Monday, April 30, 2012


Maybe we put too much faith in the heart
when any blockhead knows everything falls apart,
turn to mush the storied administrations of the brain,
there's no statue that won't eventually dissolve in rain,
the continents are in pieces, the empire a mess,
the fleece full of holes, the rivers distressed.
Not what we promised and swore, didn't and did,
not the terrible things that happened to us as kids
makes much diff. We're the types
who bring parasols to gunfights.
A dove backfires, a dump truck coos,
everything's out of whack since I lost you.
Worse than a job chicken-processing,
worse than a courtroom of the deaf addressing,
like trying on a shirt with the pins still in it,
listen to the heart you'll soon regret it.
The photos in their oval frames bestow blame and frown,
whatever you used all your might to heave into the air is due to
come crashing down.
Not the hatchet job you wanted but the one you took,
you stagger from the feast for a look
at a polluted brook, rather polluted yourself.
You feel like something fallen from its shelf,
a yo-yo with a busted string, chipped ceramic elf
because all you can think about is not there,
the eyes not there, not there's hair.
You still don't know what to say
and keep saying it, still trying to give your hiding place away
making a silly commotion with the leaves
of the tree you're falling from. But once that paper's creased,
there's no uncreasing. Once the numbers are deleted,
there's nothing to add up. So time for the tarry slumber
of so what who cares what's it matter,
what should be open closes, should be soft hardens
while the next set of fools scampers into the puzzle garden
detonating with laughter.

Dean Young

Fall Higher
Copper Canyon Press, 2011


Young Thinking
After Dean Young’s “Madrigal”

All the new thinking/was about collision. Still is, Dean.
All these ideas being tossed around here and there, I mean.
One goes to bank and another robs a school
because someone cancelled the fair in Scarborough shoal.
Stuck at half-contempt the moon wouldn’t round,
children keep playing tag during witching hour, a hound
snubs all excess baggage.
This is the age
of the nincompoop, doggerel, sassy pies
and we dare not venture out too long and lie
under this sun as missile debris can hold an entire court.
The cows have a slight case of the weather, is all. Man the ports,
under the flu one cuckoo is nesting, intolerant
of the maximum, of the heat, with a gun.
What has Mersault done to become a faux?
Camus? Come on, Michelle, let’s stop discussing Fouc
ault and just do wit. Don’t be a stranger.
Deride the cargo. De man the boats. Let bloom tower
over the net-picked fish. Anyway, you gotta love
the 22-year-old who gave Dean his new beat. Too young,
Dean would reason out, for loss, did not live long
enough to see him tickled pink while revising Hass with have
heart soon, does not resemble old thinking.
The misspelled word was Meditation.
He is re-typing:
C as in Collide. C in Cure (i.e., Medication).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Exit Wounds

if we insist on this idea of a force-
field a stasis an empire inside
the navel and waterfall trapped
within walls which keep bridges
spires a starfish what good is a pin-
prick what is science? a snow-
globe teeters anticipates wobble
somewhere a child weeps and no-
body hears this distress he hides
inside the cabinet a fragment
a breath discovers this act
and out comes artifice arti-
fact the air inspecting the mess
stirs itself into the animated cut

to the next scene a bare foot
close-up shard being extracted a-
side profile shot half of a sole
blood trickle quickly camera pans
to the table so abandonment is up-
played nothing on the mantle but
crust could be spotted prune
parse syllabicate all the world's re-
enacment we are playing catch
we couldn't grasp the silence
the siren drifts away yet again
and again that saturated could-
n't be saved couldn't be saved
Grandmother Mother curtain call

Tuesday, April 17, 2012



The earth is dry and they live wanting.
Each with a small reservoir
Of furious music heavy in the throat.
They drag it out and with nails in their feet
Coax the night into being. Brief believing.
A skirt shimmering with sequins and lies.
And in this night that is not night,
Each word is a wish, each phrase
A shape their bodies ache to fill—

I’m going to braid my hair
Braid many colors into my hair
I’ll put a long braid in my hair
And write your name there

They defy gravity to feel tugged back.
The clatter, the mad slap of landing.


