Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Monday, October 31, 2011

More than I have done

"I am in full possession of accumulated resources--I have only to use them, to insist, to persist, to do something more--to do much more--than I have done. The way to do it... is to strike as many notes, deep, full, and rapid as one can... Go on, my boy, and strike hard... Try everything, do everything, render everything--be an artist, be distinguished, to the last." --Henry James

Re: rejection

"This is an eventual--and for me, unforeseen--peril of getting published in the first place, and throws light on a paradox about the life of a writer: Whereas the private undertaking of our art requires us to cultivate high sensitivity--a dependably thin skin--the public art of producing and marketing that art requires a hide of bovine thickness." --M. Allen Cunningham

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Elia

"The real challenge is not simply to survive. Hell, anyone can do that. It's to survive as yourself, undiminished." --Elia Kazan

Continuation

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people." --Thich Nhat Hanh

No loss

"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." --Madeleine L'Engle

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Macaroni on a paper plate

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Robert Pinsky, born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1940), who said, "I grew up in a disorderly, unpredictable household, jangling alternations of comedy and history, insanity and idealism, doubt and head injury, music and anger, loss and wit." He's the author of 19 books, including his poetry collections Jersey Rain (2000), Samurai Song (2001), and Gulf Music: Poems (2007). Recent works include Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (2009), a collection of essays; and Death and the Powers, a libretto for composer Tod Machover.

He's been asked many times how he got started as a poet, and has variously answered: "Imitating Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, Frost, Eliot"; "Reading the dictionary and daydreaming about the sounds of words when I was a kid"; "Liking entertaining people when playing the saxophone as a teenager." And another time: "Whatever makes a child want to glue macaroni on a paper plate and paint the assemblage and see it on the refrigerator — that has always been strong in me."

Bus Boy

O teenage bus boy of the summer dusk!
Lugging your gray tub of swill,
bathed in slop and ooze and bits of spaghetti
in the alley behind the Applebee's—
hate me if you will,

as I pass by in my tennis shorts and Obama t-shirt
with a vibrant, dark-haired woman,
on my way to watch game three
of the NBA finals at our local microbrewery.

Hate me, but you cannot know
that I once labored as you do now, at a Big Boy
in Riverside, California, elbow deep
in the very same lumpish goop and ooze.

Like you, I was of the slime of alleys,
of the same immemorial cigarette butts
and rotting cottage cheese.
And like you,

I dreamed of a certain waitress,
and of driving a fork into the forehead
of the night manager,
and of spitting in the soup
of plump, complacent, well-dressed diners
who snapped their fingers at me.

But most of all I dreamed of being clean,
and cool, and never, ever again
slogging through the world's filth and stink,

which is something I have achieved,
as must be perfectly obvious to you.

Prow

They pull at me, these ropes
wound around the ribs I can feel.

It's down to hacksaw or the end of me.
Those rung lowest I might wiggle off.

The tie on the top right has frayed;
I've bullied it with fingernails,

scaling knives, razor blades.
Its bone is tender, but it will go.

What is this ship I draw?
What are these hulls and sails,

ballast and crew besides?
Sever my salt-beaten cords; let me

plunge into the black, make home
among the wrecked and wonderful.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Get into an Unfamiliar Position and Write a Poem

I’m stationed under the kitchen table,
blankets draped, dropped sheer to floor.
Midday sun pricks the patterned holes
of a crocheted throw.

Here I seem to write in faster spurts,
observation I shelve for later consideration.
For now I’m drawn to this table’s underside,
its flawless presentation absent dust
or other indication of years spent put-upon.

When we’re little, nothing is let settle.
It’s how it always is beyond margins.
Nature uncharges the usual particles
and we explode unoccupied.

--me

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Beauty

When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.

After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,

but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.

I’m probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,

spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,

while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.

Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.

Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,

walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—

It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.

My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,

something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.

Well-established weakness

Beauty. (Tony Hoagland's "Dickhead")

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Diplomacy

If some geometer would just square
the circle, we might have it easier.
The new model, no longer impossible,
could help us factor all kinds of equations:
conversations with difficult relatives,
negotiations between pegs and holes.
Yes, we’d become better table setters—
actually use the china once in a while,
stop placing steak knives beside everything.

We might in time challenge other laws—
go with the easy flow of rivers,
shape-shift as sand across breakfast.

--me

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Trajectory

"Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom."

--Robert Frost

Will not stay still

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

--from T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton"

Poetry's Inutility

I am dismayed when I hear questions about the utility of poetry. How do you use poetry, and what is it good for? This is odd. Poetry is song. No one asks, What use is song? What use are birds? Poetry has no use. It matters because of its inutility.

"Poetry is not a form of entertainment," wrote Brodsky, "and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but our anthropological, genetic goal, our linguistic, evolutionary beacon."

People go out of their way to ignore this beacon today, but they do so at their own peril. "By failing to listen or read to poets," Brodsky wrote in "An Immodest Proposal," "a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation--of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan--in short, to its own."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Polarity

Alone, I’m rarely happier
than when caught in the clutches
of a new poem. The world
concentrates, dilates,
and the infinite options
I’m afforded don’t paralyze
but mobilize, leaving me
dizzy and practical
with possibility.

--me

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Promiscuous

"Mixes easily," dictionaries
used to say, a straight shot from the Latin.
Chemists applied the term to matter's
amiability.

But the Random House Dictionary
(1980) gives as its prime meaning:
"characterized
by frequent and indiscriminate

changes of one's sexual partners." Sounds
like a long way
to say "slut," that glob of blame we once threw
equally at men and women, all who slurred,

slavered, slobbered,
slumped, slept or lapsed, slunk or relapsed, slackened
(loose lips sink ships) or slubbed, or slovened, But soon
a slut was female. A much-bedded male.

got called a ladies' man; he never slept
with sluts. How sluts
got to be sluts is thus a mystery,
except the language knows what we may

have forgot. "Depression" began its career
in English in 1656, says
the OED,
and meant (science jargon) the opposite

of elevation—a hole or a rut,
perhaps, or, later, "the angular
distance of a celestial object
below the horizon,"

as Webster's Third (1963)
has it. There's ample record of our self-
deceit: language,
the furious river, carries on its foamed

and sinewed back all we thought we'd shucked off.
Of course it's all
pell-mell, head over heels, snickers and grief,
love notes and libel, fire and ice. In short:

promiscuous.

--William Matthews