Monday, April 30, 2007

Hips

Tonight I feel less lonely than last night.
No, I’m not with friends
nor am I in bed with a stranger.
I don’t have a date this weekend.

I’m walking in my immigrant neighborhood
who has just come home from a long Monday at the shop or the factory,
and is now feeding the children dinner,
looks forward to a bit of TV,

then hits the sack. It is a sweet exhaustion,
and sweeter still, the man on the sidewalk
who whistles
to the girl leaning out from her bedroom window,

and still sweeter,
the men drinking, not one talking, in bars playing the salsa or the merengue,
whose iron thighs have softened
to hips.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Genet's "Miracle of the Rose" 2

No, I have lost in advance. I shall therefore voice my love. I now trust only in the beauty of my song (147).

*

I don't know much about Evil, but we must indeed have been angels to remain poised above our own crimes. The gravest insult among toughs--it is very often punished by death--is the word "cocksucker," and Bulkaen had chosen to be precisely what that vilest of words designates. He had even decided that it would be what was most personal, most precious in his life, since in prison he was first of all, before being a crasher, a pal, a "regular guy,"--and though he was all that--he was first of all "a guy who gives a blow-job." When you saw him, with his usual scowl of disgust, spit the words "little fag" at a jerk, you would never have thought that he himself was a chicken. Thus, there do exist fellows who voluntarily, and out of choice, are, in their heart of hearts, what is expressed by the most scurrilous insult, which they use to humiliate their opponents. Bulkaen was an angel for managing to maintain his balance so elegantly above his abjectness (149).

*

Music is the approval of action. It is joyous and drunk when it approves drama (155).

*

The author of a beautiful poem is always dead (191).

Finger-nails

If you will not sleep with me, let’s talk about the soul.
I think the soul is what the body imagines as its opposite.
When the body feels like a cut flower, it imagines the soul a diamond.
When the body drags like an animal, it imagines the soul air.

This is probably false but certainly more benevolent
than thinking of them as opponents—
the body as a threshing floor for the soul’s harvest,
or the soul an interrogator of the body’s secrets.

Some question the idea of a soul, or the need,
They are usually naïve materialists and I confess
I’ve said one or two things, in the past, that sounded like their creed,
but tonight I prefer to think

of the soul as the finest sensations of the body,
not just an idea but the poem of its height, length and breadth,
the first kiss,
the finger-nails, on which the body contemplates its death.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mimesis Issue 1 Spring 2007

Came home and found my contributer's copy of Mimesis, a new poetry journal edited by James AL Midgley. It looks very professional: good paper, clean typesetting, quirky drawings. My poems "Blowjob," "Pedestrian," "Underground and Above" and "Taproot" appear in it. You can purchase a copy online. Please do!

The Bowels Sweet and Clean

An enema is not an enigma
for the constipated or the finicky.
The careful scholar knows its etymology (“injection,” from Greek),
the costive lover its entry.

The Fleet version comes in a twin pack,
with Easy Squeeze technology.
The pre-lubricated Comfortip
slips into me.

Why do I now think I need a monobasic sodium phosphate cleaning,
you ask amusedly.
I look at your sunburn, your hard hands, your hard cock,
and say slowly, to be fucked by the bourgeoisie.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Broad Breast-front

My friend M showed me her haiku on being dazzled by a mirror:
sunlight blinds the sight
flash off a polished surface
golden circles float


Trained by writing workshops to seek the specific
as a sign of the real and of truth-telling,
I asked her why she wrote sight, instead of eyes,
and polished surface, instead of mirror.

She said the eyes can see the mirror, or hubcap, or broad breast-front,
only past the flash
dazzled by the sun the eyes
fail to see to see


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jean Genet’s "Miracle of the Rose"

How to begin to describe a book that is reading me rather than the other way round? In every cell of Fontevrault prison, in its stone yards, in the stairwell where Genet and Bulkaen talk, and then exchange their intimate letters, constrained life speaks to constrained life, criminal activities—burglary, prostitution, murder—are haloed with an aura simultaneously piercing and muted, more piercing than martyred arrows and more muted than monkish holiness.

In the intensity of Genet’s vision, the chain of a condemned child-killer flowers into a garland, Harcamone is transfigured into Christ.

Harcamone dropped his arms, and the chain hung in front of him, below his belt. He walked out of the cell. As sunflowers turn to the sun, our faces turned and our bodies pivoted without our even realizing that our immobility had been disturbed, and when he moved toward us, with short steps, like the women of 1910 in hobble skirts, or the way he himself danced the Java, we felt a temptation to kneel or at least to put our hands over our eyes, out of decency. He had no belt. He had no socks. From his head—or from mine—came the roar of an airplane engine. I felt in all my veins that the miracle was under way. But the fervor of our admiration and the burden of saintliness which weighed on the chain that gripped his wrists—his hair had had time to grow and the curls had matted over his forehead with the cunning cruelty of the twists of the crown of thorns—caused the chain to be transformed before our scarcely astonished eyes into a garland of white flowers. The transformation began at the left wrist, which it encircled with a bracelet of flowers, and continued along the chain, from link to link, to the right wrist. Harcamone kept walking, heedless of the prodigy. The guards saw nothing abnormal. I was holding at that moment the pair of scissors with which, once a month, we were allowed, each in turn, to cut our fingernails and toenails. I was therefore barefooted. I made the same movement that religious fanatics make to seize the hem of a cloak and kiss it. I took two steps, with my body bent forward and the scissors in my hand, and I cut off the loveliest rose, which was hanging by a supple stem near his left wrist. The head of the rose fell on my bare foot and rolled on the pavestones among the dirty curls of cut hair. I picked it up and raised my enraptured face, just in time, to see the horror stamped on that of Harcamone, whose nervousness had been unable to resist that sure prefiguration of his death.

