Friday, April 30, 2004

Wicked Good Bloggings This Week

John Ettore transcribes an almost-perfect paragraph from an NPR story on Seattle Mariner's Ichiro Suzuki:
The author explained how Ichiro's dad, a serious Buddhist, purchased the young Ichiro the best, most-expensive glove he could buy at the time, to his wife's initial horror. How could you spend so much on a toy? she wanted to know. 'It's not a toy, it's a tool of education,' he calmly responded. And he taught his son to treat it as such, respecting it, oiling it regularly and otherwise tending to it as he might a central tool of his trade (which of course it soon would become). After having learned in childhood to treat his glove with so much respect, the author concluded his story, "it makes it hard for (Ichiro) to come into the dugout now, put it on the seat, and watch Brett Boone sit on it."

Some intriguing concepts of irony and postmodernism and cover songs from Jane Dark:
What I want to suggest is that the particular form of irony we'll call "cover irony" is indeed deeply relevant to the postmodern, but often as a counter-strategy. That is to say, by producing a form which refuses the literal meanings of the original lyrics and/or/via a shift in the understood emtoional tenor of the original sounds (Frente's "Bizarre Love Triangle" would one example), it's a strong assertion of, rather than an effacement of, authorial power.

Being a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I thoroughly enjoyed Paula's House of Toast's thorough thrashing of Mitt Romney and his blatant sucking-up to the right wing:
I had no idea I was such a miscreant. We're talking three strikes you're out territory here. I, by all accounts, am a habitual criminal. I'm planning to turn myself in later today, to throw myself upon the mercy of the Great And General Court of Massachusetts, oyez oyez, God Save the Governor, God Save the Commonwealth from the Governor, but first I will make a public confession.

A fellow Massachusettsan, Jim Behrle, uses his considerable drawing talents to render the Stages of a Poetry Reading. Since I can't replicate the drawings, consider these symbols as depiction enough:
?!? &&& **%% (!+&=!!!)

George Wallace wrote one of the better eulogies for Thom Gunn:
Some poets -- Dryden springs to mind -- emerge as primary eyewitnesses to their period. It was Thom Gunn's fate, surely unlooked for, to become one of the foremost chroniclers of the AIDS pandemic as it had its way with countless friends and acquaintances in the San Francisco gay community. The poems from that time -- most notably in his 1992 collection The Man With Night Sweats (also included in the "Collected") -- tie in to the centuries-long line of English elegists.

There are many others that I've failed to list here, like lime tree's continuing series. I'm not sure if Jonathan Mayhew was referring to these when he wrote "I could do close readings of individual poems on my blog too. If I've avoided that, it might have something to do with the notion that this is considered by many to be a fairly routine skill." That may be true for those with PhDs and MFAs but there are those of us with only MAs in American History who lack that particular skill and appreciate it in others, especially when involving a genre of poetry they may know almost nothing of. And I'm sure Jonathan's close readings would be anything but routine.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

FormX and the Z Street Band (Boston Comment 4)

The last question in the Boston Comment roundtable: "If the avant-garde points us toward the future of the poem, describe the direction you see." Oren Izenberg's response echoes many of the notions I've been thinking as I read through this entire discussion.
As a general rule, critical and poetic partisans, bent on consolidating, celebrating, claiming or extending one tradition take note of the other (if they take note of it) just long enough to deride—and such derision is a reflexive reaction rather than an analytic one.
I've certainly been guilty of this charge on these pages in the past. I’m sorry for that. One of the positive aspects of blogging these past couple of months has been the exposure I’ve had to different personalities and beliefs much more varied than the ones in the poetic world I’ve inhabited.
The result is that poets are cut off from fully half of the history of what ought to be their art. We read less, or we think tendentiously; and so we write from less, or our writing begins with self-blinding.
I've been playing with some poems in the past couple of postings that were somewhat experimental (for me) although somewhat satirical (my feeble attempt.) I know they would neither satisfy the avant-garde nor formalist concepts of poetry, but I believe their source is a legitimate one, for me, as I look to the future of my own poetry.
If there is a wish for poetry's future in these scattered observations, it is that poets cease to nurture their shame about recurrent or perennial features of experience, and relinquish some of their terror in the face of invariances.
In a posting of Jonathan Mayhew’s concerning Thom Gunn (rest in peace), he says "My hypothesis is that meter pushes some poets into a rhetorical mode that prevents them from saying what they really want and need to say." I will agree that this will happen from time to time. But there are also other times when meter, and especially rhyme, have taken me to places where I had not known I needed to go. For these reasons and more, I believe such different modes of writing are valuable in and of themselves, and not necessarily exclusive modes for inspiration. But only in FormX shall the poet integrate the best of all worlds (he said with tongue only partially in cheek) and therefore know the future born to run.
Indeed, if there is a slogan for the “experimental” way of thinking about poetry that I have been advocating here, it isn't so much “anything goes” but rather “take it where you can get it.” And why shouldn't we be interested in thinking, wherever we find it?
"Just wrap your legs around these velvet rims / and strap your hands across my engines."

-FormX and Spiral Dynamics (Boston Comment 3)
-FormX (Boston Comment and Indeterminacy)
-Boston Comment Question One

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Thom Gunn has Died

New York Times obituary

Tangled Up in Blue

Which Bob Dylan song are you? Thanks to a fool in the forest.

I took the short test despite the fact that wine was not an option for my favorite drink.

FormX and Spiral Dynamics (Boston Comment 3)

The third question in the Boston Comment roundtable was one I've wondered of some: "do you enjoy reading a collection of individual, unconnected lines?" It's a pointed question, of course. But I think Kent Johnson showed up to play, in other words honestly attempt to answer the question in order to explain and possibly enlighten, rather than merely belittle or goof. I have to admit his response is intriguing:
Anyway, different reading formations will naturally have different backgrounds, aims, and expectations—particularly so, I'd say, where the matter of “pleasure” is concerned. Renga is an example: A typical sequence will likely be complete non-syllogistic nonsense to the reader coming at it without training or context, yet the same poem will unfold the most fractal and beautiful semantic textures to someone seriously engaged with the practice. And this is a genre of “individual, unconnected lines” that goes back more than 800 years. Viva la Avant-garde!

No, it's common sense that there are different ways of making sense, and poems that radically depart from narrative, anecdotal, scenic means of telling--be they from the Tsukubashu anthology or from In the American Tree-- often show how “sense” may be a more complex and dimensioned field than the partisans of expository, “plain language” poetry (traditionally metered or not) would often have it. As Stein says, a poem may be “not unordered in not resembling.”
There is a third way of course. FormX is a second-tier poetics integrating the previous scientific, mythic, and relativistic consciousnesses into a transcendent understanding of all previous poetics. And in that vein, it is not an end in itself but a necessary door into the holistic poetics that await us on the other side. No manifestos are needed though; it just is.
Connect the Dots

A voice is setting in
the east; beneath its warm
inflections gentle waves
create this shore. A storm
will be approaching soon.
Its thunder wakes the moon.

The river stretches on
the wakes of power boats.
The current water-skis
between anchors and floats.
The riverbanks foreclose
its smooth and fluid prose.

I can hear the loons
somewhere on the lake
crying something crazy.
I once was at a wake
and heard such kindred grief
arise in disbelief.

Gregory Perry 2004

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

FormX (Boston Comment and Indeterminacy)

That second question (concerning indeterminacy) in the Boston Comment roundtable was like throwing a slow underhanded pitch to Barry Bonds. I guess Oren Izenberg said all that was going to be said. And it was a lead-off first-swing first-paragraph homerun.
It is neither true nor is it untrue that the poetic avant-garde of the past quarter century has had a reverence for indeterminacy. Or perhaps: what one poet who reveres indeterminacy reveres may or not be the same thing that another poet who reveres indeterminacy reveres, and it may be that neither one reveres indeterminacy.
It's tough sometimes batting after Barry. Like fifth wheel. Still I thought I'd give the question a shot in this experimental formalist avant-garde work written in the style of, and from this point on to be known as, "The School of Formal Experimentation," or FormX, for short.
In Determined Nations

An oyster washed his face
with music but the wind
cried out for saints; my Greek
was poor and I had sinned:
that sentence was too long
to lose. Monroe was wrong;

our doctrine means that no
magnetic charge in North
Dakota will be doctored.
I know about one-fourth
of all directions: west
will soon be manifest

to shipping lanes that split
apart from meaningful
interpretations. No
physician ever wrote
a vital antidote.

