Sunday, June 30, 2013

30 June 2013

Adrienne Rich [Elisa Rolle]

It grieves me that this essay still needs to be read by most of the women I've ever met.

from Adrienne Rich’s “ ‘When We Dead Awaken’: Writing asRe-Vision,” 1971:

About the time my third child was born, I felt that I had either to consider myself a failed woman and a failed poet, or to try to find some synthesis by which to understand what was happening to me. What frightened me most was the sense of drift, of being pulled along on a current which called itself my destiny, but in which I seemed to be losing touch with whoever I had been, with the girl who had experienced her own will and energy almost ecstatically at times, walking around a city or riding a train at night or typing in a student room. In a poem about my grandmother I wrote (of myself): “A young girl, thought sleeping, is certified dead” (“Halfway”). I was writing very little, partly from fatigue, that female fatigue of suppressed anger and loss of contact with my own being; partly from the discontinuity of female life with its attention to small chores, errands, work that others constantly undo, small children’s constant needs. What I did write was unconvincing to me; my anger and frustration were hard to acknowledge in or out of poems because in fact I cared a great deal about my husband and my children. Trying to look back and understand that time I have tried to analyze the real nature of the conflict. Most, if not all, human lives are full of fantasy — passive day-dreaming which need not be acted on. But to write poetry or fiction, or even to think well, is not to fantasize, or to put fantasies on paper. For a poem to coalesce, for a character or an action to take shape, there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is in no way passive. And a certain freedom of the mind is needed — freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. For writing is re-naming. Now, to be maternally with small children all day in the old way, to be with a man in the old way of marriage, requires a holding-back, a putting aside of that imaginative activity, and demands instead a kind of conservatism. I want to make it clear that I am not saying that in order to write well, or think well, it is necessary to become unavailable to others, or to become a devouring ego. This has been the myth of the masculine artist and thinker; and I do not accept it. But to be a female human being trying to fulfill traditional female functions in a traditional way is in direct conflict with the subversive function of the imagination. The word traditional is important here. There must be ways, and we will be finding out more and more about them, in which the energy of creation and the energy of relation can be united. But in those years I always felt the conflict as a failure of love in myself. I had thought I was choosing a full life: the life available to most men, in which sexuality, work, and parenthood could coexist, But I felt, at twenty-nine, guilt toward the people closest to me, and guilty toward my own being.

30 June 2013


The gray squirrel
hangs from her back paws
from the two-sided feeder

furls her torso inward to raise
front paws & mouth, snares
a chunk, floats full length —
meal in paws — to eat it.

Now from front paws
she lolls, her tail a body length
below. I suppose she’ll eat
one whole slab if no one stops her —

not the blue jay watching
from the cast-iron swoop holding
the hummingbird feeder

not two doves pacing the deck
for loot she drops
not even two blue jays, a red
squirrel, more doves.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

29 June 2013

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud [Literary Kicks]

Venus Anadyomene

As from a green zinc coffin, a woman’s
Head with brown hair heavily pomaded
Emerges slowly and stupidly from an old bathtub,
With bald patches rather badly hidden;

Then the fat gray neck, broad shoulder-blades
Sticking out; a short back which curves in and bulges,
Then the roundness of the buttocks seems to take off;
The fat under the skin appears in slabs:

The spine is a bit red; and the whole thing has a smell
Strangely horrible; you notice especially
Odd details you’d have to see with a magnifying glass . . .

The buttocks bear two engraved words: CLARA VENUS;
And that whole body moves and extends its broad rump
Hideously beautiful with an ulcer on the anus.

from Novel

Night in June! Seventeen years old! — We are overcome by it all.
The sap is champagne and goes to our head . . .
We talked a lot and feel a kiss on our lips
Trembling there like a small insect . . .


Our wild heart moves through novels like Robinsoe Crusoe,
When, in the light of a pale street lamp,
A girl goes by attractive and charming
Under the shadow of her father’s terrible collar . . .

A Dream for Winter

To ††† Her

In the winter, we will leave in a small pink railway carriage
With blue cushions.
We will be comfortable. A nest of mad kisses lies
In each soft corner.

You will close your eyes, in order not to see, through the glass,
The evening shadows making faces,
Those snarling monstrosities, a populace
Of black demons and black wolves.

Then you will feel your cheek scratched . . .
A little kiss, like a mad spider,
Will run around your neck . . .

And you will say to me: “Get it!”, as you bend your neck;
And we will take a long time to find that creature
— Which travels a great deal . . .

Seven-year-old Poets

And the Mother, closing the exercise book,
Went off satisfied and very proud, without seeing,
In the blue eyes and under his brow covered with bumps
The soul of her child given over to repugnance.

All day he sweated obedience; very
Intelligent; yet dark twitchings, a few traits,
Seemed to testify in him to bitter hypocrisy.
In the shadow of the corridors with their moldy hangings,
Passing through he stuck out his tongue, his two fists
In his groin, and in his closed eyes saw spots.

A door opened on to evening: by the lamp
You saw him up there moaning on the stairway,
Under a flood of daylight falling from the roof. In summer
Especially, overcome, stupefied he was bent
On shutting himself up in the coolness of the outhouse:
There he meditated, peacefully, opening his nostrils.
When washed from the day’s odors, the small garden
Behind the house, in winter, lit up with the moon,
As he lay at the foot of a wall, buried in clay,
And rubbed his dizzy eyes to bring about visions,
He listened to the mangy espaliers as they seemed to swarm.
Pity! only those children were his friends
Who, sickly, bare-headed, with eyes weeping on their cheeks,
Hiding thin fingers yellow and black with mud
Under worn-out clothes stinking of diarrhea and old,
Talked with the gentleness of idiots!
And if she caught him in actions of filthy pity,
His mother was horrified. The deep tenderness
Of the child forced itself on her surprise.
That was appropriate. She had the blue glance, — that lies!

At seven, he wrote novels about life
In the great desert, where exiled Freedom shines,
Forests, suns, rios, plains! — He was helped
With illustrated newspapers where, blushing, he saw
Spanish and Italian girls laugh.
When the daughter of the workers next door came,
Eight years old, — brown eyes, wild, in a calico dress,
The little brute, and when in a corner,
She had jumped on his back, shaking her long hair,
And he was under her, he bit her buttocks,
For she never wore panties;
And, bruised by her fists and heels,
Took back the taste of her flesh to his room.

He feared the grey December Sundays,
When, his hair greased, on a mahogany stool,
He read a Bible with cabbage-green edges.
Dreams oppressed him every night in his small room.
He did not love God; but the men whom, in the brown evening,
Swarthy, in jackets, he saw going home to their quarters,
Where town criers, with three drum rolls
Make the crowds laugh and roar over edicts.
He dreamed of an amorous pasture, where shining
Swells, natural perfumes, golden puberties
Move calmly and take flight!

And as he especially savored dark things,
When, in his bare room with closed shutters,
High and blue, sourly covered with humidity,
He read his ceaselessly meditated novel,
Full of heavy ocherous skies and soaked forests,
Of fresh flowers opened in the astral woods,
Dizziness, crumblings, routs and pity!
While the noise of the neighborhood went on
Down below — alone, and lying on pieces of unbleached
Canvas, and violently announcing a sail!

The Hands of Jeanne-Marie

Jeanne-Marie has strong hands,
Dark hands the summer tanned,
Hands pale like dead hands.
Are they the hands of Juana?

Did they get their dark cream color
On pools of voluptuousness?
Have they dipped into moons
In ponds of serenity?

Have they drunk from barbaric skies,
Calm on charming knees?
Have they rolled cigars
Or traded in diamonds?

On the burning feet of Madonnas
Have they tossed golden flowers?
It is the black blood of belladonnas
That bursts and sleeps in their palms.

Are they hands driving the diptera
With which the blueness of dawn
Buzzes, toward the nectars?
Hands decanting poisons?

Oh! what Dream has held them
In pandiculations?
An extraordinary dream of Asias,
Of Khenghavars or Zions?

These hands have not sold oranges,
Nor turned brown at the feet of the gods;
These hands have not washed the diapers
Of heavy babies without eyes.

(They are not hands of a cousin
Or of working women with large foreheads
Burned, in woods stinking of a factory,
By a sun drunk on tar)

They are benders of backbones
Hands that do no harm
More fatal than machines,
Stronger than a horse!

Stirring like furnaces,
And shaking off all their tremblings
Their flesh sings Marseillaises
And never Eleisons!

(They would strangle your necks, o evil
Women, they would crush your hands
Noblewomen, your infamous hands
Full of white and carmine

The beauty of those loving hands
Turns the heads of ewes!
On their savory finger-joints
The great sun places a ruby!)

A stain of populace
Turns them brown like a breast of yesterday:
The back of these Hands are the places
Where every proud Rebel kissed them!

They have paled, marvelous,
Under the great sun full of love
On the bronze of machine-guns,
Throughout insurgent Paris!

Ah! sometimes, o sacred Hands,
At your wrists, Hands where tremble our
Never sobered lips,
Cries out a chain of clear links!

And it is a strange Tremor
In our beings, when, at times
They want to remove your sunburn, Hands of an angel,
By making your fingers bleed!

