Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday NY TImes Book Review

Check out the poetry reviews by Joshua Clover! Michael Palmer and other unlikely Times' authors finally get their due. More on this after my GRE General tomorrow morning.

I shoveled snow in Minnesota on Friday and bought a red polyester leisure suit there for $7.99 on Saturday. How can Thanksgiving be any better?

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Heard Brandon Brown and Brent Cunningham last night. Brandon's "translation" of THE PERSIANS by Aeschylus fascinated me as it made me re-think my idea of people who study classics. Maybe that sounds naive, but where I came from they never seemed so hip to anything after the birth of Christ. And to hear a playful piece that directly addressed the Iraq war, but still held on to pieces of its Hellenic artifice was, well, satisfying. It wasn't didactic, the language was pleasurable syntactically and sonically, and it gave me something to think about.

Brent's new book is beautiful. Ugly Duckling continues to make aesthetically pleasing reading materials. I thought, though, that Brent undermined his own reading. The majority of his work imitates the forms of philosophical or political documents, i.e. oratories etc. The work infuses these form with absurdities as a way of revealing the absurdity of the form itself. At least that's my take on it. My problem with the work, which is often hysterical and very entertaining, is I'm not sure what to make of it after that. Brent spoke a lot about pieces instead of reading them and this often took on a self-mocking stance, and that only seemed to make me question the point of the writing even more. I mean, it's very smart, well-written work, but it made me think, what more do I expect from writing? Is that enough?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Minor American Actor!

So you might have seen my brother Paul in the Powerbar commercial with the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony. If you haven't and you'd like to, here's the link . Hit "Play Me" and then click on the "Carmelo Anthony Video" option. My brother is the stock boy at the end who dunks the Powerbars into the shopping cart and does the hula.

Astrological Explanation!

Ok so the remastered BORN TO RUN is released today as a special box set that includes a complete Concert DVD from London 1975 and a DVD on the making of the album. In all the press I spotted a possible astrological reason for obsession with Springsteen. BORN TO RUN was an obsessive effort -- it was the 3rd album Bruce made for Columbia. His first two were critical successes and commercial flops. If this album didn't make it, he would most likely get dropped from the label. The album has Spector-like "wall of sound" production with over-dub after over-dub. 18 hour days were the norm and I think it took six months just to record the title track to Bruce's liking. The album was completed on July 20, 1975 at 8am and the band went straight from the studio into a van to Providence, RI for a show. July 20, 1975 was my third birthday (Born to Run was Springsteen's 3rd album) and Providence is the town I ran to when I finally escaped NJ. So there's the explanation. Bruce is my Elvis. I sight him eating Ding-Dongs everywhere.

Monday, November 14, 2005

GRE for the New Millenium!

So on Saturday one of my answer choices for a theory question, though not the correct one, was "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry." Maybe in a few years, it will actually be a correct answer choice. And everyone was worried about Seamus Heaney taking over the world of poetry when I was at Brown -- how little confidence they showed!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Cold GRE

Saturday I am taking the GRE Subject Test in English Literature as part of the process for applying to graduate school. I was a comparative literature major, so had some fears of this test, since I never had to do the survey thing. I started studying in July, though as early as February I made sure that all my pleasure reading were classics I had missed: "Invisible Man," "The Scarlet Letter," "Moby Dick" etc. The test, from the samples I have seen, is really about knowing a little about a lot of literature. I have a stack of index cards, two whole packages, which I think is 200, and most of them just have the first four and last four lines of famous poems, the characters and settings of famous novels and plays, and short distillations of certain famous people's poetics (i.e. Sidney, Arnold, Wordsworth). It's kind of a ridiculous way to go through literature, but I've had fun doing it. I feel like I'm preparing for Jeopardy. And it's given me a chance to re-read some Donne and remember how much I love him. His verbal contortions are impressive. A while back during my M.A. days I read the Arthur Marotti's John Donne: Coterie Poet. He talks about the early love elegies as performance pieces written to be read for his fellow law students at the Inns of Court. The book helped me understand my close readings of those poems differently: to see them as scripts for public performances displaying much social anxiety through the erotic. I recommend that book to anyone interested in the early, dirty poems of Donne. I love smart, dirty poems. I've got a cold, so I'm going to curl up with the Nortan Anthology, and nurse myself back to health before test-date.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Weddings and Such...

Bruce Springsteen is listed as number 9 for Rock's best songwriters on some AOL list. Dylan is number 1. Ahead of Springsteen are Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, Elton John and that Bernie guy. It doesn't make any sense to me. The Who have some great songs, but I don't see them as the greatest of lyricists. Same for The Stones. Elton John has two or three exemplary songs. That's it. And Dylan is great, but there's a cynicism to Dylan that makes it hard for me to like him no holds bar. Though I am fascinate with Dylan to a certain degree, there's something mean-spirited to Dylan in his lyrics sometimes. Springsteen has a real sincerity that I was re-drawn to after the post-punk early nineties where Cobain ruled. I love that music, but it seems that our generation got mired in irony. And Springsteen wasn't scared to be sincere. It seems to me that the post-postmodern era has to deal with irony. LANGUAGE poetry in it's most overtly political forms is ironic (Andrews, for instance), as is indie pop music often; it seems though, that this just leaves things on the level of critique. What I like about Springsteen is that there is a positing of a value system, not just a criticism of one. (This is true of current music like Fugazi and Le Tigre).

I saw his acoustic show recently in LA and he did "Youngstown" a song off Tom Joad, an album and a song I never paid much attention to because I found it not as compelling as Nebraska, and after Nebraska I think Springsteen has a hard time producing his songs in a way that doesn't distract from them. He never really recovers from the eighties high-gloss production, though his latest effort makes me hopeful. I wish Rick Rubin would do for Springsteen what he did for Cash. In any case, when he did "Youngstown" live I could really hear it. Him delivering it on acoustic guitar made it audible to me for the first time. I think it's one of his best songs for the simple reason that it continues a whole history of folk songs in this country. It applies to a contemporary industrial issue while telling the history of both the country and one particular family at the same time. It has the elements of blues too, with references to the speaker's ties with the Devil. Here are the lyrics:

YOUNGSTOWN: Bruce Springsteen

Here in northeast Ohio
Back in eighteen-o-three
James and Dan Heaton
Found the ore that was linin' Yellow Creek
They built a blast furnace
Here along the shore
And they made the canonballs
That helped the Union win the war

Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Well my daddy worked the furnaces
Kept 'em hotter than hell
I come home from 'Nam worked my way to scarfer
A job that suited the devil as well
Taconite coke and limestone
Fed my children and made my pay
Them smokestacks reachin' like the arms of God
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay

Here in Youngstown
Here in Youndstown
Sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
When he come home from World War Two
Now the yard's just scrap and rubble
He said "Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do."
These mills they built the tanks and bombs
That won this country's wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam
Now we're wondering what they were dyin' for

Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
They story's always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name

And Youngstown
And Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

When I die I don't want no part of heaven
I would not do heaven's work well
I pray the devil comes and takes me
To stand in the fiery of furnaces of hell.