Gregory Perry 2004

Monday, April 26, 2004

Speaking of Photographs

I've read much about the photographs of flag-draped coffins en route from Iraq but Timothy Yu says it all. A photograph can say a thousand words but sometimes words can speak a photograph:
I very much doubt that the woman who took the photograph* did so with the intention of rousing the forces of opposition to the war. Instead, the photograph has been politicized by a government's desire to suppress it, which tells us that the only absolute truth about war--people die--is itself a threat to the ideology that promotes war. This is the same government that has no qualms about using 9/11's images of death to trumpet its own achievements.

Boston Comment Question One

I've been reading the Boston Comment roundtable discussion on the avant garde. I think Kent Johnson, of all the participants, addresses each question with clarity and with some effort to communicate. This particular passage in response to the initial question concerning the existence of an American avant garde cuts through much of the posturing.
Language poetry, along with its various second-generation satellite formations, now stands as an experimentalist, but respectful and loyal, opposition within the Parliament of Academic poetry. The “post-avant” is the mode that ambitious young MFA'ers study; it is the creative writing “style” scores of publishers are seeking; it is the aesthetic pedigree rising numbers of awards are prizing; it is the criticism and theory that prestigious university presses are publishing; it is the “subversive poetics” the current President of the Modern Language Association has made her reputation promoting.
Call it what you want but don't try to dress it in some cool 'alternative' beret and cape. Alternative's gone mainstream too.

Question Two tomorrow.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Sox Sweep Yanks in NY!!!

These are the weekends Sox fans live for. Pedro shuts out the Yankees today to clinch the 3 game sweep. And yesterday's win was statistical poetry:
winning a baseball game despite going 0 for 19 with runners in scoring position. To gauge the magnitude of the 0-fer, consider that no other major league team has won a game with such a show of futility in the 30 years since statistics were first kept for batting with runners in scoring position.
Destiny 2004.

Henry, Ralph, and me

We visited Author’s Ridge today in Concord and saw Thoreau’s and Emerson’s gravestones. They couldn’t be any different. Henry’s is a plain tiny stone that simply says “Henry” while Ralph’s is a large unpolished raw boulder of marble with an inset plaque. Each is quite appropriate and leads one to think great thoughts. And simple ones; please, my ashes are to be spread in Acadia: one-third in Frenchman Bay, one-third in Sargent Mountain Pond, and one-third at Otter Cliffs. Such thoughts for a Sunday. Amen.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Put it up to eleven

Two band mates arguing over a chord. True story and probably one repeated every night at some rehearsal somewhere. It’s the temperament of art. I like 'em metrical with a little rhyme and the next poet wants them prosy and disjunctive. But imagine if we were writing poems together. Poet bands across America arguing over an iamb. Fighting over a line beak. Walking out over a fragmented sentence. It probably happens every night.
Disbanding Number One

They bicker over chords.
The singer hears the C
like crafts that brave the plains
before idolatry
nailed the golden spikes.
It’s not that he dislikes

this unpretentious G
the lead guitarist plays
with Warren Harding pluck,
but that was yesterday’s
administrative style.
It’s time the mercantile

appointments followed suit.
He’ll run an inside straight
against a pair of Jacks
and let the second-rate
profess their misery.
He needs no harmony.
Something took hold of me on this one and I went along for the ride, enjoying it tremendously. It’s been some time that I let my imagination take free rein within a metrical framework. The formalism of form has been chafing at me lately. Too many workshop priests and not enough sinners. I understand their arguments and all. The sonnet requires its volta. But I need some voltage sometimes. "Eleven. Exactly. One louder."

Friday, April 23, 2004

Wicked good bloggings this week

Lime Tree's analysis of poems. These are great. They're giving me an understanding of the other side in another way. Almost a fan's view, rather than some theoretical explanation that requires me to read a dozen other analytical books that each require me to read another dozen analytical books and so on. Not to mention I just love Ted Baxter.
But one of the things I find most brilliant about the poem’s “joke” (and it is essentially structured as a joke) is the way it springs the punchline on you without fully working out the allegory it insinuates. In fact, if you even start to try to work through the logic—like, OK, Ted is Bush, but how does Lou figure in then, and who are we, and why would we want to make commercials in the first place and what if anything does that represent—it quickly becomes clear that there isn’t really much logic here. The end of the poem is a shock (or a pleasure, or both) because it brings home an irrational, emotional truth, and it makes it seem, absurdly, as though the best possible vehicle for the figural expression of this truth is an old episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show. However tenuously, it makes the conceit seem necessary rather than arbitrary.

Neal Pollack's take on Bush's new version of an old prayer:
Heavenly Father, give me the power to try to change what I cannot, and to not change what I can. Give me the strength to believe what is obviously false. And grant me the lack of wisdom not to know the difference.

This isn't from a blog post but several people have been blogging about a conversation on the avant garde in Boston Comment. The discussion is beyond my understanding at this point, but the resume of one of the participants, Joe Amato is an absolute hoot:
Joe Amato's many failures include two tenure denials; a Fortune 500 pink slip; a nonunion construction boot off the job site (provoked); and failing his first road test.

This quote from Maud Newton's Blog taken from an article she read about a "copy editor/ghostwriter/ad designer for a series of gay porn magazines and three straight porn publications aimed at a more mature audience."
There was the flamboyant gay editor who could barely speak English—let alone use grammar correctly; the standard office whore; and a bitter old copy editor who had been with the company for decades. His office doubled as the storeroom, and every time he saw me he screamed, "I hope you know The Chicago Manual of Style! We don't use that pussy New York one!"

Poem about nothing

Am I boring you with all this Acadia writing? I apologize. But I’ve been unblocked and I can’t help myself. Listen. I was on the carriage road. It runs along a rockslide beneath Penobscot Mt., above Jordan Pond. I sat on one of the large rocks that border the road, to rest. Listen. That sound you hear is absolutely nothing.
Sonic Break

Beneath a russet cliff
this twisting gravel road
is balanced on a rock
slide. My episode
of trail-descending done,
I’ll break here as the sun

continues its decline.
There’s not a single sound:
no flow nor waterfall;
no squirrels stir the ground;
no birdsong nor jet plane;
no buzz, no breeze, no rain.

All glaciers have slipped north
and engineers spun home.
Summer is still to rise
while spring is yet to roam.
A crow beats overhead;
its wings would wake the dead.
Donald Davie and Li Po again, but this time someone else showed up in the background. I don’t rightly know his name, but he’s responsible for S1,L3 and S3,L1-2. He’s asking for a bit more leeway. I may have to let him have his way. He can be such a spoiled brat.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Galapagos Green

What's your color?

A pond is a pond is a pond

One of my favorite places in Acadia National Park is Sargent Mountain Pond. It is accessible only by mountain trail, and lies between two open granite summits: Penobscot and Sargent. There's such a variation in environment compared to that of the long southern ridge of Penobscot, an open slope exposed to wind and sun and expansive ocean views. The pond is small and surrounded by trees. The wind is almost nonexistent in the col, and on a summer day, the proliferation of life there is such a contrast with the mountain's. Dragonflies and frogs are just the more obvious dwellers on this threshold. This Sunday was the first time I had ever seen the pond iced-over. It was such a change, but yet it wasn’t. That’s what this poem tries to relate.
Pondering the Medium

That Sargent Mountain Pond
lolls lushly in a col,
amid stark mountaintops,
provides the wherewithal
in place to call it mystic.
There’s such a pantheistic

conception to this spot.
Neither stream nor rill
supplies its source; it is.
Imagine if you will
this slight round pond no more
than fifty yards from shore

to shore and circumscribed
by birch and evergreen…
This April though I saw
its surface opaline
with ice, and pondered why
I deemed it still July.
Again I’m using language shorn of most imagery, kind of Donald Davie meets Li Po, tempered by my own inadequate dexterity. Having been blocked for many weeks though, I will take whatever comes my way. This was one that I needed to write in order to understand my own reactions to this frozen pond. My first was one of simple surprise. But there was an underlying sense of wonder which I felt yet could not verbalize. Why, despite the presence of ice, was there still a palpable warmth to the place?

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


To those of you who have been playing the page 23, sentence 5 meme, there's a thorough autopsy from LaughingMeme that attempts to determine its point of origin.
A little research showed that this particular contagion had been raging for nearly a full week in the meme prone LiveJournal community before we saw it on blogs (spreading at an astonishing rate no doubt due to the extreme proximity that the members of that community operate in, though it might also signal a dangerous lack of mimetic diversity to have the entire population so susceptible). The key inflection point for the blog community seems to be the April 11th posting on; the highly connected nature of an "A-list" blogger pushing the population of exposed individual over the density threshold from isolated cases to epidemic.
The comment section is worthy of perusing also.

