Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'll be doing a presentation of poems from the History of Medicine tonight at 7PM in Columbia City for SPLAB/Living Room. Come on down if you are in the neighborhood.

Full info here: Peter Pereira guest poet in the Living Room Nov 30

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Patti's Myth

I've been reading the Patti Smith memoir, Just Kids, about her coming of age with Robert Mapplethorpe in the 60's and 70's in New York. It's a fascinating peek into the desires and motivations of young artists, leaving home and coming to the city, living hand to mouth, sacrificing all for their work, all in the hopes of making it, becoming famous.

But some of it seems a little far-fetched, too casual in its name-dropping, too highly coincidental that she is in so many places at just the right time, and just happens to meet the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Sam Sheppard, etc, etc. And so I read the memoir as somewhat mythic, and that is OK.

Still, that aside, it is a wonderful read, in part, I think, because she writes like a poet. And it has driven me back to listen to all my Patti Smith albums again, and to go online to find recordings and videos on YouTube. She was the ultimate punk/rock poetess, and as a teenager I wanted to *be* like her--it's part of what made me want to write poems!

Here is a recent video of her reciting a few lines, then singing "Dancing Barefoot" live:

And here is another great find, a cover of her singing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teens Spirit." I think she and Curt would have found a soul mate in each other. This is an amazing cover, it's as if the song was written for her:

And for good measure: a 1976 live performance of "Land" from Horses, followed by a eerie cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe."


Sunday, November 21, 2010

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I *heart* Barbara Bush!

Asked what she thinks about Sarah Palin, the matriarch of the Bush family responded with characteristic diplomacy.

"I sat next to her once. Thought she was beautiful," Barbara Bush told CNN's Larry King. "And she's very happy in Alaska, and I hope she'll stay there."

The 85-year-old former first lady chuckled and smiled at her subtle sarcasm. Her comments come as Palin, former Alaska governor, revealed this week that she's considering a 2012 run for the White House, and said believes she could beat President Barack Obama.


I had a lovely time at the Crab Creek Review release reading. Wonderful poems from Erin Malone, Kevin Miller, Michael Schmeltzer and Martha Silano. I especially enjoyed Martha's poem about "Black Thursday," and the one about her baby learning to talk, "On the Cusp." (here's a taste)

On the Cusp

of language, of her first word. Something's
set to burst from her lips—bison? Bivalve?

Could be bye-bye; we're not sure.
There's a bushtit at the feeder,

so she turns to the news of hunger,
of hunger and buzzy chirps—

buh buh buh—wavers her hand,
and this could be the start . . .

read the rest of the poem here:


I read my ekphrastic poems from the issue, as well as a couple of others. I think they went over well. Had an interesting conversation afterwards with a woman from the audience, who enjoyed the poems, especially "Plague Doctor." She said her father was a doctor, and used to have a collection of old wood block prints from Europe, with caricatures of doctors, and she wondered if that is where I got the image ("Doktor Schnabel von Rom" ("Doctor Beak from Rome"). Now I have to go see if I can find this book of woodcuts!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Terrance Hayes' Lighthead wins National Book Award for Poetry!

"In his fourth collection, Terrance Hayes investigates how we construct experience. With one foot firmly grounded in the everyday and the other hovering in the air, his poems braid dream and reality into a poetry that is both dark and buoyant. Cultural icons as diverse as Fela Kuti, Harriet Tubman, and Wallace Stevens appear with meditations on desire and history. We see Hayes testing the line between story and song in a series of stunning poems inspired by the Pecha Kucha, a Japanese presenta­tion format." Full details here.

And Patti Smith (!!) wins in the Non-fiction category for her memoir Just Kids about coming of age with Robert Mapplethorpe. How touching.

I think I am going to have to read both.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Dean and I are totally into HBO's In Treatment again. What an amazing show! My favorite character so far is Sunil, the Bengali grandfather who is suspicious of his son's American wife. He is played by Irrfan Khan, who is a fascinating actor, and just riveting to watch. This is high quality psychological drama. Check it out.


Had a great time at the Band of Poets concert at Hugo House Thursday night. A great mix of poetry and music. I especially loved Jed Meyers on guitar and harmonica. Go see them the next time you get a chance.


I've been reading Timothy Donnelly's The Cloud Corporation. It was strongly recommended by several reviewers, including someone at the NY Times. I enjoyed his first book (27 Props . . .), but unfortunately I am just not getting this one. There's not a lot of there there. I'd call it "John Ashbery lite?" Is anyone else connecting with it?


