Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I've been reading Ron Starr's A Map by a Dim Lamp, from Ravenna Press (the same press that published Rebecca Loudon's stunning Radish King and John Burgess' edgy Punk Poems, among others). This delightful first book draws upon Oulipian constraints and procedures to produce some very original and thoughtful poetry.

One of my favorites so far: "Creation Myths of the Latter Urbanites" which takes Genesis as the given text and uses scrambling and initial letters to create three versions of a new text:

The Genesis of Lawns
In the beginning green grass created happiness and envy. The expressways were without Fords and Volvos, and dusk was upon the fences of the domiciles . . . (pg.10)

I also enjoyed the language patterning of "I Am a Dark Roof. You are a Light Floor," and the keen humor of "What Mr. Angstrom Remembers," with its prose stanzas of deadpan non sequiturs, such as: "Mr. Angsrom remembers the subjunctive. Always." and "Mr. Angstrom remembers to calmly ignore infinitives and other splits of no consequence." Especially as this last comes after the "divorce" poems "Verdict Ho, or Ditch Eve" (the title made from anagrams of the phrase The Divorce, and the poem made using only the letters from the same phrase) and "from divortere . . . to turn aside, go different ways." Revealing, perhaps, a personal or emotional subtext that some of the writing may arise from.

Finally, "Issa on the Pequod" which ends the book, is a delightful smashup of Issa's haiku with phrases from Moby Dick:

Don't worry, phantom,
I keep ship


Climb, death,
O Evolution,
but slowly, slowly.


Ice imitating the body
is even more wonderful
than the body.

(pg 53)

As Starr says in his introduction: " . . . the whole of language is a series of related games with rules, roles, and turns. The threnodial and the lipogram are games. So are the sonnet and the first person free-verse lyric. Games worth playing."

And games that are highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Went to see Dreamgirls on Christmas Day at Pacific Place. The theater was jam-packed for the 2PM show, it was hard to find a good seat. The audience an eclectic mix of gay men, black women, teens, hipsters, and families.

After all the hype, I was prepared for a let-down. The story is sort of wooden and predictable (more like something from the Biography channel). But the singing and the songs are wonderful. Eddie Murphy does a great job as James Thunder Early, a James Brown-Little Richard-Rick James-like singer and showman. Jamie Fox plays the Barry Gordy-like Genius-Promoter turned Machiavellian-Mogul mostly as a one-dimensional bad guy. Beyonce is just darn pretty. There are interesting bits about the history of the times: black music becoming mainstream, civil rights riots in the streets, the Vietnam War raging in the background (Murphy's character wants to do a message song about Vietnam, and all the "brothers" dying there, but it gets nixed, because "message doesn't sell, people want songs to make them happy;" a telling comment, perhaps, on our present time, and the Iraq war?).

Jennifer Hudson's performance as Effie ("I don't do backup") is the best thing about the movie. I thought she was perfect for the role, and that she totally nailed her character. In fact, it did not seem like she was playing a character at all, but was channeling something from deep inside, from her own life. I did not fear for the architectural integrity of the building when she hit her notes (as has been written in some reviews). But I definitely had tears in my eyes several times, her songs are just so incredibly moving. Effie's story is universal: it's about staying true to your voice; about the pain of being passed over, being betrayed/wronged; about falling down and coming back stronger. She is not so much a Diva as a Survivor.

Go see it. You'll feel saved.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It's not fake, it's artifical . . .

I gave in and went to Rite Aid and bought a fake tree. Not bad for metal wire and green paper, eh? Dean was very surprised. We started decorating it after dinner, while listening to our favorite Christmas CDs: Men's Chorus, Carpenters, Streisand, and the fun jazzy Starbuck's mix, to name a few. Dean swoons over Johnny Mathis singing "White Christmas." Go figure.

Happy Holidays to All!

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

I'm really looking forward to the long Holiday weekend. Dean and I will spend Christmas Eve at one sister's house, and (part of) Christmas Day at another's. There will be lots of family, my sibs and their spouses, little kids running around and tearing open presents, plates of food, hokey christmas music, and good old Mom sitting in a wingback chair with her cup of tea, taking it all in. Even though most of my sibs and their spouses are hard-core Catholics and/or Republicans (I know, really!), all of our differences seem to fade to the background this time of year. We eat, we laugh, we carry on, we watch football, we play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit; and they all treat Dean like he is part of the family.

