Friday, March 30, 2007

Wystan Hugh Auden on creative writing. This is worth reading only because of the line "Happy the lot of the pure mathematician." How does that line scan? Auden has at various times been a favorite windbag of mine, only because you have to know what not to aspire to as well.

Lumpy Sincerity

Write sky poems in an empty room
about psychological pneumonia.
Friends come and friends go
singular dance of the seasons, remain.

What common emotions, individual struggles
of beads and oceans and secret rivers.
My theme is perfect and without center
its beauty is its movement, glistening.

What music and pictures, of rocks
my approach is crumbling, splashes and
rites beneath shark harmony
your shoulders are a thin mystery.

Swimming in facts, afternoons flexible
exaggerations gallop as religious as Rome.
Hear them whisper, cats know—
musculature of the present flexing.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Old Fashioned Question Mark

Night is a limousine
on your tongue.

Press the flesh
of each final hour. Remember the
surface of each
tattered afternoon, naked as stone.

What dim fragrance kidnaps
your every blue second?

Who asks your name among a
crowd of strangers
and writes it in
your eyes?

There must be some
eternal conversation:
a flame
hardly noticed

as an ocean coalesces in your bones.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Another Ballad of Maps and Globes

Inbetween our faith incontinent
wheezes like a newly invented
instrument upon which we play
the hills from here to there.
Pretty tombstones like teeth
and not like teeth chew the
moon looking down upon this mess,
humans racing to and fro without alibis.
Capsized in the desert they will find us
crouching in the gutters of time
explorers of the inner side of nowhere.

Hart Crane: Master of Fogbanks

He discovered onyx, pendulum,
(one or two) and
composed jingles on the
tops of frogs, until the sun
descended in a
stereo sky. But still, he could not
answer the ultimate question why.

He gathered sticks and stones and
a few harpoons, astrolabes, a
few, and wrapped them loudly
in a velvet robe, (continents and oceans flew)
and at the moment of
death, there in the clearing he
carefully, miraculously knew
what was it he was supposed to.

Jumping from the deck of speech:

Dazzling Sky

We’ll go on living despite the intrusion.
Appreciative of your glance in my direction, the chiaroscuro
of moments, cast me in the role of son,
to the patriotic television is most painful,
I am now able to sit and calmly watch the screen,
let’s not forget that intellectual fever,
fetish of distances
bewildering silks.

Flambé vigilante, try the surface
disconfidence of illumination:
Culture wears shades.

And all at once, vultures arose,
jellyfish reality
completely dismantled.
Visit my outer space
and I’ll visit your self-preoccupied garden.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Gorgeous Illustrations

Feminine machines, themselves
like a fragrance, she said and the
table again strayed from its place
and moved about the room
with such lightness and laughter
and why are you reading
as her hands so absolute
in a good way, the precise manners
of New Englanders, like pillows,
filled with famine. Good luck there,
because love is a secret factory
manufacturing doubt and the
employees blow smoke rings
on their lunch breaks the size of
Manhattan. Scores of dahlias
feed him morning and, like green
sleep, right now is the time.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I woke up this morning and thought of Cid Corman, so I picked up the Origin anthology and it fell open to this page because of the postcard.

The Overlord of the North Sea said: "A frog
living in a well cannot be told of the
ocean, for its habitat limits it; nor can
an insect flourishing in summer be told
of winter's ice, for the season sways it;
an opinionated fool cannot be told of Tao,
for he is bound by one doctrine or another.
Now that you have moved beyond the shores
and reaches of the River to be graced with
sight of the Great Sea and are abashed,
you can be told of the Great Verities.

—Chuang Tzu, Autumn Flood (ch. 17)

I went to see the film, Venus, yesterday which will probably be Peter O'Toole's last and the scene in the film when he recites the famous lines from Hamlet while standing in an empty ampitheatre swept by the wind and falling leaves, remembering the triumphs and tragedies of his long life, had me thinking again about economy of words. Venus is good by the way. At the very least it served as the impetus for this random blog entry. And thinking of Chuang Tzu has me thinking of Lao Tzu.