And not just them. Not just
The ramshackle family, the tios,
Primitos, not just the bailaor
Whose heels have notched
And hammered time
So the hours flow in place
Like a tin river, marking
Only what once was.
Not just the voices scraping
Against the river, nor the hands
nudging them farther, fingers
like blind birds, palms empty,
echoing. Not just the women
with sober faces and flowers
in their hair, the ones who dance
as though they're burying
memory—one last time—
beneath them.
And I hate to do it here.
To set myself heavily beside them.
Not now that they’ve proven
The body a myth, parable
For what not even language
Moves quickly enough to name.
If I call it pain, and try to touch it
With my hands, my own life,
It lies still and the music thins,
A pulse felt for through garments.
If I lean into the desire it starts from—
If I lean unbuttoned into the blow
Of loss after loss, love tossed
Into the ecstatic void—
It carries me with it farther,
To chords that stretch and bend
Like light through colored glass.
But it races on, toward shadows
Where the world I know
And the world I fear
Threaten to meet.


There is always a road,
The sea, dark hair, dolor.

Always a question
Bigger than itself—

They say you’re leaving Monday
Why can’t you leave on Tuesday?

Tracy K. Smith
(Graywolf Press, 2007)

*Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Poem of the Spanish Poet

In a hotel room somewhere in Iowa an American poet, tired of his
poems, tired of being an American poet, leans back in his chair and
imagines he is a Spanish poet, an old Spanish poet, nearing the end of
his life, who walks to the Guadalquivir and watches the ships, gray and
ghostly in the twilight, slip downstream. The little waves, approaching
the grassy banks where he sits, whisper something he can't quite hear as
they curl and fall. Now what does the Spanish poet do? He reaches into
his pocket, pulls out a notebook, and writes:

Black fly, black fly
Why have you come

Is it my shirt
My new white shirt

With buttons of bone
Is it my suit

My dark blue suit
Is it because

I lie here alone
Under a willow

Cold as stone
Black fly, black fly

How good you are
To come to me now

How good you are
To visit me here

Black fly, black fly
To wish me goodbye

Mark Strand

from Salmagundi


Strand said, in the annotations for The Best of American Poetry 2011, wherein the poem above was anthologized that his next book will be a prose-poem collection. And so it is: his latest collection, Almost Invisible (which also contains this poem) is quite a departure from the Pulitzer-winning Blizzard of One. The signposts are clear; while that trademark meditative tone and the simplicity of Strand's diction are retained, the poet struggles to get out of his familiar "voice" or style and play up instead elements borrowed from fiction and culled from fables.

The very title betrays this rather-thin collection's concerns - the overarching theme that is the imminence of death. Yet the poet's speaker deftly veils the dark connotations of this "surrender" and displaces the sentiment by coming back to what most recent American poems and poetics detest: the narrative. There's plenty of humor in this book, and an even larger assortment of memorabilia and nostalgia. And - have I already said it? - an embrace of the narrative. Strand's experimentation here feels apt and even comes across as necessary, inevitable.

Maybe because he has conceded to the "empire of memory," that grand return (narrative?) that poets like Ted Kooser have been championing in their later collections. In an interview on the release of this book (his 13th collection of poems) by Robin Young, Strand said: "I mean as you get older, you tend to spend more time looking back and less time looking ahead, because there’s not much time ahead of you.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Things That Vanish in the Process

Kids in the playground. Sun
that pushed out of their bodies

an assortment of glee. A river’s
nakedness. Kites.
This suspicion that decay is a way

to ripen some sadness in the leaves:
the same leaving that snaps
twigs and allows for litter, copper.

The throat. A vigorous descent
of shadow, which is also severance.

Narrative. Song.
(A love.)

