Archive for January, 2008

To Not Be Here

How I want to wet myself in that languid black well
Where Oppen and Gadamer and the Beats and Roethke
Shook off so easily the eeriness of life.
They had some sort of shelf just hidden from the TV

Or the violent street, there was time then
For poetry, for a person to get lost in an autumn
And never be found again.
Today, there is no time for words,

The flash of good video is too much, they’ve made it
Really good, you know, the pull of a solid show
Is inescapable, and it’s so much more real than this white noise.

Who am I to long for sixty years ago, or for some imagined romance
With a man I kissed one night, in the kitchen where he kisses his
Wife, where the feast of bodies lives on in a big idea that only
Cracks slightly, so much slighter than than a life convinced by longing.

-Nina Alvarez

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Who Shall Doubt

        in itself

of itself carrying

    'the principle

        of the actual' being


itself ((but maybe this is a love 


Mary) ) nevertheless


the power

of the self nor the racing 

car nor the lilly

        is sweet but this   -George Oppen

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Man of War

After there were no women, men, and children,

from the somber deeps horseshoe crabs crawled up on somber shores: …(read more)

-Carol Frost

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…are here !

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Days of Me

When people say they miss me,

I think how much I miss me too,

Me, the old me, the great me,

Lover of three women in one day,

Modest me, the best me, friend

To waiters and bartenders, hearty

Laugher and name rememberer,

Proud me, handsome and hirsute

In soccer shoes and shorts

On the ball fields behind MIT,

Strong me in a weightbelt at the gym,

Mutual sweat dripper in and out

Of the sauna, furtive observer

Of the coeducated and scantily clad,

Speedy me, cyclist of rivers,

Goose and peregrine falcon

Counter, all season venturer,

Chatterer-up of corner cops,

Groundskeepers, mothers with strollers,

Outwitter of panhandlers and bill

Collectors, avoider of levies, excises,

Me in a taxi in the rain,

Pressing my luck all the way home.

That’s me at the dice table, baby,

Betting come, little Joe, and yo,

Blowing the coals, laying thunder,

My foot on top a fifty dollar chip

Some drunk spilled on the floor,

Dishonest me, evener of scores,

Eager accepter of the extra change,

Hotel towel pilferer, coffee spoon

Lifter, fervent retailer of others’

Fumor, blackhearted gossiper,

Poisoner at the well, dweller

In unsavory detail, delighted sayer

Of the vulgar, off course belier

Of the true me, empiric builder

Newly haircutted, stickerer-up

For pals, jam unpriser, medic

To the self-inflicted, attorney

To the self-indicted, petty accountant

And keeper of the double books,

Great divider of the universe

And all its forms of existence

Into its relationship to me,

Fellow trembler to the future,

Thin air gawker, apprehender

Of the frameless door.

-Stuart Dischell

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Often now as an old man

Who sleeps only four hours a night,

I wake before dawn, dress and go down

To my study to start typing:

Poems, letters, more pages

In the book of recollections.

Anything to get words flowing,

To get them out of my head

Where they’re pressing so hard

For release it’s like a kind

Of pain. My study window

Faces east, out over the meadow,

And I see this morning

That the sheep have scattered

On the hillside, their white shapes

Making the pattern of the stars

In Canis Major, the constellation

Around Sirius, the Dog Star,

Whom my father used to point

Out to us, calling it

For some reason I forget

Little Dog Peppermint.

What is this line I’m writing?

I never could scan in school.

It’s certainly not an Alcaic.

Nor a Sapphic. Perhaps it’s

The short line Rexroth used

In The Dragon & The Unicorn,

Tossed to me from wherever

He is by the Cranky Old Bear

(but I loved him). It’s really

Just a prose cadence, broken

As I breathe while putting

My thoughts into words;

Mostly they are stored-up

Memories—dove sta memoria.

Which one of the Italians

Wrote that? Dante or Cavalcanti?

Five years ago I’d have had

The name on the tip of my tongue

But no longer. In India

They ca1l a storeroom a godown,

But there’s inventory

For my godown. I can’t keep

Track of what’s m there.

All those people in books

From Krishna & the characters

In the Greek Anthology

Up to the latest nonsense

Of the Deconstructionists,

Floating around in my brain,

A sort of “continuous present”

As Gertrude Stein called it;

The world in my head

Confusing me about the messy

World I have to live in.

Better the drunken gods of Greece

Than a life ordained by computers.