+ + + + +

The chord progression in the song really accents the darkness of the lyrics. The verses alternate between Dm and C. The rhythm is played in such a way that the bass note of the chord is played first and then the jangly top of the chord, with the accent on the latter. This brings in the creepy minor blues feeling with an agressive folk rhythm. And then the Chorus where the speaker calls to his lover moves to F -- a brighter sounding chord that makes the invocation even sadder -- as it's the only bright, sweet spot of the whole song. It's the call for "Jenny" after the bitterness of the verses that broke me when I heard him do this song live. And the jangle of the Dm on the acoustic guitar with the way it's broken from bass to chord gives the song the sinister sound that I find very moving, given the subject matter. It's a song about a broken man, in a broken country where the only hope is the hope of his wife and family. It's those values that I appreciate in Springsteen, especially because his traditional value system, at least in his personal view, does not exclude the traditionally excluded. I can go to a Springsteen show and listen to these songs with my girlfriend and still feel included in the songwriter's world view. He and I share the same politics. I feel like Springsteen is the only American icon that does not embarrass me. Given that, I'll end here with a post of my brother and his new "Sweet Jenny."

Friday, October 07, 2005

SF Up and Running

I went out last night for the first time (it seems) in ages. It was a poetry event and though I've been out and about a lot this summer, there is something about not going to poetry readings that gives me cabin fever, makes me feel cut off from the world. Alan Gilbert read at New Langton. It was a lecture. That was his "performance." He read an essay about the contemporary "grotesque." I enjoy the lecture as a format and I like the examples he cited. He used some indie hip-hop and lots of contemporary visual art, but something was missing from the lecture for me. It's hard to put my finger on it, or maybe that was the problem. I wasn't sure exactly why the label of the "grotesque" was most apt for the work he was talking about. I don't think I was convinced of that.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Two days ago I got a phone call from my doctor that the two moles she removed (one from my arm, one from my shoulder) are malignant; the one on my arm is in the first stages of melanoma, so today after going dress shopping for my brother's wedding, I'll be going in for minor surgery. My doctor will remove more flesh from my arm. She believes that all the malignant flesh is already removed; this supposedly is only a precautionary measure. In any case, if I can scan the slides of my moles, I'll post them here.


...all day I've been thinking about blogging. I'm so glad I started again. And hopefully soon I'll have a real idea I want to write about and not just chit chat. It's hard to get into a deep discussion with myself about something this week, as I am preparing to leave for Romania on Saturday. My brother is getting married to his girlfriend. He has been living in the Czech Republic for several years and his fiance (Cristina) is a fellow English teacher at the school in Prague where Paul teaches. She is Romanian, has never lived in an English-speaking country, but speaks English so well that she is certified to teach other English teachers. If you knew my brother, it would make sense to you that his girlfriend/wife is so together. Opposites attract.

I've been obsessed with pop music again lately. This time the 2nd generation riot girl kind. In my head I keep writing an essay about Kathleen Hanna's solo album, Julie Ruin, which didn't get much attention, but I think it is much more compelling than the majority of work that she has produced before and after it. I have a feeling I'll just have to write this essay. It seems important to me in the history of underground rock music. And I'm in love with Mirah's new album C'mon Miracle. It's a little darker than her first two albums -- there's heartbreak in these songs, but her positve punk rock hippie 'everything is going to be all right' sentiments resurface by the end of the album. It's like listening to experience try to take someone's spirit down but fail. And her's so hauntingly beautiful. It sounds like love. If only it could whisper into your ear as you lie in the grass staring into the night sky. I want to invite Mirah over for a cup of tea. Buy this record. It will be such great comfort to you. And I just heard Tracy and the Plastics, though I've seen her live once for five minutes. It's genius. But I have to listen to it one more time very carefully before I have anything useful to say about it. But it makes Le Tigre look like Pong. It's the X-Box of girl digital. I'm sure all of you know all about it already. But I'm always behind the beat. I didn't get NEVERMIND until Kurt Cobain was dead.

I have a feeling I'll be blogging until I go. I love you again. The picture is of my brother and his future wife.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I'm not sure why today of all days I've decided to start blogging again. Perhaps it was the reference Mary Burger made recently to our dead blog, which actually is my dead blog, since Ange has been happily blogging away somewhere else, I assume for months. See, I've stopped reading other blogs as soon as I stopped writing mine. Or maybe I'm starting again because I googled myself this afternoon (the afternoon is my favorite time to google myself) and the blog was the second thing to come up and somehow it made me feel like a slacker to have my dead blog come up in my list of digital achievements. Now that I'm 33 I am trying hard not to be or act like a slacker. I still like to look like a slacker, but that is more of a fashion issue.

Since the last blog posting, I have undertaken the task of getting my novel published. So far I am still only a few feet in front of the starting gate. The query has been written and rewritten, sent to almost 20 agents. Around 7 have requested to see the manuscript. All so far have responded similarly. My favorite first line of a rejection letter will give you an idea of what's happening to me: "The novel is rich, complicated, and just above my reader." Now I wish I had written a complicated novel. I haven't. There aren't any hard words in it. I have a small vocabulary; even though my parents are Polish immigrants, I am no Joseph Conrad, but even if I were, it seems as though many Americans get through Heart of Darkness. My gut tells me to just take it to a small press where it will be appreciated, but Prageeta keeps telling me to look for agents to take it to a small press where it will be appreciated. So we cut a deal. After I send out a hundred letters, I'll take it to a small press myself. If you are interested in seeing a chapter from the novel for yourself, pick-up the latest copy of The Hat

In addition to this agent search, I've been prepping for my GRE Subject Test, as I've decided to get a Ph.D. For years I've been wanting to do it, but I didn't want to be more of an academic than a writer, so I've waited until I've finished my first book. I hope to be a slightly more feminine Joshua Corey next year. I've gotten to read and re-read some cool things. So far my favorite has been James' Washington Square.

OK. Hopefully, I'll be back.

