Thursday, July 26, 2012

Marilyn Hacker Inspires "Marilyn Hacker"

I hadn't gone to the Center library with the thought that I needed to situate myself by any one author. Without doubt, I was headed to the Poetry section, to restore myself after a difficult day. At 7 pm I was going to meet a friend at an event. Until then I had an hour loose as pocket change. An opportunity to make a transition from my work self to my looser, more authentic self. Some people might accomplish this with a cocktail and more power to them. I needed to read a poem.

So there I was in the LGBT Center, in its second floor library modestly snuggled into a corner down the corridor from the Keith Haring room. I found myself by the H's, and in the H's saw "Hacker, Marilyn" and within my grasp I placed, as stated above, her collection, Taking Notice (Knopf, 1980). 

I read "Sequence" which begins: "A woman is talking to you. . ."

You--an oblivious man. I read the poem (which I am not critiquing, analyzing or even fully appreciating here--just explaining how we came to this place), bounded out and onto the bench in the hallway, dragged out my notebook and wrote the poem below.

The friend I was meeting at 7 saw me, but I waved her away.  It was 6:45 and I was still writing, maybe not as elegantly as Hacker, but I was true to myself and recent experiences, including my having met Hacker, as described in the poem below. My friend came by at 7 and we talked and listened, listened and talked. It's what we do, we women.  (On a good day.)

Marilyn Hacker

She says you are talking to a woman
disinteresting you and I wonder if
I am that woman disinteresting you
but think I disinterest not anyone
though being interesting assigns
problems when you are a woman
which you are not but I am a woman
interesting you are not talking to
and I ask Why so disinterest yourself?
At Barnes and Noble (note 2 Barnes
1 Noble) a Chinese guy American
points to a white woman editorial
in the cafe and asks his friend if she
is the “chimp woman Jane Goodall”
cause she has “that Anglo patrician
look.” I'll bet you have no bananas
there exist Anglo patrician men
disinterested in Goodall interesting
who (said particular patricians) spin
about their noggin a men's club of
mosquito netting or Pigpen's flotsam.
Once at a feminist writers and so on
I, needing more coffee, wondered
How do I ask Marilyn Hacker to move?
The woman was buttonholed in front
of the urn. I asked her, How do you
ask Marilyn Hacker to move? She is
small and attentive and Marilyn Hacker.
My query disinteresting made her grin.
Sarah Sarai, first published in West Wind Review, Southern Oregon University, 2012.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Kith and Kin Are Armed

art by Stacy Innerst
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At first it was shock, then some kind of shame, the kind a family member feels relatives get in the news for doing nothing good.

I'm taught to (and do) consider myself lucky for our relative freedoms of press, religion, for other rights, and our communal effort to expand or ensure freedoms, to continue to reinvent the Constitution as a document protecting humanness and encouraging humanity. We try, at least, and in the snarling face of furious opposition.
The NRA is furious, opposing, and wrong.

When I was a kid, I remember being ashamed when my folks were parental in the stiff manner of adults.  As my world expanded there was racism (to make me ashamed of my greater family, the kith and kin of the U.S.), and then the Vietnam War. More racism, more war. Financial arrogance on an institutional level. Gender inequality. The corruptness of politicians. The trumpeted contention that we have to import our freedoms and the fact that we do so by slaughtering civilians in the Middle East, the Far East, any place where white people won't get killed. And there is the odd coincidence of corporate gain, all the Haliburtons raking it in by providing private militia while securing oil and mineral rights. By protecting the "right" of the ridiculously wealthy to step up to teller's window to make another deposit.

But what is the outstanding freedom we offer?  Right now it is the opportunity to amass an arsenal of weaponry and ammunition in our apartments. Sure, the intention of the Second Amendment wasn't that we'd be free to go to a movie theater to slaughter a dozen people and wound another fifty. But we're able. We're ready. We do it over and over. And we're constitutionally protected.

There will be a next time. I hope you stay safe and have the wisdom and heart to enjoy a glorious now because it is all we have. And prayers and love. Regret. Maybe a more honest interpretation of the Constitution and the Amendments. 

Please visit The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Sign on. Step up. Donate. Write. Phone. Email. Tell the NRA its platform is a lie. By the way, according to its website, "The full NRA experience requires a broadband connection." And bloodlust.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nina Corwin, "On Listening to the Brahms Violin Sonata #1"

"...a grace note of magenta..."

Ekphrastic poetry is ode-like in that is a tribute to, an argument with a painting or sculpture or another poem. Or a sonata. It zooms in on a specific work of art, is inspired by the work or art as a whole, revels in its inspiration.