Hawking an Acadian Poem

After I saw the ten hawks in the sky I knew I had to write a poem. But I had no idea where it would lead me until I started writing it. After I wrote the first line, I knew I needed to go somewhere mathematical with it. It wasn’t just the fact that I had seen a number of hawks in the sky. It was that number: ten. It's so accurate, precise. I've attempted to be somewhat the same in the language, which for me, in an Acadian poem, is an experience in itself.
Metrics of Hawks and Me

Ten hawks pass overhead
in random order, just
a temporary sum,
a magnitude that must
decline if hawks are true
to being hawks. A few

will start to separate
in circles like a cell
dividing from itself
itself, in parallel
geometries of chance,
a reckoned elegance

that leads me to this one
experience of flight.
Much later, on a peak
of granite, I will sight
a single hawk below
and measure vertigo.
If it had been three, maybe the poem would have gone on some spiritual journey. If it had been four, maybe it would have had more direction or at least some earth tones in it. If seven, maybe I would have been more fortunate with the outcome (although to be truthful I kind of like where it ended.) But ten cries for metrics, in content as well as form. So on this one I let the rhythm and the rhymes take me to where they wanted to go, which was to that other hawk sighting in a completely different manner.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Sounds of Pretentiousness

From Mercury News:
Blender magazine has rated We Built This City as the worst single ever constructed in its list "The 50 Worst Songs Ever".

[paragraphs omitted]

But the inclusion most likely to spark calls of blasphemy is the listing of the Simon and Garfunkel ballad The Sounds of Silence.

"It's the poetry meaningfulness that got our goat," said Blender editor Craig Marks. "With self-important lyrics like, 'Hear my words that I might teach you', it's almost a parody of pretentious '60s folk rock."


Returning from a weekend of walkabouts is always a disorienting thing. There is a spriritual aspect to these hikes that sometimes take a spell. In time, I may even be able to verbalize it. Until then, here's a stanza from a poem begun last year while on Connor's Nubble.
Scrambling over rocky stretches,
I gain the windswept summit.
All perspectives look ecstatic
despite the modest heights.
Each direction is a course in essence,
some spirit world of mountain, lake, and sea.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Sunday Hike

It begins at the shores of Jordan Pond, a one-mile long lake surrounded by mountains. Then it continues along a carriage road through spruce-pine forest with occasional teasing ocean views. At one point the road crosses a stone bridge which spans a small rushing brook. A cliff wall looms into view and then the trail which skirts that same cliff wall appears: stone stairs, a short rock scramble, a walk along a ledge guarded by a wooden railing, a short wooden bridge, another walk along the cliff side, and a final long climb around the overhang. The granite southern ridge of Penobscot appears. It navigates a mile-long course marked by small inukshuk-shaped cairns for more than a mile: sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean; a multitude of islands; bays, harbors; mainland mountains; blue sky; April sun; to the summit marked by a large rockpile and sign. The trail then descends into a wooded col between Penobscot and Sargent Mountains: a small secret round pond, still frozen. The trail then declines along a brook, iced-over in some areas, water running beneath: rocks, roots, dead leaves. The trail ends at a different carriage road, the brook is a frozen waterfall now disappearing beneath another stone bridge. The road runs along the base of the mountain above Jordan Pond, and returns to the shores.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Hawks Over Eagle Lake

While walking the carriage road this afternoon, large shadows crossed my path. I looked up and counted ten hawks passing by. Later, while on Connor's Nubble, two hawks made a number of drive-bys. It's always thrilling to watch a hawk soaring BELOW you. While nestled in the cranny of a clff, I started writing this little ditty:

Hawks Over Eagle Lake

Two hawks come roiling by,
their wings a sandstone brown
and scalloped like the teeth
of plows. They shovel down
within the wind and lift
the air, letting it sift
between their feathered grates
seeking a golden prey,
prospecting far-flung sky
while turning ground away.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Eagle Lake

The last two years I’ve walked the carriage road around Eagle Lake for my first hike of the season, and today marked the third. The older I get, the wiser it seems to begin slow. It’s more than a five mile walk on a gravel road (limited to hikers and bicyclists) with a small climb off-road to the top of Connor’s Nubble. That trail is short but includes some nice rock-scrambling, and the view from the top is exhilarating. The mountains of Acadia ring the southern perspective and Frenchman Bay and distant blue mountains of Maine, the northern. Directly below, Eagle Lake stretches more than two miles in length. Seen from above it looks quite phallic. Maybe that’s why it’s such an invigorating start for the season.

Dateline Acadia

Beverly and I have traveled up to Acadia National Park, and we are staying in Bar Harbor for the long weekend (Patriots Day is somewhat of a holiday in Massachusetts and of course is otherwise known as Marathon Monday) in search of transcendental hiking and relaxation.

Frenchman Bay is right outside our balcony door. Listen. The waves are noisy at night. From the balcony, you can see the length of the Bay from the harbor out to Egg Rock Lighthouse and beyond to infinite ocean. When we arrived the sun was just setting. The sky directly above was overcast, but the western sky remained clear at the very margin. The sunlight shot onto the Porcupine Islands directly opposite our balcony and tinted the trees with a goldien hue.

This island touches my soul like no other place I know. All my normal defenses come down. Inhibitions melt away. And the spirit that lies still all winter long begins to flow.

Today I'll hike some trail that skirts a waterfall, ambles along a rushing brook, climbs a granite overhang, to reach a peak of intermittent island views and endless ocean vistas. Or maybe take it easy and ramble on a carriage trail around the circumference of Eagle Pond. I'll let you know tonight.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Blogging the Blues

Dave Bonta in Via Negativa today drives home a great blues blog riff both surreal and down-to-earth:
Son of House, you knew only a heap of broken images, where the sun beats. But they sure sounded great coming out of that steel guitar! Not to mention the bottle's severed neck riding on your littlest finger. That afterthought, that fifth wheel. Good for nothing but trouble -
When I start to walkin' I'm gonna walk from sun-to-sun, / ain't gonna quit walkin' till my journey's done.


Ivy's playing a game today. Follow the meme.
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
My turn. From Introduction to Supply Chain Management by Handfield and Nichols:
This leads to an information “no man’s land.”
I am not making this up. I'm at work and that book was closest to my reach.

R. S. Gwynn 101

No Word of Farewell dropped in the other day. Purchased on ABE, it took only a few days to make it here. R. S. Gwynn is one of the more muscular formalist poets out there through his use of contemporary language and dark humor. In the introduction to the book, Dana Gioia compares Gwynn to Thomas Hardy:
Both poets have a naturally democratic outlook, and they are fascinated by ordinary lives, especially when viewed at extraordinary moments. Both are deeply skeptical, even cynical observers of the human scene, who cannot mock their subjects without soon feeling a common human sympathy.
It’s such democratic cynicism that drew me to Gwynn’s work in the first place. Yet after reading a large helping of the poems, I’m a little disenchanted. The wordplay is remarkable and his mastery of form is an exercise in subtle control, but there’s an ostentatious aspect to much of the work that is frankly overwhelming when taken in large dosages. Poems like “1-800” and “Among Philistines” taken by themselves are charismatic, but when read en masse, with others like them, they become loud and excessive.

Still, they are far from quiet, full of life, and moving in the right direction.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

We talk of taxes

Sonnet I

We talk of taxes, and I call you friend;
Well, such you are,--but well enough we know
How thick about us root, how rankly grow
Those subtle weeds no man has need to tend,
That flourish through neglect, and soon must send
Perfume too sweet upon us and overthrow
Our steady senses; how such matters go
We are aware, and how such matters end.
Yet shall be told no meagre passion here;
With lovers such as we forevermore
Isolde drinks the draught, and Guinevere
Receives the Table's ruin through her door,
Francesca, with the loud surf at her ear,
Lets fall the colored book upon the floor.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

3mt-5: The Merrimack River Before 1620

Before European Contact, the Merrimack River was part of a network of riverways and trails for a 'nation' of Indian villages, consisting of families interconnected with other villages through intermarriage and social commerce centering around agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Over thousands of years these communities developed in ways now lost to history. What we do know is that between the years 1617 and 1619, historians estimate that between 75% to 90% of the Indian population of New England died in an epidemic of viral hepatitis or chicken pox passed on by ailing European sailors. Thomas Morton described a village near Massachusetts Bay in his “New English Canaan”:
For in a place where many inhabited, there hath been but one left alive, to tell what became of the rest, the livinge being (as it seems) not able to bury the dead, they were left for Crowes, Kites, and vermin to pray upon. And the bones and skulls upon the several places of their habitations, made such a spectacle after my coming into those partes, that as I travailed in the Forrest, nere the Massachusetts, it seemed to mee a new found Golgotha.
For the Pawtucket Indians on the Merrimack River, this “Algonquin apocalypse” left them vulnerable to attacks by their Eastern enemy, the Tarrantines. The Pawtucket chief Nanepashemet at that time held together the largest confederacy in New England. Their center was at Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack (now Lowell) but their territory extended south to the Mystic River, west to the Concord River, and east to the coast. David Stewart-Smith writes in his doctoral dissertation:
The Merrimack was deeply underpopulated with some villages abandoned. The Tarrantine came in raiding parties from their new location at Penobscot, to bring home corn, captives, and plunder.
And somewhere near Malden, Mass, in 1619, Nanepashemet made his last stand against the Tarrantine, and was killed. Such devastation was precursor to European settlement beginning with Plimoth Plantation 1620. Life on the Merrimack would never be the same.

