Monday, January 31, 2011

Tagore: Asks the Possible of the Impossible

Saturday night was baffling, good baffling. I met up with a friend I hadn't seen for years.

We're both writers. She teaches. I copyedit.  There are pluses to either profession in terms of being a writer, but I was baffled (good baffled) when she started talking about Tagore, whose poems she teaches in literature classes.

She teaches Tagore. She gets to spend time, is paid to spend time, with a great poet  She gets to sell him to students, not that he needs selling.

I can't make a case for him being more divine or enlightened than Dickenson or Rilke, two all-time favorites. But he is/had something special. 

We work with our gifts, our health and circumstance of class.  Rilke made beautiful work of his time at Castle Duino (the Elegies); Emily Dickinson's garden and neighbors, reading, inner life made her work beautiful. They were all Brahmins, including Tagore who had a gift of needing to help free India. Maybe that wouldn't be a gift for all poets but mixed with his own lights it made him fine and rare, and exquisite.

Asks the Possible of the Impossible

Asks the Possible of the Impossible,
"Where is your dwelling-place?"
"In the dreams of the Impotent,"
 comes the answer

 A dewdrop is a perfect integrity
that has no filial memory of its parentage.

A mind all logic is like a knife all blade.
It makes the hand bleed that uses it.

Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali) 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rambling thoughts on fear and writing

The great trick of writing is also the great trick of living--listening to your inner self fueled by the spiritual.

I'm thinking about this because a wonderful poet recently commented there are too many poems published these days and that's because poets are forced by requirements of university teaching to publish (or perish).

I'm inclined to kid myself that doesn't apply to me since I'm not an academic, but I feel a little panicky when I realize I don't yet have a new poetry manuscript to follow up my 2009 collection. Some poets produce a huge amount but others, Cavafy, Rilke, Whitman, among them, end up with one generous volume of poems, and those poems last.

So for me, I must listen to the voice in me and of me. Not my dear departed mother's voice, or imaginary authority figures (and nomads--they roam from my right to left shoulder), not editors. Set the work aside for a year and then return to it. I haven't been doing that.

I just heard an artist and illustrator talk about his struggles. He mentioned that it took some time for him to understand "the voice" (my conceit) was urging him to teach art to children for one of his jobs.

The brain says, Stick with adults because adults will help you become famous, but the artist/illustrator loves working with kids. If he'd let his more cowardly brain rule the day, he'd have distanced himself more but allowing a great satisfaction in his life.

Only the work brings satisfaction and a sense of happy completion, and awareness that least for a time, all is well.

ILLUSTRATION: Laurent de Brunhof, I saw it at the Morgan Library exhibit last year; not necessarily relevant here, but beautiful

Saturday, January 29, 2011

FA Nettelbeck: 2 poems, fractured idiom, pathologies of our culture

I posted twice last week about FA Nettelbeck, who left us this month. Now, two of his poems.
As I've said, he was the anti-eager-to-be-accessed-and-lauded poet, the anti-CK Williams, the anti-Marie Howe, the anti-Richard Howard. He was not of the Academy; and while every poet seeks an audience for their work--the psychic id pushing us to make art pushes poet and poem out or to at least leave sheaves behind in a desk in Amherst, Nettelbeck's pushes were less obvious than some others. That counts.

Stephen Kessler wrote, "Nettelbeck since 1970 established himself more than anyone else I’ve known as a truly outside-the-law literatus, a man who, if not for poetry, very likely would have ended up in prison.  His genius as a writer was to echo or reflect back through a fractured idiom some of the deepest pathologies of our culture, and through anger and outrage and an irrepressible need to offer some cry of defiance, to create a formally meticulous, visually musical, highly personal yet anti-lyrical poetry."

Thanks to poet Cralan Kelder for posting these two poems by FA Nettelbeck so I could steal and share them here.

American Postcard

when the ghost train whines across
hollow eyes when cicadas speak
Texarkana sentences when the hands
of a waitress unbutton his grease stained
jeans in the back of no memory when
the radio plays a hobo song inside a locker
at the Greyhound station at noon when
the children find a brown body in the alley
next door to the Hotel Grim when the pink
meat of the watermelon splits obscenely
open when the one mosquito lights on a
cheerleader’s smooth bare ass when you’ll
turn to alcohol where the weathered
metal sign says Cool Inside

Keep Drinking

this cheap Australian chardonnay on

ice is better than running out of gas in

Long Beach or hearing those anti-

shoplifting buzzers going off right

before you gotta start running

again it’s like that no pussy in

three years and now you’re back

at the clinic sitting with this chick

who’s as dull as her Goodwill panties

makes you want to light yourself on

fire and jump on Jesus if you ever

got the chance to see him I mean a

final wish situation like calling talk

radio on a flophouse hallway phone

and ultimately not having nothing to say

no idea where you’re going with it next

as you stare dumbfounded at the wall

where someone has scribbled

This isn’t so bad
F.A. Nettelbeck, 1950 to 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Foodstuff Friday: Sarah Sarai (is born)

Jean de Brunhof
January 28 is the day Simon and Evelyn's only begotten fourth daughter slipped from the marine joys of nine months inside her mother.

