Friday, October 16, 2009

A Rationale

I needed to provide a writing sample today for a possible job. Boy do I hate that, having to prove myself. Well, I came across this, and I like it. I needed to update it, but I thought I would post it here. It concerns my book that is due to be published this spring with Dream Horse Press.

Conjugated Visits is a book of poems that, for the most part, is concerned with passion and point of view, with relationships that sometimes work and sometimes do not, between partners, among family members, among strangers, in a world that is not always face forward and can’t be taken at face value.

I group poems that seem to belong together. Although this statement is a “rationale,” it’s not always a rational thing; sometimes it’s intuitive. Sometimes the poems in a group have similar themes or ideas, are involved in one or another of my preoccupations. Sometimes they share mood or attitude. On the other hand, sometimes they work to contrast with others or another, a palate refresher, so to speak.

I’m aware that one is supposed to start out strong and end with a bang. I’m not sure of my bang ending. I put what you might call my Yonkers poems in the middle because I’m trying to work against the cliché of chronology.

Conjugated Visits

Conjugated Visits (the section) begins with “Conjugated Visits” because I think this poem sets up the first section and the book well. This poem goes from I to you to she to he to they and then broadens out, and I think that sets up a workable strategy. It’s a strong poem that was published in both Field and on Poetry Daily.

The second poem in this section (“Sonhar”) takes the “I” a bit further. (I’d like to state at this point that all “I” poems in the manuscript and, indeed, all poems that seem personal are fictional, not autobiographical. They may partake of personal experience, but move beyond those experiences, I hope, and are true to the experience of the poem, not to “what actually happened.”)

The next poem in the first section is “Demimonde,” and I like a lot about it although I�Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
Cache-Control: max-age=0

9m not sure that it was ever 100 percent successful. It sets up a story about a fictional world from the poet’s point of view, and it’s supposed to sound very “noir.” This was the title poem of the manuscript for years, but I no longer think it works as a title. Still, the relationship implied in the poem — or the possibility of the connection between the woman and the man in the poem together with the weather connection, well, I think that follows well from the poems that precede it.

Darkness Visible

Darkness Visible is a section of very dark days and includes “Was You Ever Bit By A Dead Bee,” the pet quip of the Walter Brennan drunk character in To Have or Have Not. The section ends with the poem, “Darkness Visible,” whose title comes from Milton and which addresses Johnny Cash.


In the ShBoom section, which I think of as sort of “pop,” we segue into the “Lorraine Asks” poem, which, in the guise of a casual discussion, brings up “the one thing they will hold over you.” In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother knew the one thing that you feared most. I think loving is by far more dangerous — outright scary — than being loved. You are just never the same after opening yourself up to loving in this way.

The next poem, the title poem of this section is “ShBoom.” It’s kind of a memory piece, an imagistic poem about summer in Yonkers, just a picture of the way it was. The song “Life Could be a Dream,” was both a pop song and something my mother used to say, in regard to how fast life passes. The sounds, my sister’s naked dancing, the fireflies, the women doing dishes at night, the piccolo (I used to play) — are all very dreamlike.

The next one, “Back in Yonkers,” is also dreamlike, but pretty graphic. It’s meant to be more than a confession. It’s meant to restate that you can’t go home again, and if you do, you’re not the same person who left. It’s also meant to show what Yonkers was like during a certain era. It’s written in Yonkers-speak.

Another poem in this section is “Gal Friday.” Much of this section is involved with old ideas about what it meant to be a woman. This poem hearkens back to the time when classified ads in newspapers were divided into positions for men and jobs for women. A Gal Friday was the name of the job whose responsibilities included doing whatever was necessary to please the (male) management. Both acquiescing and refusing were equally demoralizing.


The ten poems of Bequest are all about death. It’s hard to explain why I think poems about death belong in a book about relationships — maybe because we all have to deal with it some day — and not just our own death, but our loved ones’ deaths too.

Hue and Cry

The final section is both more “political” — though I’m not sure what I mean by that — and less logically or narratively inclined, so more experimental. “Five Days on Twenty” is about working on the 20th floor of an office building in Oakland, but the speaker, rather than being removed from the surrounding environment, is overly affected by that environment. Maybe she is on her way to a breakdown.

For “Hue and Cry,” I borrowed the beginnings of lines from a poem I encountered in APR. I just wanted to do what I could, sacrificing semantics to syntax, although I love the meanings that happened as I continued. I really enjoyed the variations-on-a-theme aspect of this — both the writing and the result.

The poem that follows is “Night Vision.” It’s a rebellion against high tech, not really any specific person or product, more a rejection of the idea that the next new thing is going to perfect us. It’s somewhat antagonistic toward a male vision of things, I suppose. In many ways, it is sound driven. This could be considered a bad thing by some.

The penultimate poem in the book is “Fraught With Danger.” The image this poem begins with is conception. This poem is about entropy, about things falling apart.

The last poem in the book is “As It Never Was,” which comes from a dream I had about living in the rhythms of the seasons, in a more traditional way of life. It feels like an ending.

No comments: