Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tarzan On Mars

Tarzan peers through a telescope. Earth, in its aphelion, is approximately 40 million miles away.

A star.

He brings it into focus, and sees Ghana, and Togo, and the Ivory Coast.

He lives alone on Mars. Earth is dying. But there is nothing he can do. It is beyond help. He puts on a robe of black feathers and wanders the halls of his pleasure dome. The thing he misses most is clouds.

He is old. He misses Jane. He misses his ape family. He worries about going blind.

He has a greenhouse where he grows spice for his meals and medicine for his injuries and nerves. A thesis of thorn thunders in his bones. He has chosen to live alone. He has chosen a life of solitude. Despite his extreme age, desire continues to haunt him. Words, consciousness, memory, are the jungle of the mind. Mars is cold. But there are ways to keep warm. He reads poetry. He lets out bloodcurdling yells. He pounds his drums in a fury of savage release.

He misses swinging on vines, wrestling with lions, and battling evil. His animal nature has become a philosophy. An abstraction, like fingernails, or flax.

He swims in a subterranean pool. A crystal dragon lifts its being into clarity. The animal provides illumination. Its name is legion. Its name is Ducasse. Its name is Maldoror.

What if paradise turned out to be a chemistry of words? Snapdragons, jonquils, orchids. The names of things. Names give intimacy. Names give locality and myth.

The night air fills with a sorrow that anchors in his heart. A strange trance overcomes his reflections. We are cast into nothing and grow into nothing, he muses. Reality unfolds in the shadows of language. What a beautiful mind it must take to invent something like water.

Tricks of light convulse in frosted glass. Cotton stars undulate on a soft blue fabric.

He rests his head on a pillow embroidered by Jane and falls asleep.

Morning arrives in a sky of pink indifference. He feels the kiss of day on his weary eyelids.

The past is a shadow, the future is a destination broad as air. It is without definition. The lack of meaning isn’t meaninglessness but equivocation. The lack of form. The lack of cause. Heaven must have its hell and hell must have its heaven.

He sees the face of Dante in a slope of ice. Giant windmills turn in the thin Martian wind.

Creation never stops. The universe is in flux. Questions of value are thrown to the winds.

He has divorced himself from humanity. The expanse shoulders a burden of rock and ice. Solitude is as wide in time as it is deep in essence.

Pterodactyls wheel in the sky. Protozoa writhe on a glass slide. A cool blue sphere of emotion sings in his heart.

Bees swarm in his greenhouse. He paints a waterfall from memory.

When he dies, there will be no one to bury him. His bones will whiten and remain where he falls. They will not retain his form. The sharp cold wind will whisper them into dust.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lookingbill's Floating World

a forgetting of, poetry by Colleen Lookingbill
lyric& Press, 2011

Modern lives are such a storm of inner conflicts, doubts, disparities, equivocations, incoherence, that there is little surprise to see it reflected in language. The wonder is to see it with reflected with such brilliance each word is like a blob of mercury from a broken thermometer streaking and running and assuming different shapes as quickly as that deity by which it derives its name.

The patron deity of poetry, however, is not a patron but a patroness named Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, and mother of the nine muses. The link between memory and poetry is not as artless as it seems. Memory is largely a creative act. We draw images from the past and believe they’re accurate representations of past events without fully realizing the extent to which our minds frame and imagine these events based on an assumed understanding that remains incomplete, unresolved. The mind is plastic. And eternally hungry. Our minds are always working, tangled, enmeshed, complicated, trying to unravel previous incidents and think them through to a soothing resolution.

The other component in this formula is language. Our minds create images, and our facility with language shapes and builds those images into correspondent abstractions. That nebulous pullulation called thought.

It is at this junction between memory, language, and thought that I find the most pertinent way to describe my response to a forgetting of. Lookingbill’s language is similar to that of Ashbery’s in its self-generating drive toward fulfillment. But fulfillment in this sense is a misnomer. Fulfillment is futile. Nor is it particularly desirable. There is a paradox at the core of this impulse: as the language gains in heat and momentum, its subject grows increasingly large and all-embracing, so that obliquity becomes a necessity. The language sheds all quality of being utilitarian. Its tendency is not to aim at anything too directly, which is reductive, but to nourish and expand, slant, wobble, dilate. This is why my first reaction to Lookingbill’s writing was a spirited uplift to its nervous energy. The words go askew, mercurial, and feel liberated.