A passage like this, and there are many more such terrifying and beautiful passages in the 76 pages I have read so far, gives me courage to pursue a singular vision, a dark light, a place inaccessible to irony. Its beauty is the beauty of Lear crying, “Never, never, never, never, never,” an affirmation of the negative. It forces this realization on me: I am that barefooted religious fanatic whose deepest impulse is to worship, and not to understand, to debase myself and not to stand.

Man-balls

That Beauty has a body is something all horny boys know.
Sore in reading rooms,
I pored over Greek vases, Roman stone, Renaissance masterpieces in flesh tones,
sought the god and fell for him in film.

As Ripley, Matt marks, fucks and kills young men in Italy.
He wants to live like them—
frescoed villas, grapes, fragile women, jazz weekend in Capri—
to flower in the stones of Venice, to live.

Desire selects him: the blond hair, blue eyes, boy-next-door breed.
Most masculine flower,
the tulip curves in classic line, raises a pedestal crowned with stigma-lips
and slips to a bulb, round and hard as nut.

I read the other day curators had to dry semen splashed between the tulip-thighs
of the Berberini faun (daemonic stone!).
The wanker must have been pockmarked and poor,
having blown it all on a budget tour.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Monday, April 23, 2007

Elbow-socket

His back is bent like an elbow,
except the spine has no socket.

A clothes hanger thrust in the back
of a beige coat with no pocket.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Brathwaite's "The Zea Mexican Diary"


My first Brathwaite read, The Zea Mexican Diary records the author's responses to the death of his wife from cancer. The diary includes "nine extracts from a diary Kamau Brathwaite started when he learned that his wife was terminally ill, nine extracts from letters he wrote to his sister Mary Morgan in an attempt to open lines of communication across the breach created by Doris's suffering and death, a statement written by the author on the night of her death and read at her Thanksgiving service by Edward Baugh, and a letter written by Ayama, which is interwoven with the author's meditations on the words and the Thanksgiving service that ocassioed them" (Foreword, by Sandra Pouchet Paquet).

Doris Monica seemed to have given her life to supporting Brathwaite's scholarship and poetry. Before she died, she completed a bibliography of B's works, and B was editing that bibliography on the night of her death, and so was absent from the end. In the most moving section of the book, titled Middle Passages, B wrote of his editing work in the days leading up to her death:

-and my working on this Bib became my life - kind of - not only because I had promised her, but because it was her work & therefore her life that I was dealing with esp since it was her life dealing with my life - if you see what I mean - and the routine of doing it & checking it etc etc etc became like a steadying creative effort for me (a loveline lifeline) & I began to tell myself that as long as I was doing this - for her - she wdn't - cdn't - somehow - die - [the first time I was perhaps consciously using the word] - & I had just I suspect dotted the last i of it that night - when she died - w/ the computer room in darkness xcept for the old black anglepoise & no clock in the room up there

At a number of points in the book, B defended himself against the charge of relatives and critics that he accepted too readily this self-immolation on Doris' part. His defense was that Doris chose this way willingly; she believed in the value of his writing, and so, it was implied, the value of her support for him. The book records B's articulate appreciation for Doris' support but gives little sense of what Doris had to sacrifice.

The most poignant moment of Middle Passages comes in Section 7. I have not tried to copy B's use of full alignment and delicate font to give a sense of the unreality of the scene.

[i went in several times – kept going in & going back out again & again –
crushed & reduced like something in a fist – like something in a fist of sp-
ace i walked upon – no hard – no smooth – no earth – no Mary’s wooden floor…

…(on) my naked feet/ i feel the clicks the stones the thorns the plimplar & the weed
(s) cutting me & catching at me as i toil & toil towards her w/out moving as
she moves/ as i move forward as she does not move & so is near & dear & dis

tant as my sister’s candle & its shadows that like softly wash her face w/ ripp
le fingers/ & in my knuckle hands/ gripped in my empty fist this iron bar of
cold & guilt of being absent from this place when she was present in it/ pass
from it needing/ calling out for absent me that never now & ever was her

love her lover…

The "iron bar" metaphor is unexpected, and gives the scene an uneasy menace, not to the dead for the dead is beyond danger, but the menace of grief and guilt to oneself. The objectification (in that iron bar) of the self-centered emotions saves the emotions from being self-centered.

Wrist and Wrist-joints

The sports-watch you left in my room two Sundays ago
beeped every five minutes.
I pressed all its buttons and it stopped.
Then it beeped again.

