Sunday, August 30, 2009

This is one of the most interesting books of poetry I have read in months. I picked it up blind off the shelf at Elliott Bay Books last week. I had never heard of it, don't know who Ted Mathys is (though the name seemed vaguely familiar), had not read a review. I just peeked at a couple poems and thought they looked interesting, so bought it. This is one of my favorite ways to "discover" a new book of poems.

According to the back matter, The Spoils is three long poem series, one about Henry Kissinger and a soccer ball, one about the environment/environmental degradation, and one about a "transformative road trip through the Deep South." I think the language is amazing: a mix of political verbiage, lyric/philosophical musing, dead-pan humor, word lists and mash-ups (sports and politics have an amazing amount in common). Perhaps the coolest part (for me) was in the first section where the shape of some of the poems is similar to a World Cup Soccer bracket (the sports geek in me really liked this): there are 4 groups, with two stanzas of four lines giving way to two stanzas of two lines, giving way to two stanzas of one line, giving way to a single line. These four single lines then would be like the four finalists.

Here is a sample from the Henry Kissinger/World Cup Soccer section. I love what is going on here with the riffing on a basic sentence structure, using word and phrase substitutions. It's very musical, very jazzy, a little flarfy. And I think it says some interesting things about politics and power and the individual-- "the poem must reclaim the nature of surveillance.":

The National Interest

We are interested in long criminal histories
because we've never bedded down in a cellblock.
With the sibilance of wind through the swaying
spires of skyscrapers as my witness. When I say
cover your grenades I mean it's going to rain I mean
there is mischief in every filibuster of sun.

We are interested in rigorously arranging
emotions by color as we've never been fully
divested of blues. With drinking till my fingernails
hurt as my witness, with hurt as my witness.
When I say be demanding I mean be fully
individual while dissolving in the crowd.

We are interested in characters who murder
because we've never committed it or to it.
With an origami frog in a vellum crown spinning
on a fishing line from the ceiling as my witness.
When I say please kneel with me I mean between
every shadow and sad lack falls a word.

We are interested in ceaselessly setting floor joists
because we've never pulled a pole barn spike
from a foot. With bowing to soap your ankles
in the shower as my witness, lather as my witness.
When I say did you see the freckle in her iris I mean
the poem must reclaim the nature of surveillance.

We are interested in possessing others who possess
that which we possess but fear losing in the future.
With a fork as my witness. A dollop of ketchup,
hash brown, motion, with teeth as my witness.
When I say you I don't mean me I don't mean
an exact you I mean a composite you I mean God.

We are interested in God because we can't
possess God, because we can't possess you.
With a scrum of meatheads in IZOD ogling iPods
as my witness, technological progress as my witness.
When I say no such thing as progress in art I mean
"These fragments I have shored against my ruins"

We are interested in ambivalence as ribcages
resist being down when down, up when up.
With the swell of the argument and the moment
before forgiveness as my witness. When I say power
is exclusion I mean a box of rocks we don't
desire to deduce I mean knowing is never enough.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Are you mad?

I enjoyed this thoughtful piece of commentary about the "angry mobs" at Health Care Reform Town Halls, that I received in an email today:

You didn't get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and appointed a President.

You didn't get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate energy policy.

You didn't get mad when a covert CIA operative got outed.

You didn't get mad when the Patriot Act got passed.

You didn't get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.

You didn't get mad when we spent over 600 billion(and counting) on said illegal war.

You didn't get mad when over 10 billion dollars just disappeared in Iraq.

You didn't get mad when you saw the Abu Grahib photos.

You didn't get mad when you found out we were torturing people.

You didn't get mad when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans.

You didn't get mad when we didn't catch Bin Laden.

You didn't get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.

You didn't get mad when we let a major US city drown.

You didn't get mad when the deficit hit the trillion dollar mark.

You finally got mad when the government decided that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they were sick.

Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, are all OK with you, but helping other Americans? -- well fuck that.

And have a blessed day.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Death Panels? What a joke!

I LOVE this bit of commentary from the Seattle Times the other day. Spot on!

Resist mob rule; get informed

What a joke ... a death panel! Where have people been for the past umpteen years? Are they not paying attention to what's happened around them? Do they not realize that the insurance companies have had "death panels" for a long time?
Denying people insurance due to "pre-existing conditions," refusing to pay for special procedures, driving people to court to sue in order to get lifesaving procedures for cancer and other life-threatening diseases -- Americans need to wake up.
Stop yelling irrationally and start asking the right questions in a dignified, democratic manner. It's absurd to follow these Internet rally-hounds without asking first who's behind it? Mob rule is wrong and we should be resisting it by being smart and well-informed.

