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Thank you, David. I truly enjoyed it!
Yeahhh..Skoopy loopy koo! Skippitty dippitty wah wah wah!Like, dig that jazz, daddy-o!
Hi Bob, Hmmmmmm....I wouldn't mind being in the company of Feste.
Hi Amy, I'd forgotten about Myers :) So, immediately I go to YouTube.
Thank you, Leslie. Ya know, as I was listening to Herman, I felt he was honest, which is why maybe his poem is better than a lot of those new "hip" poems!
My first impression of a poet came from listening to my mother and her friends talk about their attempts at being hipsters in high school. Apparently, my mother was not aware that the dark sunglasses, black turtleneck sweaters, berets and bongoes came straight from Madison Avenue and Hollywood. In fact, the 1958 B-movie High School Confidential seemed to be a major reference point for the youth of Oak Ridge High School. In the movie, Phillipa Fallon plays a beat poetess who performs at The Drag, a teen hangout. As Poetess recites her verse, a band interjects snatches of ragtime. "My old man was a bread stasher all his life. He never got fat. He wound up with a used car, a 17 inch screen and arthritis. Tomorrow is a drag, man. Tomorrow is a king sized bust. They cried ‘put down pot,’ ‘don’t think a lot,’ for what? Time, how much? And what to do with it. Sleep, man, and you might wake up digging the whole human race giving itself three days to get out. Tomorrow is a drag, pops, the future is a flake. I had a canary who couldn’t sing. I had a cat who let me share my pad with her. I bought a dog that killed the cat who ate the canary. What is truth?" Since I was not able to see High School Confidential until my early thirties, the image of the poet influenced me via my mother's interpretation: What she found pertinent became my experience. But now I giggle when I read the poem from the film and wonder how many teenagers took it to heart. The stereotype of the beat poet was not confined to the big screen. As an adolescent, I constantly watched reruns of the 1960s television show The Munsters. In one episode, Herman Munster improvises a poem for the guests of his beatnik party. With earnest innocence and a nervous smile, Herman speaks: "Ibbitty bibbitty, sibbity sab, Ibbitty bibbitty, canal boat. Dictionary. Down the ferry." The poem continues with nursery rhyme and novelty song references, and the young, hip guests, dressed in black jumpers and trousers, are delighted. Albeit The Munsters was a comedy, I somehow interpreted the beatnik episode as a truthful portrayal of a poet. Of course, Herman's poem makes no sense in and of itself; the audience of hipsters is responsible for attributing meaning to the words. For them, the poem is a deep commentary on the establishment. For a ten year old, the poem sounded like nonsense but the reception of it by the audience infused the words with a mysterious meaning. More recently, in Billy Bob Thornton's film Sling Blade (1996), the character Morris writes lyrics for a song that seem to be descended from beatnik genes. In the scene, redneck Morris and his band are drinking when they begin to discuss their future as musicians: Doyle: Morris here is a modern-day poet, kinda like in olden times. Morris: Yeah, I got a new... Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Opening the box. Opening the book. Opening the self. What often initially emerges from opening is just what Pandora unwittingly released into the world: fear, ignorance, jealousy, and hatred. And just as often, agency has either been denied or stripped from the one who lifts the lid, or in the case of Pandora, uncorks the jar. This swirling cloud of misery easily blinds us to the hope trapped inside the vessel of gifts from the gods and goddesses. In opening, we release boundaries either permanently or temporarily, and for varying lengths of time and amounts of space. For many, the potential discovery, insight, and growth are worth suffering, with the absence of clarity ultimately causing deeper damage to the self. Experiencing the self must become communal for the price of isolation is the death of identity, the soul. Helen Vendler writes that art, especially poetry, is a means by which one identity reaches out to another, tries to explain itself to another, gathers images to define its shape, to clarify itself, to author itself. A constant, ever-changing business, the desire for terminus is intense, and the existential angst can devour one. There is great relief in declaring something finished, beyond change. In the poetry of Louise Gluck, the boundaries of self are destroyed and recovered through the dialectic of identity formation. Like Kali, the speaker in Gluck’s poems both creates and destroys the world of the self in hope of reconciling with death and accepting the way things are (reality). Our identities are constructed, according to the modern paradox, by others. And one’s inner authority struggles against outside disabling conceptions to accomplish the self. Yet, identity is provisional, constantly evolving in slender moments of time and space, sometimes almost imperceptibly. It is also through these multiple perspectives that Gluck comes to know and understand the self. Her lyric personae become vehicles through which the poet discovers and authors both the linguistic, ephemeral self and the contingent, embodied self. The tension produced between these incarnations is what makes Gluck’s work so powerful. The evolving self, constantly subject to revision, is composed of different voices, is most safely explored on the page, yet to enter language is to abandon human relation. In The Triumph of Achilles, Louise Gluck records the process of creating the self. These early poems explore the tentative movement from emotional isolation to humanity. For Gluck, leaving the safety of the mind for the page is a risky endeavor for even something as controlled as the poetic lyric posses the power to expose too much of the self, thus inviting vulnerability. Yet the desire for intimacy requires action, and Gluck accomplishes this through the form of the poem. It is the tension between what can and cannot be said, through the possibilities and limitations of language that Gluck explores being and non-being. The lyric form's power to contain yet release, to hide yet reveal, to dissolve yet embody allows Gluck to cautiously test the boundaries between two equally attractive... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
The Crazy Cat Lady[by Caroline Malone] For Christmas, a good friend gave me a Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure. On the cover of the box in neon orange letters is stamped the question “How many cats do you have?” Five, I answered to myself and smiled knowing that instead of an impersonal gift card, my friend had put some thought into the gift: I'm special, I thought. Initially, I couldn’t wait to tear open the package and arrange my new little family on my desk at work. There are six varieties of felines, ranging from the menacing solid-black to the primarily white Siamese. And of course, there is their mistress, the Crazy Cat Lady, donned in her military green bathrobe with matching headband, blue plaid pajama bottoms, and forest green house slippers. Did she just get out of bed? Yes and no. She never leaves the house. But wait! What is that poking out of her robe pocket? Out both sides of her shoulder length hair? Cats. So, she has eight, not six. I adore cats. I always have loved them. And once in awhile, I joke with friends that one day I will indeed become Crazy Cat Lady. I think it’s safe to assume she needs no introductions, but in case there is the one soul reading this who is clueless to the Crazy Cat Lady’s existence, I will briefly summarize a typical day in the life of this unique woman. She wakes, feeds cats, brushes cats, strokes cats, talks to cats, watches cats, plays with cats, sings to cats, and oh, cleans litter boxes. In return, this mighty species provides her with companionship and occasional entertainment, on its terms, naturally.But let’s move on to my fascination with the Crazy Cat Lady. Earlier, I wrote that I jokingly predict I will assume the identity of the Crazy Cat Lady. Yes, I love cats. I have five cats. Presently, my elderly mother lives me, a Crazy Cat Lady living condition I previously failed to mention. But I really don’t spend all of my time with my cats or any felines. When I am home, all of my cats are home, so needless to say, sharing the same space does make us rather intimate. There is a dog on the premises, which I think goes against the Crazy Cat Lady creed: nothing before or after cats shall I know. And I love my dog. I do leave my house, every damn day. And by god I do change out of my military green bathrobe every day as well. So, what’s the problem? I should be happy with my gift. I am. I cherish my gift. Find it funny. Endearing. And I'll admit, while holiday shopping, I saw the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure in my local independent bookstore and almost bought one for myself. But it’s different when someone else buys you this gift. At least it was a friend and not the neighbor who recently moved in next door and knows nothing of you except that you own a military green bathrobe and five cats. But I am most decidedly not the Crazy Cat Lady, now or ever. To quote Edie Beale, "Raccoons and cats become a little bit boring. I mean for too long a time."Then why all the thought about her?A few nights ago I watched for the first time the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens by cinéma vérité artists Albert and David