“We have surrounded ourselves with things that perish”

The to-read stack currently includes the July/August issue of Star*Line and Carolyn Miller’s Light, Moving. The Star*Line has Duane Ackerson’s “The Bermuda Triangle,” which had me grinning with glee both because of the conceit (“…Having sucked nourishment from WWII aircraft / down to the bones, / it leaves the warm waters of the Gulf…”) and because I’m a sucker for allusions to Galileo’s E puor si muove, which, yes, here, perfect. It’s going on my Rhysling short-list.

The Miller: the subject line’s from her poem “Christmas Day” (and isn’t that a choice juxtaposition? – as is the line “the bitter perfume of the Christmas tree”) (for the non-carolers reading this: the third king sings about the Crucifixion as he offers myrrh to the newborn Christ). There’s another poem titled “To Dr. Williams” that opens with

This is just to say
I never understood
why the plums were in

the icebox. Although
I like to think
of biting into chilled…

The poem I lingered over today was “Note to the New World,” which is making me want to reread Alison Luterman‘s “Morning in the Mission: Grandpop Comes to Visit” (my copy of The Largest Possible Life is at home, where I am not) – both poems are set in San Francisco’s Mission District; both celebrate the vibrant beauty of this here world in tandem with memories of a beloved man who “would have loved the day, filled as it was / with the fumes of poppies, smells of Mexican food…”

I have also been listening a lot to the first two songs on an EP by a Brooklyn group called The Paper Raincoat (Alex Wong was in Nashville last month as the drummer in the Vienna Teng Trio – a terrific show I happened to catch with Joanne). Both songs (“Sympathetic Vibrations” and “Brooklyn Blurs”) are on the group’s MySpace jukebox; musical goodness aside (I really like the bridge in “Vibrations,” there’s a goofy quote from “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” in the mix, and some brilliant arranging in “Blurs”), the lyrics are spot-on. And they’re relevant to this post because they share with Miller and Luterman that sense of being ambushed by the beauty of everyday life.

…Which is my core sensibility as well, although it has just occurred to me that that shows up much more in my letters than in my poems. Must reflect on that some other time. For now, I’m also haunted by “Brooklyn Blurs”‘s refrain of “… I can’t believe that I’m still standing here / I am a ghost to everyone I know.” (And as much as I know that that isn’t remotely true in the slightest, at the moment I can’t let go of how true it feels. Which means I’m due for a long swim, a bottle of Gewurtztraminer, and a full night of self-medicating word-slamming.)

“although they fly apart at speeds of light”

Julie Kane’s “Particle Physics” at Poetry Daily invokes both baseball and eternity.

(As does Nancy Willard’s Things Invisible to See, which I’ve given as a “you must read this” gift at least twice. And which in turn reminds me of Steve Kluger’s Last Days of Summer, which I once loaned to a baseball-loving minister who told me later she’d enjoyed it enough to give a copy to another friend as a present, and yes, knowing that pleases me mightily.)

“I wouldn’t have been sure of my answer”

During the last week of my mother’s life, I took a steno pad from one of her many stashes of office supplies and started filling it with notes and with the beginning drafts of poems, one which was published a few months later, and others which I will tear apart some other year and use to seed other poems. Perhaps. There’s a legal pad somewhere in my basement with the start of a poem I’d felt compelled to draft maybe nine or ten years ago, knowing I wasn’t going to get very far with it because I would not feel okay about publishing it while my mother was alive, and back then I expected her to live into her nineties (her mother did). There have been poems I’ve written since last spring (“A Stack of Cards” and “Missing Characters“).

(That sentence I just wrote feels so incomplete, but I lack the words to end it properly or definitively. And yes, that could be an analogy to grief.)

So: this entry is to point you to three other poets whose lines about death have recently caught my attention. First, today’s edition of Poetry Daily featured two poems by Jason Shinder, an American poet who died of cancer last year at the age of 52 or 53. The poems are bleakly beautiful (and the subject line of this post comes from “The Good Son”). The Wikipedia entry is startling: it includes a passage that is very unWiki in tone, but strikes me as written in exasperated sorrow.

He was careless with his medication; he was perpetually late to treatment; in the hours before chemotherapy, he could be found ice-skating with a date who didn’t know he was sick.

“We were all maddened by his denial about his illness,” his friend the poet Marie Howe says, “but when we read the poems and his journals after his death, we saw that he had been addressing it in a way he could never say in life.

Second, in a blog entry from earlier this year, Neil Aitken (whose Boxcar Poetry Review has published work by Mary, Jeannine, and me) quotes an interview in which he discusses his preoccupation with themes of exile

merging with the growing realization that my father was dying and that our time together would be very short. I wanted desperately to finish the book for him while he was still alive, and yet even as I was writing and revising, I was gradually sensing the book would not be done in time, and further that there would be poems that could not be written until I had dealt with his impending death.