But I also look forward to having some time to myself, and time where just Dean and I can do something together. High on my list this year: to see "Dreamgirls." Christmas Day afternoon is the best time to go to the movies, because the theaters are mostly empty: no lines, your choice of seats, great parking.

Because we were away most of December, we didn't have a chance to get a tree. It's a little weird, not having one. The living room seems a little empty. We have this box full of ornaments, including a new one from the Hawaii trip, and nowhere to hang them. Dean is away at work today. I may have to surprise him with something before he gets home. Hmmmm . . . .

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A political poem for the Holidays, no?

Or are all poems, by their very nature, political?

For some reason this Hayden Carruth poem (see below) makes me think of a line from Carolyn Forche's "The Colonel," where the military man shows her a bag of severed human ears, then threatens her with, "Something for your poetry, no?" It's a long poem, but worth the read.

The Camps

"Yes, art is palliative; but the substance of art is real.
Can you make something from nothing?"
--Ivan Tolkachenko

When the young brown-haired
woman was shot
a drop of blood swayed
on the end of her nose
and her baby brother for an instant
thought of a lantern.


As the kittens were born
the father of the little girl
bashed the head
of each one against a rock.
She watched. This was
in another country. It was
in several other countries.


The town is divided between those
who sit in a dark corner of what remains
of their houses
unwilling to see anyone
and those who go out into what remains
of the street
unwilling not to see everyone.


A sparrow flew into the high loft
above the people lying on the floor
and fluttered here and there crying
and cheeping as if trying to drink
the light at the crevices but at last
perched on a broken concrete strut
and closed its eyes.


The small pile of starved children
resembles the pile of brush
at the edge of a woods
in Alaska. Each will recede
into the earth at about
the same rate as the other.


Some always say the cats
or the crows or the ants
will be last,
but some insist
that the tough young women
and men will somehow endure,
will somehow prevail.


After they arrived
they spoke inventively in their language for a long time,
weeks and weeks,
contriving new snappy names for hunger,
for God and Satan,
for the machine,
until the subject itself faltered, and they were silent.


For a second after the
sweep of bullets
he looked at himself cut in half.


Who is it that stalks the camp?
Not the commandant, he has more sense.
Not the garbage-picker, there is no garbage.
Not that dying baobab tree over there.
Not the dew, there is no dew.
Not even the memory of the dew.
Yet we who are women bury our heads
in our hair and are still.
We who are children sprawl on the earth.
We who are men fold our hands and fall back
with our eyes wide.
Nobody knows who it is that stalks the camp.


I am dying because I am black, one says.
Or because I am poor.
Or because I speak bad Spanish or Arabic.
Or because they found me in the Third Street Bar.
Or because my husband ran away.
You see, we are of the world in spite of everything
and we cling to the world's reasons.


A little way apart from the long trudging
line of prisoners, a woman lay down
in the snow and gave birth. She was a sad
good-looking blonde. But I am not a woman,
she says. I cannot be, I refuse. Who is this dead
woman lying in the snow? No, I am a coyote.
And at once all the prisoners cried out softly
the coyote's song, which fills the gray air
from horizon to horizon and settles
upon the world. The newborn
coyote pup scampers away over the snow,
across the plain, into the forest.


Most of the starving children die peacefully
in their weakness, lying passive and still.
They themselves are as unaware of their
passing away as everyone else. But a few
haggard boys and girls at the last moment
twitch and open their eyes, and a sound
comes from their throats. Their eyes
express if only faintly knowledge
of their private dearness about to be
extinguished. They are struck by their superb
identities. Yes, these are the ones who . . . .


The world was never unbeautiful. All its parts,
marsh and savannah, forest and lake, scars
of lava and lightning and erosion, sparkled
in the sun. Now it has this camp and that one
and the thousands of others, camps almost
everywhere. Even the word camp once meant a field.


Sometimes children
become playthings.
A bit of their
intestines is pulled
out and handed
to them to see what
they will do with it.


When an artillery shell falls
in a particular neighborhood, what follows
is an immediate exodus of body parts and other furniture,
and then the slower exodus. Usually
old people and children, but others too,
maimed and ill, mothers and cousins,
friends and strangers-an unlikely company-walking
in file, weak and unsteady, harried sometimes
by armed guards or sometimes not,
walking, walking, shuffling
through alleys, plazas, across bridges, out
along dusty roads, across the fields,
into the hills and forests.


Following at a distance or waiting
in the shadows are wild dogs. Scream
if you can. Beg to be shot.


