Monday, February 28, 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
I haven’t been to church in decades as a matter of habit, and confess the only time I set foot in a pew is for either funerals or weddings. One will have to take it on faith that while I haven’t renounced God nor made statements to the effect that ours is a reality without a spiritual r recourse, my ideas of spirituality have changed over the last forty years; it just seems to strange to think of God as being willing to be a bully demanding ritualized acts of devotion and loyality while a fate he won’t reveal , the “meaning of life” we drink too much booze and coffee to discern, unravels. Is the All Powerful a vain micro-manager? I don’t think so, and entreaties to Him can be done, I think, without wishing for more for oneself, or wishing harm to befall those who we think smited us. Yes, I turned my back and have little interest in investigating the religion of my youth, but surprise again, sometimes my curiosity is aroused, as it was when I happened across this fine poem by Mary Karr in online version of Poetry Magazine, a sly hymn called “Disgraceland”/Strange and wonderful; I am a lapsed Catholic at best (a curious agnostic, perhaps?), but I recognize the parallels Karr draws here with her truly ethereal poem.
Christ was of this earth and of the human race because his task was to suffer various degradations for preaching a moral philosophy that would, after all, deliver humanity from its base motives and actions, all this so he might transcend and come into that state of grace that is tempered, conditioned by experience. We come to know what it is we are being delivered from, the sins, their consequences, and their horrible toll. Karr's narrator, born into a Christian life, goes her own way, feeling each pain, pleasure, the exact quality of being human:
Eventually, I lurched out to kiss the wrong mouths,
get stewed, and sulk around. Christ always stood
to one side with a glass of water.
I swatted the sap away.
Christ was always there with the glass of water, that thing that refreshes and gives life to tired limbs, but he would not intervene to make Karr's wayward soul come into the house of his father; she must know her own experience, have her own narrative to fasten a merging faith upon, and come of her own accord to another way of being;
When my thirst got great enough
to ask, a stream welled up inside;
some jade wave buoyed me forward;
and I found myself upright
in the instant, with a garden
inside my own ribs aflourish. There, the arbor leafs.
The vines push out plump grapes.
You are loved, someone said. Take that
and eat it.
A phrase you might have heard of; she had to get sick and tired of being sick and tired. This has all the trappings of things I hear at AA meetings, yes, but AA shares are either drunkalogues or hard-core sales pitches that will speak of an intervening Higher Power in Street terms. The quality of a good AA share is that one This poem is jargon free, as I read it, and the mention of Jesus and references to spiritual things are voiced in a tongue that is plain but not dull; her rhythm is sure.
It has been remarked that this poem isn't much more than what you'd get in a better class of women's magazines and that what delivers is a rather conventional story, but I think there are crucial distinctions to be made.This is quite a bit different than what you'd find in women's magazines, in that the ground covered in those articles are tear jerkers, better class or no, and there's an inescapable residue of self pity/self congratulation through out these publications that creates a particular consumer mind set that is perfect for delivering an audience an empathetic audience to corporate advertisers. The swings of the downbeat and the upbeat do not go against the not so subtle requirements of the revenue stream. Karr's poem is somewhat different, and she tells the tale differently as well; it is the form of testimony, of confession and reclamation, and there is no wallowing in the details of a wasted past; as per the requirements of contemporary poetry, pace Pound, Eliot and Yeats, there are associative leaps in the narrative, elisions, ideas contained in images that convincingly, for me, convey the more abstract notions of life with and without grace. Poetry isn't required to dramatically thrust a reader into areas of consideration they wouldn't have thought of or might have been too lazy to explore, but rather work well on its own terms, within its particular structure, congruent with its unique ambition.
