Friday, June 29, 2007

Time and Witnessing

Toastermag is out with its Pride issue. Check out the Freehand Department that features poems by moi, Dustin Brookshire, Montgomery Maxton and others.

My contribution is a sestina I wrote after reading an article about an antique clock restorer who witnessed the falling of the Twin Towers from his little shop around the corner from the trade center.

When he came back to his shop, he found grey dust covering many of his clocks. He also found that many of the broken clocks that had been stopped for years had mysteriously re-started (apparently due to the jolt).

The connection between being a "mender of time" and a witness to tragedy struck me, so I tried to explore it in the poem.

Music and Movies

I got Jinny Sagorin's CD in the mail. All I can say is: Why is "cabaret" a slam on American Idol? She proudly bears the cabaret label and is brilliant. Her interpretations of a wide array of songs--from Joni Mitchell, Freddie Mercury and the Beatles, to standards and musical classics--are gorgeous and not to be missed. Check her out here.

* * *

Annie and I went to see Sicko today. All I can say is: SEE IT. It's the important film of the decade.

Republican, Democrat, it doesn't matter. Let me tell you, Bush & Hillary both get pies in the face on this one.

Not to mention, it's great filmmaking. As they say about all the classic films: I laughed, I cried. I really did.


Interesting Sicko-related story:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Maybe the Edwards Need to See a Marriage Counselor?

Elizabeth Edwards has come out in support of gay marriage:

I wonder if her cancer diagnosis has helped her decide that life is too short for political hypocrisy.

Or if, as this piece suggests, her public stance gives her husband--who like all the candidates is vocally against same-sex marriage--more leeway with GLBTQ voters.

No matter, in another generation or two, this issue will be seen as akin to Jim Crow laws.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Poetry Monday: Susan Rich

"I believe poetry has made me become a better person; I’m more empathetic and less judgmental thanks to the humbling task of setting sounds on paper, taking words and trying to cajole them into beauty and meaning," says Susan Rich. "Poetry pushes me into new challenges and allows me a myriad of experiences that extend my world."

I think both of Susan's poems featured today demonstrate this empathy and humility, fortified with an uncurrent of gentle humor. The poems are: "Transcendence" and "Sexing the Terza-Rima." Here's what Susan says about the poems:

I wrote "Transcendence" after visiting a translation workshop at Centrum Writers Conference in Port Townsend, WA. I had to leave early that day just as my poet-friend was passing out an assignment. I felt guilty sneaking out and jotted down some notes on how prescient everything had felt in that room – even the curtains.

The original title was "Translating Afternoon," but in the end, that felt too prescriptive. I tried to conjure a little bit of the way poetry brings us out of ourselves, always trying to say the unsayable.

It was actually published in a special issue of Bellevue Literary Review that focused on death and dying. And actually, that works too. Who knew death and translation resembled each other so?

"Sexing the Terza-Rima" (published in Words + Images) is a much older poem. It began as a graduate school assignment: write in terza-rima. I think one terza-rima is enough for me for a lifetime – although I like the odd turns it takes – desperate to keep those rhymes going while alternately weaving in a new one. I have new respect for Dante after this. Of course, in Italian this form makes a great deal more sense.

Sexing the Terza-rima

The End flashes on the screen all curlicues.
It's a film we've seen a dozen times before.
The lovers kiss, their bodies fall from view

All dilemmas solved, forgotten, or ignored,
It left me craving husbands with suede shoes
And I went with one who opened fine trap-doors

To rescue captains when their ships were wrecked
And usher fortunes from old cobbled floors.
My man adored all things that time neglects —

Old gramophones and girls dressed-up as bears.
But soon the sex was stale: more angst than artistry.
I left him for a chef with pastry shears

Who sang to me from under a blue gum tree
And whispered, I've something to confess!
How quaint it seemed: a man of integrity.

What Carl retold I never would have guessed.
He'd fallen for my scarves and lace-up boots.
To wear alone — he pressed, when I cross-dress.

What feelings in me did this news produce?
Was I repulsed, amused, or simply charmed?
He passed me homemade tarts with cheese and fruit

Our relationship continued on unharmed.
With custard cups and chocolate pinafores
We saved each other and bought a dairy farm.

Now late at night along long corridors,
I hear the hurried kicks of commodores
And know it’s not the end at all, just the man that I adore.

* * *


A summer wind clicks through the room
plastic curtains ecstatic as castanets.

Standing outside the rim of the body

you inhabit other lives –
Russian horses and red pigeon feathers –

weathered to beach glass, to scrim.

And this afternoon, as other Jews before,
you call out green syllables

nearly sing them:

incantation of salt air, ripened plum.

