Tuesday, December 30, 2008

27, Rue d' asshole

I just received this from a dear friend who thought it might be of interest, so here goes: "After coming across Joseph Hutchison's down-to-earth, downright right-on-the-target post, I knew even wild flying horses couldn't keep me away from my mission: I just had to find out where those dang-blasted ornery critters Mumford called 'harassed specialisms' were holed up. Well, I spent a whole day hoofing it, trying to get a whiff of their trail, not seeing hide nor hair of them and thinking maybe they were just 'figures' of my imagination, you know, like the number zero or whatnot. Towards the end of the day, I was still desperately running figures over in my mind when I saw the figure '27' tacked over a half-opened door of a run-down hovel and a smart-alecky-looking burro looking like he was expecting me. I should have figured as much." (Name withheld by request)


Soothsayer

Soothe me,
Tell me

When the clocks have stopped
Talking, what will the heart say?



Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Antonio Porchia's "Voices"
















"I KNOW WHAT I HAVE GIVEN YOU. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED"--Antonio Porchia

I once had two copies of this exquisite little book, translated by W.S. Merwin and published in 1969 by Big Table Publishing Company, Chicago; I gave one to a dear friend many years ago and kept the one signed
in October 1969 by someone whose name is still undecipherable, but whose message is certainly not (see title page).

One can easily see why Merwin was attracted to Porchia's only book from what he has to say of Voices in his translator's preface:

". . .the authority which the entries evoke, both in their matter and in their tone, is not that of tradition or antecedents, but that of a particular, individual experience. Whatever system may be glimpsed binding the whole together, [it] is not fashioned from any logic except that of one man's cast of existence. It is this which makes the work as a whole, and gives some of the separate sentences, elusive, but it is this which gives them their unmistakable pure immediacy--their quality of voice.

At the same time, the entries and the work as a whole assume and evoke the existence of an absolute, of the knowledge of it which is truth, and of the immense desirability of such knowledge. With no doctrinal allegiances, nor any attempt at dogmatic system, Porchia's utterances are obviously, in this sense, a spiritual, quite as much as a literary, testament. And the center to which they bear witness, as well as the matrix of their form, is the private ordeal and awe of individual existence, the reality that is glimpsed through time and circumstance, as a consequence of feeling and suffering. It is this ground of personal revelation and its logic, in the sentences, that marks their kinship, not with theology but with poetry."

As an influence upon my own development as a poet, this small repository of treasured utterances remains one of the most important, seminal works I have been privileged to discover; if you can get a copy, do so--but please don't part with it as did our bitter, unknown reader.

Monday, December 22, 2008

And Then There Were Six . . . . . .

. . . . .followers: Thanks to my lovely daughter Efiniki for joining Definitely Not Lemmings; here's what she looked like twenty-seven years ago, together with her mother and the poem I wrote for her when she was born.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sibyl

Knock-knock.

*

No milk run. Rather than deal just shut up
Open bay keep time merciful ticking
Like clockwork hand works mutilated miracles push button
Mushroom fills rising sun expanding mind cockpit exploding
Time runs out hands your hand a miracle, a complex
Map

*

Across centuries
Sphinx-riddled crossroads answer no
Second coming easy death wish all seeing
Eyes caught out gouged damned site swollen-
Footed fated one mother her son nailed
To bare mountain who sees shepherds tragic figure
His daughters before that incomprehensible
Reprehensible act clues leading flash back where double-crossed
Cretan maiden heads through whorish labyrinthian ritual
Runic sounding double-axe blades cut linear swaths through meadow in heat
Beehive buzzes words sacrifice sweet round Priapian bull-headed
Masquerading Pasiphae comes out clean as a whistle stops no clue
Why

*

Contented Aryan cows pack slaughterhouse boxcars with inferior beef
Attention turns to rack flesh burning where
Smoke signals wend stench retching as
Reflecting pious pilgrims genuflect before Pius
Remorse fills unredeemed coffers cardinal virtue offers
Sanctimonious wares a price war off expendable beaten but still viable track
Commodity

*

Pithy pristine vigor swells Newfoundland
Pollyanna belly-up swims in knocked-up naif
Bikini swills rotgut atomic afterbirth true men praise hosanna
Radio active record produces waves of delirium
Tremens and Heyerdahl?

*

Gutta-percha keeps vatic guts vindicated in Dead Sea scrolls most moist
Though papyrus sprouts another sold-out original
Version: A cast a way east
Of Eden, most bountiful producer
Of spread-legged constellations
Of dim-witted starlets, black holes, forlorn galaxies,
Swollen head of a born-again junkie's needle
Penetrating universal hymen, a singular
Still birth death moving

*

Vision.

(First published in Poetry Salzburg Review #6)

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Found Land

to the boy

pulling his small toy boat
across

the street the
seas aside

walk.


(from The Intricate Evasions of As)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Believe it or not,

I read somewhere that
Some land snails can

Lift ten times their weight
Up a vertical surface;

So if you were as strong as that
And sucked just as well

And weighed in at one hundred fifty pounds,
You could haul one thousand

Five hundred pounds of suckers
Straight up a wall.




Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two Ways of Looking at the Gravity of the World

Pessimism:

Red-eyed,

The first thing you see
In the morning
Is a falling
Yellow
Leaf.