-- Maggie

Sunday, April 17, 2005

So I'm alone and drunk.... it's probably a good time to finish my Vancouver story. First of all, Kate and I ate in good restaurants. That was my fault. We got Juliana Spahr and Peter Gizzi and some other people to go to Brix with us and well I had a really good Seafood Chowder. We also swam at the Marriot as much as possible but then there was a SoftSkull party and Kate made me get out of my swimsuit and go to the pub and meet Softskull people because well I just wrote this novel etc. And there was this great panel on the new nature poetry that was run by Josh Corey was Sally oh I forget her last name because I'm drunk Sally. Sally Keith that's it. She talked aboutInger Christensen as a nature poet. Christensen is a poet from Denmark. She wrote two books that I bought in German translation when I lived in Berlin. I saw her read at this summer poetry festival at the Literature House on Majokovsky Ring in Berlin. I didn't know anything about her but I saw this elderly woman come onto stage in a Brown skirt and balzer set with a brown handbag -- looking like every woman over 55 on the East German rail and I started to laugh because of the brown handbag. There was something about the handbag that made her seem like my grandma and the thought of my grandma reading poetry -- well it wasn't really possible -- but then this woman began to read in Danish the most beautiful sonnet sequence called The Butterfly Requiem. And the next day I went to the local bookstore and bought two German translations of her work but had no idea she had ever been translated into English and suddenly at the AWP there was Sally Keith (an excellent breathless poet) reading and discussing Christensens THE ALPHABET. It's out from New Directiona. And Josh Corey discussed Zukofsky as a nature poet and this grad student whose name elludes me now discussed Eleni Sikeleinos THE CALIFORNIA POEM as a pastoral poem and somewhere Lisa Jarnot was mentioned. It was very fascinating and now I've learned from his website that Corey is writing his dissertation about the Avant-garde Pastoral. I like his work. It brought my people to the AWP. And this idea of people and not my people at the AWP I will discuss soon when I'm sober. Love, Magdalena.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

AWP in Vancouver

After finishing my novel I joined the AWP (the association of writers and writing programs) following Kate's recommendation. Finishing made me feel like I maybe wouldn't wait tables forever and I could start dreaming of actually having a job related to my writing. And the conference this year was in Vancouver. I always wanted to visit Vancouver because of my early childhood exposure to the Kootenay School of Writing. A smattering of poets from that school came to Brown via an invitation from Peter Gizzi. Lisa Robertson came through the door carrying a whiskey bottle. Catriona Strang wore a Hockey Shirt and both postured queerly for my friends and me. This apparently is a Vancouver thing. I'll tell you more about it later. Nancy Shaw was there too. Less visually punk rock. More refined like Montreal. Of course the men figure less prominently for me (my prejudice) but Jeff Derksen and Kevin Davies were there too. I think of the group the only one left in Vancouver is Catriona but I'm not positive if she is even still there.

Anyhow, so Kate and I were off to Vancouver and it was a credit card vacation to celebrate me finishing the book. We stayed in one of the hotels recommended by the AWP and so we got the group rate for a semi-fancy businessman Marriot. We loved it. Especially the 24 hour indoor swimming pool and whirlpool and sauna etc. Mostly, I liked feeling like writing was a real occupation and it could get people to treat me well. So far it has only increased my skills and experience in the hospitality industry. It was nice to dream that it could get me room service once a year.

I like to eat more than anything so I got a food guide to Vancouver and the first thing we did after we got to the hotel was go to the Templeton Diner. On the way there Kate was convinced that people were staring at us because we were holding hands on the street. I thought maybe they were staring at us because we were babes. I don't know. You tell me, Vancouver. It was a long walk to the Templeton from the hotel but the guidebook said the milkshakes were great. When we got there it was the post-lunch hush and so we got to chat it up with the wiatress. She keyed in to our queer vibe and started talking about cute girls and everything and so we thought she was queer too. Turns out she's not. So maybe it is a Vancouver-thing this make the queer girls comfortable by making them think your one of them. I don't know. But it was extreme. Kate said the waitress was flirting with me and I have to say that maybe she was. Strange. The milkshake was good. The sandwich was good. The atmosphere was great. I went back a few days later and had a great Eggs Benedict.

OK. I'll continue this story after I get somethings done in the house...


Dear Minor Americans,

You know it's been a long time since you've visited your blog when you find out from one of your readers (i.e. your girlfriend) that your blogging partner has left your blog. I'm sorry that Ange has left, but can't blame her since it seems I haven't been able to write in nearly three months. But I am settled now. Have my own apartment and finally web access at home. And I promise to be a more frequent contributor to my own site. Despite my neglect, I have great faith in the two-person format, therefore am placing an open call for a new partner for this blog. Please send all applications to minor dot american at rcn dot com. And please tell me in 250 words or less why you would be a good blogging partner.

-- Maggie

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Lateral Move

Dear readers, I am migrating to to experiment further with public diarizing. Though I am still unsure what my new blog is a vehicle for other than practicing sentence-making, one of its undeniable pleasures is the way it keeps me in touch with you, my farflung correspondents.

Also I think you can do other stuff at typepad like put up photos.

Thanks to Maggie for sharing her space with me!

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Crisis is Over...

I hope. Today I put a deposit down on a studio in Bernal Heights. Let's hope all the credit checks etc. work in my favor. These things make me paranoid. If I do get the place, it will mean my brain will be mine to use again. For you, that means more postings. -- M

Saturday, February 26, 2005

No, no mon ami!

-- the media hype! about Anne Winters, whose book has been reviewed in Slate and The New York Times (this much attention constitutes, for poetry, "hype"!). As I never seem to like any contemporary poetry they publish or review (well, rarely) I was surprised to find myself sold on it.

It’s true my deepest affinities are to a poetry of imaginative freedom and play. But sometimes even high-handed poetry can be done well. I like to be surprised.

More about the novel, please!

[P.S.: My emails to you are bouncing!]


It seems like your last post Ange was indirectly responding to my appreciation of Bergvall's and Barr's semantic play, but if I remember correctly you and I both wished for the kind of playfulness in poetry that indie rock offered and that was exactly what that night was. Maybe it isn't your idea of POETRY but it seems like few work can fulfill that abstract idea of the Ideal Poem. The work was playful enough -- exciting enough -- to force me to examine my ideas of poetry. The "is it enough?". Today I feel like it is. And I just wrote a very "emotional" novel. -- M

Friday, February 25, 2005

When the Hype’s Justified

Dangerous to start discussing a book you haven’t entirely finished, especially if you plan to use it to make a point. But having read most of Anne Winters’s The Displaced of Capital in one rush last night, I feel even more strongly that experimental poetries, those concerned primarily with semantic play, are limiting themselves by what they leave out. One of the stand-out books by one of my peers last year was Jo Ann Wasserman’s The Escape, which courted controversy by allowing itself to be exhibitionistic. Just the premise—that it was about her mother’s death when she was 18—caused some poets I know to shut down.

It was about something?
It was about her mother?
It was about her mother’s death?

Getting past that hurdle, anyone who picked up the book then had to contend with self-mythologizing (sexy bad girl) that turned some people off (myself included) and some people on (Tony Towle reviewed it twice!). The point is, though, that she took a chance on writing a heartbreaking work, staggering genius arguable.

Thus Anne Winters. I’m not inclined to buy many books by University of Chicago poets, but I read “The Mill-Race” online, was blown away, got the book. Was blown away. Maybe I’m a sucker for the subject matter—the brutal economics of New York. Maybe, as with the Wasserman, I am too susceptible to the catharsis of tragic storytelling in whatever form (“An Immigrant Woman”). But if I’m attracted to her concerns I’m also attracted to her vocabulary: an engineering vocabulary, a vocabulary of infrastructure. It’s earthy, smithy, tough.

