This is Alan Ziegler's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Alan Ziegler's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Alan Ziegler
Recent Activity
No one can write about and wear hats like David Lehman.
486: Charles Simic Was Generous to Children On Memorial Day 1979, my ten-year-old nephew, Craig Luchen, was kicking around a soccer ball in his backyard during a family gathering. Craig was ahead of the curve in his soccer devotion (long before "soccer moms"), and had yet to meld with the piano, so we didn't have a whole lot to talk about. A sudden chill caused someone to say Brrrr," and I blurted out "All at once the whole tree is trembling / And there is no sign of the wind." Craig paused mid-dribble and pronounced, "Charles Simic!" then resumed his pursuit of an imaginary net. He later explained that a poet had visited his school. Now we had something to talk about. For a school assignment to illustrate a poem, Craig picked Simic's "Watermelons." I particularly liked the tongue. I had a color photocopy made (big deal then) and mailed it to Simic (no email then). A week later, I received this post card: I was especially touched by "My kids loved it too and were sort of proud of their Pop" (Simic did indeed respond to my book in detail.) This was the postcard Craig received: Decades later, Craig remembers the "loon-music." And I remember that Craig was sort of proud of his Uncle. Uncle and Nephew 487: Charles Simic Drives a Soft Bargain In 1995, a few Columbia undergraduates wanted to invite Charles Simic to campus, particularly to talk about prose poems (for which he had won the Pulitzer Prize a few years earlier, engendering squawks from lineophiles). We had a minuscule budget. I suggested they write to him anyway and point out that we do not have access to Columbia's endowment. Simic said yes, on two conditions: We pay for his bus fare from New Hampshire, and we buy him a hamburger at the West End. We did not make a counteroffer. Simic was warm, friendly and funny. When the students asked him about the prose poem backlash, he said, "My experience is that no matter what you do, someone is going to say something stupid about it. No matter what. There are many literary people out there who don't believe in the existence of prose poems....[My book] was the final nail in poetry’s coffin. American Civilization is doomed when shit like this wins prizes, they said. I must admit I loved it. It's always a pleasure when you can upset defenders of some imaginary virtue." There was one more negotiation before we relocated to the West End. The students wanted to take some pictures with him, and he agreed on the condition they take one with students stepping on him. They obliged. When I reminded him twenty years later, he replied, "That’s very funny. I remember it now." Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Baseball Portfolio #1: The Story is in the White Space Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
480:I strive to arrange my life like a European meal, concluding with my salad days. 481: By all means bring a knife to a gun fight in addition to your gun. 482: I see someone I used to know across the street. As I approach, I realize it is not my old friend. Undaunted, I say, “Hey, Stanley, great to see you! How’s Veronica and life on the rodeo circuit?” The stranger stares blankly, then a glint of recognition. “Christopher,” (not my name) he says, “I still feel bad about that night, and how is Gloria and life at the clinic?” We talk until we are all caught up and part ways. 483: Paul Langston was once called upon to inquire, in response to a phone message, “Who in the Sam Hill is Sam Hill?” 484: Steve Allen interrupted himself while chatting with guests on his radio show to observe that the coffee he continued to sip was now lukewarm, and he would have sent it back had it been served that way. I feel similarly about my body. Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
David and Angela: Thank you for your kind comments! Mitch: As with everything you write, there's much to mull. "Was the issue of the 'split infinitive' in the last sentence of the fourth paragraph of your story brought up at all?" No, it wasn't mentioned. At the time, I would have resisted, but now I kind of like the sound of "even to try." "'Dear Alan Ziegler' is a problem. 'Mr. Ziegler' might have been acceptable but in a personal letter like this to a writer, even if it's in a business context, 'Dear Alan' is the way to go. And signing it 'Roger' would also be preferable, especially since he then types out his whole name underneath." Agreed, especially since we had already met! I assume it's just the way they did things. I used to get a lot of "Dear Alan (if I may)..." from people I didn't know, to which I was always tempted to reply, "No, you may not." "...what I really don't like is referring to your work as 'a modest story.' Although you are very kind about it, I don't like that at all." After the piece was published, Roger (if I may) said that these pieces are incredibly difficult to write and he hoped I would send more. (Never the opportunist, I chose instead to embark on an immodest novel, which one former agent assured me will be "published posthumously." "What was his self-edit? I can't make it out online." The word he crossed out is "effects." "I would not call this a modest achievement." This means a lot to me! Thank you.
