Sunday 6 May 2007
BREAD & POETRY
Now that I have some money, I have gone from buying bread to buying poetry. I stopped into Open Books this week. I have 4 new books with me. Oh how the Circlers will profit!
I stayed in the belly of the store for a long while, pulling author after author out of the ribs, stacking them on a bench near the spine. I pretended to be reading, but I was listening to the voices of the store. Five people visited while I was there. It was Friday, early afternoon. Two heavy-set women came in, separately, both well-seasoned poets. I didn't recognize either one. They had each picked up or dropped off some famous poet at the airport. They talked freely about their recent publications, of newer works and of being overlooked for this award or that, a reading series, a residency. Same old same old, the wrestling of poetry. Would that complaints magically turned into effort, into residency programs and print publications, the community would be dense then, the poetry movement might be at its beginning. A tall and big man came in. He had been drinking at The Blue Moon (where Roethke used to hang out). He was also a writer and had much to say about all sorts of general things. He chatted volubly with the owners.
LE MONOCLE DE MON ONCLE
I took my turn. I introduced myself to John, the husband part of the team. I had invited him to read for my series a few weeks ago. Though he said yes, he was having difficulty fitting into the 7pm schedule. The bookstore closes at 7pm. We discussed my Matchbook Poems. I left samples last time I visited. John was worried at the thought of matches in a bookstore, but decided to take them anyway and so we traded for store credit. Then he offered some names of local writers to solicit for my series. I scribbled them into my notebook.
I bought a miniature edition of James Wright's The Branch Will Not Break published by Wesleyan University Press. A hard cover measuring 3¼" x 2½", written in the tiniest legible font. I am not able to read it while walking. I suppose there is an industry standard being broken. I also bought, in more standard sizes, William Stafford's You Must Revise Your Life, Glyn Maxwell's The Breakage and Tomas Transtromer's Selected Poems 1954-1986. What a satchel of books! The trajectory I took then had everything to do with that potential. I pushed my bicycle down 45th, over I-5, to 8th and up to the ballpark on 50th where I claimed a spot in a carat of chain link fence and lay my books out in the grass. Look at these dear things. What a font! And this, with the blue matte cover! And then I read and read and read.
I found Fluxus artist Alison Knowles last night and brought her to the lake. I brought her work to the lake. Hers is the kind of performance I am searching for, that which stems from instruction, gesture, object, body, movement, symbol and purpose. Her work intrigues me, especially "Onion Skin Song." This too is poetry. This too is a form of thinking that changes the world.
THE BRANCH WILL NOT BREAK
Judith and her son Robin visit. I recognize Robin from Ski-for-All. They sign back and forth to one another. I read the first in the series of Glyn Mawell's "Letters to Edward Thomas." Judith recites one of her poems. I follow with "Roof of Air." She asks, "Are you funded for this?" Ha, I think, but Judith isn't the first to ask. Her question raises all sorts of other questions and leads me to the notion of time, the question of time, the idea of money, to the idea of time is money.
I work out another idea. Time is beauty. Where we direct our time, things grow. We nourish beauty. What kind of beauty do we nourish? A poem, a child, a wooden boat? A garden, an organization, a symphony? Time is a rainfall to the object. Where it falls, it feeds the roots of things and works its way up the trunks and on to the very tip ends of the tapered branches to the buds, the leaves and, in the end, o the petals of the thing. Time is movement, beauty is a change in form, an energy shift. We call it beauty. It is nothing more than the ability to change. And time is what feeds it. Time and love. Energy and water.
a familiar material
arranged by fives
springs in the breeze
some thing noble
under the weight
of some thing gray
unfolds its pennant
&mottles the light
18 may 2007
FROM WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO LIVE?
If you were able to drop four books onto your own homeland before it developed into what it is now, before humans had come into existence, wisdom to later be found by some developing life form offering them a sort of blueprint on how to live, which books do you think would prove the most instructive for achieving a responsible and morale society?
The Wart sends me in 24 directions. Michael and Michael expound on these. And we're off! They offer musicians, playwrights, novelists and filmmakers. It is agreed that Donovan Leitch, Scottish singer and songwriter, provided much instruction in his album Fairy Tale. "The real gem on this record is "The Ballad of a Crystal Man." In my opinion it is just about the best antiwar song ever written. The young people knew so much back then, why oh why has the world turned out the way it has" [From an Amazon review by Danielle Lane]. And his album of sonnets, "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden." And what about "Sunshine Superman?" "The Isolation of Beautiful Women?" "The Magellic Clouds?" Yes and Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana." Oh you have to include The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. Yes "The Zoo Story" seems particularly suited to Green Lake.
Then there is Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. "Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway; 'and even if my head would go through,' thought poor Alice, 'it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.'" How this applies too. If only our shoulders weren't so big, we could get into the poetry of the place!
Add August Strindberg's A Dream Play for its observations on the problems of being human, the problem of humans being human, being pitiable. I recall getting a lot out of the sci-fi paperback This Immortal by Roger Zelazny. And out of Ghosts by Ibsen and The American Dream by Albee for their discussion of dreams and taboos. Kenneth Patchen's experimental novel, The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer, taught me how to keep my humanity. Add Allen Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. And something by Andre Norton, the prolific Tennessee writer who died in 2005, after penning 200 books. "She requested before her death that she not have a funeral service, but instead asked to be cremated along with a copy of her first and last novels" [Andre-Norton.org). Oh, and add Wise Blood by Flannery O'Conner.