In “undone in April),” for instance, Lookingbill’s words posit a strongly associative mise en scène for the processional transformations active in memory. The language is fragmented; there is a great deal of imbrication, distillation, and displacement. Images are prevented from a permanent linkage. Everything is in flux. Nervous, tumultuous flux. “imagine all our habits of experience,” it begins,

listening, making their own arrangements
split second
straight into stony severity
then nothing escapes all afternoon

peremptory warming, hand over hand
bewilderment of moral bookkeeping

implications, hurts, threats, mute glances
kind of tattered progress

misfortune falls into ribbons of daydreams
I wait outside
in the old days
not afraid, just waiting

I open your luggage
take off my jacket
gooseflesh warding off bad luck

through the open skylight, stars out one by one

The majority of the pieces in this collection are lineated. But a substantial number are presented as prose. Most are in italics, presented as though encapsulating the overall intent of each section. All have the same title: along the way. As if picked up, via happenstance, via serendipity, to serve as prologue, or epilogue, to perpetual dissemination. “how a complicated history is what gives the very start,” starts the along the way on page 47, at the end of section 4, holding

hands at a rural level with rolling cadences. I mean any explanation, as containers become less available, can also be used where your dry and crusty handwriting is but a memory, a sample of peaceful co-existence from the second or third grade.

leaving tricky balance beyond all entry level elements as dialogue describes living hundreds of miles apart, floating world where we meet circumstances, breadcrumbs not included, remind people it is written by the writers themselves. lines are formed, but feelings are the same. we set out to sound logical, inclined to agree: uniquely squeezing the wish list to build an oil derrick.

details pile up, far-reaching reflex from hipster to deviation. I always seem prohibited from capable extremes until absence reveals which identical ballot box holds water weight. long slow kiss rumbling out of my closet.

Lookingbill has also included some of her visual artwork. These are haunted, fairytale-like collages with a slight Victorian flavor. “The illustrations,” avers Lookingbill in an interview conducted in February of last year, “are combination of scanned assemblages (objects laid out on my little HP printer/scanner), photographs of assemblage art that I crated over the years, and these images layered with visual ephemera that I’ve collected. The process is a bit random, using transparencies and the image program that came with my printer -- relatively low tech, but I like the effect. They were created partially as I went along, then finished after the book was mostly completed. “

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Blowhard Drops By

The wind is blowing. It makes a kind of music in the trees. It is like something living. It has a being. It knocks on the door. It tries to sell me a vacation in Rio. It wants me to sign a petition for the dissolution of Arizona. It wants me to contribute money to the fund for aimless existences. I invite it inside. It sits at the table. Everything blows off the table, including the cat. I pour the wind some coffee. The coffee shivers in the mug, then disappears.

So, I say, what is the answer?

The answer to what?

You know. The song by Bob Dylan. The answer is blowing in the wind. You’re the wind. So what’s the answer?

Who’s Bob Dylan?

A singer. He plays the guitar.

You should ask Bob Dylan.

I don’t know Bob Dylan. I don’t have his cell number, or email address.

Well what is the question?

Dylan had quite a number of them. How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?


Are you sure?

Yes. Thirty-two. Twenty-three for women. They catch on to things faster.

Here is another: how many seas must a white dove fly, before she sleeps in the sand?

Doves don’t sleep in the sand. Mourning doves prefer nesting in trees near human habitation. The laughing doves of sub-Saharan Africa like nesting in fruit trees, pomegranate and olive in particular. At last that’s what my sister Simoom tells me. Don’t you have any questions of your own?

Yes. A few. Which makes a better use of language: poetry or prose?

Prose. Anything else?

Really? Prose?

I don’t know. I guess it would depend on the poem. Have you heard the sound I make in the trees? What would you call that?

A sound. A soughing. Or a susurrus.

Susurrus. Sounds like poetry to me. Anything else?

What is next week’s winning lottery number?

I haven’t the faintest. I can’t tell the future. I live in the present.

What is the mind?

The mind of what? A zebra? An oyster? A cow?

A human being.

How would I know that?

You’re the wind.

Wind, yes. Ok. The human mind is a form of energy, like bioluminescence. It is similar to the sweet dumpling squash, with a yearning for light and glory. Some say it is a great soup for making negotiations. I saw one once, rolling down the hill like a wheel on fire. It had jarred loose during a birthday celebration. Too much tequila. This is good coffee, by the way.

Thank you.

Sure thing. Anything else?

Not now. Maybe later. I’ve got to clean up this mess before my wife comes home.

Sorry about that.

No problem.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On The Tip Of My Tongue

I bit my tongue eating lasagna. I was talking about Reverdy. Trying to describe Reverdy’s Cubist lines. How, even though they’re disjunctive, the poem coheres. And is simple. And the waitress interrupted me. Burst in with a pitcher of water. And I bit my tongue. The very tip. Man it hurts.

The tongue is important. But who thinks about a tongue? It’s just there. It’s not like a penis. Not like an organ dangling around fleshy and self-important. It inhabits the mouth like a hermit. Someone who does your bidding humbly and without complaint. So that it seems automatic.

Like the smell of damp cotton when it rains in Mexico.

Or taking an elevator. The doors slide closed and you press a button and it goes up. Or down. It never goes sideways. Its doors never slide open on heaven. With the gaze of a surprised angel looking back at you.

I have an appetite for turmoil. Which is why I take to writing. It’s so easy to create turmoil on paper. The kind of turmoil that doesn’t hurt. It’s like taking refuge in a basement after someone breaks up with you and you don’t want to be a functioning member of society for a while. You just want to be a wounded animal watching TV. Eating potato chips.

Sometimes it helps to dress in denim and light a candle. Shake the rain until it gurgles. Imagine yourself on an airplane. When you are actually in an airplane.