It was an easily birth, rehearsed three times previously.

To be continued . . .

I need to keep working, my dear friends.  At a job.  So rent can be paid.

About Babar and his fathers, Jean and Laurent de Brunhof (son and father themselves).  When I thought of finding a b-day pic. I googled phrases like Sarah Sarai Ascends.  Sigh.

Then it came to me. . .go to the de Brunhofs.  The Morgan Library here in NYC exhibited their artwork last year and it was real deal lovely.  I don't know of any series of books more alive in me than the Babar books.

As for the final illustration of the nightmare, I've referenced that in poems (although I'm not sure the poems have yet to see the light of page).  Nonetheless it's a picture I found scary and thrilling when I was a little girl.  It's a triumphant nightmare.

As I say, if I have more time later, I'll write more. In the meantime,

Foodstuff Friday celebrates Sarah Sarai. She is not good enough to eat but she's good enough.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

. . . and a world derives its origin from its sun [Emanuel Swedenborg, Interaction of the Soul and Body]

Remiel,  one of Swedenborg's angels,
by Jeff Richards
Hexagon Art***
I was raised a Swedenborgian. That's not true but it's not a lie, a conundrum and play that would not have interested the mystic and scientist. After his spiritual revelations beginning in his late 50s, Swedenborg associated with angels daily. He died in 1772 which gave him about twenty-eight years of quality time with the incorporeal.

That's 10,220 days.  That's a lot of contact and many angels however defined explored perceived. Such contact would not incline one to parse simple logical inconsistencies.

His influence on the Transcendentalists substantiates my claim to being raised Swedenborgian. My mom's religion and its leader made use of (I believe it's called "plagiarized") Swedenborg's ideas, and although her reputation is unfailingly tarnished, the ideas of Swedenborg, a century earlier, aren't.  By the way, regarding, Is he mystic or schizophrenic?--The debate bores me.

The blog I discovered is ***Hexagon Art: The Art and Musings of Jeff Richards.  I'll let Richards explain himself. His transcendant art speaks for itself. Try waving particles.

Blake was influenced by Emanuel Swedenborg. Emerson, of course. Imanuel Kant wrote he wanted to put S. in a madhouse.  Score one for Swedenborg.

Note:  All of Swedenborg's texts are online at sacred texts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Toi Derricotte, "The Weakness," raising the dead

from alchemywebsite dot com*
"When my legs gave out, my grandmother / dragged me up and held me like God / holds saints by the / roots of the hair." ["The Weakness"]

Maybe Francis of Assisi or the Buddha before he was the Buddha looked so longingly at their wealthy fathers' estates God got antsy and had to give them a little kick, a little boostarooni, a jump start.  And thus awakened and smarting they carried on in sanctified ways to become patrons of kindness and compassion.

"The Weakness" is full of play and interplay between up and down, falling and rising (or being yanked upright or raised from the dead), strength and weakness.  They run through Toi Derricotte's poem like a river in a storm. In Derricotte's world, or her world in this poem, the natural raging unfairness of life is a given as is the battle against it, and the battle to instill fight.

Everything is in movement here, including the swirling marble floor, except the white people's smiles, enervated "as if they were wearing wooden collars." That boldly ungracious and faint upturn of the lips is a perfect image; and evokes Puritan's stocks and, with "collar," Elizabethan ruffs only the upper class could wear because they so limited movement and expression.

About the image:  I respond to alchemical and Rosicrucian art, though my reason for choosing the art on the left didn't occur to me until I added it. Transformation is being enforced, if only for a few solid moments.  

The Weakness 

That time my grandmother dragged me
through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up
by my arm, hissing, "Stand up,"
through clenched teeth, her eyes
bright as a dog's
cornered in the light.
She said it over and over,
as if she were Jesus,
and I were dead.  She had been
solid as a tree,
a fur around her neck, a
light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked
  on swirling
marble and passed through
brass openings--in 1945.
There was not even a black
elevator operator at Saks.
The saleswoman had brought velvet
leggings to lace me in, and cooed,
as if in service of all grandmothers.
My grandmother had smiled, but not
hungrily, not like my mother
who hated them, but wanted to please,
and they had smiled back, as if
they were wearing wooden collars.
When my legs gave out, my grandmother 
dragged me up and held me like God
holds saints by the
roots of the hair.  I begged her
to believe I couldn't help it.  Stumbling,
her face white
with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing
away from those eyes
that saw through
her clothes, under
her  skin, all the way down
to the transparent 
genes confessing.