For Roger Angell (1921-2022), Part Two. Part One In the subway heading to The New Yorker for an editing session with Roger Angell, I fantasize hovering near the receptionist’s desk as a line of supplicants with manila envelopes are each declined entry (“I just want to make sure he gets the references”). They watch their precious cargo being tossed into a huge bin marked Slush, and stare as I approach, no envelope in tow. The mere mention of my name gets me a smile and a wave-through. “Who is that, did you catch his name?” one whispers, and I turn and say, “Keep at it. I was once slush, too.” When I arrive, no supplicants, no Slush bin, but I do get a smile and a wave-through. At first glance, Roger Angell reminds me of Fred Clark, the original Harry Morton on the Burns and Allen show. “We were talking about you at dinner last night,” he says. "Hariette Surovell was over, and she spoke highly of you. [I had met Hariette 15 years earlier, in Kurt Vonnegut’s workshop at City College. On the first day of class, Kurt recounted a dinner conversation from the previous night and turned to Hariette for confirmation: “You were there.”] Roger shows me a copy of my manuscript with edits, including several new commas. Before I can garner the guts to resist, he adds, “These are Mr. Shawn’s commas. You don’t want them, do you?” This could be the beginning of a beautiful editorial friendship. We move on to Roger’s markings. As we resolve each edit, he crosses out a notation in the margin. I've been working on an essay categorizing feedback comments (reactive, descriptive, prescriptive, and collaborative). As an example of collaborative feedback I'm using a New Yorker edit: “Not every word in a published piece has necessarily been written by the name in the byline. New Yorker editor Harold Ross wrote ‘bucks’ for John Cheever during his editing of ‘The Enormous Radio.’ In the story, a diamond is found after a party; a character says, 'Sell it, we can use a few dollars.' Ross replaced dollars with bucks, which Cheever found ‘absolutely perfect. Brilliant.’” So I am inwardly giddy to see high whistles have become clanking chains, and zips turned to cuts. And my “Ghost Story” will forever be known as: Here's a fine example of an addition-through-subtraction edit: Throughout the session, my downward peripheral vision is drawn to a substantial collaborative edit at the end of the story. This won't be as easy as Mr. Shawn's commas. I'm not sure if I get it. But I accept the change, hopeful I will share John Cheever's appraisal: "absolutely perfect. Brilliant." [Eventually, I come to read it as, "My ghost re-merges with ghostly traffic—his work here done."] I leave the New Yorker and float to Times Square, a whisper amid the talk of the town. I wind up at Lee's Art Shop and treat myself to a leather portfolio [which I still use].... Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Mitch: I wonder what nerve was so struck not only to cause Roger Angell such outrage but also for him to use the words "most outrageous" to an author he didn't know. Must have been one hell of a story. David: I actually have the manuscript with Angell's edits. I'll dig it up and send it along.
For Roger Angell (1921-2022) Long ago, on the off-chance I might run into the Devil at the Crossroads, Robert Johnson's Crossroads Mine I prepared a modest negotiation list (not worth trading my soul for, but perhaps Mephisto would settle for my soles: 1) Appear on WBAI 2) teach at Columbia University 3) publish in The Village Voice 4) publish in the Paris Review 5) publish in The New Yorker. By 1986 I had yet to crack the toughest nut, The New Yorker (of course, The New Yorker). I sent off an un-agented story, like buying a lottery ticket for the cost of roundtrip stamps. One afternoon, I slowly opened the mailbox, ever-hoping to find my SASE feather-light, sans story. Once again, not again. Upstairs, I clicked my blinking answering machine. Download Answering machine 1986 Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
David: I once landed upon a Canadian football game announced in French. I knew it was football when I heard: "la longue passe!"