One could complain that she’s championed by Pinsky, complain that she’s too literal in some places, too ornate in others. I just don't want to hear that she’s not avant-garde. That’s a descriptor sought after by some of the most vapid books of our time, cf. Lisa Robertson’s The Weather—hiding its emptiness behind a quote from Arcades Project!—and, to bring it home for the movie-going friends, it’s the same reason In the Mood for Love is a hundred times greater than Chungking Express.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Chile Peppers in the Blistering Sun

Jordan hypothesizes me as Marianne Moore to Anselm's WCW.

As Jake would say, touching my coffee mug, "That's hot."

I'm totally judgemental about fem. poets using sexuality/desire to promote themselves. Except til I realize how in-the-eye-of-the-beholder it is.

Less and Less Scholarly

I'm not so sure Maggie -- your claim for Bergvall sounds suspiciously like the same old claim made for Langpo: that it's more, not less, accessible because it's supposedly more immediate and less referential. One of the things I've found most distasteful about NY readings in the past 10 years is how the more an audience feels it can gloss right through the meaning without losing anything, the better the reading is. As if the less a poem says, the better it is. Really, it's enough to drive me back to Yeats.

I think I'm going to sojourn into experimental fiction. For some reason I'm obsessed with getting hold of Steve Erickson's "Our Ecstatic Days." I got pretty competent at translating Homer by my 3rd semester of Greek in college, but believe me, going to a "Great Books Program" absolutely spoiled the classics for me for the rest of my life. Except for Sappho and the Roman poets. But then, Great Books Programs ignore poetry insofar as Plato was the last word on the subject.

Not So Scholarly Scholarly Debate

Don't know what I could really add to your comment, Ange. I like the work of dead people most these days, though that wasn't true when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I read dead people and my friends' work if they send it to me. This I guess started because I realized towards the end of college that I had no idea how to situate historically the stuff I read by people 20 years my senior. And I was in a Comp Lit program so I got out of lots of survey classes, though now I wish I had taken them. First I was too cool to read the dead. I wanted the NOW. And then I grew up and I almost only want to read the dead. (Though I'm really liking Bob Dylan's CHRONICLES, but that in fact is mostly a book about all the books he read while writing songs and he liked really old books. He likes his authors really dead.) Right now I am plodding through Paterson and Fagles' translation of The Odyssey and Dylan in between looking for a place to live. I can't think of much more exciting reading.

Somewhat in opposition to what I just said (I think but maybe not): I heard some NEW GREAT great work this week at Jocelyn Saidenberg and Brandon Brown's series @ New Langton. It was a poetry reading that was amazingly refreshing. I think some people might have really not liked it but I dug it big time. The first reader was Brandon Fowler aka BARR. He was I guess a "rapper" but it was not really like anything I've ever heard. I guess it was a little bit like a Beastie Boy writing for an LA or NY art gallery audience. It was very alive and funny and a lot like screaming really complicated ideas in a fifteen year old's vocabulary really fast. Funny and smart and really really alive. Suddenly felt like language was joining the conversation other artists are having here. Like art was all one. Not like here is a great painting that is pushing the idea of beauty and here on the next page is a stodgy poem mostly useful to separate the news article from the ad (ie NEW YORKER) but like language was in the same conversation paint was having. OK. He was followed by Caroline Bergvall and Fowler really warmed up the audience. Everyone was very receptive to Caroline's work -- to the performance of it. Lots of cheers. It was music. Both their languages were music though it was all mostly language. Sound poetry. And Caroline's work I think of more as sound pieces than written pieces. So much of it is about the way she uses her mouth to say it. This is especially obvious in pieces where she uses different languages in single sentences. The joke is the sound of the french and english building a single structure together. It sounded fantastic. Like an audible cultural pingpong. Humorous. Sonorous. Sensual. The reading made me feel as though poetry were up to date. Alive and well. Like I could bring my movie friends to a poetry reading and it would all be one big discussion. They would get poetry like the way they get movies. I'm tired. Hope this is clear -- somewhat articulate. Sleep well.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Looking for the Outside

Maggie, as we speak, the line drawn between Modernism and Post-Modernism is being fiercely contested, with hundreds of academic careers hanging in the balance. I had the same thought you did, not when I read Paterson but when I saw Duchamp's Green Box (in book form) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: What was new about Langpo if Duchamp (and other Dadaists) pioneered these techniques decades earlier? And the Cobain attitude -- the Dadaists were there first too. I could never even understand what was so innovative about Berrigan's Sonnets. It seemed like everything great about Modernism had been done by 1959, and the rest was filigree. I think it was Brian Kim Stefans who reminded me that the sarcasm in, say, Kevin Davies' work was taken right from Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and Eliot's Sweeney. And then one is challenged to read more scholarship, to stay on top of the latest debates, to be intellectually social....

Having just sped through MoMA in under an hour last week (a form pioneered by three characters in Godard film who clearly still hold the championship title), I find myself in the role of pilgrim at the same old masterpieces: Starry Night! Ma Jolie! Bird in Space! Suprematist Composition: White on White! Anything Warhol and after looks like a toy. And then one is challenged to read more scholarship, to stay on top of the latest debates, to be intellectually social....

Monday, February 21, 2005

Demands of an Inner Teleology

Because Presidents have died so we could work weekends, or something like that, we are celebrating Presidents Day Weekend as we would any normal day: Dad’s working. Mom’s brewing more coffee. Baby’s being beatific, thriving in the quick synapse between “Oh Wow!” and “Oh no!” I would renounce all philosophy to live there.

A winter storm—red sky, falling snow—reminds us Spring is far away. This morning I forced myself to go to the park with Jake and I saw an ugly plant I recognized as witch hazel. It was flowering its scraggly mustardy flowers. I breathed it in deeply and caught a whiff of its perfume, February’s only consolation. I know Spring will cause a pure delirium in me this year, as always. I may fantasize about L.A. and endless summer, but I’m enough of a New Yorker now to say, without irony, “Yeah, we thought about moving to Montclair but now we just think we’ll stay in Park Slope until we can escape to Vermont.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

While I've been Awol....

...I've seen too many over-priced horrible rooms and one beautiful one under-priced. Cross your fingers, say a prayer.

I've also made it to the Berkeley library with Kevin Killian to help him organize the Spicer collection. Spicer wrote mostly in pencil in child-like handwriting. I saw the handwritten version of Psychoanalysis: An Elegy -- a favorite of mine. There's something strange about rummaging through a poet's papers. I at first was awe-struck -- a feeling of doing sacred work but soon it seemed very ordinary. That's not to say it wasn't fascinating but as I was going through Steve Jonas' letters to Spicer's (which came one a day and were fat with speed language) I realized that the scene Spicer was in wasn't that different than the current poetry community. Jonas was always sending Spicer three or four new poems in a letter. At the rate he was going many weren't that good. Spicer from what Jonas wrote seems to not have replied very often and the silence Jonas took as a commentary on the work. But the fact is there were many letters from Jonas that have only been open now by the archvists. I guess still a commentary for the work: slow down. And then Spicer's letters to Blaser were similar in some ways to Jonas' letters to him: 'why haven't you replied yet, Robin? what do you think of the new draft?' And it's very comforting every now and then to see a BAD Spicer poem. The guy was human.