And some are left behind, always in every village,
undiscovered, like this woman of forty
whose origin is doubtful. Is she black, white,
brown, yellow, pink? She is speckled.
Once she was plump and now her skin
sags around her like folds of dirty woolen
though she is nearly naked, and her wrinkled
dugs fall sideways where she is lying, her leg is
gangrenous, already part of the shinbone is showing
unexpectedly white. She is waiting for the sunrise
to bring her a little warmth while she
watches herself become a skeleton.


He who is writing these words, an old man
on an undistinguished hillside
in North America
who has been writing for sixty years because this
is his way of being in the world, writing
on scraps of paper with stubby pencils
or on cheap tablets from the drug store, on a battered typewriter
set on an orange crate in a roach-ridden flat
in Chicago or in a small country house
on a computer, writing
all his life long
in the desert, on the mountain, in the forest,
on a beautiful boulder standing in the middle of a mountain brook,
writing year after year the way robins
build their nests . . .
What if these were his last words?
What if these sentences should be the vision at the end
of a lifetime he could never alter?


Sing then of love
in the camps. Somebody
gives somebody else
a swallow of water.
People hold hands,
a woman cuddles her
baby as long as
she can. Men in the face
of the sweeping automatic
rifles against the wall
embrace just before
the blast. And does it
help? Ah how ardent
the hope has been! But
no one knows, the evidence
has vanished.


In the simple tableau two brown women
lie with their hands
between each other's legs, worn-out
fingers resting in vulvas, a child
of eight or nine, turned aside, its sex
unknown, fondles itself but the arm fails
and drops down, a wife lies
with her husband's limp penis
against her cheek. Over the camp like descending
twilight the remnants of love
rest on the unmoving forms.

from Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey
Poems, 1991-1995

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Attention All Po-Bloggers

A gentle reminder: I am the guest poetry editor for the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of In Posse Review. The theme for the issue is "Poetry and the Body." Please send your best, previously-unpublished "body" poems(however you wish to interpret that), as Word or RTF attachments, to: Let your imaginations roam.

Deadline: January 15th, 2007

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog

I'm reading a terrific new book, Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog, by Kitty Burns Foley. It's all about the history of sentence diagramming, from its inception in 1877 in a text by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellog, to it's height in grammar schools across the country (where she fell in love with diagramming under the tutelage of Sr. Bernadette). She diagrams famous (and not-so-famous) sentences from the writing of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, and Joyce Carol Oates, to name a few; and tells delighful literary and historical stories to go along with the diagrams, that are a good read in themselves.

I loved diagramming sentences as a kid. And I agree with her, that diagramming is a lost art — a not-so-useful art, all said and done, but an art nonetheless. She writes about a poster that existed in the 1970's of a 958-word sentence diagram from Proust's Sodome et Gomorrhe. I would love to see that. Below is a scan from the book, as an example of one of the many diagrams she includes, written in heavy black ink, as if copied from a chalkboard. This one, of the last sentence in Proust's A la Recherche, is a marvelous visual poem, don't you think? Come to think of it, I would like to diagram a poem . . . right now . . . hmm . . .

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Lost Room

We had our friends from Vashon Island stay over last night; and tonight my sister, her husband, and their toddler (who haven't had power in 4 days) are staying with us. They are pretty frustrated about how long it is taking to get reconnected to the grid. But we making the most of it, having a good time playing with the kid, and watching a marathon of that new series "The Lost Room" on TV. What a fascinating show. There are these objects from a 1960's motel room on Highway 66 that have been imbued with certain powers: the room key can take you to any room, a comb can stop time for ten seconds, some scissors can rotate any object in the air, a polaroid becomes a looking glass, etc etc. It all seems connected to some otherworldly war between good and evil and saving the world from anihilation. It's freaking riveting (so far). Has anybody else been watching?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

From World Wide Words Dec 16, 06

"WORD OF THE YEAR Merriam-Webster has been running a competition, asking visitors to its Web site to nominate the Word of the Year for 2006. The runners-up were, in decreasing order of popularity, google, decider, war, insurgent, terrorism, vendetta, sectarian, quagmire, and corruption. Astonishingly, the winner - announced on 8 December - is "truthiness". It triumphed by such a large margin, 5 to 1, that an unbiased observer must wonder about the possibility of ballot-stuffing. That would be fitting for a word that means the quality of stating concepts or facts that one wishes or believes to be true rather than those known to be true. The word was invented by Stephen Colbert in his first-ever show on the Comedy Channel in October 2005."

