Friday, September 9, 2011

Statement/ Poetry is free, and democratic. The Individual and the Universal.

I have been reading Yeats, lately--something I have not done in earnest in nearly thirty years, although once one reads Yeats for the first time or in earnest again, one starts to realize that the poet is the person as much as a shifting voice in the poem. Yeats, according to Ellmann's study, was an alternatingly sensitive & arrogant, questioning & declaring human being (in other words, much like a version of human beings at their extremes and midlands everywhere). He realized, with the help of constant study and practice, that "the individual self" is--because we each are the 'eater of the fruit of action'--"The universal Self, maker of past and future." (Another philosophy influenced him here, much as it did Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg--among many others [Ginsberg, as I often repeat, liked to remind 'The local is the only universal'].) I would add that, in terms of the poetics of the "eating" and of the "fruit" and of these "actions," the individual--in group or alone--is as well the maker of the present (composed of past and future). Present.

For those interested, I had tried to post a list of engagement on the site I think it is with the arrogance of Yeats--which, given the realities of writing itself, is not an arrogance at all but breath breathed into sympathy. Out of daily concerns a writer like Yeats is either drained to nothing or energized to action. As Lorca alluded, his shoulders may be "worn" by the moon. May there be light.

The grassroots movement to nominate an active state poet led me to compose the following:

A Statement On The Possibilities For A Poet Laureate

The poetics within our state are some of the richest on earth. Think “maple syrup,” “autumn,” “sugar on snow”; “Champlain [like an elixir for every weary eye],” or “Ascutney” (we cannot help but think of the knees, rises and peak, ancestral tongues—time here and time long ago, yes?). And then there are the individuals who continue to encounter and observe the subjects “harvested” here—who give renewed purpose to the poetics of our places and community dialog (this, too, is “Yankee ingenuity!”), all the while cultivating their own creative use and meaning into language anew to best express living here in these particular times (like a carver, one who turns a wooden bowl, or one who pulls clay; the hunter by day and actor by night). Poetry is free, and democratic.

Let’s try to bring out the poetics of Vermont as a more daily bread, a boost to the economy of conversation (and invention), a nod to the sanctity of bonds (and shared expectations), a celebration of what could be as well as what is, all expressed in language.

Beyond the functions generally described:

• Be a link between agriculture/industry & arts/education sectors.
• Invite laureates from other states (and abroad) to visit Vermont, lecture and tour.
• Inspire youth.
• Initiate an overarching project (Robert Hass’s was to promote watershed awareness)**.
• Help develop year-round “theme” events (featuring VT assets [artists or season]).
• Bring together poets and writers from all over the state (to network and serve)*.
• Call upon other poets and writers to help lead their communities in their regions.
• Work with Bread Loaf and other such venues and programs.
• Find ways for state poetics to have a presence at fairs, parades, farmers’ markets.
• Inspire elders.
• Be ready to link, honor and celebrate local/universal events as they arise/ as necessary.
• Encourage experiences across the arts (“poetry improv,” “paint/poems”).
• Offer a laureate’s column for newsletter, online, and/or newspaper syndication.
• Imagine poems on regional public transportation and at depots.
• “Commission” poems on agriculture, Vermont history, Vermont’s features and future.
• Help document and conserve written & oral expressions (records and archives).
• Help provide moral support for Poetry Out Loud throughout the year.
• Acknowledge singular poems and singular writers; seek recognition process, grants.
• Be an advocate for others.
• Help develop creative outlets and literacy in prisons and local institutions.
• Consider how Vermont poetics can contribute to larger issues (exchange programs?).
• Consider how VT poetics can relate to disaster (quakes, sunami); community response.
• Invite poets from Canada to tour Vermont institutions.
• Encourage college writing programs and poetry in the schools.
• Find ways to support book development, booksellers, and print/media in the state.
• Be available to the Dept. of Libraries, Education, and Humanities Council (& other depts/services)
• *Form a “phone tree” of poets, county to county; help arrange exchange visits.
• Brainstorm with state film, music, book festivals toward collaboration.
• Work with national organizations to broaden their awareness of VT’s poetics.
• Celebrate the state’s literary legacy and support lifetime achievement.
• Be on call to foster and sustain the health & vision of individuals, towns, agencies and organizations through poetic visitation.
• Be present to lend a voice, eyes and ear.
• Foster a broad coalition of artists, community to community. . . a network and council, so to speak, to enliven the gift economy and the creative economy—not mutually exclusive.
• To see poetry as an “art of action.”