Toi Derricotte, from (click on her name and read more about her)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Swinherd by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin & a Levi-Strauss quote on pig qua meditation prop

Many ways to view paradise, old age, the gentle glory of appreciation. On a website dedicated to "Considering the pig, a single-minded bestiary" {} I found "Swineherd" by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin; and while this reflection on the gentle glory of appreciation, anticipation, age, whatever else, needs no accompaniment, the website itself charms and so I offer another of treasures, being a quotation:   
In our thoughts and words, pigs are generous figures of speech.  They freely lend their intrinsic nature to us for simile and metaphor, hyperbole and idio.  Pigs are also handy to use in personification or in analogy and allergory. And pigs are certainly good for swearing.     
Claude Levi-Strauss, Totenism, 1963 ... read the rest of the quote here.
And Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's poem:


  1. When all this is over, said the swineherd,
  2. I mean to retire, where
  3. Nobody will have heard about my special skills
  4. And conversation is mainly about the weather.
  5. I intend to learn how to make coffee, as least as well
  6. As the Portuguese lay-sister in the kitchen
  7. And polish the brass fenders every day.
  8. I want to lie awake at night
  9. Listening to cream crawling to the top of the jug
  10. And the water lying soft in the cistern.
  11. I want to see an orchard where the trees grow in straight lines
  12. And the yellow fox finds shelter between the navy-blue trunks,
  13. Where it gets dark early in summer
  14. And the apple-blossom is allowed to wither on the bough.
© Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Acts and Monuments. Dublin, The Gallery Press, 1972.

Monday, January 24, 2011

More on Nettelbeck: "a brilliant and unique American poet"

1 ex. of Nettelbeck's
mail art*
More on FA Nettelbeck (see yesterday's posting). The man's poems evade Googling which, given the respect he's earned, is admirable in its uniqueness.

It's not that he didn't have a web presence because of course he did, with his blog and generated work.  I found his comments on other artists' blogs, i.e., and others, but not easily.

I did find this in the way of homage, on cranbookdesign dot com, in an interview with Kevin Yuen Kit Lo.

QUESTION: The 11:56 zine is created entirely from content generated by an open call for submission. Was there any particular submission to the Zine that you received which really made you stop and realize that “This is what all your hard work had been for”?

KEVIN YUEN KIT LO:  If I had to select just one submission though, I would choose the poetry submitted by FA Nettelbeck. Nettelbeck is a brilliant and unique American poet, a contemporary of Charles Bukowski and a publisher of such noted poets as Allen Ginsberg, John M. Bennet and William Burroughs. His work has certainly not received the attention it deserves, and we’re hoping to do what we can to correct this. The visual quality of his words is a rich source of inspiration for me, and the fact that he’s allowed me to work with them typographically is incredibly motivating.

*from C Mehrl Bennett's blog Visual Poetry Mailart Exhibit at Skylab: FA Nettelbeck

Sunday, January 23, 2011

FA Nettelbeck (1950-2011); poet of L.A., the west coast; poet

from The Ohio State University
FA Nettelbeck collection
Mushy gets my heart when Los Angeles is praised. More to the point, when Los Angeles is known for the hip art center it is. FA Nettelbeck knew L.A.

First let me link to the Jim Hayes' interview with Nettelbeck. It's on Hayes' blog, assemblypoetryplantmarietta, an interview with FA Nettelbeck. And was brought to my attention because of Nettelbeck's death on January 20.

FA's parents moved from the midwest when he was a kid.  "That move to LA blessed me to the tits."

Yes! Asked about the feel of the city in the sixties, Nettelbeck throws down an uber-hip L.A. More druggie than I ever lived, but beyond the drugs, he gets the magnificent oddness of the city, how impossible it can be to describe the feel. "But it's hard to explain LA back then."

I need to explore this more--for myself--but L.A. in the sixties and early seventies evades capture. San Francisco, the Haight, that scene, has been nicely written of over and over, well-presented in movies (I was in San Francisco enough to know), but L.A. has proven more evasive.

"I'm still proud of LA and I ain't been there in 30 years!" Nettelbeck settled in Oregon, the current final frontier of the country (more so than Alaska) (really).

There's no point in my summarizing Jim Hayes multi-dimensioned interview with Nettlebeck. Click on the link above and read for yourself. Here's Nettelbeck's site: Note, you have to authenticate yourself as being of age. He was Bukowski like (Bukowski like--not a copy) on sex drugs rock and roll.

*The Ohio State University FA Nettelbeck Collection.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Foodstuff Friday: theft & mold in the workplace fridge

Do NOT steal your co-worker's lunch!

Please be advised:
Refrigerators on the 8th and 9th Floors will be cleaned
EVERY Thursday at 3 p.m. 
Refrigerators on the 6th and 7th Floors will be cleaned 
EVERY Friday at 3 p.m.
All food left in this refrigerator will be thrown out.