Anna Akhmatova wanders the halls
offering peppermints with dented spoons –

Under a different house of sky …

Praise humans that blunder us
into the great unknowing –

translate sea to transalpine
an epic fable to jazz-filled tulip field.

* * *

About Susan Rich and her influences: Susan is the author of two poetry collections, both from White Pine Press: Cures Include Travel and The Cartographer's Tongue.
The books she takes with her on trips include The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems by Charles Wright, and Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee. Elizabeth Bishop has traveled with Susan through South Africa, Bosnia and an airport stay in Frankfurt.

Bishop--whom Susan calls her "dead mentor"--was the first poet Susan ever found that shared her obsessions with maps and travel. Reading Charles Wright always makes Susan want to write – and inspires her to reach further into the disjunctive line or lyrical leap-froging than she might otherwise try. Li-Young Lee allows her to think about why she writes poetry and to not be embarassed to claim it as a kind of spiritual practice.

Susan's poems are forthcoming in translation in the Slovenian journal Dialogi, translated by Veronika Dintinjana. Her awards include a PEN USA Award for Poetry, Artist Trust Fellowship, and Fulbright Fellowship to South Africa. She has been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger and an Electoral Supervisor in Bosnia. She lives in Seattle with her cats Sarajevo and Otis Travnic. Click here for Susan's website.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Literary Magazine

We want You! . . . Limp Wrist and All

A new online literary magazine has surfaced, fabulously called Limp Wrist.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Erase Hate Petition

My mom sent this to me. In spite of the loss of her husband and all her personal health problems, my mom has been instrumental in getting a PFLAG chapter started in her community.

My only beef with the video is that I wish it said the violence occurred "because of homophobia" or "hatred" or "bigotry" (rather than because someone was GLBT or Q).

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Red Chair

Our old red upholstered chair--lovingly shredded by our cat menagerie over the years--sits in front of our house with a free sign taped to it.

With a slipcover, it would still be a good chair, but we felt the need for a change.

Without a slipcover, it would make a great chair for a dog.

All of our furniture is dog furniture, but not everyone lives that way.

Last night Annie thanked the red chair for all its service and felt bad about it sitting outside, replaced by our fancy new leather chair.

We bought the red chair 11 years ago in Seattle. It has also lived in two different houses in Santa Cruz and a storage facility, and now its last two years have been in our San Jose home.

I wrote my first novel sitting in it, my laptop perched on my lap.

Our neighborhood is a good place for free stuff. Just last week one of our neighbors put out a garden table with matching chairs that were gone in a matter of minutes.

When I lived in Japan--during the economic boom--people used to put perfectly good, almost new, appliances and furniture out in the street to be hauled away by the garbage trucks. We poor, teacherly gaigins (foreigners) would sneak off with these objects under cover of night and decorate our tiny, expensive apartments.

Alas, no one has taken the red, shredded chair yet. I crane my neck to peek out the window each time a car slows down. Maybe the chair will get lucky today and start a new life adventure.

* * *

Now that I've written about the chair, I'm going back to painstakingly creating a timeline for the novel I'm working on. I've read a lot about the time period and people I'm writing about. Now I just have to get my head around what happened when, exactly.

First the chaos, then the organization.

* * *

PS: The painting above is by Sandy Mastroni.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Poetry Monday: Larissa Shmailo

I inter-met Larissa Shmailo through WOMPO, the Women's Poetry Listserv (which, despite its moniker, includes men in the conversation).

Two things grabbed my attention about her: her poetry--it's fresh and surprising--and her email signature, a quote from Rollo May: "The poet, like the lover, is a menace on the assembly line."

It's too easy for me to get cornered by authoritative voices in my life and art. I like art and people that re-remind me, as Foucault put it, that we are freer than we think.

Coming to Poetry
Larissa came to poetry writing in her thirties. She says as a young person she "made a good show of the role" of writer by "drinking and posing with the arty kids." Then as an adult she "turned to turgid, therapeutic prose, and at the age of 36," as she says, poetry "found" her when she was camping outside of Woodstock.

Larissa says, "I was in an altered state due to meditation, and the poems came flying to my pen. Since then, I can't live without exploring language in poems. (They don't appear magically as much anymore). Much of my poetry is deemed political but my main interests are combinations of words and sounds in a way that pleases my ear. Increasingly, the look of the page is important to me."

Influences: Patti Smith for a Day
Larissa says, "I love Elizabeth Bishop, Pushkin, Mayakovsky, Auden, Roethke, Wilbur--there are too many to list. I just reviewed Letters From Aldenderry by Philip Nikolayev and I think he is the most exceptional poet I have encountered this decade. I started chanting my poems after hearing the amazing Anne Elliott and I wish I could be Patti Smith for a day. There are many more, in many ways I only am beginning to explore contemporary poetry."