Maysles. I had some idea of what I was getting into, but after the viewing, I had to be alone, to process the images and to tease out all I was feeling. Grey Gardens of East Hampton was home to Edith Bouvier Beale, a.k.a. Big Edie, and her daughter, Little Edie. If the name Bouvier sounds familiar, it should; the two women were aunt and cousin to Jackie O. In a desperate state of disrepair, the 28-room mansion was close to being condemned in 1973 due to Suffolk County Health Department codes violations when Jackie O hired industrial cleaners to tidy up the place. The Edies lived in seclusion for over 20 years until the elder Edie died in 1977. Little Edie passed in 2002. While they were alive, mother and daughter spent almost every waking moment together, cooking corn on the cob in Big Eddie’s bedroom and subsisting mainly on ice cream and pate. Until reporters began stalking her, Little Edie spent time on the beach, sunning and swimming. Otherwise, the ladies lived together in the past, Little Edie rehearsing her dance moves, and both ladies singing tunes from their days as socialites in New York of the 1930s, reminiscing over old photographs of themselves. Both women had dreams of starring on stage. And of course, there were the cats. Cats coming and going when they pleased, using the home as they pleased, being served luncheon by Little Edie at the behest of her mother. Wall to wall cats, reproducing at their pleasure.Both women were drop dead gorgeous; Little Edie’s beauty far surpassed that of Jackie O’s. And they were freaks. That’s why I like them. Their men betrayed them early on. Although, the legend is that Little Edie in her twenties set her hair on fire to ensure no man would ever want to marry her. They were talented, intelligent, creative women who could act every part except that which their aristocratic family wanted them to master. As Little Edie once said, "They can get you in East Hampton for wearing red shoes on a Thursday.” Their inheritance was denied. In later years, when both women were appreciated by artists such as Andy Warhol, many regarded Little Edie as a fashion icon and philosopher, a court jester of sorts.After allowing these women to live in me for a week, I feel protective of them. I imagine many familiar with the Beale's story judge the women and work hard to pinpoint their pathology. Dysfunctional, co-dependent, and all of those other psycho-diagnostic terms often used to “understand” people. But even in their fragmented world, I see Big and Little Edie not only as survivors but as creators; who in this world is perfectly adjusted? Perhaps to be complete is to be inhuman.Why my fascination? To me, the story sounds perhaps a little familiar, which accounts for my attraction and repulsion, but overwhelmingly attraction. My great aunt Dorothy was often compared to Faulkner’s Miss Emily, although the body in my great aunt’s house was never found. Actually, she ran him off in 1930 when her prayers could not dry him out. For a few years, Dorothy had her own radio show in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She played a beautiful Chopin as well as “acceptable” selections from popular music. When her mother became ill, she told her brothers she would continue to live at home as she always had and nurse their mother. In the late 1950s, Dorothy was an air traffic controller until the stress of the job led to a final meltdown, and she never left the Duane Avenue family mansion again. The past was always alive for her through her music, her photographs, her memories. A past that remained beautiful in her mind.My family history is rich with the mother-daughter dynamic, but it hasn’t ruined any of us. In 1964, after my father belted her across the face for the last time, my 19 year old mother came home and stayed home. My grandmother threatened to shoot my father if he even came near the block where they lived. She loved as she wanted, lived as she wanted, and although I have always resented her for the ways her lifestyle impacted me, I also admire her and accept that at the time, she had to find some way to breathe. Even with memories of a very often painful and frustrating life, my mother's conversation of late consists of one part present and nine parts past.As Grey Gardens opens, we see Little Edie on what barely passes as the front lawn of the mansion. She glances into the lens, then away, and back again. Half smiling she reflects, “There is a fine line between the past and the present.” Who decided there are rules for what sustains us? Eccentric, schizophrenic, bi-polar, creative. It might not be so bad to flirt with being the Crazy Cat Lady, at least now and then. Continue reading
Posted Jan 25, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for the praise! You said it perfectly, Laura: The ear and heart.