** Overarching projects: e.g. “Preservation of landscape, character.” Work w/ various agencies.

O.k., back to Yeats' country. Slan agat! Poetry is good food.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Art Matters

There's been so much to say--a constant action of it--through Twitter; Allen Ginsberg's "three-fold logic" (the simplified "haiku" method grounded in observation, realization, and gestalt) has been a springboard to recent selections and posts. We take these things in, work them into a personalized response and offer the brightness of any synthesis. The mode has been this, so much so that the lengthier slog of essay feels just beyond reach (may this be temporary*). However, this two year old link came through Twitter today and the article is exceptional. Relevant Magazine published Why Art Matters by Makoto Fujimura:

The essay is one of the most apt and quotable pieces of writing on the topic I have read since Lewis Hyde's book about the gift economy.

As it happens, I was up past midnight last night responding to a request from our state arts council for stories about our recent tropical storm Irene (hurricane/tropical storm). Many of the things I found myself writing are uncannily like Makoto Fujimura's, whose article was divined as a tweet hours later. The pressure of the universe seems to release these little stars as our need, unbeknownst to us, most subconsciously requests them.

Here's what I wrote. The threads of affinity are matters of tone and conclusion that surely must arise out of mood, circumstance, yearning, crisis, resolution, a prone abandon in reflection. I neglected to add here that my friend and poet Colin Momeyer was waist deep inside the Zen Center, trying to tend to the situation--until he was called out, as though from a preacher on the stairs above him, I think he said. I also want to emphasize that my press's managing editor was not "mindless" (he is quite mindful)--but the sudden and surreal circumstances of flooding, everywhere he drove (and increasingly by the moments, place to place) must have felt like a dream in which we are mindless, for if we think too much about the fact of it coping through the "dream" of such a situation is defeatist. I've since added "single purpose." And so. . .

We put aside our routines to engage in a whole new set of detours, given the odds of chance and necessity during and after one of the most brutal storms to foul our state in almost 100 years. The artist is used to detours but some come at a price greater than delay, distraction, or inconvenience. While my home showed little change apart from loss of power, by morning it was clear that our community had been rocked--and changed almost unrecognizably. The road below our house suddenly ended and became a vast river instead of a once narrow brook with a two lane road beside it. Where there was road there was now a bluff. Such visual rearrangement challenges your sense of whatever was thought to be stable. The view, while opened-up, is unsettling. Not far from there our village volunteer fire dept. looked like it had gone through an earthquake: the pavement was uprooted and water had eaten up earth around the large building's foundation. Several bridges were "lost"--if only in the upset of the first days (to be quickly repaired--although temporarily). The covered bridge to our kids' school was rocked by enormous water (Quechee) digging over and around supports, land, and road--on both sides. It is unnerving, to a child and to the adults, to see one's "bridge to school" a tooth in the middle of no mouth, suspended without way to or fro. How surreal for children to see. And how do you explain "stability," "normalcy," "structure," "you'll be o.k." to children who take this in? Some of these children were children when, at the same school above the same bridge, they were asked to suspend the fact of two towers vanishing.

