Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Arnold's "Rugby Chapel"

Giving my two cents in this PFFA thread on Shelley, I was reminded of Matthew Arnold, and how much I enjoyed "Sohrab and Rustum," "Empedocles at Atena," "The Buried Life," "The Scholar-Gipsy" and that anthology piece "Dover Beach," when I read them as an undergraduate. This evening, while traveling back home on the train, I started reading "Rugby Chapel" from his Poetical Works, and finished it in the Thai restaurant near my train station. The poem, a paean to his dead father, who was a Rugby headmaster, has the moral seriousness and dramatic vividness of Arnold's best poems. From the middle of the poem:

Friends, who set forth at our side,
Falter, are lost in the storm.
We, we only are left!
With frowning foreheads, with lips
Sternly compress'd, we strain on,
On--and at nightfall at last
Come to the end of our way,
To the lonely inn 'mid the rocks;
Where the gaunt and taciturn host
Stands on the threshold, the wind
Shaking his thin white hairs--
Holds his lantern to scan
Our storm-beat figures, and asks:
Whom in our party we bring?
Whom we have left in the snow?

Arnold is a master of the linebreak. That repetition of "on" over the next line is superb, and its grim persistence is transformed into triumph in the last lines of the poem, where Arnold reaffirms his faith, through his noble father's example, in the aid of "the noble and great who are gone":

Ye fill up the gaps in our files,
Strengthen the wavering line,
Stablish, continue our march,
On, to the bound of the waste,
On, to the City of God.

"Rugby Chapel" is both a touching elegy for a father, and a rallying cry for the exhausted children of god.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Eiko and Koma's" Cambodian Stories Revisited"

The performance combined dance and painting to tell the stories of the Cambodian people. The stories, performed by an older Japanese couple, Eiko and Koma, and by a younger Cambodian pair, Charian and Peace, spoke on themes both universal, like love and old age, and also Cambodian, the sufferings under the Khmer Rouge and its legacy.

Each of the huge canvases, forming the backdrop to the open-air performance, depicted a stylized Cambodian woman with one hand raised, fingers arrested in a dance movement. The performance began with the four dancers painting one such canvas laid on the sandy ground of the church cemetery. During the performance, the dancers moved so slowly and yet so expressively that their movements seemed to aspire to the condition of painting.

I thought Koma was a particularly charismatic performer. Of the Cambodian teenagers, Charian showed such masterful control over his body that his dancing became, not gestural, but muscular.

Cambodian Stories Revisited
An Offering of Painting and Dance

Conceived and Directed by Eiko & Koma
Lighting Design by Tim Cryan with Eiko & Koma
Art works created by the Reyum Painting Collective
Music Direction by Sam-Ang Sam
Technical Direction by Tim Cryan

presented by Danspace project, in association with Asia Society
St. Mark's Church East Yard
131 East 10th Steet, New York, NY 10003

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rob Mackenzie on "Payday Loans"

Rob was nice enough to blog this about my chapbook:
I read Payday Loans, a chapbook by Jee Leong Koh, a collection of 30 sonnets. I’d read several of the poems before, but having them all between two covers revealed both the unity between them and their diversity. It’s very strong formal poetry, with energy, quick intelligence, and emotional intensity. Not to be missed.

Recording my poems for WKCR 89.9 FM

This afternoon I recorded the reading of my poems for a literary radio show called Art Waves, put out by WKCR FM New York (89.9 FM, on the net), a radio station in New York City with a daily listening audience of approximately 11 million. My reading will be a small part of the show's highlight of the new press, Poets Wear Prada. That feature will be broadcast sometime in August.

After the recording, I realized afresh how much I detest talking about my poems. Anne Fiero, the producer and interviewer, was prepared and easy to talk to, so she was not the problem. But how do you talk about your own poems on air and not come off as a pretentious prick, with a smarmy smirk? The poems are what they are, verbal artefacts, and commentary on them reduces them to paraphrase or simplifies them to abstractions. I should have been stronger, and declined talking about the poems, after reading them.