-- Rosanne Cohn, Redmond


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Had a great time at Teatro Zinzanni the other night. The show has really come a long way since we first saw it about ten years ago. All new cast, a more developed show. The little gypsy tent in the parking lot has grown into a full scale theater, with a lounge and lobby area. Very nice!

The show was full of great acts: I especially liked Vita Radionova, the contortionist and hula hoop girl (though she did lose a couple hoops that went flying into the audience), the Vertical Tango couple (a tango done on a dancing pole), and the Petite Freres, three guys who did acrobatics and comedy. But the highlight, for me, was this very romantic song, sung by the madame Liliane and her former lover Caesar (taken from the movie Gigi). It's just such a wonderful evocation of memory, how unreliable it is, and how love/feeling/emotion is what lasts.

From "Gigi" (1958)
(Lyrics : Alan Jay Lerner / Frederick Loewe)

Honore (Maurice Chevalier) & Mamita (Hermione Gingold)

H: We met at nine
M: We met at eight
H: I was on time
M: No, you were late
H: Ah, yes, I remember it well
We dined with friends
M: We dined alone
H: A tenor sang
M: A baritone
H: Ah, yes, I remember it well
That dazzling April moon!
M: There was none that night
And the month was June
H: That's right. That's right.
M: It warms my heart to know that you
remember still the way you do
H: Ah, yes, I remember it well

H: How often I've thought of that Friday
M: Monday
H: night when we had our last rendezvous
And somehow I foolishly wondered if you might
By some chance be thinking of it too?
That carriage ride
M: You walked me home
H: You lost a glove
M: I lost a comb
H: Ah, yes, I remember it well
That brilliant sky
M: We had some rain
H: Those Russian songs
M: From sunny Spain
H: You wore a gown of gold
M: I was all in blue
H: Am I getting old?
M: Oh, no, not you
How strong you were
How young and gay
A prince of love
In every way
H: Ah, yes, I remember it well


I may just have to rent the movie, to see the original!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Seattle has been cooler and cloudier of late. Strange how we love the familiar.


An interesting little article about some "new" translations of Cavafy. I think I will have to check them out:

"C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems" (Translated with notes) by Daniel Mendelsohn; Knopf (524 pages, $35)
"C.P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems" (Translated with notes) by Daniel Mendelsohn; Knopf (144 pages, $30)

A Greek who did not live in Greece, he lived a quiet life with his mother, Herakleia, until her death in 1899, then with unmarried brothers, then alone in his own apartment. An agonized Christian, a voracious reader of ancient history, and a closeted homosexual, he distributed poems and pamphlets privately, but never published a book. His poetry didn't fit the verse of the time, and he gained very limited notice until the 1920s.

So he fell, and still falls, athwart categories. His muted, direct poetry tends to work not through metaphor or simile, but through characters and situations. His effects in Greek are so subtle that translations usually miss them and fall into prose.

Of his two favorite realms, one is Greek/Byzantine history - especially moments narrated by little-known greats, peripheral kings, philosophers, generals, and onlookers. As Mendelsohn so beautifully puts it, the ancient world Cavafy evokes is "rich yet exhausted, glorious yet doomed, proudly attempting to uphold great traditions even as it disintegrates."

Here you'll find a parade of lessers - Alexander Balas, Antiochus Epiphanes, John Cantacuzenus, Anna Dalassene, once-greats now buried by history. They speak of their hopes, disappointments, achievements; few realize they will be swamped in time. These poems teach us much about history, politics, and the foolishness of ever thinking you've got it made.

Cavafy's other realm is sexuality and sensuality. He may have had his first gay encounter when he was 20; for much of his adult life, he'd have a long dinner with Mom at home and then leave her, to visit the tough side of town shopping for tenderness. Although he was extremely discreet about his own life, his poetry becomes more open, especially after her death. After 1911, his attitude and poetry seem to embrace the life he struggled with for so long.

Cavafy's triumph is that his love poems can evoke the same enduring, compelling themes as his history poems: loneliness and loss, the nature of nobility, the ravages of time, the power of pleasure, and the fleeting nature of happiness. The unfinished, exquisite poem "The Photograph" begins with a speaker looking at a former lover's "beautiful youthful face":