Monday, November 08, 2010

Ekphrasis and Community

Had a wonderful time yesterday at the "Taboo Against Beauty" ekphrastic poetry presentation organized by Susan Rich at the Frye Art Museum. She and Allen Braden, Kelli Agodon, and Oliver de la Paz read new work, written in response to paintings in the permanent collection at the Frye. Terrific stuff about dogwood trees and the crucifixion, a poisoned Mozart in winter, and a Dutch washerwoman. My favorite: Kelli's poem about the family of monkeys and the tipped over vase a flowers:

It was a delightful Sunday afternoon, weatherwise, made even more delightful by being able to chat and mingle and catch up with so many of the local poetry community after the reading, over coffee and cookies. Seattle is a great place to live, and to write. (Welcome back JHG).


Also saw the new copies of Crab Creek Review, in which Susan edited a special section on Ekphrasis. I am lucky to have a couple poems in there, and I LOVE how they turned out, printed side by side with the artworks that inspired them, or that they are responding to. Get your copy here. Or come to the Crab Creek Review group reading at Elliott Bay November 20th 7PM.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Some recent poetry

I have been reading Peter Balakian's Ziggurat, Barbara Ras' The Last Skin, and Matt Zapruder's Come On All You Ghosts, enjoying them all, but in different ways.

Balakian's book has this enormous, encyclopedic long poem, 45 sections long, in fact, titled "A-Train/Ziggurat/Elegy" which is a pastiche including: growing up and coming of age in New York as the twin towers are being built, and the art scene there, working as a mail runner, etc; archaeological explorations of Babylon, through layers of history to the cradle of civilization, and what is found there; all mixed with more contemporary memories of 9-11 and the Iraq war. I'm not sure exactly what he is trying to do with it all, except perhaps to come to terms with his own life, and his relationship to the events, to the loss, to the history. He also has a long poem, "Sarajevo" about visiting the ruins of the Bosnian National Library. It's all pretty heady stuff, well written, but I am not sure yet how it all adds up (towers and ziggurats and libraries fall? their histories sink or turn to ash?). Still, I am intrigued enough to read again.


The Ras book is simpler, more direct. Much of it is concerned with the recent death of her mother, and her grieving process, and what it all means to her now, their relationship, the memory of her. I particularly enjoyed "Once the Ocean Takes You," and "Impossible Dance," in which she brings together the images of a radio playing in an empty house, and the shell of her mother's body taken away by the undertaker, and a translucent floating jellyfish:

Impossible Dance

Standing at the window, at a loss,
I listened to the radio left playing next door
in the house long vacant, the music vacant, too,
so hollow I could supply my own song,
but what came instead was a vision,
clear balloons of jellyfish
sailing through the airiest water,
transparency held aloft in transparency,
tender animate emptiness propelled
by tentacles and sighs.

After they took my mother's shell
to the place it would burn,
I remade her bed and lay there,
wild, pinning
myself to the her last place.
Her air--all I wanted was her air.

Five years later to the day, again I go
through the stations of grief, death's awful
offices, a dance that is never learned, or ever done,
only sorrow, my invisible partner, yanking me
in tune to an orchestra always out of earshot,
somewhere beyond belief.

pg 60

PS: looks like there is a YouTube video of Ras reading this poem at AWP here.


I love the cover of Matthew Zapruder's new book, with the scrawled chalk title, over the black embossed city-scape. The poems are delightful as well, a mix of humor and pathos, philosophical meanderings, dream notes, bon mots and asides. There are also some moving elegiac poems for his father. Here is a taste, I think it is perhaps a kind of ars poetica? It's interesting to me how this poem also begins with overheard music (as in the Ras poem above):

The New Lustration

Last night I heard faint music moving
up through the floor. The thought
I could be one who falls asleep and dreams
some brave act and wakes to actually
do it flapped through me, brief breeze
through a somnolent flag. Across
the room my cell phone periodically
shone a red light indicating someone
was failing to reach me. Your body
kept barely lifting the sheet. I think
my late night thoughts and feelings
about my life are composed
of fine particles that drift far from me
to periodically settle on apartment
or office buildings. Feel the heat
and pulsation within. A man sits
in the Institute of National Memory
examining files. They contain accounts
of what certain people believed other
more powerful people would want
to permit themselves to believe
regular people were choosing to do
all through the years that like terrible
ordinary babies one after another
crawled, grasping daily acts and placing
them into these files anyone now
can hold. Read about the life
of the great ordinary Citizen Z. How
he attended funerals and horrible boring
literary parties, aging and thinking
of his anonymity and writing journals
he later felt he must destroy, and calmly
against his will periodically meeting
in hotel bars with the sad men who asked
questions that along with the answers
they all knew would end in these yellow files.
Each has a label marked with three
or four obscure numbers followed by
a dash followed by three initials.
Europe you had your time. Now
it is ours to drag everyone into a totally
ghost free 21st century whiteness.

pg 25