Anyway, the show is not about me but about Roxanne's demanding baby, so I am glad to contribute something to the establishment of her press. Other literary magazines/presses featured on Art Waves include Rattapallax Press, The Rose & Thorn, Watchword Press and The First Line, and so the show cannot do Poets Wear Prada much harm.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Payday Loans" in NY LGBT Center Library

Roxanne, my publisher, has sent 4 copies of my chapbook to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered center library in New York City. So, my future scholars and biographers, you may find the yellowed, unthumbed books wedged in between "The Sexiest Gay Poems of 1968" and "What's So Gay about Poetry?", stashed in some shelf too high to reach except on a stepladder which is of course not available, in a corner of the room of

The Pat Parker/Vito Russo Center Library
LGBT Community Center
208 West 13th Street
New York, NY 10011

John Marcus Powell's "Summer Stories"

The Friday before last John Marcus read at Pink Pony a tremendous poem about men who have sex with horses. Inspired by the film "Zoo," the poem was not prurient but delicate. Yesterday he read "Summer Stories," the third part of which offers a different take on the Iragi war.

3. Summer in Iraq

bombs to tear the limbs off males
who used to like to wear high heels
when they had toes to their dear feet

the explosion in the road
to sever the tendons of the lady driver
who liked a good tobacco in her pipe

Know who to look for within the cemetery
Certain military graves contain the remains of men dubbed 'sissy'
the handsome skeletons of brainy dikes

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Auden's "Fleet Visit"

Fleet Week in NYC: ships parked in the harbor, sailors roaming the quays, the streets, the bars. Here's a less well-known poem by Auden, "Fleet Visit," written for a very different context (which has some resonance for these days), American projection of power after World War II.

Fleet Visit

The sailors come ashore
Out of their hollow ships.
Mild-looking middle-class boys
Who read the comic strips;
One baseball game is more
To them than fifty Troys.

They look a bit lost, set down
In this unamerican place
Where natives pass with laws
And futures of their own;
They are not here because
But only just-in-case.

The whore and ne'er-do-well
Who pester them with junk
In their grubby ways at least
Are serving the Social Beast;
They neither make nor sell--
No wonder they get drunk.

But the ships on the dazzling blue
Of the harbor actually gain
From having nothing to do;
Without a human will
To tell them whom to kill
Their structures are humane

And, far from looking lost,
Look as if they were meant
To be pure abstract design
By some master of pattern and line,
Certainly worth every cent
Of the millions they must have cost.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bob Hart's "Acrobat"

I posted Bob's "To a She or a General They" a couple of weeks ago. Last Friday, I bought his poetry book, Acrobat, and really enjoyed the warmth and wit that suffuse his poems. Bob and I are going to read one another's poems at the Pink Pony open-mic this Friday. I have decided to read the perfect little poem, "Warm," which not only displays that wit, but also conveys Bob's gift for observation and his spirit of adventure.

"Warm" by Bob Hart

The warm blood of the walrus;
his frost filled whiskers and his syrupy eyes:
swimming, he butts the ice.
The warm blood of the polar bear,
white like butter across the starwhite wastes:
emerged from the transparent splash
he can run or sleep in snow,
his vapored breath an aura round his mouth
like our planet's air against sub-zero space.

I like these guys.
I'd like to play one in a movie.
Inspector Walrus.
Cool but kind in an embittering world.
No day's work with him
without some smile.
Or the other fellow. Plump with twinkly eyes.
Just came in from
captaining a couple of light years flight
asking if you'd
rather have tea or whiskey.

Monday, May 21, 2007

SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century

I finished reading SQ21 while traveling to and from Babylon on Sunday, where I read as a feature in Pisces Cafe. The stories of these gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women are at once ordinary and extraordinary. I wished such a book had been published earlier; the book might have helped me pluck up the courage to come out earlier in my life.

Particularly moving to me is Sheila Rajamanikam's story. Her butch girlfriend was beaten up and gang-raped by a group of men before her eyes in the 1980's, near Orchard Road, the commercial and entertainment heart of Singapore. Sheila also spoke of the honey-traps, policemen posing as gay to entrap gay men in bars. In her account, lesbians and gay men were much closer back then, since the community was much smaller and even less accepted than now. Lesbians would go to the Croc, the oldest lesbian bar in Singapore, on the 4th floor of Far East Shopping Center. "You cannot write about lesbian history without writing about Crocodile Rock," says Sheila.

