Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ms. Magazine...I'm in a Q&A with Stonborough and Meriam

by Andrea Heimer
Please take a look at the Ms. Magazine blog posting of April 23, 2012. [Link below.]

Mary Meriam, poet and editor of Lavender Review, poses questions for Elaine Stonborough, poet, and me, poet et al.  I'll let you follow the links on the posting (links which reveal splendid insights into Stonborough, who is English and a scholar, and Meriam, who is tri-state-al, those states being New York, New Jersey, and somewhere in a forest region in the middle of this continent).

"A Woman, A Lesbian, A Poet" on the Ms. Magazine blog.  I'm honored to be part of this.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Links to a few recent publications.

A Matisse print, included in
Folly.  She looks like a mermaid.

My three poems "Drink, Child," "Stop," and "Palace of the Blessed" are beautifully presented at Folly Magazine. The date of pub. is February 2012, but I didn't know they were out, so now is the time. Folly presents itself as a pdf. Don't hold back.  Your scrolling will reveal delights of performing arts posters, Matisse prints (Folly editors are geniuses to have permission to reproduce this artwork), poems of Stephanie Kaplan Cohen, and my poems. Note that the narrator of "Stop" works in advertising agencies.

(I have lots to say about the poems but why strip them down when you, the reader, can experience and question.)

Like "Stop," my poem "Long ago," published online by 200 New Mexico Poems (and, it is hoped, eventually in an anthology) draws on lived experience, my time (long ago) in Santa Fe.

Fiction (yay!)  Though it's not yet published, may I alert you to the imminent arrival of my short story, "Lillia," in the Spring issue of Devil's Lake, a journal from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I'll post links when appropriate.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

By the way, David Bowie. The possibilities of sex made flesh.

This may seem rather random a post, an odd fit on a blog mostly about poetry and fiction (and politics, life, the sublime).

Let me assure you, however, this thought has come to me more than once, at a day's end that's seen me shopping at Trader Joe's, where the music's geared to baby boomers.  Sure and absolutely and with good reason, the entire market hums when Aretha, Otis, the Isleys, soul sisters, soul brothers play.

I'm there with the soul--way--but not with the Beatles when their music comes on. I once glued Life Magazine articles about them in my scrapbook (I was in junior high). Now, however, I am only glad to hear from the Beatles songbook when the song's covered by a contemporary singer. (Wikipedia has a long, long list of covers, Alvin and the Chipmunks being among the many celebrities to sing Beatlesian tunes.  To see the list of covers: click this sentence.)

The Stones are fine, but of only historical importance, to me, and while Neil Young is always appreciated, as are Laura Nyro (!), Buffalo Springfield, Janis, the seventies (and to this day) singer I love most (again, not counting soul, r&B) is Bowie.

I was a card carrying member of his fan club--and I was alive at that point, not in junior high but in my twenties. He was the angel sent by God to keep us music-ed up and open, charmed, savvy, impossibly hip; elevated to a psychedelic pedestal, enchanted, quasi-Euro, very sexy. Very.

I'm too demanding and too easily annoyed to fall back on baby boomer nostalgia, so don't figure that's behind my enthusiasm. Bowie's originality shines, his odd quiver of magic is a voice trait in the tradition of Billie Holiday's vocal timbre which immortalizes itself. He doesn't have Billie Holiday's eternal genius, but that's not the point. I am making a sort-of analogy.

He covered the Beatles "Across the Universe" (click to get to Youtube) on Young Americans. That's a very Beatles tune but there he is, owning it, vocally rewriting.

I wish I still had my membership card.  David Bowie. The possibilities of sex with any of many genders. Subtlety made flesh.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

She. A "She" in Kabbalah, thanks to Kay Ryan.

What began as a random read-and-run, a poem grabbed for a dip into the lovely before I started my day, transformed into a redefinition of my place in a history dominated by men (oh that sounds so cliched). (The domination of male scholars and male mystics remains but Madonna has indulged in, partaken of, some pop version of Kabbalah, so, sure there's that.)

