Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween (but not here)

Feeling a bit down, probably the letdown after all the excitement of one reunion and two weddings. Either that or the jetlag.

It's funny, I've given my manuscript to a few people of late, none of them poets. I feel like I have to wrap it in a plain brown wrapper -- or at least enclose a warning that it is not fact checkable -- it's poetry. But none of these people are poets and I don't know what they expect. Some of them know things about my life they will read into the poems. It's a strange vulnerable feeling.

On the other hand, I've found that it's way more important to me than it is to others. Poetry doesn't make a very loud thud when it is dropped in the real world. You can scarcely hear it.

Well, this is a throwaway post, but I thought I should check in now that I'm back from Back East.

Not much Halloween happening at my house. Young people can get free candy in far easier ways than struggling up my very steep hill.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Exploring the mountains of stuff at my mother's house yesterday, I found the first poem I wrote. I must have been all of six years old. I know I was too young to know how to write because my aunt wrote down the words for me. I guess I had a leaning toward the blues even then. Here it is:

Bees in the cupboard, cows in the corn
Bees in the cupboard, cows in the corn
I wonder where the dog was born

That's it. I could probably learn something from the economy of my early work. Obviously, I identified with the dog.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Madness in Method

I recently read Lee Strasberg’s classic book on Method acting, A Dream of Passion, and its relevance to poetry was striking. Well, its relevance to poetry was striking to Strasberg too, as he traces the roots of Method acting back to the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, and also to the great Modernist writers, Eliot, Proust, and Joyce. Writing in specific sensual imagery is rather out of fashion and has become almost a cliché, but Strasberg reminded me how emotion is in fact rooted in sensual particulars (Proust’s cookie). Strasberg talks about the acting process:

The correct process of inducing a response is through the senses. He [the actor] tries to remember where he was. Say he was in the yard. The actor cannot simply think in generalities. The yard is composed of many objects that he sees, hears, touches, and so forth, to which he assigns the word yard. Only by formulating the sensory concreteness of these objects can the emotions be stimulated. It is not sufficient to say, “It was hot.” Rather, the actor must define precisely in what area he experienced the particular heat he remembers; the actor localizes the concentration in that area to create not just a memory but a reliving of that particular moment. The actor remembers what he had on: the sight, texture, or sensation of that material on the body. The actor tries to remember the event that caused the emotion, not in terms of the sequence of the story, but in terms of the various senses that surrounded it.
This feels to me so much like the process of writing a poem! It’s all about imagining the texture of the fabric one is wearing, the feel of the wind on the only spot on one’s neck uncovered by the scarf, the color of the bench at the bus stop—and not just the important details but the unimportant, because, as Strasberg says, “In the midst of severe crisis, an individual’s attention will often register the smallest details related and unrelated to that crisis.”

Again, Strasberg makes the connection to writing and says the task is the same: “Affective memory is a decisive element in most artistic creation. The only difference is that in other art forms, the affective memory is created by the artist in the solitude of his own environment. … The link between affective memory and creativity has been a constant presence in poetry.”

The phrase “a dream of passion” is taken from Hamlet’s speech about acting, and it captures, I think perfectly, the artist’s balancing act: the need for art to be passionate, but it’s not exactly passion—rather, a dream of passion. A dream without passion is not poetry, but it must be a dream. As Hamlet says, “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?”

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cooling Time

Been reading C.D. Wright's Cooling time. I actually met C.D. Wright years ago, at SF State, when she and Forrest Gander were just getting together. (I doubt she remembers.) The Associated Students were trying to close the Poetry Center, so John and I attended the hearing, said the Poetry Center was one of the reasons we came to San Francisco. People, I'm sure wondered what was in it for us, why we bothered. I'm not sure I know.

In 2004, when I was at Squaw, C.D. was one of the faculty poets. She hadn't won the MacArthur yet. More than a few people were scared of her, bothered, bewildered. She did scare me a little, though I liked her. It's always been easier for me to relate to men than to strong women.

This book though knocks me out. I could quote almost anything. I'm going to quote all that I can before I lose patience with the typing:

"I believe in a hardheaded art, an unremitting, unrepentant practice of one's own faith in the word in one's own obstinate terms... I believe the word used wrongly distorts the world...Also I think that antithetical poetries can and should coexist without crippling one another. They not only serve to define their other to a much more exacting degree than would be possible in the absence of the one or the other; they insure the persistence of heterogeneous (albeit discouragingly small) constituencies... I am not sure of where I am going...

"We come from a country that has made a fetish if not a virtue out of proving it can live without art: high, low, old, new, fat, lean, and particularly the rarely visible, nocturnal art of poetry."

"An atmosphere of depression will arouse artists' attention over an atmosphere of prosperity nearly every time. Also true, ruins are beautiful to us; blues make us feel good; it is through the wound that we perceive the body alive alive-o."

"Poetry and advertising (the basest mode of which is propaganda) are in direct and total opposition. If you do not use language you are used by it. if you do not recognize the terms peacekeeper missile and preemptive strike as oxymorons, your hole has already been dug."

" 'I think poetry must / I think it must / Stay open all night / In beautiful cellars,' [Thomas] Merton insisted. And so do I..."

"Writing is a risk and a trust. the best of it lies yonder. My linguistic skills expand on the horizon. So does the horizon. my goals are higher-minded than they once were. Once you could say, I had ambition. I never could write any old way. And like many from my generation, I desire the integrated life."

Poets are mostly voters and taxpayers, but the alienation of the poet is a common theme. Among poets there are also probably higher than average rates of clutch burnout, job turnover, rooting about, sleep apnea, noncompliance, nervous leg syndrome, depression, litigation, black clothing and so forth, but this is where we live..."

I guess that's enough for now.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Yes, again

Today's mail brought notification that I am again -- this time one of three -- finalist in a manuscript competition. This is the 19th time Demimonde has been a finalist. It was called "emotionally engaging" and "marvelous." Will it ever just be good enough?


A fine fall day in SF. Walked the dog in that pooch paradise, Funston. After I finish my Moroccan mint green tea, I'm going out again. The garden calls.


Addendum: Monday is yet another anniversary of John Lennon's birthday. Well, I have this essay I wrote recounting my adventure meeting Lennon and working in his entourage for one weekend--his birthday weekend--in 1971. Does anybody out there know of a publication (online is fine) that would be interested in this?

Just for starters, don't anyone suggest Rolling Stone.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mystic Word

Interesting piece about Hart Crane in The New Yorker by Adam Kirsch:

Once a poet calls his myth a myth, he prevents the reader from treating it as a reality; we use the word “myth” only for stories we ourselves cannot believe. That is why a poet cannot create myths; he can only employ and embellish the ones he has inherited. Homer could not have invented the Olympian gods, or Dante the cosmology of medieval Catholicism, and still have written as he did. By striving so effortfully to turn the Brooklyn Bridge into a religious symbol, Crane forces us to recognize that all he has really created is a vague and problematic metaphor.