Thursday, March 1, 2018

The experience of contact

Poetry is most deeply a way of doing philosophy – not as mere juggling of abstractions, but as lived and felt experience. This is how the twentieth century avant-garde used it, as a way to construct and inhabit a worldview. Ancient Chinese thought is a crucial influence driving the innovations of that tradition – and it makes perfect sense, for the Taoist/Ch’an conceptual framework represented a fuller and more coherent account of the radical insights that were ripe for realization in the West. And like China’s ancient artist-intellectuals, that avant-garde took contact as its central concern, certain that only in empirical immediacy was it possible to achieve authenticity in living, and clarity in who and where we are.

Contact, the primacy of the immediate: it is not such a difficult idea, but in terms of actual experience, the stuff of life and poetry, it is a difficult lesson we must learn over and over. Contact itself is unsayable precisely because it lies outside all concepts, but…poets, each in their own way, guide us to the experience of contact. They show us new ways of being alive to the world in the tangible here and now. And from that beginning point, they explore the implications of that elemental experience, most importantly a different sense of self-identity: Thoreau’s who we are. This line of poetic thought represents a lived form of deep ecology, the “rewilding” of consciousness. It involves ways of knowing ourselves outside of received Western assumptions; and so, not surprisingly, it is often informed by other cultures, especially ancient Chinese and primal cultures. Hence, the poets in this innovative tradition establish consciousness as wild each in their own way, together creating their own wilderness: “the wilds of poetry.”

Central to this for most poets is the way they push language into wild forms in various ways: organic and open-field, breath-driven, text-interspersed with fields of open space/silence, fragmentation and collage. Language is the medium of thought, essence of self-identity, so by rewilding language they rewild identity. And it makes sense this rewilding often takes place in the context of wilderness, where the cocoon of human culture is absent and the vastness of the Cosmos is most dramatically and immediately present. As a philosophical instrument, poetry is especially powerful because it can operate in that wilderness, open experience to the silent depths outside of language and thought, reveal areas of consciousness outside our language-centered day-to-day identity. Prose can talk about this, but poetry can enact it through its reshaping of language. It can create wild mind as immediate experience for the reader. 

– David Hinton

Thursday, February 1, 2018

"Chicken Bucket" by Jennifer Knox

Today I turn thirteen and quit the 4-H club for good.
I smoke way too much pot for that shit.
Besides, Mama lost the rabbit and both legs
from the hip down in Vegas.
What am I supposed to do? Pretend to have a rabbit?
Bring an empty cage to the fair and say,
His name's REO Speedwagon and he weighs eight pounds?
My teacher, Mr. Ortiz says, I'll miss you, Cassie,
then he gives me a dime of free crank and we have sex.
I do up the crank with Mama and her boyfriend, Rick.
She throws me the keys to her wheelchair and says,
Baby, go get us a chicken bucket.
So I go and get us a chicken bucket.
On the way back to the trailer, I stop at Hardy's liquor store.
I don't want to look like a dork
carrying a chicken bucket into the store —
and even though Mama always says
Never leave chicken where someone could steal it —
I wrap my jacket around it and hide it
under the wheelchair in the parking lot.
I've got a fake ID says my name's Sherry and I'm 22,
so I pick up a gallon of Montezuma Tequila,
a box of Whip-Its and four pornos.
Mama says, That Jerry Butler's got a real wide dick.
But the whole time I'm in line, I'm thinking,
Please God let the chicken bucket be OK.
Please God let the chicken bucket be OK.
Please God let the chicken bucket be OK.
The guy behind me's wearing a T-shirt
that says, Mustache Rides 10¢.
So I say, All I got's a nickel.
He says, You're cute,
so we go out to his van and have sex.
His dick's OK, but I've seen wider.
We drink most of the tequila and I ask him,
Want a Whip-It?
He says, Fuck no — that shit rots your brain.
And when he says that, I feel kind of stupid
doing another one. But then I remember
what mama always told me:
Baby — be your own person.
Well fuck yes.
So I do another Whip-It,
all by myself and it is great.
Suddenly it hits me — 
Oh shit! the chicken bucket!
Sure enough, it's gone.
Mama's going to kill me.
Those motherfuckers even took my jacket.
I can't buy a new chicken bucket
because I spent all the money at Hardy's.
So I go back to the trailer, crouch outside
behind a bush, do all the Whip-Its,
puke on myself, roll in the dirt,
and throw open the screen door like a big empty wind.
Mama! Some Mexicans jumped me!
They got the chicken bucket,
plus the rest of the money!

I look around the trailer.
Someone's taken all my old stuffed animals
and Barbies and torn them to pieces.
Fluff and arms and heads are all over the place.
I say someone did it,
but the only person around is Rick.
Mama is nowhere to be seen.
He cracks open another beer and says,
What chicken bucket?