Two Poems and Commentary
Below are two of Larissa's poems, one short and one long, each followed by her thoughts about them.

* * *

Spring Vow

We will love like dogwood.
Kiss like cranes.
Die like moths.
I promise.

Larissa's comments on "Spring Vow": Not surprisingly, I was in love at the time and experiencing one of those moments in which my hand and the flower petals falling upon it were completely indistinguishable. Blooms and some loves which are finite by definition are nonetheless lovely, hence this poem. (This poem appears in About: Poetry Spring 2007 Anthology.)

* * *


(click here for the poem since I cannot get the formatting correct on my blog.)

Larissa's comments on "Madwoman": I've been following a vigorous discussion of mental illness among a favorite group of woman poets and want to offer a glimpse into the "consumer" (yes, that's what the mental health industry calls us!) side. Those who glamorize the mad artist never mention the years lost in chaos and the arduous task of reconstruction after episodes which destroy careers, social networks, brain cells, and the mad artist herself. However, madness can shift paradigms and challenge conventional values and thinking. That is what "Madwoman" is about.

* * *

Larissa Shmailo has been published in Newsweek, About Poetry, Rattapallax,, Lungfull!, and many other publications. Her recent poetry CD, The No-Net World, has received excellent reviews. Larissa has received "Critic's Picks" notices for her readings and radio appearances from the New York Times, Village Voice, Maud Newton, and Time Out magazine. Larissa translated the Russian Futurist opera Victory over the Sun which was performed at the first Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and internationally; a DVD of the original English-language production is part of the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. She recently contributed translations to the anthology New Russian Poets forthcoming from the Dalkey Archive Press(under auspices of the National Endowment of the Arts). She is active in the New York City poetry community as curator of the Sliding Scale Poetry series.

Read more of her poetry here, here, and here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Missing Dad on Father's Day

Today is the first Father's Day without my dad. In his honor, I share a piece I wrote about him that I read at his service.
* * *
My dad loved it when my sisters and I would play on the piano songs from Fiddler on the Roof. He had an affinity for Tevye, the man whose life and character very much paralleled my dad's: a man whose loving daughters stubbornly insisted on forging their own paths; a man married for many years to a smart woman who made the family run and who had a mind of her own; a man who immersed himself in both the life of the mind and the body; a man who enjoyed day-dreams of getting rich; a man who could anger easily and just as easily ask for forgiveness; a man who was centrally involved with both his family and community; a man who loved tradition.

My dad was the forger of many of our family traditions, the creator of a vision of an ideal family headed by an always-engaged father, something he hadn't had. Sometimes he'd say he was learning from scratch how to be a father. That was usually when we were coming together after an argument about something. My dad didn't like to have bad feelings unresolved. Every time after we fought, he'd come into my bedroom to talk or later, when I lived away from home, he'd call me on the phone. Talking was an important part of who my father was. That was the way he connected to people. That is how, in fact, I see my father's spirituality: through his connections to other people.

And there was no topic he wouldn't engage in, no one he wouldn't talk to. On what turned out to be the last day of his life, he chatted up the plumber who'd come to fix the kitchen sink. A few days after my dad died, the oxygen delivery guy came to pick up all the tanks and equipment that had been such a part of keeping my father alive. The delivery guy said he'd always enjoyed coming to the house because he and my dad would talk. My dad often asked him what he was up to on the weekend. Once the delivery guy told my dad he was going gambling at the Indian casino, and my dad pulled five bucks out of his wallet and said, "Play this for me."

Dad liked to talk about current events, about my sisters and my daily activities or the plans for our lives. And he loved to get into heated political discussions. A staunch Democrat, he had strong opinions. He'd often ask me how I was planning to vote on a Proposition. If my choice was different from his, he wanted to make sure I understood why I was wrong! Once when my sister Ann was in elementary school she went with her Campfire Girl group to the state capital and came home, excitedly saying, "Dad, I went to the governor's mansion today and used Ronald Reagan's pen"and he said, drolly expressing that he was unimpressed with Reagan, "So what?!"

He didn't only have opinions about politics; he worked for what he believed would make a difference in the community. He chaired the local Democratic Committee. He also worked with many other organizations, from Friends of the Library to the grand jury, from the American Lung Association to commissions on poverty and economic development. The other day the mail carrier who has been delivering my parents' mail for more than 30 years told me he read my father's obituary, which outlined all the organizations he worked for. The carrier said, "How did he do all that, with his health like it was?" And I pictured him in my mind, throwing his oxygen tank strap over his shoulder, and getting into the car to drive off to a meeting. That's how he did it.

