Wednesday, October 27, 2010
No cake, no candles, no flames to burst open
with the blow of a matronly sigh,
she has long been missing these affairs,
our jelly glass oracle,
frozen in the oily panic of youth
for almost forty winters now. Look,
she has done it again, and made it stick,
since fox let the secret out,
a stench no clove stab can cover. Look!
Even her husband, who bore the weight of
those cold candles, waxy tears stuck
in that moment, even he has gone where
no song is celebrated, skull moldering next to hers,
bright now with forty years grub fest, Daddy in fist, how
could you? After the roar has subsided, look!
No hats, no crepe paper carousel roofs,
the show is over, the exit is out, you can go
with your painted bricks, your sobbing crocodile slaves,
crow feathers pinned to your bosom in black recall.
The ending, unfit as it is, is theirs,
details of potatos and bees and
babes, milk gone sour is
all we have, all we are allowed.
Let us close up the cottage on that fairy scene.
They are happy there, before the fall, hives full,
thatch tight with blue promise.
It is not for repair, for figuring.
It is to close, like a book of bad dreams,
leaving the dreamers to sleep at the last.
But time was not something Sylvia had a lot of. Mental illness is still a mystery to medical science, and was that much more in 1963. Recently at the Dodge Poetry Festival, Joseph Millar said, "Your poetry will save you," and I sobbed, knowing how true that has been for me. How much more does that apply to Plath? Without that particular outlet of expression, how many comebacks could Plath have managed after all? Would she have drifted off into the Atlantic as a child, the first near-death experience she describes in "Lady Lazarus" as an accident?
I think poetry saved her for as long as it could. Along with the sadness, there is empowerment and inspiration in her Ariel poems. They often seem to be the words of a sorceress conjuring up a new life, a new world to move into just as soon as this one passes. In "Lady Lazarus", the speaker isn't falling, but rising. She is triumphant over those in her life who would oppress her. It seems to be only in the last few poems, written when she was sick, worn out and grief-stricken, trying to surviving the coldest London winter in decades, that the voice becomes resigned to a terrible, final failure.
For 10 years I hosted an event in Kingston, NY called "The Sylvia Plath Bake-Off". I billed it as perhaps the world's only combination open mic and baked goods contest. I was harassed by Pillsbury for the use of the term "Bake-Off", but oddly never by the Plath estate. No insult was ever intended, and the tone of the readings year after year never failed to be anything but honorable, sympathetic and appreciative of Plath and her work. We had all been too close ourselves, as poets and performers, to "our boy" (Anne Sexton's waggish term for death and the lure of suicide) to be anything but.
I am older now myself than Plath ever was, the same age as her son Nicholas, who committed suicide not long ago. I no longer have the heart for smarmy, eye-catching names for events. Many here in the Hudson Valley remember the Bake-Off fondly, and keep hoping I will revive it. Once a thing has outlived its white heat, it is finished. I may gather poets together again, but in a more gentle manner. Not at the expense of one whose pain draws closer to me and becomes more real every day. Rest in peace, Ms. Plath.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Also included in the festscrift (a word I became familiar with during the time I worked for Norman Levine at Editions, his eclectic used and rare book business based in Boiceville, NY) are such heavyweights as Ed Sanders, Bob Holman and Janine Pomme Vega. Hudson Valley poets include Larry Carr and Matt Spireng, among others. I was familiar with Enid and Donald from hearing them at readings, sporadic chats afterwards, and of course, their publication. I was thoroughly intimidated by both of them, not because they were overbearing or arrogant people, but because they were so thoroughly accomplished in their art. Their average Bohemian style, Enid in her Mexican embroidered dresses, Donald in his suspenders and scuffed totes full of newspapers and chapbooks, belied their finely crafted poetry.
Ultimately, I and a couple other friends hired Enid for a private poetry workshop, not long before she died, as it turned out. Her insight into the art of the midrashic poem, a concept she borrowed from Jewish intellectuals and made her own, was also a peek into her own creative process. I should have recorded it, but only have my usual illegible notes to remember it by. Who knew it would be my last chance to work so intimately with Enid? I regret allowing my shyness to rob me of years of her acquaintance that could have been more productive, for me at least.
But, no one can take her poems away, and For Enid With Love includes a teasing sample of her work. I have only started it, after having of course checked the spelling in my own contribution (looks OK), but I look forward to reading more, seeing what I miss, mourning with the others that this bright talent, warm soul departed much, much too early. For Enid With Love can be purchased directly from the publisher, NYQ Books, at www.nyqbooks.org for $16.95.
Meanwhile, Donald struggles financially in these lean times to produce every issue of Home Planet News. This accounts for its even more sporadic appearances throughout the course of the year. A fundraiser is coming up in November at the Bohemian Book Bin in Kingston (http://www.bohemianbookbin.com/), but don't feel compelled to wait that long to subscribe, or contribute. 3 issues are $12, and a special sustaining subscription is just $50 for life. Send your checks to: Home Planet News, PO Box 455, High Falls, NY 12440. Or, catch Donald at one of the many Hudson Valley readings he attends every month. His presence continues to enlighten and delight us, as does Enid's memory.
