Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Done-ish, moving archives to another site

If you want to see what I'm blogging now, please visit Sisyphus Speaks.

If you want to see older posts from this blog, please visit Sisyphus Speaks: The Vault: A Poetry of the Impossible.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Say Hello, Goodbye

[Disclaimer: Take everything I write with a grain of salt. I have internal conflicts up the wazoo about everything under the sun, and I overreact to everything. Understand, please, that any apparent vitriol or venom here is barking, with no bite--a necessary part of the process as my initial reaction fades and the more permanent ideas stick. I respect Mr. Housden a great deal, even as I resent him (even as I resent Gilbert, Stern, and Rilke--father figures all, and me in adolescent expectation of their disappointment). The final draft of this will be more settled and more professional and more positive. Thanks.]

I have been making notes on the Roger Housden book Ten Poems to Say Goodbye, and I thought I would share some bits from the rough draft. Much of this won't be in the final, as it is often ill-considered, catty, even needlessly mean. But, gosh, is it fun to be a mean critic sometimes! (You know it's just my adolescent psyche throwing a tantrum.) For the most part, Housden's selection is quite good, and--although I disagree with him on a number of things--I have found passages of interesting insights. The whole "goodbye" issue, my need to refuse to gracefully let go of my past, rages and calms in succession as I go through the book. Reading and commenting on it has actually been very therapeutic. Your comments are welcome.

"The goals of any book like this can be summarized as follows.

  1. To be useful: Any thematic collection tied to a profound emotion or traumatic event is by default a self-help book.
  2. To show that poetry is useful: This, you may know, clashes with my own philosophy. 
  3. To present a collection of "good poetry" under one set of criteria or another."

"I find it difficult to get excited about poems that follow the narrative-punctuated-by-punch-line-images model. I mean, Bass's poem is good, but Housden overhypes it and makes me want to hate it just to spite him. I feel the same way about U2."

"Reading political poetry is like being stood up by someone you know isn't a very good lover anyway. Either way, it's all resignation, disappointment, and masturbation."

"Housden's hysterical infatuation with Laux's poem is almost painful to read. As for the poem, it is good, but it's not that good. The whole hovering bird image--if I'd have written that for a class in my undergrad days, I would have been advised immediately, by professor and fellow students, to scrap it for something less obvious."

"Gilbert and Stern (not to mention Rilke) shame me with their full embrace of life. There is nothing I can say when I read their 'goodbye' poems, because I know theirs is the right attitude, that I have no excuse. Rilke in particular is a voice that brooks no dissent in this matter. 'You must change your life.'"

"How dare he not experience these turbulent emotions himself! I have felt all of it, each one to the point of breaking, in circumstances that did not explain or warrant it! He explains his bloodless equanimity as a product of his Anglican upbringing in Bath. I myself am as pure an English-derived WASP as can be found in the States. From the grazing fields of Somerset to the glass factories of Indiana and beyond, my people have refused to allow their deepest realities direct expression. We are a placid landscape undermined by fissures, whereas Housden and his are a thick, solid glacier. We have always wanted not to feel, to be like Housden, and we have paid dearly for the effort."

"Why Leonard Cohen? I like his songs, even love them, but that's just it--they're songs. Their relatively (to free verse) heavy-handed meter and rhyme belong in a musical structure. Did you need a Canadian to make the book multicultural, or are you just a '60s throwback who desperately wants to show me how 'hip' you are? There must be some actual contemporary poets out there who have written something you could use in place of Cohen's song lyrics."

"Dry him up and infuse him in hot water--maybe he'll be of more use as a cup of weak tea."

Monday, February 20, 2012


This is not a poem. Why post it on my poetry blog? Because the thoughts come to me as I read through this volume of poetry and commentary I am set to critique. As I confront my own cowardice in forgiving the past and staying in the present. As I listen to one of my favorite sound collages that intertwines old recordings of Pound, Eliot, glitch, Slayer, Kronos, Miles, and so many other things that should not mix, about fear and loss and laughter. As I remember one I used to know, a wonderful but underpublished poet. And all this stands in the way of my head and heart speaking to each other, to anyone.

Suppose I should eat something now.
Suppose I should pick up my lithium and not go without any longer.
Suppose I should find my health insurance number and gather my aripiprazole, complete the gang of five that rights my tilted brain.
Suppose I should take the star-ended screwdriver and fix the hatchback latch of my lame little car.
Suppose I should call and ask for guidance in a journey through sobriety that I am afraid to take.
Suppose I should pray to the elements, meditate on the passing of all things.
Suppose I should begin to let go of the pain I had hoped would save me.
Suppose I should breathe, and weep, and breathe again.