three maple trees
-part one
-part two
-part three a
-part three b
-part four

Discovering Franz Wright's Feelings

There's an article in the NY Times about Franz Wright, the recent winner of the Pulitzer for Poetry. He's lived an amazing soap opera complete with famous father, abusive step-father, alcohol, depression, and much more. Yet at the same time his story is one of salvation (figuratively and literally.) I haven't read much of Franz Wright's poetry except for some works I found on-line after he won the Pulitzer. But the story is worth reading if only for its human interest, and this snippet from the famous lives of poets:
He grew up in a milieu of poets. John Berryman, another drunk, was a friend of his father's when they taught at the University of Minnesota. "That didn't help much with the alcoholism," Mr. Wright said. Theodore Roethke, a manic-depressive, jiggling his big belly, recited his children's poems to young Franz: "There Once was a cow with a Double Udder/When I think of it now, I just have to Shudder!"

Mr. Wright observed, "I thought that all adults were insane drunks and chain smokers."
And they're not?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

PEx #2

Work #1

The workplace reels with covert
spreadsheets, ropes, and pull
toys. In the cambered office,
rich mahogany
is overwhelmed by crimson
ink from sacrifices
made to Nasdaq. Down

the hall an engineer
is crafting treatises
on self-adhesive gaskets
and twisted applications
for the bottom line.
Outside, the parking lot
has cleared and roads go roaming.
Gregory Perry 2004

PEx #1

Working Class Hero: a serial novel
(Chapter 5: People)

Every night when I returned home from work, I took off my shoes and left them in the hallway, per the dictates of my mother. They were encrusted with the dyes and grime of work and there was no way she’d allow that muck on her carpets. So every afternoon, before I went to work, I sat on the stairway of our second floor apartment and put on cold shoes, preparing to face another night of routine.

At the end of my second month at the mill, Howard returned from his absence, and despite the bandage wrapped on his arm, he acted as if nothing had ever happened. The first thing he said upon walking in the door was of course another one of his dim-witted malapropisms. “I’m like Superman, the iron man. I’m deconstructable.” Ralph paid him no attention, acting as if Howard had been working next to us the past five weeks as normal. I laughed as usual.

At first I found Howard to be a welcome relief from Ralph’s bitter all-work attitude, but after a few days, his general levity and laziness began to wear on me. I mentioned this to Ralph on Thursday after Howard had conveniently disappeared during our preparations of a large mixture of purple number 11.

“Howard’s gone AWOL again” I said while scooping red powder into a bucket.

“Yeah. Probably sleeping on the bales of cloth next door.” Ralph matter-of-factly replied. He was preparing the acid solution.

“Sometimes I wish Howard wasn’t so damned lazy.” I said. “We have a job to do here.” I needed more red dye. The container was empty, so I searched the extra containers beneath the table.

Ralph stopped and waited until I rose again, a new container in my hands. He looked at me with sharp eyes. “Save your Puritan work ethic for Leon, will ya.”

“Hey, I’m just saying.” I said.

“Well, I’m just saying too. Lay off Howard.” Ralph replied.

“You can’t exactly say he’s much of a help.” I answered, as I struggled to open the new container.

“Well, you didn’t miss him much when he was gone, man, so why should you miss him now when’s he gone?” Ralph asked with a sardonic sneer. Or it could have been a wince; the acid had a loathsome smell.

“It’s the principle,” I answered with a groan. The container would just not open. “We gotta work so he should work too.”

“So you have it all figured it out. College boy, eh? Well you know the saying: until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes.”

I looked down at my own shoes. “Well these are getting dirty while his are resting nicely.” I finally got the container open and powder had spilled onto the floor, and on me. “Look, I like Howard too, but you have to admit he’s a clown.”

Ralph stopped mixing the solution. “Look man, you don’t even know Howard.”

“Oh I know Howard, “ I laughed. “He’s loud, lazy, and brainless.” I scooped more red dye into the bucket.

Ralph threw down the stick he was using to stir. “Look, Howard’s had a raw deal, OK. He’ll never tell you anything about this shit, but I will. Just never say I told you.”

I stopped and looked at Ralph. This wasn’t banter any longer. Not even banter with an edge. Ralph looked like he was about to tell me some ghost story, standing around the acids and dye powders. I never saw him like that before. His face was drawn of any humor or anger.

“Howard and his wife tried for a long time to have a kid,” he began his story. “Howard would laugh that it wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t shooting blanks. Of course, he didn’t say ‘blanks’. He wasn’t shooting any ‘blacks’, is what he’d say. And of course I’d scream at him, ‘blanks, blanks, you’re not shooting any blanks.’ And of course Howard would say ‘hey that’s what I told my wife too.’ Ralph was smiling now.

“Man, he’s always confusing his words.” I laughed.

“That’s Howard. Anyways Howard and Diana finally had a baby boy, and you never saw Howard as happy then. Man, talk about your jokes. He even gave away exploding cigars.”

“Cool.” I replied.

“Yeah, Howard can actually be funny on purpose sometimes,” Ralph laughed. Then he turned somber again. “Well things went great for three months. But Diana was always tired and angry, and I could tell things weren’t going too well between them. But he’d talk about the baby this and the baby that and to tell you the truth, I got a little tired of it, but hey, he was a father. What are you going to do.”

“I can’t picture Howard a father.” I replied.

“Yeah, that’s the thing. The baby died. In the crib, in his sleep. Howard went to wake him in the morning, and he was lying on his stomach, not breathing.”

“My God.” I answered.

“My effing God exactly. Howard didn’t come to work for weeks after that. And when he did come back, he never spoke a word about the baby. Still hasn’t to this day. We only found out through Diana, and that was something I’d never want to listen to again. She was crying in between every goddamned word.”

“He’s never mentioned it at all?” I asked.

“Not a fucking word, Calvin. And when he came back to work he didn’t say a single word period. He just worked. He must have been like that for months. When he talked all we’d talk about was work and only if we had to. But one day, he let out one of his Howardisms, ‘I need another relief pitcher of blues number two.’ He began laughing and I began laughing until we both were laughing tears. Literally I mean tears. We didn’t say anything, but we laughed. And after that Howard was just Howard again.”

“He certainly is an individual.” I replied as I started scooping some blue powder into the bucket.

“He certainly is.” Ralph returned to the acid solution. “So maybe you can understand why I’m happy just seeing Howard being himself.”

“Sure. But I didn’t know” I replied.

“Calvin, you’re going to find out that despite your mother-effing college education, there’s a lot you don’t know.” He was silent for a minute. “People,” he sighed.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing; just people.”

Chapter 1: Life Span
Chapter 2: An Academic Dialogue
Chapter 3: On-the-Job Training
Chapter 4: Dreamwork

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Fagles on Virgil on....

Maybe Maher can read this one night to POTUS. From a N.Y. Times article on Robert Fagles and his new translation of the Aeneid:
" 'The Aeneid' is a cautionary tale," he said. "It is one we need to read today. It speaks of the terrible price of victory in war, for Virgil knew that victory is finally impossible, that it always lies out of reach. He saw the unforeseen aftermath, the way war could all go wrong whether from poor planning or because of the gods on high. He knew the sheer accumulation of death, the destruction, the pain we inflict when we use force to create empire."
Enough said.

The Poetics of Fundamentalism

American Poetry is a world unto its own where a variety of religions thrive and fight, each with God on their side. Every religion consists of many churches, each of which has its own cardinals and bishops and priests. All believe in the infallibility of their word and in the wrong-headed ways of the infidels that preach another creed. Although I have been attending the church of the neoformalists for the past ten years, I have never been baptized. I’m agnostic and resemble Groucho Marx in more ways than one; I guess I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member either. Bob Grumman has put together a directory of the schools of American Poetry. Here are the eight main religions as he see them:
-Mainstream Poetry
-Easy-Stream Poetry
-Language Poetry
-Contra-Genteel Poetry
-Neoformalist Poetry
-Pluraesthetic Poetry
-Infraverbal Poetry
-Hypertextual Poetry
In the coming weeks, I’ll try to understand these religions and their various archdioceses, using Grumman’s list as my rough course outline. In the meanwhile, to paraphrase a prayer I’ve heard: Word, if you are, forgive me. Word, if you are not, be.