Spaceship earth. If earth is a spaceship why doesn’t it have levers and buttons? Or a pilot? Are you one of those people who have anxiety about earth veering from its orbit and drifting off into space? You are, aren’t you? I knew it.

Well, here we are, you and I, drifting off into space. The space of the poem. Which has the heft of a Glock in the hand. Or a black English shoe. With a silver buckle and a long black tongue.

Words don’t hurt. They just splatter against the wall of the brain and turn umber like the thunder of Portugal. Or reek of ambiguity, a sour sweet smell that reminds me of the night markets in Hong Kong, the jabber of parrots and the fortune tellers of Temple Street.

Most of the time, I feel awkward and unemployed. Have you noticed?

Dishrags have faces. And two black holes for eyes.

I’m 64 years old. Rain zigzags down the windshield. I want a black hat like Michael McClure’s. I live in a garage. I play chess with a chimpanzee. And listen to the Velvet Underground. I like my coffee strong, and think of the human ear as a form of butter.

Hobbies include hallucination, spinning, and bank robbery.

The ocean spins on the tip of my finger.

Until somebody interrupts me. And it all comes crashing down. And I bite the tip of my tongue.

Say tongue: tongue, tongue, tongue, tongue.

Say operatic abstractions garnish a pretzel.

Say Seattle is a drop of rain on your wrist.

I have crags in my face. Like those cracks on the floor of Death Valley. It’s cool. It’s the kind of face you both want and respect when you get to be a certain age.

And then you start getting advertisements in the mail for cremation services, and getting old doesn’t feel quite so hot.

Yet the geography of desire continues to spout its geysers of sulfurous steam. And you realize that wheels are more than a symptom of horizontality but miracles of tread and rubber. Your fingers curl around the knob of the gearshift and as you shift into fourth on the freeway or shift down into first in the city when the light goes from yellow to red life becomes a meditation of gears and actions. It’s disquieting when an old friend doesn’t respond to your queries. You wonder what it is you did. Or didn’t do. And the light turns green. You let the clutch out and off you go. Old scenes from the past occupy your head while you look to the right and try to maneuver into the lane. And the tip of your tongue still hurts. And names bend into drops. Beautiful faces of a Saturday night in Seattle.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Buffalo Bill In The Holy Land

Writing poetry is like doing surgery on a balloon. It isn’t long before it pops and shreds of rubber litter the floor. The ghost of a pronoun arrives in a colorful personality and shapes the shreds into a beating heart. I take a bath. I feel mortal. My heart is a chronicle of blood. The towel feels sympathetic. Warm and parenthetical.

I like to tell stories about bubbles and dogs. Turpitude and turpentine. I hold the reins to some very powerful horses. The twang of a guitar seasons the air with passion. I try, as always, to live in the present. But anger erupts in molten words. And the next thing I know the door has slammed and I am standing in the middle of a Bob Dylan song.

I am a black tug with a plume of red smoke on the bright yellow water of André Derain’s Thames. Think of this as an extroverted malleable calculus. But if you’d prefer, think of religion. Think of travel. Think of long wedding engagements and embroidery and unpredictable dogs.

Or don’t think at all. Think of Wisconsin.

I like Wisconsin because it has been assembled by propellers and cheese. I remember listening to the blues in Milwaukee. Albert Einstein rolling dice at the Hi Hat. Buffalo Bill in line at the Holy Land Grocery and Bakery. The smell of freshly baked doughnuts. Sitting Bull nibbling a cinnamon roll and reading Le Monde.

Propane advances the sagacity of iron. I crave the strength of the moccasin. Snakes in needles of pine. Dead leaves, wrinkled, dry, fragile, like the parchment of death.

It is inconceivable that John Lennon is still dead. We’re all drinking in the big dreamy dharma. The sky over Denver. An alligator sleeping in the sawdust. Men in wigs discussing ceiling fans.

If life is a game of chess, few people still have their queen at age 60. Which is why I love the luxury of seclusion. Places where the illusion of time may be imagined as an escalator, or cow.

A mohair balloon unbosoming a velvet sky. An empty head in an empty bed. Ruby Tuesday running a postal meter in Cincinnati.

I listen to the Rolling Stones. A lot. I mean every day. There’s no time to lose. Catch your dreams before they slip away. Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.

Which is why I love going to the library. I seek André Breton’s electrical magic. The machinery of heaven. Those lonely dirt roads in North Dakota. Each word must have a presence. Each word must slide in and out of time. Ripen among apparitions. Power an antique emotion with all the wattage of a Dickinson poem. Congeal into lumps. An airplane engine encrusted with coral.

What is an image? Consonants incarnate an orchid. Glitter in the diamonds of Denmark. Vowels drowse among red roses in a cream colored pitcher. Syllables get silly in stew. Phonemes echo Chicago. Attract ants. Bees. Slices of orange. Frond and ink. And the Emperor’s white page.

We must cut through conceptions of space to arrive at a pretzel in the Paleolithic morning. Wood creaking in the sea. Forms and costumes and sidewalks. Swallows and stairs and exciting blue stones.