Please note that in the eighties, before the questionable craze swept the pop-er-ati, I chose to explore Kabbalah. By which I mean I read Gersholm Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and Sabbati Sevi: The Mystical Messiah. I took a class to get an overview--not a college course but through a community center, and learned of and read or tried to read Abraham Abulafia, Isaac Luria, parts of the Zohar, some books about the mystical geography of Safed, and more.

Except for the Scholem, that was tough reading. I sincerely doubt the neo-kabbalists of Hollywood have read these volumes of ancient and complicated mysticism, but what do I know.

I know this. I didn't read anything Kabbalah-related that was written by any woman. Which brings me to this poem and pleasant surprise.  Imagine me, all unawares but focused on the work at hand while I slurp coffee, seeing "She" two lines after reading "kabbalist." You have, I hope, imagined a pleasant sensation, golden warmth easing through my limbs. Good title, too, because it takes some work to render meaning from those old texts which extrapolate the Talmud and Torah, extrapolate, reduce to numbers, juggle in the night air among the stars. 


The working kabbalist
resists the lure of
the personal. She
suspends interest
in the biblical list
of interdicted shellfish,
say, in order to
read the text another way.
It might seem to some
superficial to convert
letters to numerals
or in general to refuse plot
in favor of dots or half circles,
it might easily seem
comical, how she
ignores an obviously
erotic tale except for
every third word,
rising for her like braille
for something vivid
as only the impersonal
can be--a crescent
bright as the moon,
a glimpse of a symmetry,
a message so vast
in its passage that
she must be utterly open
to an alien idea of person.
Kay Ryan, from Flamingo Watching, from the anthology The Best of It (Grove)

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Quick Mea Culpa for the Typos & Co., All 3,000 Loving Ones

Emily Carr
A quick apology.  This morning I was alerted to a new comment to my blog posting on Marianne Moore's poem "A Jelly-fish."

The comment is interesting, a student's take on the poem, and after reading the insight, I reread my very short posting. And saw that I had misspelled a word IN SPITE OF SPELL CHECK.  Spell check sends little wavy lines under questionable spellings. And, yes, there they were, the little red warnings wavy as the Pacific. And yet, like the captain of the Titanic (to mix up my oceans) or that fool who sunk a ship off the coast of Italy, earlier this year, I ignored the signs.

And also, in terms of mistakes made: I had not used hyphens in a consistent manner in this remarkably short posting. The spacing between paragraphs was, furthermore, inconsistent.

As anyone who uses blogspot (a child of Google) knows, the blog has a mind of its own, and that willfulness can explain the occasional lack of breathable spacing or, conversely, huge blank crevices between paragraphs.  But only Sarah can make a typo.

Or mess up syntax or create other pretty darn egregious grammatical eyesores. My commitment to myself in creating this blog was to write quickly, not spend more than five minutes searching out an illustration / picture, and then get on with my day, a commitment which is understandable to anyone who has a day to get on with, i.e., all of you.  And yet, I was committing to writing a blog posting, which means communicating with some vague public by means of the tools at hand, which include spell check, native proofreading skills, and common sense.

Enough with the mea culpa. There's always that umbrella excuse, "Life happens." It's no justification but it is an excuse. I have, I hope, corrected the Marianne Moore mistakes and added a link to her bio on

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ashley Judd and Carolyn Heilbrun Kick Ass

Asses are getting kicked.

So as you've heard, actress Ashley Judd is on a steroid medication which causes her fabulous cheeks to do a slight chipmunk thing. And because she's a fabulous looking actress and famous and a woman, the free world and probably the world-in-chains has been abuzz, not with concern about her health but with rumors about cosmetic surgery (not happening) and the like.

Being an IMDB addict I was predisposed to like Ashley Judd. I already knew she had a degree in French literature from the University of Kentucky where she also studied cultural anthropology art history, theater, and women's studies. I am not surprised by her feminism, but I am proud of it, especially of her calling out of women.  Women are major contributors to the problem.

(The problem is constant attention to women's bodies. The two major contributors to this debasing perspective are women and men.)