Farrelly Brothers Explicate Three Stooges

I was not aware that the Farrelly brothers were planning to film a Three Stooges movie, but I guess I'm not surprised. After all, Moe, Larry, and Curly were the original Dumb, Dumber, and Dumberest. An article in this week's New Yorker explains the creative process behind their efforts, both Farrellys' and Stooges', as well as this demographic thesis,
Peter has a theory of Stooge appreciation, based upon his own changing allegiances: “Growing up, first you watched Curly, then Moe, and then your eyes got to Larry. He’s the reactor, the most vulnerable. Five to fourteen, Curly; fourteen to twenty-one, Moe. Anyone out of college, if you’re not looking at Larry, you don’t have a good brain.”
and pyschological anlysis,
“We decided that Moe’s anger has to do with the fact that the three of them were put in an orphanage and Moe had a chance to go out and make it on his own, but he thought, I can’t leave these knuckleheads behind. He comes back and he feels that he gave up everything to stay and be the leader of these Stooges—because as bad as they are with him, in his eyes they’re sunk without him.”
Now, if only someone could deconstruct "nyuk, nyuk, nyuk," then one question for the ages would at long last be answered.

Monday, April 12, 2004

My precious, on April 12

Gandalf reaches Hobbiton to warn Frodo about the Ring, and so begins their quest to destroy that all-powerful icon for evil. If Middle Earth translated to our age, I wonder what that ring would be? Is it money, the root of all evil, which we must take to the nearest incinerator and destroy like so many leaves of autumn? Is it the worldwide arsenal of nuclear weapons and its dark threshold of nihilistic possibility? Or is it something even deeper and much more unforgiving? Like self-knowledge of death and the resultant need for an eternal love potion of power. Ah, this is much too deep for me. Like my old downstairs neighbor Jim, a retired fireman who had fought one too many fires, would say, I need "a shot of cheap hot whiskey" after all this foolosophizing.

Peacock exposed by bookslut

Chris Murray today lets us know the latest issue of bookslut is out and in so doing tells us that it includes an interview with Molly Peacock. So I clicked right over and read one of the most unassuming and refreshing takes on the sonnet and Formalist vis-a-vis Language Poetry in the modern history of American politics (oops, I just morphed into John Kerry.) It's not a long interview and the questions concerning the sonnet form and formalism in general, though telling, are few. But here's one taste anyways:
I tend to let the rhyme shift, like I might start off abab, and then suddenly I have cddc and I know that there is some unconscious emotional pulse that’s pulling it and I let that happen. And then what if I got effg, I’ll let that happen too, and I’ll just keep picking it up. I really love the unconscious surges that control the music. Music in poetry is both the least conscious aspect and the most consciously manipulatable part of it. I love being astonished by that play, I feel the significance of something taking over and I obey it. I don’t try to wrench the poem back into some kind of stricture. I am not Jesuitical about my sonnet form.
And to think I had her Selected in my hands on Saturday and decided at the last moment not to purchase it. Well, until I do, I'll read this and this and this and this.

3mt-4: nuclear family

Before John Greenleaf Whittier strolled along the road through Pleasant Valley, and before the first ferry transported travelers from Boston to points north, and before the first Europeans settled the banks of the Merrimack River, bands of Central Abenakis settled on its shores from the Atlantic to Lake Winnepesaukee. They were called the Pennacook Indians, a loose confederation of tribes held together by family interrelationships and the river. The Pawtucket tribe lived on the southern part of the Merrimack, from Haverhill to Newburyport, and would have called the surrounding area home. It’s since changed:
Still, some places once occupied by Indians are now unrecognizable as such. A site where Pawtucket Indians once carefully buried their dead today is a nuclear power plant in Seabrook, N.H. Other former Indian encampments are now a trash incinerator in Haverhill, the Plaistow, N.H., dump and a construction company in Kingston, N.H.
So much for three downed maple trees.

three maple trees
-part one
-part two
-part three a
-part three b

Sunday, April 11, 2004

and drink wine salt...

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
 The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
 And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
 And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
 Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
 To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
 And sought in vain for any place of rest:
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
 I, only I, must wander wearily,
 And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

-Oscar Wilde

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Some Miscellaneous Concerns

A Novel Block
I've had writer's block with poems in the past (see below) but I had never experienced it with a novel before, so my recent bout concerning the serial novel I'm posting each Wednesday was a new experience. I had in my mind what the next chapter would concern, but something was stopping me. Turns out that I wanted to leave the setting of the mill too quickly, and more importantly, I didn't want to leave a particular character behind yet. Turns out I like Howard.

Poetry Block
I've been experiencing difficulty writing poems lately. Maybe it's the blogging. Maybe it's the stab at fiction (see above.) Maybe it's the changing of the season. So today I tried an experiment and let the right side of my brain have free rein (see Poetry Experiment #1 below.) It's a little bit free verse and it's a little bit metrical. But it was a lot of fun. I'm not sure about the results though, although last time I checked I still liked it.

Kevin Walzer comments here on my Salemi post:
"Salemi is a crank. He is not just anti-free-verse but anti-modernist in his viewpoint. He represents about the most extreme fringe of the formalist movement that one could imagine.

"If you want a better, more thoughtful discussion of form, look at Dana Gioia's CAN POETRY MATTER, Timothy Steele's MISSING MEASURES, Annie Finch's THE GHOST OF METER and A FORMAL FEELING COMES...all of these speak more eloquently and thoughtfully about form than Salemi's crude diatribes."

Truth be told, I'm a big fan of Timothy Steele's book already. But I'm also a fan of Kevin's book, "The Ghost of Tradition." It's blogfully coincidental that I had been reading Kevin's book last night as well as Salemi's diatribe. If you've never read the book, check it out. It's a well-written analysis of a selection of Formalist poets, among them Disch, Gioia, Gwynn, Martin, Nelson, Salter, Jarman, and Steele.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Poetry Experiment #1


An indigo mountain night
beneath the moon of silver
anniversaries arise
in distant thunderstorms.

I remember lyrics
in the lake and Jimi
Hendrix playing air
guitar. The wind was rushing

like a waitress in
a crowded train. Somewhere
in the sunset a sudden
fool was hammering

his stone wall back together
with meditation nails.
Is he dead and does
his mother really know?
Gregory Perry 2004

Run Laureate

from Newsday

Run-DMC's Joseph "the Rev. Run" Simmons has been many things — pioneering rapper, ordained minister. Now he could add poet laureate to the list.

Simmons entered his name Thursday in the search for the new poet laureate of the borough he knows best — Queens.

"The whole life of Run-DMC was concocted in the atmosphere of Hollis, Queens," Simmons told The Associated Press.

The unpaid poet laureate of Queens position has been empty for months, since Hal Sirowitz moved to Brooklyn. The poet laureate must have lived in the borough for at least five years and must write in English.

(paragraph omitted)

One of Run-DMC's best-known raps is "Christmas in Hollis," and Simmons said he included the lyrics to the song in his application.

Simmons doesn't live in Queens anymore: He moved to New Jersey last year.

Here's the poem submitted:

Christmas In Hollis

It was December 24th on Hollis Ave after dark
When I see a man chilling with his dog in the park
I approached very slowly with my heart full of fear
Looked at his dog, oh my God, an illin' reindeer
But then I was illin' because the man had a beard
And a bag full of goodies, 12 o'clock had neared
So I turned my head a second and the man had gone
But he must have dropped his wallet smack down on the lawn

I picket the wallet up then I took a pause
Took out the license and it cold said "Santa Claus"
A million dollars in it, cold hundreds of G's
Enough to buy a boat and matching car with ease
But I'd never steal from Santa, cause that ain't right
So I was going home to mail it back to him that night
But when I got home I bugged, cause under the tree
Was a letter from Santa and the dough's for me

It's Christmas time in Hollis Queens
Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens
Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese
And Santa put gifts under Christmas trees
Decorate the house with lights at night
Snow's on the ground, snow white so bright
In the fireplace is the yule log
Beneath the mistle toe as we drink egg nog
The rhymes that you hear are the rhymes of Darryl's
But each and every year we bust Chrsitmas carols

Rhymes so loud and proud you hear it
It's Christmas time and we got the spirit
Jack Frost chillin, the orchids out
And that's what Christmas is all about
The time is now, the place is here
And the whole wide world is filled with cheer

My name's D.M.C. with the mic in my hand
And I'm chilling and coolin' just like a snowman
So open your eyes, lend us an ear
We want to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Literally Lost in Translation

If you've seen the movie "Lost in Translation", you'll remember the scene when the Bill Murray character is filming a whiskey commercial in Japan, and can't help but feel his translator is not giving him the director's complete instructions. Here's the translation of the director's actual words:
DIRECTOR: Mr. Bob-san. You are sitting quietly in your study. And then there is a bottle of Suntory whiskey on top of the table. You understand, right? With wholehearted feeling, slowly, look at the camera, tenderly, and as if you are meeting old friends, say the words. As if you are Bogie in "Casablanca," saying, "Cheers to you guys,"* Suntory time!

