Writers With Drinks tonight!

Y’all come to WWD tonight and hear one of my favorite poets, Steve Arntson. He does mad things with geography in very long poems which he mostly recites from memory. I’ve heard him declaim for 45 minutes without stopping! He’s a master of juxtaposing imaginary landscapes and history into any moment, oddball freewheeling descriptions, with language that’s densely layered & conversational. Yay, crazy beat poet legacy!

I’ll be there to cheer him on!

Award-winning spoken word show Writers With Drinks mashes up your literary experience! This month it features:

– lit by KE Silva (A Simple Distance)
– erotica by Spring Opara (Ultimate Lesbian Erotica)
– comedy by Dana Cory (Q Comedy)
– journalism by Katie Hafner (The Well)
– poetry by Steve Arntson (Cuts from the Barbershop)
– SF/Fantasy/mystery from Madeleine Robins (Petty Treason)

Where: The Make Out Room, 3225 22nd. st. btw. Mission & Valencia
When: Saturday, Nov. 11, from 7:30 to 9:30, doors open 7:00
How much: $3 to $5 sliding scale, all proceeds benefit other magazine.

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Litcrawl report

Litcrawl swarmed across the few blocks on Valencia and Mission where I spend quite a lot of my time in San Francisco, betwen 16th and 24th. I started out parking on Mission, checking out the clothing stores, & then worked for a bit in Ritual Roasters, ran into Annalee and other people I knew. Noticed that public-event feeling where people were being unusually friendly or nice on the street, a convivial fellow-feeling, conspiratorial.

I figured that on the way to the reading I planned to go to, the MIssion poets at Dalva, I’d peek into the translation readings. Peeked. Heard John Oliver Simon do a very hilariously Ezra Pound-style reading of his translation of Gonzalo Rojas’ poem about Canto-Poundiness & imitators. Voice quavering in majestic rolling sweeps! I laughed my head off. And it was a great poem. He read the X405 poem about prison and the polyhedrons that was in, I think, the “Cells” issue of Two Lines.

Then nipped out to go to Dalva. No such luck. I could not shove into the room down the narrow corridor to the back. Damn.

So, back to the One World reading at Abandoned Planet, where I caught Chana Bloch reading a prayer for peace from a book called “Open Closed Open. And “The Politics of Applying Moderate Physical Pressure”. My notes are not great – I was listening to hard to take notes. I liked the poems. Then Nasreen and Hamida Chopra reading English translations & doing Urdu recitations. hamida’s recitations were amazing – masterful – I was fascinated with the form. Olivia mentioned “Moshaira” (sp? look for link) or the “Urdu Poetry Slam” which happens soon in Berkeley. I listened as hard as I could try to learn words and hear patterns and try to match them up with what I heard in the English. “your voice” – i could hear the powerfulness in the urdu where i did not hear it as much in the English; form and density. “There’s no messiah for a broken mirror” – an amazing poem. Fez Amit Fez? I’m sorry if I spell everything wrong… I loved this poem to death. wealth – goblets & mirrors are made – they auction off mountain after mountain, ocean after ocean.

Niloufar Talebi from The Translation Project read translations from 5 different poets writing in Farsi – all from Iran and all living outside of Iran. Heavenly variety! My notes are sketchy and I haven’t looked up spellings but I’ll do that and correct & add links:
1) poet living in Australia “Post-Cinderella”
2) Dena? Bina? b. 1934 fled 1979 living in Sweden “Yearning for Sari” (region in northern iran)
3) guy – also in sweden – “Book of Fear” – “Fear #45”
4) Ziba Karbassi – b. 1974 left 1989 living in the UK monolingual “Revolution” – very powerful poem like a children’s rhyme- “starheart” – whoa! I reacted v. strongly to this poem and want more
5) Abbas Saffari – lives in u.s. published frequently in Iran – translated chinese, japanese, ancient egyptian, erotic poetry. “Revenge en Tehran”

A fabulous reading. Then I was off to Encantada Gallery for the Flor y Canto reading organized and MC-ed by Alejandro Murguia. He declaimed “O California”. Ananda Esteva read “When Latinos go Buddhist” and “Notification of Baggage Inspection” ffrom her book Pisco Sours. Milta Ortiz recited [Take me off this timeline I’m on] about not getting married. and then a longer piece about relationships. I liked the salute. “your nazi girl reporting for duty sir! mission: no feelings! objective: pleasure!” That cracked me up… rueful recognition… Luis uribe recited from Hummingbird’s Daughter – excellent – “Teresita, only a goddamned idiot wouldn’t see god in a taco.” Ruben Alexander Barron lives in the south bay – book “American Poet” – told story about monks and river and “bbrother you are still carrying her”… dithered a little shyly and then declaimed, ranted, denounced “Imperialism” in a fiery beautiful wave of conviction & rhymes. YEAH! Alejandro did another piece for us – El Camino – y “16th and Valencia” about poets & rage, blew me the fuck away. Harold Norr, Oscar Ceta Acosta. “even the furniture was angry” “I knew this was the last call… dying for nothing, freight train … a crazy mutiny aboard a battleship every porthole filled with anger and we are NOT LEAVING.” “quicksand swallow me up or the FBI… make this poem a jungle…” I dig his work, beautiful revolutionary strong violent steadfast humorous & humanistic. Chicanopalooza mentioned & exhibit at museum

Then I was off to Writers With Drinks & Manic D Press at the Latin American Club. Charlie MC-ed the first half. The room was fucking packed so I weaselled up to the front and sat at the back of the stage; I could never stand up that long, my knee is too messed up. Alvin Orloff read – from novel about a whiny telemarketer. Lauren Wheeler – poet – erotica – whip – some very sexy stuff – Claire Light read her story about the men gone and the boys disappearing, a beautiful story and the beginning especially beautiful – the onions & crease of armpit & breast & the way the boys feel their tongues in their mouths – and then I ahve read many people’s attempts to make people see what men’s rapability would really mean, what it would take to reverse the power structure and dynamic, and this story did it; how narratively to establish some of the injustice of a system, terror & helplessness & bravado – I liked the end. Why she says the story isn’t done, I have no idea – Justin Chin read an amazing long piece about… well… damn, it starts out about his dad in heaven playing golf with Celia Cruz. His work fucking rocks. I would like to hear him and Steve Arntson read together, so they could hear each other. Then Jennifer Blowdryer read from her recent book, the how-to-be tranny one, snarky and funny – Jon Longhi read some stuff from wake up and smell the beer, which was all funny and good but i have already by coincidence heard him do everything he read, twice or sometimes more, over the last couple of years! It was good anyway.

