Saturday, September 20, 2014


Yesterday was my brother's birthday. I have two half-siblings who I love very much, but this is the only one 100% my blood, same mother, same father, with all the strengths and weaknesses that came from them. His is also the first birthday to happen since the four of us lost our mother five months ago. He doesn't even know she's gone.

Things are always changing. Next week I start a new job. Teaching. WWU. My alma mater (I have always loved that term), where I got the first of my masters degrees. I will be teaching a writing-intensive class on the literature of AIDS. I learned in one class while teaching at UW that my 20 year old students didn't realize the impact it had on the gay and lesbian communities in the 1980s and 90s. That initially it was considered a gay cancer. Many of them had no idea there had been any link at all to the queer community. It's everybody's disease, sure. But without gay activists, the road to manageability of the disease (I don't think anyone even talks about "cure" anymore) would have been much longer. And with even more dead. There were so many incredible stories and books written in that time. Documenting how fast and bizarrely it hit, paralleling the natural evolution of gay lit from coming out stories to a focus on family dynamics, documenting the anger, the politics, the intensity of community bonds. Most now are out of print. Which presented the first challenge of putting the class together. In any case, I am excited to be teaching again. And to be taking a closer look at some of these stories.

I got back two days ago from a week on the peninsula. The good of that. I got a lot done (wrote my syllabus!), read a lot, got further in editing book two of Bowerbird (it's long, but so so beautiful). I watched the boats go in and out. And lights across the water. Drank whiskey. Ate well. I do wish life could be like that all the time. Calm. No real work but what I want to do, beautiful place, beautiful people. I was in love with life a lot last week.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Poetry Month Reading List Rundown Part III

Okay, as quick as I can with these last few… to get on to other things…

32. Factory of Tears – Valzhyna Mort, trans. Elizabeth Wright (Copper Canyon, 2008)

History and image key, and self-making, resilience. From the opening poem:

even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn’t tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future

33. Another Water: The River Thames, for Example – Roni Horn (Scalo, 2000)

Roni Horn took pictures of the Thames. And wrote about it. Large images spanned two pages with text / footnotes running along the bottom. Some footnotes repeat, collage.

82 Water is a spiritual presence (In the company of water I feel in me the presence of things that exceed me.)

323 We should recognize that contemporary water is mostly a parody of waters past.

34. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time – David L. Ulin (Sasquatch Books, 2010)

A meditation on how the internet has eroded our powers of concentration; some talk of what good has replaced that, but it’s mostly nostalgic for reading as a young gun.

Real reading “demands space, because by drawing us back from the primacy of the instant it restores time to us in a more fundamental way.” (80)

Which reminds me of the article I read about how internet usage actually devolves our brain from the ability to shut out external stimuli and focus on a task at hand and returns us to hunters and foragers and hunted constantly taking in information in order to fight or fly. This is a really rough summary of what’s actually said.

I agreed with pretty much everything Ulin said, but/so nothing was earth-shattering here.

35. Heavy Jars – Anselm Hollo (Toothpaste Press, 1977)

bad sunday

longing, anger, rage

feeling both desperate and boring

brilliant sunshiney day

i don’t want it

i want deranged jottings!

how to stop envying
the beloved
the beloved’s life

flat on back
cursing the gods

silly head music:
big cat claws
striking, pow, pow, pow

screech, dying mice

general misery
on Saigon of the soul

yes, let’s have
that, too 


36. Little Mysteries – Ken Mikolowski (Toothpaste Press, 1979)

mystery #5

on the third day
no one is killed
as you begin
to relax
you hear the terrace door


The above, more subtle than the rest, was my favorite of Mikolowski’s. The chapbook is illustrated by his wife. Interesting images, tres 70s.

37. Cadaver, Speak – Marianne Boruch (Copper Canyon, 2014)

This isn’t actually any kind of review, but: the first section of this book spookily recounts memories I’ve had and forgotten. It’s not déjà vu or deja lit, but real. Her rattling doorknob in Italy of someone trying to get into her hotel room in the middle of the night; this happened to my grandmother and I in Paris. And the first poem’s walk through the night aisles of an airplane brings back exact thoughts I had the first time I rode the train overnight: “The fact is I walked through an underworld, that aisle— / I was up, had to—and saw in the dim / not-yet-dawn the arms / and legs of Shiloh and Gettysburg flung / every which way.”