I would have gone with "decider." I use it all the time with Dean now. For instance, when we are talking about where to go out to eat, I'll say, "Well, I'm the decider and we're going to El Greco." Hehehehe. I so bad.

PS: The power is back after being out for about 36 hours. It's times like these I wish we had a fireplace. Preferably gas-powered. And a gas stove so we could cook.

We received word that our storage locker had some flooding. I need to go assess the damage and move things to a new locker (or the dumpster). Can you imagine soggy sleeping bags and such? Yuck.

Some friends from Vashon who are still out of power are coming over to stay tonight. Looking forward to seeing them. I think I'll make a steak and mushroom risotto.

Friday, December 15, 2006

This made me smile today:

From a review of the anthology Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets in the Kitsap Sun:

" . . . Edmonds poet Joan Swift provides a transcendent poem called "Light Years" and West Seattle physician/poet Peter Pereira’s anagram wordplays leave one giddy with amazement."

full article here.

I'll Huff and I'll Puff and I'll Bloooooow Your House Down

Howling gusting winds all night last night. Branches breaking off trees and hitting the roof and the south side of the house. People's garbage cans rattling loose down the street. Sirens howling downtown. Lightning flashes (but oddly, no thunder?) Around midnight I heard a loud pop from a transformer in the alley, and our power went out. It's still out this morning. Most of the city is dark. I drove all the way to West Seattle to work this morning, past several down trees and power wires, only to find the power was out there, too, and the clinic was closed. Back on Capitol Hill now, at Vivace Espresso. It's the first place I could find with power and COFFEE! Ran into an ER doc I used to play tennis with, whose power was out at home and who is using the Wifi here (as am I) to get some work done. It's very clear and calm outside now. Even a little sunny. Trees all blown bare. Quite lovely.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Home and dry, so far . . .

We made it home safely, albeit after a bumpy ride over a storm in the Pacific last night. And now the weather report says another storm is going to hit Western Washington tonight, with high winds, rain, possible downed trees, and power outages. This "unsettled" weather is a bit of a shock to the system after Kauai. We had a lovely time, and hope to come back someday. The Grand Hyatt resort was fantastic: huge landscaped grounds, breezy open-air halls and seating areas, multiple levels of pools, nice restaurants. The island was gorgeous: jagged cliffs and mountains, lush green hills, hiking trails, gardens, beaches with big ocean waves, surfer boys (and girls). The people were quite friendly. Apparently Pereira is a very common name on Kauai, from the history of Portuguese immigrants who came to work the sugar cane fields in the old days; and so everybody thought they knew me, or my family and relatives, and treated us as such.

It was a great getaway. I can't believe I have to go back to work tomorrow (thank god it is only a half-day). A few more pics follow (I'll try not to bore you with too many).
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Monday, December 11, 2006

Hula Hello

Having an amazing time. Waimea Canyon and the North Beach area were stunning. Also liked Limahule Botanical Gardens, where they are working on preserving and repopulating native Hawaiian plants. Most days we just sit out by the pool and read (and sip mango margaritas). Dean has learned a silly little hula dance that he does on the spur of the moment. The best reads so far: Anne Carson's Decreation. Wow. What an dynamite mix of poetry and drama/opera. She is brilliant, amazing, original. Also loved reading David Wagoner's one-act one-man play First Class, about Theodore Roethke that was in Georgia Review. Great stuff. He captured the essence of Roethke completely.

We still have two days to go. It feels like we have been gone a month. Perhaps some pics later?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Having a great time. It's weird, but there is not good internet access here, so I won't blog much. And I guess my only "surfing" (haha) will be in the water. While laying out by the pool yesterday we read a dark and hilarious short story be Joyce Carol Oates, about a couple who buys a life-like Emily Dickinson robot-doll, in the special attachment to the last VQR. What a hoot! Oates is a genius. Today we are driving out to Waimea Canyon. More later . . . Yeehaw!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What I'm Bringing to Read:

Decreation, Anne Carson
Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder
Art of the 20th Century (Taschen)
Splay Anthem, Nathaniel Mackey
Insomnia Diary, Bob Hicok
Resin, Geri Doran
A Form of Optimism, Roy Jacobstein
Dark Alphabets, Jennifer Maier

I can hardly wait to lay out by the pool with some of these . . .
Dean and I are going away for a few days, to a secret undisclosed location (can you guess where?), to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Looking forward to some much-needed sun, R & R, and more. See you when we get back!