I direct a small non-profit arts organization in Windsor County, a small press that publishes and presents artists, poets, and other writers. We collaborate with, use the services of, and support colleagues, friends, and neighbors in the creative economy and in the economy of daily interaction. I am a poet, doing this. When I walked to our creative center, The Main Street Museum, I intended to do what any bard would do--what my mentor, in fact, modeled: to transform strife into song. Yet when I got to the place the blasts of a ghost-town dust and wedged sea-fared shipping containers and errant avenue dumpsters made the scene an eery upheaval of context. Workers bid "things" farewell in almost abandon. I could not play (a child's guitar on me, a harmonica in my pocket); I took notes--the words of poems rising in the "blank" of a kind of destruction that seemed to, over night, connect us with war zones and disasters all around the world. I don't mean to make unjust comparisons, but to a poet who holds words as both the wounded and enlivened, the salvaged and the saved, the power to destroy and the qualities of character to contribute, the ephemeral and the lasting--one understands that these dichotomies are not exclusive, that they are--as the vessel of the word tries to tell us--of the same source.

My Managing Editor drove through thick water in Woodstock, almost mindlessly in a dream (with single purpose)--disbelieving, at times, the rising water's threat could be so fast. He avoided Bridgewater and Rutland only after someone who had come from there emphasized the power of this was visceral in extreme. My organization's trustees (on their own) helped dig out, in White River Junction and in West Hartford, at separate sites. My wife drove to where she'd never been to be one of several to answer a call to re-establish a catalog system for a library practically destroyed. Back in my village, I only modestly helped--serving food to volunteers and fire fighters--and kept the sole grill man company for a period. The town had turned out to help a family shovel out from the muck of a high saturated basement. Traveling west, the sights became even worse. Roads dropped off. Boulders had swarmed and stopped around houses where two ponds and a river gave way; a marker, a plaque to acknowledge a hard time between natives and pioneers, was washed away on a pull out where passers by would often rest.

Members of a creative economy are members of communities too, of course. They are partners and husbands and wives, individuals and teachers and storytellers; relatives, loved ones, parents, employees, employers, civil servants, self-employed. In other words, those who witness struggle are also the ones who buy from the local grocery store, farmers' market; who will shop and sing and go to the fair; who stand for, represent, and thrive in a kind of life tourists see as profound in relative rural beauty and self-sufficiency. The humanity that is changed by chaos is not a humanity that disappears but rather this is a humanity that reforms, that gathers its steed, that re-configures through the push & pull of loves and labors lost. Is humanity taxed in the unthinkable recalculation that must summon a collective rebuilding? Sure, there is communal sorrow through it all. We are not immune to the knowledge of those who actually died in the chaos of a storm we call "tropical." (Now we know, everyone does, that "tropical" means the earthquake in Haiti just as much as it used to mean "vacation"; we can look through the screen--and feel for people.)

Whether we are at home having witnessed any part of these strange and unsightly changes or whether we travel on, we carry a stronger sense of suffering and the ephemeral moment--we hold the fragility of living a little closer. Of course the creative economy of artists and participants is impacted too. These will be the places and people who will bring us back, also, along with the volunteers and the construction workers, the guard and the fire fighters, the catalogers of disaster and the curators of what's left.

PM, 9.6.11

And I had wanted to add "to celebrate." Given what's left, we do. We must. So we do.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Poetic Relief: How Poets Can Help Storm Relief

This entry today is on-the-fly (please pardon my rush), and will be to the point. Poets can and should take action in ways that relieve and express in words daily circumstances, ordinary and extraordinary. Here in Vermont, the symbols of overnight change are more than visible; storm "Irene" left many villages, towns, cities without roads, bridges, and cultural landmarks. Here's what I propose artists do (in one form or another):

This is an idea for poetic action (or insert your art here), to help storm relief (in this current example).

1). A small ensemble of poets will take turns giving short readings while diners eat.

The idea is to collaborate with local cafes and restaurants ("poetry is good food!") to "host" an hour or two of short readings. Guests would be made aware that this is a *relief event* and tables would have the opportunity to designate a 10% - 100% (a
match) sliding scale donation upon ordering. (If a table of four orders $100. worth of food and drink, and they declare they'd like to donate 25% to the relief effort, then the relief effort collects twenty-five dollars.) The most anyone would be *asked* to contribute would be 10% (after/on top of/ tip).

