Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yearbook (7.5)

In Washington you stir-fried kale and garlic, and in Mississippi you almost died and felt like a surly ogre, half asleep on the couch. Awake (“as usual”), at 5:30, even though it’s Friday, because I was flesh and drank coffee, I sit by the window under my pink, blue and violet toddler quilt, in a rickety chair I hope won’t wake Michaela up (as I look for a place to wipe my snot, as I begin sneezing) and look past the photo of our faces she copied to transparency, taped to a square of glass and hung by a ribbon from the window latch, at the blue, pink and plumbous edges of a sunrise hidden behind the trees. “Blue palms and now blueprints and the maze a sunbeam yellow which could not thread brown as a blueberry in the sunset pink grape as a red clay in the arctic blue and the shaded pink as indigo over a blueprint in the sun’s sky blue maze.” Dreamed we walked through Portland over many superimposed transparencies in various colors showing the many ways of living in and perceiving a city according to a few variables: scale in time, location in time, scale in space, location in space, “permissiveness,” theme (such themes as: jobs, the lives of inanimate objects, maritime history, mice, etc.). Gameboard squares, counters.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Yearbook (7.4)

You who are the sergeant of this summer camp island, make its meaning clear or make it go away. Bitter-blue rosicule, ashen pegs, trembleberry, fog apples, barnacle bush, Constable’s tarnmallow, creeping fulgoria, darlingbuttons, tigerfingers, Mack’s shadowblossom, pinchfruit, Dodge’s purplet, Marat-vine, dough-daisies, Eskimo hat, flumenellia, pumpkin-of-the-valley, knee-high creamcup, crepuscular cat’s-tongue, sheep-eyed perdita, brinemarriage, bractless Cinderella-stalk, poor-man’s petit-four, narniaweed, deception prune, old-lady’s knockers, emerald basilica, Oberon’s garters, appledate, late-blooming field-perfidia, Tumanova’s dalliance, scrubadub, seascratch, lady’s fever, volenib, modest queenseyes, waterblench, subalpine meander, silver tush, and other unusual plants will be found—pressed, dried, and rather carelessly labeled—in the archives of Mr. P. M. R. Doona. And then, waking, it was noonish, he was clear on a few things with her: cinema verité could not have sorted their feelings: pencil shavings, marbles, the thought of pencil shavings, as if a glass eye rolled between their hearts’ resisting. Because you said, “These are my hills now, those are my mountains, I’m well-rounded,” our shadows took a sharp curve, lingered on strangers’ doors, and felt themselves up lightly. You went to the movies just to sit in the dark in the balcony with your legs stretched out, sipping chocolate milk from a plastic cup, but it wasn’t enough so you went behind the curtain (where you’d never been) and read the credits backwards on the back of the screen and rested there till everyone was gone and the lights switched off and the projectionist locked up for the night. Oooh, that’s when it got exciting? ? ? ? What was supposed to be Butch Summer turned out to be Hamburger Summer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My new chapbook

I just made a new chapbook called Unless As Stone Is. It's a longish poem based on Dante's sestina beginning "Al poco giorno e al gran cerchio d'ombra," ("To the short day and the great arc of shadow"). I read an alphabetized "Eldritch Tempo Remix" version of it at my reading for Spare Room earlier this month. The chapbook is for sale in Portland at Reading Frenzy, Powell's on Burnside, and Powell's on Hawthorne, or online at It costs three dollars.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Yearbook (7.3)

Hiked along the beach from Ft. Worden to Port Townsend harbor (huge cascades of ivy along the bluff—“like a superhero melting into the sea,” said Michaela—, a log that looked like a hippo’s head, sea urchins) and ate huge scones at the Tyler St. Bakery. Sleep in a tent is delicious but unsatisfying. We hiked past Boulder Lake up a steep scree path we thought might go to Boulder Peak, took a scary scramble up to a rock outcrop and sat there, way up the mountain with a view of three other mountains, quite as if we had flown there or been dropped from a plane; then scrambled back down, swam for maybe a minute in the icy water (there were occasional heaps of snow on the ground), shared an apple etc. on a log, hiked back. Ha ha now we’re at the Thunderbird Motel in Aberdeen. The time though cannot be repaired, or the patches of snow in the mountains in case of when they are broken yeah they’re broken, collecting silts and needles. The descent was as effortless as it was unsettling, like the passage through zero when counting backwards from one to negative one. Today a row of 6-to-13-year-old kids in bright lifejackets drifted down the river, exclaiming: “Help us!”—“It’s so freaking cold!”—“Help, I can’t feel my fingers!”—“Oh, dude, it’s draggin’!” (or, “dude, a dragon!”)—“Try swimming the other way!”—“It’s too hard!”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Correspondence

George Oppen, "Of Being Numerous":
To talk of the house and the neighborhood and the docks

And it is not 'art'
And John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance:
"What's poetry got to do with taking sides? Poetry is an art."

