Showing posts from March, 2007

NaPoWriMo 2007

The National Poetry Writing Month begins tomorrow: write a poem a day for the month of April. In NaPoWRiMo 2005, I wrote most of the sonnets of Payday Loans. In 2006, I wrote poems in hymn stanzas, some of which were revised and arranged into the sequence, "There Is No Safety in Distance." This year, the inspiration is Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric." I hope to use section nine as a plan for a suite of poems about the history and the ethics of the body.


O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you;
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the Soul, (and that they are the Soul; )
I believe the like of you shall stand or fall with my poems--that they are poems,
Man's, woman's, child's, youth's, wife's, husband's, mother's, father's, young man's, young woman's poems;
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, i…

The Phillips Collection

I really enjoyed my visit to The Phillips Collection, in Washington D.C., yesterday. The museum of modern art has split personalities: a Georgian Revival house and a modern white-wall gallery building. The jewel of its collection is Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party. After seeing so many reproductions in prints and books, I was surprised by the monumental size of the painting. Size is how an artist signals the importance of a painting to his oeuvre, a summation of his explorations, a claim to immortality. Another monumental painting is The Terrace (1918) by Bonnard. I was very touched by the elderly couple crouching in their garden in the painting. Their presence humanizes the monumentality of the canvas.

Richard Diebenkorn's Girl with Plant (1960) was particularly fascinating. Against the severe background of abstract expressionist wall, doorway and bed, the plant seems peculiarly alive. The brushstrokes are energetic and the strong colors look as if they were applied ra…

Shit Creek Review has a new feature supplement

From the editors:

Shit Creek Review+II Plywood Edition is now online, with poetry by Lee Harlin Bahan, Sam Byfield, Michael Cantor, K.R. Copeland, Brian Dion, Richard Epstein, Larry Fontenot, Angela France, Jude Goodwin, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, Danielle Lapidoth, Amanda Laughtland, Dave McClure, Mary Meriam, Bee Smith, Kirby Wright, and essays by Norman Ball, Anna Evans and Rose Kelleher. There is art by Don Zirilli, Patricia Wallace Jones, Hanka Jaskowska, C.D. Russell and Valori Herzlich.

A new feature supplement, II, focuses on the Poetry of Tim Murphy, and includes three new poems by Tim, as well as a selection from his as yet unpublished prosimetrum, Requited; also an interview, and essays and perspectives by Janet Kenny, Henry Quince, Rhina Espaillat, Alan Sullivan, Daniel Haar, R.S. Gwynn, Richard Wakefield, A.E. Stallings, Rose Kelleher, and Wendy Videlock. Click on the big II on the front page of SCR.

We are calling for submissions for the July edition of SCR+II: for SCR, poems o…

J. S. Bach: The Passion According to Saint John

When I was an evangelical Christian, of the four gospels, the one I loved most was John's. Sure, Mark writes the tautest plot, Matthew charms with his Christmas story, and Luke betrays the compassion of a doctor for the sick. But John, in the most argumentative and dramatic of the gospels, unveils the Power and the Glory:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And that gospel-in-a-nutshell, that bribe disguised as a gift of love, that verse memorized in Sunday School and thrust into the faces of unbelievers:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

So it was with some shock I heard John’s words again, in Bach’s Passion, and realized how anti-semitic the gospel is. The crowd, repeatedly called “the Je…

Launch of "Mimesis"

Mimesis is a new international poetry journal edited by James AL Midgley. The just-launched website gives a sampler of the poems in the first issue.

48 Poems from:

Julie Carter, Brent Fisk, Rebecca Kutzer-rice, Jee Leong Koh, Taylor Loy, Rob Mackenzie, Ian McLachlan, Jon Stone, R. L. Swihart and Emily Stuart.

Also: an interview with poet Michael Laskey .

Artwork from:

Jesse Michael Renaud (cover), Amanda Rehagen and Sarah Hayes.

Journeys: Mapping the Earth and Mind in Chinese Art

I went twice to see the Chinese art exhibition at the Met, so enchanted was I by the artistic explorations of place: imperial inspection tours, scholars' fantastic mountain retreats, landscape as political allegory or lament, laborers' biking daily to work, pleasure gardens, gorges. In the traditional landscape paintings, the subject matter may appear limited, but the wonder is that a mountain can be painted in so many different ways.