474: I’ve been on my last legs since the day I was born. 475: You should have at least one radio that gets tuned by fingers turning a dial so you can experience the pleasure of flying through a static storm (keep the volume up), miraculously encountering a muffled sound, and calibrating a precise landing—the pleasure of earned clarity. Take off into the unknown (beyond your usual pre-sets): spend time with polkas, foreign languages, troubled souls, repugnant politics, raps and rhapsodies. All without the push of a button. Imagine driving deep in the night during the 1940’s, out of signal reach in any one of 18 states from Maine to North Carolina or six Canadian provinces, working the dial until you synchronize with the 50,000 watts of “WWVA, Wheeling West Virginia” and you know you won’t be alone for many miles and hours. 476 (excerpted from The Cameo Awards): Best Performance by a Man Sitting Alone in a Café comes down to two classic performances. Runner up is Sam Berry in his best—and only known—role, as the “gas station attendant” (though he does no attending) in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas. Berry observes Harry Dean Stanton passed out and says, “What the hell?” Trying to rouse Stanton he adds, “Hey!” (which suggests he had an under-five contract). The movie goes nowhere if Berry doesn't convince the audience that he would call a doctor, if only to clear the path to the beer in the refrigerator.The clear-cut winner, however, is the legendary Feather Man from the Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson (aka Po & Storm) video for Robert Palmer’s “Big Log.” Feather Man has no lines but oh those imperious eyes broadcasting contempt after he brushes away the unwelcome feather. Is it Feather Man who crushes the fallen feather or does the white shoe belong to Robert Palmer (ending the chase for Led Zeppelin’s Feather in the Wind)? A case could be made for either but my money is on Feather Man, who may still be sipping that beer without savor. 477: You should have a watch or clock that requires winding. Let it run down occasionally and experience the miracle of time travel: Set it slowly, backwards, and remember what transpired. Set it forward, slowly, and invent your future. Wind it next to your ear, savoring each click. Do not ever overwind. You will be sad and lose your ability to control time. Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
And there's this dialogue from Law and Order the Original: Librarian: Verlaine was the real talent, you know. Rimbaud just latched onto his coattails and wouldn’t let go. Briscoe: We were just saying that on the way over here. Librarian: He shot him. Briscoe: Who shot who? Librarian: Verlaine popped Rimbaud. Paul loved Arthur. Paul also loved Matilda. It was a whole mess. The French—what do you expect? Briscoe: So can you tell us if you sold any copies recently? Librarian: If you really want decadent, I’d stick with Baudelaire.
My father told me it was essential that I see Asphalt Jungle in order to understand his father, a bank robber, jewel thief, and frequent convict. My grandfather always worked with a crew of specialists (he was the one who could crack the safe).
With Steph Curry swishing three-pointers into the bucket by the bucket, I was reminded of this piece from 2015, in which Tom Meschery said, "I can’t stop writing little haikus about Steph Curry," and thought it might be time for a rerun because more people should know about Meschery. If you don't have time for the whole piece, scroll down to his poem "Working Man." It's a stunner. Bio Note #1: Tom Meschery was born in Manchuria and spent five childhood years in a Japanese internment camp. He received an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers Workshop, where his teachers included Mark Strand, Marvin Bell, and Helen Chasin. After Iowa, Tom ran a bookstore, taught for Poets in the Schools, and did physical labor before receiving his teaching credentials. He joined the faculty of Reno High School, where he taught Advanced Placement English and creative writing for 25 years; he also taught at Sierra College. Tom is the author of several books of poetry, including Nothing We Lose Can Be Replaced, Some Men, and Sweat: New and Selected Poems About Sports; he has also published the nonfiction Caught in the Pivot. In 2001 he was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. Bio Note #2: Tom Meschery was born in Manchuria and spent five childhood years in a Japanese internment camp. He was an All-American basketball player in high school and college, and an NBA All Star. He played ten years, mostly for The Warriors (first in Philadelphia and then in San Francisco) and later for the Seattle Supersonics, appearing in two NBA Finals. His #31 has been retired by Saint Mary’s College (where his career rebounding record stood for 48 years), as has his #14 by the Warriors. Tom coached the Carolina Cougars and was the assistant coach for the Portland Trailblazers. In 