It is a history, lesbian or gay, that I do not know at all. I would like to find out more about it, but at the same time I am dissuaded by its parochialism. The brief history of a tiny minority group on an island-nation. What is it to me? It calls to me with all the force of home, but the heart is a lonely hunter. Still, I'm glad that a snatch of that history is recorded in this book, compiled by Ng Yi-sheng and edited by Jason Wee.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Discussion on Keats' Negative Capability

After a few kneejerk reactions, this PFFA thread is developing into an interesting discussion about what Keats meant when he said he hated poetry that has a design on the reader, and about the necessity of considering the reader in one's writing. There are also side comments on Damien Hurst, T. S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Hopkins and Yeats.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jay Chollick's "Finding the Refuge"

Jay is another regular at the Pink Pony Express open-mic at Cornelia Street Cafe. Bald, bespectacled, atheistic, Jewish, he is a visual artist who has turned to writing poetry late in life. From the start his poetry impresses me with its intellectual muscle, its rhetorical flights and its mixture of ornate and colloquial diction. Last night at Cornelia, he read an eloquent, moving prayer for survival, for all of us.

Finding the Refuge

Look back--ahead--the place
is dense
but we are forced
through creeping almost blind,
to move, we've seen
too much. Is there, away
from the world's
appalling room, a quiet

Spot--some place
of weakened energy--to lie,
sink down upon, is there
a hill; a water sound;
and muscled with
light twittering, is there a tree,
a massive twig
to catch the tearing of our shadows
on, does it

Exist? A place
of deep forgetfulness, where,
braided into greenery the skull
is hushed; and where,
to the quiet vapor of the mind
a herd in dappled movement
comes, we know
at last, snout-intimate, the breath,
the antler

Slowly forming--we know
the deer--sink down with it--the
priceless eden
claiming us--No more

Of torment, the offended skin,
a liquid-boned Hiroshima--and slime
Napoleons, they've
disappeared--and oil! religious
rot! the trundled wagons
of the plague--we sit here

Smooth. And on the ardent
patch, where only love, like lightning
to the retina, is seen, we give
a massive hug
to elephants--how could
we not? We draw such ceaseless

From the tusk

A tree "muscled with light twittering" is more than a turn of phrase; it is a new vision of a tree that a tree hardly understands. "Snout-intimate" makes me feel a new kind of closeness. The world's horrors are renamed: a liquid-bone Hiroshima, slime Napoleons, the trundled wagons of plagues, old and new. And then, that marvellous transformation of the "massive twig" into the "tusk" of the elephant we massively hug.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Turner as the link

Matisse, on his honeymoon in London, made his pilgrimage to view the Turners in the National Gallery. As Spurling puts it, "For Matisse,...Turner was a link between the present and the past, a way of reconciling the traditional realism of his native North with the lure of pure color which already beckoned him so fiercely. He described Turner's impact nearly fifty years later, at a moment when his own recovery from a near-fatal operation had made the world once again look fresh and sparkling. It is Matisse's most brilliant evocation in words of a window opening on a new world, a period of radiant bliss after unhappiness and self-denial." (Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, p. 156)

And what were those words?

Matisse: "It is always a good thing to begin with renunciation, to impose a regime of abstinence on yourself from time to time. Turner lived in a cellar. Once a week he had the shutters suddenly flung open, and then what incandescence! what dazzlement! what jewels!"

Tension between realism and pure color. Abstinence and release. Energy, energy, energy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Hungry Ghosts" pub. in "Boxcar Poetry Review"

The May issue of Boxcar Poetry Review is up. Do check it out. Here's Neil Aiken, the editor, on the issue:

A wide range of elegies; explorations of the complexity of love, of family, and of goodbyes; the problems of fate and portents; loss and return; what we leave behind. In this issue we walk through Buddhist hell, lose fathers and teachers, question, doubt, and sometimes believe. Arthur Westover's stunning photography once again accompanies our journey. We also are treated to a great interview with Oliver de la Paz conducted by Diana Park, and Tatiana Forero Puerta reviews Sally Bell's Annus Mirabilis.


* Jeffrey Alfier: "Last Words to an Old Miner Leaving Albuquerque"
* Jon Ballard: "Trees Make Me Think of Other Things"
* Pris Campbell: "Undertow"
* Heather Green: "Valentine's Day at the SF MOMA, Again"
* Rachel Eliza Griffiths : "Wake for Memory"
* Jee Leong Koh: "Hungry Ghosts"
* Ted McCarthy: "Lines with a Latin Dictionary"
* Rhonda Mino-Melanson: "Memories and Condolences"
* Tolu Ogunlesi: "On Reading 'A Wedding in Hell' by Charles Simic"
* Doug Ramspeck: "Oneiromancy"
* Sam Rasnake: "This is not my testament"
* Yun Wang: "Space Journal: Day Dreams"
* Joe Wilkins: "North Carolina By Greyhound: First Christmas After the Funeral"