Dong Qichang (1555-1636) advocated approaching painting like calligraphy, with an emphasis on abstraction and kinetic brushstrokes. His "Shaded Dwellings Among Streams and Mountains" reminded me of Cezanne's post-impressionist paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, though they are from such different periods.

I can't find that painting on the net, so here's another landscape by him:

Dai Benxiao (1621-1693) seemed to be heavily influenced by Qichang, to my ignorant eyes, when he painted "The Strange Pines of Mount Tiantai.&qu…


In Mother’s womb, we started as a pair of lungs,
sea slugs hanging on to a reef. We grew toe rays,
brain sponges and gonads relaxed by the liquid song.

The Doppler ultrasound echoed our submarine
and found us one. The truth was monozygotic—
we sucked each other’s nub of thumb inside the brine.

When, headfirst, we were unceremoniously expelled,
we were halved like an egg sliced with a line of hair.
A beak plucked at the cord and knotted my navel.

Mother never speaks of you although I know
you were with me at sea. How else to understand
my panic playing hide-and-seek, the cracked canoe,

wet dreams of touching a man, waking up, a curse
crying, not knowing why, like a turtle washed ashore,
a lacquered carapace—these shimmering absences?

Love Song for Whoever You May Be

Lifting weights for you, love, though
I've no idea who you are,
I'm rowing the bend-forward row,
chinning, just, the chin-up bar.
You're a stranger, friend or foe,
Live next door, perhaps, next star.

In Pyong-yang or Paumanok,
when our eyes meet finally,
gabbing gobbledygook
my body language will not be
but, like a cover to a book,
draw you forth to open me.

We'll laugh at Sentimentalists,
softest when they act so tough,
who consider who love is
reason good enough for love,
though he may be poor or pissed,
itch with danger or dandruff.

Unlike God or saints, we love
not unconditionally,
but require a strong enough
reason, and that makes us free
to love a woman for her muff,
or a man with HIV.

So while I work on lat dorsi,
you're improving your prospect
by memorizing poetry,
that you may say to one you expect,
mortal, guilty, but to me
big and beautiful your pecs.

The Chinese Offer Fresh Food to the Dead

and now if you return to Daly City,
where he had driven you each Saturday

for five years for cheap and good dim sum,
for Metal Kuan Yin and chrysanthemum,

for sharp-clawed knuckles of stewed chicken feet,
yam cake with dark brown crust and starchy meat,

plump shrimp wrapped in scalloped dumpling skin,
you would ask for a table set for one.

for D.

My Reading at Pink Pony Last Night

Well, the reading at Pink Pony Express I was eagerly anticipating is over! Someone asked if she could find on my blog one of the poems, a question that put in my head the idea of providing the links to all the poems I read last night. The nicest compliment I received was that my poetry is "precise and beautiful." Thanks, friends, for coming out in the sleety evening. If you could not make it, here are the poems for you:

Cold Pastoral
For Lonely
If the Fire Is in Your Apartment
My father doesn't know Zeus from Zeno (from Payday Loans)
Because my mother whispers on the phone (from Payday Loans)
The Grand Historian Makes a Virtue of Necessity
Little Men
Hungry Ghosts (Part 1); Hungry Ghosts (Part 2)
Approaching Thirty-Seven
There Is No Safety in Distance

What paintings influenced Dickens?

I remember reading Great Expectations for the first time in my second week at college. (The first week was darkened by reading Bleak House, and dashing out an essay on it.) I can't remember what I wrote on Pip or Miss Havisham or Magwitch; the name I remember spelling over and over again in my best handwriting is Wemmick's. He is a man split between work and home, the public and the private, and I knew how such a split could tear up a man from inside out.

That knowledge was kept from my paper. Though my tutor's comment was appropriately kind to an undergraduate, it pointed out that I kept a polite distance from Dickens' language. I did not understand his point then. Did I not pay careful attention to what I read? Did I not cite incidents to bolster my argument? Did I not quote the speeches that damn the speakers?