2003 he was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. I’ve been fascinated by Tom Meschery since I heard about a former NBA star, whose name was often prefixed with “hard-nosed,” turning from personal fouls to personal poems. I started a list of “athletes who write poetry” for use with reluctant students when I toured high schools. Not long after my father died in 2001, I was moved and impressed by Tom’s poem “Working Man," in which he addresses his late father (more about this later). Over the years, I have read the poem to several of my Columbia classes, and one day a student said: “He was my high school English teacher!” Interesting. Recently, I talked to Tom (while he was recovering from his second shoulder replacement surgery); this piece is based on that conversation and other sources (see note on bottom). Manchuria to the NBA Thomas Nicholas Meschery was born Tomislav Nikolayevich Mescheryakov. His father was a hereditary officer in Admiral Kolchak’s Army. His mother was the daughter of Vladimir Nicholayavich, who participated in Kornilov’s failed coup against Kerensky: “My grandpa was put under arrest in the Winter Palace. Together... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
464: Found Writing Prompt: 465: I can’t operate a phone in a dream. I misdial on buttons too small, can’t retrieve messages, am unable to phone home to tell my dead parents I’ll be late. And, I can never get a taxi in a dream, no matter how far I walk or where I turn. Call for an Uber? Double Nightmare. 466: In the ‘80s, I could wave my arm on West End Avenue at 8:10 and make the 9 p.m. Shuttle to D.C. One night, pressing it at 8:20: a cab slows down, the driver sees my suitcase and speeds off. I mime taking down his number. He screeches to a halt and backs up. “You gonna report me?” I shake my head and he drives off, once again without me. 467: “So, what brought you here?” the cab driver in Binghamton asks on the way to the airport. “I gave a talk at the college.” “You gotta be really smart to do that.” “Not really,” I say, modestly. He frowns. “I’m not smart enough to do that.” 468: Long before Uber and Lyft there is 777-7777 for all your car service needs. Commercials inundate the airwaves, pronouncing each 7 again and again. We call 777-7777 to get a car for my mother-in-law, Esther. Before she’ll get in, Esther asks the driver: “777-7777?” I turn away, slightly embarrassed. The driver responds, “666-6666!” A neighbor gets into 666-6666, and a few minutes later 777-7777 comes up the hill. 469: “Like taking candy from a baby,” meet “Like taking a gun from Peter Lorre.” 470: “Stand up sit down fight fight fight,” goes the cheer. But if you sit down after you stand up you may not get a chance to fight fight fight. 471: Old West dreaded announcement: The Pony Express will now be running on Local trails. 472: Found Writing Prompt: Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
457: 458: Louvre Pyramid aglow, flat on my belly angling the camera with my wallet, my cheek to the ground to peek through the viewfinder. A tug on my feet—must be security I’m always doing something wrong in Paris, fingers wagging at me. But it’s just a young guy laughing with his friends. “Vous rude!” I blurt, and he says Frenchly, “It is a joke.” I reply, “Do you want to hear a joke? ‘A Frenchman pulled my leg.’ That’s a joke.” 459: Live it up now. Live it down later. 460: The elevator door opened. I didn't get in because it was occupied by a baby in a stroller and her mother. I waved and smiled behind my mask. The baby—about a year—stared back expressionless. As the door was closing she grinned and waved. It occurred to me that no child born in the last year has likely experienced a complete stranger smiling at them. I stood alone in the hallway, as if on a deserted platform having just missed a train. 461: I never think about you sexually. Except when I masturbate. 462: 463: Party at Gary Giddens’ apartment. I ask a young critic with an academic appointment how he would define bebop. The critic starts to answer then realizes that the jazz musicians surrounding us have gone silent. "I'm not going to answer that in this room." Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
(Excerpted from The Incomplete, an unpublished novel based on real events.) The Common College student arts organization, Wastelanders, had a budgetary crisis. We’d had a great run of poetry readings, art shows, and folk concerts, and now, with the school year coming to an end, our advisor told us we had a problem: We hadn’t spent a dime of our $4,000 budget. Actually, we didn’t know we had a budget. We just asked people to do stuff and they did stuff. “Use it or lose it,” the advisor explained. “Do you really want the school to give the money to ROTC?” A couple of weeks later, after catching the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore East, we came across a troupe of hippies acting out anti-war scenarios on Sixth Street and First