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why the grade school angels have stuck around [by Dara Wier]
We spent yesterday driving from the Connecticut River Valley to Lowell, Massachusetts. Glorious day, clouds drawn by addled cloud chasers, plenty of leaf peeping colors still flying around, good company, good conversation, a quick survey of which reveals: what constitutes emotional extortion in poetry....when is one officially reclusive, nominally misanthropic, selfish, solitary, self-protective, gregarious, unguarded....by what means does one choose between what is made public, what is kept private......in poetry can one tell when what's of interest to you (form & subject, form in subject, subject in form), might also be of interest to someone else.....and when it's not....and when it's important for one to be quiet. "The Grade School Angels" (Raphael Alberti, translated by Mark Strand) once sat on a poetry in motion placard on our kitchen table for months on end. Its existence the result of a project that installed poems on the River Valley's extensive bus system. We never talked about it but I suppose everyone who sat at our kitchen table read Alberti's poem now and then, and some few again and again. We found the placard again, re-installed it on the kitchen table. Several years ago, after another trip to Lowell, Massachusetts (one in which I had the good fortune to judge the Jack Kerouac Poetry Contest which afforded me my one opportunity to visit with Allen Ginsberg in person, this was a lot of fun), I moved "The Grade School Angels" from the kitchen table, thinking or maybe not thinking the poem had been sitting there long enough. The next morning one of our family members said, "Where's the poem?" I said, "I thought it'd been there long enough." She said, "Put it back, I read that poem every day." Which made apparent exactly why projects such as poetry in motion have been admired and wanted. I think she'd grown to love this poem because it had become part of her daily, ordinary, ritual-inflected, on-going life. What she experienced was not the same as the kind of re-readings we're commonly admonished we must undertake in order to understand (or "get") a poem. Her experiences with the poem were not part of an adventure in analysis or research or scholarship. The poem could be sort of like the milk in her coffee, or water in a glass, or rain, one material piece of evidence upon which light could shine, evidence, that at least in this manifestation of this world, everything is touching. And because it took place at our kitchen table here is Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (translated by M.F.K. Fisher): ....for one of the strongest of human laws is that which commands respect for the life of any man with whom one has shared bread and salt. We watched a little girl put this puzzle together. She didn't care at all to look at the cut out shapes that are what, in fact, literally, inescapably, make this material a puzzle. All she cared about was finding an eye, finding another eye, seeing those eyes pretty...
Posted Oct 18, 2009 at
The Best American Poetry
why I liked the little black leopard-skin pill box hat [by Dara Wier]
Corwin Ericson's broken bottles, Wendell, Massachusetts The City of New Orleans is a train. Like all well-behaved American trains it zips by backyards, left-over warehouses and parking lots, drainage ditchbanks and assorted boarded-up buildings. You're sometimes frightened you might see a dead body half-hidden among the debris there. When it snows enough on some of these places, or there's a fog just thick enough to make seeing through it not so easy, these places are transformed into passing landscapes of veiled beauty. What's more beautiful than veiled beauty? Throw a mantilla over anyone's head and right away what's inside every neuron and platelet, ganglia and synapse reconfigures into a more or less skull-shaped teeming density of beauty. Protestant eucharist is a plain simile, a reminder of something, a little hand-written note safety-pinned to a child's sweater by a great aunt who's worried the child will be lost on the train and never make it back home: CHILD BELONGS TO MRS. EUPHRASIE BARROIS, NAOMI, LOUISIANA, SHE WILL BE GATHERED UP & MET AT THE STATION. The city of New Orleans that is not a train presents to any passer-by a series of street names: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomone, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, Urania. The muses turn out to have stop signs on them and bus stops, front stoops, steep roofs and hundreds of little gardens. The muses keep the houses in pretty straight lines. They are numbered. Strangers navigate by their names. My grandmother's sister lived on one of them. Aunt Pom. I wonder if her given name turns out to have been Pomegranate. She had, like so many of her neighbors, a white shell-lined (crushed up clam and oyster shells) front yard garden. Cacti, succulents, gardenias, bougainvillae, calla lilies, a couple of satsumas, a Louisiana Creole, lemon grass, basil, sweet olive, all of the things that should be in a garden. With zero faithfulness to relative scale, inhabiting her garden were baby ducks, a piglet, a dozen frogs, two Siamese cats, a donkey pulling a cart in which the Blessed Virgin Mary stood, Jesus in a cradle under a thriving crown of thorns, a stairstep from nowhere ascending to a crescent moon, a tiny pool inhabited by giant carp, a fawn, two gnomes, a dozen pink-tongued chameleons stationed on bird of paradise stalks. Some of these were alive as alive can be, and some were of fabricated concrete, at least that's what we called the material in which these whimsical creatures came clothed. Installation, Corwin Ericson's, Wendell, Massachusetts I can't recall anyone ever asking my aunt what her garden meant. At about this same time I was deeply involved in a closet. In its small, maybe 3 by 5 floor space, I was busy building an altar. Eventually my private altar mimicked all accoutrement accompanying the public, operative altars I visited with relatives. A twig here to be a cross, some little wax figurines for saints with various names: Saint Blessed of the Blue Nets, Saint Bill of the Fancy...