* "Obsession, Grace, and the Second Book: An Interview with Oliver de la Paz" ~ Diana Park


* "Sally Ball's Annus Mirabilis - Logical Affect" ~ Tatiana Forero Puerta


* Arthur Westover: "Field" and "Walkway"

This issue is dedicated to my father Kenneth George Aitken (1947-2007), who passed away last month on April 21 from ALS. Although most of you never met him, he was a staunch supporter of this journal and of literature in general, and provided much encouragement at the onset of this endeavor. In fact, I wouldn't be here without his love for poetry -- as a young man he wooed my mother with poetry :)

We are currently behind schedule on the anthology, but are back to working on the layout and should have copies for sale at the end of June or beginning of July.

"Payday Loans" now in Select Bookstore

If you are in Singapore, you can now pick up a copy of my poetry chapbook from Select Bookstore, in Tanglin Shopping Center. The bookstore specializes in South-east Asian books on a whole range of topics, from science to social issues, from law to literature.

"Dark Ride" at Leslie Lohman

What is the difference between erotic art and pornography, I wondered as I wandered in Leslie Lohman gallery, viewing the PRIDE-month art show "Dark Ride: A Noctural Journey into the World of Erotic Desire." Part of me wanted to smash any divider between the two, the implicit hierarchy, the false compartmentalization. At the exhibition, I saw many artworks there that must have an erotic charge for the artist, and for those who are attracted to particular physical types--the bear, the androgynous boy, the goth--but have none for me who's not attracted to that type. For me, those artworks failed because they did not show me what was erotic about the figure I would have found unattractive in real life or in porn. They did not do the work of art: to seduce the viewer by its vision and method.

In fact, many of the works on view merely reproduced images, poses and activities familiar in porn. They were shockingly intimate, but they were not personal, in Matisse's sense of the word when he wrote to Roux:

You're interested in nature? Right? Why? Because of this or that. Put it into what you do. And you are already an original artist. That's the trick. But be personal above all, and for that you must be honest.

If you were as good as Holbein, you wouldn't exist yourself, you'd be nothing but his double. It would be better to paint a bit of water, a willow and a fine sky (like Corot) with feeling than to make yet another variation on the most beautiful Leonardo. (Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, p. 129)

I did like some pieces there. Michael Souter's "Narcissist" 2006 (mixed media on paper) painted a boy behind a window and filmy, starry curtains, thereby enticing the viewer with the erotism of half-concealment. In Michael L. Scott's "Football Celebration" 2001 (paint on plywood), joy, uncorked like the champagne, was palpable from the 6 football players composed tightly round a central figure fucked from behind by another player. Jeff Hengst's "Downward Dog" 2005 (oil on board) was one of the few more abstract works in a show dominated by realist figuration. In push-up position, arched into an upside-down V, the body was painted in rich, subtle flesh tones. The background, however, was slapdash white. The contrasts in color and brushstroke were striking.

My friend, Kevin Maxwell, contributed one head portrait to the show. The purple in the background re-appeared in the man's face, creating the impression that he had just emerged, like a dark creature, out of the shadows. His right side was so dark that it appeared like a cavern of an eye-socket. It was a strong picture.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Virgin Visit to Nuyorican

I paid $10 to this burly man, and passed through a metal door set in a wall. I was in Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It was dimly lit, a loft, or more like a garage-turned-gallery. A small bar stood almost immediately to the right of the entrance. Pepe tended the bar that night, and lent me a pen when I needed one later. He also came to my table to ask for the pen back, when I forgot my promise to return it. A glass of red wine cost $4.

I was here because a beautiful plump Mexican girl handed me a slip of paper at Cornelia Street Cafe last Friday, and asked me to read here on Sunday night. The slip gave the details of the open mic, Poetry in Any Language.

Ricardo emceed and signed me on as a reader. A girl on stage was reading something in French. She was very dramatic; I didn't understand a word she said. Then she read a second piece which she prefaced by saying that it was a story about a rape. During that reading, she kept forming a triangle with her hands around her crotch. Each time she did that, an old man hurrahed from the bar. I learnt later that he was the founder and owner of the cafe.

The only other Asian in the room was a Japanese. We spoke during the break, in English. She came to NYC as a student, got married here, and then stayed. After the break, she read a haiku from her sister's poetry collection; I didn't understand a word she said.