This needn't be the grand entrance of Christ as one can read in Flaubert's tale "The Legend of St. Julian Hospitator" from his book Three Tales. Karr , in her own fashion, speaks of the Personal Jesus much is made of these days and finds Him in an unconventional, almost banal manner, after a life that, while not chaste nor righteous, isn't portrayed as especially heinous or glutted with evil deeds. What takes me my surprise is Karr's conception of a savior who speaks not to saving one's soul for eternal salvation but instead a Christ who can help her appreciate the life she has and make something useful of. This is a Christ who wants her to live fully on this earth, not to treat her religious experience like it were an audition for American Idol. Surprise, this is a Jesus who wants us to live as adults, not pavlov'd dolts who drool when a bell rings.
What I especially appreciate here is that Karr
This is quite a bit different than what you'd find in women's magazines, in that the ground covered in those articles are tear jerkers, better class or no, and there's an inescapable residue of self pity/self congratulation through out these publications that creates a particular consumer mind set that is perfect for delivering an audience an empathetic audience to corporate advertisers. The swings of the downbeat and the upbeat do not go against the not so subtle requirements of the revenue stream. Karr's poem is somewhat different, and she tells the tale differently as well; it is the form of testimony, of confession and reclamation, and there is no wallowing in the details of a wasted past; as per the requirements of contemporary poetry, pace Pound, Eliot and Yeats, there are associative leaps in the narrative, elisions, ideas contained in images that convincingly, for me, convey the more abstract notions of life with and without grace.
Poetry isn't required to violently thrust a reader into areas of consideration they wouldn't have thought of or might have been too lazy to explore, but rather work well on its own terms, within its particular structure, congruent with its unique ambition.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
A funny book
Something about this world reminds me, fleetingly, of The Bed Sitting Room, a film directed by Richard Lester, where addled Brits go about their business after a three-second nuclear war, as if nothing had happened, unaware that their actions are very odd permutations of old habits. This , along with the fact that some characters are morphing into inanimate objects.
What's similiar is that they way you, like Lester, treat your inventions less as weirdness for it's own sake--Tom Robbins when he's boiling over--but how you keep the descriptions and the details of your character's lives in scale; your tone has the unfoldings and detail bask in the light of their own skewed logic: the details relate to one another. "Sea Oak" , with all it's reversals and inversions , pretty much gets the internalized logic of diminishing returns in strip clubs. The returned aunt from the dead, pissed an aggressive economic agenda for a family of whiners, was genius.His use of brief sentences and jerky dialogue makes this skewed universe clang and clack with a sound and feel not so removed from the actual world: his attention to the banal, and his twisting the items just so, makes this a wonderful set of satires. "Sea Oak" is particularly brilliant.
A basic and important strength in your writing is the spare style you prefer to use, as it allows you, it seems to be, to accumulate the carnivalized strangeness and build on it credibly, if that's the word to use. It gives your zaniness a subtle, additional dimensionality that makes this series of tales read like descriptions of a fully realized universe.
Monday, February 21, 2011
|The unreclaimable Monkees.|
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Anger as artistic virtue is short lived and becomes, too often, monotony. The idea that the artist must get himself into a full , frothing lather, burst out of his clothes while his engorged (and enraged) muscles morph to sizes beyond a believable scale is absurd on the face of it; the writer, the poet, the painter, the sculptor, the photographer, the artist, whatever the medium, would be too intent on screaming "Hulk Smash Puny Critics" rather than focus their energy on the literal and metaphorical canvas in front of them.
The artist, if nothing else,is that person who occupies themselves with experssing their sense of things in an externalized manner after the things that they've taken in--a heartbreak, being fired, a wedding, good sex, a death, a disease, a visit from the In Laws--has gestated for a period, has been assimiliated, so to speak, into one's being and the artist can attain equilibriu, for awhile at least, through the artistic act.
The experience, that is, becomes the raw material the artist will use after the rage has subsided and the painter, the poet, the novelist has had their offended ego return to human proportions. Passion will remain, to be sure, but the anger, well...I would venture that the anger is an impediment and needs to cool to something that one can pick up and examine and , eventually, use as something that motivates one to make reconfiguations, not commit homicide.
This has presented a credibility problem for both aging punkers and wrinkled heavy metalheads who find themself trying to live up to a past decade's reputation with a gasping exaggeration.
