Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blurb and Be Blurbed: or, as ye blurb . . .

Blurb is not an attractive word. Visually it is at best whimsical, a bulging clown. Audibly it is the anti-onomatopoeia. A bl-ur-b is written in praise?
But it is.

From Wikipedia: "The concept of a 'brief statement praising a literary product' dates back to medieval literature of Egypt from the 14th century. The concept was known as taqriz in medieval Arabic literature." From medieval Arabic literature to God’s ears.

Movie blurbs are laughable—there are so many “best” movies of the year according to blurbs, Oscar ballots could be bound books rather than short lists.

As for fiction, I once heard an author—a good writer—at a reading—state he didn’t have time to read the books he blurbed. Maybe he was being flip?

It’s blurbs on back covers of poetry collections that interests me here, although I never gave them much thought until I had to ask poets to “blurb me.” I asked five and four agreed. (Their comments are at the end of this entry.) I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t admire their work and when I read the comments, I found temporary residence in another world where Sarah Sarai is a temple goddess of 3,000 loving arms and one heart, where chocolate is iridescent, where seersucker is the fabric of royalty.

The Future Is Happy is a first book. The fact that four poets were willing to link their names with mine made my present happy.

I don’t know that blurbs are necessarily useful or even necessary in helping me select books I like. Even if admired and beloved John Ashbery or Rita Dove recommend a book I’m not necessarily going to buy or like it. Taste is individual.

An acquaintance commented, on a social networking site, “Attention poetry publishers: when sending promo for a new book, don't even bother sending blurbs. Blurbs are bullshit and everyone knows it. Send sample poems and some kind of description. Really. A movie trailer shows scenes from a movie, right? Common sense. And poetry books are way more expensive than movie tix.”

My reaction was immediate and kneejerk, not to the sentiment (such as it is) but to the sweeping generalization. “Blurbs are bullshit and everyone knows it.” Are they? They reveal writing quality of the blurber at the very least, but also can convey a sense of WHY someone liked the book. Even briefer, they give a sense of the book.

This same poet added, “I just think it's a stupid custom, largely unquestioned although everyone I know mocks them.” EVERYONE?

Anyway. I'm not a total idiot. Every field is fixed at times by which I mean, some poets write praise they don't mean. I have read stupid blurbs of generic praise. I have doubted some poets ever internalized Camp Fire Girl, Girl Scout or Boy Scout codes of honesty.

You know. I was going to write my reaction to the blurbs on my book but realized I would be blurbing the blurbs which might invite another blogger to blurb the blurbs of my blurbs. Search on the BlazeVOX [books] catalog for a blurb written by one Sarah Sarai (for Charles Freeland’s Eros & (Fill in the Blank).

And, ta-dah, here are mine:

Sarah Sarai’s poems are charged with the terrible presence of the now and the dangerous fact of words. This is poetry as it should be. Scary, strange, generous, intensely in a physical world while illuminating an unimaginable spiritual world. This is writing that sings. The song it sings is the song of our hearts.

—Jack Wiler (Fun Being Me, I Have No Clue)
With both wit and tenderness, Sarah Sarai rigorously navigates the dialectics of knowledge and not knowing, thinking and being, the fantastic and the quotidian, the spiritual and the earthy, in language that is by turns crisp and lush. These are heady, whip-smart, funny and moving poems in which time becomes fluid and vertical—high-rise pageant of art, ephemera, filigree and memory through which our physical and temporal bodies spark and fall much too quickly.
—Lee Ann Roripaugh (On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year; Year of the Snake; Beyond Heart Mountain)
How often we hear it: "No ideas but in things." But Sarai throws pie in the face of such doctrine, and a tasty pie it is. Here, abstractions such as connection, morality and "sloppy forgiveness" form the crust of her work. But the filling, juicy with the polymorphous perversity of a living breathing world, teems with a compote of voices, textures, colors. Socrates, James Brown, Anna Karenina are tossed together with bebop, chili peppers and "100 billion neurons nipping maybe 268 mph." So much to chew on! The poet serves it all with an uncommon heart and broad-ranging intellect. The result is writing which is naked, urgent, frisky and sublime.
—Nina Corwin (Conversations with Friendly Demons and Tainted Saints; Inhabiting the Body: A Collection of Poetry and Art by Women-editor; Fifth Wednesday Journal-poetry editor)
Sarah Sarai’s poetry is hot-wired and hip-swivel all the way up the spine! Emily Dickinson is Jewish and Moses breaks tablets for stellar sex. She’s retained the best of modernism (especially that syncopated variable foot Charlie Parker bop in the word-love) and moved onto new red earth for her own vision. Eat this book! It’s terrific.
—Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire; Blues for Unemployed Secret Police; Keep Your Head Down-a memoir)

Buy The Future Is Happy from Amazon or Small Press Distribution.

