I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

26 July 2006

Idaho Bound

I'll be leaving for Idaho tomorrow night, going there with my son, and so I probably won't be posting very much, if at all, over the next two weeks. It's summer, after all!

19 July 2006

Poetry Thursday: A Little Undressing

Posting a little early for Poetry Thursday, which prompted us to post about sex. Pretty ho-hum, I believe, to write about sex only as sex, but very hot to write about sex as play, improvisation, despair, nostalgia, whimsy, remorse, and then it begins to be something interesting.

Looking at my own poetry, I written about sex in relief of a mining disaster, Idaho winterscapes, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Peruvian dinners in Miami, Christmas carols, Miranda Richardson morphing into a Matthew Barney cheetah, failing comets, Jonathon Cornell boxes, salmon fishing runs, quantum mechanics, Sonja Henie, and yes, Boise State football. Oh, and dresses, as my faithful readers most likely know.

The trick for me is to be sure that the good sex poem, like most good sex, should be doing about twelve things at once. Oh, I could go on about the values of the profane, of the ecstatic, of the sexual politics of any sex act, of Whitman's view of poetry as a seminal utterance, of Kristeva's view of poetry as the ovumic murmuring, but that's all talk.

Today, I'll share one my Gerri likes.

Her Disrobing

She has said, “In dance, there is always gravity,
for movement is a continual exchange of weight.
If you’re doing it right, it is as if nothing touches ground.
To rise, you must lower yourself toward earth.
You must think down. You must humble your body.”

I do not recall her movements as desperate, but
I think of her raw doomed pull inside the music,
down to a place where pulse and breath have stopped.
She liked it that way, dance as a sculpting of space,
of stealing shape out of nothing: her arm curved

overhead in the dark, her eyes and chin tilted
down, even her hair across her face still. Tonight,
her dance might have become something for the men
along her life, or for me, this new man who might be
another punishment for the men she knew before.

Before me, her disrobing is a simple, quiet slip,
upon which a crinkle of cotton is the only
falling, the only capture in the air, and her nakedness
stuns me. I cannot breathe against this turn and drop
of her knee, as she sweeps her body beneath the covers,

powerful, a sexual angel. In her, I swear the music
must be of something ugly, the body accustomed
to a pain, and sometimes, too, when she hovers
above my body, so still that I am alone, the sound must
be of laughter, of one wing extending and lowing.

16 July 2006

Waiting for Quds

About the disintegration of the Middle East, the only small favor for me is that we don't have cable or satellite television, and so I am free of the horrid coverage provided by the 24 hour news stations.

So much is wrong: Hezbollah's mad attempt for power in Lebannon and its murderous acts against Israel; Israel's militaristic belligerence, with its mistaken insistence that the complete submission of the Palestinians is the way to peace; the U.S.'s arrogance in believing a policy of "benign hegemony" could create a democratic revolution among Islamic states--all the while the one genuinely nascent Islamic democracy is being bombed and blockaded by Israel.

To think that after 9/11 the U.S. had a genuine opportunity to recast the dynamics of the Middle East, we have reverted to a situation that is far worse than the early 80s. And I cannot but suspect that all this manuevering is to get at Syria, ultimately, the latest scapegoat for the failed U.S. excursion into Iraq. Yes, all of this must be winning the hearts and minds of the moderate Muslims in the region, to align their allegiances to the wise policies of the Bush Administration.

What I did watch on television, though, was a DVD of a 2005 documentary, Waiting for Quds, directed by Devorah Blachor. Sonia Nettnin has written a good overview of this film, which details the hardships experienced by a Palestinian political prisoner and his Jewish-Puerto-Rican-American-Israeli-Palestinian-refugee-U.N.-worker spouse. The film follows Allegra Pacheco through her pregnancy, as she seeks to free her husband Abed al-Ahmar from "administrative detainment," imprisonment without any charges being filed. Allegra, by the way, is the daughter of my friend, the poet Joe Pacheco. The film ends with the birth of their son Quds (the Arabic word for Jerusalem), and a postscript with a hopeful reunion of the family 14 months after Quds' birth (this was in 2004).