I'm about half-way through Williams' Paterson and it makes me think over and over again that Post-Modernism is a sham. Everything that I thought LANGUAGE poetry invented Williams already did. The only thing that is different is the tone. There's no Kurt Cobain 'everything's a joke' attitude in the work. Maybe that should just be a marker of Late Modernism -- meaning NOW. Reading this book is like learning your grandparents had kinky sex and loved it at a moment when you still believe that you invented the missionary position.

David Larsen is a genius. His performance in Jocelyn Saidenberg and Brandon Brown's series at New Langton arts was to say the least extraordinary. I'm not sure if I can quite describe it but I'll give it a go. First of all he recites them. Most of them memorized but even the read ones seem memorized. Something like Edward Gorey meets Black Sabbeth meets the Meet Puppets meets Homer. "The Basket of Blood" involved a basket of blood and a homemade mask. I'd have to see him do it all again and keep a notebook in my hand to really be able to sketch it out for you here. I just went for the ride.

Thursday Caroline Bergvall. Always good.

As for my book, I'm debating when and where to put dashes.

I'll be back -- M.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

While Maggie's awol

and Morocco is rightfully more interesting than heavy-hearted European poets, here is a diary entry from the summer of 1999:

Two Moroccan students, boys, from the university were escaping at the same time we were. They got in the back of the taxi and we got in front. They recognized me from my poetry reading a week or so back, and complimented me on it. I was flattered even though I was quite sure that no one understood a line of it. [It was a group reading/performance with Arabic poets and musicians so the audience was large.]

"I loved how musical it was," one of the boys said, of my reading. It was the right thing to say. I snapped to attention and asked about Moroccan poetry.

He launched into a rhapsodic lecture about Arabic verse. "In Arabic," the other boy interjected, "many words double as both noun and verb -- it's very beautiful." Oh yes, I said, we have this in English too, it creates a beautiful effect. The boys' eyes veritably rolled back in their heads. I was struck by this display of appreciation on a technical matter -- would American undergraduates in the poetry workshops I'd taught react this way? Hardly.

The more talkative boy continued: "We also now have free verse, and the beauty of the language becomes highly important. But I'm worried that poetry is going to lose its audience. Life itself is becoming less beautiful. The language is being degraded, especially by TV, where broadcasters make errors in speaking all the time and no one cares. And French is our second language instead of classical Arabic."

I said that American poetry shared some of these problems. The homogenization of the language through mass media made people more impatient with different ways of writing -- perhaps more beautiful ways. But before I could say that American poets were used to finding ways to write poetry about a world that was, as they said, "less beautiful," the taxi ride was over. We had arrived in Azrou, a dusty, dirty, luminous Berber town where the first order of the day was to give loose change to the widows, cripples and amputees who lingered near the taxi stand.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Not Your Summer Vacation

I didn't bring my Chanel to Morocco. How little I knew of the ways of the world. In the compound where I lived -- surrounded by concertina wire and protected by armed guards at the front gate -- wealthy Moroccan girls sat around brushing one another's long hair, dressed for a Spanish discotecque. I was dressed for a Middle Atlas goat-herder's village, pop. 10,000. There was the sad fact: I underscored the number one cliche of the American woman. No doubt my barrenness and medium-length brown bob were of a piece.

When the Dean of Humanities tapped me to run their new Writing Center, I agreed, but only for a large salary. He understood completely. Later I found out some male students wouldn't seek out my help because it was losing face before a woman -- but many girls did their boyfriends' schoolwork. Not necessarily because they were smarter than their boyfriends, but because work itself was a sign of inferior status. That the country suffered from upwards of 30% unemployment; that the ostensible mission of the university was to make its young people "competitive in a global market"; these did not impinge on the sensibilities of the truly wealthy. Real prestige means you don't have to work. Ultimately that meant that the university professors were servants to the students. Women who worked were servants, period. The wealthy girls, brushing each other's hair for long hours in idle chitchat, understood their world very well. Feminism could help me negotiate larger increments of a small piece of pie, but they had something grander in mind.

I wanted very desperately to be well-dressed the day one of my students invited me to her home, a beachside villa outside of Casablanca. The Atlantic pounded on the western shore as we sat out on the back veranda, and more and more guests came pouring in. The former ambassador to Japan, his stunning Danish wife beside him. A Lebanese newspaper publisher. A translator for King Hassan II. Alia, 18, didn't tell me I was being invited to a salon. She finally arrived, some time after the mistress left. Alia and her father lived a comedy of manners, each trying to hide their paramours from each other -- hers an older man, his a younger woman. Anyway, Alia arrived and I don't quite remember what she wore, but I can safely say my husband and I looked like a couple of bumpkins in this elite company, though we were treated graciously and with great curiosity, since America was not something to be hated but something to put to one's advantage when possible. Alia's father, an Iraqi dissident with pied-a-terres in several corners of the globe, thought that the US simply didn't finish the job during the first Gulf War.

Alia's mother, a Moroccan feminist activist and friend of Fatima Mernissi, had divorced Alia's father "though they still love each other!" the inveterately romantic Alia claimed. I always wanted to hear more about her mother, but Alia scoffed at politics. I had been specifically "assigned" to Alia by the Dean, because she "liked to write," but when I hauled out my trusted anthology of 20th C French poetry, ed. Paul Auster, and gave her some suggested reading, I learned quickly that my real job was otherwise.

That day by the ocean has acquired a 19th century haze in my mind, as if I had stepped into a Tagore story. Late in the afternoon, after the banquet, we sat in a drawing room where Alia gave a piano recital, singing Andrew Lloyd Webber numbers. "Alia," her father said warmly, clapping with ultra fatherly indulgence, "if your grandfather could see you now, singing in a room of men, he would have murdered you."

Monday, January 31, 2005

If It Gives Pleasure, It Must Not Be Serious

Anyone who was mildly rankled by Vendler saying there is no “major” thirty-something poet should take a look at Ashes for Breakfast, Durs Grünbein’s selected poems. I’ve been waiting five years or so to see a Grünbein volume in translation. He is Germany’s major younger poet and won its major literary prize at the age of 33. Born in 1962, he is roughly of my generation. Call him, then, Vendler’s exemplar.

I like Grünbein—I especially liked Rosmarie Waldrop’s translations of his early poems for The Exact Change Yearbook. But the very title Ashes for Breakfast telegraphs the nature of the cross an “important poet” must bear, and the translator’s comparisons to Joseph Brodsky don’t further endear me to the project. If the price of being an internationally recognized poet—perhaps one even in the running for a Nobel—is that I must forego the autonomy of the imagination to be the “conscience” of the race, or the voice of the zeitgeist, then no thank you and no thank you. And I feel privileged, for once, to be an American if our most marvelous poets like Connie Deanovich or Christopher Edgar don’t feel obliged to suborn their gifts to a “moral” vision.