"Oh, don't use that word, Ned! If you'd heard what I've heard—the talk—the affectations—the boredom—"

"But isn't it an art?"

Her reply was almost screamed at him.

"No! It isn't! It's Poetry. Poetry's something entirely different. Oh, I know I'm right, Ned! If you go and get hold of this horrible modern idea that poetry is an art, I don't know what—" She stopped and clasped her hands behind her back.

"Well, anyway, Lady Rachel," he said, "it has nothing to do with this Glastonbury quarrel between Geard and Crow."

"It has. It has everything to do with it! Can't you feel, Ned, as we stand here that this place is magical? What's poetry if it isn't something that has to fight for the unseen against the seen, for the dead against the living, for the mysterious against the obvious? Poetry always takes sides. It's the only Lost Cause we've got left! It fights for the . . . for the . . . for the impossible!"
. . .
"I tell you," he went on, "I want my poetry to be a new, living, original thing. I want it to deal with machinery and inventions! It's all very well"—he kept flicking his ankles harder and harder with the stick he had picked up—"to go on writing about Middlezoy hedges and ditches and sedgemoor tombstones, but I want my writing to flow forward, where life is flowing."
. . .
He looked down at their log. It was not only invaded by the gorse prickles, but it was now covered by the shadow of a gorse bush.

"Do you say I could lift that log?," he said, "or do you say I couldn't?"

"I say you mustn't, because it's been there so long, Ned, and has all those funguses on it!" But she now gave him the first smile he had had since they got up from their seat on that log. He threw away the stick he had picked up and his cap after it. He bent down and handled the log, tugging at it first in one direction and then in the other. It only moved a few inches. It was deeply buried in the grass and hundreds of infinitesimal weeds grew at its sides. He knelt down, the better to get purchase, and tugged at it. It moved a few inches and then fell back into its bed of a hundred years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I've been meaning to write something

about the Jess show that's at Reed College right now, "Jess: To and from the Printed Page." I've gone to see it three times. It's big and overwhelming, but also feels frustratingly incomplete—leaving out the big late color collages which are my favorite of Jess's modes. But there's always more to see. The second time I went, I spent most of my time staring at one work, a poster Jess made for some readings Robert Duncan gave in Berkeley in the early seventies. It's divided up into rectangles by blank lines like comic strip "gutters" or window mullions, and as in many comic strips, limbs and other extensions sometimes reach from one frame to another. Each frame is its own distinct composition, but the picture as a whole seems to contain its own single, barely coherent scenic space, with a foreground and a background and a sky and even some seashore, but with perspective going several ways at once (though focused by a kind of church nave in the middle) and scale all wonky. The whole image, like so many in this show, is inexhaustible in its intricacy, overwhelming as a whole; but the many small, interlocking and overlapping images that make it up are each as clear and manageable and inviting and funny as the whole is enigmatic and disorienting: so that, looking, you hop from place to place, back and forth, recognizing, comparing, disentangling, sometimes literally following the path of his penknife, without ever being able to see everything (let alone the EVERYTHING to which it seems, like Duncan's cosmological poetry, to point). The forms of snowflakes and radiolaria turn out to rhyme (a nod to D'Arcy Thompson's On Growth and Form?), and a cog or wheel which keeps turning up at different angles moonlights as a halo, a pedestal and an orbital schematic. 

On the third visit I tried reading through some early text collages. My favorite phrase, from the lower right corner of Boob #3, was:

discover why men like you have mad

But there are lots of good ones.

The huge hand-drawn version of Narkissos takes up one corner, shakily outlined in pencil on white linen, aboil with hard-to-see details. A vitrine holds some of Jess's working notebooks, newspaper clippings and photographs for the work, which also exists as a large black and white collage (above), like a solid body to the drawing's shaky reflection. I wish that the show had included at least a reproduction of the collage, for the sake of comparison.