Dad was a doer. He loved his work as a community college educator and administrator, and told me that there was never a day he dreaded going to work. Having to retire early because of his health was hard on him, but perhaps that is part of what fueled his ongoing engagement with his community and family.

He worked hard both in his vocation and at home. I never saw him sleep in. He never spent a day in bed except when forced to in the hospital. Every morning he was up early, mustache waxed, blue eyes sparkling, ready to go. At the house I grew up in, he put miles on the wheelbarrow hauling in wood for the wood-burning stove. He built decks, planted trees, fixed and built all kinds of things. There was nothing that a toothpick, some electrical tape and a little swearing couldn't fix. He often whistled while engaged in these tasks. He had a beautiful whistle; he could whistle any song, even Beethoven's 5th.

He enjoyed listening to classical music. One time I saw him in the living room, conducting to the stereo with an imaginary conductor's baton. He was proud of that stereo he bought in 1973, with the huge speakers; even when he got brand new, more high-tech equipment (which he wasn't completely sure how to use), he didn't want to get rid of those speakers. To this day they are stored in the garage. He even recently tried to pawn them off on me. He liked the idea of things he cared about continuing to be used by others. If he bought a new bathroom scale or telephone or clock, he'd ask us if we wanted the old one. Two weeks before he died he asked my sister if she wanted his Jacuzzi bathtub! A few months back, when he knew he wouldn't be driving much anymore, he gave his Subaru to his grandson Beau. A few years ago, he was glad when my partner and I took home furniture that my parents replaced with something new. We now have in our house the rocking chair and table they bought in 1960, the very table my family sat around for nightly dinners, a tradition he relished and insisted upon.

Dad loved to eat. Even the last day of his life, he struggled to eat dinner, but that night as we watched a movie, he ate a big piece of apple pie ala mode. His favorite foods usually had some tradition associated with them, like the soup his mother used to make, or her pickled pigs' feet, or her homemade pasties or poppy-seed rolls. When my mom baked a whole chicken, she and my dad would split the chicken heart to eat. When we went to San Francisco as a family, he always made it a point to buy a big loaf of sourdough bread and a stick of butter that we'd share on the drive home. We relished it not only because it tasted so good but because that was the only time we were allowed to eat in the car. He loved all the foods associated with the holidays we celebrated. He smeared horseradish on hard-boiled eggs at Easter; he carved the turkey with his electric knife at Christmas.

I remember him teaching me when I was a kid how to eat properly at a restaurant: the smaller fork for the salad, the larger spoon for soup, the thick cloth napkin unfolded and placed on your lap. It makes me wonder who taught him, since he grew up poor. Always money conscious, he insisted on tipping exactly ten percent. He loved a deal, whether it was an all-you-can eat buffet, or the 15% discount he talked a salesperson into. Even the last day of his life when we needed a plumber, he insisted on calling five places for quotes. It was hard for him to write out that check to the plumber in part, I know, because he was the one who liked to fix things but just couldn't anymore.

I never did hear him say that, though. One time I asked him if he ever felt it was unfair that he, a non-smoker, ended up with a progressive lung disease. He said, "These things happen. I'm more likely to say 'why not me?' than 'why me?'

And he didn't make a big pronouncement to people that he had never smoked and therefore wasn't somehow culpable for his failing health. In fact, he'd do the opposite. When he was out and about, carrying his oxygen or later, being pushed in the wheelchair, he'd say to a young man or woman who was leaning up against a building smoking, "Hey, you better quit that or you'll end up like me."

That was my dad. He rarely passed up a didactic opportunity. He was a teacher by vocation and personal persuasion. He was also a counselor, a man with a master's degree in counseling psychology who had learned from the eminent psychologist Carl Rogers. My dad counseled his students and his kids' even when we didn't want to be counseled! He found other ways to incorporate into the family what he'd learned from studying psychology. Sometimes after a family dinner, my dad would have us switch seats so we'd each role-play another member of the family. Whoever was characterizing my dad would put on a big voice and boss everyone around. He'd laugh a loud self-deprecating laugh, and we'd all join in.

My father was a full man: active, curious, loving, engaged to the end. He had a stubborn lust for life. He was a big, big presence and I miss him terribly. But of course he lives on in his children and grandchildren; and in every student he ever taught; and in every person he ever talked to.

He was very much a family man, but as a citizen, he belonged not only to his family but to the public. He belonged to all of us.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Farideh Hassanzadeh

There is a great interview with Iranian poet Farideh Hassanzadeh here.