Links to reviews are HERE!


See also: Polonius on Acid (re: art of the blurb)

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Praise of the Laptop Dancer: writing and loneliness

When I was in grad. school I asked a professor to help me work with loneliness, a curse on writers or certainly on this writer. I felt pain when I was alone and concentrating, waiting for creativity to put me in a necessary trance. Writing fiction eats hours like crumbs, days like appetizers, years as if they were a first course, the main one being Your Life. In an earlier blog I mentioned the huge and ridiculous stretches I’d devote to book reviews, as if they were the ultimate Elizabeth Bishop sonnet. Something was amiss, friends.

The prof. said she could help but we never returned to the topic. I could have pressed but didn’t; and clearly all manner of this-es and that’s-es barnacled my psyche.

Could be the ability to live with, even love, loneliness may be one of the self-selecting factors for being a writer; if you can’t stand the heat step away from your typewriter, to paraphrase. Or not every writer feels what I did. All sorts of authors happily tell you their characters keep them company. When I hear that I generally think they’re in denial. Even if so, so what. I tend to overlook denial’s benefit, the ability to carry on despite real hardship or personal angst. Certainly booze and drugs, fabled buddies of some artists, have given a hands-up to denial.

I am a baby boomer and like my generational peers fascinated by my process, the every feeling of Sarah Sarai, and, like or unlike my fellow Children of the Corn of the 70s, unable to step away from introspection. So denial was no aid to me (not to say it hasn’t helped me avoid other things).

Since transformation is the greatest healer I know, the True Philosopher’s Stone being one that helps us change hate to, if not love, then acceptance or dispassion, distance, equilibrium, the ultimate goal might have been to transform my great aching loneliness, which bespoke of so much more than that I was a writer, to acceptance, or something spiritual.

H.L. Mencken wrote, “The writing profession is reeking with this loneliness. All our lives we spend in discoursing with ourselves. . . . The loneliest people in the world we writers are. Except that, while we are conversing and laughing with ourselves, we manage to shed our loneliness . . . to scatter it as we go along. (What a Life!)

Shed loneliness? Loofah it, exfoliate, metamorph?

It is possible and I’ll give you my routine, how I learned to live with necessary aloneness.

One major aid has been to work in public. As if helped me to read Henry James novels in the college cafeteria, shutting out the noise made me concentrate, it helps to work in cafes. But I couldn’t do that until I had a laptop, and I didn’t have that until roughly two years ago. SUCH a long time to be without.

But now I’m with laptop. When it failed I got a notebook, same thing, smaller screen. If that fails, I swear I’d get write on a Blackberry. I haven’t healed myself of discomfort with loneliness or identifying that as what I'm feeling (I'm a little more sophistication than I'm letting on but my psychological innards on the table won't help you or anyone). I’ve learned to work with myself. Yes, I still write at home and do much editing at home. Since I borrow, so to speak, Internet connection, piggyback, I can justify buying coffees and the occasional bagel.

This isn’t the ultimate essay on writers and loneliness or the ultimate solution. It’s mine and for now it’s working. I still need to find an agent for my novel The To-Do List Manifesto. I need to spend not much time at all finishing other fiction. I swear I am impetus-impaired. I am one lazy writer but at least no longer alone. The kids at my coffee house of choice know me, know what I’m doing. It helps. I’ll take it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quick Note: the word conveys personality

I've been using Facebook for a year and a half and it has increased my sense of community immeasurably. Indeed, all of cyberworld has done for me what my time in academia couldn't, and as a matter of fact refused to do--given me good friendships in writing.

I don't mean to give the impression these new friendships are my first such friendships but they are reinvigorating. I joined a poetics listserv first and then dug into Myspace. Both seemed such nervy actions to me, at the time. I remember the moment I decided to use my first and last name on Myspace. I held my breath and clicked the mouse so that all the world could access "Sarah Sarai."

