Sunday, May 28, 2006

Erasure Poem

I was perusing the Big Window blog and found a post about creating your own erasure poetry online at Erasures, a site sponsored by Wave Books. I found it strangely inspiring. Here's the poem I wrote, created from "A Book of Operas" by Henry Edward Krehbiel:

In the third house
night sings a dream and
transcribes it with bits of
when sung
as impulse

Go write your own erasure poem, then come back and post what you wrote in the comments section. I'm headed to Disney World for a week, and I will be without my trusty iBook; I'll read them when I get back!

Take care.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Abalone Moon Journal

Abalone Moon is a "journal of the poetry and the arts" and worth checking out. The current issue features the work of Brendan Constantine. You can also read his interview with Velene Campbell.

No Guessing

I keep reading how destiny laughs at chance, how the man who said so
was ahead of his time, but he was seventy when he died, had a beard
like a white Persian cat devouring his considerable face. I bet he
didn’t go willingly.
I bet he didn’t say “Honey, would you hold my pen, it’s my
to die.” I bet someone had to pry the bedsheets from his hands. And
they wrote him into the ground, his beard went on growing, grew until
had arms and legs, a tail and teeth. I bet it prowls the cemetery
still, a huge and muscled
snow leopard, the old man’s skeleton still caught in its
There’s no telling if you’d ever see it and if you did, no guessing if
it might
tear you apart like a bedroom. Destiny can laugh all it wants about
but chance is on the floor about destiny. It’s knocked over the table
with the candles and the goldfish. The carpet is ruined, the party is ruined,
the night is ruined,
it can never be cleaned.

Brendan Constantine

The beard of this deceased seventy-year-old can be seen as a metaphor for the human desire to live. It sprouts "arms and legs, a tail and teeth." It "prowls the cemetery" refusing to rest or move on; it is stuck and angry and threatening. It is clinging to life; it is a stuck and angry life, but still a life.

Last week, I was helping a friend who has been depressed for a long time and was starting to have suicidal thoughts. Although she wasn't sure if she wanted to live, I know if her life were threatened by an intruder or a disease or a car barrelling toward her, she would fight tooth and nail to survive. It's strange how that instinct kicks in. When we have the leisure to contemplate our lives, it is so easy to judge them, to criticize ourselves for how little we think we do or how far we are from reaching our goals. We might wonder if our lives matter. But when our life is threatened, we are wired to fight for it with everything we have. Destiny carries no relevance when you just want to live.

Monday, May 22, 2006

New Issue of eratio

The Spring 2006 issue of eratio postmodern poetry was released today: go check it out! Meanwhile, here's an example of what you will find there:

Evening Moths, Morning Anchor

i'm so unfamiliar with painting
wrinkles on my restless skin.
why don't you stir me with kindness?
be good to the woven
muscle on my shoulders,
put the tips of your middling
fingers on my bony spine,
shake the dirt from my vertebrae,
tear it from my back,
mend it with your hands,
spend the evening
making me whole again.

or is it the plucking of strings
that I'm so unfamiliar with?
why don't you raise hands
to me and flick digits across
my cheeks making them into
waves of fleshy ocean.
pull out the sides of my mouth
and reach down deep for
the dim lamp light of a soul.
sift through piles of antiques.
an old heart, a soiled liver,
smoky lungs—an umbrella
lodged in my stomach!
grab it quick and open it fast
to hold you in the clear from
a family of moths who have been
feeding on my woman parts.
they will swarm into your open plane
because your light is bright.
I am drawn to you and anchored
to your hip while you spend the evening
pouring kerosene down the drain.

is it the settling colors on your face
that are so unfamiliar?
reds and rusts about my clavicle
blend like bleeding sunset pigments.
why don't you wash me with your hair?
smear the stain across my breasts,
ripen me with hue at my navel,
float me on the surface of the lake,
spend the evening dyeing the water.

Nubia Hassan

I love the sensual ferocity of this poem. The subject is yearning to be undone, unmade, even ripped open, by someone who will be willing to put her back together again, to "tear" her spine from her back and "spend the evening" making her "whole again." The experience of physical connection with another human is so "unfamiliar" to her; we can infer that she has felt solitary for a long time, given the "family of moths who have been / feeding" on her "woman parts." She is ready, even desperate, for connection; willing to be reached into, grabbed, and pulled apart.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Au Revoir, Stanley Kunitz

"Death and life are inextricably bound to each other. One of my feelings about working the land is that I am celebrating a ritual of death and resurrection."
Stanley Kunitz

It's a tough thing to wake up one morning and find that the one hundred-year-old mainstay of American poetry has died. Stanley Kunitz was a founder and great supporter of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a place where I have completed several writing workshops. The common room is named after him. He had a house in P-town, where he spent a great deal of time in his beloved garden. I heard that if you walked to his place to say hello, he would greet you kindly and with no pretension. I wish now I had mustered the chutzpah to do it last year, when I had the chance.