Even that sickness called Consumption.
Much less everything. But not the tree,
never it, no matter

how dismantled.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Sorting Through The Ingredients

on the eve of the release of her second collection of poems.


Like I Said We Are

Like I said We Are A Competitive
Love and just like that: motion.

The mise en place walks into
a bar, orders a drink and sweet-like

lies down in the grass.
Phone calls are made and one

is to his mother. She is a nice person and
she deserves everything, everything.

Plans are made and some people learn to
not shake hands on promises. Hear me,

because I am one of them. I am going
to have a party and it will be a

terrific party—the keg stands
having keg stands of their own. I will

throw it all away. There is a cancer
in indecision. There are ways of causing

ruin to a person over and over again.
Orange juice is orange juice is just

orange juice but the goddamn Floridians
keep putting it in different bottles

and I am late for brunch. The
mise en place dislikes brunch and

the people who eat it. And I am moving.
Soon the Apartment will rent a truck

and drive from one state to the other.
Everything Will Be the Same,

says the mise en place. You Will Be the
Same Person in Your Little Apartment, Just in

Another Apartment. I don’t know
how he knows this but the he must

believe in me. He goes to a movie. The
theatre is empty and he eats chocolate.

Surprisingly, there are no crumbs. The
mise en place says that the best part of

New York City is getting to take
your pants off at the end of the day

and I believe him. I believe that he gets hot
in all that polyester.

- Amanda Nadelberg

from Octopus Magazine


even Chris Fischbach's one-paragraph introduction (from the link above) cannot quite place the word "encounter" as he attempts to usher in readers to Nadelberg's four-poem suite. his own excitement is intriguing, and as one tries to pin down the rhetorical recipe behind the meanderings in Nadelberg's poetry, he or she does not feel imposed upon: certainly not by the prevalent humor nor the startling juxtapositions.

in the poem above, the paradox of singularity and multiplicity in the speaker becomes its own integrity. there's a sense of some earned heavy-handedness in her treatment of the persona and in the rapid shifts in the strophes, a profound fulfillment sating the reader. we get to relish the turns and the nips in the line-cuts, at times reminiscent of Dean Young's recklessness and psychedelia. turnips, anyone?


Amanda Nadelberg is the author of Isa the Truck Named Isadore, winner of the 2005 Slope Editions Book Prize, and Bright Brave Phenomena, coming out this month from Coffee House Press, as well as a chapbook, Building Castles in Spain, Getting Married, published by The Song Cave in 2009. Her poems have appeared in Conduit, jubilat, No: a journal of the arts, The Cultural Society, Vanitas, and elsewhere. A recipient of grants from the Fund for Poetry and the Iowa Arts Council, she is a graduate of Carleton College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching-Writing Fellowship. Raised in Newton, Massachusetts, she has lived in Minneapolis and Iowa City.

Sunday, April 08, 2012


Language: A Love Poem
After Neruda

When I say your hair
is the color of a moonless night
in which I’ve often been lost,
I mean approximately that dark.
And the dove outside our window
is no symbol, merely wakes us
at dawn, its mate a grayish creature
that coos quite poorly. Peace
is an entirely different bird.
The rose, to me, signifies the rose,
and the guitar signifies
a musical instrument
called the guitar. At other times
language is a slaughterhouse,
a hammering down, its subjects hanging
from hooks, on the verge
of being delicious. When I say
these things to you it's to watch
how certain words play
themselves out on your face,
as if no one with imagination
can ever escape being a witness.
The whale for example, no matter
its whiteness, is just a mammal
posing as a big fish, except
of course if someone is driven
to pursue it. That changes everything.
Which is not to suggest I don’t love
the depth of your concealments.
When I say your name over and over
it’s because I cannot possess you.

