Wednesday, April 28, 2010

So I read and exposed myself and did it in the name of poetry.

During my party years I'd talk with a girlfriend the day after; we do the autopsy. Man, it was fun.

We'd reinvent the previous evening with all its glitter and silliness, or disappointments. Our nervous energy dissolved as we dished.

I have residual nervous energy about my poetry reading last night at Bluestockings Bookstore. I may be more girl reporter here than medical examiner, but what the hey.

Vittoria Reppetto, who has run this series (see previous post) for years and contentedly bills herself as the hardest working guinea, butch dyke on the lower east side, was her usual warm and business-like self. Vittoria is a native of the Village--Cornelia Street--which makes her vintage and landmarked. An authentic New Yorker.

The audience was young, really sweet and so attentive. I forget about that, the generosity of the audience. I'm a total stranger to many of them and yet they sit in metal folding chairs and give me their full attention. It feels like a sacred but not solemn rite and homage to poetry and art.

Adrienne Baldasandro, my co-feature, read with the intensity of outrage; on gender, sexuality, preference; on kids and young adults at-risk because of same. She was intense and gripping.

And I was me, a strong reader with good poems, always a little unsure of myself and yet confident. I love being up there, but there's more to it, which may be the mystery of the sacred rite and the fact of laundry after enlightenment.

When an audience is so attentive and generous, parts of me are inevitably exposed whether or not I'm aware. So I read and exposed myself and did it in the name of poetry.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shuffling Poets: lustre defined and questioned

As in fiction so in poetry readings. The consumer wants to trust the the narrator, in this case poet, who is protagonist of her or his reading.

It's not that poet -or narrator- must be entirely honorable a human or kind to the masses. If he or she is either, that becomes clear and adds to the lustre. But drunkenness and sleeping with students are also part of the chemical formulation of a poet's -or narrator's- lustre.

Fine and good but lustre's composition does become questionable, thin and plastery, when a poet stands at the podium and shuffles through her or his work, not just looking for a poem but trying to decide which poem to read next.

Of course I merely have one collection out (have I mentioned that in the last five minutes?), not ten books and twice as many uncollected poems. It's really not so hard for me. For me it takes a few stickies in my book (it's published, by the way) (The Future Is Happy) (go to Small Press Distribution or Amazon) and another eight to ten "new" poems (enough, already, the audience will get the idea). "New work" has at most been published in journals.

Some poets will announce, "this poem was accepted by Farmer's Snotrag Review of Southern Illinois Agricultural and Combine Academy and then wait, as if honoring a line break, for gasps of admiration. But the audience never reacts. I wonder if there'd be a stir for a poem kissed by dewy lips of the New Yorker or Poetry's poetry editors?

My disdain is barely concealed when a poet does that, piles it on a poem. Isn't the poor poem itself worth our time? I fear my disdain means I will any day now do the same. What Sarah Sarai disdains barely she soon does.

So who cares what I have to say about readings?

I do and I'll tell you why: I am reading tomorrow night, Tues., April 27, at Bluestockings Bookstore at 7 p.m. Details below. I must make selections tonight then spend the day at the seashore with pebbles in my mouth, practicing, rehearsing, emoting.

Fat chance. But I am always thrilled anyone wants me to read and am thinking about the saucy audience at this activist bookstore and center. I will make my choices tonight and decide which one or two poems I'll do something extra with--I warbled a poem recently and am pushing myself for more.

The right people and the right number of people always show up at readings. I taught myself that years ago. People are showing up for poetry? What could be wrong with that scenario? Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even a shuffling poet.

Join us: Tuesday, April 27th @ 7p.m.
Women’s / Bi / Trans & co. Poetry Jam & Open Mike (All welcome)
Featuring Sarah Sarai & Adrienne Baldassano
Bluestockings Bookstore
173 Allen Street

$5 or best offer--Vittoria passes a hat
(lower east side, 1 block so. of Houston, btwn. Stanton/Rivington)
train: 1 block south of the F’s 2nd Ave stop; 5 blocks from the JMZ's Essex/Delancey stop
Hosted by Vittoria Repetto, the hardest working guinea butch dyke on the lower east side

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Brothers James Brown and Jean Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract, uh uh uh uh

for James Brown

To incite insurrection, and
our fragile halfway-house bodies
rehabilitating–by the will
of God and the will
of self–instincts and
visions clear as Rousseau’s
(you should have sung his lyrics:
Man is born free, uh uh uh uh,

yet everywhere is in chains, huh);
to baffle the thick–
you kept the message simple.
Get up, uh uh uh uh,
get on up, you commanded,
leaving us dumbfounded
we even once disbelieved.
You reinvented insurgence,
argued for us to glide past
power and ownership.
Get on up, you demanded,
join the midnight-hour dance.