In tribute to this great poet, I'm posting a poem from his 1930 collection called Intellectual Things. Au revoir, Mr. Kunitz. See you on the other side, where we poets will gather to drink good wine, talk of love and beauty, and laugh at all our former confusion.

Deciduous Branch

Winter, that coils in the thickets now,
Will glide from the fields; the swinging rain
Be knotted with flowers; on every bough
A bird will meditate again.

Lord, in the night if I should die,
Who entertained your thrilling worm,
Corruption wastes more than the eye
Can pick from the perfect form.

I lie awake, hearing the drip
Upon my sill; thinking, the sun
Has not been promised; we who strip
Summer to seed shall be undone.

Now, while the antler of the eaves
Liquefies, drop by drop, I brood
On a Christian thing: unless the leaves
Perish, the tree is not renewed.

If all our perishable stuff
Be nourished to its rot, we clean
Our trunk of death, and in our tough
And final growth are evergreen.

Stanley Kunitz

Photo found at

Monday, May 08, 2006

Louis McKee in Rattle

You can find the following poem by Louis McKee in the current issue of Rattle, vol. 11, no.2, p. 47:


When I was young I left
my new kid gloves on a bus
coming home from school,
said they must have fallen
from my pockets--my mother
didn't want to hear that
I hated gloves, that I liked cold
hands, fingers, and pockets
they fit into better. I had a cap;
this was years later--I wore it
everywhere, and one day walking
down the avenue, for no reason
at all, I took it off and threw it
into the open window of a bus
that was passing by. I cursed,
later, its being missing,
but that was all part of it,
preparing for loss. Everything,
sooner or later, goes--
finding a bus heading somewhere.

Louis McKee

I find it very poignant how the child in this poem prefers the feeling of "cold hands, fingers" to the security of warm gloves. He already has a sense at this young age that he can't get attached to them, because sooner or later they will be lost. So he beats fate to the punch and leaves them on the bus, perhaps feeling that if he controls the loss--if he chooses when they will be gone--then the loss will be less painful.

As an adult, the narrator still tries to trump fate by purposely tossing away his hat, again choosing a bus. He regrets it and curses "its being missing," but still prefers to be in a state of dealing with loss than to be simply waiting for loss to take him by surprise.

This feeling of the "untrustworthiness" of life is familiar to me, and perhaps many of us can relate to the narrator's desire to sieze some small control over his circumstances. Sometimes we end relationships because we can see the end coming, but it is too painful to let the final days play out. Perhaps we quit a job we like because we see the pink slips coming, and we want to avoid the experience of a lay-off. My brother loves computer games, but he often won't finish them because he can't bear for them to be over.

Loss is inevitable, but painful. Surely it is not possible to prevent it. Is it futile to try to control the tiny losses we see coming?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Bernard Henrie in Shampoo

This poem by Bernard Henrie is in the current issue of the online poetry journal Shampoo:

Chinese Movies (Part III)

Chen paints with her face held
very close to the canvas,
like a woman at the mirror
with a contact lens.

Her eyes, purple as plums,
peer into her watercolor;
a fisherman seeking perch.

A Mandarin when she works,
her oversize smock and sleeves
look like petals. I expect rice fans
to appear for shade, gifts from
her village in rural China.

Once finished, she takes blossoms
from her work table to the garden
and decorates the birdbath. “The birds will drink
and see that their
love songs
have been answered.”

Her painting dry and bamboo
brushes wrapped, she prepares
to bathe, pausing to peel
a fat persimmon, the juice drips
and forms a glistening drop
on her gold thigh:

“Look, another water color.”

Bernard Henrie

Lovely, isn't it? Sensual, with colors, flavors, and shifting perspective. I like the fluidity of surfaces in this poem. The canvas is likened to a mirror, then to the surface of water. The water in the birdbath becomes Chen's next canvas; finally, her thigh becomes the surface for "another water color" when the persimmon juice drips.

This poem is full of liquid movement: the paint, the water in the birdbath and in her own bath, and the juice. Chen herself seems to flow from canvas to canvas, creating art both consciously and unintentionally.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Spare Change Poetry

From the latest issue of Spare Change, which I bought from the guy in the middle of Winter Street:

The Slow Dance

every morning in good weather
he is there
on the square of concrete
that holds the park bench
moving two steps forward
two steps back
looking straight ahead at nothing
something is holding him
like a partner
moving him
moving with him
both of them slowed
because it is the song about
never-ending love
and how smoke gets in your eyes
and the lights are dim now
because it is the last dance
every moment of his day.

Mary P. Chatfield

The depiction of boundaries is the first thing I noticed about this poem: the "square of concrete" lined by a park bench and the subject's precise movement of "two steps forward / two steps back." His world is this space, and his movement is guided by an imaginary partner. He is living right at the edge of something, bumping against the boundaries of his space and always at the end of the last dance.