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Showing posts from February, 2011

Drama, Poetry and Song in Two Nights

This will have to be a quick record of what I have seen and heard this week. It's moving weekend! We relocate tomorrow, to our new apartment on the Upper West Side. I am very excited about the change, but all these experiences, planned an age ago, distracted me from the most important event of my life.

Tennessee Williams would have turned 100 on March 26. On Thursday I went with TH to the Baryshnikov Arts Center to watch the Wooster Group's production of Vieux Carre. I did not enjoy the group's use of multimedia, probably because I was missing too many of their references to the 70's. The play itself has wonderfully lyrical passages, but on the whole seems to me self-indulgent and sentimental. With better directing and acting, the stereotypical Williams characters (the sensitive upper class woman, the thuggish boyfriend, the tortured artist) could have exhibited flashes of humanity, but they were mechanical and inert, amongst all the stage machinery, with the exception…

The Word for Body-Soul

I was asked, once, for a word that is not in the English Language but I wish it were. I suggested a word that means both soul and body, a word that reunites the pervasive dualism in my language, and therefore in my thinking.

In an interview in PEN America #13 Lovers,  Atiq Rahimi, who won the 2008 Prix Goncourt for his novel The Patience Stone, gave such a word from classical Persian poetry: "jaan." He says to his interviewer Lila Azam Zanganeh:

It's a word used in Iran and Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It is a word of daily life. It's something that we add to the name: for example, you would be Lilajaan. It would be translated as "my dear Lila." It is a word that describes at the same time the body and the soul. There is no separation in "jaan." This separation is something that we find in Christian culture, in Judaism, and in Islam, but before that we had this idea. The separation came about with Islam and with the Judeo-Christian tradition; in our…

The City as a Pastoral Poem

I have three poems in Mascara, which take Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Elizabeth Bishop as their point of departure. The first two "In His Other House" and "The Hospital Lift" are set in Singapore, one in an imaginary city, the other in a real one from the past, and so possibly just as imaginary. The third poem "The Bowl" is set in New York City. The city is my pastoral poem. Mascara, edited by Michelle Cahill, is "particularly interested in the work of contemporary Asian, Australian and Indigenous writers."

Genesis Statement for New Poetries V

Paul Stevens publishes my poem "The Dying and the Living," written in Yeatsian ottava rima, in response to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, in The Flea. It is one of my favorites. The verse sings feelingly, without flinching.

Michael Schmidt has selected the following poems for the Carcanet anthology New Poetries V: "Attribution," "A Whole History," "The Rooms I Move In," "Study #5: After Frida Kahlo," "Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet" and ghazals from "A Lover's Recourse." All but the Kahlo poem were previously published in PN Review.

Asked for a genesis statement for these poems, I wrote:
Where did these poems begin? They began on a horrible afternoon when my tutor in his room at Wadham College read aloud the sentences I plagiarized from some book on Ben Jonson. They began in the backroom of a bar. They began with quotations—word, form or spirit—of Eavan Boland, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz and Roland Barthes. They…

The Excitement of Writing in Singapore

Gwee Li Sui gave this keynote speech at All In! Young Writers Seminar 2011, organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore. While exalting the thrilling life of the imagination, he also warns young writers to be realistic in their expectations of fame and money. After pointing out the lack of a reading culture in Singapore, he highlights the economic realities of the book market in the country:

Then, there is the curse of writing in English, and I don’t mean Singlish. Because English is an international medium, writing here does not have the advantage that writing in languages linked to originating cultures and nations have. Those have their ready, tuned-in, and economically viable readership bases. But any excitement in the writing of Singapore gets drowned out quickly by the incessantly renewing excitement in English writings that come from all four corners of the world. The Straits Times isn’t really helping here: just check your Life! Books pages. You are competing…

Simply Haiku

Power to Facebook! Robert D. Wilson directs me to this journal of Japanese short forms, and I like what I read of its haiku section. The essay on the featured haiku poet, Serbian Slavko Sedlar, may protest too much about the bastardizing of a Eastern genre by Western writers, but the haikus it quotes are quite stunning.

From Edinburgh Rob Mackenzie blogs about a haiku lecture by Madoka Mayuzumi. I like her comment about the distance between the flower heads.

"Terence" by Eric Norris

Eric Norris has just published his experimental short story, Terence, complete with advance praise by William Shakespeare, W. H. Auden, and The Daily Mail. Book description on Lulu:

'Terence' is a comic translation of A.E. Housman's book, 'A Shropshire Lad.' 'Terence' tells the story of one young man's enduring love for another, complicated by the untimely appearance of his Muse, a cow.
Knowing Eric, I am sure the book is filled with literary high jinks and piercing moral insights. He talks with Wendy Chin-Tanner about the book and self-publishing at The Nervous Breakdown. The interview is opinionated and funny, and so makes a contribution to that often tiresome genre.