38. It – Inger Christensen, trans. Susanna Nied (New Directions, 2006)

What’s written is always something else
And what’s described is something else again
Between them lies the undescribed
which as soon as it’s described
opens up new undescribed areas (50)

39. One With Others – C.D. Wright (Copper Canyon, 2011)

I’ve had this book for some time, but had yet to get around to reading it. It felt odd not to read the copy I have. Collage of songs, newspaper articles, interviews, and memory/memoir elements re: violent incidents that take place during a summer of Civil Rights Movement. Sweet Willie Wine, V, Arkansas. Through repetition and juxtaposition the momentum of the book (and narrative) builds.

40. Romey’s Order – Atsuro Riley (University of Chicago Press, 2010)

Backwoodsy childhood with heavy sound / rhyme and assonance and a lot of made up compound words. Wow, apparently Poetry loved him; 21 of the poems published there. I liked it and it made a lot of talk happen in my head (and for that I’d return), but to some degree I found the compounds overkill / self-conscious. From one page (7): jungle-strangled, supper-singed, bruise-tingeing, Y-crotch, medicine-smelling, sweet-gum, belly-worry, elbow-curve, hunker-turn, in-warped, porch-door, kick-scarred, rust-cry and -rasp, Tailspin-wind, jamb-slap, after-slap, cinder-crush and –temper, funnel-blur, red-gold, apron-yellow, rickracked, stove-coil, blade-flash, magma-brimming, ladle-splash, bramble-berry, bunker-shelss, once-bedded, beanvine-roots, moonvines, dew-shining. Wow. That was more even than I head-thought there would-be.

41. Meditations in an Emergency – Frank O’Hara (Grove Press, 1957; reissue 1996)

A perennial favorite I had not visited in several years.


The eager note on my door said “Call me,   
call when you get in!” so I quickly threw   
a few tangerines into my overnight bag,   
straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and

headed straight for the door. It was autumn   
by the time I got around the corner, oh all
unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but   
the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!

Funny, I thought, that the lights are on this late   
and the hall door open; still up at this hour, a   
champion jai-alai player like himself? Oh fie!   
for shame! What a host, so zealous! And he was

there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that
ran down the stairs. I did appreciate it. There are few   
hosts who so thoroughly prepare to greet a guest   
only casually invited, and that several months ago.

42. Torn Awake – Forrest Gander (New Directions, 2001)

What I like about Science & Steepleflower I like about this, which is, I think, it’s follow-up: how main threads are taken up wholly in sections, how sections are their own one poem composed of many. In this there is much about the relationship with the son. Also love letters, love’s letters.

“A past that never stops / changing its expression.  I am alive, / he wrote, and cannot bear / to be unworthy of my life.  Came to the end / of words and waited.  Then things restore silence / speaking of themselves.  Lizards / lick shadow under the dry fountain.  Lidless gaze. / The butt and very dustmark of my utmost journey. / Pain as utterance / withheld.” (p 77, from “Carried Across”)

43. Pool [5 choruses]Endi Bogue Hartigan (Omnidawn, 2014)

mathematical formulation, 9/11 figures heavily, many different forms, fantastic opening poem:

We cannot help ourselves
but believe. Look what people do.
We cannot help ourselves to
believe. Look what people do

and believe. I can't believe it
said the plum trees shivering

and then the blossoms showed
up scattered, side blown,
not just down. We cannot help
ourselves to everything

said the people unbelieving,
shaking heads. How can we believe now, look?

Atrocities blossom also, look.

The trees said help yourselves

to blossoms: democratic trees,
dreaming lessons. We believe
in teaching belief said the trees.

We cannot help ourselves with
blossoms, to blossoms of belief.

White blossoms fell on our hair
a weight barely there, so we 

left them till they blew.

44. The Book of Repulsive Women: 8 Rhythms and 5 Drawings – Djuna Barnes (from 1915; Sun & Moon facsimile, 1994)

A weird, rare used bookstore find (Michael’s in Bellingham).

45. The South is Only a Home – Daniela Olzewska (Small Monster Press, 2011)

Is a beautiful object: farm house dual green and light green sunrays burst forth from on the cover, woodcuts throughout, on quality paper. A lot of yr and + (for and) +/or’s. The effect of this, joined with the short lines and everything lower case is a casual and quick speech, a closefriendly matter-of-factness. Sonically dense, existing to slow and make brighter the pieces of narrative contained in each poem. 

46. Stag’s Leap – Sharon Olds (Knopf, 2012)

I think what I like best about this book is that I don’t have to fully engage the part of my brain that seeks narrative. Because all of this book is speaking to and of the same narrative: the husband leaving after 30 years. Then I can focus fully on the sounds, on the line breaks, on the images presented. The stutter of this one, "The Worst Thing." I have never, I don’t think, read a poem that has sobbing in it such.


One side of the highway, the waterless hills.

