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I have no clue whether I'm actually posting or not. I've never blogged before, even read a blog. I wondered what to do until I saw DL's description of what we guest bloggers would produce: "brilliant insights." Okay, now that's clear; I'm with the program. What brilliant insight of mine would anyone care about? Well, I just got back from lunch, which time I spent cleaning my dog's backside of the clumps of shit the poor constipated baby got glued into her hair and orifices. My insight might be that it was remarkably not gross, since I love her so much; which gives me yet another glimpse into love. I was thinking all week about love, since Valentine's Day is at the end of this guest-blogger week, and something in me is celebrating this new "Best American Erotic" volume, too. It's probably unwise to admit this, but it's the first book of poems that's made me read compulsively in a long time. So many books have a sheen of coolness about them that puts me off; but this one is like playing doctor when you're a kid. (In fact, it reminded me that I DID "play doctor" when I was a kid, with Susie and Jimmy Vecchio, another piece of the puzzle.) My gold standard for erotic poem anthologies is the Faber Book of Blue Poetry, a pretty traditional, and English, and effective, compendium. This (Best American Erotic) is so much more like an intimate sexy book. I'm loving lines, images, whole poems, I'm eagerly loving and licking it up. "Like a seltzer in my crotch"--that's so American, what can I say? Deborah Landau's poem is like a combo of Whitman's woman watching the bathing young men and an Edward Hopper painting. "Suck and tongue you till my touch is much"; Strand's and Dobyns's poems; Richard Howard's edgy photo of something the word "pedophilia" just doesn't capture--these are some of the highlights for me. Tony H.'s gleeful misogyny; "A man is masturbating his heart out"--the anxious, the dreamy, the sublime that we are, is here. When my younger daughter was a baby she and I would often go for a ride at night, so she could calm down and maybe fall asleep. We'd have these great talks some nights. When she was three she had her tonsils out and it was a bit more traumatic than she supposed it would be; in fact, she was mad at me afterward for not warning her sufficiently. But here's a transcription from a notebook of our first ride after the operation, starting as we pull out of the driveway: "Daddy, I'm going to marry Gabriel and have six dogs, and four babies, and two cats." "That's wonderful. Do you love Gabriel?" "Yes, I wuv him and he wuvs me." "That's really neat." "Daddy, Gabriel has a penis." "Yes, he does." "That's because he's a boy. Steve and you and Gabriel have a penis." "Yes, we do." "And I have a vagina." "Yes." "It... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< I enjoyed Jim Cummins' and Denise Duhamel's comments, as I've enjoyed their poetry over the years. It's a pleasure to be in their company. I want to approach this subject from a different angle. What is erotic in poems? For some readers, graphic language and a bawdy directness, indicating sexual experience and lack of inhibition are appealing. If a woman writer is intrepid enough to place "cock" and "cunt" in her poems, you might think approvingly, no shrinking violet, this one! She is tough, she is brazen, she is "now." She doesn't cater to the old dream of beauty, and she's titillating besides. Maybe this is even a mandate: Pity the postmodern woman writer who doesn't put 'cunt' in her poems! My poem "On Not Using the Word 'Cunt' in a Poem" emerged from considerations along these lines. A writer I know read a poem of mine in a magazine and wrote to me about it. She said that it was a little stately, that I might want to rough it up, sex it up a bit. The poem was not about the body, or sex, or love: it was about an idea, an idea which had to be (painfully) relinquished. It was an abstract and meditative poem, and—I'll admit it—a little stately. But the idea of "sexing it up" nagged at, then galvanized, me, especially since I am grumpy about the contemporary convention that women use graphic language to prove they are free from convention. In a torrent of language and attitudinizing, I wrote the poem, "On Not Using the Word 'Cunt' . . . almost