Stephen Dunn

What Goes On
Selected and New Poems 1995-2009


the academe could be a little more forgiving when it comes to "accessible" American poets like Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, and Stephen Dunn. diction is hard enough to figure out (and into a poem), given the plethora of synonyms vocabulary and the "diction-ary" offer. this poem, given the ease of its flow and the respective awareness of its wordplay, does not appeal to the mind so much as to the tropes and the surprise of the strophes. the willing reader will always prefer a poem that thrusts its dagger into his/her given vulnerability before his/her intellect. for the untrained, the latter is pure nosebleed. for the former, it's that "awwwwww" factor rearing its head.

the contention here has more to do with immediacy, whichever readers prefer allegiance to. for example, teaching a workshop class is different from teaching an appreciation class. the former assumes an advanced hold of poetic norms (and a requirement to write as well); the latter quasi-validates the popular, and makes it easier for those not necessarily inclined to poetry to at least pay attention and maybe try to write after.

but what is the "hallmark" of good poetry, anyway? where do we draw that line and who do we really want to address, in the end? here, Dunn investigates Language. here, he re-imagines Neruda, re-writes Neruda. but that could only be deemed a cop-out had he not been conscious of a "doubting" audience disengaging from the poem because of that glaring reference, "After Neruda," or the adaptation/ appropriation of Neruda's "familiar," "popular," and translated voice (this poem is then thrice-removed).

i sincerely doubt this poem is Neruda's. but i'm inclined to think it's done. and Dunn's.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Solipsism, Kenosis, Krosis

notes on (so we are now four times removed) a critique on a critique of Paul De Man's deconstructionist critique of Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence by Joneil Ortiz:

"Paul De Man notes Harold Bloom’s insight that with respect to one poet’s influence on a later one, “the encounter must take place and that it takes precedence over any other events, biographical or historical, in the poet’s experience."

"De Man then briefly observes that Bloom’s six “revisionary ratios” (clinamen, tessera, apophrades, askesis, daemonization, kenosis), for describing the temporal/historical relations between texts, are not only paradigmatic rhetorical structures but explicitly concern substitution, metonymy, misreading, impropriety, etc. (Tessera, for instance, refers to the “potentially misleading totalization from part to whole of synecdoche” (De Man 274).) De Man’s greater point, however, is to demonstrate that Bloom’s influence model depends on a linguistic and intratextual, rather than temporal and psychological, schema."

"If one poet is complicatedly ‘indebted’ to another poet, that is one thing, but if criticism theoretically privileges that textual relation over any other, or excessively isolates that aspect of a text as the essential feature, then the critique has turned the corner from explication to aesthetic regime. However, the converse argument can just as easily be made with respect to the criticism that, in critiquing the privileging of these features, declares them applied, enforced, invented – an ‘effect’, in short, of the overextension itself. Indeed, in practicing ‘wild, free’ kenosis one is quickly rendered eligible for the counterpart error: the defining of ‘curtailment’ as supervenient. This error (or naïveté) substitutes the ‘influences’ imposed on the creative subject for a ‘raw material’ to mince and meld with freedom and without repercussion. Does not undoing and discontinuity somehow frequently manage to promise reconstitution just when we think it most free, detached, and clear in the open? Behind De Man’s hapless wonder over Bloom’s totalizing anxiety can we not discern the disingenuousness of a ‘calculation’ that is always, in its peculiar mixture of rigor and evasion, ‘helplessly’ right?"

"Different strands of the poststructural tradition likewise take up different aspects of the kenotic passage. (1) The de-construction or ‘undoing’ of tradition: kenosis, at least in De Man’s usage, here refers to Bloom’s figure but not necessarily to the New Testament kenosis that implies a return. (2) Hegelian subjectivity, externalization/internalization of desire, language, perception, the constitution of the self through the other. (3) (Levinas') Self-emptying to clear a space for ‘the other’, a form of receptivity and reading, the precondition of immersion."