In the same manner your wrist pulsed
in my memory's thumb
as I masturbated my trick B in the dance club’s church belfry;
pulsed; stopped; then it pulsed again

in the same manner as the gun
that kept going off at Virginia Tech,
stopped to scan a room, swagger to the next, or think a crazy thought,
then it kept going,

with this one difference that your watch,
an intricate piece of electronics,
for no reason to do with me,
stopped beeping finally.



Plan for this poem-in-progress

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Lung-Sponges

At the Easter vigil in St. Luke-in-the-Field,
where my friend Y was to be confirmed,
I saw for the first time in my life
more men than women in a church.

A gay-friendly church.
As in children-welcoming.
Or dogs-permitting.
Yes, I am hostile to the Church.

It wasn’t always like this.
Two years ago, when Y was getting baptized,
the music was soft as feathers and powerful as wings,
and carried back a young man yearning to die and rise again.

No young man came up to my pew in St. Luke.
So I punished him.
How could you have loved
God who killed by water, stuffing noses, mouths and lungs?


How could you have trusted
God who saved the Jews and drowned the Egyptians,
then sided with the Christians against the Jews,
then beheaded Catholics for not being Protestants?


I did not stay for the Eucharist. I did not talk to my friend Y.
My missing young man frightens me
for I know he lurks,
perhaps round the corner of the church.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Thursday, April 19, 2007

André Aciman’s "Call Me By Your Name"


The novel is a Proustian endeavor to remember a lost passion. Adolescent Elio falls in love with the young scholar, Oliver, a summer guest at his parents’ home on the Italian Riviera, and eventually finds Oliver returning his passion. The end of summer dictates the end of the relationship and, after a final fling in Rome, Oliver returns to the States, marries and has two children.

I think the middle and last parts of the novel are stronger than the first. In the first, the other characters, such as Elio’s parents, never really come into focus. The use of Oliver’s customary curt reply “Later!” as a kind of leitmotif, perhaps modeled on Vinteuil’s musical phrase in Proust, becomes a little tiresome. The parry-and-thrust of flirtation and courtship is not particularly original.

In the last part, the description of a book launch party in Rome, and the characters that flock to the event, is rich and deft. We see the author, a Poet, hungry for praise and hiding that hunger in vain. We see the Poet’s long-suffering wife. When Elio meets Oliver years after that weekend in Rome, the encounter provokes some fine meditations on memory: Elio feels as distant from his younger self, as he does from his ex-lover. Tokens from that past—a postcard, Oliver’s shirt—become talismans for bridging the gap, but also reminders of what could have been.

I am most drawn to the middle part of the novel, to the consummation of the lovers’ mutual passion. After Elio’s first sexual experience, his denial and disgust, as he bathes in the sea, are convincingly depicted, though I don’t understand the novelistic sources of that disgust. (His parents are socially permissive and neither they nor Elio is religious.) Before that self-disgust, there is the passion, during which the fierce desire to reunite with a lost part of oneself, captured in the title, fires the sex:

From this moment on, I thought, from this moment on—I had, as I’d never before in my life, the distinct feeling of arriving somewhere very dear, of wanting this forever, of being me, me, me. me, and no one else, just me, of finding in each shiver that ran down my arms something totally alien and yet by no means unfamiliar, as if all this had been part of me all my life and I’d misplaced it and he had helped me find it. The dream had been right—this was like coming home, like asking, Where have I been all my life? which was another way of asking, Where have you been in my childhood, Oliver? which was yet another way of asking, What is life without this? which was why, in the end, it was I, and not he, who blurted out, not once, but many, many times, You’ll kill me if you stop, you’ll kill me if you stop, because it was also my way of bringing full circle the dream and the fantasy, me and him, the longed-for words from his mouth to my mouth back to his mouth, swapping words from mouth to mouth, which was when I must have begun using obscenities that he repeated after me, softly at first, till he said, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine,” which I’d never done in my life before and which, as soon as I said my own name as though it was his, took me to a realm I never shared with anyone in my life before, or since.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

20. Upper-arm

No, you are not the heart, at least, not yet,
not vital.
You are not the gluteus maximus or the gluteus medius
or the muscle in the forehead that contracts the scalp.

No. You are the arm that wraps round my shoulder
and presses me to your chest.
You are the strong upper arm
that belts my bottom and makes me beg, No. Meaning yes.

When I wrestle you down, we become an arm.
Let me be more exact.
I become the bicep curl,
you the tricep extension, reaching out to act.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

19. Man-root

In The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano,
fully revised and expanded 3rd edition,
the list of entries begins with Anus and ends with Wrestling,
which seems to invert the order of things.

Like Whitman, the authors celebrate Hair, Hands, Nipples, Cocksize, Buns, and Feet,
and, unlike Whitman, Foreskin.
Beyond Touching and Holding, they explain Sixty-Nining, Rimming and Felching,
and Sex with Straight Men.

And against the Bard’s lonely conception of the Comrade,
Silverstein-Picano embraces Fuck Buddies,
Hustlers, Domestic Partnerships, Tops, Mixed HIV Couples, Friends
and Daddy/Son Fantasies.

The poetry? Would you get off on
“Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love”
or laugh?
His poetic successors: “three to seven spurts of fluid at 0.8-second interval.”


