Saturday, October 11, 2014
Picasso’s a lie that helps us see truth.
His audience permits desired impact,
sensibilities convey pauperization of Mexico.
Bare feet rustle the water jar,
surprising image moves by quality intended.
Carefully chosen parts imply by analogy
transmit subject directly.
Synecdoche less than science, essence of art.
Single stem with twin flowers, Mexico,
dos flores gemelas, vida y muerta,
truth more secure, las aguas del bautismo.
Visions of unity easily proved wrong,
practical advice a resolution not offered.
Petrified field a fountain!
Dust of tall trees’ rustling bark!
Taste of such splendor, sound of panting!
A cold volcano, bare hills of stone!
How Little the Power, Emily
How little the power, Emily, over ourselves,
the size of our lives, the tangled stars
that incline our futures towards this or that
How far the page’s edge, how soon
the corner’s narrow end?
Stars, trekking across the table,
urging on in every direction,
fixed in a single starting place,
suggest the many possibilities before us,
laughing, while they stay safely
Monday, October 6, 2014
Last year I tried to write a chapbook about horses. It seemed like a natural subject. I grew up surrounded by horses. As a kid, my grandfather exercised thoroughbreds at Aqueduct. My father got a
license to train thoroughbreds in middle age, and for a few years pursued that dream pretty actively, with
mixed results. There was a corral next to the house where I spent the second half of my childhood. Horses were as common as squirrels or sparrows. So, naturally, one would think I had a treasure trove of memories to draw from, and combined with the hindsight of 50+ plus years, several volumes of horse poems were surely just waiting for me to extract them from the depths of my subconscious.
As it turns out, not really. I have rarely written with a theme in mind, although I respond well to prompts. Prompts, however, only lead me back to myself. I am an expert at making a conversation come back around to me, me, me, and prompts are the first sentence of poetic conversations. For this chapbook, I started with only the vaguest idea-- something to do with horses. The few poems I attempted that dealt primarily with horses were drawn from my memories of them. I do not see many horses in my day to day life at this point. The poems are imprecise, dreamy and totally rootless. I always meant to go out and find some real horses, to add some fresh observations to my ancient memories. I never even got around to Googling the damn things.
What I discovered is that my connection to horses is superficial at best, despite close proximity for almost two decades. My sister turned out to be the cowgirl in the family, and still rides today whenever she gets a chance. She has a beautiful barn in her backyard, and her property is adjacent to a state park. She's got an amazing amount of room to ride in a suburban Long Island neighborhood.
I was afraid at first, and never overcame that fear. As a kid, we were led around my grandparents' corral on Princess, an sedate Palomino who was the last of the many horses my father and his siblings grew up with. I'm sure I pulled out a few hairs from her brittle blonde mane, I held on so tightly. Now that I'm older, and that much more aware of the consequences of a fall, I am all the more frightened.
The best poems to come out of this effort are not about horses at all. They are about horse people, family, friends. They are about the affect horses had on others, and about the affect others had on me. One
poem is about a gold charm I have in the shape of a horse, and what it symbolizes. Another is about my grandfather, who died when I was 13 at the age of 57. We had very little in common then, and less now. Of the group, maybe five poems are worth reworking and sending out to find a home somewhere.
Ultimately, they are Long Island poems, which I will never stop writing. They fall in line with the theme of my life. Poetry, writing is the way I explain myself to others, and to myself. It's a way of sorting out the pieces of the past, and clumsily ordering the future. Horses are certainly a part of my life. Just not enough to inspire more than a few poems to add to the archives.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
I haven't been writing much lately, and crocheting a LOT. It's non-verbal, it's creative and I end up with some nice handmade items to keep or give as gifts. It's safe, too. I don't write my own patterns, after all. Just a lot of following directions.
On Saturday, July 26, I read along with other Hudson Valley poets at the Half Moon Bookstore in Kingston, and I felt good about it. I'll be the first to admit that I'm pretty burned out on most of the open mics around the Hudson Valley. I am living a different life than I was a few years ago. I have a full-time boyfriend living under my roof, my "roommate," as I often refer to him. It's much less scary to use that term than some others I've applied to other men in my life. I am happy in my home, and have worked hard for the peacefulness among the clutter I feel there. The days of me spending five nights a week out at some reading or another, mainly for the sake of not being home alone, are over for now.
Even when I say I'm not writing much, truth be told, I'm always writing. It is still the only thing I do that makes me feel like that smart kid back at the Hills School. Do I have any illusions about becoming Poet Laureate? Not really. I have no desire to pursue the degrees and teaching gigs that would require. I am happy printing up my own chapbooks, and selling them here and there.
I have taken enough time off to be able to begin sending a few pieces out for consideration by the outside world. I have even set aside my prejudice against online journals, something I held tightly to for far too long. One of the poets I respect most, for his cool eye and longevity, is Alan Catlin, and he's just started an online journal called misfitmagazine.com (http://misfitmagazine.net/index.html). I will definitely be sending him something soon.