What strikes me about Nina Corwin's "On Listening to the Brahms Violin Sonata #1," beyond its breathtaking investigation into artistic choice, and its second sentence speeding along like a driver and a car freed to be their most cruising selves, is its exploration.

Respond to this poem's questioning, its suggestion and unabashed synesthesia--feeling the music as color.  Join Corwin and knowing the chords as hues--magenta, deep forest green. And those hues, as sounds, will play in our mouth. New images will appear, the chandelier, the chef with her cilantro, then textures offering a sense of, an equivalent.

Corwin shares her love of sound, of a specific piece of music, of the singular and exuberant freedom of listening when accompanied by speed and scenery.  This is a good poem. 

On Listening to the Brahms Violin Sonata #1

And just like that! Cruising up Route 94 with the classical radio station
crooning on all four speakers, when it gets to the moment of that certain
crescendo where the violin does what violins do so well, and the bow
catches the sinews inside my chest as if they were strings stretched across
an unfretted fingerboard, it strikes me that perhaps when Brahms composed
he chose his instruments the way a painter chooses colors, dabbing his
brush in a grace note of magenta because the violin can shimmy up a string
so sweet, maybe turning it over in his hands as he imagines the sound of
magenta rubbing up against the chords of a deep forest green, the way a
poet might choose a word, say, magenta because the sound curves against
the roof of the mouth, or the way a word like piano makes a kind of
corkscrew between the cheeks, how clutter clicks, and chandelier is sensual
and elegant at the same time, or how a chef picks a leaf of cilantro for its
clean line and timbre where taste meets texture curried up against a
cardamon pod, the contrapuntal harmonies when they echo with magenta or
piano, the chords they make together in a sentence or crooning on a car
radio, and it couldn't be flute or oboe, not here, this moment, but now, these
cadenzas, this final G major, now, the violin.
Nina Corwin. "On Listening to the Brahms Violin Sonata #1" first appeared in Poetry East, no. 52, Spring, 2004.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Breaking Bad, Heisen's Burg

The characters Leonel y Marco Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada)
Breaking Bad is brilliant partly because of the suspense which has been racheted up every single episode since the very first.  Genius Walter White is not only inexperienced in the nefarious activities he is drawn to, but so full of pride and arrogance, he goeth before his own fall, episode after episode. Sometimes Jesse jumps in after Walt, sometimes his choices force Walt's hand.
Jesse, I want to point out, has an exceptional mind but doesn't realize that. He blunted access by way of doping, truancy, small-scale badassing. But he is ingenious, and, point of fact, wouldn't have lasted as Walt's partner in meth-making if he hadn't been able to keep up.

More than the tension so cleverly created, more than the astonishing weirdness (like the Salamanca brothers crawling in the dirt, como penitentes, to a shrine where they supplicate mother death to destroy Walt) Breaking Bad makes me think.  Has me pondering, again and again, ethics, necessity, The Bad, The Good, human nature creating destiny.

It is a thought-provoking show on a major scale.  The Greek's, or one of the ancients' themes--hubris--is presented over and over. Once Walt pays for his medical needs, money isn't really the draw for him.  He knows how to get along. He knows that the financial comfort he is providing--though thwarted--is obviated by how it's provided.

I understand his motivation. If I could finally earn enough money through writing to wipe out my debts, I'd feel justified, regardless of what I wrote.  (Well, maybe.)  He's finally making big money through chemistry.  By the way, I realize he can't just walk out, what with the cartel and all.

Everyone connected to the show shares credit for the depth of character and ethical dilemmas arising out of situations--actors, writers, directors, editors, costumers, art.

The Sopranos was an astonishingly good show and also raised questions but not like Breaking Bad does. It was more a guilty pleasure, with extraordinary acting, plotting, imagination.

Anyway, I don't have a t.v. but this is a show worth buying. I go to Amazon and purchase a download the day after episodes are aired. So tonight, whoa, mama. I'm looking forward to Episode 1, Season 5. I anticipate tension, fear, frustration, and jaw-dropping admiration.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Don't Shut Up, Or Down

Someone asked for meaningful essays by women. I blanked--what's new--and then remembered Audre Lorde writing about--against--silence.

Short of rudeness, the context is roundly universal and keeps us alert to hate and its trickle downs and insults of any style and a variety of psychic or physical threats.

In my early twenties, my brother-in-law ran through my sister's purse for my address and showed up unannounced at my apartment.  "I've had my eyes on  you since you were twelve."  It's true. He had. And was here to act on it.  I played dumb and then dumber.  Knew that rush of waterfall meets coal stove in my brain. And with much luck and, truly, wild determination, I got him out of my apartment, so, as such things go, I got off easy.