I was no longer hidden or hiding. I quoted a phrase from an acceptance letter, "cute and profound...and different" Blackbox, which I thought accurate enough in describing me and my writing. I set up links, tried to remember the HTML I'd had to learn when I was a Web producer (really, an editor).

The odd thing is that through the listserv, less so with Myspace, I learned of poets who lived in New York City but travelled in different, uh, stanzas than I did. I had quit writing poetry (long story) and took it up or it took me up about five years ago, and so I hardly knew anyone. No book. I was no one.

My letter of introduction was my cyber contributions, comments I shared on the listserv and my Myspace presentation. Then came Facebook, with its little photos and, in its glory days, room to romp, to interact in an approximation of real time by way of comments.

I've now met enough people through Facebook--in the flesh--to know I can trust my instincts. People I find a delight on Facebook are the same in life. I'm not saying there isn't a need to reckon with the flesh when we meet--to assimilate our emotions, our bodies, our intensities. Certainly anyone meeting me in person has to realize I'm more than clever.

But it has worked out. New and real friends, shared interests (most of my friends on Facebook are poets, a few are fiction writers, the rest are true and dear friends), a match. I've learned more about long-time friends and about warm acquaintances through Facebook. Yes, you're right. It's a time suck.

But also verification that the little bits we write about ourselves, about politics, about poetry, family, our cats, movies, Gaza, Obama, poverty, life's insanity express who we are. The word can be trusted.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Writing by hand, online, typing drafts: untenable - and good - examples

Once a poem’s online I forget about it. In once sense only that’s a blessing, and I’m not sure there’s much sense in that sense because a poem is a thoughtful creation, crafted, not a geyser of emotion or cleverness, erupted.

I have posted a few unpublished poems on this blog, and in a few cases typed first runs right in. And then forgotten about them. What’s the point?

With rare exception, I work on and over and in poems as long as requested. With NO exception (except a few on this blog as mentioned previously) I write first drafts of poems by hand, then type, print, edit, type, print, edit . . . And when there’s nothing else to be done I send out the poem. Sometimes I send the poem to Siberia, a file where poems that just don’t work live. They are warm and fed but their biospheric life does not include guests. Kafka’s messenger never reaches them and they don’t care. These poems aren’t sullen. They’re differently abled and know it.

A poem submitted to a journal is most often rejected at least once and when I get it back I take another look, ask if it wants to get off the bench and back in the game (Look, Ma! I wrote a sports reference!) or needs a massage. Maybe an amputation.

However, as far as prose and nonfiction are concerned, this blog unstuffs me and that’s been a great victory.

Most reviews I’ve posted here were typed into the blog and “published” or gone live. I might spy a typo or stupid sentence construction and go back in to fix. It’s not like the blog is a dangerous mine and reentry risks life.

When I wrote reviews as a freelancer for The Seattle Times each one took an enormous amount of time. I was utterly convinced I was a slow writer, no change possible. If my current reviews were worse than those, less insightful or fun or effective in tribute where called for, I’d agree I should return to those awful weeks in front of computer, me trying to hammer out a greater piece of writing than I am capable of creating.

But what I write now, although each could be expanded – now, that’s for sure – is fine. I am writing for a blog, not an journal, and length needn’t be too long. No one’s paying me for this. A few pieces here on my life might claw at me later. They might demand more attention, more words. We’ll see.

No poem is ever done. But some poems, many, are done talking to me and so they live out in the world, make new friends and decisions about me I may not like. That’s the deal.

So no more poems typed into my blog. Only poems pasted from my collection or after they’ve been in print long enough I do no disrespect to the kind journal.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Future Is Happy: a Best Of 2009 Book {Guerilla Girls On Tour!}

Hoorah. The Future Is Happy - my poetry collection from BlazeVOX [books] - made the Guerilla Girls On Tour! Best of 2009 list along with books by poets Marie Ponsot, Lee Ann Roripaugh, Kim Addonizio, Sarah Gambito, Anne Waldman, Rachel Zucker and a slew of others. I agree with you (or my imagined you, resembling my doubting oldest sister, ready to pounce on any achievement of mine) -- it's not as if I'm in a top ten list such as the notorious Publishers Weekly list which recently printed a top ten for fiction writers, each of whom was male.

