Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mark Strand Passes Away

Mark Strand, a former poet laureate, was one of my favorite poets.

Here's one of the first poems I read by him.

Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man,
I snarl at her and bark,
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.


Here's a link to an obituary.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Transcribing Notes while Waiting for Fedex

So I'm staring out the window waiting for the Fedex guy to show up and pick up this case of wine we never ordered and didn't want, and I'm wondering what can I do while waiting.  I don't want to do anything where I have to focus too much because then I might miss the Fedex guy.  But I don't want to be wasting my time, so I decided to finally get together all the notes for poems that I’ve been collecting for the last 6 months. 

Here’s what I mean:

I’m always writing down stuff that pops into my head, lines for poems, words for poems, topics for poems.  I write this stuff down on a piece of paper, or rather many many pieces of paper.  I have legal pads and scratch pads scattered around the house and when something interesting hits me, I write it down on one of these pads.  I do this all the time, write stuff down, because I know that if I don’t then I’ll just forget the line or the phrase.  

Trust me, it happens all the time.  

Just this morning while I was exercising on my stationary bike two lines, a couplet, came into my head.  I went to write it down but couldn’t find a pen that worked, and before I got to the bedroom where we store dozens of pens, the lines were gone.  You know what that’s like.  Even if they were dreck, you’ll never know because they’re lost.  And what if they were the lost chord that Leonard Cohen always sings about?!

So while waiting for the Fedex guy, I figured I would gather all these notes together and type them into my computer, and while I’m doing this I can start shifting these lines and trying to see if they come together as poems or possible parts of poems.  My long poem "Third Winter of War: Buchenwald" that's included in Echoes of Tattered Tongues came together this way.  I spent about a year just jotting stuff down and finally when I sat down and typed it all into the computer there was the book.  A good poem in fact.  then it appeared as a chapbook The publisher nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize!

So I’m sitting at the desk, looking out the window for the Fedex guy, and typing. 

Typing slow.

Typing slow because I can’t easily read my writing for the most part.  When I dash these lines and phrases down, I usually write as fast as I can so that I don’t forget what I want to write.  This results in about 40% of the writing being a blur—is it “a land time egg” or “a long time ago”?   “Felt the brown stuff” or “Feel the torn skin”? 

So I’m doing this and keeping an eye on the window and typing and pretty soon I realize that most of everything I’m transcribing from the notes I’ve taken in the last 6 months is shit.

Holy smokes.


I’m not being coy and looking for praise,  I’m not looking for you to tell me, really this stuff is great. I can see it on the pages I’ve typed.  It’s all junk.

Let me give you a few of the pages I’ve transcribed:

  • ·        In the dark there is fear and fantasy, dreams and nightmares

  • ·        when we breathe our last we breathe still—all is well all is well all is well

  • ·        thank you for listening

  • ·        If a man has legs he should walk.

  • ·        a man walks into a kitchen looking for a knife

  • ·        the knife is looking for him

  • ·        The Polish word for hand is ręka.  In German it is shovel, rake, fork, and knife.

  • ·        Spring—I watch the earth as if feeds its dead.  I don’t know what to say.

  • ·        A man will drink water if there’s no beer, no liquor, no love of a woman he knew as a boy.

  • ·        No god waiting for his mother and father at the door of the home he knew as a child

  • ·        For a second just then before dawn the sky is red.

  • ·        All babies are born left-handed.

  • ·        Some men turn to sorrow, others to anger

  • ·        There is death before birth and birth before death

  • ·        The last man on earth asks for a drink of water
  • ·        there is no one to give it to him

  • ·        There’s no pain like loneliness

  • ·        Love isn’t love when it doesn’t exist

  • ·        It came back like the devil and his son

  • ·        Man was not built for staying put,    that’s why god gave him two feet  and a soul that itches.

  • ·        Self defense is the law of nature not the law of Jesus

  • ·        forgiveness is indifference

  • ·        in July the grass is dry, the leaves in the trees as green as they’ll get. 

  • ·        if a man stands still for a moment, what he’ll hear is the silence

  • ·        Winter is ahead, waiting for the world to catch up

  • ·        The trees of heaven have roots that go deeper than sorrow. 