Avenue. They sang, they danced, they coaxed pedestrians to join them. I asked the leader if they ever did colleges. He introduced himself as “Maury Prankster, the Bill Graham of the streets,” and went into a sales pitch: “This is a real theater company. Three of us auditioned for Hair. We can’t do it for less than $400, man.” “Add a zero to that and we can talk some business,” I replied. And that’s how it came to be that a bus decorated with anthropomorphic trees and flowers eased through the Common College gate and released a swarm of hair, beads, flowered shirts, and overalls. Officially named the Clan-Destiny Theater Society, they came to be known around campus by their generic name, The Hippies. Maury Prankster was in his early thirties, older than the others, with a receding hairline that he made up for with long sideburns and a handlebar moustache. Maury opened the show at Common by announcing, “The counterculture means more than letting your hair grow, dressing flamboyantly, and smoking marijuana, although that’s a good start. There’s an art to culture, and art must be cultivated. Watch our garden grow.” The performance included skits extolling communal life and the joys of farming, songs from Hair (revealing why none of them got cast), and an audience participation segment during which students were invited to come on stage and have their heads massaged or the tattoo of their choice painted in the location of their choice. Meanwhile, cast members infiltrated the audience until the little theater was a whirligig of pantomime, dancing, massaging, and painting. In the final skit, a young woman named Marigold played “The Child of the Future,” flitting from one evil situation to another, making each one right via a magic wand adorned with flowers. At the end, Marigold announced, “Alice isn’t in wonderland — wonderland is in Alice. In all of us. If we let it out, we’ll turn this world into a land of wonder.” The troupe planned on sleeping in their bus but first there’d be a party at our apartment, which they offered to cater with a picnic basket of grass, hash, acid, and assorted pills. I explained to them that... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
(Excerpted from The Incomplete, an unpublished novel based on real events.) Students received academic credit for living communally at The House in the woods of northern Vermont at the end of the Sixties. Schoolwork included marathon discussions ranging from the minutiae of daily life (dishwashing responsibilities, cleaning up after the House dogs) to the great questions of the day (evolution or revolution, Stones or Beatles for dinner music). A former House member named Susan asked to be on the agenda. Susan had joined the People’s Brigade, a revolutionary collective based in Boston, and wanted to know if her comrades could stay for a couple of days on their way to an action in Buffalo. “This is going to be another Stones vs. Beatles,” I whispered to my girlfriend Debra, whom I was visiting, and sure enough the Artsy folks were opposed (“Militants take over and they don’t listen”) while the Politicos were in favor (“We’re living this cushy life while the war rages and blacks are oppressed”). The Politicos outlasted the Artsys, who considered it a victory that the discussion took less time than deciding against mandatory dishwashing shifts. Susan told us that she’d fallen in love with a guy in the Brigade named Rick, but the group decided that monogamy was counterrevolutionary. The solution was for each of them to fuck three other people in the Brigade. “You slept with three strangers because a group told you to?” Debra blurted out. “Hey, they’re not strangers. We’re a collective. We do lots of stuff together.” Debra’s roommate Cynthia lit a joint, and Susan reached over and took a drag, held it in for ten seconds with her head tilted back, then eased the smoke through her slightly opened lips. She lifted one leg to rest her head on her knee. I imagined myself as one of the revolutionary monogamy-busters. Susan and Cynthia left to camp out in the Small Room downstairs so they could talk all night. Debra said, “At last we’ll have some time alone. Until the invasion.” On Friday morning the People’s Brigade pulled up in a van and a Volkswagen: ten of them, all with short hair — including the women — wearing denim and backpacks. One of the students said, “Hey, you guys look like a little army.” “Damn-fucking-right,” replied one of the guests. Susan greeted her comrades with hugs, but I couldn’t tell from her body language which one was Rick. They moved into the Big Room, and within minutes posted a sign on the door: “If this door is closed, please do not disturb under any circumstances. If it’s open, join us! Thank you for your cooperation.” An Artsy muttered, “Already they’re taking over.” The guiding force of the Brigade was Kevin. After lunch he called a Brigade meeting in the Big Room, with the door open. “We’re here for war games, and it’s going to get uncomfortable,” Kevin proclaimed as he paced in front of the group. “But it’s gonna serve you well... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