My newest laptop has crapped out. It seems to have freed me. It took up a lot of space on my desk, and it made it too easy for me to piss time away on Facebook or YouTube. I have a little Netbook that can handle most of what I need to do. I have most of my work on a flashdrive. I have actual books now piled on my desk, all in the name of research for a longer poem I hope to tackle. In the meantime, I'll be pulling a few things together for chapbook contests (sunnyoutside press and Tupelo Press, at least). I have a human size keyboard that plugs into the Netbook. When all else fails, I still have my yellow legal pads and pens. Heavens, what a dinosaur!
Here's a link to a recording of my portion of the Half Moon reading, thanks to Thom Francis:
I haven't written off open mics completely, but I am more thoughtful about those I choose to attend. I want to support my friends. I want to support the venues that open their doors to poetry readings, the lowliest of the performance arts (correct me if I'm wrong, but that's how Society has portrayed us these days). But I work a full-time 9 to 5er nowadays. I like to go home, have some dinner, watch a little Netflix. It is what I have wanted all along, really. How to balance art and life will take some thought. But I'm not the first to deal with this. In fact, I am glad I've got the problem.
(photo by Martz Szabo)
Thursday, January 30, 2014
"I've always liked the concept that we're reconstituted stardust. A human life is just an eye-blink in the universe, man, if even that." -Tom Nattell
"He looks like your grandfather, if your grandfather could kick your ass." -Bruce Springsteen, on Pete Seeger
On Monday night, Jan. 27, I attended the 9th annual Tom Nattell Memorial Beret Toss in Albany, NY. It's held each year on the final Monday night of January, as part of the Poets Speak Loud open mic series now held at McGeary's. Tom was a force in the Albany poetry scene from the '80s on, and our paths crossed frequently as I became more involved in reading out. We were not close, but I admired Tom for his energy, the thousand and one announcements he could squeeze in between readers at the old QE2 also held on the last Monday of each month. Tom was to have been the host of this new series, but became ill, and passed the hook to Mary Panza, a force in her own right in Albany and beyond. It was hoped he would be at least the first featured reader, but he died earlier that day. The reading became an impromptu memorial, with Nicole Peyrafitte leading a group to Washington Park afterwards to scramble up the statue of Robert Burns and plant Tom's old green beret on the Scots' head. The tradition has continued.
On January 28th, Pete Seeger's death was announced. It's not a stretch to imagine these two men were cut from the same recycled cloth. Each was an activist. Each spent the better part of their energies in promoting sustainable lifestyles. Tom began Artists' Action Against AIDs and Readings Against the End of the World. His Poets in the Park series has been continued by fellow poet Dan Wilcox, still held each July in front of the Burns statue. Pete was instrumental (pun intended) in cleaning up the Hudson River and founded the Clearwater Festival to raise awareness of environmental issues. He was banned from public media for many years, before the Smothers Brothers took a chance on booking him, in their brief heyday, on their CBS show.
Both were quirky, grizzly creatures. Both wore caps, sported grey beards, dressed practically. Pete almost made it to 95, and up until a few weeks ago could still be spotted at local events in his beloved Beacon, NY, holding a sign, strumming his ancient banjo. Sadly, Tom died at 52, the same age I will be in just a few weeks. Without a doubt Tom would have continued to raise awareness, had not this evil disease silenced him. It was about the only thing that could.
Tom's poetry was as radical as his politics. One of my first encounters with Tom was at the Day of the Poet competition in Stone Ridge, NY, where he and his son Noah performed an eloquent dittie inspired by their summer vacation, "We Mooned Mount Rushmore." Along with Dan and Charlie Rossiter, he toured the country as 1/3 of Three Guys From Albany. Pete spread the word as one of the Weavers, but is mainly remembered as a solo performer. In later years, when his voice failed him, Pete grew skilled at leading audiences in song, involving everyone in the performance.
Tom's legacy is his attitude as well as his poems. It's comforting as I start the second half of my life. I think more sometimes, I do more sometimes, because I remember Tom and how much he did in such a relatively short time. There is no guarantee I will have the luxury of 94+ years to do the world any good. It is nice to think that somehow we'll all always be a part of it, sparkling, perhaps a few twinkles above the heads of poets a century from now, wondering who the heck Robert Burns and Tom Nattell were, anyway.
Monday, January 20, 2014
2013 wasn't my most productive year. In the spring, a health fright ultimately turned out to be overcautiousness on the part of the medical establishment. At my age (52 this coming February), I should get used to abnormal test results, but this one rocked me for three weeks. I also had the pleasure of my very first colonoscopy in the autumn. In between, I was learning
my new day gig and catching up on some bills. The Muse pretty much left me alone for a good part of the year.