Mud on a bottle of burgundy. A magpie on a fence rail. The government is broken. We make babies against fences.

The fences of San Francisco are wet and cold. Rubber gardens on a wet cold hill. An old man on the corner of Kearney and Clay bowing a two-stringed erhu.

The world is asleep. People walk by in a gas full of chins and scripture. My inner self blooms during a burglary.

There is no punctuation in life. Only rain on a highway. Sampans and river thieves. The whatness of an old pine room and its floor boards. Slacks with peculiarities. Warm female skin on a long lazy Sunday.

Light holds the hem of heaven. I see all the birds of South America. Space and time mingled in a delicate pastel. The moon goes up and it’s drunk. I tuck my shirt in and thumb a ride to Redding.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Solvation Of Salvation

Dissolves: Terra Lucida IV-VIII, poetry by Joseph Donahue
Talisman House, 2012

“It has always been to poetry that this world has turned in the past for light,” wrote William Carlos Williams in The Embodiment Of Knowledge. Light, which is synonymous with wisdom, knowledge, divine revelation and understanding, is the central theme of Donahue’s long serial work Terra Lucida, of which Dissolves represents sections IV-VIII.

And Williams is wrong. People rarely turn to poetry for light. At least in the 21st century. People turn to the Internet, television, and methamphetamine. Gossip, tattoos, and Dr. Phil. Twitter buttons, not Tender Buttons. But this is only because we are passing one of those ugly periods in human history called the Dark Ages. Williams is correct in the broader sense. Those truly in the know do turn to poetry for light.

Donahue’s fascination with light has a distinctively Christian flavor. He alludes occasionally to other world religions, Islam especially, but his focus seems primarily Christian. Gnostic, one might also say Augustinian. “For this queen of colors, the light,” wrote Saint Augustine in his Confessions, “bathing all which we behold, wherever I am through the day, gliding by me in varied forms, soothes me when engaged on other things, and not observing it.”

The very tenor of Donahue’s poetry has a gentle, reflective, and ruminative quality, a mingling of reverie with reverence, devotion with trance. It is not pious. But it is unabashedly romantic. Donahue has a knack for seamlessly combining religious and philosophical allusion with everyday realities, the domestic with the abstract and exotic. It is informed by collage. The same poem may contain imagery of the drab, impoverished, everyday world with divine revelation and allusions to archaic bodies of literature. For instance, in the second section of dream, we find lines combining Godhead with an old oil drum, a “courteous archon” with the Boston Strangler:

weekly trash,

poking the cartons,
the plastic, the newspapers

slowling imploding
into carbon

inside an old oil drum
sunk in the snow

flame at the
steel rim,

and Mr. Ryan,
dropping by,

the last and lowest
emanation of the Godhead.

During the week
a guard at

Walpole, a quiet,
courteous archon,

now and then
he’d share

tales about work,
maybe what


The Boston

up to. . .

Donahue writes in couplets throughout Terra Lucida. Short lines running in parallels, like a ladder with durable rungs.

The couplet is an eminently readable structural device. It organizes the attention in a manner that both presents and compares ideas, images, and words. And it does so in small, easily digested doses. The mind is able to absorb one situation before moving on to the next circumstance. One feels as though one is participating in the evolution of the poem as it develops in fragments, stitch by stich, threading its way toward a sleeve of meaning, pocket of keys, or a hole in the air.

Couplets also maximize the sense of space. There is a feeling of light emanating from the whiteness of the page. The words are gathered at the center. The ongoing, essential theme of the poetry declares itself mutely, in the silence of light between the couplets and at the margins. Surrounding, engulfing, feeding.

In chemistry, ‘dissolve’ refers to solvation, the dissolution of a solid into a liquid. In Donahue’s work salvation rather than solvation is a more accurate determination. Everyday solids dissolve into divine solution. “The man lets / go of the gate, // turns, walks away / into a thin white fog…”

In film, a ‘dissolve’ refers to the fading of a scene. There is in all religious works, plentiful references to the ephemeral nature of mortal being. The Godhead is light; mortal life is dark. “a chill in the air, into which / you have faded,’ Donahue writes of the passing, I am guessing, of his mother.

In the penultimate section of Dissolve titled line of light, Donahue assumes a rather uncharacteristically expository speech in a short meditation on Simeon The New Theologian, a medieval Byzantine Christian monk and poet who was the last of three saints canonized by the Eastern Orthodox church and given the title of “Theologian,” which does not refer to a figure of theological study, but meaning someone who spoke from personal experience of the vision of God. Simeon, whose writings are included in the Philokalia, a collection of texts by early Christian mystics on contemplative prayer and teachings on how to attain theoria, or direct experience of God, was the first Byzantine mystic to freely share his mystical experience.

If theologians have
discerned both increate

and created light, which is
it shining when we step out of

these glowing zones, when we pass
through the veil of soft strokes?

In church, for forty hours,
men of the parish keep watch.