Anyway I was struck with the interviews with Abed al-Ahmar, very much a moderate, secular Muslim, who as a teenaged refugee had run into trouble with the Israeli authorities. At one point, al-Ahmar calls the two-state solution "a fiction," and that the only far-reaching solution is a single state Israel, with a complete democracy including equality for the Palestinians. Obviously, such a radical stance would paint him as an Israeli apologist and spiritual heretic in the eyes of militant Islamists. Also, in the film, Allegra's mother talks about how many of their friends and family members regard Allegra as a self-hating Jew.

Of course, looking at the film, with its final images of hope (predictably on this notion of love conquering peoples, not just individuals), it seems today so deeply naive--however principled. Allegra and Abed are truly heroic, and while Quds represents impossible hope, it appears that the world as it is doesn't deserve such hope.

14 July 2006

Sanibel Island Writers Conference

While I'm not one of the participants, I will be at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference this October. I recommend those of you able to come and spend an idyllic weekend with some very good writers at an incredible location. My friend Tom DeMarchi is the Director of the conference, and this first installment has some terrific writers: Judith Viorst, Jonathon Ames, Steve Almond, Julianna Baggott, John Dufresnes, among others. Click on the banner below to get the full low-down.

12 July 2006

Poetry Thursday: Humor

Posting a little early for Poetry Thursday, but wanting to make sure it's up. This week's assignment was to share something about poetry and humor.

For me, this goes back to one of my earliest influences, Richard Brautigan. For my high school graduation, my favorite English teacher gave me a number of books of poetry, including Brautigan's Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork. She calibrated my sense of humor and my testoterone perfectly in making this selection, knowing that his work would trip my trigger. And it did for a number of years, and naturally, I wrote lots of Brautigan-lite lyrics. Here's one of those I wrote:

Writing a Poem at 6:00 a.m. While My Lover Fondles my Penis

I have two choices.

* * * *

Fortunately, I got over that soon enough, but I've always kept alive that little smart ass for my poetry. My favorite "humorous" poet is Denise Duhamel (and yes, she's one of my pals), and I've gone on and on about her elsewhere on my blog. What I adore about her humor is that it's not mean-spirited. Neither do her poems rely on a kind of smug cleverness that puts me off--that's why I can't stand Billy Collins. But I've ranted on him, too.

For a more substantial humorous poem, I'm sharing the following poem. It was triggered after I wrote Denise that I didn't win a grant, for which she had written me a recommendation. I put it rather goofily, and she asked if she could use that sentence for a title of a poem. I said only if I could write a poem with that title, too.

Here's mine:

Upon Hearing that My Grant Application Was Passed Over and the Winner Was a Bio-Tech Professor Who Has Designed Genetically-Altered Protein for Buckwheat Seed

Okay, call me Sylvia Plath. I wanted that award,
the crystal glass eagle, the pendant, the certificate,
the lapel pin, the thousand bucks, and the parking space
next to the university president's spot: the whole
platinum and sapphire tiara. I knew I should have
written that poem on the manipulations
of amino acid balance in buckwheat seed proteins.
I knew I should have named that new genetic
strand Omicron-Brockide-32, should have brokered
the patent rights to Monsanto, let them spread the seed
of my pumped-up, high-octane, drought-tolerant,
American-can-do-know-how buckwheat
to sub-Sahara Africa and southern Mongolia.

One year later, then, I would have written
the grant report, presented it to the committee
on PowerPoint, and finished off my presentation
with a streaming video clip, showing some adolescent
boy, from Gambia, say, and he would be eating
my buckwheat flat bread, and there he would be,
digitalized, smiling, full and muscular. Yes,
and at that moment, vindicated and wise,
teary-eyed and generous, the grant committee
would gather and lift me on their shoulders, laughing
and singing, joyful for all the corporate sponsorships that
would follow me and bless our humble home
institution. For me, dare I dream further confirmations?
O, to be Nationally Endowed, Guggenheimed, Nobelled!

Of course, in Gambia, and other geographies
beneath the sweep and hoozah of fellowships
and announcements in The Chronicle of Higher Education,
the newly nourished could be striking the flint
of their first syllables of their first poems, poems
whose phrases-under the most subdued of flames-would
coolly scorch and burn our best American intention.

* * * *

To read Denise's version, you can find it at Caffeine Destiny--just scroll down beyond my poem, and you'll read her take on it.

10 July 2006

We Have Audioblogger . . . 4 Days in Limbo

this is an audio post - click to play

Thanks to January for heppin' me to the fact that the Audioblogger files have downloaded! Guess I'll be returning to various Poetry Thursday web sites and check out some voices I've been eager to hear!

05 July 2006

Audioblog, We Hope

I did the recording, and such, and so it should appear here today, I hope. Anyway, I read the poem I posted on July 4, just below this one, "To the coroner who did not have to draw my blood."

I neglected to mention that this poem originally was published in the mid-nineties in The Northwest Review. The editor, John Witte, went over it with me a number of times, especially cutting out four or five lines beyond the close of this version. I don't recall those lines, but they more or less expanded on all that it means, which I think can be a liability in confessional poetry: we try too hard to confess, or communicate, too much, beyond what the poem itself can sustain.

04 July 2006

Independence Day and Confessional Poetry

I'm way too tempted to go off on a rant about the relentless celebration of militarism (if there's such a word), that there are other ways to celebrate today rather than talk of "complete victory" (whatever that means), such as reading aloud the Bill of Rights, which Gerri and I will do later this evening.

Modoc Lava Beds--so very not Florida

But I wish to devote today's post to Confessional Poetry, as it is a subject brought up for a prompt for Poetry Thursday. This time, it was suggested by Raven's Nest:
Maureen wrote, “Maybe somehow we could have this be a topic, without getting too much into the ‘confessional’ type of poetry — maybe just putting some thought into how this kind of poem might fall flat, or on the other hand, might be so powerful and universal that it changes someone's life, truly changes someone's response to pain and circumstances.”
This is a terrific idea, and not as simple as it first appears. What often gets in the way of writing a poem that is confessional (and here, I mean it in the way Linda McCarriston describes it as being necessary, personal, unsayable) is that the confessional impulse to disclose overtakes the poetry itself. For Thursday, I'll share a poem I'm working on that has this very problem. But today, I want to share an old poem of mine that I believe honors the confessional necessity and keeps the poetry alive.

In the following poem, I like to think the craft, the voice, the address, the perspective, the disjointed tracks, and the assonance keep the poetry alive in the poem: these qualities prevent the poem from falling flat. And I think it's because of the poem's confessional nature that I found these qualities so very necessary. In a way, the poem's content dictated this kind of presentation. The trick for me was not to get caught up in the melodrama of the content itself, but to follow its poetic qualities, which is a very deep kind of discipline for me. Here is the poem, which appears in my second book of poetry, nearly Florida:

To the coroner who did not have to draw my blood

sixteen years ago, and centrifuge
the alkaline hydrocarbons from my blood,
contributing to the Ada County records
another fact concerning how much gasoline
is too much for the teenaged male
to ingest, who did not have to split
me open, to remove what remained
of the liver, or to cut the lung tissue
to recover the amount of fluid that bled
through the membrane, who did not have
to decide between suffocation or poisoning,
all the while I was pounding the door
of God’s speakeasy, having arrived without
the password for the two eyes that hid
behind the door slit and that rolled oh
when I guessed “Rimbaud’s three-legged
cat,” and the eyes’ voice said, “Get lost,
kid,” so I left thinking what a piss-ant
job for an angel, coming back to the world,
my parents’ garage, puking something blue
and thin onto the pavement, I give my thanks
to you, as I know you would have been
tender for this late adolescent, whose torso
had just lengthened to man-size, whose
hands were strengthening, whose skin
stretched young and fluid, for you
would have whispered, “Goddamn it,”
with the incision, remembering your own
son, or yourself, and I give you
thanks, for I may be the one you
blessed when you once cursed over
that old man’s drink, a Manhattan, “If there
would be one suicide who didn’t come
my way,” and I tell you now it was me
who didn’t come your way, cold, blue,
youthful, rotted, who today rose
with his beloved from the Modoc Lava Caves,
whose bearings were lost in the desert
afternoon light haloing silver off
automobiles and asphalt and ash.