No pretense, not a poem, nothing that necessarily belongs here. Just maybe just before here, in an imaginary pre-poetry blog, where I post to shovel the sidewalk to allow passage. As art, this is shit. But I'm not concerned with that. And, hopefully, you, Dear Reader, will overlook my failings here and return despite my unpoetic content.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Little ado, still about nothing

I'm late for yesterday's post, yesterday's installment of "what crappy excuse for a poem can I slap up now?"

I did some research on types of wood that might be used to build a house in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, of what that wood might mean, of the architecture of a house or a pub nestled away in the woods there, of signs for ancient travelers from the days when mathematics was a religion. And how to infuse it into a poem that is essentially about being trapped in patterns of petty, destructive romantic relationships? A poem with no coherent structure, no consistent metaphor, a jumble of meaningless images, a poor attempt to juggle an inept narrative with an ill-fitted motif and a landscape that unaccountably shifts from circus to mountains to whatever else. (This all refers to All Things Being Equal--you can go see for yourself what a hopeless mess it is.)

I'm also slowly making my way into a critical appraisal of a little book called Ten Poems to Say Goodbye by Roger Housden. Random House, in what appears to be the cheapest of cheap marketing strategies, offered poetry bloggers a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. I had no idea it would be an exploration of "letting go," a subject that I have been avoiding since even before my second divorce. As I read, I am trying to remember that my venomous resentment is an extremely personal reaction and that my critical eye must be as objective as possible. On the other hand, no one reads this blog anyway, so I can say whatever I want. Best of both worlds--I'm contemplating writing two versions of the review, one in which I attempt to be professional (immediately visible on this blog), and another where I just let myself be nasty (if at all warranted on a subjective level--buried underneath the <Read More> link).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Juvenilia: Stories I wish I had never told you

Because I lack the energy today to come up with something new, or even a new addition to something old, I present another piece of juvenilia. I actually like this one, a short imagistic work with a bit of mathematics. More like what I'm writing now, but better for its succinctness. Perhaps.

Stories I wish I had never told you

On my wall, there is a photograph
of my father, and another

of a man in a train station, his arm held
like a paper swan's wing, as though you

could find the square root of something
under his shoulders.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Juvenilia: Turning

From a class exercise, modeled after a poem from Mark Halliday's Little Star. I'm approaching very slowly and cautiously my 41st birthday, so this poem on aging and change (or some shit) is kind of appropriate. It was published in a very small literary journal in 1996, but the more I get reacquainted with it, I'm not sure why it was published. Like most of what I write, I think it has its moments, but there are so many flat phrases and near cliches and missed opportunities to develop more vibrant, meaningful metaphors ... I'm just left unimpressed with my own mediocrity. Anyway, I think it is worth preserving. It's much more narrative than what I write now. The stuff about my daughter shines a little (or am I being sentimental?). Anyway, preserving for the sake of preservation itself, here is "Turning."

In 1996, I am turning
a quarter of a century,
or 25, depending on whether
or not it feels unbearably old
at the moment I say it.

Happy birthday.
In 1995, when I turned 24, with 13 hours of
drive time separating me from
wife and child, divorce gathering in the air
like locusts, I wrote an opening line to a poem
          I never finished: "I hate the beginnings of things
          as much as their endings,"
and recited it, drunk, to some friends in a bar, the rest
of the words I needed were already written down in a
piece from high school, "Impermanence in Perpetuity"; it was
in one of those notebooks I burned when I became 23.
Happy birthday.
But I repeat myself.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

All Things Being Equal, revisions to first section

In order to stop this poem from sucking so much (since I have determined to try and finish it), I've been looking into details about the mathematical equations I'm using, attempting to incorporate that information while at the same time trying to do some landscaping, making it less of an incoherent jumble of images and metaphors. Here I found a little information on the use of x for the unknown in algebra. Make no mistake, I still think it sucks ... but I think maybe it sucks a little less. My greatest fear for this is that it will end up a choppy mix of abstract, image, narrative, and gimmick, and so will come to induce frustration by appearing to mean something and ultimately disappointing any search for substance. The small problems, with particular images or turns of phrase are bad enough to make me wince every time I read them, but I have no idea how to fix them right now. Oh, well. I said I wasn't going to worry about sucking. Better things to come, my small handful of Dear Readers.

Let x = x 1
Locked in observation, off
center in the circus ring, the stranger,
guest, or foreigner (from the Greek)

with laceless shoes. and
flesh turning color in
a mangled ring. As in
the circus.
You lay across
the hall, or midway reading palms, lie

across the lake river of fire bridged by roads cut straight
into the mountain. You, me, the elephant in the ring.
The baby in the car, my bottle
in the sink. The girl left an impression,
barbed wire
was not the first time our act had been
canceled, partners had been changed. I admit
I have quit you for a juggler, forsaken you as

I have forsaken my whiskey in the sink, as
you had forsaken our baby helpless in the back
of the car when they came to arrest us.