After the great James Brown passed on there was a call for submissions for an anthology to honor him, Say It Loud. I wanted to be part of the tribute but didn't think myself capable of writing occasional verse--a poem "on demand" or for a specific occasion. I tried and tried and failed and failed. Near deadline I was in a coffee house when "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a ) Sex Machine" came on the music system. If that song doesn't move you, unmoveable you are. I wrote this.

By the way, the Rousseau quote should be read: everywhereisinchains! HUH.

We Are Jack Kerouac (poem)

Carol Novack & co.'s Mad Hatter's Review is at it again.

It is through the offices, as it were, of Mad Hatter's, both the review and a reading I was part of, I learned how to mash a poem (use lots of butter). For the latest issue I offered up two poems, "We Are Jack Kerouac" and "hAve You Been Married, the Sister asK" which was first published by Other Rooms Press (Ed Go, co-editor). "Jack Kerouac" was pulverized.

Here is a link to the Mad Hatter's table of contents and, therefore and perforce and by logical extension and thusly and so on, both poems: .

I'm also pasting "We Are Jack Kerouac" here. It was included in my collection, The Future Is Happy, BlazeVOX [books}, 2009.

We Are Jack Kerouac

Though not in the sense
we were born in Lowell Mass
or beat it out of there to
get famous, though we
gassed up and burned rubber
in Lowell Mass and in
other states and cities
we hitched rides and smoked
cigarettes on route 66 and
interstate 90 and on weed
and acid on a crazy-eight-
curlicue of L.A. freeways
merging like a concrete Möbius
swapping out autos so on
Thanksgiving-Friday in
nineteen seventy something
we knew that sensory swirl
would be ours, daily everlasting;
in the daily everlasting we'd
lean into endless curves,
and though laws of identity
have things equal to themselves,
i.e., Jack = Jack, there's
the poetic corollary that things
are equal to much that's wild
and so beautiful, like our
holy transfixion on birds
thrumming wings in
the blue guitar of dreams.
But truly we're Jack Kerouac
when morning light catches
now our thrumming adventures,
embarked on long ago.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Christmas movies, Abba, booze, free asssociation

When I moved to New York I was introduced to a loose group of gay and straight men and women, all younger than I am, devoted to their vodka, especially David, my egress to the group through a Seattle friend. He was extremely intelligent, gay, self-sufficient and devoted to booze. He was also devoted to things Scandinavian (he spoke several languages), including Abba, would crank up the stereo and we'd dance.

He owned his apartment, always enviable, but that didn't guaranty compliant neighbors. The stereo was usually and quickly cranked down. He made use of the interim to pour another round. I'm not a dedicated drinker and by then—I was in my forties—not much of a drinker redux and amplified; but very much a wuss. More than once I remember surreptitiously pouring my drink into a plant (sorry) or empty glass. Nancy Reagan, honey, it's hard to say no.

I wasn't happy with these friends and eventually they were no longer friends. A different David and some others, who I met in my first six months here, are still friends. We see action movies together and go out for a meal. Back then we'd also play board games.

I am faced with a conundrum today, a problem lite—very lite. A few times a year we have brunch first and then head to David's apartment to watch a DVD, instead of going to a theater. I've been asked to offer a few suggestions. You must remember, my family used to go to a movie on Christmas Day, after festivities died down.

A movie on Christmas Day sounds great (at least to me) but there is that serious streak running through my blood. One year we saw Brother Rocco, a grim Italian art film. I was ten or twelve. I was outraged. I didn't turn away from art film, but reserved a space in my ten or eleven year-old heart for fun film.

David is okay with comedy. He likes it, but another and more dominant of this group is disinterested. Maybe it's silly movies associated with dope. Harold and Kumar (the first was good, the second dull). I want to suggest, among other movies, The Ringer, which stars, of all people, Johnny Knoxville, and has a horrendous premise, that Knoxville will fake being "special" so he can enter the Special Olympics. So he can win. So his uncle, played by Brian Cox, who will bet, can get money owed to bad people.

My next blog will be a story I wrote, published in 2005. It's locale is a rooftop I danced (to Abba) on through the graces of the first David. I was diverted by the Davids and memory. But it all fits.

to. be. continued.