Your mother won't clean up for you here!

On this Foodstuff Friday we ask you remember the unfood—carbon- and/or chemical-based edibles that will, if opened, grow weary of life as they know it and express same by becoming green as tea that isn't green.

And that is far worse than a missing lunch. But a missing lunch is, like the heartbreak of psoriasis, a suffering individual and bitter.

Throw it out, my lovelies.  Be brave. The half-eaten take-out container of Mui Shui Pork with one cold pancake? That tray of cold cuts with one limp celery stalk and greenish deli turkey no one wants to toss because doing so might seem ungrateful, having been expensed by the company in honor of the monthly birthday party?

The apple, the cucumber, even the orange that eventually implodes to look like a shy teenager at a dance or grow fuzzy as an adolescent male’s beard of one week?

They are not precious. They do not belong in your Smithsonian of a work-refrigerator. They will not feed the poor in your city, your state, your country, around the globe, magically, while growing more and more distasteful on the shelves in the dark. They will do no more than disgust the designated hitter of the kitchen—the canteen crew restocking coffee supplies on each floor, the cleaning lady, the office manager. And in high school faculty lounges, well, God help us all.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Celan Poem: exactitude and magnificence overshadowing

If you don't know of the poet Paul Celan I am most comfortable in directing you to Paul Celan: After the Disaster, an article in Spike magazine.

Celan's work is discussed in contexts of poetics (Modernism and its flaws; his leaps beyond), philosophy (Heidegger), betrayal (Heidegger), history (the Holocaust), genius (the poems and his translations).

When a poem is as efficient and spare as the following, any reaction seems a bit heavy-handed. Somewhere along the line I lost my collected poems (of Celan), so it's been a long time since I encountered this. My heart did that fake-heartstopping-thing when I read the second line ... the heavenleaf's web of veins.

Here in a ratty cubicle on the seventh floor of a midtown Manhattan office building, I was under that sky, saw it, knew it, knew empty time, the thought-beetle climbing.

I won't risk even that much about the couplet, except I'm in thrall to its exactitude and so magnificence overshadows (or shines out) the blood-bloom, the beetle, the feelers. Yes, yes, yes. The top of my head is missing.


Ring–narrowing Day under
the heavenleaf’s web of veins.
Across large cells of empty time, through
the rainfall, climbs
a black–blue thing: the

Words in blood-bloom
throng before his feelers.

Paul Celan (1920-1970); translated from the German by Heather McHugh and Nikolai Popov,
in Jubilat # 1 (

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Poem: Longing for a Blue Sky; a poem of circumstance & memory

Sangre de Cristos;
photo by Deborah Wolfe
One day in 1974 I stood at an overlook to the Hudson River. Greens, blues, earths. Quiet. Depth. I made a decision to, eventually, move so I’d live near the Hudson OR in northern New Mexico OR northern California.

Retirement, which was once a concept or option could or would be the trigger for such a move. Beauty. I wanted to be surrounded by beauty and those three geographies satisfy and are familiar.

So that’s part of the background here. Here's more. I was with a group of friends doing some free-writing when the first draft of "Longing" was a gleam in my eye. We knew the routine—be quiet and write for a set period of time. Someone new barged in, someone who demanded attention and would not humble himself enough to ask what we were doing or how he could be part.

And it isn’t hard to be part of this group. There are a few ground rules, like, please, hush, sweetheart, when we’re writing. I flustered and got flustered, but ultimately, it pulled together; worked to advantage. I mentioned the poem previously, in Lavender: new journal; new poem, but didn't include the poem herself.

Longing for a Blue Sky

I am goal-oriented like an orgasm,
exhausted already by details of your ego.
My details are colored "hesitation" and "confidence?"
though age, she educates.

My mood is London longing for a blue sky.
I take the Hudson River as my lover
the Southwest as my comforter
Mount Shasta as my tomb.
Who wouldn't want to spend millennia
in a fine female breast?

In my pain—everything I need to be pleased.
I am pleased already, could you shut up!
See me, in a woman's burial mound?
About your ego:
It destroys nothing, not even itself.

Sarah Sarai, Lavender Review, Issue #2, 2010

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Life of Nonviolent Political Action is the Ultimate Status Symbol

"Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive."  MLK

By way of contrast, I just heard the following from a public radio moderator who was joking with a Washington, D.C. pundit: "On Martin Luther King Day, when we're supposed to be nice to everybody..."

We're not being asked to be nice. We're being asked to have absolute faith that in our lifelong struggles to achieve equality in a world which revels in its inequalities, to a world in which millionaires cheat and lie and get away with it and elected officials harm THE PEOPLE, to not strike back but move forward.