Amazing tacos and ceviche at Taqueria Can-Cun at mission & … 20th? 19th? somewhere. Then to the Elbo Room for the afterparty which I slimed into since I didn’t have an invite. Ended up sort of making out scandalously in a photobooth with Meliza and her partner. They have the photographic evidence with my phone number and a lipstick print on the back. None of us were even drunk. Told them the strange story of my fantasy about me and Buzz Aldrin in our lunar rover. Meliza and her partner just got married in Vegas! In my opinion it makes a party better to have some wild child types careening around giggling & floozyish & flirting – so why should it not be me. I’m doing it for you, people. My noble civic duty.

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Art 21 poetry reading – October


Art 21 poetry reading
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

The art gallery was full of amazing paintings this month! I briefly met Teresa Hsu and admired her huge paintings of rocks… the sort of thing I wish I could capture when I’m staring into a clear stream at wet pebbles, very beautiful. Then, as I was setting up chairs for the reading, I ran into a wire sculpture of the gorilla. The gorilla won. Ph33r the gorilla! Susan, the gallery owner, helped me to tape my bleeding nipple back onto my body with bandaids, and a fierce adrenaline rush fueled my MC-ing for the rest of the evening. Who knew I’d get a free piercing?! Just one of the perks of the job.

Dolores Hayden opened up the evening with poems from her recent book American Yard. I scribbled down some lines, but since she gave me a copy of the book (Thanks!) I can fill out this bit from “For Rent” that struck me:

…long views expand,
command wide axes everywhere,
entice your kind of hairpin vision,
a swaying wide and cambering in.

Maybe just because I like the word “cambering”, back from when I had a wheelchair with cambered wheels. Camber, limber, lumber, climber, words that seem clumsy but instead – nimble. “Hairpin” in close proximity to “camber” made weird neurons fire. I was also superenthralled by “Target Practice”, a multilingual poem about crows in Grenada, which I heard as a complex noticing of racism and misogyny… or we could say “race and the feminine” but hey. It’s a fabulous poem. I might talk about it at the ALTA conference at the panel on multilingual poetry.

Kate Evans read as the second featured poet of the evening, mostly from her very very recent book, Like All We Love. The first section, and first poem, “First”, focused in on mortality… Kate commented that a lot of poems were about being in bed, sex and death, you know… and there were cheers and hoots from the other poets, of “Right on!” She read a long poem about her father, her suburban childhood, and her father’s illness & dying. I most enjoyed the poems from the middle section – or were they from “Fluid Self” ? – on Ginger from Gilligan’s Island & on the Wizard of Oz, but that’s because I’m shallow. Her “Diet Poem” was a whole different animal, very oral, very spoken-wordy, excellent out loud, playful and thoughtful.

So, wow! What a nice result from my call for poets on the WOMPO women’s poetry mailing list. When I did that call, I noticed that about the first 5 or 6 people to write to me were men. I was not specifically looking for women for any reason – I just asked because that’s the poet list I’m on that I like the most – But think about that for a bit for what it was. Perfectly nice men – but they rush forward without doubt or hestitation for self promotion in a context that is in theory focused on women and their work. For example, were I on a poetry list for gay men of color, which existed to discuss gay men’s poetry and aesthetics and history and to promote their work, and someone asked for poets on that list, I might *think twice* about answering… And if as the person making that call I got my first 5 answers from straight white women, I’d be perturbed… And so I was very happy when a few days later, the emails from women poets began to come to my inbox.

We had a break, with Steve Arntson playing Chopin and Mozart for us on the grand piano with his usual delicacy and passion. Whenever he plays Chopin I freak out and travel back in time to when I was 13 or 14 and playing that stuff, picking out complicated nocturnes and frisking through waltzes, preludes, mazurkas; while for me it was a joy to exert this immense effort to manifest a tiny percent of what I felt, for Steve it seems more like breathing – he plays so effortlessly and beautifully. It’s a pleasure to hear. (But also makes me SO jealous.) Oh, and he brought the fanciest cake ever, with fruit and whipped cream and white chocolate painted with stenciled designs – delicious! Thanks, man!

I talked with Brenda about the next issue of Composite: Multiple Translations, and then ended up somehow spouting off to Dolores about my enormous Anthology. She was intrigued and very encouraging, saying wild things like “But, you should send queries to the Oxford University Press! To Norton! A perfect textbook! Important!” Which was sort of like hearing someone say “You should, of course, just fly to Mars! The Martians will crown you as their Queen!”

Anna Coulter started off the open mic session with some poems from her new art book, which I think is called “Transformations”. She’s having a show at Art21 next month, which will intersect with our Art21 poetry reading! Jane Kos read “Corrido” and announced the next meeting of the Redwood City Not Yet Dead Poets Society. I should mention here that the NYDPS founder Anatole Lubovich – and I’ve written about his poems, and his death, here before – Anyway – you can and should order his “Selected Poems” published posthumously – from booknest@sbcglobal.net, the Book Nest in Los Altos. What an amazing guy, and I still miss him a lot in all our poetry scenes on the Peninsula!

Rob Neville read “The Barrel of a Gun”, about violence, guns, and cancer. Brenda Simmons read another poem that had bullets in it and that I really loved – and thought to myself that it’s been at least a year since I’ve heard her read and her work is going in some interesting directions – more compressed, more saturated – but I didn’t write down any lines, unfortunately. Steve Arntson recited a huge chunk of a long poem about the Lewis and Clark River, another geographical historical philosophical exploration of reality and fiction, as usual exploding my mindscape!! David Cummings (I was so waiting for him to read, and hoping Dolores would not read, because I felt that they would especially like each others’ work!) really outdid himself with amazing excellence in a long poem, I didn’t catch the name – “as if mysteriously roused from the drifts of a greening sleep – ” More bullets and war and death and catastrophe and subtleties piled on top of each other so that listening was like deciphering sedimentary strata after millions of years and several earthquakes. It was some good stuff, I’m telling you.

