Sunday, December 29, 2013

Henry Darger ... throwaway boy (a bio)

Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. Henry Darger.
It was not an easy read but as I am fascinated with the artwork of Henry Darger I just gulped Henry Darger, Throw-Away Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist, a bio by Jim Elledge.

Not sure if "tragic" begins to cover it. A slum life in an old Chicago as bad as or worse than old Five Points New York. Poverty, filth, a mother who died when Henry was four, his father a drinker, Henry abandoned to the streets and various charity institutions, including the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children -- which reminded me of the second season of American Horror Story's asylum. He was preyed on and violently throughout childhood and teens.

Words like "gay" and "queer" seem free and open, defiant at least, compared to what Darger experienced or how he experienced his sexuality, as much as closeted homosexual does, although they are all the case.

I kept fighting with the author's depictions, wishing astonishing biographer Deidre Bair was writing this so I could find more light in Darger's life, but given Elledge's extensive historical research into Chicago in the late 1800s, early 1900s, the predatory nature of the streets, and Elledge's researched conversance with secret lives and gay culture, I can't blame him for the realities of Darger's life, and his (Elledge's) imaginal descriptions--reading into Henry's thoughts and actions; not always differentiating speculation from fact. It's a style, one I'm not used to. I could be wrong in my reaction.

Henry Darger's life had few comforts. But he had a friend/lover for years, although I wasn't entirely sure how accurate Elledge was but anyway--thank god! And when he was working as a janitor--his lifelong career--he wrote thousand-paged novels and painted, constructed his spectacular and fantastical art (outsider art --- "...produced by people who for various reasons have not been culturally indoctrinated or socially conditioned" -- a blessing, I suggest).

Not an easy read because of subject matter, but Henry Darger's courage, and his way of working on and out childhood impressed me. Maybe moved me forward.

POSTSCRIPT. Darger's work was discovered posthumously by his landlord Nathan Lerner (an artist) -- who knew him and thus understood he wasn't the predator so many art critics accused him of being--without having met him or known anything but the paintings. Oh the dangers of psychological criticism!  Of trying to figure out the artist rather than the art!  Lerner had Darger's gravestone inscribed: 
Henry Darger, Artist, Protector of Children.  And that's what the work is about.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wallace Stevens: ...of the two dreams, night and day... "Hymn From a Watermelon Pavilion"

Something's wrong lately. I'm in a deprivation mode. I am become especially inept at the balancing act between work and all-I-love. So before I left for work this morning I told myself to read a poem. There are no windows of opportunity in my mornings. There is a half-hour of bathing, brushing, the luxury of coffee and I'm off. My life is "obscured by sleep."

But this morning I stalled and opened my new Wallace Stevens collection which I bought at the Strand on Sunday to replace my old Wallace Stevens collection. It had finally crumpled like a beautiful ghost in an Alfonso Cuarón movie. A Hayao Miyazaki animated film.

Sunday, I'd asked a nimble Strand clerk to climb the stepladder, which he ably did. Well and good. But as he handed me two books he indicated one and said, "Here's a good place to begin." Grrrr. I held my tongue and paged but couldn't hold it in, turned to his perusing self at the other end of the poetry section. "I'm not beginning." He grinned.

What an ego I have! And what a lie. Of course I'm a beginner.

Someone must have come before me to my new collection as it fell open to:

Hymn From a Watermelon Pavilion

You dweller in the dark cabin,
To whom the watermelon is always purple,
Whose garden is wind and moon,

Of the two dreams, night and day,
What lover, what dreamer, would choose
The one obscured by sleep?

Here is the plantain by your door
And the best cock of red feather
That crew before the clocks.

A feme may come, leaf-green,
Whose coming may give revel
Beyond revelries of sleep,

Yes, and the blackbird spread its tail,
So that the sun may speckle,
While it creaks hail.

You dweller in the dark cabin,
Rise, since rising will not waken,
And hail, cry hail, cry hail.
Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (1982)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Uche Nduka's IJELE. 1 poem. 1 suggestion: buy the book, already

I am unable to reproduce the exact margins of the original (I should start off saying). On the page this poem is a) justified; b) with of course specific breaks resulting from either/both justification and choice. So just buy the book, okay?

c) Comment 2. I am swept away by Uche Nduka's Ijele (OVRPS/Overpass Books, 2012). These are deep stirrings detailed observations - the stuff that has to be told to someone but who besides poets find the someone (readers) and time (furious writing regardless of obligation). Nduka has me nodding assent & recognition also baffled by his minute facility to key into the internal and external with unabashed honesty and (abashed or un) wit.  Again. Buy this book. I saw him read last month. Wow. Like that.