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is in the spaces between spokes where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
—Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu

So thinking of Cid's economical poems had me thinking of the master of the economical, Emily Dickinson, and her antithesis,
Walt Whitman.

Between Dickinson and Whitman there's such a huge gulf. It seems like the impulse to write anything using a long line has disappeared for this writer. Here's a funny negative review of Dickinson's work that was published soon after her death in 1886.

"It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson....But the incoherence and formlessness of her— versicles are fatal...[A]n eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar."

—Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Atlantic Monthly

Whitman, however, was an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated lover of crowds who walked the streets of Manhattan enthralled by the humanity there—he had necessary moments of solitude but he required the thrum of the crowd to function.

As Frank O'Hara said

"And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the Americans are better than the movies."

To that I'd have to add Dickinson because

THE DUTIES of the Wind are few—
To cast the Ships at sea,
Establish March,
The Floods escort,
And usher Liberty.

And then to take it farther out, watch this Monk video. That's another master of economy, Count Basie, watching Monk from across the piano. Thelonious Monk's off-kilter solos have more in common with Dickinson's work than one might expect.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Nicaragua: Nation of Poets

Travellers have experienced Nicaragua's beauty once again, since the 1980s when the Sandinistas were ousted from power via a series of successful elections. Let's go.


"We turn outward, attracted by the beauty we see in created things without realizing that they are only a reflection of the real beauty. And the real beauty is within us."

- Ernesto Cardenal

Literacy and poetry workshops established throughout the "nation of poets," as it has been known since the early twentieth century, are well-attended by people whose concerns had been previously unheard. Most workshops are led by government-paid instructors in cultural centers, while others convene in police stations, army barracks, and workplaces such as sugar mills, Valle reports. In these sessions, Romantic and Modern poetry is considered below standard; Ernesto Cardenal denigrates socialist realism, which he says "comes from the Stalinist times that required that art be purely political propaganda." The "greatest virtue" of Cardenal's own poems, says a Times Literary Supplement reviewer, "is the indirectness of Cardenal's social criticism, which keeps stridency consistently at bay." In addition, says the reviewer, Cardenal's poems "are memorable and important both for their innovations in technique and for their attitudes." In this way they are like the works of Ezra Pound, whose aesthetic standards Cardenal promotes.

Review contributor Isabel Fraire demonstrates that there are many similarities between Cardenal's poetry and Pound's. Like Pound, Cardenal borrows the short, epigrammatic form from the masters of Latin poetry Catullus and Martial, whose works he has translated. Cardenal also borrows the canto form invented by Pound to bring "history into poetry" in a manner that preserves the flavor of the original sources — a technique Pablo Neruda employed with success. Cardenal's use of the canto form "is much more cantable" than Pound's Cantos, says Fraire. "We get passages of a sustained, descriptive lyricism … where the intense beauty and harmony of nature or of a certain social order or life style are presented." Pound and Cardenal develop similar themes: "the corrupting effect of moneymaking as the overriding value in a society; the importance of precision and truthfulness in language; the degradation of human values in the world which surrounds us; [and] the search through the past (or, in Cardenal's poetry, in more 'primitive' societies, a kind of contemporary past) for better world-models."

Following his conversion to Christianity in 1956, Cardenal studied to become a priest in Gethsemani, Kentucky, with Thomas Merton, the scholar, poet, and Trappist monk. While studying with Merton, Cardenal committed himself to the practice of nonviolence.

-Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, The London Times, Times Literary Review

Friday, March 23, 2007


Arnie says it's good politics and good business to get green. Daley here in Chicago has been focused on green planning and technology for years now. It's good to see that Schwarzenegger is getting a clue.

Marvell serves up the recipe for Love.

You have not lived until you've seen The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man.

Arthur Lee's birthday came and went unnoticed this year, usually I listen to Forever Changes on that day. Sorry AL. I'll listen to it in its entirety this weekend.

Have you seen my page at Melancholia's Tremulous Dreadlocks?