Most of the other readers read in Spanish. A couple of the younger Latinos, and the beautiful Latino girl whose name was Maria, read two poems, one in Spanish, the other in English; a boy with a mop of black curls read as his second poem a Bukowski, about a torn shoelace. The old ones outnumbered the young. The young ones were excited, flushed, eager for attention and praise. The old ones were eager for praise too, but they read as themselves. One woman read with such pleasure that it did not matter I didn't understand a word she said.

In the first round, I read "Cheeks" and "Fingernails." They liked them a lot, and applauded very warmly. After the break, I read "Brother" and "Supper at le Monde." The applause was noticeably cooler. After hearing a young Latino play his guitar and sing his poem, I left the cafe. Pepe was sitting on a water hydrant just outside, smoking. He smiled and said good-bye too.

International Fine Art Fair 2007

I visited an art fair of this scale for the first time on Sunday. The fair was held in the Park Avenue Armory, the interior of which reminded me more of a very plush officers' club than of any weapon stash.

The Impressionists and Post-impressionists were strongly represented at the fair: Pissaro, Bonnard, Vuillard, Vlaminck, Renoir, Sisley. There was a large cubist Picasso that I did not like very much. A lovely Copley half-portrait of a stiff-backed woman dressed and hooded in black, her eyes glittering out of a noble face. Several Roaul Duffys, with their sketch-like figures standing at the pier, or shouting from the spectator stands of a racecourse. The English painters represented at the fair were largely forgettable: too much fact and not enough vision. I also found myself losing interest in the Chagalls, which suffered from the reverse problem.

I really liked the Andrew Wyeth watercolors. One of a cush-saw standing in the center, in front of a clapboard house. The red flowers below the saw gave the sharptoothed machine a romantic tinge. Another painting was of a dormer window opened on top of a roof, below a sky about to rain. A third is a lovely landscape with the most delicate grasses along a river. I can't find any of these online, so here's one titled "Bradford House."

Wearing tee-shirt and jeans, I was probably under-dressed among the suited and tied, but that did not bother me. I guess that's the power of a buyer, even when this buyer has no power to buy anything.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cheek by Jowl's "Cymbeline"

The performance last night played for laughs and plumbed the depths. At times I was not certain which response was called for, an uncertainty characteristic, I think, of Shakespeare's late romances. For laughs only: flanked by his sidekicks, wielding a microphone, Cloten wooed Imogen like the pretty leader of a boy's band; the Britons celebrated their victory over the Roman invaders by launching into a conga line.

And then there was that scene in which Imogen woke up from the drug that gave her the appearance of death, and discovered a body beside her, then its blood, then its lack of head, and then its garment which belonged to her husband, Posthumus. Her willingness to believe that the headless corpse must be Posthumus' echoed her husband's readiness to believe her infidelity. And both were wrong. Imogen's mistake dashes the hope expressed in my poem, "Head": the lover may identify the headless body wrongly for reasons to do with love, and the consequent fear of abandonment. We are all too ready to believe that our worst fears have come true.

The production made imaginative use of space. Characters often spoke to each other from different sides of the stage. To hide from Cymbeline standing center, Posthumus and Imogen bade each other farewell from opposite sides of the stage front. When Cymbelline discovered the true identities of Guiderius and Arviragus, he presented his sons to his subjects by facing the back wall of the stage as if he was standing on a balcony. BAM Harvey theater, with its exposed brick walls and scaffoldings, is an excellent visual analogy for Shakespeare's re-examination of the repertoire of theatrical tricks: disguises, love test, sleep potion, mistaken identities, dream scene, deus ex machina.

I don't know if it's traditional to cast the same person in the roles of Posthumus and Cloten, but the choice of Tom Hiddleston as both lovers, one heroic, the other clownish, was inspired. The role-switches were utterly convincing, aided by the simple device of a pair of glasses. Pisanio, Posthumus' faithful man, was played with genuine feeling by an adorable blonde called Richard Cant. Both Jodie McNee as Imogen and Guy Flanagan as Iachimo delivered their speeches in a distractingly staccato manner, the former with outsized hand gestures that struck key words out of the ballpark.

