Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jeremy Glazier in The Antioch Review

This poem by Jeremy Glazier is on page 740 of the current issue of The Antioch Review.

Directions for a Duel

Fill the chamber of your pistol
with pinecones, rose petals,

small coins you've already shot holes in.
When you enter the saloon,

the player piano will stop
and for a split second you will know

the hand each player holds.
Keep your eye on the one you came for,

and kill him
when the redhead
winks at you from behind the still.

This will be your sign
that everything is possible.
Sling the body over your shoulder
and bury it in the stomach

of the sandstorm that waits for you
outside the city limits.

Jeremy Glazier

This beautiful poem encapsulates a metaphor for the discipline and art of writing poetry. If I were to translate it (non-poetically), I would write something like this:

Fill your mind with texture, fragrance, and ideas you've been bandying about. When you write, time will seem to halt; and for a split second you will see every angle of your subject. Stay focused; when the muse strikes, get the words down on paper. Then you will know you are a poet. Carry your poem to the outside world and add it to the storm of submissions flying around in the mail.

That's the Amy take on it. What's your take? Why do you think Glazier changes the form of the poem after the words "and kill him?"

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Timothy O'Keefe in 32 Poems

Thank you to everyone for wishing me a speedy recovery. I am still in bed with a sinus infection. Fortunately, I feel well enough to blog today; and fortunately, I received the new issues of 32 Poems and The Antioch Review last week. This poem by Timothy O'Keefe is on page 12 of 32 Poems:


A clear-gold cicada shell
hooked hard to wet bark.
Center-split: antennal
to lower thorax. Molt-clean.

its clutch in the dark.

a body-peek green.
a droning wind-hinge.
A fingerful of sudden wings.

Timothy O'Keefe

This poem appeals to me both for its literal description of a cicada shell and for the figural depiction of the sensation of love. I used to find these shells all the time when I was a kid; when I found one, it scared me, until I got up close and saw it wasn't a live bug.

Imagine that instant when the cicada emerges--green, raw, unfolding, then suddenly flapping with new life. Now read the poem again, as if it were not about a cicada shell at all, but simply a description of love: clutching, split, clean. Green, fresh, and new. A droning just below your surface. A sudden flutter of wings just barely in your grasp.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Objectivity, Shmobjectivity.

I'm sick. I have a nasty sore throat, runny nose, and I injured my back a few days ago, so I can't really turn my head right or left. The end table is decorated with used tissues, a half-empty cup of tea, water, meds, and a couple of books. Every so often, I lie down to relieve the nausea. I am the definition of pathetic in pajamas.

So I spent some time reading the poetry in the new issue of The Antioch Review. I was thinking things like, "Nice word choice." "Hmm, interesting rhyme scheme." "Another sestina. Are sestinas in now, or something?" and, "I guess all the poems have to fit on one page or you're not allowed in." (Although exactly one uses up two pages.)

And then, BAM, a massive, literary anvil fell on my head in the form of the last poem, "Mother at the Piano," by Fredrick Zydek. I am not even going to pretend to be objective about this poem. Maybe in a week I could do a nice, neat analysis, but right now I'm still reeling. Let's take a look at it, then I'll tell you why.

Mother at the Piano

She didn't play often
and she didn't play well.
Her right hand could read
everything in treble clef

except chords, rest signs,
quarter notes, and tempo.
Her left hand was used
like a drum beating out

a waltz where a rumba
or fox-trot should be.
But she could pound out
a tune or two. If no one

was looking, melody
would flood the house
like relatives on a Sunday
afternoon. I would hide

in my room and listen.
She always sang off-key.
It didn't matter. When
Mother made music we

knew two things. She
was glad about something,
and for a little while
nothing needed dusting.

Fredrick Zydek

Holy crap. Okay. My mother was an obsessive cleaner, and when we heard that vacuum start, we (my sister, brother and I) would run to our rooms. When cleaning started, yelling started. She was a very unhappy person anyway, but the miserable factor increased exponentially during cleaning. Things would get slammed, knocked around, bumped by the vacuum, and glared at. Each kid would get called down for some cleaning infraction. My brother would get a cloth shoved in his hand and yelled at for not "seeing that dust" on the coffee table. My sister would be down on her hands and knees searching through shag for little fragments of anything, because my mother blamed her for the hairpin that had caught in the vacuum. And me. Best not to talk about me.

And, my mother played a bit of piano. I started playing when I was eight, and picked it up so quickly that she stopped playing altogether. Only--on rare ocassions--some urge would take her and she would play a little tune, perhaps even singing along, weakly, and off-key. You bet we hid. But we listened, glad to have her attention on something not us, waiting for the last note, knowing that the brief silence that followed was only a prelude to the cleaning and yelling.

Holy crap. I guess that's why we read poetry, though, isn't it. I guess. Don't ask me now. Maybe later when I'm less sick and less freaked out.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Dee Cohen in pith

One reason I write this blog is to encourage poetry lovers to read poetry. Sounds redundant, but the truth is that a lot of aspiring poets don't read much poetry at all. Thanks to the internet, it is incredibly easy to find remarkable poetry without spending a dime. There are many good online poetry journals; pith is one of them.

I love this poem by Dee Cohen in pith in the Spring 2001 issue--the imagery is stark and threatening despite its commonplace setting.


Last night waits in the kitchen.
Skillet still on the stove
and pan tipped into the sink,
blood drained to the bottom.
A drawer pulled open,
forks, spoons and knives
pitched forward.
Plates on the table,
unscraped, unstacked.
Chairs shoved back,
garbage can toppled,
grounds and rinds and bones
spill from its mouth.
The back door stands open,
the driveway is empty.

The morning sun bangs
on the windows,
the floor tiles buckle
and tilt
and you grab for the counter
like someone on a small ship
in a big ocean.

Dee Cohen

Sounds like someone has a hangover. There is a sinister mood to this poem--"blood drained" into the sink, a cutlery drawer left open, "grounds and rinds and bones" spilling from the "mouth" of the trash can, the deserted driveway. It sounds as if a monster has smashed through the kitchen, devouring people along the way.

I would guess this is the after-effects of a party seen through the eyes of a very hung-over host. "Last night waits" to be dealt with; no matter how much fun they had at the feast, someone has to clean up the mess. What was delectable only a few hours ago now seems nauseating and threatening. The host has been abandoned by the guests, and no matter how sick, s/he must face the damage alone.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

From Joshua Weiner's The World's Room

I have been re-reading the poems from Joshua Weiner's beautiful book The World's Room, and this one on page 23 reminds me a lot of Danny's sensibility. I just had to post it. Plus, it's just a gorgeous, poignant poem.

Lines to Stitch Inside a Child's Pocket

Boy now, man later; and all the story in between:
Yes breaking down to No, joy to pain.

Milk now, meat later; separation, fuse.
Swim the river rising and with patience take your aim.

Miss once, miss again; and your whole life seems a waste.
The target is yourself becoming brave.

Who soon, who later?--whatever happens next--
Someday you'll lose us in the in-between.

Joshua Weiner

"The target is yourself becoming brave." What do you think of this line? I think it is the heart of the poem. Without it, the poem becomes too sad, too depleting. In the midst of the pain and loss, the speaker identifies a purpose to keep living and struggling.