Thursday, May 26, 2005

Correspondence



Stuffing envelopes with kind rejection,
a paleness in the act of letting go,
I feel each crease and cross, admire
stamp, source, origin of paper.

Rarely is there a style that surprises me,
but when there is, I can’t help but wish
the work had surprised me which came
with it. Instead, this is the bright end

of the task: a pile of paper in which
I half-apologize for lack of space.
Though there is no lack. What I want
is brief and understood, still the pain

is bearable. Once, I looked down
to find a peculiar gift: a silken case
of linen, inked line to lip in pale green.
I hadn’t seen such a glorious mouth

since childhood. I put my dull note in,
savored the moment of sweet glue.
There was then another beneath it
in the random stack. I checked in case:

one in Kansas, the other farther.
I dared not wonder at the chance. Instead,
imagined the epic chain of circumstance—
two ships nearly passing in the fog.

I could have held them there, but let them go,
the room itself becoming darker, near end
of the postal hour—but what I had wanted
was brief and bearable: a pain to set on another.

The Next Idiot To Open His Mouth

Nothing can repair their veering
now that the season has set
a cold dial to its red arc.

Not the cold rain starting
of my first love—her bike rides,
her gifts hidden in the grass.

I stood at the edge of a field
of her, afraid to enter.
Birds gleaning from her body

then lifting from seed
without reason or wrong-
doing. It was like a kiss

how she steered away, how I ran
after, my face red with want
that last day of first school

when I thought if I let her go
there would be little else to go after.
And now look at me:

pressed between to pages like
—you thought I would, huh?
The road is made of wrong turns,

the day of hours I am awake.
The rest is a dark wall
that reminds me of when

there was no wall up to keep me
from my life. Only
star after star of death, a marked car,

a sea of siren and lost cause.
A girl made me say the only thing
I could not say easily. A girl

is not a locked body
but a calculated opening,
the sudden coin beneath water.

She holds her breath; she wishes well.
Bright conifer cover, the towel
laid out for the losing.

I hid in a hollow under full branches.
I thought it was anger that kept me
pacing through miles of mounted grain

for the girl I loved before I knew love.
Sex is cause and affect; it is the tide
made wet to rise. The open door

is only a door that wants waiting.
Beneath the field, a boy still waits
for his dark horse. To bring him in

from rain or ruin. But the boy he loved
after. But the next first following...
A story for another time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Steganography

Black magic coiled at the tumbled root,
a beige wreathe of aerial hair, the air made
to work at the surface of this child’s cage.

Look how they part the calm cypress;
See how they tone the hickory seat:
inked sage and a vague, pleated resin.

There is abstinence; there is a boy’s way:
balmed camphor riffling the hot page,
a mallard checking time through reed

and water. Curious flash of citrus seeds.
It isn’t that you can’t read it; it’s that you
dove too deep through the lake’s fall curtain

and now there is only life, moist and green
against slick teeth. Summer will be slicker still
once the amber now roosting coils too

against the marked veil from which you call.
The mallard tips his beak toward darkness.
One will wonder how you found life out so quickly.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Baby Wanna Child


I’d faith in science—I didn’t wanna steal ‘er;
only saw it open, gave your dollar to our dealer
and split with my arms filled. Beauty
is a kinda candy. It rots the heart, Billy,
makes me wanna go. So, this?
How can you say y’wanna dollar, not a kiss?
I don’t got one neither; only got this hole;
only got these sweets f’you want some mo’.
All my money’s on the millionaire…
He know what he’s do’n: got some blow in there
with that bitch. She wanna gum it up—
she wanna cherry at the bottom of'r whiskey cup—
but I don’t want noth’n—but still I do
these things to me I ought do to you.
Your girl got a heat; she’s bound to burst!
She wanna hard day’s night, like we rehearsed.
She wanna seed gonna fall to the devil’s flo',
wanna bake a cake f’you the milk to po'.
Your baby want noth’n you don’t already give:
wanna Jack and some Jelly an'a life to live.

Monday, May 09, 2005

I'm in Newsweek!

I just found out some cool news... Talking in the Dark is in this week's issue of Newsweek.

On page 12, there's a tiny little picture of the cover along with a number of other notable queer-related books for young people. Very cool. Pick up a copy (even if you put it back down after flipping to the page).

Paisley and Prosody


First let me say how cute Paisley has been today. I found this picture in my phone and I thought, why not share. I'm hardly masking the fact that this girl has taken over my life. Enjoy. Also, here's a more recent picture of the pug-turned-lamp. She will never have puppies. Blame Nico.


Back to Poetry...

Someone once asked me what I look for in poems, and I didn’t know what to tell them. When I thought about it later that day, washing dishes, I found pieces of an answer. I came up with a number of others while sweeping. Finally, after watching a trashy movie, I thought I had it all figured out: a good poem picks you up from the place in which you have become so comfortable and carries you somewhere else. The reader loses himself a little in the reading, finds himself less aware of the fact of reading (even against his own will) in order to go where the poem or poet wants.

Recently, emailing a friend who sent me her chapbook and hoped for my thoughts on the poems, I tried again to articulate the same rare and arguably impossible-to-articulate thing I thought was missing. I found myself nearly repeating an earlier sentiment, however differently:

A good poem will pick you up, make you forget you’re reading a poem. When you finish it, whether you’re set down gently or forcefully, you’re made to recall what just happened. A good poem does that—but the best poem picks you up and puts you down someplace else, so that when you waken, you’re baffled how you got there, never able to return to who and what you were.

I believe for this to happen the poet needs to budge, to change a little over the course of writing the thing, so that it isn’t the reader that feels the move, but the reader who witnesses motion, evolution, growth… and is moved by it. But the reader isn’t the only one that matters. The poet is the first part of this… is it a process?

My friend’s poems were good, overall. She’s talented. She convinced me often enough that she meant what she was saying. There were good lines. But something was off, occasionally. And I think it may be the same something that is often “off” with young writers… and many older ones.

“Free verse” has ushered in a great number of writers who could be great writers if they knew the essentials of verse. Instead, there’s an emphasis on description, on anecdote, on revealing oneself through a scene. The generation or two before us (I’m speaking of literary generations here) inspire and challenge us with their emotional landscapes, telling weather, the little truth that hints at a greater story. Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath—need I go on? They’re masterful most often, and are masterful whether they’re writing in formal verse or not.

More recent “greats” aren’t nearly as formal as those before them. Mark Doty is not as formal as James Merrill, his direct ancestor. Marie Howe doesn’t write in the meter she often reads. James Wright, C.K. Williams, Robert Creeley, Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds… Even when they write formally, they aren’t noted for it. Contemporary writers are noted for so many other things, but not often for sonnets or villanelles, pantoums or sestinas—there are exceptions, of course, but they are exceptions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing these writers. They know their stuff. Even if they aren’t interested in representing themselves formally there are the underpinnings of form throughout. Which is just my point. Young writers today are too easily fooled by a lack of form in contemporary poetry. So easily fooled that there is a lack of willingness to study form and meter. The difference between these writers and us is that they studied during a period marked by poets who wrote a mix of verse and free verse. The necessity of mastery was clear. But today, young poets get away in their own small ways with an ignorance that will sooner or later come up to bite them in the anastrophe.

Free verse, after all, is freed verse, not verse that was never tied to form—and a reader can feel the difference.

Still not convinced? Let me leave you then with a picture of the famous twins... Their expressions have form written all over them.