"De Man’s remarks thus attempt to relate the first to the second. The ‘undoing’ of tradition is identified as specifically kenotic. But what, then, relates ‘undoing’ to ‘externalization/internalization’, especially when De Man seems to reject the countermovement of daemonization, return, reconstitution? Which is to ask: Can we in any way speak of a kenotic ‘undoing’ (of tradition or of a text) that does not ‘always already’ promise (or threaten) this movement with return, reconstitution?"

"The key perhaps lies in ‘where’ De Man and Bloom respectively identify this return. For the former, the misreading (which he relates to Bloom’s ‘misprision’) is already a return. In this view, which he elaborates on elsewhere (e.g. Paul De Man, “‘Conclusions’ Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator’ Messenger Lecture, Cornell University Lecture, March 4, 1983,” Yale French Studies 69 (1985), 25–46), the ‘original’ reading is just another misreading. Ammons thus redefines Emerson and does not simply return to him. Bloom would likely agree, but with the qualification that not every reading redefines another and that this is precisely what is at stake. Ammons achieved a redefinition (of Emerson), while Coleridge (of Milton) did not. Hence, the breaking of the vessels. Or, as Cixous stresses in a slightly different vein, the subjective process of gaining access to a text implies everywhere the threat of failure, breakage. Textual kenosis, if conceived as a self-emptying for something/someone else, cannot help but approach the hermeneutic."


what often takes place whenever Philosophy over-thinks Poetry is the persistent rigor of such an inter- and intra-textual discourse above. it is enlightening, yes, as the aesthetic often overrules the poetic and the mind benefits (especially when solipsism is the perspective being bannered). but, again, arguments like this privilege paradigms that are extra-curricular to the nature of the writing of poetry. both solipsism and kenosis are metaphysical, self-aware. when confronted not with critique but with a difficult poem (for example, most of John Ashbery's), the reader cannot take shelter in his or her familiarity with the theory behind the poet's intention; he or she should only navigate within the confines of the crafting and the subject. intention could be less imposing, particularly when studying the bitter clash between the canon and new writing. if all this just follows Campbell's high fantasy tradition (initiation, journey, return) anyway, or just alludes to that wayward son from the Bible, poets could settle with more familiar terms like mimesis, othering, generosity.

as for Krosis, well, he's a dragon priest in the role-playing game Skyrim. it's also an expression of startle, like saying "Sus!" or "OMG!". apparently, apostrophes used by the surprised and the reverent (the human) are the same anywhere, whether virtual or phenomenal. so, Krosis! just write!

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Subjunctive Mood

Ness surfaces and CCTVs gasp, “ty!”
I, offers the persona, and out comes we.
The ideal gathers the what-could-have-been
and likewise says, “ty!” Fealty, sincerity, loyal-
ty. My dog, in all his humbleness, knows nothing
of humility. If I were to give him a bone, his
ferocity could translate for a moment to kind-
ness. Yet you should not try to pet him as he
might quickly regain his fierceness. Thank you,
Ness offers, flashing her neck. You’ve caught me,
though just maybe.
As many can dispute her
authenticity. Just as no dog’s barking will
sound like an “E,” this could be the 14th line
and this one just thanks thee. Now as you were.

Indie's So Cool

Yes, keep your feet on the ground. But
enough of reaching for the stars. Just gaze
up. Scowl at the billboards. Alter the diction
in addiction. Why do most fans hate depth
and space but not arson? Aspire for what?
Be referential to which? When will this caress
of minding who’s-who end and how dark is it
in North Korea? Visit Wikipedia. Add an entry
on SimSimi. Complaining about heat in Manila
is like defining poetry: hook, line, & sinker, wear
and tear, mile or (something overheard) para
meter. Just stay home, vegetate, listen to
“The Flame”. Want MTV. Cheap trick. Dire
straits. Occupy rhyme and reason. Let it be.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


hereunder's a revised/updated version of an essay i wrote back in 2007.


from Federico Garcia Lorca's The Duende: Theory and Divertissement:

"The duende that I speak of, shadowy, palpitating, is a descendant of that benignest demon of Socrates, he of marble and salt, who scratched the master angrily the day he drank the hemlock; and of that melancholy imp of Descartes, little as an unripe almond, who, glutted with circles and lines, went out on the canals to hear the drunken sailors singing.