The other, in the distance, the tidal wastes,

estuaries, bay, throat

of the ocean. I had not put it into

words, yet—the worst thing,

but I thought that I could say it, if I said it

word by word. My friend was driving,

sea-level, coastal hills, valley,

foothills, mountains—the slope, for both,

of our earliest years. I had been saying

that it hardly mattered to me now, the pain,

what I minded was—say there was

a god—of love—and I’d given—I had meant

to give—my life—to it—and I

had failed, well I could just suffer for that—

but what, if I,

had harmed, love? I howled this out,

and on my glasses the salt water pooled, almost

sweet to me, then, because it was named,

the worst thing—and once it was named,

I knew there was no god of love, there were only

people. And my friend reached over,

to where my fists clutched each other,

and the back of his hand rubbed them, a second,

with clumsiness, with the courtesy

of no eros, the homemade kindness.

47. I Want to Make You Safe – Amy King (Litmus Press, 2011)

 48. The Not Forever – Keith Waldrop (Omnidawn, 2013)

49. The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose – T.S. Eliot (edited, with annotations and introduction, by Lawrence Rainey) (Yale University Press, 2006)

Most interesting things I’m learning from T.S. Eliot: Little Tich and his boots like skis (I watched a video: Clément-Maurice's film of Little Tich at thePhono-Cinéma-Théâtre performing his Big-Boot Dance in 1900); an early working title for The Waste Land was He Do the Police in Different Voices; Richard Adlington’s (the former Mr. H.D. – together only a few years, but married for 25 (1913-1938)) relationship with Eliot disintegrated due to jealousy and ended when Adlington published Stepping Heavenward in 1931, which parodied Eliot’s relationship with Viv.

Eliot says “all first-rate poetry is occupied with morality” 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

For Poetry Month I Decided I Would Read as much Poetry as I Possibly Could and Keep a Kind of Haphazard Journal of It All: Part II

The poems work through sound, establishing a meaning quite apart from the literal/what the words say. Through sound a landscape is made that reflects the natural world. The poems are all, in a word, sensation. By this I mean of the senses. I feel them more than read them. Ears, visual simplicity on the page, even the tactile, heavy board of the letterpressed cover. Again, this book is an object, art in and of itself, nevermind the words inside. I mean, of course they work together.  

When the bees build themselves
   inside the hive
there is no exit—

they sting each
to survive


Though all the poems are of the natural world, I couldn’t help but see the human in many of them (this one, for example). But then, I’m always attributing human emotion to my dog as well and I’m told I shouldn’t do that. This little book made me want to read more Dan Beachy-Quick tout de suite, which is good because I bought another one of his books at AWP and will be reading it soon. (I am not filing the AWP stack away until I read them; the pile is slowly going down / the poetry section is slowly encroaching into the fiction section of my built-in (by me) bookshelves.)

Oh, also about Overtakelessness: play on the red wheelbarrow and a play on Liz Waldner’s A Point is that Which has No Part (“a point being that which has no heart” etc).

Oh, and how is this for a stutteringly stellar close:


What is it to be about something, what

is it to be          to be about          what is it
   to be something          to be about          something
what is it to be          to be about          what is
   it to be          about what is about          what


Eye Against Eye did not slay me the way Science & Steepleflower did, but I have decided I would follow Forrest Gander into whatever woods he wandered in. Fatherhood, 9/11, Mayan architecture, end of the world, fatherhood, and 10 Sally Mann photographs.

from “Present Tense”:

This is going to be a fast trip
alligator-cracks in the macadam and
fist-sized chunks of road torn out by wind
grey-black backs and bulbous snouts of northern right whales
cut the swell beyond Fire Island
each repeating sun a comet
world of physical event and mind’s world indissoluble
but who will thrust a hand in to fit the mo-lo
the veins and arteries of it
a sobering enthusiasm for the unmoored
no longer defining narrative

Also this:

pulls at grass and                         the treeline wavers
like something proposed              and forgotten

(from “Argosy for Rock and Grass”)

Hrm. I read most of it. Well, more than half (it’s 120 pages!), but I want it to count because it was very hard to get through. And because I left where I was staying and took a daylong hike and only brought two books: this and the Forrest Gander. I should never leave the house with less than three books. I don’t know when I will learn this conclusively.

