Tuesday, April 26, 2005

poet Brennan Lukas announced at his blog a mission once he steps out of academe. I dig what Lukas is saying, and say, go man go.

which reminds me a bit about some notes I've been making toward, um, I dunno what, but hopefully a poem. Anna asked what I was writing, and I told her the working title of my notes "literary life."

--what's it about?

--um, you know. being a writer outside academe. unsanctioned.

--shit, ain't that a hobby horse with you?

well, it is since I've chosen, either consciously or unconsciously, to be a working poet. and what I mean by working is having a day job. and yeah, I know that there are many good writers out there that do have day jobs and are poets.

I love knowing that poet X is a janitor, or poet Y works in an office. there are no careers, in life or in writing. there are jobs one does to pay the bills and allow us to have a life. and that writing and reading becomes, hopefully, a life.

all this is redundant I know. but as poetry must be lived and renewed in the working lives of writers, so then does the definitions of a working writer. which reminds me of Eileen Tabios's wonderful work as a human being and writer. for here both are the same, and are so intertwined to be indivisible. at least, that is how I take her poems and her presence.

and so it was with great delight to read Eileen's shopping blog. that is what I'm talking about! good stuff and the evidence of her lists are also part my working notes. not her lists, I mean, but when I found her shopping blog today, I noticed that what she is doing there is also what I'm after in my notes toward, hopefully, some poems.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bei Dao on the art of reading poetry in public.

The last to recite was a French poet. He sighed and talked to himself with a disjointed music made by shards of metal in the background. He took a paper package out of a bag and unwrapped it layer by layer, finally revealing a piece of raw beef and then commenced to roar into the microphone, making a deafening sound. I immediately plugged my ears, but still could sense his clamouring. Several frail older women made an escape, evidently fearing they would go deaf or undergo a stroke. He began to swallow the raw beef and almost choke on it. I began to fear that he might charge over and try to stuff into my mouth the piece of beef that he couldn't get down. His reading ended in hysterical roaring, his whole head covered in sweat and his face mottled like the piece of raw beef. I refused to shake hands with him, since, no matter how deep his message might have been, the noise he made was an invasion of the existence of others.
(translated by Ted Huters and Feng-Ying Ming; Blue House; Zypher Press, 2000)

I wonder who the poet was. I think I'd enjoy the spectacle.

Monday, April 11, 2005

I used to be a smoker. which is different, I think, than saying I used to smoke. I mean, I was into the paraphenalia of smoking. the lighters, the ashtrays, cigarette cases, the works. smoking was about identity, about how to hold off the world while simultaneously embracing it.

I recall smoking was so much more present when I was a kid in the '70s. Everybody, it seemed, smoked. and if someone died of cancer, the first question one would ask upon hearing the news was if that person smoked.

--oh yes, was the reply.

--ah, okay.

it was a common enough way to die. and it seemed as natural as dying in yr bed at an extremely old age. I'm not glorifying death, or the horrible deaths caused directly by smoking. I quit smoking permanently when I met Anna, and we agreed to stop together.

it's been 12 years and I've not had a puff since. and smoke fucking stinks! it really smells horrible on a person. especially on a hot day. that is something one discovers when converting to a life of the nonsmoker.

and yet. . . and yet. . .I've a friend back east that smokes and when he sends me his latest books, or journal publications, I can smell the tobacco. and it takes me back to my life as a smoker. I dig the smell. a heady perfume.

I miss the stuff of smoking. I remember going to Macys as a kid with my parents and fondling the table lighters, the sort of things that were fashioned to look like chess pieces or Spanish galleons. where would the trigger be, and the flame. or the real fancy ashtrays cut from crystal. these items were located in the section alongside the expensive tableware and china. smoking was part of the environment. everyone smoked.

there was a sexiness to it that rob mclennan embodies in his poem "The Unavoidable Sexiness of Smoking" in his 1999 talonbooks collection The Richard Braughtigan Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. you may disagree with mclennan's thesis but I find Bogey with a lit cig irresistible.

and the dangers of smoking? they are real, and really fucking ugly. there is humor in it as well. like in David Sedaris essay "Diary of a Smoker" in his 1994 collection Barrel Fever. here is a small taste of Sedaris going over family photos.

[W]e looked through boxes of family pictures and played a game called "Find Mom, find Mom's cigarettes. There's one in every picture. We've got photos of her pregnant, leaning toward a lit match, and others of her posing with her newborn babies, the smoke forming a halo above our heads. These pictures give us a warm feeling.
(p. 153)

family smoking is also woven into a poem by David Larsen, "This Pipe may be too Hot for You," in the chapbook anthology, Smokers Die Younger, ed. by Stephanie Young. each contributor was sent an empty pack of Canadian cigarettes and tasked to write something on them, and/or about them. the packages of these cigarettes show graphically the damage done by inhaling tobacco. there are anti-smoking poems, and smoking poems in the chap. Larsen's poem is a tour de force of subtly and humor. and the poem finishes on the art of smoking.

I saw a
Grandma do it
with a baby
in her arm

what I miss about smoking was my old silver Zippo lighter the most. man, was it cool. at least I thought so. I loved the sound the wheel made when turned by my thumb and the click of the flame. it fitted perfectly in my hand cupping the flame as I leaned toward the light. and my brand of smokes? yep, you guessed it, Camel.

Monday, April 04, 2005

fired up the laptop last night to write a bit about the death of Robert Creeley, but then I read all the beautiful memories and such springing up all over the web. and decided to read instead of write. I've never met the man or corresponded with him. I came to his poetry in a kind of circular fashion. the first Creeley book I bought was Windows and I remember vividly where I read it: a crowded coffee house with Anna beside me. I remember Anna saying something about the expression on my face as I read, something like an altogether elsewhere look. I dunno what she meant at the time. but I think I know, something about the transportive found in good poetry.

so I read more and more Creeley. he is one of those writers who is deceptively simple on the surface but on further study as deeply allusive and hermetic as Stevens. so by my late 20s I was looking for something more, um, dunno, but something with a surface density I thought was lacking in Creeley. something like Celan whom I began to read heavily. but I was mistaken because soon after I picked up Creeley again, and thought, holy shit! this is it. the kind of writing I've been looking for all along: depth, american slang, allusion, a combustion rival to Celan located in the very marrow of Creeley's poems. and I've been reading him ever since.

but so much death lately. I asked a friend today what she thought was old. I mentioned that an obit writer for Hunter Thompson a few weeks ago said that the gonzo writer died at a young age, 67.

was 67 too young to die?

my friend said, hell yes, considering that we now live well into our 90s.

then what is middle-age?

your 60s, she answered.

so perhaps she is right. but it is not death I fear, no, not at all. it is the dying part that freaks me out. however, I recall an interview with Peter Matthiesen where the interviewer asked the novelist if he thinks of death. Matthiesen, who is buddhist, said, I'd like to go with the grace of a ripe apple falling from the tree.

but then he added, I may instead be clinging to life and screaming, NO! NOT YET!