There's Jess's cover for an issue of Jack Spicer's mimeographed J magazine, with a drawing of a berobed choir singing something from a scroll, framed by a dense background of typed text INJALLJCAPSJWITHJJ'SJINSTEADJOFJSPACESJBETWEENJTHEJWORDS. There's an enormous J taking up the right side of the page: an empty outline which was smeared with glue and then sprinkled with gold glitter. The look of the thing is punk-rock shitty, defiantly gaudy and campily silly all at once—an essential artifact from that strange era of self-publishing.

It's a great show, though I have a few gripes. Two simultaneous audio loops are playing at all times—one of Jess reading his poems, and one of various voices and tunes and noises accompanying the slide-show called Jess's Didactic Nickelodeon—and can both be heard from every part of the room, which is distracting and, in combination with some of the noisier images, becomes so overstimulating that I sometimes found myself plugging my ears with my fingers in order to get a good look at something. And the collages for the second Didactic Nickelodeon series are displayed in a tight grid, many of them so high up the wall that it's impossible to get a good look at them or to read the text that accompanies them. Many books are displayed in vitrines at odd angles such that it's difficult, even when kneeling down, to look closely at them. Naturally one wants to be able to pick them up and flip through them—many are just ordinary perfect-bound paperback and journals from the 80s and 90s, not particularly rare or fragile, and it would have been nice if additional copies had been made available for browsing. This might also have helped to compensate for the show's tendency to refer constantly to poets and poetry without providing much in the way of context or examples, so that non-poets are likely to feel excluded from some secret club, or just ignore the bibliographic element of the show.

Anyway, I'm so grateful to be able to see these works, especially the unphotographable knobbly texture of the "translation" paintings, and the subtle variations of paper and ink color that lend another element to the black and white collages, which in reproduction tend to just look black and white (though that's a nice effect too—easier to see them as seamless whole images that way). It's a very good show, and the Cooley Gallery folks have done a very good thing by bringing it here. I'm looking forward to Steve Dickison's talk on Jess this Saturday (at 7pm at Reed's Eliot Chapel), which will be proceeded by (wow!) some kind of choral work based on Duncan's Caesar's Gate by my fellow ex-Olympian, Sarah Dougher.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spare Room presents a poetry reading by
Steve Dickison and Susan Gevirtz
Sunday, July 20
7:30 pm
Concordia Coffee House
2909 NE Alberta St., Portland
$5 suggested donation

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Yearbook (7.2)

Last night we watched Superman at the drive-in. And then, we both fainted. How does a ghost get laid? They drifted, all bemisted, from the yard into the living room, he to one end of a bedraggled and roomy brownish couch, she to an upholstered stool at its side; so that she was pulled into an unnatural pert, perching attitude, he into a flattering slouch. Pack: cheese, coffee stuff, tent, sleep bags, swimsuit (yellow parrot shorts), water pills, sandals, matches, stove, apples, cookies, sunscreen, towels, flashlight, plant book, money, tuna, Foucault, walnuts and raisins, socks, sweater, toilet paper, sleeping pads, water bottles (that Nalgene!), dish soap, pots and pans and camp cups. All Safeways smell the same. Placeless with surfaces, getting off on weather, part of an opera with silent parts for the hailstones if they fall taking the lighting with them.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Come to My Reading

Jennifer Bartlett and Sam Lohmann
Sunday, July 13th
7:30 P.M.
The Concordia Coffee House
2909 NE Alberta Street, Portland
$5 suggested donation

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Yearbook (7.1)

My bed is full of balloons, here in my new room in my new house. I looked up from the letter I was writing and there you were, bare legs, bare arms, a rainbow dot on your neck. I can still hear you breathing in the bedroom, while things get blown up outside, green and pink and sparks against the leaves sending up shreds of smoke that drift on an updraft through the tree and over my head making redtailed shrieks ekes spreadeagled whiff to scrub my sky out and graze the faint dipper’s handle, pinkish in July 3rd late blue evening coasting along the inner shell of the sentiment, the early late shebang, this thoughtlessness is all the world takes, taking time, talking it through in blips and grunts that shuttle all such days one rippled weave. “Smokin’ Joe’s” herbal cigarettes, and whiskey, and a fire, by the bluish-gray Dosewallips River. You carry it around with you.