there and back again

And speaking of loving too much.
August 11, 2008, 4:51 pm
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This poem I feel for sure is definitely not deserving of the amount of love I give it.  It is a nice poem, clever and funny, but perhaps the joke goes on too long.  Doesn’t matter, I’m going to continue loving it too much, giggling and sighing on cue.  Don’t blame the writer!  The sestina made him do it!

Sestina: Bob

According to her housemate, she is out with Bob
tonight, and when she’s out with Bob
you never know when she’ll get in. Bob
is an English professor. Bob
used to be in a motorcycle gang, or something, or maybe Bob
rides a motorcycle now. How radical of you, Bob—

I wish I could ride a motorcycle, Bob,
and also talk about Chaucer intelligently. Bob
is very tall, bearded, reserved. I saw Bob
at a poetry reading last week—he had such a Bob-
like poise—so quintessentially Bob!
The leather jacket, the granny glasses, the beard—Bob!

and you were with my ex-girlfriend, Bob!
And you’re a professor, and I’m nobody, Bob,
nobody, just a flower-deliverer, Bob,
and a skinny one at that, Bob—
and you are a large person, and I am small, Bob,
and I hate my legs, Bob,

but why am I talking to you as if you were here, Bob?
I’ll try to be more objective. Bob
is probably a nice guy. Or that’s what one hears. Bob
is not, however, the most passionate person named Bob
you’ll ever meet. Quiet, polite, succinct, Bob
opens doors for people, is reticent in grocery stores. Bob

does not talk about himself excessively to girlfriends. Bob
does not have a drinking problem. Bob
does not worry about his body, even though he’s a little heavy. Bob
has never been in therapy. Bob,
also, though, does not have tenure—ha ha ha—and Bob
cannot cook as well as I can. Bob

never even heard of paella, and if he had, Bob
would not have changed his facial expression at all. Bob
is just so boring, and what I can’t understand, Bob—
yes I’m talking to you again, is why you, Bob,
could be more desirable than me. Granted, Bob,
you’re more stable, you’re older, more mature maybe but Bob . . .

(Months later, on the Bob-front: My former girlfriend finally married Bob.
Of Bob, she says, “No one has taken me higher or lower than Bob.”
Me? On a dark and stormy sea of Bob-thoughts, desperately, I bob.)

-Jonah Winter


Thoughts on Eliot.
August 11, 2008, 4:34 pm
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I have not yet read all of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, so if I sound as if I’m speaking of things I don’t understand, I probably am.  Apologies.  Let’s call these “thoughts so far.”

I didn’t read “The Waste Land” until this spring.  I have known and loved “Prufrock” since I was pretty small—my dad used to quote from that piece fairly often.  “Let us go then you and I,/When the evening is spread out across the sky/Like a patient etherized upon a table.”  I don’t think there are many ten year olds who could have quoted you that line, but I could, thanks to my dad’s totally bizarre reading suggestions for me.  I would probably defend “Prufrock” until my death.  It’s been quoted to death, it’s trite at this point, and beloved mainly by pretentious folk who major in English and quote the line about coffee spoons to each other and smirk.  Yeah, all of that’s true.  

But that poem is beautiful nonetheless.  I don’t think much about growing old, I don’t think much about the crisis of middle aged men, or of Edwardian England, but I cry when I read that poem because despite what some might see as its impenetrability, it lays out the tangled bed of emotions in the mind of a single individual and asks you if you’ve ever felt just this way.  

To say that I love “Prufrock” is easy.  I cannot much say that I love Eliot.  “The Waste Land” was hard going and simply removed.  I smiled at familiar lines, finally in their rightful context, and wondered at the allusions and metaphors but ultimately I finished the poem and said, “Well, that’s it then.”  No crying or moment of instant recognition.  It was simply an interesting and nice poem.  I didn’t much care for the rather grotesque sexual imagery.  I can deal with poems that portray female sexuality as something fearful and rather violent (I actually wrote one this year which I’ve still got mixed feelings about.) but the images in “The Waste Land” just made me feel disgusting.  I haven’t read “The Hollow Man,” I haven’t read “Four Quartets.”  I will eventually but I wasn’t going to rush to read them, until just a little while ago.  I stumbled across a line from “Four Quartets.”  I like poetry that lays things out for me.  I think that poetry should strive for bareness, not opaqueness, I value simplicity over frills, and I’m a little too fond of clever word play (Please note this poem from McSweeney’s which I haven’t yet stopped loving.).  I don’t think these are elements that can be said to characterize Eliot’s poetry.  And yet.  And yet.

You are the music while the music lasts.

I may have to get around to reading “Four Quartets” sooner than I had intended.  I didn’t think he had it in him. 

Two poems.
July 17, 2008, 4:28 pm
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I’m putting off writing a short story for class tomorrow; instead I’ll post things I’ve already written and gotten sick of!  An elegy and then a creepy poem which I wrote after reading a bunch of Thomas Gunn poems about the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  Go out and read the Gunn poems; they’re a little overwhelming and disturbing but I think quite lovely.  I’m not posting them here in order to give myself a fair shot.