    the dawn points at a blistered tree. we are homesick for the key to a canon of delight. someone should arrest the bloodthirsty sidewalk. that river over there should go on trial for bonding with doom. waving at doors we pulse through tightropes. the fight of black fables does not upset a querying duster. (as these hieroglyphs remind us.) yet we are not in support of chewing the curd of desperation. we are not in need of the grip of quotation marks. the dawn points at a barefaced turret. we keep our briny watch day by day. over us tumult exults. over us a compass explodes.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Day 1 of Advent Brings Brodsky & a Great Poem

A Poem for Christmas

Imagine striking a match that night in the cave:
use the cracks in the floor to feel the cold.
Use crockery in order to feel the hunger.
And to feel the desert - but the desert is everywhere.
Imagine striking a match in that midnight cave,
the fire, the farm beasts in outline, the farm tools and stuff;
and imagine, as you towel your face in the towel's folds,
the bundled up Infant. And Mary and Joseph.
Imagine the kings, the caravans' stilted procession
as they make for the cave, or rather three beams closing in
and in on the star; the creaking of loads, the clink of a cowbell;
(but in the cerulean thickening over the Infant
no bell and no echo of bell: He hasn't earned it yet.)
Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from darkness, and stranded
immensely in distance, recognising Himself in the Son,
of Man: homeless, going out to Himself in a homeless one.

From Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002
(I am told this poem was translated by Seamus Heaney. If any wise person can verify, please do so. I know Heaney is one of the collection's translators.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Bits of Gratitude, Wednesday, November 27

Gratitude, according to an article I read yesterday, serves as an antidepressant. Write 5 statements of gratitude every night and give life's beauty a chance to outshout moods. It's not a full remedy, duh, but it sure is a help, an appeasement (I'll take it), and also an acknowledgement of what's at hand, often overlooked. Today's 5, shared.

  • I am grateful for scaffolding. When it's rainy and windy I'm protected, at least one block at a time, by the overhang. So are other pedestrians (hence, and this may be a stretch, there's an increase in community - not only are we in this together, we're under it).
  • I am grateful for my job - enormously unbelievably genuinely deliriously verging on maddeningly so. Work, a paycheck, benefits, the dailiness - yes & yowza.
  • I am grateful for friends who hang in with me, no matter what.
  • I am grateful for fear though I can't come up with a reason why. It alerts me to my psyche? It's real? I get through it?
  • I am grateful when the rain stops enough I can go outside without a coat (the visual: Sarah racing out of the office during lunch) to pick up a sandwich. 
  • Bonus round: Yay for sandwiches.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wanda Coleman, There and Still Here

One of America's most alive, most caring, and most righteously enraged poets, Wanda Coleman, has passed on. She served as Los Angeles' poetic spirit for years and years. Her passion will be missed. Her poems remain as its testament. 

American Sonnets: 91
the gates of mercy slammed on the right foot.
they would not permit return and bent
a wing. there was no choice but
to learn to boogaloo. those horrid days
were not without their pleasure, learning
to swear and wearing mock leather so tight
eyes bulged, a stolen puff or two
behind crack-broken backs and tickled palms
in hallways dark, flirtations during choir practice
as the body organized itself against the will
(a mystic gone ballistic, not home but blood
on the range) as one descended on this effed-up
breeding hole of greeds—to suffer chronic seeings

was’t hunger or holiness spurred the sighting?
Wanda Coleman, 1946-2013. From Mercurochrome (Black Sparrow Press/Godine) @ 2001.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Amy Lowell Takes on the Moon, and Tenderly So, in "Interlude"


When I have baked white cakes
And grated green almonds to spread on them;
When I have picked the green crowns from the strawberries
And piled them, cone-pointed, in a blue and yellow platter;
When I have smoothed the seam of the linen I have been working;
What then?
To-morrow it will be the same:
Cakes and strawberries,
And needles in and out of cloth
If the sun is beautiful on bricks and pewter,
How much more beautiful is the moon,
Slanting down the gauffered branches of a plum-tree;
The moon
Wavering across a bed of tulips;
The moon,
Upon your face.
You shine, Beloved,
You and the moon.
But which is the reflection?
The clock is striking eleven.
I think, when we have shut and barred the door,
The night will be dark

by Amy Lowell (I don't know which collection (if any) this is from; found it on the archive, Modern American Poetry (

Otherstream Anthology, Shadows of the Future, a free e-book! (soon on our lover's back)

I am thrilled to have my poems "The Quiet Softness," "Today No One Is Your Friend," "The Philadelphia Art Museum," and "Look Now" appear in the new anthology of the Otherstream writing group, Shadows of the Future, edited by Marc Vincenz and published by Jeffrey Side of The Argotist Online.