I find Chrissie Hinde attractive because she never lost her sense of humor or irony. Interestingly enough, she didn't market herself as an angry punk woman; the tone is bitter at times, more often bittersweet, and the attitude of her lyrics is that she pushes on toward the goal of making her life a good fit for the reality she's found herself in.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
A laugh and a good wicked snort can be had making fun of the habits of poets, but limiting the odd ways to white folks alone amounts to taking the easy way out no less than some of the poems that appear on Slate.
Everyone is in a hurry to get to an easy punchline, not in the interest of having an audience see their own foilbes but rather so the motor mouthing wise guying can jet through another batch of sarcasms so lame that one wouldn't even dare utter them at 1am on a Comedy Store Amatuer Night.
Is someone brave enough to investigate the wierdness that besets ethnic groups in particular once they become infected by the poetry flu? Not really, it seems, and white people remain the easy target one may mock with out the slightest fear of being called to the carpet for the stereotyping disrespect. It's a sorry, lame ass practice.
Poetry, so far as the general reader is concerned, is a matter of one being alone with their thoughts and structuring their experience in a narrative form, a narrative that not only chronicles events along a time line, but also the nuance of experience, the fleeting sensation of something changing in their psyche. This requires making the language do extraordinary things to accommodate an uncommon interpretation of experience, and Americans, a people reared on the ideology of what can be done in the face of adversity, have no expansive desire to do something so impractical. Language is a thing meant to help us solve material problems, to achieve material goals, and poetry, a strange extension of linguistic twists and glottal clicks, clearings of the throat, a nasty cough, does nothing to put food on the table, put money in the bank, to further the quest to cure an endless variety of incurable diseases.
Poetry is immaterial to purpose, function, policy; the absence of larger audiences for poetry isn't about fear from a perception that it's a mode of expression that is the least useful among several the lot of us might select on a given day. There are those of us who would argue that poetry's lack of identifiable utility is exactly what attracts us to the form--I happen to think that , like Wilde, that all art is quite useless in practical application (save for the fact that I believe humans crave beauty in form and in expression) and adhere to Harold Bloom's running definition of what literature , in general, avails the reader : to paraphrase, literature (poetry) helps us think about ourselves. Americans , I think it's safe to say in the broadest sense, have no real desire to reside individually and psychically work their way to an "aha" experience with poetry as a conduit.
We do think about ourselves, but more in terms of accumulation rather than an inner equilibrium. The measure of a man is his wallet, not the subtlety of his thoughts, and this a form of fearlessness that borders on insanity.
Friday, February 18, 2011
A professor once point out that something becomes art once it is framed, no matter what that object may be. That was great, I thought, and spent the next couple of semesters elaborating on this notion over hot cups of coffee, pitchers of beer, book and record reviews I wrote for the college newspaper, and certainly, most certainly, on term papers I was required to write in my humanities classes. I was a smart cookie, indeed, smart enough to recycle someone else's solid point over and again in pursuit of status and good grades. The odd thing, though, is that whereas the bullshit that I produced as a young has been exposed as being dually pompous and naive, the idea of the frame is a solid one; it has the added benefit of being true.This idea originated with Marcel Duchamp as he exhibited his readymades, a classic dada gesture he offered with his ready mades, such as urinals hoisted upon gallery walls, and snow shovels on pedastals. The point , though, was that the object became an aesthetic object,denatured, in a manner of speaking , from its natural context and forced , suddenly, to be discussed in its very "thingness". The object becomes art by the lexicon we wrap around it, a linguistic default. Duchamp intended a guerrilla action against the bourgeoisie and their monied, status focus on works of art with the hope of returning the population to a state where perception hadn't been codified with price tag and a standing army. The notion, however, became the market standard, however, with Pop Art : art was free to wander around it's own forms and materials without having to address anything so trivial as why we love Jesus or bother to own pets instead of raise children.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Gail Mazur loves the telling detail in her poetry, a quality that can make for an intense reading of somone linking the fluidity of experience with the silent witness of inanimate things that happen to trigger an associating spree. She fares less well with "Hermit". One of her shortcomings as a writer is a tendency to prattle; we witness a strenuous comparison of human habits and the observed , repetitive activities of species of crab in their natural environment. It's been remarked too many times that the act of perceiving something changes the nature of the thing being studied, and here I'd had have to reason that the intent hasn't anything to do with the crabs and more do with the convenient wallow that are the poet's projected short comings.