Poets would enliven the place and we'd hope to pack these venues with sympathetic patrons through social media alerts.

This can happen with minimal organizing--which is why I suggest poets and others try to help in this way. The "Poetic Relief" could be on town hall stage, also: Free and open to the public (pass the hat, or bid on a poem [accept multiple bids!]) or with a donation at the door. Improvised music could accompany readings & recitations.

"811" is the one of the library designations for poetry. I suggest some of us try to make something happen this Thursday, the 8th (9/ 8 11). Communities are still without water, roads and bridges. "Everywhere mess is mess/completes the beauty."

Good luck. May the poetic restore that which is necessary within us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"I Who Speak To You Am As Old As The World" -- or, Love finds a way---

The grace of our youth is maybe that the love of things arrives instantly, passionately, soaring. But an older grace is that we come to love more, if it is possible, and for broader reasons. If these are two extremes (there is a middle ground) they are both free to develop their intensity, and so this--call it an ambition, or circumstance--they share.

Opinions shift in intensity too. My arguments have eased in a way I never thought they would: A line is a line and you don’t cross it if your selfless humane action requires this immobility. For instance, I never liked war (I choose “liked” because in fact I remember being fueled in some pedagogical way by watching Saturday morning black and white movies such as The Bridge Over The River Kwai [indeed I would find out it was one of my father’s favorites]—in which the themes were not themes I liked: mainly war). Now one of my brothers works for the VA and poets I admire are—and I never thought this “possible” in recent wars—intimates of war. We are all “intimates of war” whether we’re in them or not. Each time we love we love in spite of violence, tragedy, oppressions, and wars that would love to overwhelm existence. The existence of empathetic opportunities begin close to the nose, near the bone, and—as a scientist neighbor once affirmed for me, paraphrasing Walt Whitman: in a blade of grass (ash works well also but you have to imagine the victories, its vitality).

Someone I’ve known for many years recently told me he was a “Special Ops” fighter in Vietnam, entering that conscription in 1963 (. . .the year I was born). This lifelong educator spontaneously quotes Shakespeare, in a photo held a beloved Fox Terrier William Faulkner gave him as a boy, drove through Havana in the passenger’s seat of a Cadillac convertible to meet Ernest Hemingway—a friend of his flamboyantly macho uncle, an old school actor—not anticipating mutual shark shooting along side them on a sixty foot yacht. If I don’t like war I don’t like my friend either? Is this the construct love smells or is love’s construct some blur, a combination of opposites? Romantic as some of this sounds, my friend called the last act “vulgar”—blood in the water and all (“Other sharks ate those sharks”).

History shows itself in layers of loves and fights to get back to love. I’m reassured reading a 1936 text, The Flowering of New England (by the funny and tremendously insightful Van Wyck Brooks [such a early 20th Century name, seems to me; I love it]) that indeed “The Younger Generation of 1840” (a chapter) contained the unrestrained spirit for justice and yearning, the resilience, duende, moxie, muster and elixir that every body stilled through time wants or wishes to make true. Liberation and being were two of the same cloth. What makes us think we’re any different?

Just barely out of college I remember dismissing Primo Levi’s poems. A fellow graduate, a baker whose relatives had become intimates of war, recommended the poems during a small and subdued party in his tiny Haight Ashbury apartment. Almost a lifetime later, I cannot see parting with my Primo Levi. When with challenging eyes I considered those poems too simple, I was a student of the complicated in love with a process of decoding that could string me along. Likewise, another friend offered his exuberance about Michael Ondaatje’s poems (this was before we could see the rendering of The English Patient in such a sensual gauze as film)—and I suspect I thought these poems “too direct.” Months later I was to encounter my mentor who would declare “direct treatment” of the thing to be the only way to compose. In fact, if we are negotiators in minute to minute life, we do well to use the mode of direct treatment.