Sure, Grünbein is East German—history weighs on those people, etc.; we have no history so we must borrow others’, cf. Godard. But if Godard’s right then aren’t I right?—forget Europe’s history; make your own damn poetry. The freedom (degraded word, but vis-a-vis art still relevant) is yours.

And I feel extra exuberant about this after seeing In the Realms of the Unreal at The Film Forum this weekend. Of course it is meaningless to say one would choose to be Henry Darger, but instead, one can use his example to throw the worldly efforts of the Vendlers and Grünbeins into perspective. And we can see that as extraordinary, as heartbreaking, as Darger’s circumstances were, it is possible to emulate him in spirit, placing the imagination at the center of our investigations — better that than be overly concerned with the brittle criteria of the “major” or “important.”

Thursday, January 27, 2005

...vs. my hate-love Vendler thing

Lest I sound like one of those cretins that populate the Buffalo Poetics List or Foetry, I must emphasize that, in a sense, she represents the kind of person I most would have liked to be, once.

She is the perfect representative of a prelapsarian view of poetry, such that I wonder if my hostility originates in a sense of betrayal -- that someone who could love Donne and Shakespeare's Sonnets could edit such a snore as the Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry.

Like her, my gut reactions to poems are formalist and aesthetic. The problem with her is that she doesn't see issues of attitude, personality, and yes ideology as part of the formal apparatus. I am so totally a fallen poet! I guess I must be...the snake in the garden.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

My Love-Hate Vendler Thing

Today an article on Helen Vendler online at the Chronicle of Higher Education helps me clarify what I meant when I complained about the uses to which Elizabeth Bishop is put. Like most New American Poetomanes, I chafe at Vendler's insulated tastes. And yet.

There was a time when I, too, wanted to be Gerard Manley Hopkins. If I had discovered poetry as an undergrad, be it Williams or Brown or Iowa, et cetera, I might have formed a notion of poetry that was more contemporary, that cleaved to the language of my teachers, but no, I "discovered" poetry in abandoned textbooks at stoop sales, and what there was was Hopkins, Eliot, Stevens, not to mention Frost and Roethke and maybe WCW's "The Kermess." Pretty conservative. Pretty great. But by the time I left college with a degree in philosophy, I had lost God and acquired its poor substitute skepticism, and thus it became impossible to access the sublime as I had formerly known it. The sublime was sublimated, then, in a more deeply informed Modernism which opened me up to the New Americans. Like ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, I passed rapidly through the stages of Romanticism, death of God, Modernism, contemporaneity. I had no use for the contemporary poets Vendler championed -- from practically my infancy. If someone so steeped in the fiery language of Hopkins, Donne, Shakespeare, or Yeats could only champion the most bleached-out, angsty white upper-middle-class American poets, either she or I had to be seriously mistaken.

Let me indulge my class rage for a sec. After a few years in Boston and New York, you realize the deal -- that, while you always knew you weren't born into privilege, you had deluded yourself into thinking that you didn't want it anyway. That your desires weren't about Chanel suits, country houses, jaguars. Oh, but then you came to New York and met rich girls who had beautiful educations, the kind you dreamed of, and themselves moved quite naturally, smoothly, from Dalton to Yale to Princeton to great private school jobs teaching poetry to other smart, rich kids; or to tenured jobs -- tenured without a ripple -- in quaint, beautiful disciplines in universities while you & your own friends were hired as adjuncts, comp teachers, teaching to foreign students and single mothers trying to learn English so they could make it in American business.

(Well, Vendler came to her vocation back when girls, much less working-class Catholic girls like her, didn't often penetrate the upper echelons of academia, aka the fiefdom of white guys sinking softly into alcoholism, quoting Milton. ((Now imagine Susan Howe rewriting Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)) I appreciate Vendler's triumph.)

Academia's equation of education and tradition with upper-class mores finds its apotheosis in Robert Lowell, our own Rain King, riche, mais impuissant, jeune et pourtant très vieux. Say you never "got" Lowell. Say lines like "the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons" and "giant finned cars nose forward like fish" always struck you as lame, quotidian, nothing like what you got from "the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream" or "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." Nothing like what you got from Barbara Guest's

"The Art Classes above the basement cafeteria clumped about and dragged things across the floor. 'Picasso's heavy easel,' murmured Arnholt. 'With Las Meninas on it,' shouted Pedersen."

(Suddenly the easel carries the real weight of figures, a la Moore's dictum; you feel their weight in your bones.)

No, you never got this from Lowell, but somehow he loomed over a generation, then over the second half of the 20th century, in the minds of those who really, really just wanted his princeling comportment, his aristocracy -- not an aristocracy of the imagination, but the real toad in the garden!

Ah, etiolated white people! Ah, timid poetry!

Friday, January 21, 2005

I Finished... novel today. Four years. Done. Now proofreading.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

America hasn't sucked the joy completely out of my life

When a friend and her boyfriend invited me and Steve to see the Pixies on their reunion tour, I declined, not saying why. After all, moms don't get out much, no excuses necessary. And when they do get out, or when I do get out, I stay in the neighborhood (every 45 minute ride on the F is another $10 for the babysitter). And when I do stay in the neighborhood, I don't attend loud shows full of 20-something hipster snots (like me 10 years ago, but without the pushing to get to the stage). My last such show was The Mountain Goats, and I nearly burst into tears when the opening act pushed on past 11 pm. I wanted to get home and go to sleep.

But the reason I didn't see the Pixies was because I was never enough of a fan to know all the songs and lyrics, and shows aren't fun for me if I don't know the songs. That's why it's doubly wonderful, since I love poetry about twice as much as I love music, to go to a poetry reading where I know the poet's work very well. I get rapturous. This week I downloaded mp3s of James Schuyler reading -- a rare and gentle thing -- and downright wept for joy. They are available at Upenn Sound. (Thanks to blogger Laurable).

There are plenty of living poets I feel this way about, but with everyone reading so often in New York not only is it less imperative to go out and hear someone (hell, they'll be reading again next season, so what's the rush?) but without the raison d'etre of a new book to orient and prepare the listener, one ends up hearing a lot of "new work" whether it's ready or not -- and whether the listener is ready or not. I cannot possibly be the only one who feels that this is a problem. I can hardly be the only person who thinks that reading series more often than not serve the curator, not the poets, and that implicit debts are bought and paid by participating in various series both as performers and listeners.

I say this both as someone who has read a lot in NYC myself -- feeling ill-served by many of them, to tell you the truth -- and a person who constantly feels she has to apologize for missing so much (parenthood or no parenthood, I'm not upholding culture!), and a person who hates when non-literary people sneer at readings. Like I say, they can be rapturous events.