  • ·        Love is a kind of literature

  • ·        Anything but the wire.

  • ·        His voice a violin at a funeral

  • ·        Hell is the place where they keep the cigarettes

So I’m typing this kind of stuff up and getting tired and taking breaks to look for more notepads and slips of paper with lines written on them, and it’s getting later and later, and I’m getting disgusted with the stuff I’m typing up on my computer and wondering where all of it leads, and how come I don’t just stop typing and do something else, and I’m looking at the street through the window, and wondering where the Fedex guy is, and suddenly I see him.

There he is.  A big fedex ground truck.  My truck. 

And I’m ecstatic because I can stop worrying about the case of wine, and the money it’s going to cost me if I don’t get it picked up, and I can stop worrying about the shit I’m transcribing that refuses to cohere, to come together in some kind of shape that I can work into a poem.  All of the world is suddenly golden because the Fedex guy is here, and I’m happy at last, and then suddenly the truck starts up and the truck is over the hill and out of sight in a couple of seconds.  He’s gone.  Him and his truck.  And he never even got out of the truck, to walk up the sidewalk to the house and ring the bell or knock on the door to pick up the case of wine that was waiting just inside the door.

He’s gone.

And I’ve got to go back to transcribing all of this rotten poetry.

All of it—that I can’t read and that doesn’t make any kind of sense.      
So I type from the sheets of note pads:

  • I just want to say to the world, hold me.
  • And here’s what’s God say, “Not now.” 
  • He keeps me waiting like a cow.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

End of Summer, 2014

End of Summer:

Summer comes early to southside Virginia.  I start mowing usually around the start of March.  For me that's the official start of Summer.  The calendars tell you it's sometime in late June, but don't believe them.  Calendars are created by people who don't mow.

Summer starts when you gas up the lawn mower and start the work of keeping the lawn as short as a buzz cut.

And Summer doesn't end toward the end of September.

It ends when you do the last mow and sit down and have the last post mow beer.

Summer ended today about 10 minutes ago.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Jack Kerouac -- King of the Beats

I watched Kerouac: the King of the Beats, a documentary on Kerouac and 10 minutes of a movie based on K's novel Big Sur this morning, on Netflix.  In the 60s I was a big Kerouac fan, read my first Kerouac novel as I was walking home from finding it in a second hand store.  Got hooked instantly.

Loved the sense of the road--endless driving, looking for kicks.  Drinking, smoking, talking beat, jazz, lonely geniuses looking to connect with lonely genuises.

This stayed with me for a long time.  All the way to grad school until I got interested in Postmodernism and that put the nail to Kerouac's coffin.

But I loved Kerouac -- so after watching the film I went looking for my Kerouac novels and books. I had the full boat of books, but I couldn't find them.  Not a one.  Not On the Road.  Not Subterraneans.  Not Mexico City Blues.  Nothing.

I even lookded through a bunch of boxes in the basement and found nothing.


I'm especially surprised by the disappearance of On the Road.

I taught it a bunch of times in the late 90s and early 00s, and it wasn't on the shelves with all the other books I've taught out of.


Teaching Kerouac was an interesting experience. It gave me a different sort of sense of him.  When I was just reading him for kicks, I was taken with all the wild ride of Kerouac.

But teaching him I had to slow that down and think analytically/critically about him and what I found was that he appeared more troubled and more complex.  His sense of the blues and jazz and connections with black and brown people came to seem more patronizing.  And his sense of Dean Moriarty less accepting, more complex.  Moriarty came across as more of an asshole.  A guy you couldn't trust.  I left the novel On the Road with a sense that Kerouac was hoping he was done with all of that beat stuff, that bohemian stuff.

By the way, most of the students didn't much go for Kerouac.  A couple of guys in each class would like him but that was it.  The whole possibility of the road didn't speak to most of the folks.

And that was true pretty much of the 60s as a whole.  I thought a course on the rebellious lit of the 60s a couple of times, and the students kept saying that the rebellion felt flat, old, unimportant.

Anyway, I'm still looking for the Kerouac books.

They have to be hear somewhere.

I wouldn't mind reading On the Road again and seeing what a 66 year old would make of it that a 16 year old didn't.