Farideh and I have corresponded by email in the past. I emailed her to tell her I was writing a post about her, and Farideh expressed gratitude to her interviewer, Melissa A. Tuckey. Farideh says, "I am very much indebted to her ability as a journalist to gain my trust. During our interview I could feel I am speaking with myself in my own solitude, viewing at the mirror of memories sometimes. She was so kind, so humble and so patient with my restlesness. Some American or British journalists, instead of interviewing, ask questions for belittling my country. Melissa during the interview more than a journalist was a poet, full of empathy and understanding."

In the interview with Tuckey, Hassanzadeh talks about the place of poetry in her life as a woman who lived through (and lost her two-year-old child in) the Iran-Iraq War.

About how living through war has affected her life and poetry, she says, "Before war my poetry was not familiar with words like: bombs, alarming sounds, ruins and fears. The sky and the beauty of clouds or the brightness of stars turned into a terrible roof above me where bombs could fall and explode all my dreams. Before war I used to see the killed only on TV; in the news about Palestine. I never was able to smell the warm stream of blood shown in massacre reports. War acted like a sleight of hand to make the distance between me and the world disappear, beyond the TV. It turned my first little son to a bird without wings to fly, a bird good only to be buried forever."

Her surviving son and daughter are both poets. Included in the interview is a poem by her talented and insightful 14-year-old son called "A Letter to George Bush."

She also makes an intriguingly rich comment about political poetry in which she acknowledges its importance by saying "a wisdom can't ignore political realities" but adds, "Personally, in the depth of my heart, I have a deep fear of political poetry. My fear of political poetry as a poet relates to my fear of producing political mottoes rather than pure poetry. . . . Anyway when you live in a country that is always prey to superpowers, you feel guilty when you write love poems even for your husband!"

Read her poem "Isn't It Enough" here.

Read the full interview here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Could This Happen On AMERICA's Version?

Dear Editor:

Something does not compute. An article in Sunday's (6/10/07) Mercury News about the San Jose Book Group Expo pointed out that most readers and buyers of books are women.

In this same edition of the paper, the five books reviewed were all authored by men--and the reviews themselves were written by men. Please consider more balance in your approach.

Thank you,
Kate Evans

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Poets and Rushdie

See: Five Poets You Should Be Reading . . . I'm honored to be on this list!

(Another poet you should be reading: the guy who wrote the list, Collin Kelley.)

* * *

Last night at Bookshop Santa Cruz I saw Ellen Bass and Phyllis Koestenbaum read. As you know from a previous post, I'm a big fan of Ellen's, and last night she did not disappoint. Her new book is brilliant, funny, and deeply moving. And her delivery makes the poems pop in the air.

I'd never before heard Phyllis. She's fascinating. It seems like she's relentless in pushing herself to try new things. She read some fragments and some very long poems.

* * *

I'm reading The Satanic Verses. So far? Pretty damn funny, a romp. I keep thinking, someone wanted to kill him for this? Generally, I'm not big on satire (since I like my literature a bit more character-driven and sincere), but I am carried away by the sheer exuberance of Rushdie's writing.

Besides, Rushdie is visiting our campus in the fall, so I figured I better catch up . . . this novel has been gathering dust in my "published in 1988" pile.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Life Stories and Conny

Check out "fifteen paying markets for personal essays and life stories."

That's where I learned about Common Ties, which just took one of my pieces. I'm being paid (an amount I can't disclose), and they've asked me to record a reading of so people both read and listen to my piece online.

* * * * *

If you can't or don't want to sell a personal piece, a great place to get some readership is Drumtable. I've posted a few of my pieces on Drumtable, here. While they don't directly pay, you have a shot at getting a $50-100 prize for "best piece of the week."

* * * * *

I can't decide if this is beautiful or creepy:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Poetry Monday: Lorna Dee Cervantes

Back in the early 1990's, Lorna Dee Cervantes was a guest speaker in a class I was taking at San Jose State. I was moved by her passion for life, for poetry, for social justice--and her tender-edged images of California. I still have my signed copy of her first poetry collection, Emplumada. So much great poetry in that book--and I especially love the pairing of "Barco de Refugiados" with the English version "Refugee Ship."

In April, Lorna Dee and I--along with a number of other poets--read at an SJSU poetry event (for more about that, read here). I remember thinking it was too bad she no longer lived in the Bay Area. But now, amazingly, she's in the process of moving back! She talks about that below.

Also below she riffs on her creative process and the writing of the two poems featured below: "Untitled (Pfeiffer Beach)" and "Untitled (Monterey)."

