- Jen Currin’s School (Coach House, 2014)
A mix of non-sequitur, wisdom lines (such as p. 77 “even our motives are at present misunderstood.”), plain confusion and torsion, talking thru love, lost love and chemo. Each line is straightforward but it is how it all goes together. The grammar and language is simple but it turns in a gratifyingly non-ponderous way. for example p. 82, poem: Our Face on the Cover, starts,
‘I don’t know where she’s from.’
something a stupid white person might say. another volunteer whitens,
thinking ‘doing good’ is enough
on the path.
you have failed me as an ally again.
let’s get coffee.
A poem where the narrator isn’t alone in the universe but actually interacting alertly with critical thought with someone else. Not implying another by ranting a retort but slice out of life and we go onwards. Some of my favorites were from the first section. p. 5 because of the way it leaps like a ghazal but doesn’t pad its thinking to make lines all even as unopened box of pencils. Some thoughts take more space. Some thoughts stand as one line and can bear the weight of that load of attentions. To force to even couplets or triplets would serve form over communication. How do the lines relate to each other? They are almost internal, connections apart from being from one life or observer, severed. What is it in the third stanza? It seems to me that the poem is about the reach exceeding the grasp, the ambition of realization of our best selves, of the completion of any narrative that life pulls us from before it can complete. Instead of building futility it whets possibility.
A Pair of shoes
afternoons we can mime the ditches
and die almost human.
die hungry, having tasted night.
you’re gorgeous and blunt,
telling me to wash my face.
It comes in through every window
like the words buzzing when we’re alone.
nothing is unquestionable.
sharp pencils and careful study
when we sense something’s breaking.
We could all be suddenly honest.
We could all surprise.
that careful other silence.
the death of a mother before we could ever hope
to understand her.
I hear you singing underneath your blanket
and it’s so cold out this morning.
Here’s another taste. p.61
W.a.I.t.: Why aM I talkInG?
Moving? no, I am not
so easily moved.
Red is red is mystery is red.
What is the mystery?
Dating some mystic you met online,
cleaning her teeth & shining her vehicle.
Why do her kindnesses taste like hate mail?
The little backless benches in museums – made for getting it on –
are where we slept in guards’ uniforms.
How weird it is to see SELF in big neon letters
& STORAGE next to it.
I worry that I made the wrong mistake.
That there was another, more fruitful, mistake I should have made.
This is the magic of a bee or a fly.
We, the other people, whine & pour
glasses of it into empty bodies.
It’s just somewhere we stopped, on the street, near the community
gardens, to continue our deep green conversations.
Bliss is not teaching & love is
A scattershot of experiences, a kaleidoscope of movement which fits with the subject of the poem made explicit at the end. It is odd, now that she mentions it, self-storage. Do we invest ourselves in our objects then sequester the bits that don’t fit into paid facilities? A bit of self in metal and cinderblock lockers. “I worry that I made the wrong mistake./That there was another, more fruitful, mistake I should have made.” That makes me laugh aloud at its accuracy every time.
Through the book there’s a lot of reference to I Ching and karma, which deters me less than poems referencing fairies and angels. There are a lot of references to death but then combing thru a bookstore’s new poetry shelves is a mortician’s dream.
Sometimes she follows a thought longer as in “Possibilities of Zen” where in the second half “butterfly, speak to me. or snake./ When we wake up how much is it going to hurt. /these are cold spring days. In your yellow room/ I wasted three hours/& called it ‘lovemaking.’/It wasn’t even sex – just a boring shipwreck bumping the ocean floor./but I know when I look in someone’s eyes/& they are with me./two lanterns on a dark mountain road.”
Exquisite and unexpected end image. That but is a word with a lot of punch that changes everything. to dismiss sex but even in it ‘not working” being united in the existential angst of the timeless sort of stormy night of the soul.
- Harold Wright’s translation of The Selected Poems of Shuntarō Tanikawa (North Point Press, 1983)
It’s funny, I accept that people go on divergent life paths but when I consider Leonard Cohen entered life 5 years and not that many miles away from my mom or Shuntarō Tanikawa came 3 years after my dad and experienced such different things it seems more remarkable somehow, this state of chance and choice and happenstance we are all in. The pluralism and omnidirectionalism of it all. We can get set in our ruts but make routes too.