Lindy West, at Jezebel, is ready (as is any woman worth her vagina) to rename sports arenas and the entire Rose Parade--in spirit--in Ashly Judd's honor. West's is the best analysis and response I've read.

In further support of Judd and in further praise of her assessment of "patriarchy" I quote Caroline G. Heilbrun's essay, "Virginia Woolf in Her Fifties," from Hamlet's Mother and Other Women (Columbia University Press). Heilbrun left Columbia because she would not live with that level of arrogant sexism at work, day in, day out. "Woolf would have liked, one guesses, to have restored to all women what their talents deserved and their sex denied them."

A few sentences later, in a statement I have been trying, for a while now, to work into conversations with writers, women, friends, men, malefactors (hence I have bolded it), she calls out the patriarchy, stressing it ain't just men who are the problem.  Ashly Judd may have read this book and if not this book she has assuredly read other equally clear and subtly outraged statements.  Ms. Judd, you are one brainy, strong sister.

The moment one begins to criticize the destinies of women, even in a less than wholly serious way, the patriarchy (by no means composed entirely of men) feels that art is betrayed.

I  have health issues and find some women as judgmental (but more, fearful) as some men, and sometimes more so. So because I am a woman and an imperfect woman in a cutthroat competitive field (poetry), I gotta again thank the woman for speaking up. All a person can do is accept, and trust there is a vengeful a.k.a. merciful correcting influence in the universe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kay Ryan was once "Green Behind the Ears"

On her blog Bareback Alchemy, poet and fictioneer Melissa Studdard has called for us to memorize a poem a week—for us to slide rhythms, stops, breaks, bounties, eruption of passion and word into our share of The Collected Unconscious so we can hang out with poets wherever we are, on line at the grocery store or at our desks, watching the clock.

Week One, she choose a poem by Li-Young Lee, prompting me to post one of his poems, "From Blossoms," and write about poet Marilyn Koren who had once insisted I read Lee. (This was in my blog posting on Lee, a few days ago.)  Melissa also knew Marilyn.

You can scroll through Bareback Alchemy for the poems to date and in the future, but I'll give up the line-up so far. Week Two was Emily Dickinson, Three was Rilke, Four was Mary Oliver.  For Week Five, she choose a poem by Adrienne Rich, in memory of the poet's recent passing onto the heavenly dancing glinting weeping joyous spheres. Now on Week Six she has chosen Rumi (speaking of heavenly dancing glinting weeping joyous).

Melissa's urged us to suggest poems, and some of that challenge is intellectual. When I read I now consider whether or not the poem wants in. So much of the decision is weighed against my wee American memory, as so many more poems are worthy.

Nonetheless, Kay Ryan's work does have a way of skipping off the page, of suggesting it needs to be memorized, if only because of a slight occasional aphoristic hint, and more often because the work has that Emily Dickinson succinct universality.  Here, by Kay Ryan, is one such poem.

Green Behind the Ears

I was still slightly
fuzzy in shady spots
and the tenderest lime.
It was lovely, as I
look back, but not
at the time. For it is
hard to be green and
take your turn as flesh.
So much freshness
to unlearn.
Kay Ryan. From The Niagara River (Grove Press), collected in The Best of It (Grove Press).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I'm Still Just Waking Up to Art

Until I began writing poetry I didn't attend many readings. I was as oblivious to the aural beauty as any other citizen. I read it. I can't say I was a great explorer, but I always had a copy of Rilke, Stevens, Dickenson on hand. However, between the time I was an undergraduate, finishing up my education at Cal-State L.A., and the time I lived in Seattle and had begun writing, I didn't go to readings.

You have to understand. I'm still just waking up. I write this as I think about seeing poets Czeslaw Milosz, Adrienne Rich and many others read at Kane Hall at the University of Washington in Seattle. I wasn't a student. I was a poet.

The first college I attended never had such events. St. John's College in Santa Fe. Euripides and Dante were no shows. At Cal-State I heard (and still remember) Creeley.  Larry Leavis. Not sure if there were any women poets I saw but I was reading Diane Wakowski, whose work I adored, and others.