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Monday, April 16, 2007

18. Strong Set of Thighs, Well Carrying the Trunk Above

I realize today I’ve never seriously doubted I will win
love, fame and happiness,
despite starting late in the race for a man’s love,
the race for poetic fame, and the race for earthly happiness.

Triple steeplechase.
I am a favored son and so, in love’s racetrack, run in my favorite lane.
In chasing fame, I am a workhorse, and a workhorse must have its day.
And I have sewn up the race for earthly happiness,

for I relish the taste of wind on my sweaty flank,
the tug of rein, the nudge of thighs, blood’s excitement and everyday,
so when I pass the finishing post,
I’m ready to be led to water and hay.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Sunday, April 15, 2007

17. Scapula, Hind-shoulders, and the Ample Side-round of the Chest

My favorite image for the body is the river and the rower on the river.
I am in bed touching me.

Strong river. Strong rower.
Emptying into the sea.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Joe Brainard: The Erotic Works

I visited the Tibor de Nagy Gallery for the first time today to view what TimeOUT magazine called the “minimasterpieces” of American artist, Joe Brainard (1942-94). The works, mostly collages, are small, many of which are about the size of playing cards. Playing cards appear as a motif in the exhibited works, as well as roses, butterflies, matchbooks, and hearts.



I did not care very much for the drawings of the male torso tattooed with roses, doves, anchors, names of lovers and of poets Brainard, a poet himself, loved. The drawings are decidedly off-hand, and formally uninteresting. Some of the collages are banal. In one collage of a male nude, a pear take the place of the scrotum and the word HEINZ stretches over the shaft of the penis. Perhaps it is a jokey reference to Warhol’s Campbell soup cans, but the joke just makes one groan.



A series of collages, “Homage to Keith,” begins provocatively with his lover’s pubic hair and semen but quickly turns into a collection of clichés: a vase of roses, letter and envelope, alphabet soup made up of the letters in KEITH, two hands on which are tattooed the words, “TRUE LOVE.” Except for one collage suggesting that Keith was an actor, the series does not show what is individual about this man. The images depicting this true love are either generic or hide an impenetrably private meaning behind them.

Collages I did like combine cutouts from bodybuilder magazines such as Physique Pictorials with the eroticism of briefs.



I also liked a more abstract work: a white brief drawn on the top flap of an opened used matchbook colored white. The rectangle of the matchbook is divided by three bands: the sandpaper, the matchbook spine, and two blue lines above the brief.

Other works I found online, not in this exhibition, actually look more interesting:



Cyril Wong Sings "Lay a Garland"

Cyril sent me the link to his recording, and I like it so much that I am posting here his link and comment. Enjoy.
I recorded LAY A GARLAND, an 8-part choral piece that I have loved for a long time. I sang all 8 parts and this was the result. The pitching wavers at parts, so I apologise in advance. But I cannot describe why this work moves me so much.

Just click here.

The lyrics come from the 1610 play The Maid's Tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher.

Lay a garland on my hearse,
Of the dismal yew,
Maidens, willow branches bear,
Say I died true.

My love was false, but I was firm
From my hour of birth;
Upon my buried body lie
Lightly, gentle earth.

"Brother" nominated for Best Poets Anthology

I just heard from Tim Monaghan, publisher of The Ledge Magazine & Press, that he's nominating my poem "Brother" for the 2007 Best New Poets anthology, published by Meridian Press. Only poets who have not yet published a book-length collection of poems are eligible for nomination. Now that's a piece of encouraging news!

Do check out The Ledge Magazine online.

16. Strong Shoulders, Manly Beard

At Splash Bar on Moulin Rouge Night,
it is easy to believe
that gender is a performance
when drag queens fight tooth and nail for the prize of $200.

Big hair, outsized breasts, cocks strapped down,
they sing and dance and make us cheer
for the acrobatic siren, the hip-hop princess, the soul diva, the mousy schoolmarm.
The school-spinster often takes the prize. The audience likes self-reflexive parodies.

But when I listen to my friend G, a transgendered activist,
play the Goldberg aria,
each note crying at the passing of the one before, and at the birth of the next,
it is hard to believe she is not a woman.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Friday, April 13, 2007

15. Back of the Neck, Neck-slue

Names are directions, for instance, right hand,
back of the head,
inner thigh,
but where does neck-slue point to?

Worse, there are no fingerposts
to the point where the small of the back divides
into butt-cheeks,
or to any point on their vast, smooth and firm terrain.

Like an astronomer, I could name the features I observe
through powerful lenses or advanced techniques,
but I prefer
to bounce on them and boast like an astronaut:

this pimple shall be known as the Hill-By-Which-Passion-Navigates,
this birth-stain Lake Pleasant,
and this steep-sided fall between the cheeks
the Valley of the Shadow of Death.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

14. Throat

Should I ask him after dinner tonight
at the best Thai restaurant in the city
if he would like to walk back to my place
and fuck me, though I know my friend T is positive?

There is no cocktail of drugs for this knowledge, this fear
infecting my body, this fear of the infected body
no knowledge of virus or precaution
can cure.

Flush the meds down the toilet. Passion is an appetite.
Who stops eating
jungle curry, steamed pomfret, beef sautéed with chili and lemongrass,
for fear of choking?