To move forward and know we achieve an ultimate redemption, that we'll be—that we are—rescued from life's ugliness by our very actions. A life of firm but nonviolent political action is the ultimate status symbol. Not whatever is extolled on magazine covers showing the rich and airbrushed. Dr. King is still smashing false icons in the temple of capitalism.

Poem for My Love
How do we come to be here next to each other
in the night
Where are the stars that show us to our love
Outside the leaves flame usual in darkness
and the rain
falls cool and blessed on the holy flesh
the black men waiting on the corner for
a womanly mirage
I am amazed by peace
It is this possibility of you
and breathing in the quiet air

June Jordan, from Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan, Copper Canyon Press.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rukeyeser: "What does inner security rest on?"

In her essay "Darwin & the Writers," poet Rukeyser nails it. She is writing, as the title insists, on reactions to natural selection. I may never understand why it upsets so many religious people.

(In my simple universe, the Almighty is so beyond description or understanding all we can ever do is theorize, pray and be grateful. She is She, whether She sneezed 16 billion years ago creating the Big Bang or, like a wily Tex Avery cartoon character, played come hither with the apple, snake, human prototypes.) (Yeah, I'm simplifying.)

What do our reactions reveal about us?  According to Rukeyser,

Writers responded in terms of their own security. What does inner security rest on? was the real question they were asking in this struggle. Does it rest on dogma or transformation? If the answer is dogma, then every writer who wants to write with authority, to say, This is the way things are, is threatened.

In the late 1980s I found myself canvasing so a Quaker ceremony of commitment, same sex, would legal as Quaker marriage. In other words, in the state of Washington, legal.

I was a Member of University Friends in Seattle, and did my bit by talking to Members of the community about their concerns, resistance, repugnance.  There was much resistance. After a while, it was pretty clear, to me, anyway, that people who were offended by same-sex marriage were uncomfortable with their sexuality.

I realize I can't accuse any and everyone who disagrees with my views as simply being afraid, but I note that fear is a factor often unexamined. Always examine fear. It is the common enemy. Transformation is the promised land.

"Darwin & the Writers" by Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980), was published in 2009 by the CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, LOST & FOUND series, CUNY Grad Center.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Foodstuff Friday: holy is the comestible

holy caraway of holy Holland
Holy the pink "sugar" packet, holy the brisk tea,
holy the fizzing soda pop, holy the fresh juice with pulp
like marrow, holy the orange, the grapefruit,
holy of holies the lemon, its rind, its zest, its sour tongue, holy watermelons, holy the seed of slippery truth,
holier than holy the bottomless well of coffee,
its most black majesty, its fatal kiss of cream,
holy the fowl desecrated, humiliated,
the cattle electrocuted, the lamb of God force-fed,
holy the farm-fed, free-roaming, sweetly grazing,
holy t.v. dinners, holy three silver depressions for
the meat-like, potato-like, corn or pea-like,
holy the donut, holy the glaze,
holy the filling gushing to meet your tongue so holy,
holy the jelly oh holy holy the jelly.
Holy the sandwich, the tuna, the leaf of lettuce limp
as a fop, holy the tomato slice thinly red until its last,
holy the cheese, holy the cracker, harvested wheat,
rye seeded with a crescent of caraway, holy
most holy is salt sustaining, destroying life,
holy holy holy are tacos, enchiladas, burritos
sacred with green meadow of cilantro, holy pad Thai,
holy the shepherd's pie, holy the beet
glorious and shining no matter, no matter,
holy the crust deep like a dream,
if you love thin-crust sing hallelujah!,
holy the cupcake, holy the cake, its layered
insanity, why two, why three, why icing thick
and heavy as guilt, holy the plant of egg, holy the breading,
holy the rigatoni, holy the surprise of feta,
holy the phyllo many-layered, swiftly
crunched. Holy holy holy the potluck, the crap-
shoot of meals, the company, the fork holy and knife
holy, holiest paper napkin,
holy are you today and all days, holy your life, holy.

inspired by yesterday's posting on Ginsberg & Merton

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Merton, Ginsberg "Holy the lone juggernaut!"

Ginsberg said it at the end of Howl. We are holy.  . . .

Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the / middle class! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebell- / ion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles! / Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria & / Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow / Holy Istanbul! / Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the / clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy / the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch! / Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the / locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucina- /. tions holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!

See, I'd just grabbed Thomas Merton's The Seven Story Mountain from my bookcase, opened it, felt the spine crack, saw the book break in two. I've had it for maybe forty years.  I checked out the breaking point; read; thought of the Ginsberg; of my frequent panic to be sure everyone understands. We are all holy, loved, equal. (Except Limbaugh, Palin, Stalin and Cheney & co.) (Sorry but I have limits.) Merton is a saint. Ginsberg is a saint. You are a saint. Sarai is a saint.
It is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint. For God is greatly magnified and marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one. There are no two saints alike: but all of them are like God, like Him in a different and special way. In fact, if Adam had never fallen, the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of men showing forth His glories and perfections in an astonishing new way, and each one shining with his own particular sanctity, a sanctity destined for him from all eternity in the most complete and unimaginable supernatural perfection of his human personality
The fall is merely a way to explain our brokenness, and that's that.
Thomas Merton, from the Doubleday Image paperback of The Seven Story Mountain. p. 427.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin Killed Christ

Sarah Palin killed Christ.