My worktable faces east;

I watch for the coming

Of the dawnlight, raising

My eyes occasionally from

The typing to rest them,

There is always a little ritual,

A moment’s supplication

To Apollo, god of the lyre;

Asking he keep an eye on me

That I commit no great stupidity.

Phoebus Apollo, called also

Smintheus the mousekiller

For the protection he gives

The grain of the farmers. My

Dawns don’t come up like thunder

Though I have been to Mandalay

That year when I worked in Burma.

Those gentle, tender people

Puzzled by modern life;

The men, the warriors, were lazy,

It was the women who hustled,

Matriarchs running the businesses.

And the girls bound their chests

So their breasts wouldn’t grow;

Who started that, and why?

My dawns come up circumspectly,

Quietly with no great fuss.

Night was and in ten minutes

Day is, unless of course

It’s raining hard. Then comes

My first breakfast. I can’t cook

So it’s only tea, puffed wheat and

Pepperidge Farm biscuits.

Then a cigar. Dr Luchs

Warned me the cigars

Would kill me years ago

But I’m still here today.

-James Laughlin

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From Jeanette Winterson at jeanettewinterson.com


Honour the fate you are…

That’s from the Auden poem ATLANTIS in our January Poem of the Month. It seems like a good thing to remember, surfing into the New Year, with all its challenges and surprises, difficulties and dreams. I don’t want it to sound like I believe in pre-destination – fate is never that, but it is the web of possibilities from which we unthread our particular journey.

It may be that we don’t honour ourselves enough – in the sense of respecting our real nature – actual and developing. The business of trying to be ourselves is a full-time occupation – which is not to say give up your job and your family, but is to say don’t be troubled by the size of the task. Individuality is not a small thing.

I have said many times that I believe poetry can make a huge difference to how we feel about ourselves and about ourselves in the world. I have just been reading The Letters of Ted Hughes, really engaging stuff, and well worth getting hold of. He says somewhere what I have found for myself, that reading poetry out loud is revelatory. It is in part the incantation, which is ancient and mystical, something we used to do, and rarely do now. It is in part the sound and feel of breath, your breath mingling with the breath of the poet. It is in part recitation, the pleasure of pushing the thing out of your body at the same time as taking it into the body.

I find that if I recite something a few times, I can learn it without really trying – though I know this happens through habit, and won’t happen to someone straightaway. But it will fend off memory loss, and it will give you something to play with in your head the next time you are stuck on a tube-train, or in a queue, or any other situation that requires personal resources, great or small.

In any case, poetry is such an antidote to babble that a dose of it once a day reminds us what language is – and what it isn’t.

Try it for the New Year – a poem every day read out loud. It can be the same poem or different poems, or a sequence of poems, whatever you like. Think of it as a stretch exercise.

read more from Jeanette Winterson

So, to start you off, here is the Auden poem Jeanette chose:


Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools
Is making the voyage this year,
As gales of abnormal force
Are predicted, and that you
Must therefore be ready to
Behave absurdly enough
To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.

Should storms, as may well happen,
Drive you to anchor a week
In some old harbour-city
Of Ionia, then speak
With her witty scholars, men
Who have proved there cannot be
Such a place as Atlantis:
Learn their logic, but notice how its subtlety betrays
Their enormous simple grief;
Thus they shall teach you the ways
To doubt that you may believe.

If later, you run aground
Among the headlands of Thrace,
Where with torches all night long
A naked barbaric race
Leaps frenziedly to the sound
Of conch and dissonant gong;
On that stony savage shore
Strip off your clothes and dance, for
Unless you are capable
Of forgetting completely
About Atlantis, you will
Never finish your journey.

Again, should you come to gay
Carthage or Corinth, take part
In their endless gaiety;
And if in some bar a tart,
As she strokes your hair, should say
‘This is Atlantis, dearie,’
Listen with attentiveness
To her life-story: unless
You become acquainted now
With each refuge that tries to
Counterfeit Atlantis, how
Will you recognise the true?

Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Tundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Dismissal everywhere,
Stone and snow, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.

Stagger onwards rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Just to peep at Atlantis,
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.

All the little household gods
Have started crying, but say
Goodbye now, and put out to sea.
Farewell, my dear, farewell: may
Hermes, master of the roads
And the four dwarf Kabiri,
Protect and serve you always;
And may the Ancient of Days
Provide for all you must do
His invisible guidance,
Lifting up, dear, upon you
The light of His countenance.

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