as it appears. Though tonally close to anger in parts, the poem was a riot to compose: one of those experiences in which you, the writer, are intoxicated by the flood of language, mind sparking, tongue racing . . . I wanted to explain that, in some cases, to rough it up/sex it up might be the equivalent of showing 't and a'—the same ole same ole, catering to new gender mandates, like "a burlesque romp/by someone who would rather keep her dress." Is a contemporary reader so distractable/skeptical that she/he needs to be flashed at every few lines? Must women writers continue to be subjected to the old polarities of prim and proper (old-fashioned) versus naughty and bawdy (postmodern)? Can't a woman writer be abstract and meditative by choice without losing authority? (Isn't that, in fact, a little more taboo these days?) There is erotic engagement between writer and reader of another kind, as the body of words, so to speak, tempts and fascinates by drawing the reader into cerebration, excitements of the mind. I think of the language play and tonal revelations Emily Dickinson gives her readers that make each of us feel as if she speaks to us alone. Her poems are eternally charged. And what about the seductive possibilities of sound? A writer can seduce if she/he means to give pleasure, as Wallace Stevens can (to me), no... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
A highly subjective list after looking over my CDs and albums. 1. All six tracks on the self-titled Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane album 2. “The Very Thought of You” as sung by Billie Holiday or Albert Collins 3. The Canadian Nick Gilder’s pop hit “Hot Child in the City” on The City Nights album 4. “Salt Marie Celeste” from Nurse with Wound. A lost ghost ship at sea. 5. Portishead’s Dummy 6. Arto Lindsay’s cover of “Simply Beautiful” on Mundo Cililizado 7. Neil Young’s song “Harvest Moon” 8. Gal Costa singing “Dindi." Lyrics by Tom Jobim 9. Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia" as covered by Shelby Lynn. 10. Black Angels. Passover 11. “Too Marvelous for Words,” lyrics by Johnny Mercer as recorded by Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra 12. Stevie Wonder’s song “As (Wonder)” from Songs in the Key of Life 13. Prince’s “If I was your Girlfriend” 14. All of the Sarah Vaughn in Hi-Fi album * Ok. Better stop now, though I did leave out my recordings of cheetahs purring. Any additions? Favorite make-out music or erotic soundtracks? Or what songs would you bring to a dirty song/dirty martini/clean underwear party? from the archives; originally published February 11, 2008 Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Let's see what kind of company erotic keeps in the dictionary: Erotic. In the dictionary between Eros, the god of love, born from chaos. In between erose: having the margin irregularly incised or indented, as if bitten by an animal. In between the factitious slang suffix “eroo”as in boozeroo, brusheroo. In between the word erogenous, responsive or sensitive to stimulation. Between erosion and erode, to wear away by or as if in abrasion, to eat into: to corrode, to destroy by slow consumption. In between erratum and erroneous: a mistake in printing and writing that which is contained or derived from error. Between errant, roving, especially in search of adventure. Eros. French Toast. Overdose. Erotology is the science of love. Erotomania is the meloncholy or madness arriving from passionate love. Erotomaniac, one affected by erotomania. From the ranging root ER: to rouse up set in motion. Hence, the Orient but also Eries: goddess of discord. Her counterpart is Eros, from him the many erotica. Aphrodite was his mother, daughter of foam. From Aphrodite we have aphrodisiacs and the foam –like mineral aphrite and aphrizite. --From the Archive; originally posted February 11, 2008 Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
It's so very good to BE back, Stacey. (If life changes can't make time for pleasures like this, how sad would that be!)
Joe: Thank you for this link and this correction, and for commenting! Bialik's analysis is so interesting and to-the-point. "how shaky is their bridge of mere words, how deep and dark the void is that opens at their feet, and how much every step taken safely partakes of the miraculous."
