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Jennifer Michael Hecht
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Thanks David - that's lovely to hear and yes, it is a moving tribute. And Desmond, Amazon will be fine. I await my photograph, but the negativity is as but dust. Also: Yowza you know a lot about Irish myth! I especially like Norse-berserker. Jennifer
Well, glad you guys worked that out. I was going to stay out of it, but not happy. I put in some time writing that little essay on the Wandering Aengus (why? no money in it. no pleasant comments usually. just a desire to talk about the verse in my head, and a hope for at least imagined community) and the only response was a paragraph of curses in my inbox. I am an established philosopher and poet, a mother of two, (I should add broke and struggling public intellectual) and that is not how one speaks to me. Interestingly, my new poetry book Who Said tells how curses strike me. Why not buy a copy so we can put this unpleasantness behind us?
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Dear Bleaders! So a poem is in my head today, and I thought of you. The Song of Wandering Aengus - W. B. Yeats I went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head, And cut and peeled a hazel wand, And hooked a berry to a thread; And when white moths were on the wing, And moth-like stars were flickering out, I dropped the berry in a stream And caught a little silver trout. When I had laid it on the floor I went to blow the fire a-flame, But something rustled on the floor, And someone called me by my name: It had become a glimmering girl With apple blossom in her hair Who called me by my name and ran And faded through the brightening air. Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun. (1899) This is what happens when you carve a hazel wand to use as a fishing rod. You catch a magic trout who turns into a glimmering girl who calls you by your name. Not much on her beauty, my friends, but the repeated bliss of her magically knowing his name. It is nice to be known, to be called out specially by the uncanny. And what a fantasy of certainty and conviction. Certain that he needs her, convinced he’ll find her. Then five full lines on what that pleasure will look like and how long it will last. It’s a story about a god of Irish Mythology, Aengus, understood to be a god of love and poetic inspiration. I think Yeats made up this particular story, but his theme sure is looking for one's love and having a blissful reunion. Also, a lot of bloody kin-killing. His story begins when the Dagda (and important father god) had an affair with Nechtan’s wife, Boann. To hide the affair, the Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months so that Aengus was conceived, gestated, and born on the same day. When he grew up, Aengus tricked the Dagda out of his grand home, the Brú na Boinne (famed for its passage tombs). He arrived after the Dagda had divided his land among his children. There was nothing left. So Aengus asked dad if he could live in Brú for "a day and a night", and the Dagda agreed. But Irish has no indefinite article so “a day and a night” is identical to “day and night,” so Aengus, pointing this out, took possession of the Brú permanently. Theft by grammatical interpretation! Aengus famously killed his step-father for killing his foster-father; slew a poet for lying about his brother’s sex life; killed his foster mother for jealously turning a horse goddess into a pool... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, So good to talk to you again! Much have I traveled in the realms of gold - though not overland, nor by sea. Just Brooklyn and the realms of gold. Still, many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. A coupla times I felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise — Silent, upon a peak in Darien. So yeah, sorry I've been a little silent, was on the peak in Darien. I'm bragging and much ashamed for it, but I have been using thinking to thwart actual deaths, and am moved by it. Still broke, if anyone's counting, as I've bitched about here over many a hitch, but happy anyway. Have a look at my new website and some fascinating, moving responses to my new book against suicide, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. (Maybe peek at my new poetry book too: Who Said, Copper Canyon.) Anyway, was reading a great newish poet, Anthony Madrid and felt like I had to rush to share some with you: I TOO HAVE BEEN TO CANDYLAND I TOO have been to Candyland, but I found myself missing the death cult. I missed the spectacle of the wounded bones being opened and instrumented. Bill Varner, when he was still just a boy, wrote a stunning line of Arabic verse. He wrote: “The crescent moon is a scimitar; the sun, a severed head.” ¡Gran cantar! and this, when he still had to keep his books in a locker! And he’d never even held hands with a girl—God! Penn State in the 1980s! In those days, we all sat at the feet of a pig poet, deaf in one ear. One of these Dreadful “white-haired lovers”—oh, but he knew how to touch fire to fuse! That little stick of fire apt to launch a poetic career! But what is it now? Merely a billowing cloud of humidity floating out of a tree. Every turtle, snake, and bird is “born again”—oh, isn’t that so? The first time, Out the fêted cloaca—and the next, through the top of the shell. The “I” is Greek, the “it” Italian, and Dickinson is our Ghalib. But that Ridiculous piece of dirt you’re kissing on can never be anything but. Shut your eyes to what a worm he is, concentrate on his caress—but know Every half-truth is bound to call up its suppressed synoptic double. Close your eyes and moan softly, your head full of packed cotton—but know Every hidden camera’s cockpit must one day be delivered of its black box. This is from Anthony Madrid's 2012 first book, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say. The whole book's great. Love to you all, even the mean... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, Hope you holiweeked nicely, fattened up for the frost. I never really took down my garden from this summer, I’ll wait for a warm day and try to turn it all over. It's looking a like a tomato’s idea of a haunted house. I was getting gorgeous tomatoes as late as October but then what Keats said happened, Autumn set budding more and still more, later flowers for the bees, until they thought warm days would never cease, for summer as o’erbrimmed their clammy cells. So there are a lot of green tomatoes out there in various forms of shock (they dreamed warm days would never cease). Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot, I’ll tell you more about it later. Right now I want to tell you a quick story and then introduce a great new poet, Lisa Marie Basile. Story first. Sometimes for no reason to do with when they were written, two books come out at once. Happened to me in 2003, with Doubt: A History, and The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France. One was with Harper and one with Columbia Univ Press, so pretty different audiences, and it was very tricky to try to get word out about them at the same time. Now it is happening again, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It has come out at the same time, late October, as my new poetry book, Who Said, 7 years in the making. Of course prose is going to get more attention, but it’s been hard not seeing reviews or responses to Who Said. I wake up this morning and Garrison Keillor has put up one of the poems from Who Said, and reads it, on his Writer’s Almanac podcast/website. Of course I’m super happy about this. But it made me want to say that this poem and maybe two others in the book deal with suicide. (One or two say goodbye in somewhat cryptic ways; one that imagines Socrates not killing himself, then stepping back from the public stage -- becoming locally known for his figs.) It just happened that GK picked this one, just at the moment Stay, the argument against suicide, was getting some attention. Last time I posted I showed a bit of what Who Said is about. [Click this link or on the side of this website “Jennifer Michael Hecht: The Lion and the Honeycomb” to see this, and all my posts.] I guess I also want to say that the poem GK chose is the very first thing I wrote on the subject. I wrote the book because I wrote a blog post (here on BAP) after two poet friends (they were friends too) took their own lives, less than two years apart, and that blog post went a little viral and was published in the Boston Globe. I got a lot of emails about it which made me feel I had to pursue thinking this through,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
love this. It's so good, and twisted.
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Fancy Dog, here for no reason. Dear Bleaders, I find it hard to believe that, down that long road, *nobody* said it would be easy. I think someone’s given me a hard wrong on that account. I was gonna say bum steer, but despite the fun of saying bum, and thinking steer: I don’t know what a bum steer is. Wait, I’ll google. Back. It’s about steering a boat backwards requiring a lookout at one end shouting info to the guy on the other end (who does the actual steering) via a bucket train of informing shouters. It went wrong badly often, because: telephone game. Anyway, easy’s been a bit of a hard wrong because the heat's been out for days – we’re not part of the national freeze-off, our furnace just said “yo Ima die” on the day before Christmas when people who fix things for a living are off somewhere living. So we got to light a fire in the fireplace, which beguilingly calms both my son and I. Daughter and husband enjoy it, but me and the lad have a couple of tight spots in our ghost machines and need a little maintenance. Like the fire. Tinker tinker. Turns out that having a lovely fire for the sake of a cozy evening is totally different from maintaining one so your children don’t become CuteCicles. BrooklynIce. FrozeAfriend. A LOT of work. Wood is maddeningly short lived, you’re not burning some logs, you’re feeding a maw, who has to be tempted to stay gorging because we need the heat of the beast. Guess what? Tomorrow, (Fri 27, 7pm) I’m going to be on Hardball with Chris Matthews, (guest host Michael Smerconish, who I really like - can be tough, but contemplative). I was supposed to be on on Thurs but they told me if I could do it Friday we could have Ron Reagan with us. I had to reschedule a phone interview to do it but I was like, yes please – I’ve spoken at the same event with him (the Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded me "Freethinker of the Year" in 2009, and they gave an award to Reagan and one to Ursula Leguin, her award was called “The Emperor has no clothes". (TEHNC). Reagan was charming and dishy and great. Leguin silenced the house with a story about how she had always thought the boy who said TEHNC! was a rude, ill-raised child. You’re supposed to go along with the cultures traditions and manners. There were good lies, like royal nudity and the NSA, and that little boy was supposed to lie them along with his betters. Fun way to look at the story but not in this crowd in that moment. We looked at each other in wonder and went on with things as if she’d given us the opposite speech. Apparently it really is hard to the point of near impossibility to say “Thenk” which is how I am pronouncing TEHNC, the acronym of... Continue reading