Monday, April 12, 2010

That's Mr. Walcott to you, dearie: tales of SLC

I was warned against Sarah Lawrence (my grad. program) but I didn't listen. Do I ever? And now 14 years after I got my MFA in fiction (in three semesters, taking one full workshop) I'm still battling the school. Them.
I have been trying to get a notice of my book in the alumni magazine. It didn't make the Fall issue and guess what: I was also left out of the Spring issue. The Future Is Happy is distinguished by the fact that its author, me, Sarah Sarai has zero academic backing and no money to spend on book competitions but finally got published.

A while back I met a member of an undergraduate alumni committee who told me if I ever needed help to contact her. She knew I thought the MFA program was a joke--unless she thought I was kidding. Maybe she did. The power of denial is stunning. I contacted her by e-mail last week, although in the interim had a chance to yell into Sarah Lawrence voice mail and as a result and thus get "assured" (we'll see) my book would get some recognition in the Fall.

You may ask why I care, given the fact I am not an SLC fan. BECAUSE I WANT SOME RECOGNITION! Sad but true.

Blah this blah that. My e-mail of last week to the young alumni committee rep., read: "I was going to write a letter and copy the alumni group--as you had suggested... Now I'm not so sure. I remember being alone with a confused Derek Walcott in some wood-paneled room and wondering where the hell the SLC poets were, then being told with great confidence by a fellow student who was one of the elect, 'He complained about Sarah Lawrence in the cab.' Hard to battle that level of pettiness."

It did happen and I was astonished.

In today's responde, the loyal SLC alum wrote: "Derek is on odd side, he's not quite all there... I don't remember why."

"Derek"? Not even Derek Walcott? "On odd side?" J. M. F. C. (figure it out). Whatever anyone thinks of Walcott's personality (and his interests in females can be matched by a few local professor I know of, so let's let that one go), to abandon a special guest poet, as the SLC faculty did, and have same condoned by a hapless alum years later. I'm frothing.

I'm also not a fan of first names unless there's a real friendship. I won't give my name to the kids at the yogurt place so they can call "Sarah" when the fresh strawberries are atop my original small. I don't like strangers addressing me by "Sarah" and I don't like similar casual mention or Nobel Prize winners.

I responded--and quickly--never a good idea. "I'm sure you read Pictures at an Exhibition (Jarrell to me, Randall to you). Paraphrase: SLC faculty are incapable of seeing themselves." Poet Randall Jarrell's novel of Sarah Lawrence, Pictures at an Exhibition, skewers faculty and administration; shows how they refuse to acknowledge--are constitutionally unable to recognize--stunning flaws in the school.

That's Sarah Lawrence. It's not just "I'm not paid to talk to you" or "We can't set up an internship for you. No one wants to work with someone so old." As one pretty and otherwise happy MFA candidate said to me while the head of the poetry dept. was telling all MFA candidates how lucky we were to be at Sarah Lawrence, "I feel like the world's biggest sucker."

I've been angry for 14 years. Meditated, prayed, talked. I don't want to live with this much anger. Maybe writing will help. We'll see.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Editing fiction: an outtake, and why, from "The Devil Is Her Friend"

I recently wrote here of trials and tribulations of getting my story "The Devil Is Her Friend" published. It ended up, gloriously, in Stone's Throw Magazine. Here's an outtake from the story, a section I edited out over a year ago with reluctance and wisdom. It wasn't working, however much I denied it or appreciated my own early reading history.

I am revealing some of the process of editing in hopes another writer might find it useful. This story had been around for a long time, as I previously wrote, and my attachment to the outtake was hard to overcome.

"Devil" is about (or "about"--who ever knows what anything is about, really) Pearl Miller, a hybrid. In her case that means half Christian, half Jewish, although readers who are racially or otherwise mixed also favorably responded to the story. She's also a rebel.

And bucker of authority figures. I had to do intensive research for that character trait, ho ho. Her dual background, or, rather, reactions to her dual background, are explored briefly, as Pearl winds up teaching at a Catholic high school. There's a crisis when the Archdiocese demands all teachers, Catholic or not, attend a periodic faculty Mass in addition all-school Masses, at which teachers are more chaperones (to the pews, to keep them free of gum and graffiti). Pearl decides she will read during the mandatory Mass.