Any man - any artist, as Nietzsche would say - climbs the stairway in the tower of his perfection at the cost of a struggle with a duende - not with an angel, as some have maintained, or with his muse. This fundamental distinction must be kept in mind if the root of a work of art is to be grasped."


personally, i agree that the so-called "muse" who's supposed to provide the medicine for all writerly melancholy does not exist. inspiration itself is a highly overrated construct. most people like to think a work of art is inspired or "charged" because of some thing, an image that must concretize the abstract symbols. the most common is that of the muse, or as far as Lorca's concerned, the duende.

nowadays, the reading of poetry for example, seems to be dominated by a favoring not so much of the poem's content as the poet’s style (or voice), this whole business of intellectualizing and second-guessing the poet's intentions in regard to the usage of language. it's a highly academic endeavor, and often, by implication, necessitates a certain "IQ prerequisite".

the message (or content, if you will) is often lost in the meticulous over-thinking of craft, a task most people who want to write poetry must first get a firm grasp of.

this is why an important "rite of passage" in our country for all would-be writers is the workshop. ideally, most emerging writers get accepted because their works show the so-called "potential," which loosely translates to a good understanding of, if not already a blossoming mastery, of craft. thus, subject matter seemingly isn't as crucial as the familiarity with the conventions, or conversely, the experimentations with language.

poetry is often realized through actual experiences, anyway. cliché as this may sound, writers are not born but made. the "making" of a writer, however, has everything to do with the balancing of two things: chance and intention. in a word, risk - a thorough understanding of the dictates of craft and that sublime re-presentation of the subject matter.

my little issue about this is that whenever certain poetics favor the "intellectualizing" of language, there emerges then a very constricting room for that "charge" that all poems should aspire for. it just further elevates the "artfulness" of the poetic task to ivory tower discussions among people in the academe. don't get me wrong; discourse is needed for any country's literature to progress. but if we maintain this aloofness and this wow about pulling one another down via transgressive devices, dialogue ceases.

the caveat, methinks, is that most of those who claim to be dedicated critics are poets themselves masquerading in that veil of intellect, referencing foreign "isms" left and right, lambasting and name-dropping with gusto, just to promote their "appropriation" of trending poetics.

this doesn't help anybody, given how tiny and archipelagic our literary circles are. and especially because the writing of and reading of poetry are two very different undertakings. as far as the writing aspect is concerned, i believe poetry doesn't settle for the sure; it only aspire for the possible. in a word, verisimilitude.

the reading of poetry is where the bigger problem rests. paradoxes abound here. is there really no way of "negotiating" in such a way that poets would have a "knowable reader" and not write just for the already knowledgeable ones, mostly composed of seasoned readers of poetry, "critics," and fellow poets? is it problematic to be deliberately difficult or obscure? is it not literature's ultimate duty to be generous? should the reading of poetry be about the mindful or the heartfelt?

many people hate poetry enough, as it is, if only for its heightened use of language. but that is not the problem of poetry. it is, in fact, its beauty. however, since most of our teachers since grade school have ingrained in us the idea that we must understand poetry first - like an elaborate riddle with an equally elaborate punchline - most readers don't want to read the lines. they just want to read between them, dive quickly into the meaning, as though all poems are tests of their intellect. if the students don't get it, then they feel they're just ignorant. this is sad, to say the least, and just further alienates more and more young people from poetry.

to allude to a boxing dictum, "styles make fights." the same rings true for poetry. we should be careful, though: because mistimed punches, on the other hand, allow for rushed poems banking solely on gimmickry, on "sparring". Lorca's imp is a trickster, yes, but it is not benign to the complacent.