A newly discovered William Carlos Williams poem languishing on a wall?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Dim Schizophrenia of Owls

Angels brew sleep
as pillows weep stellar jam.

Here in the tangle of lawn
misnamed tanagers fold leaves.

Calendars slip filled with thorns.
My mind puddle mends

a clique or brood of dreams
at that midwinter height.

Heaving honey, sleep, shake
the cusp of dark notes

as politicians sit in the shadows
tuning lies.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


T.E. Hulme, who died in WWI, was credited by Ezra Pound as author of the earliest poem that could be called "imagist." The Imagists were said to be in "revolt against...careless thinking and Romantic optimism." They attempted to "use the language of common speech... employ the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word." Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound, H.D., and T.E. Hulme sought to strip away the florid language used in poetry at the time and expose the core image, so that the reader was left with something solid and memorable, a poem object. Imagist poems were meant to be experienced on a more visceral level. The group was against the moralizing of poetry that used platitudes and sentimentality to convey meaning. Recently I was reading about "Chicago" Imagism. Having never heard that term, but having seen paintings by Ed Paschke, I dug up what info. I could on the movement. Here's a snippet from a fairly recent issue of the Sun Times.

"It's true that as a Chicago art movement, Imagism is essentially dead... not because its exemplars have all passed away (they haven't) or because their work is neglected (Ed Paschke had a major retrospective last year; Wirsum and Nutt are soon to follow), but because the local art scene has moved on. It's hard to find young or even middle-aged Chicago painters who owe much visible debt to Paschke and Co., largely because they've chosen different models or abandoned painting for conceptual and new-media art. "

It's always been interesting to me how the ebb and flow of artistic trends reach a high water mark and then the waters recede and something else entirely new takes its place, even if whiffs of previous artistic currents are somewhat evident. Maybe nothing is new under the sun, but I like to see how iconoclasts cause these ripples.

Lorine Niedecker's poem, "My Life by Water" is practically glistening in its simplicity and unpretentiousness. Its economy of words makes it fall down the page with a surefooted momentum. It doesn't falter and there isn't a sense that there is anything missing or any extraneous words. It's like an engine starting up, or the sight of a single bird in the sky. A simple moment transcribed without overexplanation.

My life
by water--

first frog
or board

out on the cold


to wild green
arts and letters

my lettuce
One boat

pointed toward
my shore

thru birdstart

of the soft
and serious--

I can't say that this all I require from reading a poem, but I appreciate it's severity and minimal qualities. To take us from there to Whitman's expansive lines takes a long leap into another kind of aesthetic entirely. Not that two camps exist, each keeping to one or the other methodology. But there are two impulses that exist in poets I think. One to include everything and one to strip away to essence. Think about Whitman's catalogs in Leaves of Grass where no detail that crossed his mind, sights, sounds, and smells escaped his description. He tried to capture the entire panoramic vista of American life. Neither is any more correct or true. An entire life's experience could be summed up in a few lines. The tendency to write epigrammatic poems, image heavy poems may be a more effective strategy. Inbetween these two stolid trees of thought is strung the musty hammock of American literature. Realist description, when combined with the influence of more irrational or fantastic imagery from surrealist and dada currents of thought have chopped up language into something really remarkable. I'd like to know what to call it. Any suggestions about what's happening right now?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Out of Fire

Under the angles of protein
naked asteroids gleam

demand to press
flesh with the cigarette

stars thrown like lowdown dice

fierce men, arched at an angle,
will through a door in the east
dream of us

tongue can pleasure
flying shrinking to nothing
wet with electricity

when the stars themselves finally give
out from the trees

like the end of your wick
that becomes a summons

the momentary
wanderings of the

and all their angels flicker.