You can buy my new book on Amazon

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My new book of poems Seven Studies for a Self Portrait is now available on Amazon. Whoopee-whoop-whoop! Cough, cough. You can read a description of it, and a poem, about Frida Kahlo, on the Bench Press website.




I switched from Lulu to Amazon CreateSpace, and the transition from one print-on-demand to another was quite painless. By paying an annual subscription, I could sell my book on Amazon, and so distribute my book that way. I have my author page up as well, with my bio and bibliography. During the printing stage, my book designer was able to contact Help Desk by phone, in order to get some design parameters right. She uploaded the files easily, and I received the proofs punctually too. Now to see how the book sells and reviews.

Poem: "Changing Countryside"

We heard tonight we got the apartment. I wrote this rough draft to mark the occasion.


Changing Countryside

"Yes, this will be our house,
today I’m here to see it..."
—Alda Merini, “Roman Wedding,” trans. Susan Stewart

The ceiling is too high for the apartment
to make a cage, the living room too wide
to touch the heaving tips of feathered span,
the light too good not to be natural light.

But this high door locks out the open world
and locks security in. In closets, wings
will soon be folded, wrapped, and put away.
The window above the bed is made of steel.

I turn a faucet and, in the falling light,
a river runs to where it drains. I turn,
a beech opens its palm to act a desk.

And you, who by the light of metaphor
are the birdcatcher, are a bird, by me,
singing about the changing countryside.

Jim Crenner's "Drinks at the Stand-Up Tragedy Club" (2008)

Picked up this hardback at Housing Works for six bucks, after warning myself on entering the bookstore not to buy any books. The first poem "The Problem of Meaning" pulled me in and the book never really let go. Crenner is fascinated, bemused, by the dualities of experience and meaning, mind and world, living and writing. The poems are witty and charming. They are also laced with the poet's abiding sense of his approaching death.

There are poems here written in the poet's own voice, as a grandfather, a baseball fan, a gardener, a visitor to the marble quarries of Carrara, a voyeur at Amsterdam's red light district. The poet writes about his reading, a consolation of old age. The poet writes about writing, a hoary and sterile subject in most hands, but productive and entertaining in this poet's. "Negative Capability" is the funniest poem I have ever read about writer's block. There is a series of poems, scattered throughout the book, about lookin…

Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Teorema" (1968)

The film opens with an announcement: a rich industrialist is giving up his factory to his workers. We learn later that Paolo does so after being seduced by a handsome young man, who as a guest at his villa also seduced his teenage son and daughter, his wife and his maid. The young man, played by Terence Stamp, could be God or the devil, but the encounter with him changes every member of the bourgeois family.

The maid Emilia returns to the country, where she refuses to eat or drink, until two children cook a meal of roadside weeds for her. She is next seen by the villagers levitating miraculously above a house, before she is willingly buried alive, her tears feeding a puddle.

The son Pietro turns to painting, to recapture the ecstasy of the encounter, but he knows every artistic attempt is a failure and a fake. The mother Lucia picks up young men in her car, and suffers sexual disappointments. The daughter Odetta falls into a comatose state, clutching what appears to be an object given…

The Poetry Thin Air Interview on YouTube

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Almost two years ago I was interviewed by George Spencer and shot for TV by Mitch Corber for the Poetry Thin Air Cable Show. I wrote about that experience here. The show was broadcast first on Manhattan Network TV, and then on the Brooklyn one. Miriam Stanley was the second interviewee on it.

Mitch has just uploaded the show on YouTube, and so now you can watch me whenever you like, reading poems from Payday Loans and Equal to the Earth, and sounding agonizingly slow. I made such weird facial expressions when reading and answering George, but the star is really my teeth. I guess that is how I look all the time, unbeknownst to me. This one is for the archive.


Cyril Wong's "Satori Blues"

Cyril's new chapbook-length poem records a yearning for spiritual truth and clarity. In less experienced hands, it could so easily turn hokey. It is, instead, a sensitive account of a whole-person response to Buddhist thinkers such as Jiddu Krishnamurti, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shunryu Suzuki, U. G. Krishnamurti and Alan Watts. I have only read Alan Watts, among these writers. He appears twice by name in Satori Blues, critical of the oversimplification of an Euclidean conception of the world, and critical of the hostile nihilism in Kerouac's version of Zen Buddhism. The poem tries to find its own open and gentle way.

The question driving it is, not surprisingly, that of love. Unable to possess the object of desire, love wounds itself by itself. The poem begins with lived truth, that "Love appears/ as nothing when we begin to know it,/ nothing that is not its opposite, or/ whatever opposites mean, in this case--/ coming and ebbing, a kiss and heartache." By the end, however,…

The Way We Are Struck

Rob Mackenzie's blog directed me to this Poetry London review by Bill Herbert of four first books. The analysis of the books is very worth reading for itself, but the opening and closing paragraphs go beyond the moment of a review.
Poetry, in other words, is not announced by a striking subject, but revealed in the way we are struck.