Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Whistling Shade

My poem "Late Afternoon, February 16, 1905" has been published in the Fall 2006 issue of Whistling Shade. It appears both in print and online: www.whistlingshade.com. The poem is a fictionalized account of the arrival of my grandmother Katarzyna Bryniarska Stanek and her son Andrew in the United States. It has only recently come to my attention that the daughter mentioned in the poem did not, in fact, die aboard ship but arrived with her mother and brother. Anna lived into her 80's in suburban Buffalo.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Chorus Line

New York, October 25, 2006: Saw A Chorus Line, the broadway show in which my nephew, Tyler Hanes, plays Larry the dance captain. Since I did not see the original 30 years ago as did my friend Steven, I can't comment on a comparison. Today's version is supposed to be an exact duplication of the original, right down to the material of the costumes. Tyler is an energetic dancer, bleached out hair and all. Check out the link to his website or visit www.broadway.com for more info.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Poetic Effect

My business web site is now up and running: www.poeticeffect.com. It explains my poetry submission service. Check it out and if you're interested in becoming a client, email me at poeticeffect@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

ArtWorks and PoetWords

I have recently been invited to participate in a poet/artist collaborative project called ArtWorks and PoetWords. More than 70 poets and visual artists have been randomly paired and will work together to create original work to be shown during National Poetry Month (April 2007).

Antoni Ooto and I will be working together during the next five months. We have already met twice and have decided on an initial concept. For more information on Antoni and his work as well as the Rochester Art Club, check out the links on this page.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Recent Publication

My poem "Appendage" appears in the Fall 2006 issue of Main Channel Voices. To order a copy, visit the link on this page. Though the journal does place some of its contents on its web site, mine is only in the print version.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Annotation on She Had Some Horses

This 1983 collection is a demonstration of thematic and phraseological repetition. When done well, Harjo succeeds in creating the feel of a chant or meditation. Twenty-two years after the book’s publication, however, there are some word choices that might not work if first presented in today’s poetry culture.

The book is divided into four sections: “Survivors,” “What I Should Have Said,” “She Had Some Horses,” and “I Give You Back.” The first and most lengthy section establishes the poet’s terms as a basis for the entirety of the book. In 25 poems, Harjo enlightens us on various aspects of blood, earth, breath, stars, birth and voice, using each noun at least eight times, not to mention the anchor of the book: horses. Yet, she does so in a way that the reader does not feel compelled to close the book screaming, “Enough!”

Earth is the subject most frequently treated by the poet. It is described as “boiling” and “cooking” beneath us in “Anchorage,” (14) as if preparing to give rise to an uncertain newness. In “For Alva Benson, And For Those Who Have Learned To Speak,” (18) the earth acts as midwife as a Navajo woman “squatted down against the earth / to give birth.” The ground spoke then and continued to speak when birthing became the business of hospitals. Eventually, a woman is born who “learned to speak for the ground” after people learned to ignore it speaking for itself. The earth murmurs and “spinning beneath us / goes on talking.”

It is the intricate dance of this earth, along with the sky and stars that make the poet “memory alive” in “Skeleton of Winter” (31) as all three circle her heart. Harjo and / or the speaker of her poems speak often of the heart, perhaps a little too often by today’s standards, not just in the first section of the book, but in the other three as well. Whether these are “hearts / that would break into pieces” as in “Kansas City” (33) or are unwanted as in “Your Phone Call At 8 AM” (57) where “what you wanted, this morning / you said, was a few words / and not my heart,” the heart has lost much of its poetic magic from decades, if not centuries of trite overuse.

Breath and breathing are succumbing to the same problem in contemporary literature. Harjo asks the reader to “Remember your birth, how your mother struggled / to give you form and breath.” This particular poem, “Remember” (40), seems to encapsulate nearly all of Harjo’s key elements in this book: sky, stars, moon, sun, birth, earth, voice and dance. These are all essentials of the Native American culture the poet calls upon her readers to remember, most to which a person of any ethnic background could relate, in a global sense.

The third section is the title section, “She Had Some Horses,” (63) a poem in five parts. While horses appear throughout the book it is here that they are ascribed their identities by the poet. “She” is, presumably, Mother Earth in which all things originate. Her horses were “maps of drawn blood” or war; they “licked razor blades” or acted destructively. They “cried in their beer” and “lied.” Her horses, personified, were both loved and hated. Harjo selects the past tense here, as if to say to the reader that Mother is done with her work. Then in the last section of the poem, “Explosion,” (68) she offers us possibilities such as “a new people, coming forth” and tells us “maybe the explosion was horses” that will enable some “to see who they have become.”