She was just a clown, my heart, handstanding
on my back, the ass-end of a circus pony with
wobble knees,
a calliope that plays until and the finalĂ© spills
them from the car like cockroaches, midgets and stilt-
legged giants, or hoop-waisted buffoons begging
the rain with wing-spread finches,
skeletons, held close
on their heads.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fear of Sucking

So I'm working on translating another piece of published juvenilia (modeled after, or derived from, or ripping off a Mark Halliday poem from Little Star). Twice removed from worth anything, except some poor deluded soul or committee of souls chose to publish it in a small journal, so I guess it's worth something. And it's actually OK, a little less image-heavy and more narrative than my usual crap.

Anyway, at the same time, I am studying an article called 25 Ways to Increase Blog Traffic and fighting a wave of headache and nausea and actively hiding from the day. As I contemplate making an honest effort to increase traffic, it seems to me that Not Bob's list of 25 omits perhaps the most essential: don't suck. How many people read blogs that suck? (How many people are reading and answering this question right now? The answers to those questions, says my sunken self-esteem, are identical.) The golden rule of "Don't Suck" does not make the list. Instead, perhaps its opposite: "Post Consistently." All in a panic, I think to myself, "I barely have anything to say twice a month on this blog ... What will I say if I post a few times a week?"

Of course, having developed (somewhat) my theory of the Poetry of the Impossible, which comprises these points:

  1. Poetry is not that serious
  2. Poetry does not affect Reality directly, only acts from the fringes to filter down into cultural understandings of Reality
  3. Reality is quite beyond our ability to understand
  4. Language is a terribly flawed means of communicating our understanding of Reality
  5. But still, Language is the best means of communication we have
  6. The limitations of Language create the tools and tricks of the Poetic trade
  7. Poetry is essentially a game using those tools and tricks to force Language to move closer to a true representation of Reality, bridging the Subjective and Objective
  8. Poetry is essentially a game we can never win, a game in which we can never be certain of the score
  9. Thus, all Poetry is Objectively equal because entirely dependent for value upon the Subjective
  10. Thus, there are no more or less legitimate forms of Poetry
  11. Thus, there is only Poetry I like better and Poetry I don't like so much 
  12. Thus, concerns about Am I a good poet? are best understood as more superficial concerns, such as Will my poetry be acceptable to these literary journals? or Will my poetry get me into that MFA program? or If I show my friends my poetry, will they laugh at me? or Does my poem rhyme good?
  13. Given the superficial Subjectivity of these "core" value concerns, every Poem will succeed in some contexts and fail in others; every Poem will simultaneously Suck and Not Suck (Like Schrodinger's cat, we put the Poem in a box and its value equals all probabilities at once until someone opens the box ... The Poem, however, either Sucks or Not depending upon the person opening the box, whereas the cat is either dead or alive, one or the other, regardless)
  14. Given the impossibility of winning the game, of forcing Language to represent True Reality (or of even knowing what True Reality is), there is also no possibility of losing the game, and so no limitations on--no rules (except for whatever rules the Poet chooses to provisionally adopt) of--the game.
(god, that was a long tangent to arrive at this point)I must concede that Fear of Sucking is entirely irrational, and should not even be considered when posting on a blog like this.

But then, as human beings are irrational, Fear of Sucking is a legitimate consideration. What shall I do now?

So, how about every Tuesday and Thursday, at least, I post here one of several different things:
  1. Revisions to an existing poem
  2. Draft of a new poem
  3. An old poem (Juvenilia)
  4. My thoughts about poetry and poetics
  5. A method of generating poetic matter and/or my results from using such a method
  6. My thoughts on things I see around the Poetosphere (what do you think of that label? I'm not sure ...)
  7. A critical appraisal and/or analysis of someone else's poetry, whether unknown or well-known
Think I'll try that. Echo echo echo ...

Friday, January 27, 2012

From the German.

I'm stuck. I should be working on "All Things Being Equal," (that is the agreement I made with myself) but I fear it may be completely unsalvageable. So, to fuck around and waste time productively, I took four texts translated from the German--Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism," Goethe's Faust, Rilke's Duino Elegies, and the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm--and plugged them into eGnoetry to try to make some interesting novel connections. What follows are the raw results, the turbulent flow. I may set straight quotes from the works to act as attractors, or I might build it around memories of a German girlfriend many years ago. Or I might just forget about it, because I already have too many unfinished long poems. Who knows? Anyway ...

This was morbidly anxious to know. I felt
this difficulty in silence. It's all,

I stepped leisurely
across the life -- or two who lifted a
capital -- normal from head was thinking of
having lost sight; this -- the
I had been planning to
his hands, and sealed his.

I proposed a singleness of nightmares. The manager,
wild and devil, almost
certain I had become a foolish
faces. I had nothing,
four pilgrims in a wonder. I saw
the passing away quick, nor I did not so.