Third, I’ve been dipping into Laurel Snyder‘s The Myth of the Simple Machines during breaks, and oh, there’s a poem in there called “The Truth,” about her and her grandmother:

…She was
horrible, my grandmother,
and that’s the truth, though
my uncle pretended. “She

was a good old girl, just
the dog done lost her bite.”
But no. “But no she

never did,” we told him.
If only she had.

And this, this

“I love you,” I said to her as she died.

“Yes, but you love lots of people,”
she growled back faintly.
“Not enough,” I should’ve told
her then, “nowhere near.”

signal boosts – bonus tarot / poetry contest

Boost #1 (offer expires tonight): No Tell Books is offering a free tarot reading or dream interpretation to you if you purchase a book from them before the end of this weekend (August 9; publisher is based in the Eastern U.S.).

(Sorry this alert is so eleventh-hour-ish, but I’ve been much occupied with other things, so I myself only spotted the offer this morning.)

My connection: one of my poems, “Coat,” appears in The Bedside Guide to No Tell Books – Second Floor. “Because It Makes Me Ha–” appears in the first Bedside Guide. The archives of the online journal include four other poems by me.

A recommendation: Wanton Textiles by Reb Livingston and Ravi Shankar, a collection with a beautiful cover and tremendous fun both to read and react to — my copy is covered with my own scribblings (and water-wrinkled from keeping me company in my bathtub), which included the beginnings of two poems eventually published by flashquake.

No Tell’s catalog also includes a collection by Jill Alexander Essbaum, author of “On Reading Poorly Transcribed Erotica.”

Boost #2 (deadline Sept. 1): My friend Dichroic is sponsoring a poetry contest. No entry fee; maximum length = 49 lines; poems must be inspired by “must be inspired by the name of one (or more) of the Lunar maria.” First prize is a year’s membership in the Science Fiction Poetry Association (= US$21-$25, depending on where you live).

The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

  • I’ve successfully relocated to Nashville, and just need to find a job, and submit everything that’s been rejected since around February, and the dozen or so good poems I wrote in April. Phew. How are you-all doing?
  • The first issue of Rat’s Ass Review (for which I designed the website, but have no editorial influence) went up yesterday.
  • Also yesterday, the Wallace Stevens Walk was dedicated.
  • I love these poems (especially the second one) by Sarah Pape.
  • Isn’t Mary’s book cover gorgeous?

“Dropping clutter and rubies wherever I walk”

Today’s subject line is from Rose Lemburg’s “Burns at Both Ends,” a poem in the January/February issue of STAR*LINE.

As it happens, the Bronchitis of Doom that plagued me this past winter has pretty much put paid to my ability to get by on little sleep. I’m still grumpily coming to terms with how much less I’ve been able to pursue (never mind finish, never mind circulate) thanks to the combination of more chaos and fewer waking hours that has ensued; on the bright side, I don’t lack for engrossing projects, and I’m expecting the second half of this year to be more conducive to me giving them their due. To each harvest its time.

I’m not personally committing to NaPoWriMo, but I’ll be cheering on the VTL members who are, and I will at least try to show up here a couple times a week with recs or other ramblings. If nothing else, I’ll likely be inspired to stay up an extra hour here and there to get some writing or reading done, so that I’ll have something to share at the party. 🙂

Back to STAR*LINE: I am a volunteer for my church’s Room in the Inn program. I had two shifts this past winter where I served as the evening’s “co-host” – basically staying awake and “on call” in case the men needed assistance during the night.

During both shifts, I ended up with time to indulge in some poetry reading. A while back, I’d promised a friend that I would record some Sylvia Plath poems for her, so during my first shift, I had with me an edition of Ariel that included a facsimile of Plath’s typescript as well as a “restored” edition of the book. The publisher used different papers for the different sections (e.g., rougher stock for the fascimile section) — a decision I found pleasing.

The collection includes “Nick and the Candlestick,” a poem Edward Byrne reproduces in his entry on Nicholas Hughes’s death. The YouTube video embedded in his post is a fascinating listen — Seph Rodney introduces his gorgeous reading with how he didn’t really connect to poetry until he came across Plath’s work.

During my second RITI shift, I had with me the issue of STAR*LINE mentioned above. In addition to Lemburg’s poem, the standouts for me included Ann J. Schwader’s “Moonless” (a sonnet), and Robert Borski’s “Hansel & Gretel Revise Their Strategem,” “Jupiter’s Red Spot,” and “The Time Traveler’s Dog.” (Since Borski’s name kept showing up every time I dog-eared a page, I definitely plan to look up more of his work some other evening.)