I was and continue to be a half-asleep consumer. There worlds around me, especially here in New York, I am unaware of, until I become aware of them. And sometimes I become aware of worlds and poets who'll have no part of me, who'll welcome me to their readings but never show up for mine. That's more often the case than not and, yes, I'm bitter.  

But also I'm curious about the next awakening, the next dawn, the next step towards a godhead. Because for me, if a poet doesn't move me in that direction (and I'm guilty of creating detours, too), I lose interest.

All over the place?  It's a good one, this place. As they say, I'm on it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jack Gilbert "The Abnormal Is Not Courage" (praise for "normal excellence")

Jack Gilbert ms.
(The Paris Review)
A few minutes ago I was reading how some Russians still search for ways to praise Stalin (Stalin, responsible for 60 million deaths and an astonishing repercussion of collateral damage). That kind of impulse comes from a twisted understanding of bravery and greatness. It believes in the massive iron statute rather than the flesh and blood mere human.

And then I chanced on this poem by Jack Gilbert, whose poetry was often about just that, the daily effort, which he praised, or if not strictly praised (praise can be sentimental), acknowledged. Knowing we are witnessed and acknowledged helps us carry on. The evil demand tribute. The rest of us just want someone to notice we're alive and trying to do our best (a best that is hugely flawed).

Here's The Paris Review interview with Gilbert. And below is a poem of his offering a style of wry and honest praise of "normal excellence." Gilbert's Collected Poems has just been published by Alfred A. Knopf (link below).

The Abnormal Is Not Courage

The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German
Tanks on horses. Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers,
A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace.
And yet this poem would lessen that day. Question
The bravery. Say it's not courage. Call it a passion.
Would say courage isn't that. Not at its best.
It was impossib1e, and with form. They rode in sunlight,
Were mangled. But I say courage is not the abnormal.
Not the marvelous act. Not Macbeth with fine speeches.
The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment.
It is too near the whore's heart: the bounty of impulse,
And the failure to sustain even small kindness.
Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being.
Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality.
Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh.
Not the Prodigal Son, nor Faustus. But Penelope.
The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo.
The real form. The culmination. And the exceeding.
Not the surprise. The amazed understanding. The marriage,
Not the month's rapture. Not the exception. The beauty
That is of many days. Steady and clear.
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment. 
Jack Gilbert, The Collected Poems, Knopf, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Le-Young Lee, "From Blossoms" " take what we love inside..."

I was at a book table at the Geraldine Dodge poetry festival in New Jersey. This was a while back, six or seven, could be eight years ago.  My friend Marilyn Koren pointed to one of the hundreds of books stacked on tables and said, "You have to read him."

There was no equivocation in her voice, no hint she was suggesting a good poet I could check out some time. She'd driven me to New Jersey. She was driving me home. But it wasn't that. Her voice didn't tremble with a style of power but with moral conviction and surety. And I understood she wasn't insisting everyone should read Li-Young Lee (though they should). It was that Sarah Sarai should.

She was right and in a way I consider the finest compliment. She saw some golden cluster of butterflies struggling in my aura (let's say) and the gorgeous clusters in Lee's poetry. She matched poets. 

Marilyn and I lost track of each other. She spent at least half the year in Florida, where she ran poetry workshops (I learned about the workshops from her obituary).  So, yes, Marilyn has moved on. She was a good poet but I couldn't persuade her to submit her work to journals, a huge frustration. Who knows how and why we configure our journey to death.  

Li-Young Lee:

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Li-Young Lee

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fiction: "Stars." Cannibalism of fiction, rooftops in N.Y.C., book groups

Woolworth Building
One of my first New York friends, David, used to water plants of his friend who traveled lots and lived way downtown, near City Hall.  The friend's apartment had rooftop access, with views over the East River to Brooklyn and the red Watchtower sign; west across to the Woolworth Building, an architectural stunner. "Stars" takes place largely on that rooftop. I lifted the first draft from a novel I wrote that will never see the light of day. It works, I like to think. Cannibalism works.

Thanks to VerbSap's editor, so kind, intelligent and enthusiastic, and such a good writer herself. She published "Stars" in 2005. Here are the first paragraphs, followed by a link to the rest of the story. (I keep trying to keep my stories and poems in rotation.)


