Ishmael’s Connecticut Reflections

November 25th, 2013

Follow this link to read what Ishmael Von Heidrick-Barnes (author of Intimate Geography) discovered at an artist’s retreat.

http://sandiegofreepress.org/2013/11/a-place-called-i-park-erasing-the-separation-between-life-and-art/

David St. John’s Auroras

May 25th, 2013

by Ruth Zamoyta

Even before opening Auroras, the latest collection of poems by David St. John, I immediately thought of Wallace Stevens’ “Auroras of Autumn”—his personal ruminations about a poet facing death and the limitations of the individual imagination. Harold Bloom said of it: “Watching the auroras, Stevens re-enacts the central Romantic confrontations between the power of a poet’s mind and the object-world or universe of death.”

photo by Joshua Strang

photo by Joshua Strang

But the poems in St. John’s collection reside beyond this crisis, where phenomena contain the imagination rather than the imagination containing the phenomena, where we triumph over death, for the time being, with red strawberries in a white ceramic bowl. Stevens felt afraid and powerless. St. John is quietly observant in a neo-Buddhist acquiescence to change, fate, purposelessness, and death. Indeed, in the first poem, “The Lake,” the poet proclaims:

What’s given to us however dulled & undeserving we remain

Is beyond our reckoning

St. John is not afraid to take as his subjects the regretfully typical occasions of death, violence, prurience, leavings, depression, suicide, incest, and disintegration of relationships—reduced and detached by Stevens in his pantomime in the sky.

No doubt the most chilling poem in the collection is “From a Bridge,” in which a boy observes his mother killing herself by jumping in a river. I don’t know if this act or any of the other situations portrayed in Auroras, is grounded in St. John’s own experience, so to me this is a conflation and reworking of Stevens’ two rather detached women in “Auroras of Autumn:” the symbolic but impotent mother in the theater of childhood who sings half-heartedly, and the lover who might next spring be hanging (dead) in the trees. By adding the boy’s perspective, St. John anchors Stevens’ “ideas” in a cutting, real-life tragedy.

The tragedies and disappointments in this book are what they are, defying any greater significance. Refusal to bestow meaning is represented in “Without Mercy, the Rains Continued,” where the persona receives in the mail a cassette tape on which an old lover, decades earlier, had secretly recorded (under their bed) a conversation in which she asks something of him and he responds with silence. He decides to respond to this missive, again, in silence.

One of the more poignant poems in the crux of the book is “Human Fields” which portrays a killing field where thousands of war or genocide victims are buried, sometimes reaching their hands or shin bones up from the ground, announcing a “new order” (as opposed to the order imposed by the woman’s song across the port in Stevens’ “Idea of Order in Key West”)…

As if some heaven of actual memory
Had begun to radiate at last beyond

The cold & actual sky

Stevens’ poem hinges between cantos VII and VIII, at the transfer of power from “flippant communication” to a “time of innocence.” Such a crossing from the act of explication to the act of mere offering is remarkably represented in St. John’s “Reckless Wing,” where one person, with her arm, swoops away all the ephemera (newspapers, coffee cups, toast rinds) positioned on the kitchen table between herself and the persona, and locks his gaze in hers “to make/Plain another new beginning.”

The Romantic confrontation that Bloom refers to is represented in Shelley’s conceptualization of the imagination imposing meaning on the silence and solitude of Mt. Blanc—and in St. John’s “The Empty Frame” where the persona recalls

The story of a boy who’d lie

At night in those fields believing
A world beyond always awaited

Restless in its insistent music

But the grown boy has returned to his childhood home (the cold, dry white cabin of Stevens’ “Auroras”) to find something very different. Although the house has been razed, he mounts the destinationless concrete stoop and imagines seeing through the missing kitchen window frame Stevens (I like to think) writing by the lamplight that guided him there. He asks Stevens, “When did you first know I’d come back [to your aesthetic]?”

And in the following poem, “Late Offerings,” we find the luminescent celestial serpent of Stevens’ “Auroras” snaking up the face of the poet who enjoins the muse to

Release me to

The presence
Of the present.