The anthology is free and online, both of which are exciting to report.  Soon we'll be able to download directly to our palm, our forearm, our lover's back, but for now, an e-book is sufficient innovation.

You are welcome to disseminate, share, and most of all, read!

Other poets include Larissa Shmailo, Susan Lewis, mIEKAL aND, Camille Bacos, Jack Foley, David Chirot (whose artwork is on the cover), Jukka Pekka-Kurvinen, Carol Novack, Jeffrey Side, Mark Vincenz, Dan Raphael, Howie Good, Keith Higgenbotham, Jake Berry, Mary-Marcia Casole . . . and more.

Publication was September, 2013.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Assembling my Poetry Collection So Each Poem's Comfortable with its Neighbors: take 3 with more to come

Less than a year ago I thought it was done. I thought I had a 2nd poetry manuscript and with great though occasionally nagging conviction I submitted it. The "nagging" in nagging conviction is hard to fathom –  it has depths, some of which are reasonable while others are meaningless.

And thus the great art of discernment, one-half the price of being an artist. So okay.  More new poems got written or completed since last year’s book, some quite strong.  I decided to reassemble the manuscript, to add in poems and attempt the ruthless discard. And re-ORDER the poems.

Determining the order of poems in a manuscript is not an act of discernment (which is an art), though remains a bit of a mystery, and there is no perfection. The amount of attention a poet pays to her manuscript adds to its strength, mystique, believability, readability, desirability, saleability, poetry, and poem-companionability. The more attention paid to the sequencing or ordering of the poems, the more comfortable each poem is with its place in the collection. The more respect each poem has for its neighbors.

Poems like poets have egos. They like to be read, heard, appreciated. Yes, there are shy poets who don't like to read their work aloud but I haven't met one who didn't want her/his work read on the page. Poems exist. Existence demands some level of attention. Even  rocks in the desert sense fulfillment when a lizard scurryies to rest in their shadow.

Like a knight I believed in the rightness of my kills, my deletions.  More important than believing I was right, was knowing by way of the internal nag that a poem didn't belong in the book because it couldn't stand up to the others.  It made me sad, but also proud of the others, so strong and noble.
After I made a few changes to the doc., I printed it out and put it in a federal express cardboard-like envelope I kept in my bag.  Since I am working a 40-hour job I didn't have lots of time to take a look, but I peeked some ,took it out for perusal once or twice.  I choose and I reordered a bit.  I demystified various of my false beliefs that in books to come some of my themes might take precedence and so I should hold onto poems for that future time. Truth is, I don't know what's to come. I do know that holding a poem because of what MIGHT happen doesn't make sense.  It's like holding back in fiction, not letting a character take action when the character wants to.

Then I just googled how to order a poetry manuscript (in different iterations).  I read different perspectives about creating sections in the book, headings, or just going arbitrary--throwing the pages in the air (well, that's what I suggested I’d do, on Facebook).  Last week, at his reading, I asked George Guida how important was the order of poems.

"Very," he said. I believed him. I also believed him when he added, "at least to the poet."

Another week, more thinking, ordering (or not), adding, deleting. The weekend came. I made piles of the poems. I think I'll hold back on the content of the piles (except for one, which was, no go).  Finished, I felt the moment. Looked at the poems in their golden groupings. I decided that as a reader of my manuscript, a reader who is easily bored, I would appreciate a little surprise.

And so I organized the poems variously, placing a poem from one pile, one grouping, next to a poem from another pile, a different grouping. I realized that my themes can carry from grouping to grouping. Yes, I considered each poem as I ordered. I looked at what I had, page by page. Left my apartment for my Tai Chi lesson in the East Village, a manicure, a to-go meal. Then I sat with the stack and reordered the Word document. Which took several hours and involved, inevitably, more deliberation.

Somewhere along the line, last night when I was being social or in dreams, I remembered two poems I hadn't included. Added them in. Edited one.  (Oh, all along the way, poems--definitely not all but some, especially the unpublished poems--get a little editing, PRN as the docs say.)