The title is the tip off, and the punch line comes at you too soon, too often, over to great a length.
One might note the digressions and find wonder in how she deliberates on Aristotle and the ancient Greeks who first syllogized about their place in the world of appearances but the effect here is drift. There is awareness that the poet tends to imbue the natural realm with characteristics mirroring concepts one identifies human activity with, but this stepping back from the metaphorical apparatus originally mounted in place serves only, I think, to introduce more intellectual clutter, that crabs are actually subject to Darwin's terms of natural selection.
The irony is something you see coming right at you, conspicuous as a Barnum and Baily clown on a Wall Street trading floor; it is not the hermit crab that resembles human, but the rather the reverse. All of the things like emotion, poetry, philosophical speculation might merely be expressions of species behavior who's base motives are to feed, propagate, survive. Arriving at this point is not unlike listening to a bad joke a hundredth time from a friend who can't remember that you've already heard it, a hundred times.But we arrive at punchlines again; they ought to be efficient, quick, punchy. The good poet knows when to stop.
One elaboration is too many , and a thousand is not enough.
This seems a plain old case of someone falling into the mind/body divide, that time in any competent poet's career where they consider the intractable vagueness of the world their senses reveal to them, a cosmology tempered and flavored with the nuance of personal history and association, and the world as it is. Gail Mazur , with her poem "Figures in a Landscape", wandered too close to that precipice and falls straight to the bottomless bottom, perhaps stupefied by what amounts to the poem's punchline; our perception of a scene being beautiful and arranged in pleasing "natural" alignments are a frame we impose on the raw phenomenon, a meaning we assign it from our collective troves of useful metaphors and purposes. The scenery, though, is unmindful of our presence, has no use for our notions of beauty, harmony, or the disguised meanings our desperate symbolism creates. Nature merely is, constant, churning, violent in its cycles of destruction and creation. We are only elements among other elements, subject to the same conditions of survival and extinction as are forests, oceans, diminishing species. My principle concern here isn't the subject matter, relentlessly pursued as it has been and continues to be, but with Mazur's admittedly fine tone and style. Graceful and as carefully selected as her phrases are, something does not ring true:
We were made things, deftly assembled
but beginning to show wear—
you, muscular, sculptural,
and I was I, we were different, we had a story.
On good days we found comedy in that,
pratfalls and also great sadness.
Sun moved across the sky and lowered
until you, then I, were in shadow, bereft.
She describes the experience of what she witnesses from a distance,as if standing on a sidewalk and describing a store's displays through the display window, with some creative and overly acute details and glaringly "literary" words to shore up what the limited visage can furnish. This thinking, of making this phenomenological befuddlement make sense in a short verse, comes through a few stops along the familiar template, first with a not unexpected epiphany ("we were made things, deftly assembled..") that sets us up for the finalizing grand slam, that the scenery is real and not dependent on our scenario's to make them mean anything.
If no one looks at us, do we or don't we disappear?
The landscape would survive without us.
When you're in it, it's not landscape
any more than the horizon's a line you can stand on.
All well and good, I guess, but Mazur has belabored the obvious point that we cannot set aside our framing devices and see the world in-and-of-itself; as creatures of a culture through which we are compelled to achieve things with the knowledge of our own death, we need structure, continuity, community and the attendant virtues of purpose,love, unity of being. We create meanings that make the hardships worth the struggle; in short, we create of meaning-giving fictions to alleviate the constant dread that there is nothing beyond the biological imperative to eat, procreate, and die. Mazur , grace notes and all, reads more like a product tester's report. A brave face, perhaps, but this poem is territory others have been in as poets, with more interesting , intriguing revelations.