all in all, i feel poets should admit that they began writing poetry because of that one poem that really touched them, that one poem whose meaning pierced them sharply with the sharp end of its pointed heart. maybe because of the convincing tone, the way it was read. maybe even by the mere diction, the little they know of similes and metaphors. but certainly not by the line-cutting, the indentions, the italics, etc. these are learned after. that is, if you happen to be willing enough to indulge literary criticism, take a course in creative writing, teach the craft, read. and then read some more. be a writer. or a critic.

or, you could just sit back and relax in that old chair in the backyard this holy week and read a book or two of poems, totally carefree, frolicking with the duendes, enjoying the sheer pleasure of a "felt" poem's seeming truth that passes through you like a prayer.


finally, here's an example of poem that the poet Robert Hirsch claims to be imbibed by Lorca's duende:

(Solo la muerte) Nothing But Death

There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain.

Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail,
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.

I'm not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the color of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the somber color of embittered winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.

Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral.

Translated by Robert Bly

- Pablo Neruda

from Residencia en la tierra (Residence on Earth)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Beginning Of Philosophy

for Christian Thorne

We’ve reached that time of night when repetition
starts to look like the best kind of argument,
so I keep insisting it was wrong — meaning
what they did to the remake of Cat People.
No, my friend replies, just different,

more attentive to the worries of the moment.
But I prefer the old worries: rustling branches,
footsteps in the fog, the hiss of the bus
that wasn’t a panther, but will be.
Why do we need to see so much?

To know what we’re afraid of, he says,
and since it’s late I tell him this is like
the beginning of philosophy all over again—
one proposition, then another,
and after a few thousand years we’re back

to what’s true, or only seems to be:
flickering light on the wall, that confusion
of shadows. How still the room becomes.
A little rain touches the windows, and both of us
mention other movies in which not even love

could repair the past. Then the snow
mixes in. And yet, my friend says,
by morning all this could change.
No nagging doubts, no secret afflictions—
as if the light had burned them away.

And a man might find himself
wondering about the sky instead.
Why is it so blue? Why do we feel
different when the sun grabs hold of us?
Why do we need to be sure of anything?

- Lawrence Raab

From Spirituality and Health Magazine (January-February 2012)

This rather-recent poem by Lawrence Raab is reminiscent of Hass' much-revered "Meditation at Lagunitas" insofar as the narrative situation in the beginning lines is concerned. The poet shifts to a more familiar terrain quickly, in the initial turn of the second stanza. Raab comes back to the idea of film as re-presentation and, again, phenomenal concerns are foregrounded. Language is not the concern of the poet and the poem so much as the implications arising from the questioning of "what's true". Hence, the allusion to Philosophy, as an aspect of the quiet debate occurring within the persona, gleaned from the argument/propositions. The fixed, stanzaic pattern of the cinquains permits enjambments when needed, before arriving at that ultimate question that soothes most readers who prefer possibility over hard fact: "Why do we need to be sure of anything?" This is vintage Raab keeping to his Probable World.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Better Late Than Never: IntPoWriMo 2012

decided to revive this blog, after a long hiatus. just in time for the International Poetry Writing Month (and a day after April Fool's, just so you know this is no joke). i'm hoping to post poems and essays and analyses on poems throughout the month. kudos to Ivy Alvarez for starting this a few years back.

a sonnet-length draft below (an ekphrastic attempt of sorts).

Man vs. Himself

Trapped in marble, Rodin's Thinker
maintains its pose, considers moss.
Mind’s poise has settled on that chin,
a testament to a century’s sheen,
a need for re-viewing. Because once
it was a poet. Since it is naked,
it must not feel,
the enlightened
might have thought. History loves
comedies. And paradoxes. Now
and then the sun exposes it, triggers
brilliance in its bronze. Now and then
birds, tourists. They come and go,
like Eliot's women: dressed against
Dante, yet talking of Michelangelo.