Michaels mentions then a poet, no one has called on poetry as instructor yet. I don't know his name. He describes in one of his poems the smell of the war. My searching yields only this book by Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, a book about the Spanish Civil War. "Orwell has little to say about…the urge to find out the truth…and yet this is what drove him to see Spanish Civil War firsthand. He arrived in Spain as a journalist intending to sort out the conflicting stories about the war, yet he soon found himself volunteering to fight Franco and the fascists. When he tells us the smell of war is the smell of human excrement, left by the soldiers near their trenches, he's not interested in a vivid memoir. He's after the truth of the experience of war, as he knew it. Near the end of the book there's another moment that is quintessential Orwell: "In case I have not said this somewhere earlier in the book I will say it now: beware of my partisanship, my mistakes of fact and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one corner of events. And beware of exactly the same things when you read any other book on this period of the Spanish war." How often have you come across a similar warning in a book on war or politics? This encapsulates why Orwell is so remarkable" (John Bradley, Big Bridge #12).
BEER FOR THE HOMELESS
I shared a new project idea, "Homeless Poetry," with The Wart. It's elicited some strong responses from those I've shared it with. The idea is to solicit homeless people to wear t-shirts for a day, to raise money for reconstruction and housing in New Orleans and then to exhibit their photographs, portrait-style, as a gallery exhibit in the hopes of raising more money from the viewing audience. I imagined it would be an inspire change. If the homeless can work together to affect change, why can't I?
The shirts will have slogans on their fronts in bold lettering, things like "Poetry is Dead" and "Poetry is for Losers." I was surprised that the project, which in its conception included giving cash directly to the homeless, met with such opposition. Philanthropic concerns of how the cash money would be used (alcohol and drugs) and what our responsibility is in that. But God forbid someone should tell us how to use our money! What do we spend our hard earned dollars on? How much of it goes to the homeless? How much goes to gasoline? How much to paper products? How much to saturated fats? Alcohol? Refined sugar? Preservatives? Supposing my employer withheld payment for work I'd done because he didn't approve of how I was spending my money?
The Wart responded with a shrug. There's a project on the web called "Beer for the Homeless." They were likewise blasted for their irresponsibility. A legitimate charity, they raise money to buy beer for the homeless, the idea being that not all homeless people are alcoholics and that a beer shared between friends can be a dignified and warm gesture. Theirs is a much referred to site, but it seems to have disappeared from the web.
In April, Pope Benedict let go of limbo. What a shift in the heavens! What a migration of souls! All those heroes! Eiee, the updraft! But will they be happy up in heaven? Will the accommodations suffice? Won't the wine be too well-balanced? The meat too tender? I suppose the feasts will be a little more lively, but how long before our heroes become transparent, get blanched by this all-loving, never-altering, God-perfect environment? How long before they lose their vitality? Or is this just it, is this the whole idea, to appropriate our heroes? Ho there, Pope Benedict, hold up! Just suppose we say no. You cannot have our heroes. Leave them be here in limbo. Leave them mellow in their imperfect, holy, non-Christian states, where we can keep an eye on them, where we can share in the glory of their imperfections. They are what we strive to be, human and heroic. Real heroes. Mothers. Fathers. Voyagers. Artists. Sinners.
How is such information going to alter our history and our art and literature? The liquidating of limbo is going to illegitimate Dante's First Circle of Hell. All those virtuous, non-Christian adults in Limbo are going to have to take their place in heaven. Pre-approved! And the souls in Milton's limbo, the Limbo of Vanity, the Paradise of Fools, the outer globe where Satan sat imagining the future, the foolish sinners, Milton's contemporaries, the monks and priests, they are all on their way up to heaven. The suicide victims. The unborn babies. O! Just think of the crowding! Perhaps the idea of "property" will begin to surface in heaven. Instead of oceanfront views, souls will bid for a view of God's light. Lawsuits will arise over the shading of one view over another. It could get messy. Better to leave our heroes in limbo.
"Limbo, rather, (meaning “hem” or “border”) is a construct of the Middle Ages, an alternative destination for the souls of the unbaptized who were previously thought, because of original sin, to go to hell. The question surrounding the fate of these souls was first addressed properly in the fifth century by St. Augustine, who concluded that they did in fact wind up in hell. Paula Frederiksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture at Boston University, says St. Augustine reached this conclusion as a result of his training in dialectical reasoning, a process of critical thinking whereby a problem is solved through the alternating consideration of opposing points. Since original sin was seen as being indelibly tied to the act of sex, and since babies were the natural result of that act, Augustine reasoned that they must carry sin. Ergo, those who die without having that sin removed must necessarily go to hell. “This was the corner he painted himself into,” says Frederiksen. Since Augustine was the last great Christian theologian before “the lights went out in the Western Roman Empire,” Frederiksen says, his theological legacy went essentially unchallenged for the next several hundred years. For this reason, Roman Catholics have traditionally baptized their children as soon as they could after birth, and Catholic missionaries have circumnavigated the globe, emphasizing baptism as the key to salvation" (Newsweek, "Letting Go of Limbo," MSNBC, 24 April 2007).
LET US COMBAT
With Ursula K. Le Guin's solstice chant from "Winter Solstice Ritual for the Pacific Northwest":
It is holy in the east.
It is holy in the north.
It is holy in the west.
It is holy in the south.
Up above it is holy.
Down below it is holy.
It is holy in the middle and around the outsides.
It is holy in all the crevices and little sticking-out bits.
It is holy in all the parts I have forgotten.
Between the toes and behind the ears it is holy.
Along the selvedges and hems and seams and gussets it is holy.
It is holy between 2:30 and 4 and even in prime time.
It is fairly generally and as a more or less continuous thing holy.