Well, that was a long a time ago.
Rick and I got married
and we live in a trailer in Boron.
We don't live in a trailer park though —
in fact there's not another house around
for miles. But the baby keeps me
company. Rick says I'm becoming
quite a woman, and he's going to let Mama know that
if we ever see her again.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A family example of coming to peace

The Coming to Peace process provided a forum for the siblings to explore their relationship to their father’s death and the effect that not being allowed to speak about it had on them. Over several weeks, the roots of their animosity toward each other were unearthed. Each person was not only dealing with their own grief and anger over the situation, they were also trying to push the others into seeing things their way.

The storm of anger and willfulness that occurred as the siblings tried to distribute their mother’s possessions was masking the anger and confusion each had experienced as a result of her addiction. It turned out that her addiction was likely in response to her husband’s death. Unfortunately, her children were forced to deal with that along with the loss of their father and the taboo of speaking about him.

Until all the layers of suppressed and repressed experience and the misalignment of will through anger and grief were brought to light, there was no hope of reaching a resolution of their mother’s estate. Over several sessions, the family worked hard to resolve these issues and came away with a level of peace about their father’s death and their mother’s alcoholism that they had not believed, or even understood, was possible.

What began as a simple mediation session to help five siblings distribute their deceased mother’s possessions turned into an unexpected exploration and release of long-held hurts and misunderstandings. This layering of experience is not unusual and is often underlying disagreements. That’s why it is so important to engage in a process like Coming to Peace where participants are given the space and structure needed to dissect disagreements completely. It’s also worth noting the vital role that taking personal responsibility for examining ourselves has on the resolution process. Once the Martinellis began objectively reviewing their intentions and underlying motivations, their resolution and healing processes gained momentum.

Sometimes we resist taking responsibility and properly aligning our will because we fear we will be rendered powerless, particularly when we are sourcing our power from a negative emotion like anger. Janet, Mark, and Lucas had aligned themselves with their anger, and this caused them to lose sight of what was really going on at the core of the family conflict. To remain clear sighted, we much fight the urge to run from our fear. And when we engage in the process of realigning our will, we effect peace both within our relationships and ourselves. The stark truth is there can be no peace for anyone – individuals, couples, families, or communities – if those who are in conflict refuse to look at themselves honestly, take personal responsibility, and realign their will in a way that is positive and invites peace.

To fully understand our experience as humans, we much understand all the negative emotions housed within us, because they have something very important to tell us about the ways we have separated from our essential nature.

- Isa Gucciardi


Friday, December 1, 2017

Books that read us

A real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot's poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate. 
- Lionel Trilling

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Outside authority no longer means anything to me.

Small and hidden is the door that leads inward, and the entrance is barred by countless prejudices, mistaken assumptions, and fears. Always one wishes to hear of grand political and economic schemes, the very things that have landed every nation in a morass. Therefore it sounds grotesque when anyone speaks of hidden doors, dreams, and a world within. What has this vapid idealism got to do with gigantic economic programs, with the so-called problems of reality?

But I speak not to nations, only to the individual few, for whom it goes without saying that cultural values do not drop down like manna from heaven, but are created by the hands of individuals. If things go wrong in the world, this is because something is wrong with the individual, because something is wrong with me. Therefore, if I am sensible, I shall put myself right first. For this I need – because outside authority no longer means anything to me – a knowledge of the innermost foundations of my being, in order that I may base myself firmly on the eternal facts of the human psyche. - Carl Jung

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's the drama of the scene that excited Yeats

‘Cuchulain Comforted’, written a matter of weeks before Yeats died in January of 1939, is his only use of Dantescan terza rima: it began life as a folktale-ish prose narrative of the kind collected by Lady Gregory. The draft, dictated by Yeats to his wife on 7 January, opens:

“A shade recently arrived went through a valley in the Country of the Dead; he had six mortal wounds, but he had been a tall, strong, handsome man. Other shades looked at him from the trees. Sometimes they went near to him and then went away quickly. At last he sat down, he seemed very tired.”

A week later this became:

A man that had six mortal wounds, a man
Violent and famous, strode among the dead;
Eyes stared out of the branches and were gone.

Then certain Shrouds that muttered head to head
Came and were gone. He leant upon a tree
As though to meditate on wounds and blood.

While the language of the prose sketch verges on the simple, even primitive, that of the poem is laconic and theatrical. Cuchulain is no longer a conventional good-looking hero, ‘tall, strong, handsome’, but a Yeatsian one, ‘Violent and famous’; conventional ‘shades’ become unsettling ‘Shrounds’, as if the dead were so many winding sheets, their weirdness making them fit choric witnesses, as they confer ‘head to head’, of the mortally wounded hero’s singularity. It is the drama of the scene that excites Yeats, and although the poem is about Cuchulain’s loss of agency and individuality, in these opening stanzas he is still enacting his purposefulness, striding among the muttering dead; when he rests it is not because he is ‘very tired’, but ‘to meditate on wounds and blood’.