Posted Oct 12, 2009 at
The Best American Poetry
why visiting Poets House is a good thing [by Dara Wier]
Indicative of a caution to do a little thinking before writing? Maybe. Indicating low grade institutional paranoia. Definitely. (who put these there? who knows) Evidence of unsettling canine adoration. Possibly. Further evidence. Evidence of poetry's whereabouts. Handsome. We arrived at Poets House (10 River Terrace, Battery Park City, New York, www.poetshouse.org) pretty early one morning. Kurt Brown, a member of Poets House Board of Directors, kindly offered to show me around. Such a cool place. Spacious, not cavernous, welcoming, not demanding, with what looks to be excellently appointed spaces for reading, writing, and for public performances and exhibits. And as its brochure says, "open to all, located on the banks of the Hudson River with views of the Statue of Liberty." Corner of chapbook collection in Poets House. Chapbooks beaucoup. I would love to have at least 3 days to spend in Poets House doing nothing but looking at its chapbook collection. Then 3 lifetimes to read what's assembled there. Collections, that we fervently collect, assemble, accumulate, sort, discover, seek, find, adjust, tend, protect, cultivate, and sometimes make tangible arrangements of what we find....we are inclined to gain knowledge and understanding by means of our collecting inclinations. a collection of words, Gillian Conoley's
Posted Oct 7, 2009 at
The Best American Poetry
Why typing John Ashbery's "The Instruction Manual" is a good thing [by Dara Wier]
These, I suppose, two Candadians, have been watching me for many years. They're in a painting James Tate and I found on a trans-Canadian road trip. We don't know who they are, or why they're sitting in a field in their business outfits or what the painting might commemorate or what the hat's are about; nor do we know who painted the picture. But these two men have served many purposes over the years. At first they constituted an exciting discovery, up on a barn's interior wall that served as a repository for an antique dealer's stash. When we learned we could have these men, and their mysterious, unknown, unknowable company, we were very happy. So, we took them with us back home to Amherst, Massachusetts. Over the years they've watched me work, write, read, think, talk and live. I've often thought I should please them. I've often been amused by their situation. I've sometimes made up somethings about who they are. I've sometimes let them stare at me. I grew to love these two strangers in a strange situation, a strange feeling that feels very familiar. This particular Cry Room is in Missoula, Montana. For some reason, I'd never seen a Cry Room before or known that they are fairly commonly found in churches across the country. My friend and I had been talking about how various people handle or have sudden bouts of crying, and we were about to head into a wedding where one expects a little bit of a certain kind of crying to go on, when I saw the door marked CRY ROOM. I pointed toward it in such a way as to say without saying it, look, there's where crying gets done, it has its own room. Recently I typed into a document John Ashbery's early poem, "The Instruction Manual." This gave me no need of any kind of CRY ROOM of any kind. This rewarded me with considerable layers of pleasures. I was typing it so that it could be shown via computer to an honor's poetry seminar I'm meeting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I typed from The Library of America's gorgeously produced, well-edited (by Mark Ford) 2008 volume Ashbery/Collected Poems 1956-1987. Word by word the poem is such an amazing tribute to poetry, to imagination's desire, imagination's ability to save us or save something of us, or for us or in us. The poem treats invention's and sight's methodical rendering as a creative force equal in significance to that of the Big Bang's. The poem enacts how invention advances by careful degrees and attention, how taking time to build something (make up something) gives us such a time of potential beauty. Formally we get to experience an imagination within an imagination, a view of Guadalajara within the poem, Guadalajara's people in their town, in Guadalajara's square, in and around its bandstand, the neighborhoods around the square, a patio within a house, and love appears in most all of its phases...
Posted Sep 28, 2009 at
The Best American Poetry
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