My publisher Geoffrey Gatza, a most enthusiastic literary world angel e-mailed me: "It's huge." I'll go with that; I didn't know anyone knew about me or my book. I've managed to attract a little attention on Facebook, but haven't had too much feedback on my book yet. Reviews are scheduled. My song of self-pity: I'm not an academic so there is no way I can create a readership - tra la.

Write a book and they will come.

To see the full list go to the Guerilla Girls blog:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Great Nomadic Peoples: at a poetry reading

One of my early demonstrations of independence from my family was in a movie theater with my mom and three older sisters. My father would have stayed home with a glass of Scotch, Bach sheet music, a James Bond novel, Nick and Nora Charles on The Million Dollar Movie.

Usually, the minute lights dimmed, we five became alert to the possible intrusion of extraneous sounds: a piece of Juicy Fruit being unwrapped, a too-loud engagement with molars and popcorn, a whispered comment. We were guardians of the quiet, Swiss guards for hush, lookouts ever vigilant against intrusions on our concentration.

The screen with its handsome flickering images was all. Double features (that's how long ago this was) were to be our atmosphere, landmass, weather system, internal and external organ. And if we heard a fatal crinkle of a candy wrapper we'd have to move. Sometimes my mother or a sister would venture a stern, "Shush!" but that held no truck with the Milky Way lover. Nor should it have. Candy and popcorn are inalienable rights. A movie ticket is a bearer bond for sweet and salty joys.

So the Hershey Bar would be unwrapped by a happy patron sitting behind us, a handful of popcorn noisily consumed and, as if a starting shot had been sounded for the greyhounds, my family would be off and running to another row, a quieter row, a perfect row.

I found moving from one row to another, having to yet again judge the height of the people in front -- potential blockades to Sidney Poitier or Elizabeth Taylor -- tiresome, and not cool (whether or not that was the word I used when I was thirteen).

My rebellion? I stayed put. After years of moving from seat to seat, I refused to collude with my mother and sisters in making fools of ourselves. I'd frown. I'd cross my arms over my unformed chest. I'd say, "No."

And watch their tribute to the great nomadic peoples of the world as they moved, sometimes several times in one movie. I'd hear evaluative whispers, especially if my oldest sister, who'd had the most pressure from circumstance and family, was in from San Francisco. The irony of their creating distraction -- when in fact they fled distraction-- escaped them.

And how does this relate to poetry readings? Well, I was at one today (a wonderful reading at the Bowery Poetry Club). The audience was attentive and the poets strong. Personages in my row, however, were not practiced reading attendees.

We're not talking teenagers (capable of anything). These people were older than me (hard to believe). And uh-huhing and yessing and commenting. I kept my tongue. But then my friend S-- was up and this nice lady next to me became not simply a bit distracting but, well, chatty. It's as if she were a Patriots fan sitting with six other Patriots fan in a den or sports bar (with the television on and all sorts of processed snacks hot and steaming); she began narrating the events in an unaware (bless her) stage whisper.

"He seems a bit nervous." "Oh, yes, I've met his mother. She's like that, you know, just like in that poem." And, as S-- began reading the last poem of his set, she turned to me to ask, "Oh, how do you know him? Are you a student or a poet or---" At which point my genetic material took over. Not the nomadic impulse--this was a full house and fleeing to another seat was not an option; no, the "Would you please be quiet" (whispered) impulse asserted. She became quiet.

Talking and silence, cell phones, involuntary and unconscious oohs and ahas, small comments, cheers, boos, laughter, bartenders -- they are all part of a poetry reading. There's no conclusion to be drawn from the above except I'm a silly goose. Yes, she was outsized. But I keep getting annoyed and it is not doing me any good. I want the calm of the great nomadic peoples of the world, to be able to pick up tent in silence -- but only if really very necessary.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A high point in eye candydom: Finch, Bates, Stamp

Some of my radical sisters in Feminism or brothers and sisters in anti-consumerism and death to the status quo may consider what I am about to write as politically reprehensible and certainly not correct. I can't say as I blame them. I write of a pinnacle of western civilization's white male eye candy, as achieved in John Scheslinger's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd.

When I watched the movie last night, Alan Bates rising from the hay, Peter Finch striding the marketplace, Terence Stamp a slim Grenadier, I wanted to shout out these were the three most handsome men ever to walk the planet. Quickly I realized that old tendency of my race to assume itself sole proprietor of the world was a knee jerk I wanted to fight. All I needed was one adjective, to wit: white.