One or two, kneeling, hands folded
and on the altar, the ciborium

the gold sunburst, the white
center where the Host is held,

the eye of God watching
our world, so white amid

spikes of gold, the eye of the
miraculous, the transfiguring

glance, so distant, and yet
energy pours through it,

the monstrance, eye of
Jesus, not the Jesus

who died, but the Jesus
floating in flame beside

Moses, beside Elijah,
light beyond light,

within the gold,
but not of the gold,

a light no prism
can pry apart,

light before the light
that brought the world

to be, the very light that
dissolved the cell of Simeon

the New Theologian,
the air bright as snow,

he felt his body quit the
things of this world.

Sweetness filled him.
His insides turned to fire.

It astonishes me that a contemporary poet, a poet of the 12th year of the new millennium, can write so unabashedly of deep Christian feeling at a time when Christianity, for many, has either regressed into fundamentalist dogma and superstition, or is flat out distrusted, even despised, by atheistic and agnostic progressives. While most contemporary American poets write with tongue-in-cheek irony or distance themselves from any intellectual commitment, writing instead with a displaced subjectivity , uncertainties, uneasiness, and self-doubts, Donahue writes with a feeling of deep sincerity, a candor and intimacy that has a calming influence as one proceeds from line to line. Donahue’s is not the bright, harsh light of the film studio, or the sterile light of the office, or the dim light of the posh restaurant, but the soft luminous inner light of the soul.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Language At War With Itself

The Vanishing Point That Whistles: An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry, edited by Doru Mugur with Adam J. Sorkin and Claudia Serea
Talisman House, 2011

A question plagued me throughout reading this anthology: how much of the poetry has to do with Romania and how much nothing at all to do with Romania? To what extent is poetry the product of a place and time and to what extent is poetry autonomous and outside history?

What I know of Romania would not fill a one ounce tin of Black Sea caviar. My mind is filled with all the usual stereotypes gleaned from years of watching late night movies. Transylvanian vampires, high sinister castles brooding like dyspeptic aristocrats over villages populated with colorfully dressed gypsies, sheepherders ancient as earth, and dazzling young women with raven-black hair and fire in their eyes. How could a place of such romance and weirdness not fail to produce a robust body of fabulous poetry? But this is the trouble with stereotypes: they diminish reality with the arithmetic of assumption.

Which isn’t to say stereotypes don’t often prove true. It’s just a really nice trick to be able to go through one’s day suspending judgment. It’s surprising what can happen. Life slops in a bucket of assumption. And a country called Romania fires my imagination in a forge of time and space. A Romania of fury and passion. A Romania of woody sounds and bones crackling, shot glasses of cognac tossed over the head, hungry mouths, blood from abortion, condors and bats, fanatical looks in a dark barouche, slender winds fluttering through the fingers, night shaking its bells.

There is also the political Romania, a country choked by totalitarianism and severe poverty until, on Christmas Day, 1989, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were given a short trial, led behind the building with their hands tied behind their backs, placed against a wall and executed by firing squad. The execution is available on YouTube, testament to the powers of the Internet. The nation-state has become something of a fiction. We are all Romanian. We are all Occupiers. We are all besieged by a global oligarchy of sociopathic bankers and a ruthless capitalism stomping around the world like Goya’s Saturn Eating His Children.

The Vanishing Point That Whistles is the second collection of modern Romanian poetry from Talisman House. Born In Utopia: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry appeared in 2006 and included the work of many prominent authors, including Tristan Tzara, Gherasim Luca, Paul Celan and Andrei Codrescu. Codrescu, who provided the introduction for Born In Utopia, wrote that “One of the most worn native clichés is ‘Every Romanian is born a poet.’ It would be a noble declaration, if it weren’t so pathetic. Being a poet is bad enough, being born one is hopeless. The only redeeming feature of that old saw is that it isn’t true. Romanians, hopefully, were born to be many other things: computer engineers (and hackers), doctors, researchers, world-class criminals, and gymnasts. But what about the poetry? It gets tricky.”

“The Romanian language,” he continues, “is mostly a Latin language, like Russian or Bulgarian. Throw into that mix a few hundred words of Turkish with power way beyond their meager numbers, and you have a language at war with itself.” I have since listened to some Romanian poets read their work on YouTube. I know absolutely no Romanian whatever, and didn’t have a clue as to what was being said. All I heard was the sound. To my ears, Romanian sounds a little Italian. Roberta said it sounded like Italian spiked with Hungarian. She’s right: there is a definite Slavic plangency surging through the metallic ring of Latinate syllables, churning consonants and vowels like a Hungarian tug on the Danube.

There are 40 poets represented in The Vanishing Point That Whistles. If there is a common quality or style apparent running through these poems, it is what editor Paul Doru Mugur calls hyper-realism, an obsession for the real and for authenticity, “the rejection of any form of compromise and the contamination of esthetic by ethic.”

He refers to a movement called Fracturism: “In September 1998, two Romanian poets, Dumitru Crudu and Marius Ianus, wrote ‘The Fracturist Manifesto’ declaring that ‘fracturism is the first model of a radical break from postmodernism’ and that ‘fracturism is a movement developed by writers who live as they write, excluding social lies from their poetry; the writers who adhere to this movement have no career expectations and ambitions, they do not perceive art as a form of business from which one can draw any profit… The fracturist proposal was to move the accent from the object to the one who writes. Only the reactions of the one who writes are important and not the object he/she describes… Only thus can we reinvent emotion, only thus can we reinvent the primary thrill of the Real.”