Lorna Dee says:
These two poems are a pair. They come out of the same place, literally and existentially. I wrote them last week, on a trip "home" after 20 years away, returning to Pfeiffer Beach where my ex of that many years and I used to camp. The whole Monterey Bay, point of first contact with the Europeans, my native land. And now the smell of the invasive alien eucalyptus penetrating my senses and taking me back to there with the sound of pounding surf, to it all, an early lifetime of living--and loving.

I was seeing and hearing it all for the first time again; a whole shelled pecan returning to the nutcase; a state of just looking and not even attempting to remember and re-present it, to try and jump back in, to try and fit into it.

I'd gone to a used and rare book store in Monterey, a narrow walled high-ceiling place with trippy antique wall-paper with drawings of frustrated writers, or so they seemed to me. I found a copy of Zbigniew Herbert, a poet I had read in a literally translated version without stanzas or form when I was a teenager, and love him. It seemed to fit this state of returning (I'm planning to relocate "back home" to the Bay Area.)

After 20 years away ("kantum sung"), the Colorado transplant never quite took. I'm still in a rootball and easy to pull. These are very much poems of place, in that homing wolf sort of way of Brother Antoninus (William Everson) by way of Robinson Jeffers by way of the women of Point Lobos, the native and Californio women — like me.

I was back in a land where I know the names of things. "A product of affection and imagination." Robert Hass, Bob, my "guru" of many years said this in relation to the economics of certain types of free markets involving predilective labor. I believe he intends it to apply to poetry, the magic of a good poem that just happens; happens upon you, rather than you making it or making it happen. Ouija board poetry is how I sometimes think of it. Not exactly automatic writing, or channelling. As Bob says of poetry, "poetry is much wilder than that" and I'm not in charge nor are there dictates. Just a state of free dwelling in affection and imagination, and a rhythm, a cadence, a voice and a voicing — as a constant, for how ever long it lasts, like setting the top to spin, then sitting back and observing it.

If there's anything I learned from my gurus, my poetry teachers: Rose Higashi, Sylvia Gonzalez, Virginia de Araujo, Robert Hass, Naomi Clark, Stanley Kunitz, it's: pay attention.

Every poem discovers its own process.

That line came to me just now the way the first line of the first poem came to me, with the (seeming) power of a visionary dream: Every ending finds its own beginning. This had enormous personal meaning to me regarding my own state of mind and circumstance as a being at a crossroads, and conscious of it. I decided to sleep on it, and write the poem the next day. And I'm glad I did. It would have been a different poem, then. Before the influence of the Herbert, his 3 poems of heart poem in particular, it would have been a lesser poem, I think. But like a choice of lovers, who knows? Eh? I guess you just have to live with it, the final choice, with affection and imagination.

Someone said the first line and a half, (my catalytic line!) and the last line and a half (my attempt to save my line from triteness) were trite, and not worthy of the rest of the poem. Ouch. That might be true. It's like having an ugly child, I imagine. Mine has always been beautiful, so, who knows? It wouldn't be the poem it is without it, I think. Maybe, like falling in love with someone a bit unsuitable, too late now.

I had been working on the final form of my new 220 page collection of love poems, Una poca de gracia/ Bit of Grace, and conscious of how I wanted these new poems to fit in, like filler for the holes in the dike. I had found a poem of mine from my second book called Point Lobos and now, in the rereading and reconsidering, it seemed convoluted, and I pulled it from the book. But I needed a Point Lobos poem. Or, poems.

I was riffing on some earlier Santa Cruz poems, and earlier love poems that were published in my first book, Emplumada, published when I was 24. A good year for loving the love of your life. Both poems were written in a day, a day apart, and all in a single sitting. Something else's hands were guiding the pen, someone else's voice was speaking through me. I wrote what I heard and broke the line when I was led to it. Then I typed and carved like the sea does to the land at Point Lobos, especially at the first which didn't seem "it" until I broke it into quatrains, unfinished, and unresolved, in the end.

I tried to sustain this state of consciousness, of seeing, into the week with a series of poems, but there was too much to do, too much to say and people to say it to, that I wrote no more. I wrote one I started the next day, "Untitled (Whaler's Cove)" (which is the title), and tried to finish it yesterday, thinking of it, and these poems, and this bit of writing here.

Y'all tell me if it was successful. Maybe these poems are just the pair.

Both poems are being submitted to Ocho #10, "Untitled (Monterey)" at the request of Didi Menendez, so it might appear in there soon. Otherwise, the pair were posted on my home blog and and at the CafeCafe blog at facebook. Hosted by Didi, it includes lots of very good poets, with very good comments, and that inspires me. It always inspires me to read good poetry. Besides, they also offer monthly challenges, and I like the practice of writing to form or writing occasional poems inspired by something outside of me.