The Coat

The lights go on, stumble to their feet
Too late, it’s already dark and I’m waiting
For you on the stoop of my house
In the January snow.

Or rather, I wait for the heavy smoke
Of your winter coat, the stately swing,
Of your approach.  Only you could dance
A jig in such a coat, shoulders as broad
As I was tall.  I made mountains from its folds
And climbed them to be with you.

On the other side of the park, you step out
Into the street, into the path of your cab
And you’re an old man who pretends too well:
Your torch song of youth is all run down.

What can you see through the heavy air,
Each noise is wrapped in muffling muck,
That particular cushion of salt and trash
And slush, native to city streets in winter?

You lay quiet, your coat gathered a shroud
Of snow, a frosting of ice on windowpane check.
That coat had buttons of tarnished brass,
They had a sheen you had to hunt for,
Like sequins at the bottom of the punch bowl
When the party’s all run down.

I’ve still got your winter coat.  Its ragged cuffs
Keep my fingers safe in winter and it sweeps
The floor for me, too.  And when I need a lift,
It picks me up and carries me down the street.


Distance makes the heart grow weak

The winter wind that cracks trees
And paints the girls, wearing woolen tights,
Adorning my nighttime stoop,
Glittering, seems to originate
Somewhere near my heart.
I’ve has got a longing lately

To press my cheek against           
Bleached bones, ribbed temples.
The pulsing calm of youth
Can move between bodies,
Ice to steam, I embrace
What little they can give.

Those girls, they wobble and shake
They lose their coats, bare their backs.
Their drunken, scraped up knees
Have got an elusive gleam
That can heat up ice on windowpanes
Where some may choose to watch

The way that summer constrains itself,
Drapes itself in the crushed velvet
Folds of party dresses on the bodies
Of young girls on my stoop
Who sweet talk the doorbell
But never come inside.

Up early tomorrow.
July 11, 2008, 7:01 pm
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In London tomorrow and then my god do I have work to do this weekend.  It’s recently dawned on me that this is a study abroad program.  Anyway, more New York School poetry for the weekend. 

One Train May Hide Another

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line—
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
     Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another—one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
    may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple—this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
     the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
     or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
      Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
      A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
     foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man 
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It 
     can be important 
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

-Kenneth Koch

Oh, Frank.
July 11, 2008, 10:06 am
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Ave Maria

Mothers of America
                                  let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
                                                                  but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you must
                                                                they won’t hate you
they won’t criticize you they won’t know
                                                             they’ll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you
                                                  for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
                                             and didn’t upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
                                                                     and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it’s over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
                                            oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won’t know the difference
                                               and if somebody does it’ll be sheer gravy
and they’ll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
                                                      or up in their room
                                                                                      hating you
prematurely since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
                                                                  it’s unforgivable the latter
so don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice
                                                                        and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young

-Frank O’Hara

July 8, 2008, 2:40 pm
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This is not an entirely original post.  I’m plagiarizing myself a little here (in as much as part of this post used to exist in the livejournal universe which I left long ago) but if I don’t get to cheat with my own blog, when do I?  Exactly.

Went to evensong tonight at King’s Chapel which was amazing.  I’ve been a fairly staunch atheist for a long time now; it’s got less to do with the impossibility of the existence of god and more to do with conflicts between my feminism and institutional religion, but there you go.  No religion for me, thanks.  But I cried when the choir sang.  I have a bad habit of crying whenever I hear or see anything particular beautiful; I get the tingling in my spine and the teary eyes every time.  Really I’m just a fucking sap, but what can you do really?  Better to cry at the truly beautiful things in life than to remain totally unmoved.

And speaking of the truly beautiful things in life, here are selections from Haiku U., From Aristotle to Zola, 100 Great Books in 17 Syllablesby David M. Bader

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita

Lecherous linguist—
he lays low and is laid low
after laying Lo.

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

“What have I become?”
Uncertain, Gregor Samsa
puts out some feelers.

Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra

Advice for those in
a difficult position.
First, be flexible.

Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

Gallant avenger.
Egg-dipped cheese sandwich. Thy name
is Monte Cristo.

Silliness for pre-plane ride jitters.
June 26, 2008, 11:56 am
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I tried to give you rhymes and iambs,
To set our rocking, our intoxicating
Licoriceblack rhythm to a meter,
Recognizable and true, and then
You stomped it neatly into pieces
And swept them underneath the bed.

You aren’t so pretty, neither am I
Recognizable in our relations—
Sticky comfortable in sodden August.
Maybe it’s okay to be irrelevant
With you; irreverently we toss away
Full, sweet-smelling cartons of tradition. 

I’m not yet worried we don’t versify;
We’ve stockpiled charm enough for two.