So now I have a poetry manuscript. I will print it out, consider. And I will be mailing hard copy and emailing the document to a friend for a "if you see something say something" edit. It's not over. But all of us, Sarah Sarai and her x# of poems (oh be surprised later) are coalescing, like clouds of joy.

image from Manuscripts in the Kandilli Observatory (astronomy, mathematics and geography of the Arab world), courtesy of Turkish Airlines

Monday, November 4, 2013

But To Discover Same ("The only way two people can make it work") A POEM

Worse and more embarrassing mistakes have been made. I've heard, for instance, that Ashbery included the same poem in two collections. Gasp? Not really. It's impossible to keep up with all our poem titles--which change organically and otherwise.  In my case, I realized last week I'd submitted "But To Discover Same" to several journals, when, in fact, the poem is in my online, pdf chapbook, I Feel Good (Beard of Bees, 2013). So I had to withdraw it.

The most splendid news is I loved writing this poem. A few years ago I'd was in communication with a one-time, or not, junky whose level of abstention from booze or heroin was unclear. He wrote, read, thought.

So that's the "skin pop of retribution." As for Buffalo Springfield, didn't you, don't you love them? And imagine yourself, in a not entirely related retrospection, on a crowded bus with jovial folk carrying chickens in wire cages. But not all the folk are jovial. And how do we make anything work, anything, let alone, it.

But To Discover Same

The only way two people can
make it work (advise close
consideration of  “work”
“make” “it” and seven other
napkin holders) is

to inhabit a fearful present
in its summation of
so times kicking
screaming (being how) thusly
one ends up an ivory
engraved and pouchy corpus

by which it is meant
not only to have now but
now be all and each
skin pop of retribution

and restart natural impulse aborted
when Babar & co.
were stole by lesser than gods

to neither pretend

Buffalo Springfield is
on the turntable nor
that even are “make” “it”
or “work” feasible

and so to arrive at the depot
after sitting in
a car chicken-shit
packed (also feathers, old babies
venomous grandparents)

to expect no one to know
you are a soft kiss on
the sky at dawn but

to discover, same.
Sarah Sarai, from I Feel Good (Beard of Bees, 2013).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A BEST New York Poem: Mervyn Taylor's "The Center of the World"

I have heard Mervyn Taylor read this poem three times and each time saw with my shivering essence the heartbreaking beauty of New York, more specifically, Brooklyn, that most mysterious of boroughs. Saw a New York crackling like a fire with promise and eradication. Saw a specific New York, closer than approximation, one I know, of supers and late-night MacDonalds, dying relationships, lost keys and keys lost to boozy nights. The pot that never melts, except in some mayor's false paradise. This is an amazing poem. A parade. The universe.

The Center of The World

From here I can see the world, all the people
walking down Flatbush Ave., going into stores,
waiting at the bus stop, all the latecomers rushing
into the subway cat-a-corner from my window,
across Ocean Ave. all the new immigrants in winter
wearing too much clothes, the police recruit from
Long Island under the awning of the Arab grocer.

Salaam, I can hear the crack addict, the last of
his kind disappearing between the floorboards,
arguing with the Arab chief, the one with the scar
in his left cheek next door to whom the Asians
scrape calluses from feet three times the size
of their own, giving them the designs they want:
star, crescent, half-moon, the flag of any country.

I see all four seasons pass through the park, in
winter, the lake shimmering between the trees,
in autumn the nervous leaves shaking and falling,
the sudden flood of green in spring. And summer,
oh summer, with the smoke of a hundred grills,
the smell of bar-b-q, the birthday balloon sailing
away from the crying boy, the slap of dominoes
on the picnic tables, the relentless hawk, a rat

dangling from its talons, dripping red onto the
cyclist’s jersey, the yellow paddleboats on their 
circular journey around the island that is the ducks’
breeding ground, dense, impenetrable, the raccoon
that scared us after the concert at the band shell
the night Rudder sang his calypso blues, where
a year ago Odetta made her last appearance half-
sitting under a falling moon. And the vet whose
shock of white hair stood out among the runners,
I don’t hear his sidewise shout anymore.

In the zoo the enclosure where the bears ate a boy
has a higher fence, painted with pretty pictures.
On Sundays the drummers still form their circle,
and in the evenings horns announce the arrival of
the Haitians, their sound atonal, harsh, unrelieved.
They move in concentric circles, singing not words
but a series of o’s, rising, falling, rising.

Sometimes the midnight lines at the McDonald’s are
seven registers across. Here a homeless man might sit,
nursing coffee, pretending to wait for the No. 12.
I know where it goes, out Linden, through dangerous
parts of East New York, I take it almost to the end of
the line, to a building boasting a thirteenth floor and
terraces with a great view of flights leaving Kennedy.  