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
Cheek by Jowl

Directed by Declan Donnellan
Designed by Nick Omerod

Queen--Gwendoline Christie
Posthumus/Cloten--Tom Hiddleston
Imogen--Jodie McNee
Cymbeline--David Collings
Pisanio--Richard Cant
Iachimo--Guy Flanagan
Caius Lucius--Laurence Spellman
Cornelius--Jake Harders
Helen--Lola Peploe
Belarius--Ryan Ellsworth
Guideruis--John Macmillan
Arviragus--Daniel Percival

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I have a thing

I have a thing for straight white boys,
but they don't have a thing
for me, therefore, what furious joys
I sing, I sing, I sing.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hilary Spurling's "The Unknown Matisse"

Why do I read biographies of artists? I'm looking for the springs of creativity, the shape of a life compromised by art, the motto on a fraying tapestry, the encouragement of success. I want to believe that, walking on this road, if I would hurry up, I could catch up with Matisse, and walk companionably with him, talking when either of us feels like it, but silent most of the time, in a kind of shared understanding. Here is Bohain: here is Singapore, and we are going somewhere together.

Of his portraits, Matisse said, "To sum up, I work without a theory. I am aware primarily of the forces involved, and find myself driven forward by an idea which I can really only grasp little by little as it grows with the picture."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stein's "The Good Anna"

The language in this short story is plain and sturdy, like the good Anna herself, a German woman who lived to serve, to manage and scold her big and helpless mistresses. The repetition of sentences, almost word for word, serves as the verbal equivalent of the moral touchstones that Anna lived by to be good. Through repetition, the simple diction gains the fervency of commitment, and the mystery of constancy.

Part 1:
Anna led an arduous and troubled life (5).
You see that Anna led an arduous and troubled life (7).
You see that Anna led an arduous and troubled life (14).

Part 2:
The widow Mrs. Lehntman was the romance in Anna's life (23).
Remember, Mrs. Lehntman was the romance in Anna's life (26).
Mrs. Lehntman was the only romance Anna ever knew. (42).
But what could our poor Anna do? Remember Mrs. Lehntman was the only romance Anna ever knew (44).

When the exposition on friendship and love comes, it comes with a eloquence powered by the directness before and after it:
In friendship, power always has its downward curve. One's strength to manage rises always higher until there comes a time one does not win, and though one may not really lose, still from the time that victory is not sure, one's power slowly ceases to be strong. It is only in a close tie such as marriage, that influence can mount and grow always stronger with the years and never meet with a decline. It can only happen when there is no way to escape.

Friendship goes by favour. There is always danger of a break or of a stronger power coming in between. Influence can only be a steady march when one can surely never break away.

Anna wanted Mrs. Lehntman very much and Mrs. Lehntman needed Anna, but there was always other ways to do and if Anna had once given up she might so do again, so why should Mrs. Lehntman have real fear?

No, while the good Anna did not come to open fight she had been stronger. Now Mrs. Lehntman could always hold out longer. She knew too, that Anna had a feeling heart. Anna could never stop doing all she could for any one that really needed help. Poor Anna had no power to say no.

And then, too, Mrs Lehntman was the only romance Anna ever know. Romance is the ideal in one's life and it is very lonely living with it lost. (45)

I love prose that gropes for the almost inaudible vibrations of the human heart. In Stein's prose is the heartbreak of the all-too-certain, all-too-clear.

* page numbers from Signet Classics edition of Three Lives and Tender Buttons.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I have a call number

A couple of weeks ago, I sent a copy of my chapbook to the library of my MFA College, Sarah Lawrence, and today I came home to a nice thank-you note from them. More, they sent me a photocopy of the library record of my book, showing my very own call number. So if you visit the Esther Raushenbush Library, you should find Payday Loans at PS3611.04 P39 2007. Total cool.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


I am re-working the sequence, "There Is No Safety in Distance," into a chapbook collection of songs instead. Force-fitting the poems into a numbered sequence was a wrong idea, I think, since the sequence has little logical development. The poems may work better in a looser form, a kind of anthology in which each is complete by itself, though related in theme and imagery to others.

Using a method explained in the poem itself, I wrote a last poem for that collection.

Dies is a last word of my songs:
and headstone, colder, sea,
hoots, then dead, before very long,
and then the end of me.

The dizzy body calls, more wine,
the dimming soul, burn, blood.
Although in time they intertwine,
in time they stand, then stood.

In time they bark, and then they bite.
In time body and soul
fashion the other into bait,
fish in the gloryhole.