An anthology of poetry I have been rereading, Chief Modern Poets of Britain and America,Vol. II: Poets of America, is a great reminder of fine poems, it reminds only of fine poems by white people and should be: Chief Modern White Poets of Britain and America,Vol. II: Poets of White America. Ditto these three heart breakers are to be clearly labeled.

Three of the grandest white men to descend from Olympus as ever white men were to descend from Olympus are Peter Finch, Terence Stamp, Alan Bates. Three sets of blue eyes, handsome faces not bland. My people of the white race will have much to account for in our final days. Know we can offer these three men (and Julie Christie) as proof our hearts beat wildly and in the right place now and then. We can offer Thomas Hardy's novels, every damn last one of them, most Schlesinger movies, most Nicholas Roge (cinematographer for Madding) movies, all Thomas Hardy Poetry, Wessex country and the great uneven and red-cheeked English countenance, with a hope St. Peter'll curl up on his high stool in rapture.

Sarai family motto upheld: There is no expiration date on poetry (review of Bidart)

This review was published in The Pedestal Magazine, Issue 31, 2005.

Star Dust by Frank Bidart
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

ISBN: 0374269734

Proven by reading Frank Bidart´s Star Dust: Spondees are not soporific. Also: You can take the boy out of California.

I wanted to review Bidart because I am an out-of-state Californian of a sort, as is he, though we sort out differently. I admired his early poem “Golden State," with its sights and sounds of the endlessly unyielding desert, of Barstow–I don´t know what it´s like now, but back then it wasn´t much–Edward Hopper in the Mojave, and that´s a glamorization. “Golden State" is in part a recollection of the poet´s flawed mother and father.

In Star Dust´s “Advice to the Players," Bidart renews his assessment of the folks: “My parents saw corrosively the arc of their lives."Same set-up, different parents, maybe drawn from Steinbeck instead of Eugene O´Neill, and their seeing might have been a reevaluation, perhaps even an illuminated understanding, rather than bitterness. Unlike his parents, the poet does have a handle on things and tips his hand to his philosophy: “There is something missing in our definition, vision, of a human/being: the need to make."

Rather than being political animals, Bidart sees us as aesthetically driven. In “Young Marx," we´re reminded that the maker, the laborer is “estranged from labor the laborer is/self-estranged, alien to himself." Bidart´s suggestion is to shape with a graceful rather than corrosive arc: “But being is making: not only large things, a family, a book, a busi-/ness: but the shape we give this afternoon, a conversation between/two friends, a meal."

The words “making" and “maker" crop up frequently, hinting at a theme, a philosophy, but they are of greatest value as an observation. And that is the one of the best tools of a poet, the power to observe. So who is this observer named Frank Bidart?

Long ago he shook off the desert sand at Harvard; recently co-edited The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell; has several full-length poetry collections in print; and was nominated for a Pulitzer a few years back for his chapbook, Music Like Dirt. That chapbook, with the inclusion of the long, narrative, and somewhat epic poem, “Third Hour of the Night," comprise Star Dust, a National Book Award nominee this year. Frank Bidart is a wonderful poet and deserves all the notice he gets, but also the notice he´s not likely to get (I´ll explain later). These poems revolve around concepts and themes and the poet; are a set-up for an explosion, things changing and remaining the same; demand engagement.

And what about the spondees, that girl-qua-BAN-SHE-group of metrical foot Bidart uses to begin many rogue lines in the 43-page “Third Hour of the Night"? The poem references The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Cellini being the Michael Graves of Renaissance salt shakers. The poem´s sections are built on couplets divided by single (which I call rogue) lines. It begins:

When the eye
When the edgeless screen receiving light from the edgeless universe
Then the eye first
When the edgeless screen facing outward as if hypnotized by the edgeless universe

Whose eye? Creator´s? A maker´s or the artist as maker? A predator´s or the artist as predator? What´s with the screen? What´s edgeless? Eternity? Life in process? The bombardment of inquiry this lead-in inspires is a muscular send-off, and while I question any use of muscular in discussions of literature, I felt a certain vitality in Bidart´s lines. Some pages later, Bidart as Cellini writes: “To be a child is to see things and not/know them; then you know them."