I watch the Puerto Ricans on their day, the coquis on
the hatband of the older men. Fridays the Jews
stream in numbers toward the end of the park where
the big synagogue is, the cops with backs to them
blocking traffic. I see all the time accidents at this
five-way intersection, the elderly couple never
making it to a wedding, their car spun round facing
the opposite way. I catch, on Labor Day,

steel pans going down the middle of the avenue,
a girl waving a mysterious flag, the sergeant longest
on the beat saying, ahh, don’t worry ‘bout it, too long
to explain what wining is. I’ve heard relationships die
at 3 am, among the pillars in the pavilion, or at the stoplight
while a car idled. I’ve heard the prettiest rendition of
a Scott Walker song come up the fire escape and through
my window, through a long and sleepless night…

I’ve heard the shocking quarrels of people over
a parking space, over love, over nothing. I’ve
seen a boy gasp his last between the park benches
after the pop, pop turned out not to be fireworks,
the cap on his head turning red. There are times
I looked out to see not a soul, and times it seemed
a congregation had gathered under my window,
times when the heat would rise and then would not,
my guest and I sleeping in gloves.

I’ve lived through three supers, watched their sons
grow to manhood. I’ve let the woman next door
climb through my window when she’d forgotten
her keys. I’ve stepped over the nodding ghosts of
men acting like doormen in the lobby, their number
dwindling till there was one, who could hardly lift
my suitcase. I leave but always come back here, 
where I review things from this vantage point,
the confluence of people and lives after deliveries
are dropped off early in the morning by trucks
rambling through this intersection of the world.

--Mervyn Taylor, from No Back Door (Shearsman), 2010

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sir Walter Raleigh on the hypocrisy of our times: "The Soul's Errand" (a poem)

The Soul’s Errand

By Sir Walter Raleigh

(Written by the English soldier and statesman, 1554?–1618, just before his execution)

GO, Soul, the body’s guest,
  Upon a thankless errand;
Fear not to touch the best;
  The truth shall be thy warrant:
    Go, since I needs must die,        5
    And give them all the lie.

Go tell the Court it glows
  And shines like rotten wood;
Go tell the Church it shows
  What’s good, but does no good:        10
    If Court and Church reply
    Give Court and Church the lie.

Tell Potentates they live
  Acting, but oh! their actions;
Not loved, unless they give,        15
  Nor strong but by their factions:
    If Potentates reply,
    Give Potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition,
  That rule affairs of state,        20
Their purpose is ambition;
  Their practice only hate:
    And if they do reply,
    Then give them all the lie.…

Tell Physic of her boldness;        25
  Tell Skill it is pretension;
Tell Charity of coldness;
  Tell Law it is contention:
    And if they yield reply,
    Then give them all the lie.…        30

So when thou hast, as I
  Commanded thee, done blabbing;
Although to give the lie
  Deserves no less than stabbing:
    Yet stab at thee who will,        35
    No stab the Soul can kill.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yahia Labadidi...3 poems from "Barely There"..."a glorious metamorphosis"

Poet Yahia Labadidi offers us remnants from silks and linens used to create longer forms. Poems in Barely There (Wolf and Stock, 2013) may be, as advertised, short, but many are evocative, some haunting in the way fine poems can be. Silk is silk, full dress or suit, or patch.

For instance, courtesy of legend and the history of western painting, St. Sebastian is usually imagined as visibly pierced. but here, it's the not visible that marks him. I'm always afraid to talk muses (superstitious me), so moving to the third poem below . . .  the acknowledgement that a nation's metamorphosis is ongoing. Currently that change, invention, reinvention is obvious and painful to observe in Egypt, but look at Egypt's mighty, varied history, look at America's steps and missteps; look.  The poet's history as Egyptian and American, hovers.

On a personal note, Yahia has a good sense of humor. That's high praise, right there. Three from his latest collection:

St. Sebastian

Sometimes, he found it difficult 
to dislodge the arrows 
preferring to keep them there 
reverberating in silence
along with his invisible wounds. 

Defiant Muse

With myth and parable, the defiant muse 
reminds us of the art of being present 
and then, how to vanish without a trace. 


You are the deep fissure in my sleep, 
that hard reality underneath
a stack of soft-cushioning illusions. 

Self-exiled, even after all these years, 
I remain your ever-adoring captive

I register as inner tremors
—across oceans and continents -
the flap of your giant wing, struggling
to be free, and know I shall not rest until 

your glorious metamorphosis is complete. 

Barely There, Short Poems (Wolf and Stock, 2013) by Yahia Labadidi.