I've spent so many decades writing out of another way, out of Frost's perpetual "lump in the throat" that I like it, it's a form, a practice of not-doing. As Kunitz says, poetry is a kind of order/a kind of folly. Yes. And, a way of saying, "YES".

Untitled (Pfeiffer Beach)

Lavender clings to the cliff.
I left this long ago. Yellow
lupine slings her slipper, small moss
hands shiver in the stilled wind. Hello
past. Goodbye fading future into
now. The eternity of the sea waves
her saludos. Sometimes something slips
and the cracked pawl skips, the sawing
away at my face slows for an instant
and I see. Summer sludges up the hill
as the sun burns through until
frost. And here I am. Not hurrying.
Breathing in the medicine breath of eucalyptus
as the hillsides burst into the many erections
of horse chestnuts, their flagrant white
penises trumping the bees. We called them
Coyote Trees, Trickster bushes, always changing
shape. The shape-shifters along this path I'm on
beckon. The whole world beckons. And I'm traveling


* * * *
UNTITLED (Monterey)

Every ending finds its own
beginning, the broken beetle curled
into its hovel, the leaves and leavings
of the world gone crisp. All of it

in a loop of sense, the still burning,
and its ash. The seed in me
bears wings, nubbins to the last.
I take the last oranges on the wiry stem,

the then and now expurgated in its scent.
And remember you, my face, my mirror,
my tunneling in the remembrance — a sprig
of bouganvillea, vibrant and calling

the memory home: a memory of home,
or some kind of smoke, a haze
over days, and, the dissipation.
I believe that the butterfly finds

its lost scale, all the scuffled dust
that keeps it aloft. I believe that what
sleeps in its hollowed den wakens
and feeds, and needs the nuzzlings

it finds there. I believe that the sea
in its spiral cage looks out the cephalopod's
wake. All of spring in its burgeoning fate
repeats. And I am. Repeating. I am.

And I'm not. And I wait.


Lorna Dee Cervantes (visit her blog here) is a Chumash Xicana poet/printer/professor now living in Berkeley, preparing her book of new and selected love poems for publication, and finishing a screenplay and writing a novel this summer. She is also completing a nonfiction book, Ganesh's Tusk: Towards a Pedagogy of Poetics on writing, writing practices and the theories of teaching creative writing. The recipient of numerous awards, honors & fellowships, Lorna Dee is an Associate Professor of English at CU Boulder where she teaches Chicana and Black Studies courses for Ethnic Studies, and mentored 45 creative writing students in 18 years.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Writing Wisdom

"There are three rules for writing novels. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are." (Somerset Maugham)

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Come back Monday for an exciting and exclusive Poetry Monday: two poems with commentary about those poems by a terrific poet. Many of you probably already know her work and will appreciate her insights.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Seducing the Demon

I'm currently devouring Erica Jong's Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, which I bought at Winston Smith, Auburn's very cool downtown used bookstore.
Here a few gems I've found so far:
An Icon's Retort
'"Let me kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses,' some abject fan once asked James Joyce. 'You don't know where else it's been,' Joyce countered."

Writing the Book
"Henry Miller used to say that he wrote fifty pages before he could hear the book's 'fetal heartbeat.'"

Sex and the 70's
"The early seventies was all about the clitoris. The clitoris was queen. It was impossible to escape the seventies without climbing over the clitoris. Apparently, for centuries men had been unable to find it. And women were pissed."

Advice from Anne Sexton
"Once, when I wrote to [Anne] about my terror of publishing a second book of poems, she answered: Don't dwell on the book's reception. The point is to get on with it--you have a life's work ahead of you--no point in dallying around waiting for approval. We all want it, I know, but the point is to reach out honestly--that's the whole point. I keep feeling that there isn't one poem being written by any of us--or a book or anything like that. The whole life of us writers, the whole product I guess I mean, is the one long poem--a community effort if you will. It's all the same poem. It doesn't belong to any one writer--it's God's poem perhaps. Or God's people's poem. You have the gift--and with it comes responsibility--you musn't neglect or be mean to that gift--you must let it do its work. It has more rights than the ego that wants approval."

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Better Than Prosac

I've now been with Mom for almost two weeks, helping her get back on her feet (literally and metaphorically) after my father's death. We now have two aides--two wonderfully caring and efficient women--who come to help her out mornings and evenings, setting Mom up to feel safe and cared for when I go back home.