At first I thought I wanted someone to explain the draw of this book to me, but I think I get it. It has all the right elements. It’s interested in human creativity / art, there are sections on music, visual art, gardening, theater, natural history. I did like all the animals in the book. And being on the beach was the right location to read the first poem—“The Great Deluge and Its Coming.” But there were so many adjectives and adverbs that I nearly lost my mind. From just the first poem:

roughly, vicious, cruelly, racing, bald, multiple, hairy, woolly, scaly, momentarily, hoary, weasel-like, grizzled, flooding, fear-whitened (said of the blue-faced mandrill—so I was totally okay and in fact pretty charmed with this one), harsh, mangy, long, hanging, numerous, wingless, constantly, white, really white, wide, silently, simply, deeper, moonlit, calm, ultimate, dependable, finally, slowly, growing, open

This I liked from the deluge poem: “Direction was destiny.” Actually, I think that could be the whole poem.

What I did take away from this book is that it really knows how to slow down a moment, something I could use at times. I am told by some I am a bit too paratactic.

I found this book quite funny, at times rather nonsensical, but plain speech & place names / peoples names & declarative syntax allows a looseness in its authority. Or rather: a looseness while maintaining authority. The highlight for me was “Flor Ars Hippocratica,” but that’s a long one. Also “Homage to Hat & Uncle Guido & Eliot”:

Also, I read this entire book over the phone, start to finish in one sitting. It was late, a Thursday night. I had been drinking whiskey.

Plain language. More story/prose than poem (not sure what it’s categorized as, but I found it on the poetry shelves in the house I was staying in), but quiet, lyrical, stunning. Two sisters (one young? without language? developmentally delayed?) run away from home into the woods to avoid sexual abuse by their mother’s boyfriend.

Dark hard. — And quiet, I say. Not a word to Mother, not to anyone.

Get it.

Otherwise you are dead dead.

25. O New York – Trey Sager (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Another find on the chapbook shelf. I picked this one up because I was planning on going to New York at the end of April (and then didn’t end up going).

late for the box
we are thought
inside of


the city
back peddling

& cc’ing me
yr huddled
massive hands

This is what happens when Emma Lazarus,  John Dos Passos, and a hipster barista get together and birth a letterpressed baby. That is to say I both loved it and wanted more from it. I discovered you can actually read the whole thing here:

“Cross-Country” was the first poem in the book to make me go: “whoa.” Like, literally, out loud, I said whoa to an empty room. All of the book feels urgent, as though the speaker is grabbing onto your sleeve and looking intently at you while telling you things. Urgency and an just-barely-controlled energy that propels the poems line to line and the book poem to poem. I did not once put this book down until I’d finished it. There is variation to the poems, but always this intensity and motion.

Many of these poems also made me think about how often poems, some of mine included, just seem to get tired and so go into the dismount rather than fully work toward, discover, and ratchet up the kernel of knowledge or experience the poem has set up for the poet to use. In this I am privileging the intelligence of the poem over that of the poet. And yes, I believe this to be a true thing, regardless of poem, regardless of poet. The great poets are those who have poems that move in brilliance along some higher plane and they climb up to meet them there. I felt this way about so many of Reeves's poems. And even the ones that didn’t have this sense of perfect completion, were still incredible poems.

There was much in asylum & blindness recurring, weird things from the sea animal world; “Thinking of Anne Frank in the Middle of Winter” was another favorite moment.

Conceptually the book weakens for me slightly with the turn towards travel, though poems like “Brazil” and “Exit Interview” do much to unify this complication of place from site of America to site of the body (which is arguably where we have been all along). In any case, King Me is a brilliant debut.

A few lines that won’t leave me: “More than once I’ve been a bell broken / Against its own ringing” and “How else / Shall ruin announce itself if not in one body touching another?”


The Mike Tyson in me sings like a narwhal
minus the nasally twang of sleeping in a cold ocean,
the unsightly barnacles latched to the mattress
of skin just below my eye, the white horn
jutting out from the top of my head--
oh god bless us mutts—the basset-blood-
hound mulattoes, the pug-mixed puppies
left behind the dog pound’s cinder-block walls
as German Shepherds, Labradoodles,
and Portuguese Water-Dogs turn their inbred behinds
and narrow backs at our small-mouthed blues.
It’s hard to smile with an ear in your mouth,
two names, and a daughter hanging by a thread
from the railing of a treadmill. Oh neck
and North Carolina and a white coat of paint
for all the faces of my negro friends
hanging from trees in Salisbury.
Greensboro. And Guilford County.
The hummingbirds inside my chest,
with their needle-nosed pliers for tongues
and hammer-heavy wings, have left a mess
of ticks in my lungs and a punctured lullaby
in my throat. Little boy blue come blow
your horn. The cow’s in the meadow.
And Dorothy’s alone in the corn with Jack,
his black fingers, the brass of his lips,
the half-moons of his fingernails clicking
along her legs until she howls--
Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker.
Oz is a man with a mute body
on an HBO original show that I am too afraid to watch
for fear of finding my uncle,
or a man that looks like my uncle,
which means finding a man that looks like me
in another man’s embrace or slumped over a shiv
made from a mattress coil and a bar of Ivory soap.
Most young kings return home without their heads.
It’s 1941, and Jack Johnson still loves white women,
and my mother won’t forgive him.
If she can’t use your comb, don’t bring her home,
my mother says in 1998. It’s 2009,
and I still love white women.
Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker.
Often, I click the heels of my Nikes together
when talking to the police, I am a cricket
crushed beneath a car’s balding black tires.
Most young kings return home without their heads.