The City Visible

Reading the work included in the new anthology, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century, is a great starting point for anyone interested in contemporary poetry, especially poetry being written by mostly younger poets. Jennifer Scappettone, Suzanne Buffam, Srikanth Reddy, John Tipton, Eric Elshtain, David Pavelich, Peter O’Leary, William Fuller, Michael O’Leary, Mark Tardi, Erica Bernheim, Michael Antonucci, Chris Glomski, Garin Cycholl, Luis Urrea, Kristy Odelius, Lina ramona Vitkauskas, Simone Muench, Lea Graham, Ed Roberson, Arielle Greenberg, Tony Trigilio, Shin Yu Pai, Dan Beachy-Quick, Maxine Chernoff, Kerri Sonnenberg, Jesse Seldess, Paul Hoover, Michelle Taransky, Robert Archambeau, Bill Marsh, Larry Sawyer, Cecilia Pinto, Johanny Vázquez Paz, Ela Kotkowska, Jorge Sanchez, Joel Craig, Daniel Borzutzky, Joel Felix, Raymond Bianchi, Cynthia Bond, William Allegrezza, Jennifer Karmin, Tim Yu, Laura Sims, Roberto Harrison, Brenda Cárdenas, Stacy Szymaszek, and Chuck Stebelton are for the most part poets who have either grown up in the city of Chicago or were drawn to this literary nexus from elsewhere. Calling Chicago a literary nexus at first sounded strange to me, but it has become so. Bob Archambeau, one of the poets in the anthology, has written on his blog about the benefits and pitfalls of contextualizing groups of writers based on geographic location. It's interesting to see all this gel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chaung Tzu dreamt
he was a
butterfly and
upon waking realized
that he may
actually be a
butterfly dreaming
of being a man.

If I dreamt I
was Chaung Tzu
dreaming of a
butterfly dreaming
of being a man,
would that
man ever realize that
life itself is the
dream from which
we’ll never

Monday, March 12, 2007

"What good did the theories of the philosophers do us? Did they help us to take a single step forward or backward? What is forward, what is backward? Did they alter our forms of contentment? We are. We argue, we dispute, we get excited. The rest is sauce. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes mixed with a limitless boredom, a swamp dotted with tufts of dying shrubs.

We have had enough of the intelligent movements that have stretched beyond measure our credulity in the benefits of science. What we want now is spontaneity."

-Tristan Tzara


Art is going to sleep for a new world to be born
"ART," that parrot word replaced by DADA,
PLESIOSAURUS, or handkerchief

The talent THAT CAN BE LEARNED makes the
poet a druggist. TODAY the criticism
of balances no longer challenges with resemblances
Hypertrophic painters hyperaes-
theticized and hypnotized by the hyacinths
of the hypocritical-looking muezzins
Hypodrome of immortal guarantees: there is
no such thing as importance there is no transparence
or appearance
BLIND MEN take the stage
THE SYRINGE is only for my understanding.

I write because it is natural.

It's finally warming up in Chicago...we're expecting temps in the upper 50s for the next few days. There are so many things going on in this city and poetry is just one. In the next few weeks the anthology The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century will be on bookshelves in stores across the city with new poetry from Garin Cycholl, Chuck Stebelton, Lina ramona Vitkauskas, Sterling Plumpp, Bill Allegrezza, Simone Muench, Chris Glomski, Ray Bianchi, Peter O'Leary, Kerri Sonnenberg, Robyn Schiff, Mark Tardi, myself and many others. Order a copy from your local bookstore or else contact Cracked Slab Books. Also, there are many exciting things coming up in the Myopic books reading series. As soon as I'm fully defrosted I'll be venturing out. Chicago's summer personality is why I live here. . .

Sunday March 25 - Betsy Andrews

Sunday April 22 - Tim Yu

Sunday April 29 - Tony Trigilio

Sunday May 13 - Comedic Poetry with Aaron Belz, Daniel Borzutzky, Joyelle McSweeney, Gabriel Gudding, and A.D. Jameson

Sunday June 17 - Aaron Fagan

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Gypsy and the Wind

Playing her parchment moon
Precosia comes
along a watery path of laurels and crystal lights.
The starless silence, fleeing
from her rhythmic tambourine,
falls where the sea whips and sings,
his night filled with silvery swarms.
High atop the mountain peaks
the sentinels are weeping;
they guard the tall white towers
of the English consulate.
And gypsies of the water
for their pleasure erect
little castles of conch shells
and arbors of greening pine.