Its difficult passage
Its steep ascent

The shale-splintered
Cirrus-scaled aperture of

Phantasmagoric sky

St. John has entered Stevens’ cabalistic theater of the Sublime, but wishes to be “released” to the present where real things happen to real people and we all make something different—and inscrutable—of them. Light snakes, like Stevens’ boreal serpent, through his final hymns, imposing its caprice on the inner necessity of the poet.

Overall, the poems in Auroras glow like their namesake, pulsating with the light of their unique place on the color spectrum, but they pound brilliantly in the last section, “The Auroras.”

This section begins with dawn, a sign of cyclical immortality painfully missing from Stevens’ “Auroras.” St. John’s first aurora, “Dawn Aurora,” is a direct response to and departure from Stevens’ auroras and Shelley’s Mt. Blanc and his West Wind—even from Whitman’s blades of grass—and a reassurance that his forefathers’ art is as brilliant as the lights of the sky yet lasting, spanning the generations of poets:

…Look to your sons, look to your daughters,
Look to the blades rising out of the dark lawn. Don’t worry;
each of your myths remains emblazoned upon the air. The way
the wind moves across the vellum of the mountain,
as the silence lifts its chords from the old piano. In the still dark
& still uncertain dawn, there begins that slow revelation larger
than the mind’s, as the light grows coronal, & the house fills
with those elaborate agendas of the day. The monastery & philosophy—
this morning, both seem so far away.

St. John’s “Autumn Aurora” reflects understanding of the cast of illusory characters in the beginning of Stevens’ “Auroras of Autumn.” An apostrophe to the reader follows, where the poet defines himself in Stevens’ terms: priest of the Sublime, extremist, illusionist, playing to the reader on his dulcimer, helping her discover what seems impossible—the fragrance of the moon.

The poems of Auroras, collectively, are offerings in the dawn beyond Stevens’ autumn auroras. They give to us the present, ordinary circumstances, in indifferent observance, yet with the language and artistry needed for the reader to create her own significance, her hope, her consolation—and a reassurance that there’s nothing to “understand” in circumstance, death, or destiny, like there was in the superstitious days of yore.

In the coda, “Dark Aurora,” the persona responds to a beautiful letter from “you” (the reader or Stevens, perhaps) only “with the poor reflex of intellect” (which is what I am doing here, it seems). Yet the intellect is incapable of shedding any light. St. John’s auroras end as did Stevens’, as do all natural pursuits insofar as they are conceived: in the darkness of the extinguished sky, the darkness of midnight ink, the darkness of death.

—Ruth Zamoyta

10 Questions for Vasiliki Katsarou about Memento Tsunami

March 2nd, 2013

These ten questions were posed as part of a blog round robin.  See below for the other interview links.

What is the working title of your book?

Memento Tsunami. I like that the title needs no translation. The words register in many different languages directly. ?Memento? is Latinate and ?tsunami? is originally Japanese and they are the same in English, Greek and French. I like to think the poems in my book are an attempt to create a bridge between two worlds, or two ways of being in the world.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The title poem refers to the tragic Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004.  The poem was written soon after.  But as the years went by, I came to think of the phrase ?Memento Tsunami? not only in relation to an all-encompassing materialism, but also as describing a creative (and destructive) force.
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We Lit the Lamps Ourselves: New Poems by Andrea Potos

August 9th, 2012

Andrea Potos - We Lit the Lamps Ourselves

by Vasiliki Katsarou

Eating Her Wedding Dress contributor Andrea Potos’ latest collection, We Lit the Lamps Ourselves is an exquisite volume.  The poems slip seamlessly into and out of the voices of women poets of the past, including the Brontë sisters, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath.  The poems are bolstered by the beautiful lexicon of the nineteenth-century poets themselves, whose brief quotations are in italics. There is a silence—a primal hush–that surrounds Potos’ poems that touches on the silence of great poetry itself.