Which describes us all, of course, as willing readers. Which means knowledge is a blending of initial image, emotions, senses, intellectual reckoning, and time. Which means things can be known, sooner or later. As the poem reveals, Cellini was accused of theft at one point in his turbulent life. There´s a reckoning:

At this, the Duke looked at me
sharply, but said nothing.
All Rome knew that though I had disproved
the theft that was pretext for my arrest, Pope Paul
still kept me imprisoned, out of spite–vengeance of his malignant son Pier Luigi, now
assassinated by his own retainers.
One night at dinner, the King´s emissary gave the Pope
gossip so delicious that out of merriment, and about to vomit
from indulgence, he agreed to free me. I owed King Francis
my art, my service. The same stipend he once paid
Leonardo, he now paid me; along with a house in Paris.
The house was, in truth, a castle…

Who would I encourage to read this book? Certainly any poet, as the poems merit dissection and study; the lines are consciously rhythmic, crafty, and exemplary. As for civilians who love poetry…among them who will be content with Frank Bidart? He´s not a comfort. “Third Hour of the Night" ends with a strange, channeled, first-person description of violence against and rape of a woman. There´s plenty of violence in life and literature, but to end a made work with violence is, perhaps, defiant, as if the poet didn´t have the reader in mind. But maybe defiance is part of Bidart´s gift, and no one chooses his gifts. In the end, the reader must decide if this is a book for him or her, but I´m not off target in wondering about what audience Bidart attracts, large prizes granted and looming notwithstanding. Granted, he attracted me.

From “Little Fugue": “beneath every journey the ticket to this/journey in one direction."

It could be a serious omission that we´re not given readable maps. And many a trip begins in the dark wood, before final glory is achieved–and all for the price of a single ticket. Life is a wonder, really, and the push and pull in these poems, as in the need to make versus the condemnation of some corrupt manufacture of a life, the poet´s reconciliation with both, in his scraping off the corrosiveness, testify to Bidart´s appreciation and acceptance. “Music Like Dirt" draws its title from a song by the Jamaican ska and reggae singer/songwriter Desmond Dekker. The title´s repeated four times–the percussion of repetition–and the poem ends: “I will not I will not I said but as my body turned in the solitary/bed it said But he loves me which broke my will."

Sounds like a story to me. Whatever else he´s up to, the un-Californian is up to making good poems.

The image is a Lichtenstein nude.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Creating a space for poetry (poetry, rich and independent as the Vatican)

Poet Marilyn Nelson recently announced she was about to clean up to create a space for writing.

(If I mention names it's simply to give credit and not to drop. I've met Marilyn once; she is a poet and human I admire vastly.)

Granted, a tidy bedroom or desk may not generate safety and fortress for every writer. In the movie Smart People, Thomas Hayden Church, playing Dennis Quaid's charming slacker half-brother, is told by his teenaged Republican niece to make his bed. “It sets the tone for the day.”

“How do you know what kind of tone I want to set?” he drawls, becoming a hero to Sarah Sarai (who is ever hopeful slackerdom will come through with a living for her one day).

Chuck (Church) is hapless and forgetful, but moral. He is, as we say these days, appropriate with his niece, and therefore a man who has created space in his life to be a true adult. By way of counterpoint to my beloved messy slackerdom I recall reading a profile of writer Ray Carver, who could find exactly whatever story he was looking for in his cleanly organized files, without missing a step. He probably didn't even devote an hour a week to searching for his eyeglasses.

I won't tell you how I create space to write, partly because my technique is haphazard and partly because it is a protected moat. I guard carefully my writing -- egress, inspiration and the activity of it.

Public writing is the horse of a different color. I am not a workshop person (it would take years, years and years, to unpack that simple sentence). But I showed up for two stand-alone workshops over the past year. One of the workshops revealed I am part of something, poetry, rich and independent as the Vatican. It has many novices and novitiates.

What I'm working toward is that no one workshop exercise or series of workshop exercises will make anyone a better poet. What does the trick is creation by the workshop leader of a space for the writing of poetry. Enthusiasm and joy help with that. An ability to reside serenely in his or her body while in front of a class, to push out from the core, exude energy and light—marks of a writing facilitator who creates a beautiful space.

When leading a group of poetry lovers, abandon self-consciousness. When pointing the way to The Way Of Poesy, be yourself and know you are rapid sunlight, joy, a reflection of greatness (no need to be great when we can reflect if).

There are as many writing exercises as there are names of the God. All refer to one and the same thing, a source of holiness. Belief in deities unnecessary; belief in poetry is, however, vital. Not a belief in grants or awards. Not a belief in status, ranking, publications, copies sold. A belief in the lifesaving poem.