Friday, October 15, 2010
come back from the bathroom at 2:30 a.m.
full of helpless anxiety, a dream
where, watching the moon pass behind
a cloud in the night sky,
another moon comes into view,
racing more quickly, in another direction.
Soon, the sky full of the other planets
all rolling where they will,
I know it's bad, but there's
been no effect yet on weather, gravity.
I know things have changed for good,
and if it wasn't for the natural disaster
about to befall us, I dream I am
a little curious about how the people will react.
I decide myself, in the dream,
that circumstances are such that
really, this time, nothing can be done.
Across the sky then are lawn gnomes,
teddy bears, but not the actual figures,
outlines, like you'd see at the planetarium
when the man with the laser pointer
is showing you where to find Orion, Ursa Minor.
I decide to do something wonderful
in the time I have left. I wake up
before I find out how the rest of the Earth
takes it. I wake up before I see
how it all turns out. I'm not a big sci-fi fan,
don't look for Orson Welles to tell me, finally,
arm twisted behind his back, that this was
all a dream. I know that, but the tension
remains, a sort of 9/11 feeling
where so much, happiness, assistance,
is out of my power, and sleep
may come back, hangover from
weekend of friends, travel, camping
have been cured by an afternoon nap,
but sleep now, after a vision of
the universe sliding away before my eyes,
ending before the fires, the earthquake,
the terrible riots, is hard to shake.
I am waiting for the last movement
to see what the consequences of
the universe moving might be.
I am waiting, wide awake, to discover,
whether or not I have to go in to work.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Newark welcomed poets with open arms. A Shangri-La of sorts was created in the several blocks around the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts that served as home base. Police barricades kept traffic and other undesirable elements away from visitors, and made strolling other event sights, such as the First Baptist Peddie Memorial Church, the New Jersey Historical Society and the Robert Treat Best Western ballrooms as easy and safe as a walk in the park. However, the constant police presence began to wear on me towards the end. I began to wonder about the everyday state of the area, without the benefit of Newark's Finest. The Newark Police Department, by the way, was nothing but friendly and helpful to festival goers. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Past festivals for me have been a mix of mediocre academic readings and a few shiny rockets of words that make the whole event worth enduring. I didn’t see any rockets this time, nor did I suffer through the expected lows. New discoveries for me included Joseph Millar, a fellow phone company escapee turned poet, and the Dickman twins, Michael and Matthew, young phenoms of the poetry world based out of Portland, Oregon, followed by giggling groupies like rock stars. Hey, whatever it takes to get poetry out there… and they’re excellent poets, too. I didn’t hear much new work from Billy Collins onsite, but this past week’s New Yorker featured a poem of his that seems to be a departure for him, longer, more classical references, yet with a hint of that Collins ironic wit that his other work is so well known for.
Sharon Olds was there, too, down from her newish home in New Hampshire after years in NYC. Forgive me for dwelling, but she is a goddess, just as sweet and genuine in workshops as she is on stage or while signing books. The stuff I heard her read was not new, for the most part, but she has a book, Stag Leap, about the end of a long marriage, coming soon. Look for it. I enjoy the way Olds takes chances, and though for me she doesn’t hit the high notes every time, when she does, it resonates.
Other poets in attendance that I came across included Bob Hicok, Kwame Dawes, Rita Dove, Kay Ryan, and Rachel Hadas. Memorable moments included a tribute on Sunday afternoon to Lucille Clifton. Promoters used a quote from her poem, “Blessing the Boats” to both honor her and set the tone for this new venue: “may the tide/ that is entering even now/ the lip of our understanding/ carry you out/ beyond the face of fear.” I was lucky enough to hear Clifton at several Dodges, and mourn her passing with the others. Joseph Millar won my heart when at a panel discussion about poets and their day jobs, he proclaimed, “Poetry will save you!” I am living proof of that. And Amiri Baraka, living history, read some powerful words that were partially obscured by the jazz quartet behind him. This prompted me to buy his collected works just to read more. And obscured is sometimes OK, just making the voice another instrument in the band. Loved the jazz at 9 a.m., while my poetry partner went to hear Galway Kinnell read his translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies in their entirety. G. came back all glassy-eyed like after a good romantic encounter. “Got Rilke?” says the Dodge mug he gifted me with, and soon I will.