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In my John Milton class at Brandeis University (I am there attending school), time spent occasionally talking about God is evidently time spent talking about the relation between literary texts and religious ones. In both the KJV and NIV (versions) of the Bible, the Book of John recounts the creation of the world via words thus: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. What I find lovely about this construction, literarily, is how one can use it to measure the space between saying and being, or one could say “word”-ing and “create”-ing. The repetitions and graduated iterations of the phrases describe potential geometries of the relationship between words and power: simultaneous or adjacent, identical or neighborly. How much power do our words have to manifest what isn’t there? To portray what is? Looking for more insight into this origin myth for language-qua-creation, I find myself grabbing for the Hebrew version of Bereishit (Old Testament) that describes the creational magnificence of words this way: Yehi or va yehi or. We translate that as “God said, ‘Let there be light and there was light.’” But look more closely. The actual words are not a graduated transition as the English implies. They are a sequence of identical twin-like repetitions—dual humps connected by a “v” (and). The uttered phrase (yehay ohr) is rendered identical to the performed one (yehay ohr). Only the single letter “v” (and) connects the languaging with the manifesting. As poets and readers, we may find ourselves at times aware that words are incredible, and creative, and yet….there are often things in the manifest world that our human language can neither mimic nor summon up. Between words and being there is distance. And into that chasm falls...well, so much! childhood impotence, hocus-pocus, Lacanian lack, modes of consciousness, alternate realities, power and desire. What exactly do words create? What do the non-word elements of the poem bring into being? In a series of blog posts, I’ll talk a bit about words—and wordsmiths—as creational, depictional, powerful and powerless. Next Up: Plato and the Dangers of Poetry. Or Percy Bysshe Shelley and Strategies of Unsaying. Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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On Saturday (and Sunday too, actually), the Los Angeles Poetry community celebrated the life and work of Wanda Coleman--a poet large of life, of craft (eclectic, authentic, bold), of hair, of head (she was among our most brilliant cultural thinkers), and of heart. And the event felt large--ample and sprawling, generous and sunny, gorgeous, glamorous and gritty as Wanda's words, her friendship---the best our Los Angeles poetry community has to offer. Co-sponsored by the Poetry Society of America and Red Hen Press, the Saturday event launched a weekend of remembrance. First, we sighed and were sliced through by the reading and then original poem of Douglas Kearney, whose tour-de-force "answer" to a letter of Wanda's tapped into her spirit, then turned West in the final few stanzas, on the hinge of a palm tree trying unsuccessfully to hold without arms, and landing on the lady herself, so ours, so gone, and unholdable. Then we shivered along with Terrence Hayes, an acolyte and Coleman fan, his story about meeting Wanda. We rode along the spine of Wanda's "I Live for my Car," one of the world's best car poems through a delicious reading by our own Suzanne Lummis. Jack and Adelle Foley gave a beautiful two-voice tribute that clearly had years of friendship behind it. Laurel Ann Bogan rocked a poem about a woman in a red hat, while wearing quite glamorously...a red hat. Ron Koertge made me smile and never want to get out of bed. Brendan Constantine lent voice and mystery to an LA Noir poem of Wanda's--funny and dark. Stephen Kessler spoke as only a thinker, editor, writing friend can..about her laser-sharp mind, her canny, committed friendship. Michael Datcher, Sesshu Foster, Charles Harper Webb.... Louise Steinman. Musical accompaniment by David Ornette Cherry. Wanda Coleman's collaborator and life-co-conspirator, Austin Strauss gave us a broadside sketch of the many Wanda's, is own, and in love and fire, brought the event home. And Kate Gale (who opened the event). What can I say about Kate Gale? Watched the transcendent Cecilia Woloch do what she always does--show up with that authenticity and soul--and I remembered a long ago dinner--just after Wanda had published Bathwater Wine, her Lenore Marshall winning book--when she and Marilyn Hacker had read sonnets and other poems in the wonderful black-box reading venue at Beyond Baroque, and after, we'd all piled into two or three cars, and headed out for plantains and to talk science fiction, poetry, poverty, gaming, and life with Cecilia and Marilyn and Wanda and Fred Dewey, and Wanda's husband, Austin Strauss and her son, Ian and his partner, a woman whose name I'm sorry I don't remember. We laughed a lot. The evening was high in spirits and warm, so warm. And I could see why David Ulin would later call Wanda "the conscience of the LA literary scene." And I was new to Los Angeles then. And I thought, if this is my world, my new old world, I'm happy to be in it.