Cowards die many times before their death,
so death to Cowardice!
--except this coward feels his breath
quicken each time he dies.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bob Hart's "To a She or a General They"

Bob Hart is a regular reader at the Pink Pony Express open-mic, a reading series in the Village. A tall, gaunt, grey-haired man, Bob is always courteous in a way that strikes me as old-worldly. His poems are philosophical in approach, meditative in tone, and the best of them achieve a sweet gravity. I heard him read "To a She" 2 weeks ago, and loved it. Bob was kind enough to handwrite a copy for me, and to give me permission to share it on my blog.

To a She or a General They

There's less a barrier
between you and me today
than there was yesterday
--maybe a few minutes ago--
perhaps because space or I
am more alive.
I am not less evil I'm afraid
though I'd love to be good
which is to say
I'd love to treat you with the pure respect
affinity considers it should tender
to softness and loftiness
clothed in the pride beyond body.
I shouldn't make you
less than you
nor even for my power's and my
pleasure's sake should I
be less than me.
But my being evilly
less than myself
might please you were you
less than yourself
or vast enough to dive from pride
and rise again to goddess.
I could begin the thought I thought
not say that you
are unlike anyone in this or
any other universe (although you
may be) only
that, as I said, there's less a barrier
between the I and you today;
no matter why
if you have gained in beingness
and so have I.
This makes the world a finer thing--
each silver sun on leaf or silver
more delectable.
Call this a voice from deeper well
whose other voices yours or mine
need not disturb us now (nor how
as white light prisms into hues
that you bright center prism into
multiples and magnitudes
of moods nor
how thickly many--seen or unseen--
there might be
nor how again
the order of their colorings

Many beautiful things in this poem, not least the negatives (nor, not, no, un-) which not only discriminate and qualify, but also embody the "less" of barrier.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Cain and Abel

reworking "Leda and the Swan"

His brother leaning back on him, he clasps
him with his thighs, works up the leather, lithe
languorous giving, quickening to gasps
familiar. The corn stands tall. He weighs his scythe.

How can the heart spluttering the same blood wash
and tell the knives apart, which passion, Cain?
How can rough shepherd hands pull out the gash
in the man writhing under thorn-shaped pain?

A jealous seizure spawns a city, a look-out,
a king and other castes--Lamech the brave,
music and metal-making sons. He slumps
Abel on his bronzed back and tramps about.
A raven scratches the ground. Cain digs a grave,
tosses in sand. Toes sprout, and wings, white stumps.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Brent Goodman's "Wrong Horoscope"

I traded chapbooks with Brent Goodman, and what a good trade it turned out to be for me. I like many poems in Wrong Horoscope, my favorites being “The Walt Whitman Construction Project,” “Garage Sale Answering Machine,” and the title poem.

Quite a number of the poems happen at a real or symbolic road junction. In the opening poem, “Commute,” the speaker approaches the city “through an interchange of horn blast and brake light.” After visiting deep America, with its prairie, thunderheads and birdsong, the speaker returns to Atlantic City “the way blood must return to the mind, in tides/ and intersections, this dull push into the smallest capillary.” If “smallest capillary” gives a sense of diminishment, the Walt Whitman suspension bridge provides the hope of connecting past experience and present home, of maintaining connections with the “living crowd.”

In contrast with the exhilarations of travel, and the heightened moment at an intersection, the house, or home, is usually pictured as temporary or empty or bleak. So, in “Commute,” the speaker’s entire family has taken up residence “in a depression/ -era office building downtown and now roam the gray halls.” For the man suffering from “Amnesia,” “night surrounds the house with its fathoms/ of dark.” His house shattered by looters, the speaker in “Emancipation Day: Negril” can hope for, at most, “a rented cabin.” In “Garage Sale Answering Machine,” the recorded voice is compared to “this haunting smoke/ hanging in the door jambs,” a voice that follows the speaker round the house, “filling [his] hollow cupboards.”

The certain disappointments of home and the uncertain hopes of travel: this tension is exploited most movingly in the title poem. The poem, in the voice of a horoscope writer who has to correct errors made in his predictions, begins comically and then shifts to a much darker key:

Aries, an older person is getting irritated. Act now
or risk promotion. And Leo; sweet, angry Leo, I hope
it’s not too late: the stranger arriving by train,
the one from far away I thought would help manifest
one of your talents, the one I thought might finally
love you—Leo, stay in your car, turn the car around,
steer yourself home; the stars are not right, his intentions
misaligned—deep in his pockets he carried the one
sharp key which will open all the wrong doors.

Brent Goodman blogs at "the brother swimming beneath me."