Each night I’ve had this book within reach on the coffee table, I’ve looked forward to reading it. The poetry is different. It has an energy missing from a lot of the recent work I’ve seen in England and the U.S., a rawness and candor coupled with an earthy wit and humor that reminds me a little of Frank O’Hara’s work. O’Hara’s personism is echoed in the nerve and audacity of these poems, a keen, puckish emphasis on putting the poem “squarely between the poet and the person.” The poems rise on words that have the unmistakable feeling of flesh and blood about them, the aura of a woman’s skin, a man’s grip, a mouth full of water in a furnished room.

40 poets is far too many to provide commentary for individually, nor do I want to pick and choose and be left with that nagging frustration of having left out some real brilliance. I thought it would be fun and significantly easier to provide a small sampling, a line or two, for each poet. Think of each as a canapé spread with caviar.


At night, if you drop a seashell into the telephone at the corner instead of a coin, a small, white, unchipped seashell gathered from the beach in summer, instead of a dial tone you’ll hear the wondrous sound of the waves. Then you can dial any number and the liquid voice of a siren will answer, summoning you by name.

Ioan Es. Pop:

with you, even your shirt can’t stay
happy. its silk is ruined
by the mouse gnawing at your bones.

but your shoes continue to be properly black. they will
mourn your toes. they will mourn you
a toenail will be priest, the knees the band of musicians,
the shoulders godfathers, the hands wedding guests,

and the phosphorus in your fingernails the candle leading the cortege.

Mihail Galatanu:

My lips were, oh ho, bleeding
like a cirrhotic’s,
my mouth red as a raw wound
through which the world suffered once more.

Daniel Banulescu:

I lie in a bed piled with soft pillows
A bed piled with soft pillows
Having the air the contours the shape of Romania

Floarea Tutuianu:

Everything I touch turns to poetry
I have a hand of gold
That could bury me alive

Radu Andriescu:

Beauty is skin-deep, Ike and Tina would sing. Did you know a full 90% of the dust in a house is made up of human skin? Can you imagine the sheer quantity of exfoliated beauty tossed in the garbage every day?

Simona Popescu:

You twisted like a pretzel
and in the rotating dark
inside the womb of your bedchamber you’re
a seed.
An embryo swaddled in shadows.

Emilian Galaicu-Paun:

(a word so commodious that if you press your ear to it, you can hear a heart beating, and round, deep inside, two pregnancies).

Ruxandra Cesereanu:

vultures and ravens may devour me
lest I ax to bits the burden of my lust
kiss me until my teeth fall out
scratch me down to the bare bone
pull my hair light my fire take me to make a sinner of
because my poor inside-out heart has dried up like a glove.

O. Nimigean:

let your brain have a tumble let it explode
like the sun in a universe of femininities

Constantin Acosmei:

(I grabbed a handful of bones
from under the mattress and
made a pinwheel
while the pinwheel
I wrapped my head
in paper)

Nicolae Coande:

I - a poet -
still alive
without a philosophy
absent any aura
confronted by a wine bottle
now empty -
this could well be it
the Biggie.

Mihai Ignat:

I don’t believe in ghosts.
I hate the country where I was born.
A stranger’s kiss would electrify
my tonsils.
My dream is to wake up someday.

Marius Ianus:

Suddenly I’m old
but I cannot pray ceaselessly
so I write this poem.

Dumitru Crudu:

I’ve glued
my forehead
to your forehead
with shells

Adina Dabija:

Henry Miller’s books are the most important poems
I wrote one night.

Stefan Balan:

Night. Rain.
In the dark moving, I find my body
At my fingertips - the mahogany of the table.

Teodor Duna:

the black days of death have passed
it was in fact a crucial year
when out of a rusty piece of tin I made myself a huge sun

Ruxandra Novac:

the ambulances are full of the rescued
amidst the silence, someone’s howl as he recognizes himself
in a glass splinter
when days have no end

Mugur Grosu:

not you, loveliness,
it wasn’t your fault
you let yourself be chased by your nostril
to the dark circles under the bride’s eyes

George Vasilievici:

I get up from watching TV
look through the peephole
and see my mother coming
pregnant with nobody,
munching on hair

Ioana Nicolaie:

and she laughed
at her cellophane life
at questions rotting with the rags in the attic

Radu Vancu:

when you watch the rain through the window at the faculty office
and memories and raindrops make your flat soul tremble,
so your mind spreads outward in wider and wider circles.

Andrei Peniuc:

what are you doing here with me
the leash is a torment to me I’m a small animal
now I know my gums can catch fire and glow
I’m a small animal.

Dan Sociu:

No emotion exists
for what I feel right now
it’s as if we’re walking
our drunk child to school.