I brought sections of an old poem to the Goat Hill Poets salon each month, so I was covered there. I took a break from most open mics in the Hudson Valley area, and tried out life as a non-poet. I came home most every evening straight after work I cook more now that we've fixed the oven in the 1936 Chambers that came with the house, and this makes dinner more interesting. If you're still stuck with a toaster oven, let me know. I am a Master Chef with those.
I've worked on and off over the year on a memoir about my early years in college and after, and my very, very silly marriage. In referring to my journals from that time, I have been confronted with the true complexities of my life then, much more nuanced than the simple 'he hit me and I moved out' story that I'd learned to tell myself afterwards, to justify my actions and to help put that part of my life to rest, to move on to whatever was ahead. There were complications, someone else I met two weeks after my wedding that I may or may not have made a go with if I had met him just a month earlier. Someone I thought was as close to a soul mate as I'd ever get (not quite believing in the concept). There were complications with him. Complexities with school, family, work. I wish my younger self had been bolder, but I had a lot of figuring out to do. There were many reasons I jumped at the chance to marry at 19, the least of which was love.
Being confronted with the realities of my past has motivated me positively, if not creatively. I am more aware of time "wasted", and of the limited time ahead. I am cleaning out closets, cutting my hair, castiing off art supplies and remnants of hobbies that no longer speak to me, bit by bit. I feel compelled to put things in order, as if that will count for something at the end. I know part of it is a desire to live the rest of my life in a more streamlined fashion. How much does it all matter? What will the scales show once I'm out of breath for good? Not for me to worry about. But this is how I'm compelled to behave now.
In fact, I almost feel like if I never wrote another word, I'd be good with it. I am satisfied with my efforts to date, short of my goals as they are. I am also comfortable with my limitations, finally acknowledging I'll never be Erica Jong or Sylvia Plath. I am quiet now. I've had years like this before. 2002 was one of them. Until I hooked up with my Roommate, my Beloved, I spent a long time in shock about 9/11. I had no desire to add to the piles of odes and graphic rants that tried to pass for odes. Words failed me. Now perhaps I'm failing them. There are stirrings, urges that indicate I won't be quiet for good. Very rough drafts right after returning from Costa Rica, a hit and run trip for work that turned out better than I'd hoped. But in the meantime, there's a birthday party to plan. Dishes to wash. Blue jeans to patch, or toss aside. And a desk to clear off and at least put papers in order.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Recently two publications arrived in the mail that include my poems. Up The River is a brand-new publication of Albany Poets, and includes a good variety of work from around the region, as well as photos by local artists. Its debut was delayed by staff issues, but the quality of the first issue proves it was worth the wait. Perfect bound and glossy covered, I look forward to many more issues, and perhaps even submitting some photos from my days as a reporter in Newburgh. Even with the crappy little camera I used, I think I got a few nice shots that might be usable.
A Slant of Light is a new anthology published in September by Codhill Press, and features a cross- section of poems by Hudson Valley women. Previous anthologies include Riverine and Waterwrites, both featuring the work of Hudson Valley writers. A Slant... is a smart, compact volume, priced at $20.00. The price is a little high for my sensibilities, but I surely am out of touch when it comes to the cost of ink and paper in the real world. None of the poets included received any kind of payment for their work, but the exposure is hoped to expand interest in our poetry, and in Hudson Valley poets in general.
I am always disappointed when a long-awaited publication comes out, for a couple of strange reasons. Looking at my own work again after months, sometimes years, after I've submitted it, I'm always appalled. Often the poem has undergone several revisions since I last saw it in print, and seeing it in whatever foreign typeface the publishers choose fools me into seeing it at first as not my own, but someone else's. And, being the critical bitch that I am, I immediately start picking it apart.
For many years I was not a fan of the revision process. I would just go on to another poem, sometimes with a similar subject, but often just abandoning the notion. I'm still not big on repeating myself thematically. The three or four poems I've come up with concerning 9/11 are an exception, and even then, each was inspired at a different time and under different circumstances, usually an anniversary. As I got older, and decided to begin applying what I'd learned in college to my real life writing, I began to revise, while still retaining hard copies of earlier drafts. Composing on computers makes this impossible, and it's one of the reasons I still write the first draft by hand, usually on yellow legal paper.
The other problem is something I'm not particularly proud of, but feel I should mention nonetheless. Because I am not the editor of these volumes, obviously I'm not the one who makes the final selections. I always see poems I would have preferred had been left out. Of course I have my favorite poets; everyone does. I also have my least-favorite poets. How editors make their final choices depends on a number of factors, only one of which is how good or accomplished the poet is. Sometimes I'm not so thrilled to be included in the same volume as some of my least favorite poets. But it is not my call. I get over it.
In fact, perhaps some of them are not thrilled to be in the same volume as I am.
And I often kick around the idea of starting my own publication, but then I remember how much work it involves. Then I shut up.