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

13. Temples, Forehead, Chin

When I was committed to military service, I learned
the forehead, temples, flanks and back of the skull cap
are made for gripping a steel helmet in place,
and the chin is made for a chin-strap;

I learned the elbows are bipods for a semi-automatic rifle,
the hollow between deltoid and breast
is a cushion for the wooden butt and its sharp rebuke,
and the eye sees accurately through the rifle sight;

and, if you are right handed,
your left hand is a flat support for the hand-guard,
and the pointer of your right hand curls
round the trigger snugly.

When I was committed to military service,
I learned the body is not a book to be read discriminately
but a weapon to be finely calibrated, and fired
while holding my breath.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

12. Cheeks

It is time to bring your face into focus
before this lens moves below the chin to other features harder to identify
as yours.
The best image is that of the cheeks.

The right cheek and the left cheek do not meet.
Like the back of the hand and the palm,
like the head of a silver coin and its tail,
the cheeks do not see each other except in a mirror or a photograph.

This was true of my cheeks
until my right brushed your left when we danced and, in that flash of flesh,
the coin turned up both head and tail,
the back of the hand shook hands with the palm.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Monday, April 09, 2007

11. Nostrils of the Nose, and the Partition

Consider the nostrils. Why two of them above the mouth?
Why the partition, growing hair and watered by snot,
when both plots
are seeded by winds blowing north, or south?


Plan for this poem-in-progress

10. Nose

The nose is the clown of the body.
In the center of the ring of the face
the nose runs on the spot, tickles, blows its cracked cornet,
and turns an embarrassing tint of red.

If from very high up, say, a trapeze platform,
you look down on the ringmaster’s head, his nose sticks out
like a knee,
not anything like the capable hand

of an elephant,
nor the quivering compass-needle of the lion
scenting blood bounding, bounding away.
The nose twitches in honor of its shrew-like ancestor instead;

and when the body gets too big for its breeches,
the nose snorts at its top hat,
punches the head backwards, and
sneezes.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Sunday, April 08, 2007

9. Roof of the Mouth, Jaws and the Jaw-hinges

From this poem on I forswear
talking about the body as if it is a house for the soul—
with windows for eyes and walls for the skin of cells—
or a cathedral or a cave, as if the body is a container for something finer.

There is nothing finer than the body
of the woman who drew the first bison on the walls of the cave,
or the body of the man bent
over his cruciform plan for the cathedral,

or the body of the child
who drew away from companions playing tag in the meadow
and wandered down a narrow trail to the lake
and dreamt of a house floating on a great flood that covered all the earth,

and so I will not compare the jaws to doors swinging
on hinges, or the top of the mouth to a roof.
When my imagination fails me,
I’ll name the body plainly by its name.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Anne Carson's "Glass, Irony and God"

I read Carson's long poem "The Glass Essay" again yesterday, and enjoyed it immensely for its narrative maneuvers and literary musings, although Guy Davenport, in his introduction, exaggerates when he says that it is a poem "richer than most novels nowadays." His comment either means something, in which case it is patently false since Carson's poem does not aim at novelistic detail, or it means nothing, playing it safe with that qualifier "most."

"The Glass Essay" tells two intertwined stories: the abandonment by a lover, and the suffering of a father from Alzheimer's. Presiding over the stories is the tutelary spirit of Emily Bronte, loveless, unloved.

The language of the poem is deliberately unlyrical; some may even call it prosy. Here's the opening of the section titled "Three":

Three silent women at the kitchen table.
My mother's kitchen is dark and small but out the window
there is the moor, paralyzed with ice.
It extends as far as the eye can see

over flat miles to a solid unlit white sky.
Mother and I are chewing lettuce carefully.
The kitchen wall clock emits a ragged low buzz that jumps

once a minute over the twelve.
I have Emily p. 216 propped open on the sugerbowl
but am covertly watching my mother.


Davenport defends, or advocates for, the flat language thus:

Poets distinguish themselves by the waythey see. A dull poet is one who see fashionably or blindly what he thinks poets see. The original poet sees with new eyes, or with imported vision (as with Eliot seeing like Laforgue or Pound like the Chinese). Anne Carson's eyes are original. We are not yet used to them and she may seem unpoetic, or joltingly new, like Whitman or Emily Dickinson in their day. She writes in a kind of mathematics of the emotions, with daring equations and recurring sets and subsets of images. As with Matthew Arnold, truth and observation are more important then lyric effect or coloring. If a good line happens, it happens. Anne Carson's poems are like notes made in their pristine urgency, as fresh and bright as a series of sudden remarks. But they are the remarks of a speaker who remains silent until there's something to be said, something that has been processed in the heart and brooded over in the imagination and is not to be further processed in rhyme or meter.


In his defence of Carson, Davenport adduces the authority of the modernists with their call to make it new, then he links that call to the practice of her American poetic ancestors, Whitman and Dickinson, and finally he bases that American practice on Arnoldian truth and observation. Thus Carson is both modernist and traditional, classical and romantic, American and English.

And that distinguished lineage is founded on the idea of "new eyes," which conflates the vision of the modernists with the observation of Arnold. What do Carson's new eyes see? Davenport's description is accurate: "recurring sets and subsets of images." So, in "The Glass Essay," the recurrence of the images of moor, glass (and ice), and rough surfaces like carpet or sandpaper.