Posted Dec 26, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Dear Bleaders! It's been about six months since my last post - I've been super busy getting my two new books to press. They both came out last month and it's been very exciting - and sometimes a lot to handle. More on that soon. Right now I want to introduce you to a wonderful young poet who I met when he was in the MFA Program at the New School, Tommy Pico. His poetry is great; he grew up on the rez and writes movingly about it; he's been a community builder in poetry, starting reading series, putting out a magazine, etc. Pico has an app coming out in January with his poetry collection on it. I'll tell you more about that when it comes out. For now, here's a poem of his: Inheritance 1. My mother was voted “best legs” in her senior high school yearbook, despite the fact that she was also student body president and editor in chief of the school paper. Only boys got superlatives like, “Most Likely to Succeed.” 2. Doctors say that Indians are predisposed to a lot of illnesses, like alcoholism and diabetes. At the clinic, patient history starts the first time you get sick. They ask me why don’t I eat, nearly commit me when I say because my great grandfather’s horses were stolen in 1890. 3. Myths aren't told to make things seem down to earth. 4. Thinking all the time vs Giving up (the butt). 5. Cigarette habit that kicks in around the third drink and the right lung. 6. Things that make me want to run: I) Seeing other people run. II) Eating a whole pizza. III) Everyone adoring the same person. 7. Upon being drafted into Vietnam, my father guided tanks through minefields in the jungle when he was very young. I have never not once walked in the wrong direction surfacing from the subway. 8. Waiting to be moved. 9. Waiting to be introduced. 10. Always wanting to raise my hand first. 11. My father's unfinished collection of poetry is called, "In the Days of Tall Cans and Short Hopes." 12. Songs to sing when the roommates are gone vs songs to sing at karaoke vs songs to listen to, pretending. 13. Collections: do they get better, or just bigger? 14. Devin at Blue Olive. James at Pine State. Barry at Cup. Angelo at Dave & Busters. Jean Baptiste at Point Ephemere. Eric at Pop In. Federico at Monster Ronsons. BigGuySF365 at Adam4Adam. Me at Gmail. 15. There must be a word for this in some romance language, for looking down at your legs and seeing mom; for looking down at your hands and seeing dad. --- Great, right? Alright, more soon. I've missed you all terribly and hope to now start blogging at you regularly again. As always, don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again. love, Jennifer Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, It is going to storm here soon, it’s not due until tonight, but the wind is already doing weird things to the leaves. I'm hoping my little garden withstands it. Here's a photo of my bean stalks yearning up the white fence I gave them, and in the background the first crop of tomatoes. Here’s a great poem for you. It takes you into something secret. It’s by Marilyn Nelson from her The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems. She's also got a great new New and Selected called Faster Than Light. Lonely Eagles for Daniel “Chappie” James, General USAF and for the 332d Fighter Group Being black in America was the Original Catch, so no one was surprised by 22: The segregated airstrips, separate camps. They did the jobs they’d been trained to do. Black ground crews kept them in the air; black flight surgeons kept them alive; the whole Group removed their headgear when another pilot died. They were known by their names: “Ace” and “Lucky,” “Sky-hawk Johnny,” “Mr. Death.” And by their positions and planes. Red Leader to Yellow Wing-man, do you copy? If you could find a fresh egg you bought it and hid it in your dopp-kit or your boot until you could eat it alone. On the night before a mission you gave a buddy your hiding-places as solemnly as a man dictating his will. There’s a chocolate bar in my Bible; my whiskey bottle is inside my bedroll. In beat-up Flying Tigers that had seen action in Burma, they shot down three German jets. They were the only outfit in the American Air Corps to sink a destroyer with fighter planes. Fighter planes with names like “By Request.” Sometimes the radios didn’t even work. They called themselves “Hell from Heaven.” This Spookwaffe. My father’s old friends. It was always maximum effort: A whole squadron of brother-men raced across the tarmac and mounted their planes. My tent-mate was a guy named Starks. The funny thing about me and Starks was that my air mattress leaked, and Starks’ didn’t. Every time we went up, I gave my mattress to Starks and put his on my cot. One day we were strafing a train. Strafing’s bad news: you have to fly so low and slow you’re a pretty clear target. My other wing-man and I exhausted our ammunition and got out. I recognized Starks by his red tail and his rudder’s trim-tabs. He couldn’t pull up his nose. He dived into the train and bought the farm. I found his chocolate, three eggs, and a full fifth of his hoarded-up whiskey. I used his mattress for the rest of my tour. It still bothers me, sometimes: I was sleeping on his breath. -Marilyn Nelson Chocolate bars, and eggs, and whiskey turned into the substance of loss, to be taken in, to get drunk on. Cherished. Sleeping on a dead man’s breath. Stays with you. Makes you look at your own chocolate and eggs... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Dearest Bleaders, Weather service says we’re in for a mini-heat-wave in my neck of the brick – temps in the 90s. Right now a warm cloud has settled on the ground and wets us down. I’ve got the proofs of my two new books to correct at the same time, tricky balance, so I thought I’d set it all down and say hi to you. Also, there are tiny black flies on my heirloom tomato plants, but none on the cherries nor the beefsteak. I am spritzing them with soap and water – the interweb says it will help. Today I offer you a poem I love by Major Jackson, from his book Holding Company. He also wrote the wonderful Hoops. Designer Kisses I'm glum about your sportive flesh in the empire of blab, and the latest guy running his trendy tongue like a tantalizing surge over your molars, how droll. Love by a graveyard is redundant, but the skin is an obstacle course like Miami where we are inescapably consigned: tourists keeping the views new. What as yet we desire, our own fonts of adoration. By morning, we're laid out like liquid timepieces, each other's exercise in perpetual enchantment, for there is that beach in us that