Would that more people read John Ashbery and ceased with demands that he make sense; the beauty of Ashbery's method of engaging the mind/body division is that immerses himself in, allowing his mind to navigate, with frequent brilliance, in the harbors and along the shorelines of Wallace Steven's world of Supreme Fiction. There are those stretches when the good Mr.AshberyAshbery, if not Mazur, it's the journey that energizes the poems.
Gail Mazur's poems have an easy elegance that can , in their best renderings, bring a number of heady matters into the same conversation without a sign of the stanzas tearing at the seams.Apparent one can read in a previous selection published on Slate,In Another Country, she has the ability to give form to a sense of sensations that you'd think would remain inarticulate and exist only as vaguely felt sensations: happy, sad, despairing, hopeful, what? She gives these sensations voice, a monologue. But as well as she brings her equivalent phrases for unnameable notions together in a smooth transition to a page , the transition is too pat, too eager for prime time. The conceits that drag her work down is the continued sense that the insoluble conditions she enjoys digging through for material find resolution in her over worked ironies.
"The Age" shows no shift in strategy and no modesty in the size of the unmentionables she tries to place a sign on; no more odes for an empty house, bring on the Temper of the Times!!!This would be fine, of course, but what irritates me is the implied exclusivity , the book cliquishness of this bit of zeitgeist mongering. You feel like a friend you came to a party with abandoned you with a group of others , none of whom you know, who are enthralled by a lone speaker who seems to be synthesizing everyone else's input into a discussion you know nothing about, touching on each tidbit and making them fit some clever if predictable irony grid work.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
|This was taken with a cell phone camera.|
So full of wordsthat are thick withabstracted lustthat buildings could be erectedcomposed of verbose skullswith windowsthat oversee the worldto the edge of the mapand yetoverlookthe love that wasthere all the time,appreciative of curved air,lost in a four o'clock shadow.
Friday, February 11, 2011
When my husband left, there was pain I did notfeel, which those who lose the onewho loves them feel. I was not drivenagainst the grate of a mortal life, butjust the slowly shut gateof preference.
And so he wentinto another world—thisworld, where I do not see or hear him—and my job is to eat the whole carof my anger...
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
This neighborhood is a ganglia of bittersweet recollections, unpronounced love affairs, deferred passion , a corresponding universe of small matters, petty concerns twined together with a writer's straining sense of whimsy. I imagine this world as similar to a perverse Twilight Zone episode where the residents of a nostalgically named small town --Willoughby, anyone--live in knowing terror of the Writer who lives down the street who stares out the window , lurks in coffee shops and public parks, observing, jotting notes into a notebook or typing them into a laptop, returning to his study by mid afternoon and composing his scenarios based on what he has seen ; inevitably, the scenarios, made up of minor tragedies, crashing irony, practical jokes, or static sadness, materialize in the town, among the residents, a citizenry compelled to enact and fulfill the musings of a writer who is incapable of doing anything else other than reshuffle his templates, mix -and-match his scenarios.My problem with Billy Collins and this poem is because his pieces, and t his poem, ends with with a "characteristic Billy Collins twist", which is another way of saying that it reads like dozens of professionally constructed verses he has produced. A twist in a story, is a turn that we didn't see coming, in theory, but if the twist is "characteristic", it stops being a surprise. The trick of anthropomorphizing non human things--and that is exactly what it is, a trick--is ultimately a tedious way of talking about human vanity as age encroaches and one's last days near. It is the kind of poem that Collins dispatches with the uniform alacrity and craft a thrice weekly op-ed columnist produces a quickly drawn essay; the repeated tropes, the favored conceits, the reiterations øf conventional cleverness --are soon enough revealed. I admire Collins the way I admire grade B film directors, those able to produce endless fare with little variation in quality. He is a poet who is vigorously the same after all this time.
"I've heard this joke before", you would say, "you need to write food reviews rather than poems. Please stop."
"Make it stop" a voice chimes in from the poem being written.