But this kind of imagery is not that of the Romantics who believed an image can pierce into the true nature of things, nor is it Pound's imagism with its minimalist aesthetic. In order for images to become sets, recurring sets and equations, the poem must be long, probably narrative. It approaches the method of the novel. But what saves it from becoming an inferior novel?

Davenport extols "The Glass Essay" for its novelistic qualities and simultaneously points to its difference from the novel: Carson

is among those who are returning poetry to good strong narrative...She shifts attention from repeating stanzaic form (which came about when all poems were songs) to well-contoured blocks of phrases: analogues of paragraphs in prose. Prose will not accommodate Carson's syncopations, her terseness, her deft changes of scene.


With its linebreaks and stanzas, poetry does enable flexible and quick shifts, whether in scene, theme, or tone. Though it can be longer than a lyric, it is usually shorter than a novella, its length thus encouraging compression in the writer, and concentration in the reader.

Davenport's comparison of stanzas to paragraphs also describes my idea of stanzaic structure in my poem-in-progress, tentatively titled "The Book of the Body." In it, I use quatrains with mostly long lines. My paragraphs are chunkier and, perhaps, more centered on a topic, than Carson's. "The Glass Essay" begins thus:

I can hear little clicks inside my dream.
Night drips its silver tap
down the back.
At 4 a.m. I wake. Thinking

of the man who
left in September.
His name is Law.

My face in the bathroom mirror
has white streaks down it.
I rinse the face and return to bed.
Tomorrow I am going to visit my mother.


Her more slender stanzas give an appropriately plaintive tone to the heartbroken speaker. In my poem, I hope to make up for the loss of tentativeness with a massed music, something approaching Whitman's.

8. Lips, Teeth

After clubbing the night away, you brought breakfast, sausage and egg on whole-wheat bagel.
We stayed in bed the whole day, kissing, dozing, talking, touching
on men far away from my room, yet here in bed with us.
It was your second time in my bed. It was a Sunday.

A friend, let’s call him X, once said,
choosing love is not like choosing a college.
What he means is love’s offers don’t all arrive at the same time.
We don’t choose between possibilities, but between love and loneliness.

It is not immediately obvious which is better.
Love is young and passionate, like a college freshman,
then he graduates to duty and settles down to will.
Loneliness—we are all students of loneliness.

And in the book of loneliness, which is also the book of the body,
I have seen the lineaments of Beauty through a glass of cheap house wine,
I have seen dark-beat music pound against the cliff of his body,
and prove his permanence,

I have gone back night after night to find what I have lost,
and walked the garish city pierced by ear-studs of streetlights
and cock-rings of flashy shop-windows, and walked the city
tattooed on its chest, arms, butt, and thighs by sidewalk trash bags,

which is why I won’t choose between love and loneliness,
but choose Beauty, which is a form of love and loneliness.
In my bed you found a strand of blond pubic hair.
That Sunday I found Beauty baring lips and teeth.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Friday, April 06, 2007

7. Tongue

It is common knowledge that dogs hang out their tongues to cool down,
that salamanders shoot out a finger to hook their prey,
and mollusks grind food on theirs, a rough tongue called a radula.
If the human body is a book, our tongue is a language.

I could sing of my tongue in a lyric,
praise it from its tip to its root, reveling in its marvelous muscles
before revealing its shortcoming in a well-turned climax,
a kind of masturbation (read the ear and eye poems);

I could give you a story
about a boy who held his tongue
until he jumped his first man, and could not stop licking him,
then you would give me your story, and we would compare notes (turn to the neck poem);

Or I could re-tell a myth about the tongue,
the rape of Philomela or some fable about the salamander,
changing a little but keeping the familiar elements,
and explain the nature of the world (look under “arm-pit”);

but my tongue is rough, like a radula, and here’s my diagnosis:
the tongue tip, a holograph of the heart, is inflamed.
Open your mollusk mouth, stick out your tongue like one Tibetan greeting another,
that I may examine how you are, and what is to be blamed.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

6. Mouth

Lacking opposable thumbs, many mammals use their mouth as a third hand.
You and I own such improved thumbs
but still grab at the world with our mouth, gourmet, orator, lover,
and so the mouth must stand for greed.

Not only for truffle, puffer fish and wine,
but also rice, maize, barley, corn, peanuts, cocoa beans, tea leaves, sunflower seeds
on commodity markets,
and perishables like pineapples, dragonfruit, raspberries and mangos;

not only edible things, but also what’s inedible:
rubber and cotton from plants, dyes and shells from the sea,
from animals mink, pelt, skin, spines, hair, blubber, feathers,
and teeth, the long, beautiful teeth of the Indian and the African elephants;

not only the living, survivors and victors of natural selection,
but from those long dead and long gone underground,
their forms compressed and thus transformed,
oil and gas;

not only life but also what has never lived:
diamonds;
not only in lodes of rock but also in air galvanized by lightning;
not only natural but also synthetic like plastic and alloys;

not only material, as if we are bodies without heads,
but also methods
to protect our bodies—
vaccination, five-day week, reading, public housing, democracy—

and methods to attack the same bodies through war and worship
of a disembodied god
who is seen only in the visible world,
who is heard in a bomb blast, screams and sirens, and then the dreadful silence afterwards.