Playing her parchment moon
Precosia comes.
The wind sees her and rises,
the wind that never slumbers.
Naked Saint Christopher swells,
watching the girl as he plays
with tongues of celestial bells
on an invisible bagpipe.

Gypsy, let me lift your skirt
and have a look at you.
Open in my ancient fingers
the blue rose of your womb.

Precosia throws the tambourine
and runs away in terror.
But the virile wind pursues her
with his breathing  and burning sword.

The sea darkens and roars,
while the olive trees turn pale.
The flutes of darkness sound,
and a muted gong of the snow.

Precosia, run, Precosia!
Or the green wind will catch you!
Precosia, run, Precosia!
And look how fast he comes!
A satyr of low-born stars
with their long and glistening tongues.

Precosia, filled with fear,
now makes her way to that house
beyond the tall green pines
where the English consul lives.

Alarmed by the anguished cries,
three riflemen come running,
their black capes tightly drawn,
and berets down over their brow.

The Englishman gives the gypsy
a glass of tepid milk
and a shot of Holland gin
which Precosia does not drink.

And while she tells them, weeping,
of her strange adventure,
the wind furiously gnashes
against the slate roof tiles.


Lorca was the supreme master of making the fantastic seem real.

A Brief Cautionary Note About Sacks

Sacks help the user hold, carry, and transport. Do not however place your head in the sack for you may suffocate from a lack of oxygen. You are correct, there is a small amount of oxygen inside the sack. But you will surely grow lightheaded if your head, and therefore both nostrils, once placed inside the sack, breathe this limited amount of somewhat “sackish” air. Sack air is in limited supply and after this resource is depleted you may very well suffocate. Yes, you are correct, some people are known for holding their breath for long periods of time, but not for breathing the air inside sacks. Yes, pearl divers did once practice the now largely obsolete method of retrieving pearls from oysters. Before the beginning of the 20th century, the only means of obtaining pearls was by manually opening oysters found on the ocean floor or river bottom. Free-divers were often forced to descend to depths of over 100 feet on but a single breath, exposing them to dangers of sharks, jellyfish, drowning, and decompression sickness. Yes, I know that, because of the difficulty of diving and the unpredictable nature of natural pearl growth in oysters, pearls of the time were extremely rare and of varying quality. No, these divers were not wearing sacks on their head while diving, of that we may be certain. No, this sack is not a bag, satchel, case, or basket. It could neither be said that this sack is a attache, backpack, briefcase, carry-on, carryall, diddie, duffel, gear, grub-bag, handbag, holdall, kit, knap pack, packet, pocket, pocketbook, poke, pouch, purse, saddlebag, suitcase, or tote. If this were a pocketbook, diddie case, carry-all grub bag, or even an attache, warnings of this type would be completely unnecessary. Also, resist the temptation to use this sack as a flotilla, warning flare, invitation, or campfire. I guess it could be used as a pillow if inflated properly, yes. A flotilla is something you might use to float upon. Ok, flotation device. No, I do not believe it could ever be used as a hamper or as a diaper. My observations resulted in the conclusion that sacks are best used for carrying things like groceries. Well, no one is forcing you to read this why don’t you just stop reading it then? Why don’t you try carrying your groceries without a sack? Why don’t you try it and see what happens? That’s what I thought. Sometimes you need a sack.


Slip into the mist
here chill stillness
bleats across the
grim sleeve of
my hour, you, so there

shower, enzyme of sleep
plasma of dreambeats.

Join hands and abscond
among pregnant ideas
thrum of fir, smell of musk.

Iced with morning frost,
green pine,
invite my nose to dance.

Shrill as news of a death
mind awaken to
red-winged blackbird.

Junta of orange sun
stab the horizon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What I Keep

Near to dream each sleep
walks as if deep and hours
off to where the blue winds creep, I
know a passage that seems

my mind screen, skin-
deep apoplectic sheen flashes
slivers of pristine time
mimed falsehoods mined

so, find what wind chimes
send as I rhyme, each to
each a spirit dines,
pearls beneath sleep.