Evening Prayer

I live seated, like an angel in the hands of a barber,
In my fist a strongly fluted mug,
My stomach and neck curved, a Gambier pipe
In my teeth, under the air swollen with impalpable veils of smoke.

Like the warm excrement of an old pigeonhouse,
A Thousand Dreams gently burn inside me:
And at moments my sad heart is like sap-wood
Which the young dark gold of its sweating covers with blood.

Then, when I have carefully swallowed my dreams,
I turn, having drunk thirty or forty mugs,
And collect myself, to relieve the bitter need:

Sweetly as the Lord of the cedar and of hyssops,
I piss toward the dark skies very high and very far,
With the consent of the large heliotropes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass []

Birdsong from My Patio

                  Despair so easy. Hope so hard to bear.
                           — Thomas McGrath

I’ve never heard this much song,
trills pure as crystal bells,
but not like bells: alive, small rushes
of air from the tiny plush lungs
of birds tucked in among the stiff
leaves of the olive and almond,
the lemon with its hard green studs.
As the sun slides down newborn
from thick-muscled clouds
their glittering voices catch the light
like bits of twirling aluminum.
I picture their wrinkled feet
curled around thin branches,
absorbing pesticide.
I see them preening, tainted
feathers sliding through their glossy
beaks, over their leathery tongues.
They’re feeding on contaminated insects,
wild seeds glistening with acid rain.
And their porous, thin-shelled eggs,
bluish or milky or speckled,
lying doomed in each
intricate nest. Everything
is drenched with loss:
the wood thrush and starling,
the unripe fruit of the lemon tree.
With all that’s been ruined
these songs impale the air
with their sharp insistent needles.

Letters Come Like Small Animals

Carol Peters, Atlanta Botanical Garden [Chris Mastin]

Letters Come Like Small Animals

Come, candle & maroon
cilantro, green, come braid & fist.
I have prepared for you
sequences of a cathedral in blue —
no tornado-heralding downshift
to ivory plum, asparagus cream
when I say your name.
Do I draw water
a portrait, curtain, bridge, or conclusion?

Bosh fling into the spore a grew long: fling
on flew the spore, ol’
green heard. Fling on
as a hand did try to chalk the sun
to races — nurtured in the dark —
if we had put our ears to the ground
we might have heard the horses.

There is no sun in another room
but let it come out
rocking in its chair.
This is your second chance to
build a cool kitchen with free cats circumventing
like a seam on a purple yellow sari you watched spinning
as it stood on a bus.

Some of us have taken off our wigs
the immense colossal weight
of our hope. Sex is part of it
the wound
of anticipation under thin cloths
of appetite
cantankerous mutiny eating through the nipples of our breasts.

Or is this what god thinks?
Or am I what god thinks?
Or am I alone?

Stones rock. Stones, rock, rockstone, stonerock
an escarpment on the wander.
Phantoms spring from your mind
and run you around like a fox or a rat
through back alleys
in the first canto of the final canticle.
Her hand composed him and composed the tree.

I mean this is measuring not
pageantry, dear sweet
silly blind Rooster
the old as simply that — but the struggle in
my flip point
doll or duck whose end ties
to you trickley jams
the bud part erasing.

Now I will rest yes in the arms as it were
of my lover he is great with a pitchfork
he loves all our senators —
grieving eagles.
So softly a lunar beam closes
as she charges his porringer
from a piggin of steamed milk.

The desert moves like a museum made of light
along the boundary of the useful
farm, what a thin light, the road swinging
uphill its two directions, the slushy ruts
this distinguished boat
now for oblivion, at sea, a
sweet and horrid joke in dubious taste —
I stole the leaded smoke-blue windows.

Two figures, unbeknownst to each other
soldered at the head, bodies angling
out like a roof
not even metal smithing nor the even-marking tires
the soles of defunct shoes
a trestle terror on the dark train —
over what? held by what?

Terrible, immense abyss —
if there’s someone falling here, half
dark half sun, like embers, into thoughts
and leaves the shapes of bottles
frostbitten, the boat in his hands
is best and when she talks of tying up her hair
his bones of such is coral
raised up out of his grave.

As a missive I proliferate
your pigeonholes of pleasure
and some geese will say
that maxim scans a lot like S&M
does. Improbable skin.

I think it’s the locked doors that have made me drunk.
I could howl out of every lock and paper-clip.
Letters come like small animals, curled in relative
warmth. Their alphabets shift when I turn.
Fierceness itself was
what made the lily flame.