is untranslatable; footprints abound. I understand: you're at a clothes rack at Saks lifting a white linen blouse at tear's edge wondering. By Major Jackson Nice, right? I’m sure there are many ways to read the poem, but here is one: Your earnest partaking in the games of social media and at parties depresses me, as does the pictures you posted of yourself kissing that hipster (aren’t you the funny one). Love among the online rubble of your past relationships, and mine, feels less meaningful, but we better carry on while we are young, before we have an obstacle course of wrinkles on our faces and have to move to Florida. It’s dull there, but springbreakers and visits by families coming in to go to Disney keep things interesting. Today we don’t feel anything, we don’t know what we want, but we do still want people to click “like” when we post. Some nights we do too much to get this and then, by morning, a whole time cycle of our mood is recorded and before our eyes: time melted out into a spill. We are also perpetually enchanted with each other, and we have inner lives that are such a crowd of memories and interactions that we can’t actually translate that inner world into words; my mind is full of people, though right now I can’t think of anyone at all. Of course it is silly and unfair of me to imagine you always online or at parties, perhaps right now you are doing the most traditional thing a woman can do: textiles. I can relate. Aren’t emotions exhausting? Anyway, great poem. Enjoy the beastly hot week with a cold beverage. Love, Jennifer Continue reading
Posted May 29, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, White sky out there seemed to call for this poem by Timothy Donnelly, of the wonderful Twenty-Seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit and The Cloud Corporation. Epitaph by His Own Hand From the morning he started peeling his first potato he felt like he'd been peeling potatoes for eternity- all that fell about his ankles like clouds' inky shadows smudged across pastures of an afterlife clearly put farther away from him the harder he worked for it. -Timothy Donnelly It's true! Potato peelings look like clouds. Or rather like the shadows of clouds. Every time you peel a potato you pick up just where you peeled your last potato. Life is just one long potato peel interrupted by weeks of nonsense and then returns, at last, to the spud and the knife. No, but I like the misery of this little poem. Don’t always gnaw the heel of the bread, stop working hard for your reward. Instead, look up at the clouds and see them from upside down, as if they were on the ground around your chair, flapping down from your lap as you sheer thin shapes off a bulbous, knotty loaf of the stuff, whatever it is. Busy day. Don't kill yourself and I will return to encourage you yet again. love, Jennifer Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Dear Bleaders, Well when it remembers to rain it certainly remembers how to do it! It’s been storming off and on here in the spring of early-twenty first century Brooklyn and just now the birds are whistling hosannas to the sun. This is the fourth iteration of my newfangled blog here at BAP; the old fang, long in the tooth, deep in the truth, was about poets equally established, Dickinson, Bishop, and Szymborska, Keats, Yeats, and Stevens; the new fangs, familiar with fresher truth and bluer truth, are poets of my age, era-wise; wise beyond error. I pick the poem first, for the slinky pleasure of it, then ask myself why and type to you my answer. This one is so goddamn dead-on real about where so many of us actually live a good part of our painful inner lives that I want you to read it before I say more. It’s by the wonderful poet Tom Healy, whose deep and compelling book is What the Right Hand Knows. Mirror, Mirror What do we do when we hate our bodies? A good coat helps. Some know how to pull off a hat. And there are paints, lighting, knives, needles, various kinds of resignation, the laugh in the mirror, the lie of saying it doesn’t matter. There is also the company we keep: surgeons and dermatologists, faith healers and instruction-givers, tailors of cashmere and skin who send their bills for holding our shame-red hands, raw from the slipping rope, the same hands with which we tremble ever so slightly, holding novels in bed, concentrating on the organization of pain and joy we say is another mirror, a depth, a conjure in which we might meet someone who says touch me. - Tom Healy Isn’t that brill? Being American is such a weird endeavor. First wave first world. For most of history every generation knew famine. Rich or poor, you saw people starve and you either starved too, or at least did without. Food was just not there. Letters home from the New World didn’t only describe what people ate here, they described the shops themselves and sometimes said things like – “There are ten kinds of fruit at the market and five kinds of meat – while you in the old world count as a market a slab of wood balanced between two rocks and displaying three wilted carrots, some sad greens, and a short pile of slightly putrid chicken feet.” They worried over their poor emaciated bodies and dreamed of heaven as an endless feast. Then within a generation of the first people to have enough food across their lifetimes, we started worrying about the sad avoirdupois of bodies, and fantasize about ourselves as trim as a sail. Thin as a rail. Humanity has a genius for despair. I’ve got a lot to say about this in The Happiness Myth, just fyi. Then too, fat isn’t our only beastly burden, though it is the one that chases me around the... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Dear Bleaders, Blue skies, pink cherry trees, yellow and red tulips, new-green leaves. As your correspondent from Brooklyn I report that all this color is exploding on the usual grey of asphalt and slate, dark blush of brick and brick-shade paint. In a matter of days the magical Magicicadas will be here. These are the 17 year cicadas – who we haven’t seen since “the Macarena” was the top of the pops – and they will be creeping out of the ground in the millions on the East Coast, sometimes 1.5 million an acre. The nymphs crawling out of the dirt has been described as looking like boiling water. The males soon start singing for sex and hit an incredible 100 dB, deafening with desire, and the lady bugs flit their wings to them to come hither; then mostly lay their eggs in the sweetly named “chorus trees” where all that sound is singing like a torch of noise. Branches bow with the weight of the fertilized nests. Then within two months (by early July) the adults are all dead and the kids are back underground to suck the sweet sap of tree roots and wait until 2030 to emerge and buzz at us again. All this puts me in the mind of a great poem by Jennifer L. Knox whose brilliant books are Drunk by Noon, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, and A Gringo Like Me. The poem has nothing to do with cicadas, but it is about the magic of listening with your eyes, and brains. Babies in Silent Movies How’d they make it cry so loud? You know under the ragtime roll’s a wail that’d peel paint, can see the blond brows crimped like claws under the gingham bonnet, cheeks red hot despite spectrumlessness. Maybe a lackey’s pinching its thigh beneath the table. A good mother’d shrug off the short pricks of pain one outgrows to keep a kid back then that fat. - Jennifer L. Knox Quiet yelling and black-and-white red. I love the rhythm of this, “the blond brows crimped like claws” – it just tumbles along at a double-quick. Behind it there’s this mother making a hard calculation to pinch the baby rich, or rich enough eat, anyway. She’s right to call the mother good, too, despite the obvious argument against it. Who among us doesn’t have to goose ourself into doing what’s good for us? What would we do without literature to remind us that no one escapes these dear-inflicted pinches? A lot goes on under the table, or out of range of sound and color. It takes so much imagination to know we’re not alone. I try hard to remember on my own, but art is always surprising me with the sound I can’t hear, the shades I can’t see, the unknowable pain of others. And like I say, I’m really trying! Well, I’m awake again now. Here’s hoping it lasts. Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, How’re things? By me they’re pretty good. The sun, of late, has brightened my cold dark heart a bit, let a little light into the eternal dungeon of the winter's mind. I’ve got some seeds and seedlings into our patch of dirt: broccoli, tomatoes, scallions, basil, eggplant, corn, and I’m looking forward to the tending as much as the eventual harvest. Today is chilly and dim with laden clouds, but for the gardener, rain takes on a sweeter threat. I’m offering today a poem by Mark Bibbins whose fabulous books are Sky Lounge and The Dance of No Hard Feelings. I love this one because it looks at a city with the smart eyes of someone who has seen it change, and changed with it. Apology to This Neighborhood, the Two Before, the Next Hipsters get to say at least I’m not trendy and the trendy turn it around and they’re right too. People go to nightclubs. They stand outside, freezing, wearing more perfume than clothing, and shriek until the cops come on horseback and close down the street. Insert terrible things here about we all get what someone else pays for. Too bad I never cared enough about Chelsea but nobody could have made it better than Schuyler anyway so why bother. Yes we’re part of the problem wherever we go and it’s the only way we manage to be punctual, showing up just in time for the real decline. - Mark Bibbins One reason it is good to be older is that the history of places runs through your mind when you walk around, especially if you live in a city like New York that changes all the time. Of course it’s hard to see Chelsea no longer what Chelsea used to mean, and the East Village no longer what the East Village used to be, but it is good to know the morphing pulse of the city you live in. As they often do, Bibbins’s poem here has a comical voice and weary eyes, and a wise awareness of what his own presence brings to the place he is discussing, even to the point of our showing up bringing on the final real decline -- but we know it’s not all decline since it’s a good thing the poet showed up. My camera broke last year and I didn’t replace it until recently. I put the old memory card into the new body and there were pictures from a year ago and the kids were smaller and all the objects in the house were shifted. Time is a crazy arrow. Nothing to do but cultivate the garden and try to not let the world whittle you down as you go. Courage my friends! Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again. Love, Jennifer Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Dearest Bleaders, I’ve been away so long! Been tending a few other fireplaces, to wit, I’ve got two books coming out in the fall; also changes in husband’s work has given me more time alone with my kids, now seven and eight, which, of course, leaves less time alone with words. To be scathingly honest it might be truer to say I simply couldn’t get my blogging fire lit of late, but look now, I’ve got a spark and some tinder, and hope for smoke. My idea is to return to the blog but with a new focus: poems I love by contemporary poets. In the past I wrote mostly about the greats of our common canon, especially Bishop, Plath, O’Hara, Dickinson, Milton, Yates, Shakespeare, Donne, Eliot, Auden, Wordsworth, Keats, Stevens, Blake, well, you get the type. Now I’ll be offering poems by the living and wonderful. We start with this intense little fascination by Cate Marvin, author of the terrific books World’s Tallest Disaster and Fragment of the Head of a Queen, both with Sarabande. Why I Am Afraid of Turning the Page Spokes, spooks: your tinsel hair weaves the wheel that streams through my dreams of battle. Another apocalypse, and your weird blondeness cycling in and out of the march: down in a bunker, we