Re-reading the novel makes me realize what before I overlooked, or looked right through. Dickens is a great prose stylist. Sure, the characterization, despite i…

Approaching Thirty-Seven

After leaving my ex-lover sleeping in his bed,
I think about turning thirty-seven in ten days,
and about being alone the next thirty-seven years.

There are some advantages. Give myself to poetry
giant-heartedly, undiminished by love's demands.
Give myself to the unchanging arms of casual sex.

Back home, watching my all-time favorite porn flick,
the blond college freshman tied to the hammock
begging for the fist, I take all of ten minutes.

What to do with the other minutes after that?
My dog-eared books turn their backs to me. I scrub
the common bathroom that has not been cleaned for weeks,

but the toilet bowl grins like a loser's trophy.
I'm craving dully for the next hit, the bang of sex
or the wham of sounds transposing to a clear image.

In the interval between spunk and poetry lies death.
The freshman intuits that. Which is why he begs
for the gloved fist to enter him again and again.

2007 Showcase at Poets' House

Roxanne, my publisher, is trying to get my chapbook out in time for the showcase. Go, Roxanne, go! She also sent me some information on the showcase. The Poets' House is well worth a visit, if you have not visited it before. It's a great resource for American poetry.

Saturday, March 31
The Poets House Showcase Opening Reception
Members Preview: 4:00-5:00pm
Public Reception: 5:00-7:00pm
Showcase on-view through April 30

The Poets House Showcase, an awe-inspiring display of
all of the poetry published in the United States since
last year, opens with a festive reception and the
chance to chat with fellow writers and readers about
the latest innovations in contemporary verse.

@ Poets House, 72 Spring Street, 2nd Floor
Admission Free

Tomorrow's the Launch...

...of Poets Wear Prada Press, the people publishing my chapbook, Payday Loans. The program of reading can be found here. My chief feeling now is one of gratitude. To Roxanne Hoffman who likes the work enough to publish it. To my many readers, online and off, who commented on and supported these poems as well as my other scribblings. To my teachers at Sarah Lawrence College, in particular, Stephen Dobyns and Marie Howe, who taught me what a poem is and can be. To W., who inspired, critiqued and encouraged the work. I'll be reading these three poems from the sonnet sequence:

April 5, Tuesday

Rage, as before, against the Fall, Baghdad,
the body's prick, but in a villanelle?
If style's a way of being in the world, as Good-
man says, against what does the change rebel?
The termite temple of lust, fame and friends?
World closing in like water? From the shore,
the wave outruns and picks three out of ten.
The pope died yester—, no, the day before.
So long, pope! We're still left with My…

I want my body to be a river

I want my body to be a river.
I fear it is a swamp.
I want to surge and sing and shiver,
and not to be damp.

Cleo in her Egyptian barge
flashes fire and ice.
Anthony, general and large,
doesn't step in the same river twice.

But a swamp in the tropics! How it sticks
to the conqueror's leather boots,
and croaks, "Be sympathetic!"
while the owl hoots.

Mouvements Perpetuels

after Poulenc

A stair runs down. The rain lets up.
An idea turns to brand.
Tomatoes ripening on a stalk
are plucked and canned.

A wrinkled rug. A wrinkled face.
Waves straighten on the strand.
Then I think of fucking you,
your dick in my hand.

A star burns out. A star caves in.
An aeroplane must land.
Tomatoes ripening on a stalk
are plucked and canned.

A spinning top spins to a stop.
The last song by the band.
Then I think of fucking you,
your dick in my hand.

Two Geoffreys on the English Language

Geoffrey Pullum: "I want to confess to a straightforward idiosyncratic personal linguistic preference — an aesthetic judgment, if you want to call it that. At the end I draw out a lesson from it. The confession is this: I simply hate the term person of color (along with its standard pluralization, people of color). I have never used it, and I never will. They can't make me."

Geoffrey Nunberg: "Most of my fellow linguists, in fact, would say that it is absurd even to talk about a language changing for the better or the worse. When you have the historical picture before you, and can see how Indo-European gradually slipped into Germanic, Germanic into Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Saxon into the English of Chaucer, then Shakespeare, and then Henry James, the process of linguistic change seems as ineluctable and impersonal as continental drift. From this Olympian point of view, not even the Norman invasion had much of an effect on the structure of the language, and all the tira…