Susan, the gallery owner, read a beautiful piece about realizing you’re not lost in the forest – the trees know where they are and where you are. It was a nice reminder for me to chill and walk with the flow of life as it happens. I read two of my translations of poems by Carmen Berenguer, because I’m totally in love with her lately, and translating her is a freaked-out violent joy. Read from “Bala humanitaria” (“Humanitarian bullet”), continuing the theme of bullets and war, so appropriate since we’re perpetrating an enormous criminal horrible war at the moment in this country; and “Mollusk” which is lighter but super fun to read out loud: it’s about, well, “about”… femininity and performativity and capitalism and objectification and violence against women – while being short, deceptively simple, and funny. I should try to memorize it for the Declamacion at the ALTA conference.

Talked a tiny bit with Dolores’ husband Peter, who is a sociologist and novelist. When he said he wrote about Africa and also young adult fiction I suddenly was like “OMFG am I talking to Peter Dickinson, say it is not so!” No… it was not so. That really would have been too much for my brain to handle. But I’ll look for his books.

What a nice time I had – I felt happy and in a loving poets’ community – I only wish more of the “usual suspects” had showed up this month, because they would have enjoyed the features and been enjoyed in return. Though it was a small reading, we definitely had critical mass in the party sense, with the jazz going, the wine flowing, people all talking, and a nice feeling of convivial bohemian artiness, wine-and-cheese-party palo alto style.

That’s enough, I think!

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Waverley report, January reading

I’m behind in my notes on readings that I go to. Here’s some notes from the January meeting of Waverley Writers, a large, friendly open mike that happens in a Quaker church. The MC, Jean Chacona, introduces people in groups of three.

Willy – “remember standing… wearing sheepskin vest, wanting nothing…” Streetcorner poem. “Before there was a before.” A bit of messing with rhyme and meter. I think for a moment of the Tom Lehrer song, “The Folk Song Army.”

Ron Lang – “Middle East Politics”

Ella Rae Locke – as always, her odd use of language stands out. She will always use a 50 cent word where you’d expect sparseness of a nickel one. It’s jarring, I’m not sure it works, it struck me at first as if she took every noun and adjective, looked them up in the thesaurus, and replaced them with the longest most multi-syllabic word; and yet it charms me as part of her attempt at baroque style. “mouth to mouth resuscitation, loaded beyond recognition, and accrue malignant momentum, evolutionary editing as involuntary as wet clothes, consenting mandatory neutralizing meaningless significants awareness nuisances lay their libellousness immunity testimony reality….” That is not a direct quote but as I listened I was jotting down the Big Words. I like the effect, in fact, the more it grates on me.

*

Muriel – “Short Stories”. “She is afraid of him. He was afraid of her. He likes his own friends more.”

Anita Holz – “Paper making”. Competently descriptive prose paragraphs. I wonder why it’s a poem. In fact, it’s not. Would be fine as a short magazine article or memoir about an experience.

Steven Riddle – “Notes of the bird.” “My lost ghost tracks me… The egret stalks; beauty eats beauty.”

*

Tom Digby – Quality vs. Quality. Dammit, I can’t read my notes and I’ve forgotten the poem. Does this say “wheelmaker”?

Dude whose name I forgot. This poem was so long and simple in concept that I began to write down bits of it. “I was a bad boy. They didn’t beat the others, only me. The cycle must end. Let it end with me. No abuse from me for my boys. So I left them. I was bad. I was not a bad man. I am a good man. I have done good things. I have done bad things. Fear into strength. Pain into enlightenment. ” Okay, it was heartfelt and sincere. But it made me think of the children’s book, “Pickles the Fire Cat”. “Pickles was not a good cat. Pickles was not a bad cat. He was good and bad. He was a mixed-up cat.” I recognize the value of such therapy poems. This one was very sweet and very clear. Just not my cup of tea.

Christine Holland – “so lightly out, brief candles… Fatima at 16… he murdered her to clean their name.” Christine has been reading more political poems lately. Much more raw and painful than what she was reading a year ago.

*
Brucey Slama – “Merlot merlot/ low to the ground/ coy as a boy/ joy for all/ tall not small.” and an ice cream poem. “Flavors with nuts/Best, I assert/ Don’t like sorbet or sherbert.” Okay. Let’s move on.

Peter Chow – Guy who wrote that one really good, long, 100-poem, with the line I liked about bones and snow. This poem is one he wrote when he mom (recently) died, and it’s a burial poem, an acrostic on “gratitude”. He read a second poem about her in the morgue. “a quilt with eight swans over us / Plato says the swan sings… /the Sanskrit for swan/ you have a good heart, mama…”

Greg Kimura – Oh, now here’s a poet. Huzzah! “The thousand and first kiss; or, how men love”. So excellent and such a relief, I did not take any notes. I’d like to hear him feature somewhere.

*

David Cummings – “The last of the leaves”. Hearing David’s poems is one of the main reasons to go to Waverley. always excellent.

John Hutton – “July 4 1998”. “You are celery and I am tomato/ and somehow we embrace/as your mother / cruises by on a Harley…” Excellent! Everyone liked it, too. Hutton’s nerdy quirkiness worked well, here.

Aline S. – “in the hospital, 45 breaths per minute from the respirator/ to keep your organs pink and healthy/ later I counted/ the people at your funeral…. your urn… we can measure that too, you get smaller all the time/day by day by measured day.” Good! Very quintessentially Waverleyish.
/>*
Rob Parry announce a meeting of Bay Area Book Arts.
(Announcement deleted at poet’s request)
Someone recommends we take a look at the paintings in Books, Inc. in Mountain View.

*

Steve Arntson – “Helicopter dust”. Another main reason to come to Waverley. One of the best poets in the Bay Area, but almost no one seems to know it.

Me – two poems, “queen of swords” which is just 2 lines, and “this is the first morning”, a hard poem for me to read. It’s like it’s in the voice of me 15 years ago. “where is the surface of my body? organ sonorous,/ when in the wave-cold blast i shrink from touch/ the present mixes with the past and I tune out…”

Bruce Jewett – “I never get screwed by car salesman/ I never play video poker/ But I bought a war, once.” So good! Another poem on paper-making; “paper a paper-maker just made…. long after I forget my own name…” I dig Bruce’s work and his aesthetic.

*

(Deleted at poet’s request)

Kit bliss Jones – “girlfriend” “Life is uncertainty, so eat dessert first.” Rhyming poem.