Optimism:

What--

An uplifting
Brisk wind brings it

To land on a flying green tarmac.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Man on a Donkey


Song

To hoof it with
The ass, always

In the saddle.


(From Sentences, 1976)

The ass in the saddle is still alive and kicking, though not as exuberantly as in this snapshot; his sidekick of a workhorse sloshing in mud bringing up the rear is sadly no longer with us (no great wonder); the poor, ladened quadruped has also hoofed it for greener pastures: Photo taken during olive harvesting, winter of 1963--when women were women and men beasts.

Standoff

Watching

The cat poised, watching
The tall, motionless grass,

Ready to pounce on to
Whatever it is, it waits

For it to make its move,
It must

Remain perfectly still

Until the right
Time comes,

If ever it will.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning


From the author's Preface to the Second Edition (1951): [This book] claims to present, not merely a theory of poetic diction, but a theory of poetry: not merely a theory of poetry, but a theory of knowledge.. . . . . . .Apart from pleasurable entertainment (which should never be forgotten), there are two important functions which poetry is there to perform. One of them is the one I have stressed throughout this book, namely the making of meaning, which gives life to language and makes true knowledge possible. And this it does inasmuch as it is the vehicle of imagination. The other, lying much nearer the surface of life, is to mirror, not necessarily by approving, the characteristic response of the age in which it is written. Now it may happen, and it has been happening increasingly since the eighteenth century, that these two functions conflict. They may even be diametrically opposed to one another. For there may be an age of which the characteristic response is to deny the validity of imagination. And if that happens, a true and sensitive poet will find himself in a dilemma. Though not as well-known as some other members of The Inklings, this book by Owen Barfield remains a classic; I've kept it within easy reach since the early 60s, when I bought it at one of the numerous second-hand bookstores next to the UW campus in Seattle--a great find, highly recommended and back in print (Wesleyan) after so many years of neglect.

Holocaust

As far as
The eye of the crow can see
The trees, the trees have been twisted,
Toasted, burnt to a crisp;

Birds no longer gather here
To eat red berries
For breakfast, or sing
A song out of Mother Goose,

Say of innocence, of sixpence,
A pocketful of rye,
Of four-and-twenty million
Blackbirds baked in a pie.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Vamvakaris, Tsitsanis, Apollo


I was lucky enough to come across a number of 1960s postcards about five years ago when a small stationary-tobacco store in the main square of Meligalas was getting ready to be razed and the proprietor was literally giving away what was left of the goods. This is one of my favorites and shows the two giants of rembetika, Markos Vamvakaris and Vassilis Tsitsanis, playing alongside the god of music himself, Apollo--what a smashing trio!

Interior Landscape

On the way

To the overflowing
Landfill,

Against a background
Of empty sky-blue,

Wave after wave of mind-
Less white scraps

Of paper sea
Gulls sailing,

Headlong in.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Furtive

Out walking,

That familiar shaggy stray
Cur straight ahead

Shagging a bitch
On the sidewalk

Coming towards us--
How when passing by,

We all give one another
One last acknowledging

Sidelong glance.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Exegesis

I made you blind not to have you
Believe the light but to have you

Believe me.


(From The Intricate Evasions of As)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Autumn of a Lepidopterist

On edge

Of buckling, weathered
Red-tiled roof,

Orange-brown, yellow-green
Butterfly

Trembling,
Like a leaf.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hunchback Dwarf at the Market

Rides by
On her custom

Scaled-down
Bicycle,

Ignores our questioning
Glances

And pauses before
A stall

Full of fresh green leafy vegetables,
To show her farmer lady friend

What it is she has
We were wondering about

In that small
Brown flower pot--

A snail,

Small as a new-born baby's thumbnail
And a tiny tenderfoot tortoise--

Miniature grotesques

Along for the ride
Like the rest of us,

Looking curiously
Larger than life.


(First published in First Intensity #21, Fall 2006)




Saturday, December 6, 2008

After the Winnowing, 1945

Imagine only

A stone's throw away
From the marble threshing floor,

Hard stone-ground bread
Being broken into pieces,

Then hurled at sunken cheeks--
The urchins in the village are playing

War again.

For a Hubristic Grammarian

Sire of conjugation and definitive wit
Of a most demanding demeanor,

You made Philology your Holy Writ
And you were arrogant to the letter--

Made no deference [sic] to Death et al.
Who was the meaner speller.

Ex Lax Slanderer

Sling shit,
Sling shat,

Sling ass--
Whole shot.
Recently linked: My thanks to Scott Allen for becoming another definitely not lemmings. Welcome aboard, Scott!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Muse

Maudlin

Would-be murderer,
Bloody hack

Actor at heart,
Prompt her, kill her,

Liberate her,
Act.


(First published in First Intensity #21, Fall 2006)


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mea Culpa

You thought you heard her falter,
Where once her heart beat true--

It was not her intention,
Nor was it meant for you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Le Poet Mauvais

You are indeed a deviate--
Dig deep and dig well;

Avoid all aberrations,
Go straight to Hell.

Idyll

Coming upon

That cane-wielding halting
White-haired farmer's wife,

We cannot help
But hear

Insistent yelping and wonder where
Until we spot that bag

She's clutching, bursting
With newborn pups;

Grandma's out searching

For some out-of-the-way spot
Where she can put that cane

To better use, thrash the whole
Bothersome lot and just

Leave the trash there
To rot.