But I couldn't tell my sister. In fact, I couldn't tell anyone for ten years.  I had massive problems talking.  I couldn't raise my hand in high school or college classes.  Blah blah blah.  This is just a blog. I suspect most of the hits here are for the images and I assure you, reader, that no one in my family reads it.

In part my silence ("silence") was a smart and decent decision. This was the seventies. My brother in law was black. I was worried there would be stereotyping on top of racial assumptions about men of color.  You may make assumptions about that gender, go ahead, no problem. But please no easy racial profiling.

Whether or not my refusal to tell anyone was understandable or not, thrown onto an emotional compost heap from my uneasy childhood (and other stuff), the unsightly and confusing mixed metaphor of verbal docility did damage.  To my self, sense of self, psyche, womanhood. But by the time Clinton allowed Lewinsky to pleasure him, but I do remember feeling so relieved that such male idiocy was being made so public by a white man.

What I keep thinking about, however, isn't what happened then, but that a young relative reacts to my belated coming out. Granted she is young as I was, and the young are fools, but I fit into this person's nasty stereotypes about dykes. I feel a bit angry.  And hurt.  I did all that higher level thinking for my family and somehow I expect more.  Hell, I'd be satisfied if someone would just once say they'd read and liked one (ONE) of my poems or stories.

I need to break my silence and speak to her. I will, in September, when we're in the same state again. Sorry for abusing this posting, but I feel better now.  As Ms. Lorde wrote in "The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action" . . .    
What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? 
 And . . .
In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear — fear of contempt, of censure, of some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Borges . . .the unalterable / sum of moments granted you by fate. . .

Andy Warhol Self-portrait in drag
(Monroe wig)
I am back to Borges.  

I needed an antidote. Saw an ad this morning for a major chemical corporation, the name of which resonates from the time of the Vietnam War and the occasion of death by formula made product.

Seeing the death star's new slogan was too much. No need to be specific. No need for proper nouns locating actions more improper than the imagination can create.  

Lately I've been remembering the truism: You aren't responsible for your first thought but you are for the thoughts which follow.  

So I'm being responsible. "We live discovering and forgetting / that sweet familiarity of the night." Offering a chance to suck your breath in and marvel. This poem is translated by A.S. Kline

(The Andy Warhol self-portrait kinda turns the table on the adoration here. Well, maybe it doesn't turn tables so much as expand the possibilities. More expansion, ahead.)

The Sum

The silent friendliness of the moon
(misquoting Virgil) accompanies you
since that one night or evening lost
in time now, on which your restless
eyes first deciphered her forever
in a garden or patio turned to dust.
Forever? I know someone, someday
will be able to tell you truthfully:
‘You’ll never see the bright moon again,
You’ve now achieved the unalterable
sum of moments granted you by fate.
Useless to open every window
in the world. Too late. You’ll not find her.’
We live discovering and forgetting
that sweet familiarity of the night.
Take a long look. It might be the last.
Jorge Luis Borges,  tr. by A.S. Kline, @2008

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stop: A Poem of Pharmaceutical Advertising


In an ad agency, Traffic is like
Department of the Shepherds,
or an escort service,
housemother, Charon,
ferrying files from account exec. to writer
to art director to the shop to editorial
back to writer, exec., client, hell.
When the agency is pharm., the ad
could be direct-to-physician, direct-to-
patient, include an ISI (Important Safety Information).
Pharm. pays better than general advertising but
each ad has me fighting early training:
this is a load of crap.
Remember, I wasn't allowed medicine as a kid.
When I was headed to Camp Yallani we needed
a doc. to sign off.
He spotted weeping sores on my hand.
What’s that? he asked Mom.
It’s nothing she said.
Don't blame advertisers for the public's foolishness.
David Ogilvy's Little Red Book
of selling-relevant aphorisms
had typos.
Mao's Little Red Book fell to
reform and reeducation through labor.
There's no poetry in consumerism or
Oh save us from our leaders.
All of us.
Sarah Sarai, Folly Magazine, February 2012

Note: I wasn't allowed to take biology in high school because of my Christian Science mother. Yet here I am, working in pharmaceutical advertising and not quite fitting in.  I do my quiet thing, my rent gets paid, my poems get written and sunlight and birds reveled in.

Before pharma, I was in general advertising, and yes, Ogilvy Advertising had its founder's Little Red Book, about the same size as Mao's.  Thanks to Folly Magazine for publishing the poem and allowing me to include it here. April 27, 2016 note: Folly is out-of-print.