Jewish law firm, Princess was applying for work at a Jewish law firm. That’s what she was doing. She was applying to work for a Jewish lawyer—he was single. Princess could see herself married to a Jewish man who was wealthier than her Jewish dad, non-legal, was. Princess saw him two inches taller than her short dad, and thin, with a less confused biography than hers. But sympathetic to Princess’ life experience. Princess needed work.

Forget marriage. Princess needed work. Who was Princess? A woman needing work! Forget single, Princess. Get the job. Work, Princess.

In Princess’ life there were no small plates, platters only, and those platters were large. Those platters were full. Princess had big full platters this lifetime. No husband, Princess had no husband. But Princess needed work; that’s what she really needed. Life expanded, life changed; if in those shifts there could be located a line, at the bottom, a bottom line, that bottom line for Princess these days, here, in New York, famous New York City was: gotta find work. Gotta pay the rent, the famous New York City rent.

“Get in that elevator,” the receptionist on 11 repeated. She called Arnie Sharaga’s office. “Where are you?” the receptionist barked into the phone. “This guy is too much,” she spat to Princess. “He thought we were supposed to announce you’d shown up.” Raised her eyes to heaven, or Human Resources, on 24. “H.R. told you to be here at 10:30, Arnie.” She dabbed at her lips. To Princess: “They told him you’d be here at 10:30, but oh no, he needs a reminder.”

Princess’ watch: 11:00 a.m. “I’m worried I gotta get back to my job.”

“Who does he think he is.” This was not a question. It was a statement, a growl from the receptionist on 11, and it was inciting Princess. Just who was this Arnie Sharaga, anyway, to keep her waiting? She would get docked. This wasn’t going to pan out. Princess was fuming. She was thinking, “Just who,” as worked up as the receptionist on 11, “is Arnie Sharaga.”
He arrived.

The receptionist on 11 was Pig Pen, but it was not dust around her. It was, Who does he think he is. puffing here, puffing there.

Puffing here, puffing there, that was a good description of him, Arnie Sharaga, the attorney who was here to interview Princess. He would puff, “I collect art.” Then, “I’m flying to Florence for a week.” He would mouth “Florence” like he started the Renaissance, Princess would think.

Princess straightened her shoulders. “They told me the interview was at 10:30.” See why Princess didn’t have a job? See why Princess didn’t have a husband?

Arnie led her to a small caucus room on a floor of conference and caucus rooms, of corridors and doors, closed clicked shut; of carpeting and parquet floors. The next foot she put out was Princess’ best. “Oh how very nice.” She meant the caucus room. Arnie Sharaga was better looking than she’d heard he was, so well-dressed, and that had her disappointed. He was nicer looking than she was, two inches shorter, notwithstanding; wiry, bearded. A shark in wolf’s clothing. So boss only, not a husband. Can’t marry a man nicer looking than you are. Well.

She’d keep an open mind.

“I thought they’d call me!” Arnie was astonished. He’d been at his desk, drumming the fingers of his right hand against the fingers of his left hand, waiting for the receptionist’s call. For a half-hour, all of it billable, he’d timpani-ed his fingers, checked his watch, fumed to himself, “How dare the receptionist on 11 not call me to remind me I have an appointment at 10:30! How dare she assume I will simply arrive. I am important, a Partner. She should know that. She does know that and still she refuses to remind me, me whose time is so dear. How dare anyone make assumptions about I, Arnie Sharaga.”

No one needed to make assumptions. Everyone knew.

Princess sat straight, and hoped her golden brown hair with auburn streaks, short and as close to a bob as curly-headed, mousse-aplenty woman could get, looked good: smooth yet bouncy and please, God, shiny. She hadn’t had time to check it. Or she’d thought time was scarce. If Sharaga had made it clear he’d be late, she’d have checked; she’d look and feel better. Look and feel better.

He shifted to the side, his arms slightly shielding his midriff. He wasn’t shot; hadn’t past life regressed to a Civil War battlefield—his posture wasn’t that extreme. But Princess didn’t miss it. He was protecting something.
“Did Human Resources tell you anything about me?”

A pyrotechnic display in Princess’ eyes she couldn’t stop. Arnie didn’t miss it. But it wasn’t Human Resources which shared information. Not exactly. To Princess directly, Human Resources said, “I have an interview for you with Arnie Sharaga.” At 10:30, not 11.

The beginning of A Vote for Ross Perot. A Vote... is the second of two related novellas (From the One Side of Heaven), both with the same protagonist, forty years and 3,000 miles apart. The first chapter was originally published in Ampersand/Fordham University.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On Houston, pronounced How-ston

When I walk home from downtown I usually opt for sidestreets with some illusion of an older New York, the New York of my father - who claimed he walked from NYU through Central Park every day of his three years there; of my grandfather and uncles who ran a wholesale business on lower Broadway.

But today, instead of heading uptown on Elizabeth - which from Houston to 1st - Elizabeth's last leg or little toe - isn't all that interesting, with its corrugated door to a greasy garage and other miscellania, I walked east on Houston - the north side - to Bowery. Thought I might drop in on the Bowery Poetry Club. See if a mysterious coffee-drinkin' poem had my name on it.
I stopped short at looming yellows, blues, greens, too many to move on from, definitely not too much color to soak in or want to keep soaking in up down through. There's a new mural there by a tag team (literally), from from Sao Paulo, Brazil, identical twins, Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, also known as Os Gemeos (The Twins).
Os Gemeos tell stories submerged in folklore, mthology and hue. There's rhythm and song in the mural, movement, shadow, promise, magic, enchantment. Keith Haring's mural that was, I believe, on the same corner for a month in the early eighties - until it was painted over - and later reproduced by the Deitch gallery is more than well-served.

Public art - art that's accessible in the most democratic sense - to all passersby. Although it's launched and sometimes eroded long before a passage of time yields a verdict on its esthetic durability, its success is measured in velocity and amplitude of immediate reaction.

The images above are from Google image.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

SPD recommends my book: yay


The Future Is Happy is on a list.

Small Press Distribution, the people who serve as a conduit between independent bookstores and independent publishers, included The Future Is Happy in their twice-monthly newsletter of recommended books.

You can get the full list here: and of course your independent bookseller -or- independent you can order my book from them. Independence. How American is that?

I independently urge you to BUY THIS BOOK. Poems about Billy-Bob Thornton, Moses, Cain, Jodie Foster, and more more more.
Thanks. My SPD page:

[I, Afterlife]: a response to Kristin Prevallet

Sometime - not that long ago - I couldn't sleep. I'd wander streets of Manhattan and try to figure it out. I knew what I needed. It was everywhere.
This is about poetry.

Not sleeping affected work, affected play, disaffected me. I wanted joy. Insomnia is anti-joy. I'd learned that taking an antidepressant soothed my insomnia. Was a happy morning bugle after a good night's sleep.

Still about poetry.
Sometime not that long ago I didn't have health insurance. In a country that is medicated, overmedicated, unscrupulously and wickedly medicated, I couldn't get a 50 mg-a-day pill. So as I walked this city - which does sleep - don't believe the hype. I felt I was in a glass booth. I felt insane. People who could take a pill were everywhere. Pills were all around. But I lived in glass.

Hang on, poetry.

I understand antidepressants treat depression and that insomnia is a signal of same. I understand more than I am going to say here. Because this is:

About poetry. This is about I, Afterlife, by Kristin Prevallet, a 60-page essay, in handy paperback format that slips into a pocket, slips out of a pocket for worthy meditation on the text.

Prevallet's father killed himself. He was medicated, questionably so, on Paxil. Not long after starting the pills, he started his car, drove to a parking lot, used his gun.

Her grief, this essay, is about the unspeakable; the unbearable. In attaching words to sorrow, this essay is a vessel into which we can pour memory. Why does this essay receive my endless nights, and not other parts of my story? My insomnia lies in the distances of grief, the spaces between suffering. Prevallet understands distances which create the sense of glass. "Language fills in the desire to alter time," she writes. That'll have to do for a reason.

Prevallet writes, "If the body of the text has suffering as its root, then language will take a fragmented, torn-apart form as if it too is suffering. Poetry that seeks this kind of engagement with language is positioned to absorb the brokenness with grief."

And so there are parts to this essay. Poems. The fractured nature of poetic language allows equivalencies of Prevallet's fracture. Drawings. Plain, gray squares, as if by Rothko, age six. Young but still Rothko. Captions are from the police report. "I responded and took photos and evidence (after coroner arrived)." Prose. The flow of language is useful for the elders who need to instruct through storytelling. Prevallet, an elder, tells us a story about a man and a mountain and a dream. That kind of story. "This story, about a man who meets the ghost of who he wants to be, has already been told, over and over." That's good news.

Elegy. "The elegiac burden is the poem expressing, through the form is takes on the page, the broken minds which have shaped it." Sums it up, doesn't it. The parts of this essay. The shapes of grieving. The acclimation to loss.

I finally got my pills. Slowly came to earth, a good place to be on, not over, not under. Life with its many distances is good. Good. I'm always some distance, close or apart, from events, the usual, childhood, which collude to trigger my unsleeping state; it's been a battle that's shaped my life: insomnia; childhood; all that. Prevallet is likely to remain at an unguessable distance from her sadness.

"As a political position, I hold onto my grief." As a political position, hold onto this book.

[I, Afterlife] [Essay in Mourning Times] by Kristin Prevallet, Essay Press.
photo: The Conveyer Belt ( : A Fashion and Lifestyle Journal