Len Anderson – Flamenco poem. “The deeper his grief/ the … consolation… / he too was… by the turning of the earth…” Damn. I can’t read my notes, but it was a very good poem. I always enjoy Len’s poems, usually explorations of a form, and he also has a keen pen for style. I love his marvellous parody of Howl – the silicon valley version, “Beep”.
“I am always grateful for the repetition of notes; /it tells me the music will go on / after I leave the room.” Aw yeah! Tell it, Len!

*
Judith Bishop – Ants. “I spray hot water over the crawling dishes… ” Ants on the dishes. Suburban goddess of destruction.
Then a long story. Solstice – Native american ceremony – spirals – recovery from alcoholism. This, also, very quintessentially Waverleyish. But must it be a poem? Why not foray into memoir or “spoken word”? There’s some necessary fermentation missing, a bit frustrating to hear because it’s so close, and Judith is a good writer.

Jayne Kos – Temple… stairs… I’m sorry to Jayne but at this point I spaced out and lost the thread of attention.

Jean Chacona – “Infiltration” – love – entrails – black box – a lock, but also leaks – knowing there is no cure. Another good poem from Jean. Also, I admired her black, grey, and pink argyle sweater…

*
Mary Petroski – what trick of light/makes today/ different from other days?

Nelly Capra – “Job Interview in Alameda”. Scene. wait and pray. breezes. butterfly. birds. truck. workers. sun. write and wait. Oct. 31. No clouds. Here is a diary entry or blog post…

Esther Kamkar – I’m a huge fan of her work. Esther, main reason #3 to come to Waverley and if you come and she’s not there it’s a disappointment. “Simple Words”. 1. Bones A baker bakes bread/ A shoemaker makes shoes….”

*
Robert Parry – “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”

Carol Hankemeyer – “Red” “Red is…..” etc.

JC Watson – Excellent as always. Reason #4 to come to Waverley. I always scribble like mad when she reads. “Art is made in Death’s kitchen… the war is made up. The leaves fell again this year. ..” “Where is the tunnel? You may choose / darkness, / It’s a good friend. Doesn’t make promises, doesn’t lick at your heart…”

*
At some point I began thinking hard about modernismo. The private aesthetic appreciation, and retreat into self and perception. Trying to make the moment glorious. Encapsulating a moment and its depth. How many connections can it handle?

me the moment has to have infinite connections and is a nexus of possibility. You can’t wrap it up too neatly.

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A few notes from Arntson’s reading and the NYDPS

I had been looking forward to this reading of Not Dead Yet Poets’ Society, and had planned for it, but my childcare options suddenly fell through on two levels. John was late, my neighbor had a complication, and so I had to stuff Milo into his raincoat, boots, whisk him off unwelcome and harried and late to the reading at the Main Street Gallery in the dimly awakening nightlife of Redwood City. Instead of composing my mind to think of my poem or even having a moment to practice I was answering questions from him about the night, the city, the gallery, Main Street, What Is an Art Gallery. Then questions about him, some from well-meaning people, some NOT. Oh, the little disapprovals and snideries! Out late, isn’t he? Is he going to be a Good Boy? You do understand that a child can be Distracting? I hope you can keep him Quiet. He knows not to touch anything, right? Rather than focus on the people I would like to talk to, I have to keep my mind focused on my son and his experience. Yes, people, I do understand that a child can be distracting. What do you think?

The temptation to answer everyone with flippant rudeness… running a spectrum from “oh, fuck off already” to “Actually, as you have correctly discerned, I am the sort of unwed teenage mother who feeds my child on diet pepsi, goldfish crackers, twinkies, and crack cocaine, and I encourage him to scream as loud as possible during poetry readings in fancy art galleries with delicate breakable Art made of glass, to express my punk rock disrespect for you and all your ilk. By the way, he has double pneumonia.” Well, I held my tongue, Milo quietly read Asterix in the corner, and John showed up just before the reading was about to start, since the rain and lack of chairs and large crowd delayed the reading for 20 minutes or so. Thank god!

Now that that’s off my chest! Whew! It’s a blog, so I get to say whatever I want!

The room was packed. Way more so than usual for the NYDPS. Really the cream of the peninsula poets came to hear and be heard. Forgive me for saying that… (Or don’t.)

Jayne Kos hosted the reading, and we kicked off with some tributes to Anatole Lubovich. Kathy St. Claire wrote in talking about Anatole’s attempt to write the shortest poem possible that would express the essence of cats: “Cat sits.” James Lee or James Li wrote in from Sacramento with a poem about stars. “Stars are maps to the soul” …that sort of thing. Bruce Jewett – who sometimes sends me poetry postcards and who used to publish small books and magazines in the.. 70s? 80s? I think the Fat Frog… talked about how Anatole was vibrant with verve but how they were oil and water.

Jayne then read parts of Arntson’s introduction. It was funny and sort of touching when in her inimitable kindergarten-teacher style she said that many things were important influence on him, including “The Burning Man” said with a strangely wrong emphasis as people normally say it with no “the” and the “ing” elided so that it’s trocheed, equal stress, BURN(uh) MAN. (Like saying “house boat” or “tow truck”. The lights went off. There were xmas lights, and EL wire in a long coiling tangle on the floor, and some zappy globes making you think of the beauty of neon in the rain. All cheesy and half-assed, but in a good way that gave us beauty and atmosphere… dislocation. Arntson in his fez and pakistani-looking tunic thing. (Salwar kameez? I can’t remember the name of it. ) A little tinsel and vaudeville. Two radios, one with swing music and one with a crackly broadcast of the Day that will live in Infamy… Fellow Americans… Pearl Harbor.. the pearl that fell into the ocean. Remarks from Arntson.

First – “She saw a ghost” which was brilliant and lovely… a somewhat halting start until he got into the swing of it. You have to rememeber he recites it all from memory and he recited for probably 40 minutes nonstop. An ode to saltines, clouds, ghosts, journeys, exhaustion physical and spiritual. His poems just keept going. You realize, “Oh. There is no reason to stop here,” and keep writing. This was one of the main head-opening lessons for me when I first started hearing Steve read at Waverley and San Jose Arts League at the minor street house. I wrote the essay “On Stopping” and began to push myself beyond – a push also helped by Diane Di Prima.