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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When I was a child, I’d often read poems I didn’t understand. I’d throw my thoughts against the poem like a locked box, trying to parse the words together, so that the lock would slip open. There were poets whom I knew were mostly beyond me, but my mind rubbed against them systematically, like my cat rubs her face against a hairbrush, and there were others whose work was made mostly of sound rather than idea, and those I could drink up like a glass of water. Emily Dickinson was in the first category, and Theodore Roethke in the latter. I wasn’t a fan of Dickinson. Why should I be? A West Coast child who had no use for a version of nature that focused on the fly, the snake, and a bunch of east coast birds. Dickinson’s world was lacy, with holes. Her snakes all seemed to be wearing little Preacher’s suits. Not enough sex in it, I might have said, had I been anything but a child. But then I stumbled on two short Dickinson poems of nonconformity. 441 This is my letter to the World That never wrote to Me— The simple News that Nature told— With tender Majesty Her Message is committed To Hands I cannot see— For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen— Judge tenderly—of Me I was an oddball kind of child. Not fitting in was kind of my philosophy. 260 I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – too? Then there's a pair of us! Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know! How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – To tell one's name – the livelong June – To an admiring Bog! At last, a code I could use, a message I needed! Later, I returned to Dickinson, and we sat together in the window where she whispered to me. I was grown by then. She’s not in my body as a form of sound. She’s in my mind, deep down there, like a series of locks. I open one, and she opens another. And in this infinitely regressive chain, she and I travel through a lonely place together. Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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I've been thinking lately about Cool. About cool before the concept of cool. Or before the cool people of today knew about the concept of Cool because we weren't born yet. Take E.E. Cummings in 1926, for instance, entitling his third book of poetry, in titling his fifth book as book is 5 which must surely have been among the coolest titles of poetry books published in 1926, or in any other year for that matter. Which is why I want to take a moment to say that I really like E.E. Cummings. He makes verbs out of typography. He metaphors the hell out of grammar. He lets a lot of air into his sentences. (Or philosophy. Or science. Or thought. Or ego. Iconoclasm. Or humility. Or maybe he doesn't. Maybe I'm just not seeing him clearly. Readers: your thoughts?) What he does do is karate chop the line breaks and even whole/holey/un-whole words--a trait for which he has been both praised and lambasted. (Edmund Wilson called his punctuation "hideous".) It's true! Sure, we probably knew his poems sounded good. But did you ever wonder why? One story I can tell you about E.E. Cummings is that he was apparently hiding a pocketful of meters and a burial plot of sonnets inside his outwardly-apparent "free verse". Marilyn Hacker broke the news to me in a conventional sonnet class. I was 25 years old and floored. Instead of "Where's Waldo?", poets with a hankering to do so, could read swaths of Cummings and ask, "Where's the buried sonnet?" She showed me some secret examples. The Poetry Foundation web site's bio of Cummings seems to point toward confirming this. From the age of 8 to 22, Cummings practiced writing in traditional verseform. So it's no wonder, no puzzle, and no surprise that a deep canon hovered under the cannon he carried back inside his heart and mind and experience from the first world war (where, incidentally, he hung out with Pablo P. and other avant garde artists). E.E. Cummings: a stealth formalist. And yet, also, paradoxically, a rebel. Adam Kirsch's terrific exploration of Cummings in The Harvard Review shows a man who contained (and complained) these complexities. Who else deserves the Too Cool for School award for titles of poetry books? Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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If you have a little time at work today, I'd highly recommend a brief trip over to the Poetry Society of America's "Old School" collection. Similar in some ways to the classic poems section of Slate, where David Lehman has located an 'overlooked masterpiece by Thomas Gray', Old School also pairs pre-19th Century poets with the contemporary poets who adore them. Find out about Matthew Rohrer's Shelley-inspired tattoo. Get brave with Yu Xuanji and Tina Chang. Experience Keats as a fragment of Ed Hirsch's consciousness, and hear George Herbert through the ears and mind of Alfred Corn. Oh I'm out on a kind of date there too, but my favorite pre-19th Century poet is wearing a wicked Invisibility Cloak. (And anyway, just between you and me, I think this poem of Robert Frost's might have competed hard as my top pick if I hadn't already written about it here.) --Jenny Factor Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Since the first of the year, the days here in sunny So Ca have been unseasonably cold and occasionally wet. Several times a day, in and out of the house with dog, in and out of the car with groceries, with book bags (literally, bags o' books), with jackets in arms, once shed, abandoned and retrieved from the car, with leash, with ball, with muddy feet, I walk out past our rose garden. Our rose garden--53 years old--another woman's treasure. Our rose garden belonged to our home's third occupants: not the 1930's-era Macy's furniture buyer, or the former general who sent away to Sears for plans for our house, but to the camelia horticulturalist and his wife, his wife who preferred roses. (We bought the home from the fourth owners, one of whom had once interned at the finest nursery in Pasadena, and had a verve for flower arrangements. Her rose arrangements "sold" me on the house, over twelve years ago. Not as skilled as Wallace Stevens, I toy with the art, understanding it very little. But I love my roses nonetheless. A sample of my latest creation is in the photo above.) Anyway, no season surprises me more about roses--which have their pert season, the one where the insects first discover them, then the season they grow rank and stem-molded, and the season it's hard to cut them from the stalk before their little nethers are showing, so warm and ripe--indeed, little surprises me more about the seasons of roses than this season, this impossible January season, where the buds stay tight as long as they can, preserved as if in a nursery, and picturesque with drops. Where the roses themselves seem to belie winter, seem to speak back to short days, seem to promise something before failing at it. Every monday I wonder, will this be the week the gardener decides they are finished and cuts them back? This is the season of symbiosis and surprises. This is the season where the roses to me seem juxtaposed and various, seem to me like poetry. One week, I ran into my gardener's young assistant: his wife was about to have a baby. It was fall. He carried around his phone. The next week, a red rose I'd been eyeing, a perfect red bud was gone after the gardeners came. It was hers, I hoped. No Rapunzel rules around here. The gardener, John, once told me that it makes them sad to watch the roses they care for die on the vine. And now, it's full-on winter, as winter as California can get. Seeing them there--my garden's last Abraham Lincoln (a dark red, meant for bud-cutting, dainty as petticoats when it later opens), and my last Ballerina (fat and pink and white), a half-dozen lemon drops (with their faint ghost of citrus), I never go outside without thinking I should cut them. Cut them before the rain gets them. The rain that is always threatening. Later in the sink, my... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Emma, thank you so much! The poem always takes my breath away. I was thinking back to when I first read it. I believe Mark Doty was lecturing at Bennington. He introduced it, and I had purchased White's Salt Ecstasies by the end of the day! The white rabbit on the float photo was on the nurses' float, an award-winner this year. I like to think of him as 'Harvey'. An imaginary friend to cut the winter blues.....j.f.
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Two days ago, right about now, my family and I headed over to Orange Grove Boulevard, a wide, almost leisurely road with green lawns and mountain views that slices through the westmost-half of my hometown, Pasadena, CA. We parked nearby and walked into the darkness, the clumps of people. The sun had set, and families and college students had camped out on the side of the road, as they do each year, awaiting our parade. Portable camp fires and sleeping bags tangled in the toes. Kids impatient and excited, running from parent to parent, mouths smeared with lollipops. Getting to the Grove is a project. Each driving-street heading N/S is blocked, and guarded. The Wrigley Mansion, whence the parade ventures, sits proudly on its long lawn, littered with TV cameras on poles, bins of extra flowers, each in their little plastic phallic green cups. And in the center of the road, the lonely giants--perfect, prepped floats--parked, coned-off, and waiting for dawn. Flowers and seeds, oddly lit by ten-foot tall lights. Throngs of people and dogs walked alongside, flasked and ear-muffed. And my favorite element...four wandering minstrels, age say 18, from some nearby college played inventive variations on Auld Lang Sine on a clarinet, saxophone, accordian, and guitar. And when the new year hit, we shared the countdown on a public avenue. Cheering all around. But today, on the first "work" day ("word" day) of the calendar year, it's hard not to be lonely. Time passes, people pass too, never to come back to my long solo stem, to my lonely body to visit. And I found myself thinking about this poem of James L. White's below: Making Love to Myself When I do it, I remember how it was with us. Then my hands remember too, and you’re with me again, just the way it was. After work when you’d come in and turn the TV off and sit on the edge of the bed, filling the room with gasoline smell from your overalls, trying not to wake me which you always did. I’d breathe out long and say, ‘Hi Jess, you tired baby?’ You’d say not so bad and rub my belly, not after me really, just being sweet, and I always thought I’d die a little because you smelt like burnt leaves or woodsmoke. We were poor as Job’s turkey but we lived well— the food, a few good movies, good dope, lots of talk, lots of you and me trying on each other’s skin. What a sweet gift this is, done with my memory, my cock and hands. Sometimes I’d wake up wondering if I should fix coffee for us before work, almost thinking you’re here again, almost seeing your work jacket on the chair. I wonder if you remember what we promised when you took the job in Laramie? Our way of staying with each other. We promised there’d always be times when the sky was perfectly lucid, that we could remember each other through that.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Oh and to be clear! Not all the antics described above (except the beautiful "Still, Still, Still") were entirely Madrigalian. (Is that a word?) Farther to the east, the kids and comrades of several school districts and private schools in the San Gabriel Valley have started the Factor waterworks and childhood flashbacks as well. And there was one amazing amazing 6th grade performance of Lauridson I'll never ever forget! But no one, Joel P., is quite like you!