The final section of the book is one poem, “I Give You Back.” (73) The speaker of the poem is done with fear, reinforced by her chant-like repetition of “I release you” four times followed by eight “I am not afraid” declarations. She declares, “I take myself back, fear.” Then, having experienced what fear has had to offer, the poet completes the book with a newfound confidence “But come here, fear / I am alive and you are so afraid / of dying.//”

There is a delicate balance between the judicious yet intentional use of repetitive thematic elements and phraseology and their overuse. Threads skillfully woven throughout a book keep the reader from being distracted by them, creating a pattern similar to weavings done by peoples indigenous to the southwest. The difficulty lies in determining just how obvious that pattern should be, and, if recreating in poetry a pattern like the art of the Navajo, determining where the requisite flaw should be.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Annotation on A Tomb for Anatole

A Tomb for Anatole (Pour un tombeau d’Anatole) is a fascinating translation of fragmentary notes written by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé after the sad but not altogether unexpected death of his son Anatole at the age of eight. The boy had never really been completely well from birth and his mother’s pregnancy had been difficult. By the medical standards of the late 19th century, Anatole had been diagnosed with children’s rheumatism, his symptoms being joint pain and a perpetually swollen abdomen.

Paul Auster, who translated Mallarmé’s fragments, comments in his introduction “This is one of the most moving accounts of a man trying to come to grips with modern death—that is to say, death without God, death without hope of salvation…” This comment made these fragments even more despairing for me to read. It is difficult enough to consider the death of any child, even more so the death of one’s own child. However, it is most difficult to read of such a painful loss knowing that the parents did not have any kind of faith to support them and, as Auster writes, “In this time of crisis even art failed Mallarmé” since he was unable to finish the long poem his notes suggest he would have written. The intended poem would have had four parts. Some of the fragments state for which part they were intended.

Auster describes the framents as “a kind of ur-text, the raw data of the poetic process” and most of them are just that. Auster also writes a disclaimer with which I would, in part, disagree:
Although they seem to resemble poems on the page, they should not be confused with poetry per se. Nevertheless, more than one hundred years after they were written, they are perhaps closer to what we today consider possible in poetry than at the time of their composition.

I would propose, rather, that some of these fragments are poems in and of themselves merely written at least 50 years ahead of their time. In my reckoning, nine of the 202 fragments could certainly qualify as poems by today’s standards, more if one is open to a much more abstract consideration of a poem. One such fragment poem is number 7 “what has taken refuge / your future in me / becomes my / purity through life, / which I shall not / touch— //. Mallarmé believed that his son was not really dead as long as the boy lived within his memory, creating a sense of the sacred within himself.

A sense of presence beyond death is conveyed in fragment number 30 “brother sister / not ever the absent one / -- / will not be less than / the one present—//.” This brief but concise poem of five lines quietly expresses the poet’s attempt to rationalize his loss by the very life of his daughter and does so perhaps more effectively than had the poet employed the conventions and constraints of his time.

We see denial demonstrated in fragment 93 which was designated for section 2 of the poem never written “the pious / burial of the / body, makes myste- / riously—this / admitted fiction— //” where being laid to rest becomes “fiction,” unreal for the poet. I would disagree with Auster’s insistence on breaking the lines awkwardly in the English translation for the sake of mirroring the original French. I would have broken “mysteriously” as “myster- / iously.” But, Auster is not claiming any of these fragments as poems so his decision to keep the translation letter for letter as it appears on the page in French makes sense authentically.

Fragment 129 speaks to me as if it were the title poem:

no death—you will not
deceive him—
--I take advantage of the fact

that you deceive him
--for his happy
--but on the other hand
I take it back from you
for the ideal tomb

I agree with Auster’s assertion that Mallermé would not have completed his intended long poem for that would have been Anatole’s entombment and not entombed he lives on, even beyond his loving father.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Recent Publication

My poem "Dark to Dark" appears in the recently published Fall 2005 issue of The Gihon River review: http://grr.jsc.vsc.edu/main%20page.htm gives information on ordering a copy of this fine journal.

Upcoming Reading

I will be one of many fine poets reading as part of Author's Day for National Poetry Month at Lift Bridge Books in Brockport. I believe refreshments will be served. The event starts at 1:00 pm. For more information, see http://liftbridge.booksense.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Shameless Self Promotion

I will be reading with David Dodd Wednesday, March 15 at 7:00 pm at Fairport Village Coffee, 6 N. Main St., Fairport. An open mic follows.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Annotation on Hayden Carruth's Doctor Jazz