And voila! (as Julia Child might say), you have a lovely chicken or a lovely poem. Hard to argue with either...

(Thanks to poet Lee Ann Roripaugh, whose stray comment got me thinking.) Also. Note to self: Time to start sending out resumes to teach? Sarah, you want to try creating a space in which others can writer, don't you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: WARHOL-O-RAMA, Peter Oresick and Pittsburg's saint

I don't live far from the Empire State Building and sometimes send love to the ape atop, batting at airplanes Misunderstanding and Fear. So I was predisposed, when I chanced on Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick on a low-neon-lemon-forced-into-a-shout yellow large as New York's event-structure of cinematic and architectural history, for more memorable strangeness.

And was made pleased. As revealed to poet Peter Oresick, WARHOL-O-RAMA, is a triumph of verisimilitude--recreates the feel of the man and his art machine. There had to be such a triumph, sooner or later. Oresick is a son of Pittsburgh. As you know and have known since before you were born at least if you live, lived or planned on spending a lifetime anywhere a poster or tomato soup can or Andy Warhol's Dracula--wirrrrr-gin bloooooood--Warhol is not only son of Pittsburgh but its greatest commodity and export. Warhol might be odd, but he is in Paradise and Carnegie, albeit born in Scotland, is stoking coals.

True, Warhol made his reputation here, where I live, but New York City claims many artists without fully understanding it serves only as studio. The real work, beauties, brutalities and attitudes, is born in the crucible of hometown.

Dispensing with the query, Was Warhol really an artist, does Oresick's "For Andy Warhol Was a Flake among Artists" (which I reproduce in full):

But an artist among flakes.

Amen to that. "Andy Warhol for Willem de Kooning" is a one-liner relineated. "I hate Andy Warhol I hate Andy / Warhol I hate Andy Warhol I / . . ." and so on. Knowing de Kooning outdistanced him as a painter, Warhol mimicked the remarkably handsome and not always so-nice artist. His white wig reproduced de Kooning's do. Of Warhol, de Kooning said he was "nuttiest of all" the pop artists.

"Andy Warhol for Photoshop®" is a stanza by stanza how-to on reproduction as Andy reproduced, with image, not biology though with destiny. More than being a primer to the artist whose worth as artist exceeds that of mere phenomenon (and it is partly that, primer, Warhol not for Dummies but for Hipsters), WARHOL-O-RAMA (the title itself evocative of American's silly bold pitch) is loving tribute, a compilation of found (such as a letter to Warhol from a Campbell Soup executive) and original poems.

Oresick's passion shows in "Andy Warhol for Philip Johnson":

Infamous architect, whose ignoramus idiom was glass, sat sadly,
in chair, in tedium, in his 98th year, in his famously all-glass house--
fabulous essay in minimal geometry--when his eyes rose gladly
past clear walls of willow & birch & proportions he'd espoused--

slick effects: reflection & transparency--to the fluorescent silkscreen:
a copier. Hung above the copier! Bemused, he slowly slumped, serene.

offers poems of poetry, poems of political commentary, poems of biography, poems of verification for Andy's Catholic church (how many more verifications needed) that Warhol made miracles and copied them, over and over and over again. See for your yourself. See for yourself. See for yourself. See for yourself.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Be my diva, sweetheart: 65 and counting

When I was young I wanted to be a gay icon. Maybe it was a plausible fantasy for a yet-to-be-tested bi-sexual. Maybe my heterosexual selfhood believed that offered the likeliest male attention I'd get. Maybe it was something I should have followed through on. The fellow I lived with for five years in my twenties scored (scored, not bought) front-row Bette Midler tickets, knowing I worshipped her. I often felt I should have been born gay and male, a thought that strikes me as silly now that I accept the mutable slinkiness of sexuality and gender.

My parents were not homophobic so I didn't have excessive attitudes about gay men, although my sisters' taunts about being a lesbian terrified me. Judee Sill, later one of the shining lights of music and a lesbian, was one of my sister's friends, someone I knew when I was nine-years-old, so even there, contact had been made. When things got beyond ugly at home (the divorce) (I was about eighteen), I was shipped up to San Francisco, where I had a sort of Margaret Cho experience.