This little bit of the poem is not formatted properly. It should be rambling all over the page with a lot of white space, staggered and open-handed. Maybe I will come back later and try to do it correctly. (It’s time consuming with HTML.)

tired of all that waking state
she started to dream before she slept
And her dream was our own on the way to the lake
qualified by crackers
nourished by those same saltines
of sodium and chlorine
packed for just this occasion of reconnaissance and homelessness
So the scenery is haunted
in spite of better knowing
the night as eclipse
collapsing the sun on a diet of corn starch
seeing all the way to the stars
the last she saw before they saw HER
like rock n roll psychedelia staring back
she thought a city to have receded with all of the sun
east to westside gone
she is of the cult of the newcomer to all this terrain
including clouds
as beautiful
as the right idea at the very right time
the sky is royally appointed
therefore she things of her angels throughout the evening
and angels there may be, convening
allowed just enough substance
to startle the mortal
traveller gone crackers-giddy in the twilight

Saltines, clouds, journeys, dream and waking come together. Whiteness in want of water.

and the answer: “Pai-ute” : “water-there”
And thus a people are named
for a direction you take to slake a thirst
And now t his witching for water in the dark
Waterboarding to blue tremolo of trembling shore
so that you shudder with the cheddar
collide with nabisco, the cracker too delicate
to last the length of jolting
She studies the ghhost and ourselves
competing tangibilities
the relative corporeal
it is as if the wind had determined to be visible
beyond its agitations of botany

The deal is, you stay with it, and sometimes you can’t and you spin off into your own thoughts sparked by listening. That spacing out is okay. It takes practice to absorb and stay with a long poem. But you are reeled back in by some strand coming back. The cracker comes back and combines with cloud, or the Paiutes with water and its lack and the ghost and your attention is caught. The point of the long poem is that it is not a painting; it is a journey and you not only end up somewhere, you have travelled somewhere. Arntson’s poems are road trips of the mind. You can sit next to him in the car and enjoy the journey. You can pull off the road or space out – that’s the beauty of the trip.

He read “Wadsworth” – a long poem about an abandoned school. Beautiful!

Shark Car, which me and Rob Pesich published in the “Cuts from the Barbershop” anthology.

Synaptic Mandala – which I give a sample of here:
last bit of Synaptic Mandala: 1.6MB

And Mousetrap, to which I wondered what percent of the room got what it was about.

Well, I could go on praising his poetry and giving examples but I’d like to give that more time and energy than I have available this moment.

He passed out (free) a CD with three poems on it. Good quality recordings, but the music is intrusive and cheesy. Alas! How can this be? He’s a good musician… but must have had a blind moment or just loves his friend the cheesy-keyboard player.

To the open mike. April, Palmer Pinney with a sort of holiday poem, a couple of other people read, but I was not fully there. I read the first bit of “The Dead Girlfriend of Novalis” not really at my best. Later Jayne pointed out that I said “amApolas” instead of “amaPOlas” … er! whoops! I think because it sounds greek. But of course she is right! Bruce read a poem. Judith B. read a long poem about acorn woodpeckers, who live communally. Mary-Marcia Casoly read a poem “stay wild” about the sky and ocean.

Then the Saturday Poets crowd, all together:
Amy McLennan … ghost ships. Lisa Ortiz read an astonishingly good poem about cookies, desire, and martinis. I have written before that she is the ultimate celebrator of profundity in the suburban mundane, distilling it beautifully… dark in your bitter parts, bitter in your dark. The fierce YES of the crinkling insomniac cookie bag. More people should listen carefully to what she is doing. Robert H. “People said he had crazy eyes…” Amy Miller – In the century where nothing happened – another brilliant poem. I have trouble reading my own handwriting but I exploded into note taking with a lot of exclamation points and little stars on the page. “They washed the murals off the walls…” Quite good. A science-fiction poet and I expect to see more of her stuff out there… I wish I had a copy of this poem.

JC Watson – “for family”. “old friendship an ancient car/something always coming loose.” As always, good. Once at a readaround we took turns reading her poems in our varying reading styles. Because sometimes her delivery style blinds you a little. It’s very powerful. But the poems can be VERY different read aloud by someone else. It was instructive. It was also cool to hear her do one of my poems HER way.

Christine Holland – a poem about a painting of native americans – history – painting – colonialism – solid. I started thinking of John McPhee. She is the John McPhee of poetry? Hmmm. I’m not sure if that would please or insult her but it’s what I was thinking and I meant it as a compliment. She paints and extends vision. David Cummings in faultless flowing rhythm – “and I think of Blake’s other law,” – really a technical master and a builder of complex thought.

Charlotte talked about Anatole, a heartfelt cascade of feelings about how he was quite amazing, cosmopolitan, cultured, bizarre and fantastic, somewhat unappreciated because he was difficult and prickly as well. A story about having dinner with him and fearing death by food poisoning because the food was in the fridge but the fridge didn’t actually function as a fridge… And he is quite stubborn and of course no way to convey to him that maybe chicken should be kept particularly cold. Charlotte really is grasping over saying something between a (self and other) reproach and a confession of love for us all as a community, that… she didn’t realize until he was gone how much she would miss him, this person almost a stranger whose work she has known for so many years, seen once, twice a month at Events… And that maybe we all are that important to each other and that is as it should be – but how to recognize it? What does it mean? That’s what I felt she was saying.

Patrick Daly – read a poem of Anatole’s. I riffled through a couple of magazines but he chose the best poem of Anatole’s from that selection ‘ “Grey Hereafter Ever After” and I did not want to read one that was an order of magnitude less interesting (all the others.) A poem castigating the “grey breath” of hedonophobes. Anatole at his best when formal and technical and exquisitely clever. I like his sonnets. I am not a neoformalist or any kind of formalist, but I enjoy formality when other people do it well, and I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s in fashion. As if we are limited by time! Bah humbug!

Steve Arntson stood up again to recite (from almost-memory) a sonnet of Substance by Anatole. “When I consider the things that swirl through space…’ …”I am amazed that I can reach this far…” Alas, I cannot memorize a poem or even write fast enough to keep up. I could have typed fast enough to capture most of it, but was not quick on the draw with the laptop.
Arntston passed out a packet of poems, some typed, some xeroxed from his manuscripts. This made me so happy! I begged him and begged him to do it! And he did, huzzah! I want everyone to appreciate his genius.

Everyone cleaned up, and left quickly… and Arntson was off to take the train to his night watchman job at a huge downtown building, a granite palace where he makes Tchaikovsky echo off the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple.

A great, memorable reading!