The narratives dramatized in Yeats’s oeuvre nearly all involve some decisive act of transformation that is in many ways analogous to the process of transforming prose into poetry.

– Mark Ford

Friday, September 1, 2017

Poetry is a game of compassion, and if you give people fun, their hearts will open to you.

I think a lot of writers have lost track of the fact that without pleasure, there is no reason to read on. …at the end of the day, the message you pick as an artist is only your secondary responsibility. Philosophy takes better care of pure thoughts than poetry ever can. So does criticism. What poets do that philosophers cannot is let our readers experience manners of thinking that they would not have access to on their own. The way leaps and transfusions and associations lead a mind from thought to thought. And then, once a reader has experienced a poem’s manner of thinking, the reader can use that manner of thinking in their own head, with their own thoughts, whenever they want. When I read your poems…I get the sensation that I’m making eye contact with someone else a thousand feet away, and we’re both using x-ray sniper scopes that let us see one another’s optic nerves. I hope that I can one day produce that sensation in language myself. Our primary job as poets is to make people more creative, to make them better thinkers, much more than give them any specific set of thoughts.

And good luck convincing anyone, obscurantist poet, to try out your brain if it seems like a hostile place. Poetry is a game of compassion, and if you give people fun, their hearts will open to you.

But maybe it’s a whole lot simpler than all of this. I like making people smile. So shoot me.

My mother often justifies many of my excesses by saying, “But Max, you are a poet!” This somehow comforts me, every time.

But I do believe in distance. And a belief in distance requires, for me at least, an attempt to span that distance, no matter how futile I understand those attempts to be.

In his A Defense of Poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley says, “Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitude of things.” Maybe, if it’s language, as we use it every day, that fills us with that sense of distance, maybe too it can be poetic language, or more precisely metaphorical language, that might allow us to feel closeness, intimacy, love.

There’s also something to be said for poetry’s inbuilt wisdom when it comes to matters of mortality. I mean, as I mentioned before, no art ends as much as poetry does—line endings, clause, phrase, and sentence endings, stanza endings, section endings, page endings, poem endings, book endings… And for so long, poetry has sought to limn those endings with sonic devices such as rhyme. Plus, poems, like life, are often shockingly short.

- Max Ritvo

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Shakespeare attaining the farthest reaches of luminosity

The exploitation of a few technical forms produces mannerism, while the use of many produces style. A page of Shakespeare can be divided endlessly into technical devices (no doubt, for the most part, spontaneously generated): shifting rhythms within the blank verse, coincidences and contrasts of vowel quantity, metaphors, epigrams, miniature plot processes where in a few lines some subject rises, blossoms, and drops – while above the whole is the march and curve of the central plot itself. Yet even Shakespeare tends to bludgeon us at times with the too frequent use of metaphor, until what was an allurement threatens to become an obstacle. We might say that the hypertrophy of metaphor is Shakespeare at his worst, and fills in those lapses of inspiration when he is keeping things going as best he can until the next flare-up. And thus, as with the music of Bach, if he at times attains the farthest reaches of luminosity and intensity, he never falls beneath the ingenious. - Kenneth Burke, from “The Poetic Process” in Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare edited by Scott L. Newstok

Monday, July 3, 2017

Something is happening.

Something is happening. The new casualness had been introducing itself, casually of course, but suddenly its credentials lay everywhere. It was a new time of being born, looking ahead almost fiercely enough to be the ripe ear, and still keeping discreetly in the early stage of noncommittal promises. It wasn’t the lily-pad stage yet, but there was buzzing everywhere as though the news had already broken out and was flooding the city and the whole country. The next day he rose up from that bed of reflective voluptuousness, determined never again to fall into the richly human excesses that his horizontal state had left him vulnerable to, having decided to grant a personal interview to each member of the enemy that blackened the plain as far as one could see in all directions. And the rumor strengthened with the night. In the morning they had all vanished at least as far as the nearest mountains and probably from the face of the earth. - John Ashbery, from Three Poems

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Earth, You Have Returned to Me" by Elaine Equi

Can you imagine waking up
every morning on a different planet,
each with its own gravity?

Slogging, wobbling,
wavering. Atilt
and out-of-sync
with all that moves
and doesn’t.

Through years of trial
and mostly error
did I study this unsteady way -

changing pills, adjusting the dosage,
never settling.

A long time we were separate,
O Earth,
but now you have returned to me.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Emily Dickinson overcoming time and space

There is one poem in which a thoroughly inebriated speaker enjoys her lack of control and is not overcome by it: a rare portrait that develops a fantasy of achieved delight.