In fact, I am going to make a special trip to Chicago in May just to see a reading by one of my favorite poets. I've been a fan of Connie Deanovich's for 8 years and have never seen her read, so when I found out she is scheduled to do so at Columbia College, I vowed I would be there. This must be the first time I've bought a plane ticket to hear a poetry reading. But the rarity of the occasion gives it urgency, makes it special.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Jam the White House Server!

Everyone, if you can't protest tomorrow, at least write Bush: Bush's email
is Cheney's is
a message to him tonight and pass his address along. Maybe we can jam the

I just sent Bush the following message:

Mr. Bush,

You are a murderer, a liar and a thief. I can think of few Americans who
deserve to serve as President of this country less than you do.

Magdalena Zurawski, SF, CA

Protest I Must

Ange, I too went to that inauguration protest and I saw the limo get hit with the egg. Michael Moore reminded me that I did in Fahrenheit 9/11. After all the war protests I could barely remember the inauguration until F 9/11. The rain was too strong for the rich to cheer their president on and so it was the protestors lining the streets. I only wish I could be in DC tomorrow. I'll be here at the SF Civic Center if only to say "not in my name." If you can't make it to a protest tomorrow protest by spending no money. - M

The Crack-Up

Four years ago, Maggie, I took a bus to DC with Lisa Jarnot to protest the Bush inauguration; little did I know what lay in store. I thought I was protesting a stolen election, a frat boy, a rich boy masquerading as the Biblical prodigal son; I thought I was protesting an evangelical Christian agenda and the dismantling of the New Deal.

Now, I am a mother and by proxy the murderer of other mothers' children. And of other children's mothers, viz. the photo in today's NY Times, and more where that came from at the BBC website. A family had run a checkpoint, so they say.This is what the American people endorsed -- "ratified" when they re-elected Bush, and I can no more "protest" his inauguration than I can drink the "hot coffee" Jake brings me in a little cup from his play kitchen set. So I guess I am swinging toward nihilism today. But a nihilist can still put her head down on her desk and sob.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Finally! A day to try to finish my novel. Instead I am checking my credit report and blogging! It is still permanently mercury retrograde in my life. This time the roommate bought a cat. I have cat allergies. She knew. I'm moving out. Hence the credit report checking.

This is the consequence of engaging in unpaid labor. Roommates. You have very few ways of protecting your environment. But I am four pages away from finishing this fucker and I promised I would finish by the inauguration. And well I have to protest Thursday at 5 so I better start typing.

Is there a word for that activity of doing everything except writing after spending days trying to get time to write?

Does this mean that Jake is almost 2? Has he been in office half as long as monkey-man our fearless leader?

Ange I have your collected Ginsberg and your Lift Jonas Issue but I think I told you that and you said to keep holding on to it. Is that possible?

Please everyone Creatively Visualize me finishing my novel on the inaguration.


Monday, January 17, 2005

A Door to the Stars Beyond the Tomb

I hope Ron Silliman says more about fatherhood tomorrow. The mother in me just likes to read anything about kids, but the feminist in me likes to hear men talk about their kids. One has only to peruse the Wesleyan book _The Grand Permission_ (by the way, if you are the person who borrowed this from me last year, I forgot who you are; please give it back) to conclude that women poets have nothing interesting to say whatsoever on the confluence of poetry, motherhood, and MATERIALITY. Few ladies of the Wesleyan canon even mentioned the economics of motherhood; and if I hear anything more about "balancing" I'm going to unbalance a drink on someone's expensive shoes at the next Barnard symposium.

The fact is, either the men have to be breadwinner and poet, which is heroic, or they have to be the dreaded "househusband" which is counterheroic and, in our current climate, brave.

Full disclosure: I have spent my entire adult life avoiding work as much as possible (temping, collecting unemployment, going to grad school...) but it was only with the arrival of my son that my husband has let me freeload. Freeloading as a poet has had a long and honorable history, which I won't go into here, but of course the feminist in me bristles at it, and I don't like any hypocrisy about it. I do 2 kinds of unpaid work, and I'm lovin it. Doesn't mean I'm a role model. Doesn't make me special.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Magster & the Angimal: A photo

Couldn't manage to put up a pic in our "profile" -- of us at that crazy bar in the Mission.

So our audience will just have to imagine it.

And Looked Our Infant Sight Away

Poor Jake, I thought at the time, but really: every new life is like the first fern after a forest fire, radically untouchable.

When I think about your visit back when he was nine days old, I get a little teary.

Contra beginnings, I was actually thinking about endings tonight. Endings of poems. I saw a PBS show about new research on "happiness," and the Princeton prof guesting spoke of people's inability to remember the duration of an emotional event: they mainly remember the ending, or their emotion at the ending.

This correlates brilliantly with people's experience of poems, of course. The ending is always overdetermined -- it drives me crazy. A reading John Ashbery did at MIT in 1997 (Dan Bouchard will remember this) of "Over 2,000 Ilustrations and a Complete Concordance" concluded with such a loud cliched sigh from the audience that in a fit of madness I wrote a term paper calling Elizabeth Bishop's soul "the damp gray of a Presbyterian church" -- !

I make a pact with you, Elizabeth Bishop. I have hated you long enough.

Did I really hate her? I hated the uses people made of her -- particularly in Boston.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Dark Times

I remember holding Jake in my hands for the first time and it literally was my hands because he fit into both my palms and needed no more and it was only days after the war began. I think for everyone America has changed deeply in the last few years and to bring a child into the world at that drastic turn must make it all the more real.

I don't agree with Duncan's isolation and I agree with you about people who don't vote. I just remember a pain in his being that was very palpable. I deep frustration that led him to a shutting down. Or that was my gut-level read of him.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Requirements for Interior Expensiveness

I drafted about five different replies to your post, Maggie, since my first impulse was to launch into arias-n-diatribes about Brown, classrooms, poetics, etc. etc. But I shouldn't get distracted. The refusal to watch the news, like the refusal to vote, feels too much like aristocratic dissociation to me. And this may not be a bad thing to save one's sanity. I'm interested less in saving my sanity than in not becoming a nihilist. I feel dangerously close some days. Everybody agrees we live in dark times; nobody can tell me how to comport myself in accordance with my nature. It's all about what side I'm on -- on the matter of God and Marx most of all. But I can't even commit to vegetarianism. I'm basically an aesthete without an adequate cultural context, chafing at having brought a child into this world where the only verities are power relations and the only certainty is death. Everybody I've talked to who dismisses this has no children of their own.