I always take brief notes and looking back on them can rememeber and reconstruct most of an evening. I feel self-conscious to type it up with everyone’s names… but I hope they enjoy coming across it if they do some vanity googling.

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the pleasure of discernment

I can’t do justice to the great readings tonight. I’m sort of cranky from ulcers and a long, long day. So instead… you get this.

As I drove home I was stuck with the thought of how much I love judging and discernment. I can’t stop doing it. I realize it’s obnoxious and sometimes out of place or unwelcome. I get such a kick out of hearing samples of the same people’s work over time. I’m always thinking, “Ah! This is a good one! Much better than last month’s workshopped-to-death thing that had all the edges smoothed off it!” or “Hmm, this is maybe the 6th time I’ve heard this person read, and now I have a handle on Their Trip. And yet tonight is different – they’re doing something unlike what they’ve done before.” So I compare people to themselves.

And of course comparing them to each other. I put people in categories, fuzzy ones, but I know I’m still ranking, ordering, grouping, looking for connections.

Rhymed doggerel about driving to work being stuck in traffic, or angst about one’s own body fluids, or … well, imagine your personal poetic hell in this space. Gosh darn it, at least that villanelle about chopping carrots on a granite countertop while bluebirds sing in the garden and Hurricane Katrina victims are eaten by crocodiles, at least it’s the best villanelle it can possibly be. Since I don’t want to live in a state of irony and snark (as I was dipping into just now with the imaginary Katrina carrots) I try to be analytical and fair-minded instead. With critical faculties turned up past 11, I’m guaranteed some entertainment.

Unfortunately… around the poetry-reading time of night, I am usually in some sort of fairly intense physical pain. The only way to deal with that is to think as hard as possible, for distraction.

Judgement is also a defense mechanism against boredom. Because I catch on quickly and people are often stunningly predictable… I can amuse myself during moments of literary tedium by making up theories, or considering what exactly makes it tedious and wondering why it isn’t tedious to everyone or what factors people are enjoying or what it means for the person who wrote it. Value IS relative in many ways. I have to dislocate the center of my judgement in order to get to the place where I can understand that relativity and see poetry newly. Yet… some writing still sucks and is dull. To me. For my purposes. At this particular moment. Oh, I could argue all day about this!

I’m not judging every second and in fact at some point during a poem I can abandon judgement or make my decision quickly and sit back to enjoy the ride, whatever that ride is. I can stop being Elitist McSnootypants for a brief moment, but then it kicks right back in afterwards.

When something is good…I am SO happy, relieved, excited, and inspired. Like Steve Arntson’s recitations tonight… and I would especially mention the open mike readings by Lisa Ortiz, Amy Miller, David Cummings, JC Watson… others. Like I said, I will check in tomorrow and write up the reading by Arntson and others. And in the next few days I’ll talk more about Anatole’s work and the tributes to Anatole we heard tonight; I hope with examples of his poetry. Charlotte lent me some journals from 12 years ago and I look forward to reading early… or earlier… poetry by various poets I’ve been hearing around town since 2001.

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Some notes from Waverley

From last Friday. I can’t transcribe all my notes, but I thought it might be fun to mention the people who read.

Intro by Karen Grosman.

Willy
Kit – her first time reading here. We all applaud and give her The Love. “Shepherded”.
Tony – poem about the Mekong river
Anita Holzburg – “Chances”
Jayne Kos – “Road Trip”
Charlotte Muse – I don’t have a title but it was something memoir-ish. I often really enjoy Charlotte’s pensive musings.
Karen Grosman
Brucey Slama – poem about the Holocaust.
Jackie Marderossian – Abomb, steamer trunk, small girl named Yoko, Magritte’s attitude towards objects. I follow Jackie’s work with interest. She experiments quite hardworkingly with form and subject material and I always think she is on the edge of finding a solid voice. Sometimes she catches the bus and sometimes not. More and more often, yes.
Steven Riddle – a quirky poem and I am not sure if he said “K9 Down” or “Canine Down” or something else, but I thought of that William Burroughs poem where he starts rambling about “Pilot K9, you are cut off.” A really wonderful last line in this poem that I wish I had written down or retained but it had something to do with marigolds and calendula.
Mel – the guy I think of as “The Anchorman”. A poem, rhyming & hilarious, to Anatole Lubovich.
Lu Pettus – grandchild in front of the mirror. Good. blank verse. Or, dips in and out of blank verse. Lu usually writes long narrative fantasy poems that seem to be set in some kind of consistent mythical world of her own invention. This mirror poem is a departure from that and it is quite good.
Rob N. – A villanelle. Kachina’s keep.
Tom Digby – Christmas on Terra. I always enjoy Digby’s flights of fancy. They are not “good” poems by literary snootypants standards and are often prosy, a thing which normally bugs me. But in his case it doesn’t bug me. They are vignettes and explorations of a wacky idea – in a way that entertains. (Therefore they ARE good.) Often people quietly roll their eyes or don’t know what to make of his stuff.
Sharon Olson – she reads “Blood Soup”. (Which was in Composite#2). I think last year Sharon joined the Sixteen Rivers collective. Her work is meditative, page-poety, naturey. I think of Sharon, Charlotte, Jean Chacona, Christine Holland, Patrick Daly, David Cummings, and some others as representative of the core of Waverley’s thing. Thing. But it’s a tight, odd community and in so many ways I’m an outsider in it. I think there are people who have been poeting and workshoping together for 20 years and I never understand those nuances. And for god’s sake, their work is so good, but it seems like it never gets published anywhere, which makes me crazy when so much inferior work gets published. Anyway – Sharon also is a founder and organizer for the Art21 reading series.
Marie Solis – a sonnet.
*** BREAK ***
Thanks to everyone who bought my little magazines! Yay, lunch money. I put some right back into Jackie M.’s fund for gas money etc.

Steve Arntson – Portal of Bones poem. I prompt. Actually during some of the above readings I was puzzling out Steve’s splotchy handwriting in his tiny notebook. I love this poem. He left out a lot of bits. I could feel its layered rush.
Me – a translation of nestor Perlongher’s poem “Para Camila O’Gorman”. It is weird and nonlinear. I can’t remember if I’ve read it before, here. I kind of garbled it. Oh well. All my recent work is way too long to read here so it’s translations away!
Person whose name I just can’t remember. OMG. I should. I have only known her for 4 years. Judith? Oh hell. I’m senile. She read 2 poems. Prophecies and healings. Katrina. Streetcar.
Mary Marcia Casoly – Pomo poem written at/about Asilomar. about objects and stuff. I often like her poems’ odd jumping around, very ethereal. They come at you sideways. This one did not grab me… a couple of lines did but I can’t remember thm.
Kathy Abelson – family poem. a memoir about moving to Los Altos or Sunnyvale back when it was all orchards. Actually, this is another very typical thread of what I think of as typical Waverley poems. It’s a thing they have going on. Exploration of memoir and family memories, especially connections with the dead and time. Everyone quick go read “Remembrance of Things Past.”
Jean Chacona – “Unity” . Jean has a very strong particular individual voice, quiet and definite. She works in an orchid greenhouse, I think. Or used to. She’s right in there with the meditative nature poem and Zen bonding with flowers or one particular leaf. She should team up with a painter for a poem/painting series.

At this reading I missed hearing Robert Pesich, David Cummings, Christine Holland, and Patrick Daly. I haven’t been able to come to Waverley very often this year because of my school schedule in the spring, and then doing hurricane relief work and getting really sick this fall. So I felt like I didn’t get my fix! They had better all read next time or there will be hell to pay.

Oh yeah I have one more slightly catty thing to say. It doesn’t make it poetry just ’cause you leave out the “the”s. Remember that now. If you’re doing that to make your poetry seem less prosy – a noble goal – you need more radical surgery. Leaving out pronouns is just as bad. I’m not sure exactly what to tell people. Go read some super tight good poetry and diagram its sentences? Or its lack of sentences? Rewrite two of your lines 10 different ways? Maybe take that good poem and mess it up by rewriting two of its lines to be as bad as possible? I should come up with an exercise for it.

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Obituary for Anatole Lubovich

I’ll miss Anatole. He livened up the Not Yet Dead Poets Society of Redwood City for so many years!
At readings I would often beg his tiny, thick notebook and read through it. What excellent sonnets! He was a well-read, masterful formalist with a great sense of humor – I especially liked his dirty limericks about Milton. It seemed like he was always winning Esperanto haiku contests – he was just that sort of person – truly interesting and quirky. Hopping around madly, hyper, a little guy in glasses with a neat beard, sharp-tongued and sparkly. After he moved to Sacramento, he’d take the bus all the way back to Redwood City to come to the monthly readings of the Society he founded. He came to the Chimera Books translations readings, too, and at times to Waverley.

This Wednesday at the Main Street Gallery in Redwood City, at 7pm, there will be a reading – featuring Steve Arntson, but also I am sure there will be many tributes to Anatole during the open mike.

Anatole Taras Lubovich…
Was born on March 9, 1937, in Ukraine. During World War II, Anatole and his family were interned in a prison camp and following the war lived in refugee camps in Germany. By the time the family emigrated to the United States in 1950, Anatole had become fluent in several languages and had developed his lifelong love of words. He eventually studied 14 languages, with a particular passion for English which he spoke and wrote with precision, wit and elegance. He loved literature, particularly poetry and the plays of Shakespeare. He received a degree in musical theater from San Francisco State and appeared in numerous theatrical productions.

Anatole worked for many years as an engineer and a teacher, but it is as a poet that he will most be remembered. He was published in anthologies and journals, won several awards, and was featured at readings. Anatole translated poetry into English from Ukrainian and other languages. He was founder of the Not Yet Dead Poets Society on the Peninsula and, after moving to Sacramento, became active in the local poetry community. He was also active in the local Humanist organization. He was an Esperantist, a philatelist, an opera lover, and an ardent bibliophile. Anatole passed away on November 16, 2005, as a result of complications following coronary bypass surgery. He is survived by his sisters, Lily Empie of Wassila, Alaska, and Rose Wirolubowich of Oakland, and by his significant other, Do Gentry, of Sacramento.

Published in the Sacramento Bee on 11/23/2005.

I feel like I should post something by him, but all I have is his “Ten Suggestions for Reading Poetry at Open Mike”.

STAY AWAKE. When the emcee calls on you to read, be ready with a legible, familiar copy in hand. Shuffling through papers shows you’re not with it, wastes time and is inconsiderate. If you’ve got nothing to read, dont. It’s cool to come only to hear others; actually, it’s more of a compliment. Don’t read a poem written by another dude just to read something, and nev er read some crap you just scribbled on a napkin. Take it home; in time, you may turn it into a poem, but not tonight. Show respect for the art.

BE COOL. Don’t get shook up – there’s nothing to be afraid of. You are among friends who are dying to hear you. What’s the worst thing that could happen? If you should make a fool of yourself, no big deal – that won’t be the first time, will it?

DON’T RUN YOUR MOTOR IN IDLE. Keep an introduction, if any, very short. Do not apologize for your work, offer excuses or long descriptions of circumstances and the process of writing. Such explanations are seldom called for, and seldom will they result in your work being viewed in a better light.

DON’T SAY WHAT YOU’RE GONNA SAY. Your piece shoudl say it for you. If it does not, take another look at it. But, if the poem contains a strange word, comes in some special form, or has some other kind of weirdness, where it would be a help to the listener to be prepared or warned, point it out, by all means.

KEEP TRACK OF TIME. Follow the rules of the program; don’t abuse t hem. If the emcee lets you read one poem, read one poem. If the limit is five minutes, read four, not six. Exceptions should be cleared with the emcee before, not at the time of, reading. Time your poems beforehand. Keep in mind that any introduction is a part of your allotted time. Don’t try to wow the audience with the volume of your works; leave some for next time.

READ SLOWLY AND CLEARLY. Do not hurry. Read in a voice loud and clear enough so that the farthest listener will understand you without strain. Do not swallow the initial or final sounds. Mumbling is for prayers. Mumbled recitation is a waste of time of both the reader and the listener.

DO IT WITH FEELING. Put life into your words. Make it easy for the audience to feel the cadence and grasp t he meaning. Treat poetry as art. If you can’t communicate the meaning of your work, how can the other cats make any sense of it? Nothing is more boring than hearing words mouthed off monotonously and mechanically.

DON’T MAKE ‘EM PUKE. Different themes and styles are expected and welcome. Although neither the subject matter nor the vocabulary is censored, it’s a good idea beffore reading to check out the crowd as to what the prevailing attitude of the people you are about to entertain seems to be. Do not test the hearers’ tolerance by grossing them out with gratuitous obscenitites. Don’t make a mockery of the art and you won’t be remembered as “The Gross One.”

DON’T SPLIT before the program is over. Reading your piece and then leaving without hearing those who follow is a major breach of etiquette. It is likewise a bad scene to arrive late just to hear yourself.

COME BACK (unless asked not to). It is hoped that your reading will provide pleasure and that you will enjoy hearing others. Introduce yourself to and make friends with poets in your community. Contribute to the program with your presence and support.

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Cheap thrills, writing hangovers, long poems

Have you ever written – and published – a line that later gives you a hot blush of shame? For me it’s always some cheap trick of rhetoric that seemed like a good idea when it spewed off my fingertips into TexEdit, some utterly dorktastic 9th grade journalism thing, a throwaway bit of demogoguery that mixes the trite and pompous. I can think of two of them right now that I’d love, love, love, to delete from the face of the earth.

Other lines I’ve written stick in my head more pleasantly. I’m in love with them despite their technical flaws, and I don’t want to abandon their imperfections.

This happened to me today. I was driving along, thinking about poetry. A poem I wrote 10 years ago, “White Horse,” started running through my head. I haven’t thought of it or looked at it for quite a while, though I tried reading it aloud at a poetry slam in San Jose once – my first and only poetry slam, and it was the wrong kind of poem and I hadn’t memorized it.

Things bothered me about this poem: I kept plonking back and forth between prosy explaining-language that embarrasses me, like:

her children fight, complain, scream,
her mother and sisters bicker
far into the night, chainsmoking,

and dense stuff that I approve of still, like:

Resignation bright as a trumpet, victim-shiny,

It became completely obvious to me how I wanted to fix the poem and save it from my own clumsiness. Because it’s good, really, especially the very end:

Your hands, Diana, pull the life
from his warm animal eyes, his skin
collapses, the bones protruding
unwind, unwrap themselves into crackling
mummy bandages, deeds to property, car
registrations, proof of insurance, diplomas,
credit reports, all fluttering up and around your hands
like paper doves, and the moon dissolves into its own
beams. My wet puddle self is drawn up in the same
life-line, into the horse’s skin, which,
reanimate, boneless, sways to accept her weight,
all fluid and alert, and we are together
rollicking off into the moonless night.

“Off into” bothers me, and yet I don’t want to abandon it, for its trueness to my own speech patterns and for its rhythm and emphasis.

There’s other poems I know I can’t rewrite. I have to start over, and start somewhere else.

At that time 10 years ago my poetics were focused around narrative movement. I wanted each poem, without being prose, to have something happen. The mood and images had to be in a story, and that story had to be something beyond “Oooo, look, I just had a vague epiphany.” I wrestled with that one for a while.

But later, I spouted off thusly, in one of my “Hot Air” essays. I think this one was in Caesura magazine:

Poetry swirls and leaps and turns in on itself. It should be dense, rich, layered. Dense poetry rewards study and thought. It should not pace – not even long narrative poetry. It changes state. It boils and sublimates.

A prose poem is something different; a vignette, or a collage, not an excerpt from a novel.

Look at the poem. If it can be written out as a paragraph – with a paragraph’s pacing and sensibility – then make it so.

(You see what I mean about my tendency to bombast… But I was trying to say something steely-eyed about Bad Poetry, without citing any actual examples of bad poetry, those ones I’d been hearing that were driving me crazy…)

And then suddenly I moved on to writing very long poems, listening to the structure of long poems. I love how certain poems move in and out of a subject, returning to touch base and then spinning out into the distance, never quite letting you go – but you have to pay attention! But no, actually, you don’t. The long poem allows space for spacing out. You can listen to it, and as in listening to baroque music, your mind can spin out into some fascinating direction and then be reeled or yanked back in, back into the present of the poet’s voice. At readings at Waverley Writers, and then later at Art21, and the Saturday Poets, I heard Steve Arntson recite his long, long poems about the coast of Oregon and Kirk and Spock and the Wizard of Oz, and immediately classed him with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Grahn, in his mastery of the form of the long poem. It was instructive for me. I have his CD, “Poem Dreams with Imaginary Companions” and another huge audio tape with the oregon poems.

At the time I was translating a poem that takes 20 minutes to read aloud, that is all in rhymed couplets and mean to be sung: “Florentino y el Diablo.” Now, I am translating Nestor Perlongher’s long poem “Cadáveres”, which spins off in baroque fashion and “yanks” you back with repetition. Each verse – and the lengths and rhythms vary – ends with the words, “Hay Cadáveres”. In a way I felt… Oh, this is so rude … but I’m a snob and I love the clusterfuck density of Perlongher’s shorter, more cryptic poems where many things happen at once, like a 10-dimensional cryptogram, and I remember first reading “Cadáveres” and thinking “Ha. That’s a cheap trick. Here’s his popular poem.” But really I love that poem.

Believe it or not, I have a point I’m winding up to make. Recently I was talking to someone, I think Serene who does the Nomad Cafe reading series, about our love of “that 70s thing” that is sort of like beat poets, or like the next generation of poets who obviously love the beats but who are not quite beats, and we think of ourselves as continuing in that vein. I am about ready to declare that whole Thing to be part of what Cuban and Argentinian critics call the neobarroque. At some point last year, Hilary Kaplan turned me on to her translation of Alexei Bueno‘s amazing long poem, “The Decomposition of Johann Sebastian Bach”, so there’s a Brazilian neobarroco writer for you…. Once I started reading about neobarroco, I realized that’s what I’m doing. For a year I’ve been thinking of my own poetics as part of the neobaroque, but it’s been a private process of consideration. I should write this up more thoroughly, with examples.

It is like the beautiful moment during Quetzalcoatl’s version of “El Gabán y el gavilán” where the song is interrupted by the harp spiralling off into something hesitant, like a haze of a chain of thought that’s almost broken…

Anyway, I really hate it when people call me a language poet. I’m a neobaroque poet. And in the best of my nascent traditions, I will promise to write about all this tomorrow. Then tomorrow, I’ll have a new and shinier thought.

I will also promise to discuss Steve Arntson’s work in detail. It’s astonishing to me when I’m in a room full of people who seem not to realize that whenever he reads it’s a Momentous Occasion. If I ever help to get his poems published or collected or recorded I will be very, very happy. The world is missing out and I can’t stand for his work to disappear into the fog of memory.

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