This morning while the caretaker was with Mom, I went on a walk with my dog Max, my ipod on shuffle. The first song immediately lifted me up from listless to flying because of the beat--and because of a specific memory. When I was teaching in Japan, I'd blast this song and dance with all the five-year-olds, the music transcending our language and cultural barriers.

Then, serendipitiously as I was walking by my old high school (I graduated in 1980) this song came on. I could almost smell pot in the air.

Next came my favorite Indigo Girls song--love that Amy's raspy voice. It reminded me of one of the eight or so times we saw them in concert. We were sitting in the front row, and when Amy played the first note of this song I almost yelled out the song's title but chickened out, doubting myself. But then they launched into the song, and I kicked myself. I'm sure they would have been so impressed with a fan who could name one of their tunes in one note that they would have invited me on stage and given me kisses.

Great way to start my day. Now Mom and I are off to a bookstore. I want to wander among books, smell them, linger on a page, a cover, here and there. Books and music. Life is good.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Hot Oprah Day

My sister alerted me that Michael Moore was going to be on Oprah today, so after I took Mom to her doctor's appointment, we watched it together. Moore was great. He kept hammering home that it's absurd that our medical system is for-profit because it benefits financially from withholding and denying treatment.

Following Moore, Oprah interviewed Cormac McCarthy. I'm sure McCarthy aficionados were squirming on their couches, watching their idol demean himself by appearing on a popular TV show--no, this popular TV show. Those aficionados need to get over themselves because obviously McCarthy thought he'd be getting something out of it (like the book sales he feigns disinterest in). And now Oprah's ubiquitous sticker now adorns paperback copies of The Road.

And her summer reading pick? Jeffrey Eugenedies' Middlesex. (A great read.)

I bet Jonthan Franzen is kicking himself.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Poetry Monday: Ellen Bass

If you've never read the whole of Mules of Love by Ellen Bass' , you're in for a treat. I wish I could read it again for the first time. I've taught it several times in my creative writing classes, and Ellen has generously come to speak to my students about her work.

I've taken writing workshops with Ellen, and she is a gifted teacher. She has a way with saying just the right thing (and of letting silence do its important work too . . . in teaching and in writing, she's a master of negative space). She also has a great sense of humor!
Now Ellen has a new book out, The Human Line--just released by Copper Canyon Press. Look what Billy Collins says about The Human Line: "Ellen Bass's frighteningly personal poems about sex, love, birth, motherhood, and aging are kept from mere confession by the graces of wit, an observant eye, an empathetic heart, and just the right image deployed at just the right time. The Human Line is full of real stunners."
Below is "Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh," a poem from The Human Line. (Click here to read more poems from the book.)

And exclusive to this blog, here is some commentary by Ellen about the poem: Ellen says, "I was working on a poem in which I needed a word for Janet, the woman with whom I have lived, loved, and raised children for twenty-five years. Searching through an old thesaurus--I still use the thesaurus my older brother handed down to me, published in 1962--I came across such a wonderful plethora of words that I thought they deserved a poem of their own."

Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh (by Ellen Bass)

I can't always refer to the woman I love,
my children’s other mother,
as my darling, my beloved,
sugar in my bowl. No.
I need a common, utilitarian word
that calls no more attention to itself
than nouns like grass, bread, house.
The terms husband and wife are perfect for that.
Hassling with PG&E
or dropping off dry cleaning,
you don't want to say,
The light of my life doesn't like starch.
Don't suggest spouse—a hideous word.
And partner is sterile as a boardroom.
Couldn't we afford a term
for the woman who carried that girl in her arms
when she was still all promise,
that boy curled inside her womb?
And today, when I go to kiss her
and she says, "Not now, I'm reading,"
still she deserves a syllable or two—if only
so I can express how furious
she makes me. But
maybe it's better this way —
no puny pencil stub of a word.
Maybe these are exactly the times
to drag out the whole galaxy
of endearments: Buttercup,
I should say, lambkin, mon petit chou.
Set down War and Peace,
just for a moment, and lift
your ruby lips to mine.
And talking to the dishwasher repairman,
the vacuum cleaner salesclerk, the woman
in the Blue Cross billing department
I could explain that I'd already sent the co-pay
for my soulmate, my duckling,
my chocolate-covered cream puff.
Maybe it would brighten her day, too.
Hello, I might say, you precious,
you jewel, O queen among queens,
darling, honey pie, angel,
my sweet patootie.

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Ellen Bass's poetry books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)and Mules of Love (BOA, 2002). She is also co-author of The Courage to Heal (HarperCollins). She teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University, in Santa Cruz, and at beautiful locations around the world, including Big Sur, British, Columbia, and Mallorca.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Happy Pride Month

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

--Walt Whitman