I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –
From inns of Molten Blue –

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun –

     The element of fantasy in this poem is pronounced; so is the presence of the ingénue persona who appears so persistently in Dickinson’s love poems. The two combine to give the poem its childish air. Yet it is precisely that quality of make-believe which permits the speaker, and the poem, to maintain the happiness of which she boasts.
     The poem begins with a riddle. What kind of liquor is never brewed, comes from tankards made of pearl, is far superior to any ordinary, earthly beverage? The answer: air, or dew. Even as the opening stanza clearly contrasts “real” liquor (from “Vats upon the Rhine”) to another sort – not of this earth, imaginary, or symbolic, so as the poem develops its conceit of being drunk upon air, it steadily compares literal and figurative experience, experience in nature and in the mind.
     Surely, air was never brewed; thus it answers the requirements of the riddle. But neither is it literally a liquor. We can interpret the metaphor: to be “Inebriate of Air” is to be exhilarated, excited, overwhelmingly delighted by summer skies. Yet as the poem elaborates this conceit, it is not its symbolism but its drama that engages the reader. When the “Debauchee of Dew” begins her drunken progress from airy inn to airy inn, her activity takes on its own reality, one that overpowers its literal counterpart. This is fantasy, and it is a delightful image. It is, in fact, an image of delight embodied.
     If the extravagance of her emotion is essential to this situation, so is its lasting power. These summer days are “endless.” We recall how important the idea of permanence is to Dickinson’s ideal of delight.
     But summer in nature’s world is never endless, no matter how it may seem in mid-July. In stanza three, time surfaces, only to be triumphantly repudiated by this poem’s speaker. The inebriate of air has her real-life counterparts: bees and butterflies who likewise reel through the sky, with flowers as pubs; like her, drunken on the summery nectar. Yet bees and butterflies are subject to seasonal time; drinking hours are up when autumn comes.
     “I shall but drink the more!” How she gets to overcome time, she doesn’t say. But the final stanza shows her drinking on into eternity. “Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats – / And Saints to windows run – .” The original riddle provides a clue, since the liquor that she drinks from opulent goblets (does “scooped in Pearl” mean that they are decorated with pearl or that the liquid that they hold is like pearl?) never was of this earth. Not “real” alcohol in the first place, its inebriation is likewise not “real”; neither are the actions to which it incites the drinker. Since her activity has always been fantasy, taking place in a mental sky, she has no difficulty perpetuating the fun. Yet her intoxication is more than fun; it is also a sign of power. In this poem, lack of control, diminutive stature, are coyly representative of their opposites, as the final audacious image, of the “little Tippler / Leaning against the – Sun – “ indicates. (In another version of the line Dickinson has the little tippler “From Manzanilla come!” That makes her a world traveler; this more exciting image makes her a space traveler.) She has overcome both space and time by the poem’s conclusion, such is the strength, the power of her emotion.
     This poem is another form of the celebration of delight. It perpetuates and praises the feeling, not through incantation, as in “Mine – by the Right of the White Election!” but through outright fantasy. Both poems, however, achieve their prolongment of the emotional experience with a rhetoric that places the action of the poem in the realm of the imagination and explicitly, almost challengingly, opposes ordinary reality in the process. Here, in the space of the mind, delight can be maintained, delight can be controlled, delight can be praised. A contrast with nature and its kind of time is an essential aspect of the poems which describe delight achieved. – Suzanne Juhasz

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Rusty Morrison rewrites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 52

Sonic fig juice

somatic bitch-boy in the under-words, hissing bestialities –
can’t beat it, cheesy sock-puppet leisure –
witch me, heathen, knock me loud into surgery –
forethoughts buried, dime-joint mind in cellular seizure –
wherefore, sore of fealty to feasibility, stupor-swollen, sucking air –
wince! The poem’s not even nearly half done yet –
yikes! My groaning words, thought-hearses, waste escape valves –
oh capacious germs, can’t sterilize my shtick or sex it –
sewed into quick lime, that old rhymer that shaking-spear gent –
I’ve an oar behind my earlobe, for beating back the talktide –
tumored with orneriness, I am spurious, I am hesitation-blasted –
buy it new here, infatuation is the poem’s best incendiary lie –
howl-beautified in the 50s, come to surrounded by ad-marketing & lyric-dopers –
getting had, tho, is my fav trumpet, singing lag-time, blindly I grope –

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

And fantasy it was

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word. - Toni Morrison

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A poem by Hanshan

In the house east of here lives an old woman.
Three or four years ago, she got rich.
In the old days she was poorer than me;
Now she laughs at me for not having a penny.
She laughs at me for falling behind;
and I laugh at her for getting ahead.
We laugh as though we'd never stop;
she from the east and I from the west.