“O stars swirling swirling...”

“And swirling?” I suggest.

Because she snapped at our last book group Michelle is nervous and trying to divert us with this windmill-arm thing, as if memory worked like that. Let’s see, in June Michelle screamed she was dying of loneliness, but today she’s up here on the roof exhorting the firmament so no one remembers her outburst. Everyone does remember but we just factor it in.

Michelle is a bit stocky with biker calves and thighs and has that kind of short, straight hair that is never anything but straight and never held with a bow or clip. It is also never shimmery, but because it is nothing else—not red, not brown, not black—it’s blond. Her left eye is bigger than her right eye and sometimes looks frozen.

She chose this month’s reading, “The Burrow.” Kafka as a mole. And she’s hostessing, which she does periodically in this apartment with roof access and views. It’s not far from Wall Street. The tenant, her boss’s son, flies to Prague six times a year. We didn’t meet here for that whole awful year after, but we’re back.

“You know, I’m thinking we’ve read this tale of a mole...” Here’s Aaron, black curly hair, medium height, and prematurely stooped; a LAN guy at an advertising agency on 23rd. “Which means, if you will...”

Apparently we will.

“…we went underground with him for thirty or so pages, with his detailed account of false entrances and storerooms and tunnels. This is one paranoid and obsessive—”

“—He’s being a mole, Aaron,” I break in, “he’s not obsessive.” I am tall for a woman, 5’ 11”, and always wear boots with heels as if I didn’t care. You can bet I care in summer when my calves sweat beneath the suede. My hair is black, but with richer hues than Aaron’s; these days it’s short and Marceled. I have a pert face.

“So you’re telling me it’s in the nature of a mole to spend that much time touring Castle Keep as he calls it. Did he have a name anyway?” Aaron gives me a look and mouths a word.

Lester ? The minute Michelle looks his way, he desists.

She plants herself between LAN boy and me. “I don’t believe you completed your thought, Aaron.”

“You’re right...if I may continue.” He looks at me, without acknowledging Michelle’s support.

“Go on.” I glance away.

“Oh do.” Michelle’s voice is resonant, as if bouncing in a hollowed-out container.

I lift my hand; she slaps it. Hi, five.

“So us being on the roof is some kind of redemptive state.”

I nod, but can’t decide if Aaron’s self-important or just not sure of himself.

“We’re out of the muck, out of the subway, off the sidewalk, above the dirt. We see light.”


by Sarah Sarai. Published in, 2006. Read the rest on VerbSap, here.

Adrienne Rich's "Song"

Image from:
I haven't been able to express feelings about the loss of Adrienne Rich, maybe because for myself and any other reader of her poems, her work isn't lost. Or maybe because it will take a while to pull it together, to go back to "Diving Into the Wreck," to remember my discovery in "Split at the Root" that I wasn't the only one split at the root in the same way and in some other ways she was.

I saw her read, once, at Kane Hall, a huge auditorium at the University of Washington in Seattle. Yowza. The joint was jumping, the hall jam-packed, the rafters nearly squeezed up into and over the roof. I understood then that poetry could reach beyond a small audience of specialists to feed a greater body, to feed a spiritual hunger.

Here she is, feeding us.  Not to get maudlin, but being a woman can be a lonely endeavor if, like me, you strive to be original and not hide strength or intellect or opinion.


You're wondering if I'm lonely:
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns' first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning

Adrienne Rich, republished from Southern Cross Review.  Their biography of her:
Adrienne Rich (1929 - 2012 ) Adrienne Rich was first published as a poet in 1951, when she won the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize for A Change of World. Her poetry has reflected her own life changes and many roles. Adrienne Rich's feminism emerged in mid-career, and many of her later poems express a political rage and search for sisterhood and creative language. Her work includes nineteen volumes of poetry including The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004, which won the Book Critics Circle Award; Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (1995); Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970 (1993); The Dream of a Common Language (1978); and Diving into the Wreck (1973); three collections of essays, and a ground-breaking study of motherhood, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution.