Writers With Drinks, No and Yes, rambling

Daisy Zamora
Originally uploaded by spanaut.

It was another super crowded night at the Makeout Room! Julia Jackson was a good comedian – I’d love to go see her perform again. Her comments on race, international adoption, and liberals… very good… I was dying at “You ever notice when white people go do some kind of action, they manage to have a vacation at the same time? I’m going to build low-income housing… in Guatemala! ” Extremely funny. There was one joke that made me shriek at a place where no one else laughed, but I can’t remember what it was!

Sage Vivant read from Greta Christina‘s book about how to be a better client if you go to sex workers. I kind of couldn’t figure out if she was reading her own work somewhere in there or if it was all direct from Greta? Confused… Had to restrain myself from squealing (again) at Greta, who was next to me, about how much I loved “Bending” not just for being hot but because it was such good writing & more interesting literature than so much of what’s out there masquerading as being ground-breaking nifty literature.

Then Daisy Zamora got up to read – really the highlight of the evening. She started by quoting Octavio Paz… I will let on if I haven’t already that in high school, I had a giant poster of Octavio Paz on my bedroom wall, because he was my rock star poet. I had some issues with his writing about women, and other things, but…. he’s still a rock star.

“Freedom is not a philosophy, nor is it even an idea. It is a movement of consciousness that leads us, at certain moments, to utter one of two monosyllables, Yes or No. In their brevity, lasting but an instant, like a flash of lightning, the contradictory character of human nature stands revealed. “


“´La libertad no es una filosofía y ni siquiera es una idea: es un movimiento de la conciencia que nos lleva, en ciertos momentos, a pronunciar dos monosílabos: Sí o No.´En su brevedad instantánea, como a la luz del relámpago, se dibuja el signo contradictorio de la naturaleza humana.”

Then she mentioned Walt Whitman and said “rebel a lot, obey a little” – actually why don’t I give y’all that quote too:

To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States, Resist much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever
afterward resumes its liberty.

What Zamora was saying is so important, I want to shine my tiny spotlight on it as best I can. To show you why the world needs poets, and people who think like poets and experience the world as poets.

Zamora then blasted the “philosophy of fear” that is so pervasive. She reminded us all to consider, at every moment, that we have a yes or a no, and that at those moments, we need to remember: “99% of what we see in the media is lies to make you fear.

Right on!

NO to this government and NO to this war. (And all such wars and massive instances of evil.)

Then she read “Death Abroad”, “Marina” (Seascape, in English), “To a lady who laments the harshness of my verses” – funny reference – “Streetcar San Francisco” – a poem with the ending at the Amnesia Bar – the poem about the newspaper article about the Salvadorean woman killed on Fillmore St. and the mayor of San Francisco eating wild salmon filet sprinkled with gold dust – and the poem “Cuando las veo pasar” “When I see them passing by” …

Cuando las veo pasar alguna vez me digo: qué sentirán
ellas, las que decidieron ser perfectas conservar a toda costa
sus matrimonios no importa cómo les haya resultado el marido
(parrandero mujeriego jugador pendenciero
gritón violento penqueador lunático raro algo anormal
neurótico temático de plano insoportable
dundeco mortalmente aburrido bruto insensible desaseado
ególatra ambicioso desleal politiquero ladrón traidor mentiroso
violador de las hijas verdugo de los hijos emperador de la casa
tirano en todas partes)

I don’t have the english of this but I could translate it if you like.

I understand on some level why people laughed during this poem, but it doesn’t make me laugh… I started crying as I thought of my own grandmother but really of all the souls (crushed, almost – but the poem gives the hope I want to feel that crushing a soul is impossible) of all the women I could imagine, ever, who have been in that situation. It’s a devastating, devastatingly true poem. It reminds me of Judy Grahn’s amazing, very long poem about mother and female relatives sending the daughter off to be married as they would send a son off to war. Oh! How can Daisy Zamora and Judy Grahn live in the same city and not know each other’s work! It kills me! Why!?

I take a moment to construct my fantasy literary event with Zamora, Grahn, Di Prima, Coleman, major, Gottlieb. (And me. I’m modest that way.) Fierce! Feminist! Ass-kicking all! A small inspiring anthology with some ranting-mad stab you in the heart with truth volcano erupting revolutionary feminist poems, a pocket-poets book for my women poet kin. Anyone who lives in “Tierra de Nadie” in the neverending crossfire. YES to that.

Anyway, this is getting long and a little embarrassing. It’s okay; being embarrassed is good for me.

Charlie had some great humor in the in-between comedy & her introductions but as usual I was laughing too hard to take any notes. All I have is a written-in-the-dark scrawl, “Like a meme wrapped in an onion” from some kind of insane thing about nano meme hors’ d’oeuvres or something. She was running a fever… but the show must go on! (And – she was elegant and glamorous in a long white dress suitable for fevers and fainting.)

Then I sold books for Daisy, because I’m just Ms. Helpy that way. Oh and talked a little bit with George Evans about translation. He co-translates from Vietnamese and I was telling him how much I enjoyed co-translating from Hebrew (which I don’t at all know – so it is a very close collaboration process, which makes it way fun.)

Then Ellen Klages read from her funny “science fiction slush pile” story, Gerard Jones read from Men of Tomorrow about Jerry Siegel and the beginning of fandom, which I enjoyed (though me and Debbie poked each other and winced – especially at the thing about the domineering mother – that was a bit much) and Noria Jablonski read a story about a girl who skipped from 5th grade to college in like… a day? a week? something? But not really because it’s all just sort of a metaphor for the way adolescence and adulthood hit you and you’re still that 5th grader who’s next up for kickball. Beautiful and funny. I snorted with delight at the bit about how the rumor about that one girl (all the boys think she’s hot, like they’re wearing so-and-so-is-hot goggles… she’s not that hot) frenching somone at the roller rink and then I realized it was a reference specific to my generation and suburbanness.

A bunch of people went to the tapas place but I ended up with a big crowd of science fictiony people, too many of us to fit in the tapas place, so we had burritos at somewhere on Mission. I got to hang out a little bit with Ariel and her girlfriend and Ellen Klages and admired Ellen’s interesting book collection & str
ange kitsch, like ceramic “chicken of the sea” tuna baking dishes shaped like fish & a porcelain liquor decanter shaped like Eleanor Roosevelt. You take off her head to pour the liquor. (Eleanor’s not Ellen’s.) It was especially eerie because I’m in a role-playing game right now where we’re playing in an alternate history Earth as the Resistance in Nazi-occupied Britain & there’s also these tentacled things, and we assassinated Hitler, and went down the Maelstrom into the hollow earth, but the point of this “sentence” was that in our game we regularly talk to President Eleanor Roosevelt who is secretly an alien.

That’s enough for now. I feel so calm and centered now that all THAT is out of my system.

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.