Unlike Cho, whose parents managed a bookstore in S.F.'s Tenderloin, and who lived among the loving (or not), brave (or not) and sometimes self-hating flamboyance of gay San Francisco in the seventies, my dear friends were, um, cultured.

I stayed with Alois, who still owns a house in the Haight. He was German (Catholic), had been a gay boy in Hitler's Germany. I'm still not sure of the details, but he was escaped from a Russian prisoner-of-war camp in Yugoslavia when he was thirteen; he wasn't there because he was gay. Boys were being shot as he escaped. After the war, his uncle told him to get out of Germany, and he ended up in San Francisco where he opened a coffee house of the real food, real conversation sort only possible in the late fifites and early sixties.

It was the Coffee Cantata, named after Bach's cheery musical number. Alois gave me a bed in his apartment (he rented out the first floor of the house), fed me incredible and very European whole foods, and resounding music (my father's classical tropes didn't include the great church music).

Alois had sold the Coffee Cantata by the time I lived there - its new crass owners moved it to Union, made it the coffee house equivalent of a fern bar - but Alois was Alois. Cultured, brilliant with languages, European for crissakes - and gay. One of the household's many running jokes was "he invented it." "Leonard Bernstein? Sarah, he's so gay he invented it." And so on.

If Michale Montlack, editor of the newly released My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them, were to ask Alois who his diva was, Alois might consider Elly Ameling, a pure soprano who interpreted leider purely though not exclusively. Or, hey, he might choose Suzy Ormand, the financial dyke wizard. (Who knows.) My intention is to suggest my sense of diva as a gay term, yes, and also as an accessible example of female power and vulnerability.

Who would I choose? Are Emily Dickinson or Helen Keller - two heroes - divable (diva-able?)? Laura Nyro is. Agnes Martin? Emily Carr? Dorothy Day (pictured)? Certainly Judee Sill. Unfortunate though her statements about Palestineans were, Golda Meir is a woman I find stunning. Among the divas in the My Diva anthology are Helen Reddy, Joan of Arc, Julia Child, Princess Leia, Liza, Grace Paley.

It's a nice, okay, poignant feeling, to sit here and think about women I admire, to consider who is a heroine, who is an icon (a word my friend, poet Patricia Spears Jones, wants retired), and who is a straight-ahead "diva." It's heart-expanding to think about women men admire. I want more women admired. I want more.

*you say. say.* says it in New York City. Also, happy November.

November is begging for a blog. The tidiness of blogging on the first of the month asserts itself. The authority of being a purposeful November 1 is kindly requested by November 1. Clearly I have fallen short, this and other months; I resolve to be better. Blog on the first and the last of the month, men, and hoist the sails. Please accept this late effort.

The time change is knocking me out as it always does; also I haven't quite recovered from having fun on Halloween - an awful lot of shouting in a Soho bar, after an Uphook Press** reading.

On Halloween the you say. say. group rose up for our first reading in this grimy, loud, expensive and infectiously lovable city. (An attentive reader of My 3,000 Loving Arms may recall you say. say. read in Philadelphia after visiting Ben Franklin, later seen strolling with a pitcher of Kool Aid [you have to see the posting to understand*].)

The Philadelphia try-out being succesful, the illustrious editorial triumverate of you say. say. brought the act to New York, to premiere at the Dactyl Foundation. Hard not to love an art gallery named after a poetic foot. Query: If there are poetic feet, are there also poetic shoes? Hmmm. The Dactyl Gallery is pictured.

you say. say. is, in addition to being an extremely interesting, clean, tidy, challenging, diverse, rhythmic, complicated, simple and fanciful collection of poesy, or pomes, as my friend Steve Tills would say, an organic entity, ever changing and growing. Not the book itself, which obeys all sorts of laws of physics as most of us do, no, but the group of readers is changeable. In Philly there were four of us. At the Dactyl there were seven or so of us. Future readings at the Cornelia Street Cafe (November 12) and KGB Bar (December 9) include more and different readers, and who knows - maybe in a postmodern triumph the mic itself may read itself.

Did I mention the time change is knocking me out as it does twice a year. I realize I'm lame ass and pantywaist, that I need to man up my powers of transition. I shall attempt to do so. In the meantime, dear child held in those of My 3,000 Loving Arms that aren't scratching my backside, I'm signing off. Later.

*October 14:

**Uphook Press' you say. say. anthology: http://www.uphookpress.com/