I think you'll enjoy her work!
I haven't read "Reconciliation," but I will. And yes, I think "uncanny" is the perfect word to describe the way Whitman's voice anticipates future readers. Also, his assumption that people of the twentieth century and beyond would find themselves so intimately addressed through his work was not an act of terrible pride. I think it was an act of joy in the power of language.
One of the many things I like about Fuhrman's work is how different it is from my own. Whereas my poems are rooted solidly in the somber, disembodied darkness of life and the inevitability of death, Fuhrman's poems embrace the possibilities of language through a fierce intellect, a playfulness, and a wit. "Trigger Guard" is an example of Fuhrman's ability to fuse aesthetic pleasure with meaningful pattern. The poem intrigues us beginning with its title. A "trigger guard" is a loop surrounding the trigger of a firearm to keep it from accidentally discharging; thus, the poem becomes an agent of protection for the speaker/poet. At times, the playfulness of the language belies the seriousness of the speaker's conflict; however, the voice of the poem does not let us forget that a gun is the central metaphor. "Trigger Guard" is built on fifteen stanzas of couplets with each stanza comprising an independent clause, each couplet representing a different account of the image introduced in the the first two lines. "Everyone I ever loved is standing / on a platform with a gun." This is a particularly loaded opening as not only are there weapons involved, but the weapons are held by all of the people with whom the speaker has intense emotional relationships. Along with the speaker, we are greeted with a threatening picture. But immediately after, the poem veers into a light, iconic image: "In the cartoon version, / a flag pops with the word 'bang.' " A passive aggressive gesture, but perhaps a false alarm. The poem proceeds to move through a series of references to pop culture, politics, and literature, each a commentary on the violence of existence. Although the images suggest disturbing situations, the speaker's tone remains matter-of-fact and controlled. The white space and heavily end-stopped lines move the poem along cautiously while the parallelism of "In the...version" of each stanza's first line grounds the poem, allowing the partner images of each second line to flirt with the surreal: "In the lucid dream version, / I kiss a muzzle and it blossoms." When we reach the end of "Trigger Guard," ultimately, the transformed "muzzle" of line 28 is linked back to the gun as a destructive force: " In the music video version, / a gun turns into a mouth." Perhaps more interesting than my analysis of "Trigger Guard" would be the poet's own thoughts on her work. And so most happily, I was able to ask Ms. Fuhrman a few questions about "Trigger Guard,"and she kindly provided answers. MALONE: Is "Trigger Guard" based on a dream you had? FUHRMAN: Yes, the first image came from a dream. I’m impressed that you guessed that! MALONE: Did the title of the poem immediately suggest itself, or did you need some time to decide on it? FUHRMAN: The title came after the rest of the poem was finished. I don’t think I even knew what a trigger guard was. (I’m a stereotypical city gal.) I decided to look up... Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
According to trusted sources, when I was three years old, an unlikely character trait began to emerge from my nascent little being. As an old family friend was gushing her goodbyes, she bent down to me, pinched my cheek, and cooed, "And where does your Daddy keep his sugar?" She smiled and let out a giggle. After a brief silence, I cocked my head and replied, "In the cupboard, of course." Being a fairly literal minded child, I probably did not impress anyone as having creative potential with words. Despite the fact that my known genealogy is populated primarily with preachers, teachers, and judges, all prerequisites, I believe, for being a poet, I seemed to show no early proclivity for any of these vocations, including poet. Eventually, however, my DNA asserted itself, and I produced a poem at seven years old. My first exposure to poetry I'm sure occurred in my crib as my mother sang to me everything from "Dixie" to "Old McDonald." The Methodist church played no small role influencing my love of song - hymns, psalms, Reverend Joiner's animated and rhythmic sermons - as did my father's RCA turntable spinning Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, and Patsy Cline. But maybe more importantly, my mother's library was a constant source of mystery, tempting my curiosity from the time I could crawl. I don't know if it was because it was on one of the three shelves I could reach, but when I was seven or eight years old, I one