Broken into two sections, We Lit the Lamps Ourselves takes up the question of genius—and specifically, female genius–a perennially debated subject, especially in the world of contemporary literary fiction.
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Poetry & Race

May 13th, 2011

by Arlene Weiner

Ought poetry to address, or embody, important subjects?

Louis Simpson wrote, in “American Poetry”:

Whatever it is, it must have
A stomach that can digest
Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.

Is race important?

In an essay in American Poetry Review in 2007, “Mystifying Silence: Big and Black,” Major Jackson wrote, “Contemporary fiction writers, it seems to me, are more willing than poets to take risks and explore reigning racial attitudes of today and yesterday.” and “Luckily, a few contemporary white poets writing today, even at the risk of criticism from contrarian black poet-critics such as myself, actually do exhibit great hubris and are willing to take the risk of censure and disapproval.” One of the poets he includes is Tony Hoagland. “I would rather have his failures than nothing at all. At least his poems announce him as introspective in a self-critical way on this topic. Self-censorship should never be an option for poets.” Jackson writes that Hoagland’s poems provoked the organization of a “conversation” at the Geraldine Dodge Festival on the topic Race & Poetry, which featured Lucille Clifton, Terrance Hayes, Hoagland, and Linda Hogan in dialogue.
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Love and Poetry

December 13th, 2010

by James Papp

The first time I heard Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” recited to me from memory and in its entirety was on a Valentine’s Day date with Sarah in 1992. In fact we recited it in unison, and though I don’t know who started it, I knew it boded ill, spiting my lavish expenditure on long-stemmed roses and the usual trappings of romance.

Thirteen years later I heard it being recited over the telephone to me by a girl I fancied; I fancied Constance the more because she knew poems by heart; and I wrote two poems to her, the first of which provoked her interest while the second merely provoked her, and she refused to read it. Which is a pity, as it was the best of the love poems I had written till then, or at any rate the least bad, and the only poems I write are love poems, poetry by heart.
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Lyric Persuasions at Poets House

May 10th, 2010

by Vasiliki Katsarou

This spring, just before she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry, I went to hear Rae Armantrout read and discuss her work with Zen priest and poet Norman Fischer.  The program was organized by Poets House in New York, at its new, glistening home in Battery Park City.  The evening program was entitled “Lyric Persuasions”and its purpose was to discuss the contemporary lyric poem.

Armantrout is a West Coast poet who has been peripherally attached to the Language Poetry movement.  In recent years, there has been a development in her poetry towards an exquisite collage of “found language.”  From her latest book, VERSED:

The outer world means
State Farm Donuts Tae Kwando?

Thoughts as spent fuel rods.
—from “Outer”

The child fights cancer
with the help
of her celebrity fan club,

says,
“Now I know how hard it is
to be a movie star.”

*

“Hey,
my avatar’s not working!”

—from“Operations”

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Poetry in a Tea Shop

March 27th, 2010

by Arlene Weiner
(poem by John Balaban at end of this post)

Recently I was in a Vietnamese teashop in Burlington, Vermont. The room in back of the shop was charming. Sunshine came through windows with bright green frames. There were plants on the sills and board games and a few dozen books. From my table I saw what looked like a poetry book.

Yes, it was: Spring Essence, a book of Vietnamese poetry in three presentations: in the familiar Vietnamese typography with its many notations that make it look like a little like musical notation with its slurs and rests; in a calligraphic script (Nôm); and in an English translation by John Balaban. Read the rest of this entry »

The Artist’s I Ching

March 2nd, 2010

by Ruth Zamoyta

Beauty infuses David LaChapelle’s artwork—his paintings as well as his writings, most recently the second printing (posthumous) of A Hymn of Changes: Contemplations on the I Ching. This poetically written guidebook can be used as a tool for divination and personal growth, but it can also be used to guide artists in understanding and using their craft. In the very first paragraph of the Foreword, LaChapelle relates a transcendental moment of his youth when he became awakened to his calling: artistic production:

As early as three years old… my time was spent watching the sun rise over the sensuous curves of glaciers and sink into the Pacific with the lingering smell of fir trees carried by the thermals from the forests below. Read the rest of this entry »