Oh Mr. Pressman!! Thank you for that. With much love this holiday season and in 2013!
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You now behold (in the photo above) a group of Beverly Hills High School alumni (parents, bankers, singers, and friends) returning to the alma mater as they do each December to sing "Still, Still, Still" with their old high school singing group, The Beverly Hills High School Madrigals. They are singing under the baton of a very dear teacher, Joel Pressman, who was already making room for creativity and discipline, tenderness, tough love, and a lot of humor when I was a creative soul lost in the halls of that high school. Mr. Pressman's powerful voice draws us all back. What a teacher! What a singer! And all those voices--those alums who have gone onto careers in diaper-management, advanced cookie baking, accounting and the law, we alums who still love to sing, who still remember to slow down for that huge diminuendo in the final verse, and know how and why to watch the conductor--well it leads all of us in the audience to a place very close to tears! Here is a video of this year's event. Over a hundred singers of all ages. And Joel Pressman with the baton. I had been a parent for oh about a minute when I realized that I would never again stumble upon a group of carolers singing on floor 3 of the mall, children chiming off-key in a red velvet auditorium, middle school brass sections bugling themselves bug-eyed at Disneyland without instantly bursting into happy tears. Every face, every trying-hard face is so shiny and focused. And then there are always a few faces, bored and daydreaming...the child in the navy satin poof skirt inaccurately mouthing the words. The boy with the monkey-face dramatics who couldn't quite pull the requisite colored outfit together, and would fit in better at the local Chuckie Cheese. And the social dynamics. Gee, they just slap one in the face until the stomach remembers the old flip-flops. Nodding to the parents with a "hip" Queen medley mostly from Bohemian Rhapsody, "mamma, I killed a man...my life had only just begun..now I've gone and thrown it all away" as we audience members howl with laughter, the joke on us for getting old, humming along. A high school diva in a black slinky dress, draped over a piano as if she were a lounge act, supported by four guys her own age in hats and bow ties, two of whom she'd never date, and one who would never date her (wrong gender), and the one who just maybe...and that isn't even storying up to the accompanist. The girl-on-girl duet, part love, part catfight. The sounds of the audience, the live net of high school affections and antagonisms, providing the soundtrack to the series of festive, frought events. I love them. I love every single one of them. There we sit, we parents, grandparents, and other partisans, holding our tinier-each-year camcorders and recording our bigger-each-year children. I am purged over and over by the beautiful imperfection of the music,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, Jim! Love hearing your voice too.