Pearl being Pearl, the question looms: What will she read? Her back-and-forthing on this issue is what I partly deleted as it was too much of an intellectual segue which served neither story nor characters. I am fond of that internal discussion, however. So here it is. (The story, sans the OUTTAKE/book debate, is at (copy and paste):

So much for the tensile strength of a dual upbringing, Pearl thinks. “I’m on my own,” she tells her rear view mirror as she drives home. She is hurt and annoyed. And determined. Her only decision is what to read during the faculty Mass. The choice will be everything, and so she thinks long and hard.

Her first inspiration is to read a Catholic theologian, maybe St. Thomas Aquinas. Who can forget that odd paragraph in the Modern Library selections from Summa Theologica, in which Aquinas conjectured about the number of dancing angels on pin tops—as if all angels couldn’t fit all places at all times. Summa wouldn’t really be much of a statement; not much stronger than thumbing through the daily Missile available in the pews. Even the mystic authors of The Cloud of Unknowing or The Way of the Pilgrim can be construed as writers of commentary on doctrine, and thus coals to Lancaster, or Manchester, or the Appalachians, maybe even coals to the Devil, a perhaps dramatic perspective of the whole mess; the shebang; all of it.

Jewish theology is a possibility, although much of it seems a reach. Reading Abraham Abulafia or the Zohar would be hypocritical on Pearl’s part since she hasn’t been able to get a footing in Kaballah, other than Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, which, like Freud’s Introductory Lectures, offer as much as she imagines she wants to know on the subject, at least at this crossroads of life. Except for his translations of Hasidic tales, she’s never been a fan of Buber, and aren’t those tales too sprightly for this occasion? For the occasion of reading during faculty Mass? She might as well read Roth or Bellow, but then there is the whole woman issue.

This part does remain in the story:
The night before the first scheduled opportunity for faculty salvation, Pearl is on the phone with Angelette. “I’m not a literature teacher,” she explains needlessly, “but I sure to like to read it.”

Angelette has trouble following Pearl’s mental wanderings. “Your Sunday School teachers said you were a good reader.” She sips Sanka while cradling the phone on her shoulder and thumbing through an article on “Spirituality in the Cubicle” in the Christian Science Sentinel. “Be careful.”

Makes sense; Pearl is a little nervous. After saying good night to her mother, she sits cross-legged in on the Persian rug in front of her bookcase. Her apartment is small and spare, but for the solid oak book cases and treasured carpet. What to read, who to read. Which author can be brought into a church? Well, any and all, but which one will approximate a religious experience — that’s what she is looking for. Her choices suddenly narrow: Emily Dickinson or Anton Chekhov.

Emily, well, Dickinson, but who wants to call Emily Dickinson — Dickinson — wrote a poem works, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” which sounds pretty ecstatic to Pearl. Atop a list of Ten Best Artists the World’s Ever Known, which Pearl and her friend Roger, who she met in a literature class at the university, compiled, Pearl places Emily.

“Dickinson, my dear Rog, is pure energy, crystal, zircon, an emerald diamond. Her poetry is equivalent to the cipher which the space adventurers in a movie find in the obelisk, which has the key to a galactic understanding and peace.” Roger hadn’t argued.

In the end, however, Pearl settles on bringing in a collection of Chekhov’s stories. She hasn’t read the entire volume because every time she opens the book her heart starts beating so rapidly, she gets scared. The air will thicken, and Pearl finds herself lying on her bed, or once, putting her head down on a tabletop at MacDonald’s while a girl scooping fries into a red cardboard container shouted to bring some water to the lady who’d passed out. Chekhov indeed. Isn’t there God and religion and a philosophy of hope in such artistic construction? At least. And if she faints, the Mass will be cut short.

More than you wanted to know? Hey. Maybe a writing teacher can use this as a warning note, or intro to self-editing. Go for it.

Sculpture of angels from:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Quick note on classical or old references (& a poem draft),

One poet who read my book (The Future Is Happy—plug the title into Amazon, put it in your cart and buy) commented, "You certainly are well-read."

I don't know that's really true. When I was thirty I was well-read and that is simply by comparison with a broad base of people who didn't hit the Greeks and Romans the way I did. Yeah, there are a few usual lists of classics and the lists are hard to dispute simply because there isn't a lot of competition (i.e., from women and other minority writers). Also because the books are really really good.

But that was then. Now? I haven't read anything by Roberto Bolaño but some of his short stories from The New Yorker. If I hadn't fallen into the temporary good graces of a phenomenally well-read poet who guided me, I wouldn't have read a slew of modern poets. Some of my well-readedness is luck. Regardless.