453: I was required to observe Bob Hershon teaching junior high school students for a Teachers & Writers program I was running. It felt strange, since Bob was one of my heroes as a poet and editor. We hatched a scheme. Before class started, I sat at a desk in the back of the room. Bob walked in and started his spiel, doing a double and triple take in my direction. He started and stopped a couple more times. “Alan, what are you doing here?” “I’m observing you. It’s in your contract.” “But you’re supposed to be here next week.” “Come on, Bob, you don’t want to do this in front of the students, Just carry on.” “No, let’s do this.” “Bob, you know perfectly well that the only time you are fully prepared for class is when you know I’m coming. I want to see how you really teach.” “You’re right, Alan, let’s not do this in front of the kids.” Bob stormed out and I followed. In the hallway we threw books against lockers, argued, and finished with two resounding claps. We mussed up our hair, untucked our shirts, and returned to the classroom, where I took my seat and Bob resumed as if nothing happened. The assignment: “Report objectively what you just saw.” One student concluded with, “Then he went into the hallway with a man who also claimed to be a poet and there was lots of noise.” 454: I have celebrated this poem with dozens of my classes: Poster by Robert Hershon in 1961 my apartment at north beach had split-rattan blinds and kandinsky posters scotch-taped to the walls and a table made from a door and a brick-and-boards bookcase and a mattress on the floor and almost everything was painted flat black except for the little yellow desk I bought from good will and I wrote my first poems sitting there watching cars wiggle down lombard street with dick partee lying on the couch behind me reading the chronicle and rehearsing on his invisible alto hey man, am i bothering you no dick, that’s okay, it’s 1983 now play some more “Poster” is a hundred-word textbook on how details can convey location and character, and how punctuation-free enjambment can induce the reader to “wiggle down” the page like rafting on a gentle rapid then cascade 22-years in 10 words with two commas to break the fall. What grabs me most about this poem is how it captures time. For many years I would say something like this to my students: “In 1983 in Brooklyn, a well-known poet named Bob Hershon wrote himself back to 1961, when he was starting out as a poet 3,000 miles away (where Dick Partee continues to play a real alto in North Beach jazz clubs). Through poetry, we just joined Bob simultaneously in his 1961 and 1983 pasts. Bob, it’s 2002 now, write some more." Bob wrote many more. In the Fall of 2007, I told Bob how much... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Pequod was Mark Rudman's magazine; as I recall, none of my poems made the voyage. Penumbra was edited by Charles Haseloff; I had a poem in the Life After Death issue.
446: Cabondating: Determining when a movie or TV show was recorded by the fare on the taxi door. 447: Some places my poems visited in the 70s and 80s: Ironwood, Mulberry, Granite, Syncline, Stepping Stone. 448: Erin is playing Molly Bloom in Ulysses adapted for dance and music. She tells me there’s physicality between Molly and Blazes but nothing I’ll find upsetting. She comes home excited after the dress rehearsal: “The New York Times was there.” A picture runs with the review: Erin is on her knees in bed with Blazes, wearing a negligee riding up her thigh, as is Blazes’ hand. The critic calls her “luscious and devilish,” and adds, “The two lie so alone together in bed with Molly’s sensuous cry of readiness echoing in the audience’s ears.” I snap. “You didn't tell me it would be like this!” What really haunts me is what might have happened during, or after, all those rehearsals. I rip the page out of the newspaper and throw it limply in her direction. As I slam the door on my way out to nowhere, I hear her stricken plea, “What did I do wrong?” I steel myself to be professional when I go to the performance. I'm accompanied by our friend Helen, a dance teacher who has performed in, directed, and attended hundreds of productions. I sit tensely as, offstage, Molly emits her “sensuous cry of readiness.” I fight to keep my eyes open when Molly and Blazes slide under the covers. During the curtain call I turn to Helen for vindication. She laughs and says, “Oh, that’s nothing.” 449: Some places my poems visited in the 70s and 80s: Star Web Paper, Skywriting, Sun, Penumbra. 450: We gave it plenty of time but didn’t put enough leaves in the pot so now we are weak and bitter. 