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Henry David Thoreau, while barely catapulting out of his own 20's, was nevertheless ready to dispense valuable advice on creativity and the energy necessary to sustain a life of purposeful alertness. Here he is speaking on mornings. "The most memorable season of the day, the awakening hour. For an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Be awakened by our Genius, not by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor. Be awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, not factory bells. Be awakened to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light." --Henry David Thoreau, Walden I love these quotes. And largely, I love mornings. Though, in those funny creative collisions and collusions so common to early parenthood--timeless days, endless nights--one December, I found myself reading Henry David Thoreau's Walden over my infant's sleepy head. You may imagine I got a bit of a kick out of the statement on mornings that Thoreau makes above. And still today, on this "shortest day of the year", I curse at my 'nudging mechanical servitor' and solemnly swear that my rescue dog--the newest "baby" to interfere with my sleep--must be by tautology, logic, and luck, my personal genius. Now if only I could teach him to use a pencil.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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all to no end save beauty the eternal - from The Crowd at the Baseball Game by William Carlos Williams It's been a big week for poetry around here. Last Friday, the Mayor of Los Angeles named our city's first poet laureate--baseball-loving poet, Eloise Klein Healy. Eloise is probably not the first baseball-loving poetry royalty. But is she the first poet to pitch puns and sling similes for the Boys in Blue? I'm not an expert, so I invite fans in the stands to throw peanuts. But if I'm not mistaken, Marianne Moore batted for the Yankees. Eve Merriam, a very fine poet, and a winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize in her youth--in fact, she wrote one of my favorite poems on new love ("I'm telling my hands not to blossom into roses"), penned these ecumenical lines: Bare-handed reach to catch April's incoming curve. Leap higher than you thought you could and Hold: Spring, Solid, Here. I loved attending the little poetry inauguration ceremony at the downtown library, falling though it did smack dab in the midst of an Antioch University Los Angeles poetry residency. I stole an hour away for happy announcements in a musty, muralled place. After, back "home" on the Antioch front, poet Kazim Ali came to visit from Ohio, and put us into our bodies and into sound. Then my mentees and I began to work on crafting their project period contracts, pulling books off shelves, as we will off and on all week, coming to a common vocabulary about literature and their own work and the changes and growth they hope for in the term ahead. And also a conversation about passions, about finding words in all their pockets. I love the dialogue and the magic of it. And the accidental discoveries. Like this one. Here is another poet West Coast poet who has taken up the Dodger cause: B.H. Fairchild writes about a certain player's time spent as a Brooklyn Dodger during his own pre-poetry Kansas youth in "For Junior Gilliam." Gilliam served as second and third baseman for both the Brooklyn and Los Angeles' era Dodgers, was named 1953 Rookie of the Year, and ultimately became among the earliest African American major league coaches. So on behalf of all Dodger-loving poemphiles everywhere: Congratulations to the first poet-laureate of L.A., Eloise Klein Healy! Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Tuesday marked the birthday of poet, Marilyn Hacker. In her honor, I've been thinking about a writing an odd multi-part fairy tale poem, based around a particular Grimm story, and featuring a transgendered bear. I may never finish it (well, actually, yesterday I finished a draft) but if I do, it is meant to be a kind of tribute to something wonderful she did when she was just about precisely my age. I am a long-time fan of all her work, but I am a fan, in that way we love what we love that feels particularly personal, almost like a secret, of her very brilliant series of poems based around the legend of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, and featured in her fourth book, Assumptions (Knopf, 1985). I love The Snow Queen poems for the figure of the Little Robber Girl, whom Hacker depicts as a saucy, savvy, tough-skinned and tender tomboy-girl. The friendship between the Little Robber Girl and Gerda saves Gerda's life, allows her brother's rescue. The Little Robber Girl knows how to handle her knife, how to maneuver around her mother, how to get dirty and stay clean. I'm simplifying. I remember "finding" these poems while I was sitting with a small stack of books on a park bench in Nyack, New York. My son, not yet three, had wandered up to some older children...strangers to him...on a kind of suspension bridge that turns your average playground into a pirate's ship. He asked to play, while trundling unsteadily and heavy-footed along that bridge. I was reading. My head was with Gerda. But I remember very clearly hearing their discussion: Girl: Who are you? My Son: I'm superman. Girl: No you're not. (Then she pushes him hard and to the side.) My Son: (Face all surprise, he regains his balance, smiling) No. No. No. Bad Idea. (he tells her, and he is laughing) I know it's time to watch (and I do). But I hate to put the book down. There in that place of fairy tale, redwood chips, broken buckets and sand, my son is a super hero, I am a bookworm, and two girls were solving their problems in fluent blank verse, gritty and mutually supportive. I didn't know Marilyn Hacker yet. (I met her actually about two weeks later. Another story, for another day.) In honor of Marilyn Hacker's birthday, here are some wonderful poems of hers, readily available online. Here is The Rune of the Finland Woman, from this Snow Queen series Some books make sense. Others make sense of us. Thank you, Marilyn! Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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While cooking cranberries, one wonders where poems come from. Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Forgive me, those of you in "weather". Under weather. Riding out weather. Here is a poem much on my mind. It has traveled beside me for over a week...leashed (or perhaps, unleashed and dislodged from memory) by the Sandy of my west coast imagination, and now, today, stirred up again with the east coast storm warnings all over the news, in this funny well-publicized country of news cycles and imaginings. There is probably a small image of this poem inside every cell in my body. I memorized it at 12 years old. Sixteen lines. Fewer end-rhyme sounds than one's average sonnet. (There are four in here...though some would say six, since two are debate-worthy, are slant.) All the lines are in falling meters: trochees, dactyls. As for the sounds: so many W's. A beautiful haunting wind-like mouthful of lament. Bereft Where had I heard this wind before Change like this to a deeper roar? What would it take my standing there for, Holding open a restive door, Looking down hill to a frothy shore? Summer was past and the day was past. Sombre clouds in the west were massed. Out on the porch's sagging floor, Leaves got up in a coil and hissed, Blindly struck at my knee and missed. Something sinister in the tone Told me my secret must be known: Word I was in the house alone Somehow must have gotten abroad, Word I was in my life alone, Word I had no one left but God. Robert Frost I love how the "or" rhyme (door, floor, before) goes on for the first five lines...the tension the reader feels as one's ears anticipatorily try to abandon the sound at the normal stanza intervals for a couplet or a quatrain, but no, our author keeps going...three times, four times, five! Incredible. I love "past", "massed", "hissed", "missed", with yet a sixth "or" rhyme thrown in between the pair of couplets, the jangly couplets that don't quite belong to one another, but nevertheless sound and feel fresh, as they try to create a little stir of exterior argument to the poem's primal rhetorical blow. And then "tone", "known", "alone", "alone" comes...chiming hollow-voiced like a church bell, the "alone" repeated, so primal, so lost. "Word"..."Word" the final two lines begin, as if the wind itself were infused with broken messages, as if language itself speaks of its own inability to redeem the sorrow of the poet, or me. This anaphora glues together a couplet whose ends don't even rhyme: "alone" and "God". Instead, "God" is part of an off-rhyme with "abroad". Our closure (on "God") is no closure...no click of end-sound against end-sound, but we know we've landed as close to closure as we are going to get. A helpful anonymous person on Yahoo! Answers points me toward Jay Parini's really excellent Frost biography, Robert Frost: A Life (a book I read about two years ago, and would recommend) and tells me that this poem was written in 1893, which would... Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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HOUSE FEAR Always--I tell you this they learned-- Always at night when they returned To the lonely house from far away To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray, They learned to rattle the lock and key To give whatever might chance to be Warning and time to be off in flight: And preferring the out- to the in-door night, They learned to leave the house-door wide Until they had lit the lamp inside. --Robert Frost (1874-1963) I called to the wind, "Who's there?"........Whoever it was still knocks at my gate. --Kyorai, trans by Harry Behn (1651-1704) There is a grey thing that lives in the tree-tops None know the horror of its sight Save those who meet death in the wilderness But one is enabled to see To see branches move at its passing To hear at times the wail of black laughter And to come often upon mystic places Places where the thing has just been. --Stephen Crane (1871-1900) THE WARNING Just now, Out of the strange Still dusk...as strange, as still... A white moth flew: why am I grown So cold? --Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) (her form is the 'cinquain') In my childhood in Beverly Hills California, where our storms tended toward fire and quake, Los Angeles poet Myra Cohn Livingston served as Artist in our schools. Her first lesson was to use our real eyes, rather than to "buy in" to other people's metaphors and similes. She liked to remind us that "snow" wasn't "winter" in Southern California. I knew that if I "saw" the leaves turning something other than crinkly-and-brown, I should get my eyes checked. On the other hand, she would bring in brilliant objects and ask us to come up with lists...what are they? what are they to us metaphorically? We would take metaphor-hunting walks. We would find the telephone in the seashell, the moon "as the north wind's cookie." (That last is Vachel Lindsay, in case you were wondering.) And she would read us poems, across time, across space, from a stream she knew where poetry was always happening inside itself. A famous children's poet, she didn't believe in talking down to children. Her anthologies still sit on my shelves, and are of interest to my 43 year old self. Her anthologies for children (among her more than 90 books), always included international work, spanning six centuries or more. Here for Halloween are some selections from Why Am I Grown So Cold: Poems of the Unknowable (A Margaret K. McElderry Book, Athenaeum, 1982). Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Laura, this is so cool!
Toggle Commented Apr 15, 2012 on April 15, 1912 at The Best American Poetry