hunker, can hear the boots from miles off clop. We tend to our flowers in the meantime. And in the meantime, a daughter is born. She begins as a mere inch, lost in the folds of a sheet; it's horror to lose her before she's yet born. Night nurses embody the darkness. Only your brain remains, floating in a jar that sits in a lab far off, some place away, and terribly far. Your skull no longer exists, its ash has been lifted to wind from a mountain's top by brothers, friends. I am no friend. According to them. Accordion, the child pulls its witching wind between its opposite handles: the lungs of the thing grieve, and that is its noise. She writhes the floor in tantrum. When you climbed the sides of the house spider-wise to let yourself in, unlocked the front door, let me in to climb up into your attic the last time I saw you that infected cat rubbed its face against my hand. Wanting to keep it. No, you said. We are friends. I wear my green jacket with the furred hood. You pushed me against chain-length. Today is the day that the planet circles the night we began. A child is born. Night nurses coagulate her glassed-in crib. Your organs, distant, still float the darkness of jars. - Cate Marvin There’s a deep drumbeat, heartbeat, that jogs us down the midnight hallways of this poem. Or is it only the gloaming, night not yet come fully down? There are secrets here, but also confidences rendered, something terrifying yet also the glory of birth, possibilities of life and the awful proximity of death. "I am no friend. According... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, Well the top news is the warm sun has a chilled breeze these mornings and the sprites and delights are back at school. Everyone’s summers were something, busy or quiet, no one’s summer was exactly like anyone else’s. Presumably as long as you noticed some of yours it was as much of hot days as was needful. Here's us fishing in Prospect Park. We talked about Bishop’s “One Art” in class last week, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” how she smiles and smiles and lies. The art of losing is doable, but it doesn’t even know the word master. Everyone is an ever apprentice to it. The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster, The garden was let get overgrown this summer. About a year and a half ago we got a puppy and she ripped up the grass with her running and digging. It got so bad there was no grass left and groundcover came in that looked pretty and we left it at that. Go know groundcover will turn into bushes if allowed - take over the whole place. Too hot out and too distracted with kids and books to get out there and keep things in check so now it’s a bit of a job. Maybe that’s a lie about the kids and books, there was just time with weeding out of mind. People let things get overgrown, I know, it’s not just us. Nature takes your papers and gets lush. Silverware drawer thins, sink goes much with ceramic and steel, gets lush. I tell myself to hush. I’ve been writing my book and just handed it in for review. It’s smaller than it is large and has a thing to say that, I’d say, got said. Writing it is what kept me --I think-- from writing to you, though as we all know who’ve tried it, feeling up to writing live is not always what it’s been, it goes lush and thin. But it is true that with a book to write that’s what I wrote. The book really wants to make a few claims about one point. The title is Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. The thing is that suicide gets lumped in with other progressive issues, rights to make all sorts of personal choices, but I think this one is special and needs to be looked at on its own. I’ve found some historical precedent for saying it is wrong, and for some good reasons. Bishop’s poem starts out thin and gets lush losing first only little things like keys and later losing whole continents and worse, the imagined loss of the beloved. Now we’ve got two huge piles of weeds pulled up or clippered off. Branches of good things gone too far as well. But at least there’s a little air where the air should be.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, We’ve got a white sky here, no snow on the ground, but the air so cold the leaves all look ashen green which somehow comes off looking like another shade of sky-white. A silver shade of jade. This great earth is going to roll from this end of March to the other and the sky is going to wisp into blue and the sun is going to start batting us around her bright spots. I am a purveyor of fine doubt but this I can guarantee you. Things are going going going here and that is good. If you’ve been following this blog a while you know that I wrote something here about suicide – an argument against it – which was picked up and published a bunch of other places, even in a print version in the Boston Globe. I’ve also mentioned, since then, that I was hoping to write a book about it. I think I’ve had the title for a few years now. It’s Stay. Now I have a subtitle too, so it goes: Stay: A History of Suicide and a Philosophy Against it. Anyway the incredibly great news is that I found a wonderful publisher for the book, Yale University Press. And it is the trade division, which means the more popular less academic offices. Which is perfect. So I’ve been writing it. And that is great too, though hard of course, because everything is, especially big things, which a book, almost by definition is. (that’s what she said) The manuscript is due August 2012. Then almost a month later I was given the extremely wonderful news that Copper Canyon is going to come out with my new poetry book, Who Said. These are two insanely good pieces of news which I’ve been meaning to tell you for about a month now. The truth is I’d been having quite a long dry season at the job of selling book proposals and the economy being what it has been these last few years I had just been feeling so low about it all that when the good news started coming I couldn’t react to it very fast. Part of me was elated, but a large monkey part of my heart and mind were left behind for quite some time. So I’m announcing my news here as if it just happened, because for the part of me that can write to you about it, it did. Speaking of monkeys, they’ve closed the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo. I’m feeling kind of special because I was one of the last people in it, sort of. They just closed it Monday, and I and my little family just happened to visit it last Wednesday. Zoos used to arrange themselves by animal type – the big cat pavilion, for instance, or the bear house – but while that offered a kind of taxonomic lesson, it was better for the animals to be in environments that matched the ones... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, I’m sure lots of people reading this blog know we lost a staggeringly great poet, Wisława Szymborska, a few weeks ago. It was Feb 1; she was 88. I can’t help giving us this one of her poems right now. Museum Here are plates with no appetite. And wedding rings, but the requited love has been gone now for some three hundred years. Here’s a fan–where is the maiden’s blush? Here are swords–where is the ire? Nor will the lute sound at the twilight hour. Since eternity was out of stock, ten thousand aging things have been amassed instead. The moss-grown guard in golden slumber props his mustache on Exhibit Number… Eight. Metals, clay and feathers celebrate their silent triumphs over dates. Only some Egyptian flapper’s silly hairpin giggles. The crown has outlasted the head. The hand has lost out to the glove. The right shoe has defeated the foot. As for me, I am still alive, you see. The battle with my dress still rages on. It struggles, foolish thing, so stubbornly! Determined to keep living when I’m gone! Well at 88 she outlasted a lot of dresses. Still, it sucks. No more of those poems. I had always hoped to meet her. One thing I always Iove about her, evident here, is how much it pissed her off that the world didn't hold meaning in a visible way: how battlegrounds for instance went back to parks, a shudder shared by many but also more subtle situations too, like how you might have been at a railway station one day, even though you weren't, and how odd that it happened anyway, the meetings, the thefts, even without you. "A suitcase disappeared, not mine." As for me friends, life continues to present itself as a war, a hot war against bleak feelings. Is this feeling thing that is me a biological thing or a thing amid the world with a usage quite askew? I may now know a thing or two about the answers to my offset typesetting, but I also have to dine on a good deal of doubt. What I can see is that life requires a dire pressing forward without leaving a sufficiently convincing trail of flower petals to find one's way back to the beginning. Instead it's all beginning and all middle, all the time, and you just have to keep rowing even when the scenery changes on one side and stays precisely the same on the other, and other magic tricks of reality. Maybe that's a kind of growing, you're on a riverboat and after some point the inner coast of the river is always the same few houses and yards, while the outer coast starts blurring by peopled with odd beings carrying small electronics. You don't age like leaves falling onto a pile of snow, you age like snow melting off a pile of leaves, you arrive rising up from underneath. It's the dark side of the year my bleaders, mid february... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Bleaders, The sun came out today. Blue sky and small white clouds. I don’t care, being human is such a poke in the eye. I throw myself out there though and I’m much better. I know in my guts nothing will help but I remember as a dry fact that sun and nature can jigger the register. And it’s true. Weather this warm on the first of February is all wrong but it feels so right. My tree art is painting pictures with its spinning and is casting constellations of sun dots tripling over everything. The circles of light play over tree trunk and branches and fences and over the ground, so it looks like a burbling stream catching spots of light as it runs vertically as well as horizontally, racing around in a wide circle. In the photo here I capture two or three of the circles of light, in real life ten or more arive at once across the tree and branches. To my memory most of the great nineteenth-century novelists were crazy for listing the flowers they’d see on their walks, names and descriptions, how each looked singularly and as a sudden mass, scents at onset and in decline. I’m not downright Dickinsonian in my habits but I live such that my lingering outdoors in something like nature is most likely to happen in my own little backyard. This time of year there are fewer surprises than in the other seasons, though nature always has a bit of a show for you, even just the shapes of the dried leaves, but mostly I am delighted by the speckled dalliance of my tree art as it tickles this grey brown season into a little giggle. Also, the pitch black puppy chases the shining spots of light. I'm going to hear the poets at Cornelia St Cafe tonight, Jennifer L. Knox, Marion Wren and Amy Lawless -- they are going to rock. Maybe I'll see you there. Love, Jennifer Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Dear Bleaders, Last week I wrote to you. The post started, “I don’t know how I’m going to get the gumption or gusto to write this post.” Then cursor blink. I blinked back. Today I wrote this post, this paragraph being a post-post prolog. This time as you can see I wrote the post, but still I sat blinking at it, mulling should I post it. I show up just to say Hi, but once I start writing it comes out a bit, I’m gonna say depressed, and I’m not exactly, or I don’t feel like being publically, so I hold back. But then an old friend wrote and told me he was having a hell of a time of it, grieving a bad loss. So I said to my hamletty, hesitating self, ah post your low notes in minor key, they might resound somewhere and who am I to be so