Eleven months ago, it was my privilege to meet Mr. Carruth and his much younger wife, Joe-Ann. After reading Carruth’s Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies Across the Nacreous River at Twilight Toward the Distant Islands, my reading group thought it a wonderful idea to invite him to the Rochester area to read. We partnered with St. John Fisher College and the poetry organization of which I am currently vice-president, Just Poets, and offered him little more than expenses to venture to town in early April 2005. Carruth, whose agoraphobia, ill health and self-proclaimed misanthropy usually keep him homebound these days, eagerly accepted. Despite both of them being ill, Joe-Ann Laughlin, whose long, auburn tresses Carruth mentions so lovingly in Doctor Jazz, brought Carruth to us in questionable early spring Western New York weather, him with the oxygen tank on which his very life depends in tow. Carruth entertained us by reading selections chosen at the spur of the moment and, though he claims he doesn’t especially care to read, he read in a surprisingly strong voice for over an hour until we begged him to stop before fatigue would overtake him.
It is with this Carruth in mind that I read Doctor Jazz. It is unmistakably Carruth, but a crabbier, more self-centered Carruth who pens these poems. The collection is divided into six sections: “First Scrapbook,” “Martha,” “The Afterlife,” “Faxes,” “Bashō” and “Second Scrapbook.” The opening poem of the book and “First Scrapbook,” “The Half-Acre of Millet,” is reminiscent of Carruth at his best in Heron. The first stanza ends where the poem itself should, “And then a day or two late the cows went reluctantly / to their stanchions / Into the dark muttering and complaining//” Carruth, however, adds six more lines in a second stanza placing himself into the poem, “sickly and old.” Sadly, that is very much the subject of Doctor Jazz or, as Carruth has titled one of the other poems in this section, “Old Man Succumbing to Retrospection.”
“Martha,” Part II, is written from the viewpoint of a father writing letters to his daughter as he grieves on the first day of her death, quite factually based as Carruth’s daughter Martha died at 40. Carruth writes of the “strange, unnatural thing” it is “to outlive / one’s daughter.” The poet admits defeat in his attempts to express the immensity of this tragedy, “Language / like a dismasted hulk at sea is overwhelmed / and founders.”
In Part III, “The Afterlife,” Carruth writes to the living from the viewpoint of a deceased man in an afterlife, a curiosity since he has made no secret of his atheism. Poems found here include two letters addressed to Sam Hamill and two to Stephen Dobyns. Here, Carruth laments the use and effect of “Wonder Drugs,” what he refers to as psychotropic prescription medicines that leave him in the afterlife “a mere husk, if that, / scrambled forever.” Perhaps if that were the only afterlife to envision, I’d be an atheist too.
Carruth writes 54 poems addressed as faxes to William, presumably Shakespeare, in Part IV. In fax number Forty-Nine, the poet defends the monotony of his subject matter, “I always told my students to write / about what they know, and / tell me, William, what / the hell else do I know now?” Is this the fate of us all? To become self-absorbed curmudgeons, some of whose rants and complaints simply get a wider audience?
I found Part V, “Bashō” to be a most refreshing break from Carruth’s obsession with ageing. The poet writes in the style of haiku or senryu, utilizing the 5-7-5 syllable pattern for some of the poems. Here, we get to see him smirk, as in “Tea Ceremony,” “I wonder, can you / do it equally well with / vodka martinis?”
My favorite poem of this collection is found in Part VI, “Second Scrapbook.” In “Literary Note,” Carruth echoes why I personally find end rhyme repellent,

I remember a time in our moderate clime
When the anapest ruled supreme,
And a great many folk who would babble in rhyme
Used it until you could scream.

Sadly, this book should not have been titled Doctor Jazz. There is no jazz-like rhythm in these poems and the closest approach to addressing jazz that Carruth takes is a listing of “The Fantastic Names of Jazz,” what he considers a poem but is really just a list of 44 renowned and lesser known jazz artists. Perhaps he should have titled this book I’m Old and Have Earned the Right to Gripe, which is what any of us would be entitled to do should we reach Carruth's age.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What happens when the mind dies?

"When the mind dies it exudes rich critical prose . . ." taken from Song 170 of John Berryman's Dream Songs.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Broken Glass

Some broken things should never be fixed, like shattered glass. whose multiple facets sparkle when splintered. Broken glass may, sometimes, be re-glued but it will never hold water for the roses you intend to adorn it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Psychiatrist Licking

Quote for the day: "My psychiatrist can lick your psychiatrist." Taken from "Stimulant for an Old Beast," 77 Dream Songs by John Berryman. "Lick" in what way? Beat up? In treating patients? Like an envelope (yikes!!!)? If it means beat up, my psychiatrist doesn't stand a chance.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Art and Suffering

Quote of the day from The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek: "No art can possibly comfort HER then, even though art is credited with many things, especially an ability to offer solace. Sometimes, of course, art creates the suffering in the first place."