INTERPRETER: He wants you to turn, look in camera. O.K.?

BOB: That's all he said?
Read the rest at Naked Translations.

Salemi and the Little-Lettered

I've been surfing tonight, looking in on the various, as they say, form-friendly sites, trying to find something that I find exciting in a world too often dull and pretentious. And I came upon an interesting essay. So this is the kind of tripe that make some cringe at poets who wish to work in form. From:

Dr. Joseph S. Salemi
Department of Classics: Hunter College, C.U.N.Y.

I'll just cut and paste the main argument. Sentences and paragraphs have been omitted, but the argument is in tact. Believe me. If not go here.

Many poets in the New Formalist movement have proven themselves to be cowards, some in major ways, others in minor ones. The range of their fears is extensive and varied. They are afraid to follow metrical patterns precisely. They are afraid of perfect rhymes. They are afraid of literary or historical allusions. They are afraid of elevated vocabulary, or similes, or metaphors. They are afraid of being called conservatives, or worse, reactionaries.

The source of this cowardice is anxiety about social status. Like most Americans, formalist poets are desperately worried that their betters will look down upon them. Who are "their betters"? Why, the poets and critics in the Free Verse Establishment. These are the people who control the funding sources and and major publishing outlets for poetry in America, and who utterly dominate poetry's academic rear-echelon, which provides poets with captive audiences, bulk book orders, and sinecures.

I shall limit my discussion here to two minor but significant typographical practices that mar much New Formalist poetry, and which I believe are due to this anxiety to conform.

The first is the practice, common among many New Formalist poets, of beginning a line of verse with a lower-case letter rather than the traditional capital.

It is a most excellent and useful practice, since it makes for a clear, neat, and regular-looking page of text, and it is also an unmistakable visual marker that what is on the page is poetry, not prose. What caused the shift, in some New Formalist poets, to the absurdity of omitting these initial capitals? Without a doubt it was the influence of free verse models.

The second practice is the useless innovation that I call "the split-level line." This is the habit of typographically dropping the end section of a verse to the level of the subsequent line when its first section contains a full stop.

Let me give a parallel case from the sociology of race relations. For formalists, the split-level line and the uncapitalized first word are comparable to the practice of some black persons in past decades who used various chemical agents to straighten their hair, or to bleach their skin. These things were done as a kind of homage or accommodation to European standards of physical beauty.

The consistent use of the split-level line and the lower-case initial letter suggests that a poet is not committed to formalist verse for its own sake, but merely as a vehicle for the advancement of his career.
This man is in dire need of a great awakening. He is so tied into the concept of form and the evils of modernity that he can't think in any rational fashion. That's right Mr. Salemi, and there are two more evils that we need to address while we're ridding the world of lower-case letters and split-level lines: fire and the wheel. God knows we did fine without that hot stuff in the past before Prometheus got it in himself to steal what rightfully was not his. Look what it's led the human race to: nuclear annihilation and worse, the suburban cult of barbeques. And the wheel? Don't get me started. I'd roll on all night.

Heads Up America

from Raed in the Middle (emphasis mine)
The next couple of days are going to be really red.
The Red Weekend…
Tomorrow is the first anniversary for the “fall” of Baghdad.

(paragraphs omitted)

This Saturday is a sacred religious anniversary for Shia, the (Arbaeen) of AlHusien. This anniversary witnessed millions of Iraqi Shia marching to Karbala from all the Iraqi cities, and if this thing happens this year… ohhh…

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Pollack Paints Rice

Neil, not Jackson (I know, the last names are spelled differently,) paints Condoleeza's testimony today with this broad brush:
Lie, lie, distortion, half-truth, pander, manipulation, pseudo-intellectual bombast. Dodge, dodge, feint, lie, dodge, avoid, subject change, lie, slander, pretentious generalization, character assassination, bald-faced lie.

Oversimplification, undersimplification, condescension, insult, insult, lie, avoidance of responsibility, avoidance of question about avoiding responsibility, cheap political point, utter, malicious lie.
And there's even more. But you get the point. And the poetry of it all.

To the Peepers in the Wetlands

I heard the first chorus of peepers tonight. If the red-winged blackbirds are the sign of winter’s end, then the peepers are the sign of spring’s beginning. Tonight there were just a few beginners running up their limited scale. Soon, the wetlands behind us will be a tabernacle choir.

Here's a poem I wrote four years ago. It must have been an early warm spell in late March 2000 because first hearing then was March 23, which is also the day my father died in 1973.

For any of you interested in these things, the poem is written in trochaic tetrameter, which, if you let your ear go dancing, you will recognize as the meter of a certain Longfellow poem.
Twenty-Third of March Hereafter

Standing still in March, you listen
to the peepers in the wetlands
sounding like alarm clocks going
off and wonder who they're waking.
Not the living who lie sleeping
even though the spring approaches,
but the dead. The dead are waking
in the woodlands. Trees are budding;
eastern pines are sprouting needles.
Buzz of bees and song of blackbirds
flower in the meadows. Shadows
disappear in light, and sunshine
lingers in the later sunsets.
Even ghosts wake in my late night
whims. My father comes among them,
dead for twenty-seven years now,
busy playing cribbage, counting
out his years in fifteen-twos and
never mourning over pegging out.

Iraq Blogging

from Baghdad Burning:
Over the last three days, over 150 Iraqis have been killed by troops all over Iraq and it's maddening. At times I feel like a caged animal- there's so much frustration and anger. The only people still raving about 'liberation' are the Iraqis affiliated with the Governing Council and the Puppets, and even they are getting impatient with the mess.

Our foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari was being interviewed by some British journalist yesterday, making excuses for Tony Blair and commending him on the war. At one point someone asked him about the current situation in Iraq. He mumbled something about how there were 'problems' but it wasn't a big deal because Iraq was 'stable'… what Iraq is he living in?

And as I blog this, all the mosques, Sunni and Shi’a alike, are calling for Jihad...

from Iraq Healing:
Of course, Sadr has set up offices in almost every city, town, and village in the south. And I have mentioned earlier that they had assumed full control over my small village where I work in the Basrah governorate weeks ago, terrorizing IP officers, civil servants, and doctors but nobody was listening. I don't think I will be heading back there any soon now. What surprises me is the almost professional coordination of the uprisings in all of these areas. I'm assuming, of course, that the money and equipment supplied by our dear Mullahs in Iran is being put to use good enough, not to mention the hundreds of Pasderan and Iranian intelligence officers.. sorry I mean Iranian Shia pilgrims that have been pouring into Iraq for months now.

from Where is Raed?:
Remember the days when every time you hear an Iraqi talk on TV you had to remember that they are talking with a Mukhabarat minder looking at them noting every word? We are back to that place.

You have to be careful about what you say about al-Sadir. Their hands reach every where and you don't want to be on their shit list. Every body, even the GC is very careful how they formulate their sentences and how they describe Sadir's Militias. They are thugs, thugs thugs. There you have it.

from Nabil's Blog:
The situation in Iraq now become more bad and more than bad because the Sheia Muslims are fighting the collusion Forces and the Sunni Muslims are fighting them from another side and We the Iraqi citizens are hurt of what happens. I just wanted to know of why these things are happening and why the Allied Forces are not taking a great part to solve this problem. I hope that Saddam is the president now to see what he will do I think that he will kill all these people and make them afraid this is not the freedom like what they now, the freedom is not let them do this stuffs

from A Family in Baghdad
Everyone is expecting another long night full of violence…
We will spend the night in the “Safe Room”,
The one we used to hide in last year during the war!
The news of Falluja is not clear,
But I heard that people are arranging a blood donation campaign.
They say that hospitals are full with injured and killed people.
Only god can protect us from what’s happening…
These days are much darker than the days of Saddam Husein.

from Iraqi Spirit:
from The Reaper and the Flowers
by Emily Bronte

There is a Reaper, whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.

from Raed in the Middle:
I really want to understand from Rumsfeld where are his “majority”?? the “majority” of Iraqis that are against the current uprising, the majority that he wants to help them in reaching to their freedom… where are they?
If the millions in the “Sunni Triangle” are the minority, and the other millions of AsSadr are the minority… where are the majority? In Washington?
And if the minority can do all of this! And kick the coalition forces from cities like Kut… what can the majority do? Occupy the United States?
(paragraphs omitted)
This new war is not going to stop in days... but the question is when and how...