Adrian Urmanov:

right now
your finger is gently caressing the tablecloth and
that drawing is the wondrous face
of the soul

Razvan Tupa:

each time you alone
that stupid sidewalk crack looks ready
to be filled with your disregard

Claudiu Komartin:

today I woke up knowing everything
although I’d have preferred anything else instead:
to breathe a deep gulp of air
to be able to bounce a good thought between the walls of my skull

Elena Vladareanu:

my wealth: a few hundred books
a red plastic basin
an old iron
a radio
a tea set
the color of earth
a proud and ruthless soul
a damned termagant skin
a bored God
lust like a lethal guilt

Dan Coman:

my face passes through the chair and takes root in the floor
I move my cheeks like the legs of a mad horse
now I haven’t any doubt
no word can put a stop to the uproar in my head

Miruna Vlada:

there are kilometers of artlessness between us
memories full of slobber whirl about the room
if I cut this film with scissors
God will glue it back with his golden saliva

V. Leac:

even if we stir our bodies like instant coffee
the point is that life gets born in sweat
your love’s only a plastic suction cup
from which firefly Joe will get out.

Svetlana Carstean:

I’m a woman
for a long time my body’s been floating
above an expanse of water, white as moonlight,
indecent and silent.

T.S. Khasis:

it’s too late to call a friend
I take my clothes off and walk around in the dark
I feel my veins a little swollen
I study my genitals balancing in semidarkness -
and as always
(the same sensation must have sent some stone-age guy
right back to his cave)
I wonder why the skin on my upper arms feels thinner

Gabi Eftimie:

the air splits in two
and slides gently into me
/I WANT to look behind/

saliva dripping out of my mouth/saliva flowing back in my mouth/saliva oozing
back into my mouth

Marius Conkan:

what sort of brother is that for death
if he won’t let himself be buried in either woman or man
if he fails to produce fear walking with his hair in his mouth
and doesn’t drink coca-cola but only strong tuica
distilled out of plums brought from his grandmother’s village

Andrei Gamart:

It’s the time when you go to a bar to get drunk because in this bar where you come sometimes to sit by yourself the waitress already knows you she knows what to bring you and this makes you sad and self-disgusted. when you sit at the table she’s already bringing the drinks. sadness. disgust.

Michel Martin:

white fish salmon couscous coffee rye mushrooms I’ve quit smoking
oh so sad if I were to begin again I’d become half geisha half
Edith Piaf I’d be the painter of everything I’ve lost

Aida Hancer:

I leave home with the thought that my blood
will gradually fill
other emotions


I read on the internet:
in secret, between shadow and soul
and it bored a hole in my brain and birds like watermelons landed there
then I did a wikipedia search for my love

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Mathematics Of Snow

Time folds into place like a jackknife. A slab of meat sizzles in a frying pan. I can hear the pages of eternity crackle with the physics of black.

I am deeply antisocial. Can I get a witness? I can’t. I’m too antisocial.

I love books. Books were invented for the antisocial. Books make it possible to be with people without actually having to be with people.

My eyes scrape against the page. Reflection is an engine of supposition. I can hear the ghost of my personality walking on the moon. I can hear the snake of the universe crash through arctic ice.

I have forged a sword from the pure steel of history. Every story begins with a fire. A skeleton escapes from the museum. It is chased down and riddled with bullets in Pittsburgh. The skeleton laughs. The sound of the laughter is hollow. It is the laughter of a skeleton. It sounds like absolute zero. It sounds like winter ice feeding the glory of summer.

Drugs replace reality with sweet illusion. I paint a feeling with a camel-hair brush, two shades of red, a little green, and a dollop of black. My head mutates into an engine of blood and cabbage. A ghost walks through the Laundromat smoking hashish. The wind blows the sea into vivid life. My feeling grows too complex to handle and falls out of my mouth. It creates a fiction to inhabit. A cocoon of words and sounds held together by syntax. One hundred years later it breaks from the cocoon and takes wing over a desolate earth. Its wings are scarlet and yellow and its eyes are blisters of black.

I am sitting on a hippopotamus. A robin hops in the snow. I open a box to discover another hippopotamus and a robin hopping in the snow. It is signed Joseph Cornell and includes a map of purple.

I put words on paper, one by one, until they form a chain. There is no limit to what we can create. The larynx hammers syllables in the darkness of the throat. The rain attracts whispers. I smell smoke. There is a whisper of eternity in the woods.

I develop a poem in the shape of a crustacean. The ocean sparkles and an old man shucks oysters. It is raining. A boat bobs on the horizon. The sky is stippled with birds. The poem resembles a lobster. Its antennas are raised. Its claws hold a jukebox, which it begins to eat. A song bursts into rhubarb. The lobster eats the rhubarb. Max Jacob talks to his parrot on the telephone. Metal groans in the hold of a sunken ship. Words crackle with the fire of ancient caverns. The white gate of eternity creaks open on the ocean floor.

What is the smell of revolution? A loaf of pumpernickel barking at a snowman.

There are five gallons of blood in the human body. The world is a constant struggle. Bach furnishes music. Mysterious phone calls penetrate the dark. The luggage of heaven puzzles the hills. Space dances on the roof of a restaurant. My emotions are made of ink. I drop a pebble into a well to hear it echo at the bottom. Click click click on rock kerplunk.