strict a censor. Anyway, Dear Bleader, If April is the cruelest month why are we so sad in winter? If April looks at our sadness and shoves flowers in our faces, shouldn’t that mean we perk up a bit when abandoned to the cold? Forget “At least it’s not raining,” here comes “At least it’s not April.” “At least there are no flowers.” I never saw the best minds of my generation though I felt around for them. Some were destroyed by madness starved hysterical but most, if not quite mudders, could at least keep the tops of their boots above the water. I used to work all day and some of the night, reading and writing. At some point I noticed as a side note that I was a bit miserable. Counsel was to work many fewer hours. That took long enough, struggling to do that, coming to believe it was better for the work to be at it less anyway. I’d been hiding in there, hard work though it had been. Now I’m out part of the time and part of that time am awfully oppressed by time. It seems I’m not much in the mood for most things but maybe it is more that I can’t forgive anything for its part in the disappointment, the general wanting for more. Wanting terribly without knowing what you are wanting leads to some interesting investigations, not least a stint with a ukulele. It was orange and I loved it until I started to be mowed down a little lower each practice that got no better, finally I put it up on a shelf like canning for someone else’s winter. I talk to the departed. If you had stayed, you might have learned, as I have, to shout at the shadow of your marauding paint-splattered mother, and you, sunshine, you might have said to the big-bad dad of speaking, “Hey, you do not do. Not anymore, black shoe.” They didn’t want to eat the plums in the fridge which someone else was saving as a possible way to shake... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Dear Bleaders, I've told you guys before about how Christopher Hitchens borrowed a mite too liberally from my book Doubt: A History, though he cited a lot he definitely did not give credit when it was most painfully due. (I made all that plain in an otherwise extremely positive review of the book and we had some electronic chat about it and suffice to say the man liked my work and just hadn't quite realized how much was indeed mine, i.e. original research and ideas). I'd mostly forgiven him by then and I'd forgiven him entirely upon hearing his diagnoses. I had disagreed with much of his politics too -- I'm not much of a nun hunter and I think taking time out to bash the Clintons exhaustively in a world as corrupt as our is a little jambon-fisted (clumsey in a european way) -- but as he got sicker I thought more of the Hitchens of Letter to a Young Contrarian. And of course his God is Not Great is a hilarious and eye-prying romp through religion's manifold attempts to sway the genuinely curious Hitch, and how they all fail spectacularly. If you haven't read it you really should. An editor over at the Ottowa Citizen asked me to write up an atheist's take on CH's godless predicament now that the end was likely soon. Thought I'd share it with you. Hope you're enjoying the warmish cold. Big hugs. Don't give up. Shout "courage" to strangers. Or give up and shout nothing. But don't kill yourself. I shall return to encourage you again. Love, Jennifer Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks Stacey -- means the world to me. And your additional notions now seem too important to leave out of the central discussion. Love the image of the dance recital being wonderful but alas forgettable until one or two moments when the dancers leap out of the ordinary and do something so lovely it imbeds itself in our mind's eye for an extraordinarily long time, as if they leapt right into our heads. As for feasts, my memory is already paring things down to the pecan pie with home-made whipped cream. xoxox Thanks again for writing. xoxo jmh
Dearest Bleaders, Okay I thought I was done but I need to do a little more. Essay Part One. Allow me to put two more bits of notion into our meditation on the rule of bliss and its opposite, the swing-and-the-miss (and solitude, and its opposing number too) (which for me, right now, is you). Note the first is the excerpt from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal commonly, wonderfully offered in tandem with Will’s poem. Read it like you have been staring hungry too long a tin of grav lox missing its key, and then entered the theater to deliver it as a monolog to the ghost of Stanislavski: When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up— But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road . . . some rested their heads on stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway... —Rain came on, we were wet. April 15, 1802 I wandered lonely as a cloud, indeed. Note the second is that William wrote, and it has been oft repeated, that the two best lines of his poem were written by his wife, Mary, these being, “They flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.” Well the winner is whosoever’s work is long remembered and in this case the palm goes to all three. Also I don’t mind noting that while Will is a good man to go publically gloating about the wonders of his spouse’s mind, he was to himself a little too unkind, as the best line of the poem is the first one, the one that no who hears it, or perhaps speaks it aloud, ever quite forgets: I wandered lonely as a cloud. The second best lines are indeed the ones Will called out as best, his wife’s apt description of something usually hidden and damn difficult to describe: that there is an inward eye, that things flash upon it, that solitude can be tasty and what is most tasty about it is the opportunity for day dreaming wherein spiced heights of passion and tangential sour lows of gross revenge play out a thousand times. That is the bliss of solitude when nothing, even... Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
How about Excess? I love that one terribly.
Has anyone claimed "Finish These Sentences?"