Once onsite, events were well managed and organized, but remnants of the former confusion remain even after the fact. Two days after the close of the Dodge, I received a glossy promotional flier in the mail, almost a duplicate of one I’d received months ago. I live in upstate New York, and I can’t imagine it was mailed from too far away. How much money was wasted on that? Food at the festival was a cut above past years, and still I chose a cheeseburger for breakfast. My bad, not theirs. I also avoided the exhaustion of tramping across Waterloo Village, where I was often dehydrated and sleepy. Only one program had me drowsy, and that was due to the soft light coming in through the old stained glass at Peddie Baptist, and the heat rising up into the loft I was seated in. Luckily, the Robert Treat was steps away, and I got to nap in my bed this time and not a car in the parking lot.
My accommodations at the Robert Treat, a totally random choice that put my upstate friends and I right at the heart of the festival, were adequate, although oddly lacked a microwave in the room itself. I got a hot bath in, and a stunning view of Newark both day and night that I still haven’t been able to adequately translate into words. Dinner on Saturday night with friends from home, a longstanding tradition, was at Maize, the Treat’s in-house restaurant, an overpriced affair that was only convenient, not efficient or even worthy of the cost, no offense to Carlos, our diligent waiter.
I made notes for many poems, and rough drafts for three, while in Newark. I jotted down quotes like Millar’s for future sustenance. I am refreshed and recommitted to my art. I got out of Dodge for the weekend, and into a whole ‘nother animal. Now, back to the Patch Mines and the day job.
Note: I need to mention here the fliers that circulated around the festival concerning the closing of several public libraries in the city of Newark, an ironic twist if ever there was one. Taken as an isolated act, this is of course a disaster. However, knowing what little I do about Mayor Cory Booker and his dynamic efforts to revitalize this once vital city, I have to believe that it’s part of a bigger plan, and that his priorities for the city required it. Anyone with more information is requested to comment.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The move was prompted primarily by two factors: a precipitous drop in the assets of the Dodge Foundation, and the physical deterioration of Waterloo Village itself, which in recent years has only been opened for this event. Trust me, toileting at Waterloo was an antique and risky experience in and of itself. Suggesting that the very nature of poetry itself has evolved into an urban art (therefore more marketable too, to those who's only interest lies in the cash-ola potential) puts limits on a type of literature which, on the contrary, has come to speak for broader and broader cross sections of society.
Certainly the city of Newark's open-armed welcome to the Dodge Festival is a hopeful sign. My companion for the weekend, upon ordering tickets, received a welcome packet that includes a map and visitors guide, highlighting restaurants in the area of the festivities. I have never been to Newark but am anxious to conquer it, vehicularly speaking. It is accessible by public transportation (one supposed complaint about past festivals, but Stanhope was an easy 2 hour drive for me), but due to scheduling conflicts, we won't be arriving until Friday night.
The schedule is missing some of the mainstays of past festivals as well, including Sunday morning Rumi readings with Coleman Barks, and the mere presence of the adorable Ted Kooser. Brian Turner, an Iraq War veteran, will be reading in Woodstock the Saturday of the festival. The roster is pared down, but other regulars will be there. Galway Kinnell will be reading and speaking about his translations of Rilke's Duino Elegies. Sharon Olds and Billy Collins will be there too. Sunday will feature a tribute to Lucille Clifton, who passed away this spring and has been an active presence at past Dodges.
Collins' remark about the upcoming Dodge, "Poetry itself is in a postpastoral condition...," must be read with the kind of tongue-in-cheek reasoning that the man and his poems are known for. There is a place for pastures and parkways in poetry. Let's hope the move to Newark for the Dodge doesn't place undo emphasis on replacing one with the other. Let's hope Coleman Barks is back for the next edition.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Saturday, October 2, 2010
After her usual series of multiple emails, I suspect there's a Teresa Marta Costa reading somewhere tonight ;)... Support your local used bookstores as well. Who knows when they'll stop making the damned things altogether, and then we'll be stuck with whatever The Man deems worthy of Kindle (or whatever the Underground manages to slip to us...):
FIRST SATURDAY POETRY
TERESA M. COSTA
Saturday October 2nd
Half Moon Books
Reception & Book Signing
All Welcome No Admission
Life At the Speed of Groucho
It took you eighty years, more,
to live it, and the facts
are sketchy, clipped as they are
from the script of your life.
I wonder about the texture
of your bald head, the smell
of your greasepaint moustache.
It took me a couple of weeks
between calls at work, a
page or two in the evening,
to run thru the stats,
get the wives, daughters,
mother straight, but Groucho,
Julius, twenty years after you
wheezed your last crack,
(a nurse looking for your
temperature was teased with,
"Don't be silly; everybody
has a temperature...") your true
walk will never be clear, how
your black eyes rolled over
this same white way at the
start of the last hundred block,
Minnie knew better. Your meds
wouldn't fit in a bottle,
ills of the world better served
by a Hackenbush, a Spaulding,
a Groucho ready to spring,
ducked into low crouch out
of Establishment's way,
clawhammer coat prying the dust
from Edwardian minds,
Groucho at the mic,
and the secret word is