I'm beginning not to care. And that's a change. Heaven was going to be a place of ever-ripe peaches, thincrust wholewheat pizza with a sauce made by Costanza from the Godfather, silk and whatever might feel good on that, and books. Time to read and reread all the books I never got around to.

However, in support, I distinctly remember Eric Miles Williamson, who has published two novels and a critical study of populism, taste and Jack London, pointing to his impressive bookshelves and saying (remembered), "Each of these represents time I could have been out there." There. Life.

True, life isn't all it's cracked up to be. My time out there often gets me into trouble. I spend time in here emotionally unpacking the time I spend out there. And nothing has changed in my life except for me getting older (Eric said that, by the way, when he lived in New York with his former wife, Melissa Studdard). As I wrote the following poem recently (hence, still in progress), I realized, so what. So what if I've read Ibsen and Strindberg and Voltaire (Candide doesn't count. Candide is forever and always). So so so so what.

I'm not saying anything new but Ill repeat nonetheless. The world is corrupt, certainly the white colonial world, the Christian (and for the past fifty or so years, the Jewish), the Islamic, and the far east--all corrupt and about greed. All there is is the individual and of what use is Doll's House to her?

Counterpoint is that western culture is my story. I spend many hours at the African wing of the Met trying to reorient my brain, to relearn stories. Wonderful art but not my stories. I give up.


Nora the door-slammer
knows every ridge of
Torvald's thumb.
A regular Sacajaweja
is she of tracking
her way out from under.
Yesterday, bent northern-
ward from Bleecker
a thoroughly nice woman,
thoroughly my age,
stayed a few steps ahead and
called watch outs for cars
and slush. Thank you, Sacajawea
I said. She laughed at
my silliness—or my ignorance.
How many years has it been
since I heard the name Sacajawea or
Lewis and Clark or Torvald.
I'm not well-researched, I'm lazy.
What I know for sure is old.
Ibsen wrote a great scene and
I have a decent hold on
western culture against
much of which I'd like to slam
a door. Little's known of
Sacajawea's life after Lewis and
Clark opened up the west,
so rich in natural assets.

The stamp is Lewis and Clark with faithful Sacajawea behind them. Please see the irony.

Belated MLK poem (d. April 4)

About three years ago I was at one of the Met's small exhibits: European art, Christian, precious pieces, all small. One was a crucifix of black alabaster. I am, as I may have mentioned, a preliterate Christian, to quote Bill Moyers in conversation with Campbell (I love the art; cantatas and other sacred music; the complexity and generosity of the Sermon on the Mount; a spirit that transcends church, Church and personality).

My mind was in its usual place, which means I was probably having arguments with myself about doctrine or politics, or wanting to scold a museum patron whose earphones buzzed. There was nothing sanctified about me that afternoon except I was looking at what I love to look at, studying it, moving on eye along every surface, sopping color and texture.

The black crucifix (I know--I have friends who don't even want to hear the word--what does death have to do with kindness and helping the poor?) alone--or the three crosses on Golgotha, was small enough to need to be in a case. Anyway I studied it and I had a sudden flash, Martin Luther King, Jr. I'd read Dreamer, Charles Johnson's novel about Dr. King's last days and two people who are near him--read and recommend. Dreamer is a perfectly flawed book--an imperfect novel that is so beautiful, its imperfections are the scar making the lovely exquisite.

I have trouble talking about Christianity, even though I'm baptized. That may be because I'm half-Jewish and very much so, and it may be for other reasons. I have trouble writing about MLK. That may be because I'm white, and may be because I have common sense, the two being too often exclusive to the other. So whatever. Here is the poem. I'm not sure it's done, but tributes should be in the world, not in my computer.

By the way, I was in northern New Mexico when Dr. King was assassinated. I was a young woman and can't claim to have known a lot, but felt devastated. My memory is of walking along an arroyo in the sunset. It was still cold. I was numb.

A Day to Wear Layers

Me: April cold in dumb dusk
watching the sun’s oxidized carmine rays
crawl a cradling valley.

A day to wear layers
in pretense of self-protection.

Surrealism. Headlines; dispatches.

sculpted graceful beneath your body
stretched black on an ivory cross.

Forty-one years later. Art of the Middle Ages. I see it.
God betrays everyone.
Has, all along.
Hope as skill for living.

And in an icon across the gallery,
a mother lowers thick eyelids.
Lamentation hid from the observing world.

PICTURED: Black Madonna, Spain, not in the exhibit.