The best war stories are about survival. There is—and this is a secret—no difference between war stories and the daily story. In both extreme situations and ordinary ones being “crazy with courage” is sometimes at odds with “the only important thing. . . to live like a human being!” (Kwai). The Chinese, I’ve read, have a word for “the wonder and mysterious” (I hope I’m not wrong): Yu. (I don’t know about you but I cannot help the ear wanting to hear “you.” It is not far off from the Spanish “I” [Yo, am I right?]). Left as we are, we are brought into our circumstances with wonder that is perhaps this crazy luck of chance (spoken as an intimate of births, I say). As we embrace the mysterious (because we have to?)—we can do so as Pablo Neruda accepted the drift he didn’t even have to comb from the tide of Isla Negra (such an island in negative space!).

The “poetic” comes when we need this the most, measure upon measure, but the poetic is also always there. “There,” the poetic is here. Sometimes we need and use all we have in store—and all we can find (let us hope so): crazy/whim, courage, importance, the thing, being, human. . . to guide our attentions.

Intention and attention are close intimates of activity and they share a lust for un-bridged passions and intensities both thinly and broadly delivered. Such a sentence, for a topic so delicate and essential to living, should not be so cumbersome. Maybe the paradox of wonder and the mysterious is that we can get there even by clunk and stumble. Ah, life. But we can get there.

In the class I teach, this week we have thrown out the expected discussion about “meter” in favor of the more spontaneous. This is not to say there is nothing spontaneous within the joy of meter—traditional meters or new schemes. And this is not saying there is not meter within the spontaneous. There is plenty. In essence (to get back to that blade of grass) there is no joy without meter and there is no meter without joy (although the thrum-beats of war sometimes suggest a different conclusion). In our stillness we cannot be. In the natural and cosmic world’s rotations, it will be still—and always a sight for sore eyes to be rescued in the throng of some spontaneous love.

Now I read poems “A Bridge”, “Autobiography”, “In The Beginning”, “A Profession”, “The Survivor”, and “To My Friends” (all Levi) with wide love and narrow time (that just as easily unfolds, vast).

Ondaatje, I have had the pleasure to find, is a cosmos full of grace and humor.

To all of you the humble wish/ That autumn will be long and mild. –That’s Primo. May you harvest each poetic chance while you have these.

“Just take nothing for granted” . . . “I live and breathe/ Eat, drink, sleep and put on clothes” (respectively from “A Profession”, “The Survivor”).

Amid all this I will go back, newly so now, to Alvin Langdon Coburn. . . “Wier’s Close — Edinburgh, 1906”, “The Bridge — Sunlight, 1906” (so much like history’s bridge, and spring’s), but also Gertrude Kaserbier—where glance, light shaft, shift made for her all the difference.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

All Realms Convey/ Humanly we struggle to express: literacy in longing

If you know Antler's poems, I'm thinking about his alarmingly and devastatingly pure scream, his "Guernica" I suppose (, in "Your Poetry's No Good Because It Tries To Convey A Message"--a title Antler was given, apparently, by an unsympathetic listener. I've been thinking daily about Wei Wei--it wasn't long ago he was the celebrated topic of Frontline ( ; And I've been thinking about Juliano Mer Khamis "The 52-year-old was born to an Israeli Jewish mother and Palestinian Christian father", and Freedom Theater ( It is difficult to avoid thinking about Victor Jara ( and Naji al Ali (, a kind of editorializing older Keith Haring (in some shared curves of line and tone). I think about these people (our list could be quite long) and return to Antler's incredible title: Isn't it absurd to want the human expression to not convey a message (ANY message)? The ambiguity of the message (and the reception of its subjects) lights the fog and this illumination can cause some anxiety. But the fog lifts and reveals openings about which we had almost forgotten. The "plainly stated" can seem ambiguous too; we're not always sure about the destination--or the sincerity. Tone brings the message only so far, and tone can make the difference also.