451: I dream my mother is alive, reading a romance novel in her living room chair after doing the dishes. I tell her she is dead, and she reminds me I have to learn how to relax.I dream my father is dead, and I try to convince him he is alive sitting at the kitchen table watching the tiny television because he no longer watches the big TV in the living room unless other people are with him. But he is stubborn as usual, and tells me I am wrong. Awake, I imagine they pass each other along the hallway and exchange ditto marks with their fingers, but I have not been able to dream this. 452: Some places my poems visited in the 70s and 80s: Pequod, Kayak, Small Pond, Ark River, Three Rivers. Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Sacha Baron Cohen can currently be seen as Borat in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America..." and as Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7, so I am rerunning my encounter with Baron Cohen (in his Ali G guise) and my visit with Abbie Hoffman (shortly after Chicago, before the trial). MY WORKSHOP WITH ALI G Prologue (December 2002) Feet-fatigued in Paris Christmas week, Erin and I decide to take our rest in a movie theater. Our choices are the new James Bond and something called Ali G Indahouse. We are told that Ali G is a character who does put-on interviews with unsuspecting celebrities for BBC and is hilarious. Unfortunately, the showing is sold-out, so we see Bond. I sleep blissfully through the special effects. The Seduction (January 2004) I get a voicemail from Jenny Hunter, who says she is with “a British-based television company called Somerford Brooke, working on a series called The Making of Modern America.” For a segment on creative writing they are looking for a “distinguished teacher in his fifties” (the first clue), and she has heard, “You are the man!” I may not be the man, but I do indeed fit that bill: I am in my fifties, chair of Columbia’s MFA Writing Program, and author of books on creative writing that have sold fairly well. I call back and say I’ll do it. Weaving the Web (February 2004) The idea is for me to teach a mock workshop in a Writing Program classroom. I am to recruit an “older” (second clue) student, who will join the production company’s “presenter” (British for host), whom Jenny describes as “a young, hip-hop kind of guy” (third clue). When I mention that I love British television, Jenny grills me a bit aggressively on which shows I watch. She seems relieved when I mention Monty Python and Benny Hill—shows that people in their fifties tend to watch (fourth clue). On a subsequent call, Jenny asks for biographical details about the student I have selected, and I mention that she has worked in the film business and will not be fazed by the cameras. A couple of days later Jenny emails to say, “I hate to do this, but I think we’ll be better off to do a one-on-one session with just you and our presenter. I'm a bit concerned that we'll run long if we include another person. Sorry for the change of heart. I just think it makes more sense to keep the setting as intimate as possible” (fifth clue). Next, we discuss the curriculum. “I've heard of some beginner exercises like ‘describe the room.’ Do you happen to have any exercises like this one that you use, and if so, could you describe them for me?” The first couple of exercises I propose are too complicated; Jenny prefers something “very simple, as basic as possible.” We settle on one of my favorites, “Who Would March In Your Parade”: Visualize looking out your window and seeing... Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
445: The following document was unearthed during the Great Pandemic Dig of 2020, which is still taking place in millions of closets, attics, basements, and garages. In 1983—seven years before the first web browser and 23 years before Facebook—I submitted this proposal to Teachers & Writers Collaborative. The development person responded with good questions and comments: “what would be required of the schools and others hooking up with us—in terms of extra equipment, training, expertise, etc.?”; “to take this on would be a quantum leap”; “look at…whatever’s the closest model to this around, if there is anything”; “What is unpredictable about this project? What could come up that we haven’t considered yet?” Alas, I was out there all alone: Steve Jobs was in California developing the first Mac, Bill Gates in Washington envisioning Windows, and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t be born for another year. I put the proposal in a box along with unfinished poems I hoped to return to, someday. Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Plunging through my closeted archives, I came across copies of The Poetry Project Newsletter. A piece by Michael Lally on Terrence Winch caught my attention. A few hours later in real time (but 43 years in literary time) I came across Winch selecting Lally At David Lehman's request, here's the Poetry Project piece: Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Yes, that was the month!--each revelation makes it more seminal. I'm sending the PDF by email if you want to post. --az