Killing hundreds of Iraqis and dozens of foreign soldiers (Americans, Brits, Italians, Polish, Ukrainians, El Salvadorians and others) is not the answer.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Poetry in American History

John F. Morrisson in Philadelphia Daily News in reviewing a tell-all about Jackie Kennedy has this to say about a "loving but chaste" relationship between Robert McNamara and Jackie:
"Men can't understand his sex appeal," she said of McNamara. McNamara recalled, "She was flirtatious."

They shared a fondness for the poetry of the Chilean writer, Gabriela Mistral, and read it together.
Please join me in the wayback machine to another time and place when there was such a fleeting wisp of glory where the First Lady and the Secretary of Defense would read aloud such lines:

I Am Not Alone

The night, it is deserted
from the mountains to the sea.
But I, the one who rocks you,
I am not alone!

The sky, it is deserted
for the moon falls to the sea.
But I, the one who holds you,
I am not alone!

The world, it is deserted.
All flesh is sad you see.
But I, the one who hugs you,
I am not alone!

Working Class Hero: a serial novel
(Chapter 4: Dreamwork)

No one was hired to replace Howard. The supervisor, Leon, said he’d be back in a month or two and he knew we could pick up the slack. Ralph said nothing, but when Leon wasn’t around, he’d complain as he worked. “I’ll take this up with the union steward. This is bullshit. I’ve been here too long to put up with this kind of management.” It became a mantra as he worked: “union, bullshit, management.” But as far as I could see, we worked more efficiently without Howard getting in the way. I even had time to read “Cat’s Cradle” for a third time. And I liked Leon.

One night he took me out to the screen print line. “Calvin, this is where your efforts come to completion. I thought you’d like to see why you’re mixing a rainbow of colors all night.”

I looked at the long line. It was the length of a bowling alley lane with a belt of plain white cloth running on it. “Thanks Leon. yeah, it’s interesting to know.” It actually was fascinating to see what happened to the assorted fruits of our labors even if I couldn’t care about the overall scheme of the business. “So is the cloth made here?” I guess I was sucking up a little bit, but that was my nature.

“Yup. Made downstairs. It’s brought up here on rolls and we lay it out on the line. It's teamwork. You mix the colors. They make the cloth. We print the patterns”


He showed me a wooden frame, with mesh stretched across it like a window screen. But there was an irregular outline overlaying the screen that blocked off the larger portion of it. “So we put this screen over the cloth like this, and spread the dye like this, and voila the cloth is printed with the part of the pattern of the day. We’ll repeat the same process with other screens and colors to complete the whole design.”

“Cool.” I really did find the process intriguing. Moreover, my college education made me aware there was some metaphor hiding in his speech but I didn’t understand the exact association that I felt.

“So Calvin, speaking of design,” Leon said turning to face me directly. “I’m wondering what designs a college kid like yourself would have working in a place like this.” Obviously Leon understood the metaphor better than I did.

“Well I quit college and needed a job.” I had a feeling now this was the real reason Leon had wanted to show me around. I hesitated and added, “And I respect the work you do here.” A little deference couldn’t hurt.

“You know, I’ve been working here for twenty-five years last April. I started in the weave room when I was sixteen. I quit school. My father had died in the war, in France, and my mother needed me to get a job, so here I am.

“Look around you Calvin. Everyone here has been here for more years than they’d like to know. It’s a remarkable thing. You can tell how many years someone’s been here by their nationality. If he’s French, like me, I bet he’s been here around twenty-five years or so. Now if he’s Portuguese, I’ll bet he’s been here more than thirty. Puerto-Rican: probably ten. Black, well not more than twenty. Irish? God,” his voice grew louder so others could hear. “If he’s a mick, then he’s been here forever. Like old Clancy over there. Right Clancy?”

Clancy looked up. He looked eighty, but must have been only sixty or so. “Up yours, Mr. Frenchie.”, he yelled over the clack of machinery. “This place used to be all right until they let you frogs in.”

Leon laughed loudly. “If it wasn’t for us frogs, you micks would have put this place out of business with your liquor and women.”

Clancy laughed even louder. “I wouldn’t know about women.”

Leon’s voice grew to a whisper. “Clancy will be retiring soon. He’s a good worker. I can’t even tell you how long he’s been working here. Longer than dirt, but here’s my point. Calvin. You’re a good worker too. I really appreciate your dedication to the job. But do you really want to end up like Clancy?”

I wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to say mill work was respectable work. I wanted a chance at a pay raise and promotions. But the truth came out instead. “I don’t intend to make a career out of mill work Leon. I just need me a job.”

“Well, Calvin. I didn’t intend to make millwork a career either. But shit happens. Good shit, mind you. You find a girl. You knock her up…” he laughed.

“Well I’m more careful than that.” Not having a girlfriend the last year took care of that problem.

He went on. “You get married. You have the little shits and they need to be fed and clothed and schooled and the next thing you know, it’s 1972 and you’re 41 years old and you’ve never done anything but millwork, and that’s all you’re ever going to do.”

“You could still do something else.” I wasn’t sure if he could though.

“No, I can’t really Calvin. Not for the same pay at least. But you know what? You can.” I had heard this argument somewhere before.

“Well, to be completely honest Leon, I really don’t know what I want to do.” That was completely honest too, more honest than I had been with my family.

“Honest? You want to get laid every night and drunk every weekend. That’s being honest.”

“Well yeah,” I lied a little. I really wanted to get stoned every weekend. But he had the getting laid part nailed. “But I really don’t want any career and I really don’t care about making a lot of money.”

“That’s fine Calvin. There’s other respectable things you can do.”

He was starting to sound like my father. I was getting a little annoyed and I think he could tell. “Well Calvin,” he hesitated for a long few seconds looking at the operation of the line. “So what do you think of the fruits of all your work?”, he asked as he adjusted a dial on the line.

I looked at the paisley cloth coming out the other end. The colors were pretty garish. There were the purples and greens I had mixed the night before penetrating the cloth like some story in a bad dream. “Looks like a dream.” I smiled.

Chapter 1: Life Span
Chapter 2: An Academic Dialogue
Chapter 3: On-the-Job Training

My God, What Have We Done

I've just become familiar with some Iraqui blogs. Please do yourself a favor and look at this posting from Raed in the Middle. I found it through A Family in Baghdad via links from Healing Iraq. My God, what a long strange nightmare we're on.

One More Cup of Coffee Before We Go

Allow me one more Dylan allusion. But this is the great Hunter Thompson on the state of affairs.

How many times can a man be robbed -- on the same street, by the same people -- before they call him a man? Bob Dylan said something much like that in a tattered old song called "Blowin' In The Wind." Read it and weep, you poor bastards -- because Dylan was yesterday, and George Bush is now.

That is a morbid observation, at best, and we are all stuck with it. The 2004 presidential election will be a matter of life or death for the whole nation. We are sick today, and we will be even sicker tomorrow if this wretched half-bright swine of a president gets re-elected in November. Take my word for it.
Every now and then, in-between his fixations on sports and gambling, the gonzo king will take a bow. So applause, applause, applause! But I've asked out loud, where is the next Hunter S. Thompson? Is it Neil Pollack?

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to someone.

Red Sox Win! Red Sox Win!

Curt Schilling is a monster!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I Wish I Could Write You a Melody So Plain

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
-from "My Back Pages"
I’m revisiting old Bob Dylan music these days and I’m blown away by the vigor of those early songs. I guess I had taken his early music for granted so long that it took such a long respite from it to hear it fresh again. So there’s the reason for his early fame. And there’s the reason so many were distraught when he went electric.

Much has been said about Dylan’s use of language, his poetry. But to me it’s the toughness of that language that’s so striking. He’s taking no prisoners. It’s almost universally accepted that Dylan brought poetry to pop music (as well opened the pop song to all subjects.) But I wonder if that should be turned on its head to say that Dylan brought old time folk music to poetry. He brought the toughness from those lyrics of that early American music (what Greil Marcus calls old weird America) to language that he set to music.

Ron Silliman recently wrote a fascinating piece about poetry and troubadours. I can follow the logic behind his argument for the most part. There were folk troubadours who created music easily understood by the folk and then there were the troubadour’s troubadours whose music was complex and understood by their fellow artists. He defends avant garde poetry in such a spirit. It’s a complex poetry understood by complex poets.