[original lines taken from poems by Tom Clark, Clark Coolidge, T. Zachary Cotler, Connie Deanovich, Emily Dickinson, Stacy Doris, Robert Duncan, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Elena Fanailova, Susan Gevirtz, Noah Eli Gordon, Kate Greenstreet, Mộng Lan, Giacomo Leopardi, Osip Mandelstam, Malinda Markham, Bernadette Mayer, Shane McCrae, Sandra Meek, Joseph Millar, Hilda Morley, Paul Muldoon, Lorine Niedecker, Ethan Paquin, Kathleen Peirce, Elizabeth Robinson, Leslie Scalapino, Brenca Shaughnessy, Lauren Shufran, Heidi Lynn Staples, Wallace Stevens, Georg Trakl, Stacey Waite, Rosmarie Waldrop, Margaret Walker, John Wieners]

Monday, June 24, 2013

24 June 2013

William Gass [Philip Guston]

from William Gass’s “Auguste Rodin” from A Temple of Texts:

Rodin’s surfaces are there to suggest a reality that can only be inferred, just as fingers or a face, by gesture or expression, disclose a consciousness that would otherwise be indiscernible. Sculptures are things: they start as stuff, stuff taken from stuff like rock or clay, and they stay stuff until the artist gives them a determinate form so that, through that form, they may have life. The poet’s problem is precisely the opposite. Language is our most important sign of elevated awareness, but language has weak presence. Though often on paper, it possesses no weight. A poem is like a ghost seeking substantiality, a soul in search of a body more appealing than the bare bones mere verses rattle. . . . the poet must also be a maker, as the Greeks maintained, and, like the sculptor, like every other artist, should aim at adding real beings to the world, beings fully realized, not just things like tools and haberdashery that nature has neglected to provide, or memos and laws that society produces in abundance, but Ding an sich, as humans often fail to be, things in themselves. . . .

Rilke’s animism is poetical, of course, but is also, in its way, religious, for it requires respect for all things equal to the respect we tend to show now for only a few, since we prize so little even in the things we prize. It gives value, as Rodin did, to every part of our anatomy, to each muscle movement — stretch, twitch, and fidget; our physical features — a silk soft earlobe, tawny limb, or crooked finger; or facial expressions — grimace, smile, or howl; as well as the very clay we come from (at least in his workshop) — wood block, slab, and plaster pot. Moreover, it endows even the accidental encounter of different parts — my hand on your shoulder — with its own dignity as a legitimate state of affairs. . . .

the surfaces of Rodin’s work, which his studio light makes lively, implicitly rely upon a philosophical principle of great age and respectability . . . Since the effect in question is one of animation, it may seem odd that the principle involved is that of inertia. A body at rest will remain at rest — a body in motion will remain in motion — unless something else hectors or hinders it. When that interference occurs, the stone or the ball or the dog at the door will resist; it will attempt to restore the status quo, strive to save its situation, maintain its equilibrium, preserve its life. Spinoza called the tendency to stay the same the object’s conatus. It is popularly thought of as the principle of self-preservation. All things would be self-sufficient, as windowless as Leibniz’s monads, if they could. The condition of the fetus, which is automatically fed, protected from every outside shock, surrounded by an embalming ocean, growing as it has been programmed to grow, is ideal. We are pushed out into the world; we are forced by circumstances both inside us (hunger and thirst) and outside (sensation and harm) to cope, and, as Freud argued, we are repeatedly compelled to reduce the unsettling demands of our desires to zero.

A limp that tells the world we are compensating for an injury becomes a habit hard to break even when its cause has healed and there is no longer any “reason” for it. Except that the limp wishes to remain. Our stutter wants to stay. Our fall from a ladder would be forever like a cast-out angel if we didn’t fetch up in a lake of fire or at least on a floor. The fire, moreover, eats its way through every fuel it’s offered only because it is eager to stay burning like that bright gem of quotation fame. As the naked models move about Rodin’s studio, he observes the participating parts of their bodies until he can catch, in the middle of an action, the very will of the gesture, its own integrity and wholeness. . . .

the elements of a work of art must form a community which allows each element its own validity while pursuing the interest of the whole. A word, if it could have had a choice, must feel it would have chosen just the companions it has been given, so that when it glows with satisfaction, it also makes its line shine.

Moreover, the unity of a sculptural fragment, when imagined alongside a correspondingly severed limb, insists upon its own superiority, for it can flourish quite apart from any body, whereas both amputation and amputee are damaged possibly beyond repair.


As if he listened. Silence. Depth.
And we hold back our breath. Yet nothing yet.
And he is star. And other great stars ring him.,
though we cannot see that far.

O he is fat. Do we suppose
he’ll see us? He has need of that?
Sink in any supplicating pose before him,
he’ll sit deep and idle as a cat.

For that which lures us to his feet
has circled in him now a million years.
He has forgotten all we must endure,
encloses all we would escape.