You cannot live in the U.S. without drugs.

We live in a world of twisted perceptions. Illusions, delusions, dreams and exonerations. It is a pleasure to walk in the snow. It seems like it will never stop falling. And then it stops. There has been a momentary retreat. The city is quiet. If you sit in a car that has been covered with snow the effect is enchanting. It is like being in a cocoon. There is nowhere to go. Nowhere to be. It is just you and the quiet. And the snow makes three.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Robert Creeley Rides A Camel Across Egypt

I live in a wilderness of pain. These very words exemplify the calypso. Sounds emerging from a spinning record. A 45. From a dusty garage. The air is folded into thunder. Four rocks by the window, like four bald heads. George Orwell swatting mosquitoes in the Irawaddy Delta. Poetry. Emeralds. Claws.

I am frequently amazed at the ingenuity with which cloth restaurant napkins are folded. Once I saw an albatross far out at sea. Then it was just cloth. And my soup arrived.

Where there is pain there is pleasure. The two are intertwined. Though it may not always seem that way.

Opacity engenders ice. It’s a good distraction. T.S. Eliot is sculpting an opinion from a slab of granite. I play the accordion with a Technicolor hope. I strain to put the wind in a jar. The idea of paradise makes life infinitely more palatable. Though it helps to believe it’s true.

Poetry broods in description. Excuse me. I have to sneeze.

What was I saying? The other day, just as I was curling my fingers under the handle of the car door, I saw a handful of poetry mutate into a war. The outcome was marvelous. It rained in Paris. The tanks rolled north. A woman gave birth to a metaphor. A metaphor gave birth to a woman. And a man named Funk sermonized on the terrors of liberty.

The fork multiplies the punctuation of eating. The spoon reflects an overhead fan as it spins and spins. The knife imitates consciousness, soliciting scale. The poem doesn’t know what to do. It idles in reverie. And resembles an ear.

I fold my day at the ocean and pack it in a suitcase. The head benefits from its position on the body. The cemetery murmurs of earth. The pumpkins glow. The hollows howl.

Hatred is more easily understood than love. The highest accomplishment in life is acceptance. Most people live in a zone of denial. Illusions offer refuge. Revelations are cruel.

I float around on a planet writing everything down. The moon twists the sky into a spoon. A stand of birch informs the air with correlations of black and white. I would like to buy a nice cool monotone to go with my shirt. What is the best way to present reality? Words ooze from the pen. Sentences form. Paragraphs grow into legs. They get up and walk away.

When I write about experiences I feel so many myriad sensations all competing for attention that it’s hard to focus on any one thing. I’m open to anything, even hay. Cinnamon and denim. Stepladders and constancy.

Robert Creeley rides a camel across Egypt. It is a story of thirst and cohesion. And under and over. And in back and in front of. Or up or down. Or in or in place of. Of this and this. Of all that is. And of all that isn’t.

I have the face of an old man. I stand amazed before the dawn. I never expected to be this old. I want to bake a tattoo into a loaf of narrative. I want to conjure a winter of dazzling crystal. I want to surge forward like a wave and crash on the shore of another world.

The cord fell behind the computer while I was on the phone with a woman in New Brunswick helping me to solve the problem with our modem. I couldn’t find it. It was hidden among the tangle of cords on the floor. She suggested I follow the cord from where it comes out of the wall. It worked. I found it. Such is life. A proverb behind every corner.

Sometimes I yearn for a taste of Mexico. Especially when it snows and truth dribbles from a spark of temerity. Jukebox songs make an astronomy of time. The past and present fuse. The future appears slippery. My desires are more luxurious than I can afford. I feel bronze. I feel red. I feel blue. The colors of my drugs match the colors of my life. Someone coughs in the next room. Fireworks squirt from my pen. The old brown road is constellated with puddles. The hills are alive with the sound of frogs. I get up and go to the bank and deposit a bicycle wheel and a handful of rain.

Do people like me? My Maori buckle, my calliope pants? My magpie hat, my pullulating shoes?

The medicine initiates a vague comprehension. The propeller is a miracle. The colors are so rich they startle you into attention. All you need is mouthwash.

The largest snowflake in the world fell from the sky of Montana on January 28th, 1887. It landed near Fort Keogh, and was 15 miles in diameter, and was shaped like a muscle cramp.

When I awoke this morning there was an angel sitting at the end of the bed who said “the skin is an organ.” I had no reason to disagree. I got up and made some coffee. I went to the bathroom to brush my hair. I could see the ghost of my youth swimming in the mirror. They say the geography of truth glimmers with craters of volcanic gold. I say the bomb of poetry explodes into paradise. I say codeine feels like God whispering soothing thoughts to your bones. I say the larynx corresponds to the stamen of a flower. And that syllables hang like petals from the stem of a thought.

Some days later Robert Creeley is sitting at the Gare du Nord, waiting for a train to Brussels. How far in the universe to get home, he wonders. What do you do when you’re still alone. What do you say when no one asks. What do you want you don’t take. When the train finally comes in, there’s nothing you’re leaving, nothing you can.