But I believe his argument breaks down at the beginning by basing his defense of a non-musical poetry with the strictures of a musical art. The basic difference between formalism and avant garde is not subject matter, although I’d agree that there is a certain unfortunate quietude in much formalist writing, and a certain unfortunate sciolism in the avant garde. But the essential difference is meter and rhyme, that is, music.

Dylan is the real thing, a true troubadour, and a living example that musical poetry (a better term than formalism I think) need not be quiet. Last week I posted the lyrics from “Masters of War”. The last verse is truly dangerous.
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead
Many formalists would cringe at such a rough treatment.

But he is also an example of why poetry needs to be musical. Take these lines from “To Ramona”:
I've heard you say many times
That you're better 'n no one
And no one is better 'n you.
On the page, they’re very simple. But in song, with the waltzing rhythm of the music, they’re memorable poetry. I don’t argue that Dylan’s lyrics are poems in themselves. I believe that the music behind them is integral to their power. But both combined create a true poetry (and one that requires, possibly, new analytical tools.)

Poetry, without the aid of a tune, requires a different kind of music behind it. Meter and rhyme is one way of providing that music. Longfellow and Frost worked that way; Whitman and Ginsberg another. There is more than one way to skin a cat. But in the end the cat must be skinned. Otherwise it’ll just walk away on its little prose feet.

This was a posting that I held in reserve from last week. That night I posted about Dylan’s Victoria’ Secret ad instead. That posting led to an instalanche of, for me, epic proportions, which I appreciate. I’ve been posting a great amount of Dylanology the past week, most of it because I’m making a best of Dylan sixties CD compilation so I’m revisiting his early music.. Only one posting was created specifically for that new incoming audience, as a greeting. But I want to be careful here and not become “all Dylan, all day” so this will be the last one for the time being. Well, at least until I finish listening to Bringing It all Back Home, Highway Sixty-One Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. I’m sure those listens will have me talking again.

Previous Dylan Postings:
-And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin' coal
-Dylan Does Venice
-Dylan's Secret
-The Master of the Anti-War Song
-Bob Dylan's Wine

Monday, April 05, 2004

And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin' coal

Expecting Rain indicated yesterday that a recent Robert Hilburn piece in the LA Times was a must read. And it is. Dylan talks about his songwriting like a poet describing his art.

In the first section I quote below, Dylan speaks of some various tricks of writing. The first is using metaphor, or in this case, inanimate objects as your conceit, the second is allowing meter itself to drive the inspiration, and the last is allowing the ghost of inspiration free rein:

"There are so many ways you can go at something in a song," he says. "One thing is to give life to inanimate objects. Johnny Cash is good at that. He's got the line that goes, 'A freighter said, "She's been here, but she's gone, boy, she's gone." ' That's great. 'A freighter says ' "She's been here." ' That's high art. If you do that once in a song, you usually turn it on its head right then and there."

The process he describes is more workaday than capturing lightning in a bottle. In working on "Like A Rolling Stone," he says, "I'm not thinking about what I want to say, I'm just thinking 'Is this OK for the meter?' "

But there's an undeniable element of mystery too. "It's like a ghost is writing a song like that. It gives you the song and it goes away, it goes away. You don't know what it means. Except the ghost picked me to write the song."

In the second section I quote below, Dylan talks about the effect of poetry on his writing. I find it refreshing that he approaches poetry as something musical in both form and content. This is something that most poets today have forgotten. Today poetry that's musical in content is stiff in form, or poetry musical in form is quiet in content. But not Poe, Byron, or Villon:

"I had read a lot of poetry by the time I wrote a lot of those early songs," he volunteers. "I was into the hard-core poets. I read them the way some people read Stephen King. I had also seen a lot of it growing up. Poe's stuff knocked me out in more ways than I could name. Byron and Keats and all those guys. John Donne.

"Byron's stuff goes on and on and on and you don't know half the things he's talking about or half the people he's addressing. But you could appreciate the language."

He found himself side by side with the Beat poets. "The idea that poetry was spoken in the streets and spoken publicly, you couldn't help but be excited by that," he says. "There would always be a poet in the clubs and you'd hear the rhymes, and [Allen] Ginsberg and [Gregory] Corso — those guys were highly influential."

Dylan once said he wrote songs so fast in the '60s that he didn't want to go to sleep at night because he was afraid he might miss one. Similarly, he soaked up influences so rapidly that it was hard to turn off the light at night. Why not read more?

"Someone gave me a book of Francois Villon poems and he was writing about hard-core street stuff and making it rhyme," Dylan says, still conveying the excitement of tapping into inspiration from 15th century France. "It was pretty staggering, and it made you wonder why you couldn't do the same thing in a song.

A Deconstructionist Last Laugh

I understand that deconstructionists would blanch at an effort to bring the face of Petrarch back to his poetry, but isn’t this going just a bit too far?

From an article titled “Poet Lost His Head, Italian Scientists Say” in

Poets may have a better connection between head and heart than most, but 14th-century Italian poet Petrarch may have been separated forever from his skull.

Scientists, who dug him up in November 2003 in hopes of learning more about one of the most prolific bards of the Italian Renaissance, discovered after DNA testing that the skull found in his tomb most likely belongs to a woman.

(paragraph omitted)

Petrarch's exhumation was timed in order that he might 'star' in celebrations for the 700th anniversary of his birth in November 2004. Scientists wanted to reconstruct his face and determine his age, diet and general health. There was no immediate comment from officials about how the fete might carry on if the poet's body remains headless.

Three Maple Trees (part three b)

These three neighbors were retired but lived their retirement without resignation. For me, they were the essence of the apartment building. They had been there when I got there, and acted as if they owned the place but were willing to share it with you. They’ve since passed away, and the place seems that much smaller without them. The people that have moved in are pleasant. They’re somewhat younger and definitely quieter. No longer will I hear Betsy and Jim outside at the picnic table late at night smoking cigarettes and talking about their lively pasts.

I think I feel somewhat the same about those lost maple trees. Pleasant Valley seems that much smaller, to paraphrase Robert Frost, a diminished place. I guess that's the danger of living in any location for an extended period of time. Places change. They’re always changing. Whittier’s Pleasant Valley isn’t mine. And the Pleasant Valley of ten years ago isn’t the valley of today. But of course, Whittier’s valley wasn’t the same valley of the Pennacook Indians either.

More to come about that in Part 4.

-part one
-part two
-part three a

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Three Maple Trees (part three a)

For almost ten years those three maples were a corporeal presence for me whether walking or driving past them. The road is narrow to begin with, and the trees were literally contiguous to the pavement, so when driving, for me especially when driving home, they loomed as treacherous objects, and that’s one reason why they may no longer be there. They were a danger to traffic.

I moved here in June of 1994 after separating from my wife. It was a difficult time. My daughter remained with her and I missed her greatly. Pleasant Valley was therapy. Its natural setting was a curative and my almost nightly summer walks along the river did much for my damaged psyche.

I live on the second floor of an apartment building and directly downstairs from me lived an older couple who were very loud. They ran a printing business out of their bedroom, and at 3 AM I could hear modems dialing and printers snapping and whirring away. They were originally from Texas and were larger than life in that Texas kind of way, especially when in New England. Liam was an amateur historian and Betsy was once a practicing lawyer. Liam would tell me some local history and Betsy just talked about whatever was on her mind. They were interesting characters to say the least.

Across the hall from them lived Jim. I was never sure but I think he had a machine shop in his apartment. He was always doing things with metal, including welding. He had a sailboat that he kept on the river, and that was his passion. From early spring to late fall, he was down by the river, clearing the reeds that were dauntless and cutting the grass that grew like wildfire in that damp environment. And when he wasn’t landscaping, he was sailing on the river.

-part one
-part two

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Dylan Does Venice

Just more musings on the Dylan Victoria's Secret ad. After talking to a friend at work, I've decided that Dylan did it for the women, song, and Venice. And after all, the product being sold is 'love'. But after talking to Beverly last night, I'm wondering if Victoria's Secret made the right decision for their product. My guess their market is skewed to young ladies (and the young men who buy their product for young ladies.)

Dylan may look cool, as one reader suggested, but does he look cool to that market segment? Or does he look like a well-dressed lecherous old man? As he did to Beverly's friends at work.

But the song did sound great.

Thanks for the word-up at Expecting Rain. Welcome Dylan fans and the instalanche you're providing me today. Feel free to explore and maybe taste a glass or two. Also please click to some of the weblogs listed on the right. They're tasty too. And your comments are particularly welcome here (click "comments" at the bottom of the posting.) Have fun, make a mess, and don't worry; I'll clean up.

Previous Dylan Postings:
-Dylan's Secret
-The Master of the Anti-War Song