day randomly selected Plath's Ariel to read. At school, I had learned what a poem was, so the words on the pages of Ariel formed familiar shapes: Lines of words placed into groups, divided by white space, in a column or square. But this is where my understanding stopped. Expecting an eight year old to make sense of Plath is, well, perhaps someone's idea of torture, but I returned to Ariel more than any other book in my mother's collection even though the content was alien. I occasionally scanned other books, especially the medical pathology texts that contained hundreds of photos of people with vicious skin diseases and limb deformities, but Ariel was a constant. It was 1969, and Ariel had been in publication for four years. The cover of the volume my mother owned was white with the title in large black and white block letters. "Poems by Sylvia Plath" appeared in purple, and a blurb from the collection's forward by Robert Lowell filled the lower fourth of the page. Nothing exciting. No dramatic images, no bold colors to capture a child's attention. Precocious as I was, I had no clue what these poems meant. I wanted to understand. The longer I tried to tease meaning out of the words, the more frustrated I became. But I always returned to the book. I wrote my second poem when I was twenty-two. Plath had not been in my head since high school when rock and roll was the reason... Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Hi Laura, What a great idea for a writing exercise! And I agree about the power of realizing Whitman is speaking to me, so many years later.
Only in the past five or so years have I become a fan of Walt Whitman’s poetry. I’ve never disliked his work, but I also never could generate an enthusiasm for it either. I suspect that the primary reason I have mostly avoided Whitman is because of an influential teacher; my undergraduate days were hijacked by militant feminists (that’s another story). It’s also probably the case that long poems, meaning anything over 40 lines, make me anxious; I’m looking for the emotional knock-out punch of the lyric. I admire those poets who are able to sustain a lengthy piece, who are able to avoid what I see as the minefields capable of destroying the poem. When I took up Whitman a few years ago, I did so as a service to my literature students. I reasoned that they certainly did need to read a little of such an important poet. I also reasoned that like their teacher, any poem over one page in length would send them screaming. So, I decided to use some of Whitman’s shorter lyrics, arguably more accomplished poems such as “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” “Cavalry Crossing a Ford,” and “A Noiseless Patient Spider.” As I was reading, I fell in love with “Cavalry Crossing a Ford.” In my reading of the poem, it is stylistically so atypical of Whitman: seven lines rather than seven pages, solely concrete imagery rather than philosophical statement, and most conspicuously, the absence of the expansive and perhaps narcissistic first person. But in thinking about sharing the poem with the class, I began to doubt my students’ willingness or ability to recognize the brilliance of the poem. In a survey course, I don’t have time to provide so much of the historical and cultural context I believe is necessary for students to begin an appreciation for literature. And too, my personal aesthetic prohibits the use of such context in judging the merit of a poem. It took me a good five years into my teaching career to give up expecting my students to understand that there is craft involved in writing poetry. Nothing makes me angrier than students flat-out denying that the writing of anything good takes skill, especially poetry. A poem is how I feel. A poem is what my therapist told me to write to express my feelings. I have two fantasies of teaching “Cavalry Crossing a Ford.” One fantasy is reality based while the other is perhaps delusional. Based on previous experience, I see myself reading the poem to the class, trying to curb my enthusiasm so I don’t freak out the students too much, and then asking for a volunteer to read the poem. After considerable silence, I offer to read the poem again and do. Then I ask questions. I always begin with what turns out to be the most difficult question: Did you like the poem? Why or why not? Then I proceed to the easier ones: Is the poem an open or closed... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
As a fellow gardener, I understand your plight perfectly. Here it is June, and I'm still doing what I call "clean-up" work, meaning fall leaves and broken branches scattered over my property. But I really try to look at the weeds with a zen mind, which sounds pretentious, but hey, it's justification for my lazy weeding ways. The photos of your flowers are lovely.