Enough, enough.
I’m descending into demagoguery, the greed for inflammatory words.
Some things should not be swallowed. Like your cum
tasting of milkfish, watermelon and explosives.


Plan for this poem-in-progress

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A. L. Rowse's "Homosexuals in History"

At the time of the book's publication in 1977, Rowse was a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University, as well as the British Academy, according to the back cover. Subtitling his book, A Study of Ambivalence in Society, Literature and the Arts, he aimed to "throw some light on the predisposing conditions to creativeness, in the psychological rewards of ambivalence, the doubled response to life, the sharpening of perception, the tensions that lead to achievement" (from the Preface).

To my mind, his study of the relationship between sexual ambivalence and creativity is not a systematic, or even a methodical, one. Instead the book offers biographical sketches of famous, and less well-known, homosexual or bisexual male artists, politicians and society figures, the best of whom receive his highest term of praise, "a man of genius." The selection is Eurocentric and phallocentric. The tone swings from defensive (The Preface begins, "This book is decidedly not pornography.") to patrician; Rouse is not averse to calling idiots idiots and fools fools. In so many ways, it is a book of its own time.

Here is his roll-call of Great Gay Men, under his chapter headings:

1. Medieval Prelude
-William Rufus (c.1056-1100) King of England; favored "rather feminine types around him."
-Richard Coeur-de-Lion (1157-99) King of England; preferred the company of his minstrel, Blondel.
-Edward II (1284-1327) King of England; adored Piers Gaveston.

2. Renaissance Figures
-Erasmus (1466-1536) Humanist scholar; befriended Servatius Roger, fell for Thomas Grey, befriended William Blount.
-Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Artist, Scientist, Scholar; apprenticed Salai and Francesco Melzi.
-Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564) Artist, Poet; loved Tommaso Cavalieri.

3. Elizabethans and their Contemporaries
-Nicholas Udall (1505-56) Playwright, Headmaster of Eton; Sacked from Eton for his relationships with his senior boys.
-Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) Playwright, Poet.
-Henry III King of France; like his Mignons, distributed sexual favors to both sexes.
-Rudolf II (1552-1612) Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
-Anthony Bacon (1558-1601) Elder brother of Francis.

4. Francis Bacon and the Court of James
-Francis Bacon (1561-1626) Court Official, Scholar, Writer.
-James I (1566-1625) King of Scotland and England; loved his French cousin, Esme Stuart.

5. Courts and Coronets
-Louis XIII (1601-43) King of France.
-John, Lord Hervey (1696-1743) Memorist, Court Official; loved and married Molly Lepel as well as loved Stephen Fox and Francesco Algarotti.
-Horace Walpole (1717-97) Collector, Writer; loved his cousin, Henry Seymour Conway.
-Thomas Gray (1716-71) Poet; much attached to Norton Nicholls and fell for Bonstetten.

6. Frederick the Great and Some Germans
-Frederick the Great (1712-86) King of Prussia; loved and lost Hans von Katte.
-Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) Hellenist, Scholar.
-Count August von Platen (1769-1835) Poet; fell in love with a number of young men, including August Kopisch.

7. Regency Connoisseurs
-William Beckford (1759-1844) Writer; loved eleven year old William Courtenay, lived with Gregorio Franchi to the end of his life.
-Lord Byron (1788-1824) Poet; loved both sexes, fell in love with Lord Clare.
-Wlliam John Bankes (d. 1855) Connoisseur.
-Richard Heber (1773-1833) Book-collector.

8. Russia and Some Russians
-Tchaikovsky (1840-93) Composer; fell in love with pupil, Vladimir Shilovsky.
-Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) Impresario; had a fifteen-year relationshp with Filosofov.
-Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-195) Dancer.
-G. V. Chicherin (1872-1936) Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

9. Eminent Victorians
-John Addington Symonds (1840-93) Cultural Historian; had a number of companions, including at Davos Christian Buol: "It is a splendid sight to see him asleep with the folded arms and the vast chest pf a young Hercules, innocent of clothing."
-Horatio Brown (1854-1926) Scholar and Writer on Venice.
-Lord Ronald Gower (1845-1916) who executed the Shakespeare monument by the bridge at Stratford.
-Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) Poet and Political Writer; loved and lived with Albert Fearnehough and then with George Merrill.
-Walter Pater (1839-94) Art Critic.
-Oscar O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1856-1900) Dramatist, Writer; with Lord Alfred Douglas.

10. French Poets and Novelists
-Paul Verlaine (1844-96) Poet; with Rimbaud.
-Rimbaud (1854-91) Poet, with Verlaine.
-Comte Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) Poet.
-Marcel Proust (1871-1922) Novelist; with Reynaldo Hahn.
-Andre Gide (1869-1951) Novelist.
-Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) Writer, Film-maker.
-Francois Poulenc (1899-1963) Composer; companion Pierre Bernac.
-Max Jacob (1876-1944) Poet.