Oh the mixed emotions of The Pedestrians. It’s really two books. The (more than) first half “the fables” is a prose work divided into separate “fables,” which are really all of one story. It rains. There is distance. A lonely marriage. Children. A brief running away to the “house that was not her house.” A return. The quiet sadness of the everyday domestic is palpable here. For every bit that I loved it however, I disliked “the pedestrians” (poems) almost as much. The title (and the title poem) makes me wonder if Zucker is being tongue-in-cheek. Museum of Accidents (Wave Books, 2009) tells me her poetry is capable of so much more. I plan to buy The Pedestrians for the first half though, which was really, really incredible work. And is also an excellent example of how to build a complete narrative from flash fiction or nonfiction pieces. A book I look forward to teaching one day.

I had only ever seen/read Copper Canyon’s 2007 edition of the book, without the images. It was given to me more than two years ago by Linda Bierds who thought (rightly so) that I would find it useful to my own work. And thus began my love affair with C.D. Wright's work. I was on the couch at the house where I was housesitting, reading Rachel Zucker when I noticed the Twin Palms edition on the art bookshelf across the room. And would spend the next several hours slowly paging through it.

The experience of reading Wright’s words while images of the prisoners hovered at the periphery of my vision gave the work a distinctly different and real feeling. There is no abstract anymore, no imagined faces, when one is faced with the actual portraits. There is a greater immediacy, which made me immediately seek out more examples of text operating in conjunction with image (as evidenced by the next few books I read).

Beneath each portrait was some information on the prisoner, which varied depending on how much information the prisoner had been willing to provide: date of birth, place of birth, where located (which prison), when incarcerated, length of sentence, and how many children they had. Included nowhere was any explanation of what crime had been committed.

I found myself trying to guess the sentence by the eyes. The LIFErs I could almost always tell. The ones with short sentences too, except for a few.

Dear night dear shade dear executioner

Fears:     snakes        madness        falling

Dear Errant Kid,
Remember the almighty
finger on the wrong
answer button.


Sophie Calle finds an address book and calls up / meets with / interviews as many of the people in the address book as she can to gain an understanding of the owner of the address book in that way.

Not life-changing, but definitely interesting. Some of the photographs were fantastic, though there was little surprise to their fantasticness since I’m already pretty familiar with Calle’s work.

The most exciting part to me was the mention of the Big Chief pinball machine, as that was the one B and I had in our living room, and which I fixed the cord and plug of, and which I have played so very many times.

“I turn to collage to get away from words.”

This is the house I did not build.

This is the room at the top of the stairs in a house I didn’t build.

This is the desk—from a different generation—wedged in the window-nook of an upstairs room in a house someone else built.

This is the mess I’ve made. Under it all is a fire I did not set.

In the noise the world makes there is no window and here I lay my words in the loud, in the burning, the built. This is a fire from before ever fire came down.

This is my mess, over the noise of fire, window, desk, stair, house.


It was a Saturday morning. I’d been at the house on the peninsula for a week at this point. Had just listened to an upsetting voicemail about my mother’s condition. Did not call the caller back. Went back to sleep. Woke up an hour later. Did not call the caller back. Rolled over and spied Marilyn Hacker on the bookshelf and thought, “I’ve never read Marilyn Hacker before. Why?” I knew she was gay. [Though she was once married to Samuel Delany!] I knew it was pretty narrative stuff (maybe why I hadn’t read her before). But the stories! Oh my goodness! While there were great lines like: “What changes nothing changes everything” and “Does anybody not die uncomforted?” what I was drawn to most in Going Back to the River actually was the narrative. 

The stories were fascinating, like someone I’d love to hang out with, and the intimacy with which she told them, I kind of did feel like she was in the room talking to me, and then on the beach talking to me, and then downtown PT talking to me. Downtown sitting on a bench where I was reading the last few poems after spending a sad and overly sunny and warm Saturday afternoon walking around PT and then to reach the last page and understand why it had called to me from the shelf next to the bed:

…I am at a loss
for words to name what my loss of you is,
what it will be, or even what it was.