[5 minutes later] Maybe I just need to get back to nature?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Reply to Soft Bulletin

As an undergrad I had a Professor of German Poetry (Duncan Smith) who was a Marxist and had created the only exchange program between an East German University and an American one. He taught this unusual course where he didn't really care so much if we understood completely the words of the German lyrics. He more encouraged us to perform the poems for the class. At first this meant simply reading the poems out loud. He would have different people read the same poem and comment on the reading style and talk about what was missed by pausing or not pausing or accenting or not accenting in certain places. He believed we could understand just by hearing it correctly. By the time mid-terms came along we had to partner up and make projects out of these poems that became sensual experiences for the class. My friend Greta and I used Rilke's Orphues poem (of course, we were way into Spicer) and created some sort of blind labrynth for our class to walk through. The production involved dry ice. Another project (I can't remember what the point was exactly but I think it was connected to a Holderlin poem) involved a video we made of me walking on a winter beach with a metal detector. What I'm getting at is that Duncan refused to watch the news. He was probably the first person to show me that poetry was a way of looking. And to continue looking through poetry he stopped watching the news. In this he differed from my teachers who were actual poets. They seemed not so eccentric but studious practitioners. Duncan was more of a quirky uncle who gave you permission to play with poetry in a way that a writer wouldn't. For Duncan poetry was about creating a reality where everything was a poem. I remember him pointing out a way of seeing a particular matchbook as a poem. I don't know what I would think of him now that I am a skeptical self-conscious adult but there is a way that his class permitted us to really go head first into the existential questions posed by the lyrics we read. Or just by the act of reading poetry in this world. We really felt what was at stake in the poems. Philosophically and existentially. And this was directly related to the performance of them. The low-tech antics were crucial to freeing our imaginations to fully imagine what was posed by the reading. I remember being shocked when he told me he had several years earlier stopped following the news. He didn't read or listen to the news and he was frustrated with Postmodernism. He was in the Modern Culture and Media Department which was the Mecca of PoMo at Brown and he detested the way PoMo was debunking everything. I think I agree with him now more than I did then. There was a reverence he had for the poetry. He believed whatever motivated it was a real human (intellectual and emotional) need. It was not just about debunking ambigious syntax and coming up with the cleverest and most skeptical reading. It seems that rejecting the news was a way of rejecting a world view -- a skeptical world view. But often the poems he loved most were the ones that revealed a psychic fissure caused by the world outside the poem. He was one of the first people to point out to me that the German word for poetry "Gedicht" comes from the verb "dichten" which means to seal off. For instance if there is a draft in my room I get something to make my windows "dicht." A poem is something that is air-tight sealed-off from the outside. To dichten is to make something so. A poet is a Dichter. One who seals off. But over and over again he showed us in the poems that this wasn't true. There was always a fissure. It seemed that not knowing what was happening in the world was one way he tried to fend off many possible fissures.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A kind of soft bulletin

Creative Visualization – I may need some of that. If the flagrant immorality of the Iraq War weren’t enough to turn my hair gray, now we have 24/7 tsunami coverage, and the Mithridatic doses of agony I usually sip from others’ tragedies have passed the poison threshold, thanks to the new TV screens at the Prospect Park YMCA. There I am on the, what do you call it, “Elliptical” during a CNN broadcast of some little boy who held his sisters on his lap while they called “Mama” and drowned – and suddenly I’m like doubling over. Maybe I shouldn’t be watching this stuff? And yet there’s some “If I don’t watch it, who will?” existential despair about it all. A witnessing that may or may not be pointless.

Yesterday evening I accompanied my husband to his firm’s annual winter ball. We made small talk with a woman from Litigation and her date, perhaps the only African-American man in the room, whose savoir-faire struck me. Then the inevitable “What do you do?” revealed that he hosts a cable TV show. “We don’t have cable,” I said at one point, politely exculpating myself for not recognizing him. But my husband did, and said excitedly, “I just saw your show over Christmas, and you took a caller who complained that your guests are too conservative.” (Yes, he remembered that caller.) “Since the election, I feel the media are embracing conservatives—is this true? Is the media afraid of the Republicans?”

Of course not, the man explained: there were equal numbers of liberals and conservatives on the show, and the network employed a cadre of people just to keep statistical track of how many liberals, conservatives, blacks, Hispanics, women, etc. participated, so they could be balanced.

Steve pressed his question though, and the man did admit that since the Republicans did win a second term, they felt emboldened to argue their agendas more aggressively.... I grew more and more disengaged, staring off into the cavernous room with its massive pillars and chandeliers. His expressions, both facial and verbal, were of such a blandness that if this were a movie, his manner would scream *technocratic treachery*.

The conversation didn’t go anywhere, of course, because nobody was seriously going to challenge him. He was an insider; we were all elites, drinking champagne at a company event. Last September at my in-laws, I briefly saw another show on his network wherein a young author was giving a talk on why humanities departments were superfluous at public universities and should be abolished. I didn’t linger there, bearing witness to this atrocity, because it was going to give me a stroke. And I knew not wasting my money on cable TV was the right and good thing, and the money I saved by doing this would go toward books and the time I saved would go toward reading them, and this I would wish for everyone, categorical-imperative-like. But what cut through my moroseness last night was this: as this man and his date detached from the clique, walking away, he called back his parting shot: “And you really should get cable. It’s worth it.” This animated my drinking for the duration of the ball.

Friday, January 07, 2005

New Year, Rainy Friday

The California winter of rain is here, has been here, and gives the impression that it will never not be here. And I am here in the bedroom of a pleasantly empty house with the pup sleeping soundly at my feet. It seems that I my at last return to myself.

The year ended in a series of minor disasters that lasted weeks (inaugurated by the Republican win)and included four car breakdowns and $500 worth of repairs and a possible cancer diagnosis for the pup (that turned out to be nothing but an abscess cured by antibiotics but like the car it took several visits to professionals and a couple of break-downs to diagnose and over $500).

But I have hope for the coming year, especially with Percy's clean bill of health and the "Creative Visualization" book I got right before Christmas. I am imagining that everything is good, so that it will be good. Try it. It doesn't cost anything.

As for poetry, my friend Aaron Kunin called me the other day. He's on his way to Montreal for a few days and wanted to get in touch with a local writer. He's one of my favorite people to talk with. He and Ange. He's read every book and seen every movie and teaches classes like Color in Film. Not like the difference between Black and White and Color but the way a color or colors are used in particular films. He has several great poems in the 3rd issue of NO: A Journal of the Arts. My favorite goes like this:

Girl and Reptile

and girl turns toward
the accident with
an expectant look

as if it had been
a deliberate
attempt to gain her

attention (her tongue
wiping the shredded
inside of her cheek)

and would you eat the
apple (again she
finds herself on the

phone yelling at a
stranger) I would peel
and core the apple

yes little brother
(her face contorted
and her tongue pressing

against her cheek caused
it to bulge) you shall
have an apple too

The flatness of the language -- the cleanliness of the language -- doesn't take any attention away from the surrealistically banal scenario. Almost like a David Lynch domestic scene rendered in poetry. A private violence lurking beneath the surface, in the mouth. An incestuous Adam and Eve though the title implies that the boy is a different species. What if The New Yorker printed this on the same page as the latest Seymour Hersch article? Wouldn't poetry then be contemporary and relevant, finally, obviously so?

Good to be back.

-- M