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Amanda Smeltz
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The epistle is a poetic form I am enamored of. I come to know it first through biblical epistles, those madcap New Testament letters to fledgling communes. But I found it again in Richard Hugo’s book 31 Letters and 13 Dreams, a book that was criticized in ’77 when it was released -- for being too chatty or something absurd. The dream poems in the book I don’t love, but a handful of the letter poems I adore. There is one, Letter to Simic from Boulder, that you must read. It is as strong an anti-war piece as any I know, without any liberal haughtiness. Do it. Another poet I’m friends with, Matt Hart, loves Hugo’s epistolary poems like I do. He writes them to his loved ones as Hugo does, and sometimes the technique of address lands in his published work. His most recent book, Debacle Debacle, includes this poem I’ve heard him read recently to great effect. Might just be because I have a super tender soft spot for poems about fathers and daughters, but I treasure it. I reproduce it here, for you: it’s proof that documenting the details of a day can be deeply pleasureable and is worthwhile; doing it for someone you love, more so. This form seems to me a way of curing an aspect of contemporary poetry I despise, which is this seedy brand of intellectual aloofness. It’s for prigs. You’re not a philosopher or a scientist, you’re a poet, and philosophers largely make shitty poets because they’re always trying to find an pseudo-scientific or Wittgensteinian stance. Be biased, have some personality. It’s human anyway, and your poems will be worlds more interesting. Go write a letter-poem to someone you love. Or someone you hate. Those are good epistles, too. * TO YOU AT FORTY FROM ME RIGHT NOW Matt Hart You are four and I am forty, and it is Friday at 4:40 in September, 2010. I have been waiting for this moment to tell you some things, or maybe this moment has been waiting for me. It’s hard to know much of anything, but everything seems in perfect alignment, and I am not one to argue with perfection when I can find it, though I do take issue with the way things seem. Here is a grain of salt for you to take me. The two of us kicking a ball in the yard. This morning we were running late, and when you couldn’t find your rabbit, you cried, so I helped you look for her, but then I couldn’t find her either. You took a pony to school to show your friends instead and I came back to a mountain of work and looking some more for your rabbit. Another cup of black coffee. Another list to check off this lucky and frustrating life, this stressed-out every second, this incredible constant scribble. At breakfast you made a drawing for me, and we talked about expression. I showed you pictures in... Continue reading
Posted Oct 18, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I’d like to mention one of the reasons I cherish my friend Anthony Madrid’s book of jewelrybox marvels, I am Your Slave Now Do What I Say. There are many reasons, but this is one I don’t believe anyone’s mentioned on the interwebs. Madrid is a poet working toward dismantling moronic, objectifying images of women. As I know him to be a hater of pedantry, I don’t think he would like me saying he is doing that in his poetry, but I'll say it anyway; to me it seems clear. Where so many books are rife with women who appear as objects, not subjects, Madrid’s lines about them are mystified, insightful, and delighted. That’s not to say he’s pious or fastidious about them. It’s clear his viewpoint is hetero, and he likes to subvert gender roles naughtily. Moreover, he goes to town on some ugly ways we do damage to ladies. There’s something really healthy about all of this. Lemme draw your eye to some lines where he does it. * When people walk around naked, they all look like people I know. My tutor taught me long ago that bodies are all the same. ‘The male is caught in a cleft stick.’ Better write that one down. *Ÿ Young woman walking the road to Rome, with a book of Latin poetry in your jacket, Come over here and read something alound – to me and my family. Ÿ* Of the many hymns to the goddess Kali, only one is worthy a poet’s respect. I mean the one wherein her ankles are hung with severed arms;— I mean the one where her face is lit up with cruel pleasure, and she has a beard of sweat As she has rear-entry intercourse with Vishnu. Ÿ* You should have been a pretty girl, MADRID. The whole world might have been spared All this body-resenting satire in the tone of a parting shot. Ÿ* NO more epigrams against sluts. For it galls me to have to hear These pig men and buccaneers complaining against every little unauthorized blowjob. * For if the word vagina means sheath, then every baby is a sword. Ÿ* I AM no longer cut to the heart to watch her laughing with my rival. Any man who gives her pleasure I consider my emissary. Ÿ* So, let’s up on our stiletti, gentlemen! Let us not for a moment forget How winning it is when a sexy young thing is clumsy on her heels. Ÿ* Stand aside, you lesser beauties, for MADRID is coming through! Miss Queen Teen Photogenic, soon to be seen on Pay-Per-View! * Are not all women beautiful? Babies seem to think so. But I’m not like the other boys – I don’t go by looks. * Nadya, why does not everyone desire you? Why are you not swarmed with love? Your virtue is a five-mile-high geyser of liquid nitrogen. Ÿ These go on. I’m simply glad to see women – infants, little girls, teenagers, grown loves... Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Last year, I spent six months or so in San Francisco. There, my dude talked me into trying yoga, which I’d badmouthed for a long time. I’m all, spare me your woo-woo shit. My great-grandpa was a coal miner. Etc. But, when in Rome. We started going to hatha classes with some very kind and articulate instructors. I fell for it. What little I know of yoga practice is meditative and expressive, challenging and rewarding. It’s difficult the way poetry is difficult: you have to work at it a lot to find its fullest expression, but you also shouldn’t “work” the joy right out of it. There’s paradox near the heart of the practice, much the same as verse. Despite the fact that there is nothing more grating than a privileged-looking twat on the L train bumping people with her yoga mat and Whole Foods grocery bag (i.e. me), I do think there’s room to explore that old Western-made gap between mind and body. When poetry becomes embodied in the vocal chords and mouth, I delight. I feel satisfied and at home, the way I do when singing. And yoga leads into some fascinating embodiments of mental activity, too. Here are two contemporary poets who I admire hanging out in a mind-body space with yoga poems. I like that Simond’s poem below still lands on the skeptical side, and I love where Ish Klein’s wild mind flies to when musing on Virabhadrasana I, or the pose known as Warrior One, pictured at the top. Yoga Sandra Simonds From 2007-2009, I did a lot of yoga. I was in graduate school and full of hope. I believed in literature and love. Well, maybe I was a bit cynical. It’s hard to remember. I fell in love with someone named Craig Wesley Freeman. Recently, he has told me things that I can’t recall from the beginning of our courtship. “This car smells like semen and wine,” he said I said back then. He told me that we were both passed out at a Waffle House and when we woke up in the red booth he couldn’t remember where I lived and I couldn’t either so we drove around Tallahassee for four hours asking people where Sandra Simonds lives and everyone gave us directions to a different Waffle House, which is so inconvenient and shitty. When we finally got home, I wanted to sit in the backyard alone and look at the pecan tree even though it was five a.m. I remember staring at a bright celestial body and asking, “Jesus H. Christ, is that the sun or the moon?” and for a split second I was so freaked out it made me think that everyone in my life had died at once and I was left alone and that the feeling of being abandoned was equivalent to the feeling of emptiness that would make me want to slit the throat of a soft pig. Yoga was incredibly boring. My mom called it... Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
A brief reading of Emily Dickinson’s We Grow Accustomed to the Dark. We grow accustomed to the Dark -- When light is put away -- As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp To witness her Goodbye -- A Moment -- We uncertain step For newness of the night -- Then -- fit our Vision to the Dark -- And meet the Road -- erect -- And so of larger -- Darkness -- Those Evenings of the Brain -- When not a Moon disclose a sign -- Or Star -- come out -- within -- The Bravest -- grope a little -- And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead -- But as they learn to see -- Either the Darkness alters -- Or something in the sight Adjusts itself to Midnight -- And Life steps almost straight. The poem formally performs the encounter with darkness Dickinson describes: Physical sensation of lights going out in stanza one. Halting attempt to get one’s bearings back, stanza two. A turn toward metaphoric darkness – & all its possible meanings – in stanza three. Then! Ethical instruction in stanza four. The Bravest – grope a little… And in stanza five, the results: what happens if someone in the darkness is brave. I admire the halting motions of the early stanzas of this poem, all those dashed clauses inside the lines, emulating the uncertainty of being in literal dark. Then in the last two stanzas, the caesurae, the halting go away almost entirely. She suggests, in the lines’ fluidity, what gracefulness awaits the brave. I especially admire the slant rhyme at the poem’s end: sight / midnight / straight. Dickinson wants us to be brave in the dark and grope around for insight. Noted. But that slant rhyme lets us know she doesn’t think life will go perfectly straight from our bravery. I like that measured encouragement. Dickinson knows too much about life to suggest we’ll get perfect sight back after being plunged into darkness. Anyone who’s grieved a death or had something wretched and wrong happen knows that. Losses are real. But I also like that mischevious moment where she says, listen. If you grope around in the dark, as you should, you will crack your skull into a tree. That moment where I stub my toe – Fuck! – because I was rooting around in my dark kitchen at 3 am for treats and end up with a bodega BLT all over my couch, a pig in shit. What am I trying to say? It’s hard to feel okay when I am having an Evening of the Brain. When life plunges me into darkness. I won’t feel okay and I shouldn’t. Anyone who tells me to smile at my job while I feel lost can go pound sand. But if I can at least muster the courage to feel around a bit in my discomfort and confusion… perhaps I will find new contours in the room. Or at least the roast beef... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Oct 13, 2013