11. From Ludwig II to Rohm

12. Edwardians and Georgians

13. The Great War

14. Cambridge Apostles

15. A Handful of Americans

16. Cosmopolitan

5. Eyes, Eye-fringes, Iris of the Eye, Eye-brows, and the Waking or Sleeping of the Lids

In my more primitive moments, I wish I am a snail
and with my ocelli distinguish between light and dark,
between shriveling sunlight and moist dark,
and no more.

No shapes like a loop of rope swinging from a tree,
twelve bamboo fingers pinching fingers of flesh and bone,
iron-jawed pliers, grinning crocodile clips, hypodermic needle, automatic rifles,
basin, doorknob, chair or window.

If I were a snail, I won't see colors either.
Veins bulging in forehead. Cigarette burns. Bruises.
Lips dropping their cherry. Charred bodies.
Not even the soil, freshly dug, my body slides over.

But I am not a snail. I have eyes perfect for me:
cone cells for reading music, watching birds, and shooting rapids;
rod cells for looking aslant at the stars;
eye-fringes; iris of the eye; eye-brows; and the waking or sleeping of the lids.



Plan for this poem-in-progress

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

4. Ears, Drop and Tympan of the Ear

When your body aches to speak, my body becomes an ear,
my skin the tympanic membrane,
my bones the hammer on the anvil on the stirrup,
my organs the cochlea, all nerves firing to my brain.

How strange is your accent. Speak slowly
that I may hear you as well as I see.
The ear's vestibule? My heart, of course,
keeps me balanced and attuned to gravity.


Plan for this poem-in-process.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

3. Hair

Under the hot shower, as I shave my groin, my balls and cock,
to get ready for a good time with men who like men smooth,
I remember what the book of the body says about haircuts
as a means of control in the police and other armed forces.

My head knows this: it was shaved at eighteen for national service,
the body clapped into uniform and marched lock-step
with other stiff uniforms, pillories of shaved heads and limbs.
So are the hands shaving my pubes mine or a policeman's?

The book of the body discusses beauty under three headings:
Aesthetics,
Politics,
and Self-Help.

Self-Help, a manicurist's voice from a gym trainer's body, says,
the hand is yours, and from the counter offers a discount on hope.
Your oppressor's, rallies Politics. Remember the women
who bound and crushed other women's feet. Remember Anorexia
.

Aesthetics, examining through a monocle
Greek statues of women and their hairless fork,
an ideal learned from the Egyptians who in turn got it from the sun,
turns his back to my question.

The book of the body has many schools of thought on beauty.
Tonight I'll listen to my naked cock,
unable to be all things to all men, but aching to speak
for flying over the featureless plain with the featherless flock.


Plan for this poem-in-progress.

Monday, April 02, 2007

2. Neck

Tenuous connection, the neck.
Muscles hooked up like cuts of meat in market stalls.
Climbing vines of arteries and jugular veins, and pods of thyroid and parotid glands.
The seven segments of the cervical spine (C-1 to C-7) glued by cartilage.

When I was fifteen, I broke a chicken's neck.
At backwoods camp, my scouts watching me, for no one else would do it,
I grabbed the hen by the neck (tubular like a stethoscope)
and, in the way taught, swung it round and, with a wrist-flick, snapped it to the ground.

The hen got up, squawked, scrabbled in widening circles, and shat.
I grabbed it again and this time did my job as a patrol leader should.
Someone else defeathered the bird in boiling water.
We baked it in mud, ate it with salt, and pronounced it good.


Plan for this poem-in-progress.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

1. Head

Today I open the book of the body and read about beheadings.

It took three strokes to hack off Mary Stuart's head,
the first struck the back of her head,
the second bit her shoulder and through her subclavian artery, spraying blood like a garden hose,
the third did the job.

Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur, who warned,
the mind remains in the mind and so death seizes him by the hair,
was decapitated for refusing to convert.
The book says that at his wedding Tegh Bahadur's face was handsome as the moon.

The heads of looters stuck on poles outside Singapore's Shaw Cinema
where Japanese officers manned the radio and watched American movies
broadcast the same message
as the execution of Daniel Pearl, and those of others who did not make it to video.

If the head was taken away, how did they identify the body for burial?
Perhaps the mother claimed her daughter by the birthmark on her left buttock.
Perhaps the father asked for his flat-footed son.
Perhaps the disciples placed his palm on their shaven heads.

Surely the lover knew,
not by the marks of imperfection but by those of perfection--
toes, shins, kneecaps, thighs, cunt or cock, belly, sternum, nipples, shoulders, neck--
lessons recited during caressing nights for such a night.

Today I open the book of the body under the sun in the Long Meadow,
for I want to believe that since the soul has such a bad job history
the body is a better teacher of moral philosophy,
and I read about the body, like a flower, bowing down before power.

What kind of a philosopher is that?
It was believed that the severed head could still see for ten seconds.
We no longer believe that.
I don't know how that has been proven in the lab,

but I see that in the question mark
the body, like a curled fetus, is separated from the head.
Tenuous connection.
Here's another:

Like the fragrance which remains in the flower, Tegh Bahadur rhapsodized,
the Lord dwells deep within.
I will continue reading the book of the body
though sunlight falls on the blades of leaves like guillotines.


Plan for this poem-in-progress.