I say this because it is true--she brings huge misunderstanding to, and shame on the quiet spirit that, for over 2,000 years, outlives decisions of councils of men, the Inquisition, pogroms, slavery and all manner of human ugliness.

I say this as someone raised a Protestant. I say this on behalf of my Jewish father who believed in God and art. I say this as a woman baptized at St. Luke's Church (on Hudson in New York City).

I say this because I believe there is a spirit that lives and has nothing to do with the pettiness--and genocide--committed in its name.

I say this again.  Sarah Palin killed Christ.  She destroys love. She destroys compassion. She destroys life.

Sarah Palin and Joseph McCarthy: reprehensible

Joseph McCarthy Destroyed
Sarah Palin has responded to criticisms of her Map of Her Enemies Featuring Handy Target Sights. No matter that one of the target sights was hammered by a glock on Saturday. No matter that nineteen people were wounded and six died, one a nine-year old girl.

What really matters, according to Palin, is her sacred constitutional right to foment hatred is upheld. That's her response: she can say what she wants 'cause the constitution said she could. I'm beyond dumbfounded by her lack of compassion, depth or insight; by her inability to admit to consequence; by her headstrong and childish refusal to acknowledge her plan-of-action is flawed.

Palin has a Plan A, and no Plan B. No back-up. THIS is a woman who wants to be in the White House and make decisions of consequence to the world? 

According to Palin, all that happened this weekend was that Sarah Palin exercised freedom of speech in one state and in another there was a terror rampage.  Not that the nation went into shock.  Not that most of us shed tears for the dead, the wounded and for the collateral damage to Americans.

It's not just that she doesn't budge, but that she doesn't understand implications. She doesn't understand connection. We are all connected. 

Palin is remarkably mono-dimensional. Stupid. Callous. Dangerous. Hardened. And sad. Really really sad, like Joseph McCarthy. I am waiting for her colleagues to say what McCarthy's Senate colleagues said of his blacklisting:  Sarah Palin's actions are "inexcusable," "reprehensible," "vulgar and insulting."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hello, it's me again, your friendly neighborhood bio statement

I  wasn't honest yesterday. There was a reason I was uncomfortable with bio statements. I had to submit one, and this one to the academy. I'm one of the speakers at the Wed., February 9, 2011 "Tendencies--Poetics and Practice" lecture series. 7 p.m.

Because the series is at the CUNY Grad. Center (5th Avenue and 34th Street); because the series is run by Tim Peterson, a Ph.D. candidate and good poet unusually well-versed in poetic theory; because participants in this series generally have doctorates, or exhibits at MOMA, or impressive grants and often adore theory, which I don't, I was on the defensive.

That's the truth--the emotional underpinning to my brief posting on biographical statements. I am not intimidated by academics, but in this case, it would look better if I were one, or at least that's my story. I'm who I am and that's the problem.
So here's what I sent Tim yesterday afternoon, and it's not a disgrace. Imagine the others, however, shiny as Achilles shield with degrees and job titles, and far more sober.
Sarah Sarai is a theory. She was raised to transcend gender, race, class, the body; failed. About her collection, The Future Is Happy (BlazeVOX [books]), Gerald Schwartz wrote, "the confrontation and interactions with an emotional life gives the author's poems a nervy, discomfiting vitality. Their very rawness and urgency bring these poems to a kind of transcendence." Poems in Threepenny Review, Parthenon West, Mississippi Review. Columbia Review, Pank, Eleven Eleven and many others; a chapbook forthcoming from Loose Gravel Press; a Pushcart nomination in poetry. Fiction in journals including South Dakota Review, Fairy Tale Review, Tampa Review, Storyglossia. She has an M.F.A. in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and while she's taught writing at Antioch/Seattle, Fordham, Pace, BMCC/CUNY—and St. Mathias High School, for girls, in Los Angeles, she makes her living outside the academy, copyediting in ad agencies. Her grants (Seattle and King County Arts Commission) and fellowship (National Endowment for the Humanities) date back to another millennium, as does her theology.

Monday, January 10, 2011

More on publication, bio statements & thusly

image from
Most journals want short bio statements. The work represents the author more than her time in the academy or grants, or should.

I'm happiest when authors self-deflate and are funny in listing accomplishments; feel most comfortable writing that kind of biography. Maybe that's because I can't ante up impressive academic credentials, or any that mean anything to me, or maybe I am a product of the aw-shucks-ma'am strain of Gary Cooper-ish self-estimation.

Of course I am egotistical in my own way, and a bit contemptuous of a proper-noun bio statement without flair. Everyone has standards. And maybe I'm too (toooooo) analytical. I keep breaking down accomplishments with self-talk.

Self-talk:  Well, being listed as a best by the New Yorker or N.Y.Times, simply means one person at those publications liked the writer. It doesn't mean clouds opened up and a booming voice (female, foxy) said, "This is the best."  But it's not without meaning and I'd be proud to be liked, loved or even tolerated by most any publication.

I wanted to be in The Threepenny Review from its beginning. My mom sent me an L.A. Times clipping about the journal and I was jazzed by Wendy Lesser's vision. Something about Gargoyle caught my eye, too; its editor Richard Peabody seemed so cool from far-off Seattle, and of course his last name so old money, so Gatsby.

Wendy Lesser is great (I had a poem in Threepenny a few years ago) as is Richard Peabody, with whom I share musical memories of our era (poem forthcoming in Gargoyle). Don't be careful what you wish for.  Just submit over and over.

This was going to be more about bio statements but, hey, the year is young. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting work rejected, again: it's okay

I have written two short story collections, maybe three,  given the new work that surprised me in 2010 and old work I found. 

The new work is six stories I wrote. I thought I was done with fiction, but I wasn't. The old work is stories my mom had held onto, pre-1989.  I'd thought they were lost long ago, then looked more closely at the contents of one box a month or so ago. Talk about voila!

Okay, so let's say I have three short story collections waiting to be published. When will it happen?  What does it mean that they are not published? My stories aren't sparky happy fun fun fun fun. I wish they were.

When I started writing I was convinced I had to produce art--"art." I hadn't yet read Flaubert's travel journals or Madame Bovary but the idea of creating the work so carefully each sentence is a craftily laid tile of a mosaic was in the ballpark of what I thought I should do. 

I'm not saying I was pretentious. I was ambitious; also working out my style. Making my way without workshops and classes. I really struggled with the burden of classicism, of thinking I should write about Oedipus and Jocasta, not a twenty-something in a Hollywood laundromat.

The laundromat won.  Each time I write I write as best as I can.  And still my short story collections are rejected by the few competitions I enter (NO-FEE competitions). I'm not really complaining, just wondering when, if ever, I will figure it out.

What do I think I'll figure out?  That I should give up? 

These meditations are brought to you by the University of Pittsburgh Press' Dru Heinz competition. The press announced this year's winner on Friday. It wasn't me.  I hadn't expected that it would be me, but of course I hoped it might.

It's hard. It's hard for everyone. Who knows anything. Every so often someone will contact me about one of my stories or poems to thank me. That has to be enough.

To tell you the truth, it is.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

For These Things I Weep

The Healing Tree*
 I don't have words for what happened in Tucson, AZ, today. The story is unfolding but already there are six deaths and Representative Gabrielle Gifford's fate is unclear.

A troubled fool who could get a weapon as easily as a snow cone, took aim. Sarah Palin is partly to blame. John McCain for bringing her into the national eye. The endless ugliness and willful ignorance of the Tea Party.

So much will be said and written about this latest killing spree. I feel so bad for the people of Tucson. It sounds so simple to say it, but my heart is broken, and I'm in tears. America becomes uglier and uglier, more and more dangerous.  From Lamentations:

For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water; because the comforter is far from me, even he that should refresh my soul; my children are desolate, because the enemy hath prevailed.

*"The Healing Tree" is by Terry Dunne, an Irish tapestry and rug weaver. His website:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Foodstuff Friday: muffins and the angels

Who knows why anything happens or doesn't. Sure, some things are certain, like if you drop a dime on the boss an angel develops a dangerous sounding cough; or rat out the mob you'll be dubbed "mousy" in Page Six. 

As to questions of greater import, however, like why I'm in bit of a winter blog-slump or if the sun at apogee is confident it's the best sun it can be, remain mysterious in an ageless, can't solve to got better things to worry about way.

Which brings us to muffins. A few years ago, I decided that in heaven there would be the best of ripe peaches, thin-crust pizza and muffins. I was more explicit in my reckoning with the Almighty, regarding mouth-wateringness, basil from hills of Tuscany, and moist though sugarlessness packed with fruit from the garden of good and evil.

It finally occurred to me that if heaven lives up to its rep, it will make available all foodstuffs according to our soon-to-be angelic desires. And if we lack desire, so be it. We won't miss it. Maybe.

A muffin is the baked equivalent of an apple. It is transportable, always tasty, a full meal if need be.  And really that's all I have to say, today, about muffins, about foodstuffs.  I was reminded of angels and Rilke a few minutes ago and so I post one of his poems, hot off the web, don't even know who translated. 