Showstopper of a poem. Worth a book sort of poem. Worth memorizing. Worth hanging up one’s pen sort of poem.
two people loving each other
hold each other in silence
love compared to words of love
is too small or &nbrsp;&nbrsp;&nbrsp;&nbrsp;&nbrsp;at times
so two people loving each other
in order to be exact and precise
in loving each other
hold each other in silence
when they are silent
the blue sky is friendly
small stones are friendly
the soles of their naked feet
dirty with dust from the room
soil the bed sheets
the night slowly makes everything nameless
the sky is nameless
the room is nameless
the world is nameless
all are siblings of nameless existence
due to the weight of that first name
with a thud
like a little lizard
falls between the two
Another poem “over and over” p.60 captures how “the happiness of separation is no one’s at all” because “we are no longer meeting over and over/forever meeting over and over or not meeting/over and over among those trees”.
p. 92 Ten Yen Coin uses the specific that make it vivid enough that I forgot where I heard this great story until I came across it in the book again months later.
The pacing is like flash fiction and the pieces add up to so much more than their parts.
- Henry James’ What Maisie Knew (1897)
What a tangled zigzag. Partly it may come from it being a serialized story so the intervals between cliffhangers is tight. Partly when a current wife is dating the ex-wife’s husband, it’s bound to get a little Shakespearian. People are really messed up flakes and gold-digger strategists.
Custody battle was awarded so parents alternate every 6 months. That didn’t help. Then in bitter pettiness, each parent only wants to impose the child on the other then when child is forced back, then she is fobbed off on someone or other. A governess, an uneducated hired woman, uses the 6 year old as therapist for her love life, more than teaches her. Education is entirely skipped.
A step-father, with charisma, is closest to attentive, calling her, good boy, old man, dear old woman, spending time with her in spurts, making assurances and promises her immediately breaks, burning thru cash he got from someone or other until its gone then he disappears for weeks or months again, returning as if no time passed. “his presence was like an object brought so close to her face that she couldn’t see round its edges.” Her step mother dated him, but it was difficult, a “gentleman producing on other ladies the charming effect of Sir Claude. That such ladies wouldn’t be able to help falling in love with him was a reflexion naturally irritating to his wife.”
Meanwhile Everyone makes nasty insults to the child alternating with transparent ploys of affectionate show then asking loudly will you come live with me? Each time she said yes, the adult rebroadcasts to others her refusal.
She wavered but an instant, thrilled with the first direct appeal, as distinguished from the mere maternal pull, she had ever had from lips that, even in the old vociferous years, had always been sharp. The next moment she was on her mother’s breast, where, amid a wilderness of trinkets, she felt as if she had suddenly been thrust, with a smash of glass, into a jeweller’s shop-front, but only to be as suddenly ejected with a push and the brisk injunction: “Now go to the Captain!”
The Captain is the latest boyfriend the child has never met nor will ever meet again. “momma had a charm which, when turned on, became a large explanation” but then “Maisie received in petrifaction the full force of her mother’s huge painted eyes—they were like Japanese lanterns swung under festal arches.”
- LeRoy Gorman’s Flurries (Timberline Press, 1999)
Haiku with each given their own typeface and weight. Kinda chaotic at the compression per page but shows off what the letterpress can do.
- Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing, collected letters and notes of Thomas Merton (2007)
He was coming at me from every direction in epigraphs, a chapbook from Phil Hall, a quote of the day, even a handbag had his quote silkscreened on. Okay, life, I get it, better investigate.
- Nicholas Power’s Melancholy Scientist (Tekseditions, 2014)
I was a bit surprised that they were anecdotal since I know his words only thru sound poetry although a certain amount came thru Bywords. You can hear the one that short listed for the John Newlove award at my CKCU tab at pearlpirie.com or on the air tonight as part of Literary Landscape. One of my favorite from the collection is p. 39, music. It is centred so I’ll show it by photo:
I like it’s centredness, keen awareness and pointing to what’s unspoken but dog and man are aware of what there is no evidence for except memory of patterns of the past. The context doesn’t need to uncloak entirely. It’s still visible and palpable. We are shut out from completeness but there is even in the difficulty a sense of well-being, a thriving despite
you will die without knowing
a particular tree
or the shape of one rock
you will read lawn
where the earth offers grass
and you will mow in straight lines
like prose all the way to the margin
Even as if he says it there’s a kind of love of foible. What can you do with self? There is ampleness and pinch and we attend more to the pinch.
Running thru the poems is sun-suffused quiet spaces and an acute awareness of almost excruciating beauty, such as in Surrender p. 58 where you pull off the road to the music, the horse and rider backlit with sun and all the good in the world melts into a glow and it is as if “This whole afternoon/has been quietly staged/as a reminder/of that inner rhythm/the melody that’s never lost”
I’m in the midst or finished a few more but that’s enough of an addition to the list for now.