"[W]e are cloud-like in the decades and centuries of marvel, we stand a chance if we abide by no dictation except the fuzzy shadows, we are light bound as much as nurtured by the dark. . . " and "when the speech comes it will be salvation." (Che p. 105). We convey the message murky and on-the-mark, and every place in between. While doing, may there be music, a kind logic, an individual tongue and hand that is inextricably connected to its "Other" humanity and sentience.

Yet the gut knows what the mind interprets. In the April 18th, 2011, issue of New York magazine (p.86), friends of the novella Che may find some affinity in the painter Jennifer Wynne Reeve's current exhibit at Ramis Barquet, I think. A "departure" from the "overt" and "political" I mentioned above, Jennifer Wynne Reeve's work is engaged in "Mixing a feel for succulent surfaces, rich color, and witty prose. . . paintings and photographs that are at once like vertical tabletops slathered with satiny paint and abstract diaries of life, death, sex, and longing. . . thick, saturated daubs and impastos rutted with waves and ripples transform into phallic shapes and faces begging for attention. . . stories of marriages, divorce, and sexual tension. Reeve's work skirts surreal realms, the real world, the inner lives of women, the imagination, the ego, and the id" (writes Jerry Saltz). Diaries of life, longing; rutted, waves; transform. Faces begging for attention. Skirting the realms, in layers. What it all conveys--foggy though it may be--is as vital as the direct narratives of Antler, Naji al Ali, Victor Jara. Somewhere in here is a little bit of Guernica (maybe the unspoken lovely part?)--that "they lived." Maybe somewhere is lineage from Pasolini's lyrically inspired narrative films. We should all hope to "convey a message"--and understand the message is its own material, and has far to go.

We can be intentional even while admitting the oblique. The message rattles the cage at every second beat. We realize tension in our longing. We love what exists that is a kind reminder. We suffer into what we cannot see and we are embraced.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Because the known and the unknown / Touch,"

Because the known and the unknown/Touch, . . . I return to George Oppen, an ancestral seashore, my palm, daily breath. This isn't too dramatic a thing to say for one drawn simply to the words of the title of the book from which the phrase I quote begins to arise: Of Being Numerous. After a long slog of winter in "New England," new anything will be desired--as well as desiring for the known. Oppen, poet's poet, reminds us about the nature of revealing.

Which brings me to Pale Fire. Specifically, to comments inside a 1982 text (I was just forming my own mature opinions then. . . ) about Pale Fire: From a book by David Packman (nothing to do with the popular video game of that time, I'm sure. . . ) called Vladimir Nabokov: The Structure of Literary Desire, we have this bit of liberation (one of my favorite words) and reason (one of my most difficult):

"In. . . readings of Pale Fire. . . a story is extracted from the text. This story is, of course, really in the reader's own construction. Each [reading] involves a decision as to how the text may be framed. . . Meaning is fixed in each case by the position of the frame. As Boris Uspensky has noted, 'The transition from the external to internal point of view and vice versa may be considered as a natural frame in painting. The same phenomenon may be noted in a literary work."

But how much emphasis does a desiring reader place on internal and external frames of discovery (perhaps we shall call it uncovery)?

"However, in emphasizing the internal frame, these readings tend to efface the text's external frame. The fictive world beyond the internal frame. . . is treated as if it were the paramount reality, or at least what the conventions of the realist novel propose as such. A work of art, however, is never the same as the paramount reality. . . On the contrary, the artistic text is a 'finite province of meaning,' an 'enclave within the paramount reality marked by circumscribed meanings and modes of experience"

Meanings circumscribed by and for and to whom? Modes of experience by and for and to whom? I return to this*, and wish you well--in uncovery as well as discovery. May the pleasures be yours. *"This story is, of course, really in the reader's own construction. Each [reading] involves a decision as to how the text may be framed. . . Meaning is fixed in each case by the position of the frame. As Boris Uspensky has noted, 'The transition from the external to internal point of view and vice versa may be considered as a natural frame in painting. The same phenomenon may be noted in a literary work." And to Che the same, layers of lace and strands of hair, a geography in text to figure. Probe and lift, and give text context. Venture forth, in and out of it, my friend.