Ignorant Before the Heavens of my Life

Ignorant before the heavens of my life,
I stand and gaze in wonder. Oh the vastness
of the stars. Their rising and descent. How still.
As if I didn't exist. Do I have any
share in this? Have I somehow dispensed with
their pure effect? Does my blood's ebb and flow
change with their changes? Let me put aside
every desire, every relationship
except this one, so that my heart grows used to
its farthest spaces. Better that it live
fully aware, in the terror of its stars, than
as if protected, soothed by what is near.
Rainier Maria Rilke

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Benefit for 5C Cultural Center in hipster-ridden lower east side, 1.15.11, 7 pm-on

Benefit for 5C Cultural Center & Cafe! At Avenue C & 5th Street!
In New York City's hipster-ridden but lovable Lower East Side!
A home for poetry, jazz, good food, good coffee, booze. 
5C Cultural Center is a military-industrial complex-free zone.

Saturday, January 15, 2011 from 7 to 10 pm . . . $10 at the door.

Poetry . . . Music . . . Dance . . . Delicious Food . . . Deliciouser Drink!

Featuring. . .

Patrick Brennan, J.D. Rage, Diana Gitesha Hernandez, Sarah Sarai, Kit Krash, Bob Heman, Sharon Pearce, Mindy Matijasevic, Cliff Feyman, Nate Hohauser, Sandra Sprecher, Joe Munley, Mindy Levokove and special appearances by Mary Askin-Jencsik and Charles Allcroft. Surprises!

Organized, curated and herded by Mindy Levokove.
5C Cultural Center & Cafe is located on the corner of East 5th Street and Avenue C in the East Village. Click on the 5C link for other 5C programs.

Directions:  Take the F train to Second Avenue then walk east to Avenue C and north to East 5th; or the R or #6 Train to 8th Street/Astor Place and walk east to Avenue C & south to E. 5th Street.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Jelly-fish, Marianne Moore; plus Sarah gets nerdy

And more on jellyfish. Or jelly-fish. I've seen Miss Moore's title presented either way, and though the language, with speed and efficiency having no regard for the look of a word, is eliding hyphens, I'm leaving this one in.

As a proofreader, I approve of the simplfication, the freedom of prefix to snuggle with its root word. Hyphens, further, can cause problems in typography. The move to a hyphen-less or hyphen-little language is okay, with exceptions.

And now, Marianne Moore's (November 15, 1887 – February 5, 1972) poem. Please read it outloud. It is a painting.

Painting from:

A Jelly-fish

Visible, invisible,
a fluctuating charm
an amber-tinctured amethyst
inhabits it, your arm
approaches and it opens
and it closes; you had meant
to catch it and it quivers;
you abandon your intent.
Marianne Moore, 1887-1972. For more info, please see

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A master of the oud in the golden sun

Afif Tain, via Youtube

I suspect at least a few admirers--in the west--of Middle Eastern music, are drawn to it not so much by romanced versions of exotica (colonialism or Orientalism) as by a Bookish sense of familiarity.

The book(ish) Christian Bible is in and of the Middle East, however much it has been organized by decisions of early Church fathers in conferences not dissimilar to those of the Modern Language Association where scholarly debates about meaning in Emily Dickinson or Henry James have been fierce, though lacking the consequence of war and schism, slaughter and abomination, as is the case in the history of Christianity.

And of course the Tanakh, over half of that Bible, is read by a smaller but bookish religion and is even sandier and of the desert.

I went to a Protestant Sunday School every week until I was thirteen or fourteen (and refused to go anymore). We read "Old" and "New" testament.  That's quite a few impressionable years. A part of my imagination lives in that land, mythical or otherwise. There are oher reasons and other readings which account for this imagined ease.
Given the level of Bible interest in the USA and Europe, even spurious interest simply masks hate and disappointment, it is no surprise people (some people?) who are quite western admire and/or hear echoes of familiar mysteries in Arab musical instruments and the golden sun.

The music is beautiful.

And there is my poem, "Windows scare me." (much visited on this site), in which an oud features subtly.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome, 2011

Last night I wrote my 2010 list of accomplishments, some personal, small improvements of character; some literary, an unusual number of new short stories in '10. Some more literary, poems accepted or published. None were financial.

My nows need to be sustained and so I turn my attention to the other practical (the first practical is appreciation of the Great Other; the second practical is embrace of the embraceables in our lives; writing is a third practical, though on some days a person may blaspheme or hurt her loved ones by putting it first).

We'll see what happens.  My rent is paid through 2010, always a good sign. Trivial or flip though it may seem, my heart is open and purring. I feel like I'm growing up, an echoic feeling. Have you felt it before, well you're feeling it again.

Every January 1 I am convinced the future to be in all ways superior to the past, forgetting all I have is the now. The rest is speculation and agreement, theory and fog. Yes, this from the author of The Future Is Happy.