Wednesday, February 16, 2005

No Painting Apocalyptic Enough

And so it was very late at night, at the end of one of those days that just sits on your chest like that elephant of heart attack descriptions. It’s very late—when I usually write—sitting at my desk without distractions, worldly ones, but conspiracies abound to make one of those days even better, greater, though I assure you I am not schizophrenic as of yet (to my knowledge). I have always known that Little Emerson could not be trusted, especially when he’s reading Faust ad naseum. Little did I know you also cannot trust Blogger.

So I sit late at night, writing, something about the rumor of some future (in Galician), dark stuff, no doubt. I then go on into this raving rant, holier-than-thou speech. This is draft stuff that always goes into my notes—this endless pit of nonsense in my computer. (It’s so bad that my hard disk threatens—and, yes, I do hear its voice—to format itself if I don’t stop. So I write about my anger and the world and how poetry just isn’t the same without things being my way, apparently, no doubt, because I am an ILLUMINED one. This goes as a “draft” in blogger. All my pre-posts go into blogger as drafts because—and now you know why—I must edit my thoughts carefully. And so it stays a draft, but I go back, cause I can’t leave well enough alone, no sir. I change some things. I believe I added something as pastoral as “licking so much ass that the tongue ought to hurt.” (I’m not about to look up the exact definition of rudeness at this time.)

Morning finds me with this dumbfounded look when I see that my “draft” is not a draft. Not any more. I actually f****** posted this apocalyptic aberration. Not only did I post it, but C. Dale has already read it and has already commented on it. Shit! Resignation. He posted his comment in Spanish. There’s still time to undo, but no. Very little time passes when others make comments before I can delete my “draft”. And I delete it. Boy do I delete it! (People in my office: “Everything alright, Alberto.” Alberto stares at people. They go away.)

I found my post to be extremely insulting. Those who read it know this, though they were gracious enough to let it slide. (Those who haven’t read it can get a free copy from me by e-mail because I can’t do censorship, not even of the self-protecting kind.)

Yes. I am probably leaving the blog world, but surely for no reason involving the blogworld or other bloggers. And certainly not because of what hard-working poets are doing. I certainly did not want that to be the message and I certainly did not want to insult anyone. I came too damn close to that edge and I cannot allow myself to do that because I’m going through a bad time or cycle or moon phase, or simply because Taurus’ celestial horns have turned slightly askew on me.

My apologies to all the kind people who had enough sense to let this episode slide. It was an obnoxious, pretentious way to express my feelings, thoughts and frustrations. I am not being politically correct here; my thoughts, I think, are by now fairly well known and that won’t change. I simply apologize if I insulted anyone. No more Faust for the little fellow.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The House of Asterion

A Casa de Astérion by Nuno Medeiros

I know they accuse me of arrogance, and perhaps of misanthropy, and perhaps of madness. Such accusations (for which I shall extract punishment in due time) are derisory. It is true that I never leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (whose number is infinite) are open day and night….Anyone may enter. [Jorge Luís Borges]

Excellent conversations all over Blogland. Concerns, concerns, concerns. (Rachmaninov playing in the background. I’m looking for desperate effect here guys.) But, really, some interesting stuff going around. Eddie Corral concerned over his manuscript possibilities (it’s almost there) and C. Dale giving some great advise on getting published. Bino’s to-do list I cannot do here, but here is my naïve question, as usual: in light of the existing immediacy offered by Internet, its far-reaching potential, is it possible to “publish” on the net maintaining the same quality standards that exist in print? Why can’t poetry, of all written literary media, find its respected place on the net thereby demystifying the publishing labyrinth?

I realize the economic implications involved in what I’m asking. Those implications draw a double-edged sword. On the one hand the big houses publish in order to make money or to win prices or to create prestige and, yes, eventually more money. Everyone knows that artistic merry-go-round. Fair enough. At the same time poetry, we hear, makes no money so publishers can’t afford to spend valuable resources on it. Fair enough too. So much fairness, in fact, that it all ends up being a game: there are only so many possibilities to publish and only so many poets that can be published. Supply and demand. Call the equation what you will. Since “getting published” is a game —one that requires a great deal of effort and a command of obstacle course rules as C. Dale and others have demonstrated— the best poetry may not necessarily be what gets published. (The one-handed clapping poet I’ll leave for another day.) Let’s not get all huffed and puffed here; not just yet, I haven’t thrown sand in anybody’s eyes. It just seems to me that the accomplishment of publishing has become more and more a career trail than an artistic one. Can a well-disciplined M.B.A. with a sure hand (a bit of compass, ruler and metronome) and that steady pulse for the line break have a better chance of getting published than the best crop reciting out of Iowa, Columbia or Timbuktu? You tell me.

Quality publishing on the net might be a solution. It should be the solution though it is of no interest that it be so at this time. Hard-binders and toilet-seat readers beware. In every country more and more people are trying their hand at poetry —poets being few and far between no matter what medium is involved— but those trying are beginning to do so by having their voices heard, literally heard, on the Internet. Why then so many submission rules for that poem on paper? Why so many restrictions? How many stamps must still be licked? I know: supply and demand. But if poetry is what it’s supposed to be, don’t laugh, that most special of arts, then why so many walls to climb, so many moats to cross? Yes, in this new millennium, most editors will not read three poems submitted via e-mail and assess them and reply to them in the time it should take (less than how many months?) because part of the game requires that you —desperate post office roamer— lick yet another stamp. It’s harder to reach the Ivory Tower than to write something worthy of it. Otherwise the song remains the same: Wake me up when this dream is over.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Devil's Music

Sergei Rachmaninov

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. [Goethe]

I know little about classical music. Little indeed. This prompted my friend Luís—who loves classical and particularly opera—to record for me some classical works that might be accessible to me “based on your personality,” he said. OK, I’m into Freudian approaches. And so we did. We went through Mahler’s “The Titan” in fairly good shape; Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 11, and a few others. All went well I must happily say. While the music at first seemed to my untrained ear to lack the passion of Bruce on the boardwalk, the strangeness of Floyd’s “Animals” or the psychedelic vision of Hendrix, overall this “classic”, sit-in-the-dark-study-stuff turned out quite promising and, ultimately, dangerous. The devil’s music, I’ve no doubt.

While listening to Rachmaninov for the past couple of weeks (cause Luís means business when he shares his passions), I suddenly had this urge to read Faust. I’d been through it years ago in English and so I thought why not give it a go in Spanish. So I began to read Fausto leisurely. Half-hour here, half-hour there. But this strange desire to read Goethe kept pushing and pushing at me. And I kept listening and listening to Rachmaninov; the reading feeding the music and the music the reading. How strange, no?

And then suddenly today I jumped on Google for no reason other than to know something about Rachmaninov. (The copy of the CD Luís made for me only had the picture cover of The Piano Concertos.) So what was the story behind them, I wondered? Interestingly —shockingly— I found this in reference to the First Piano Sonata:

The First Piano Sonata dates from 1907, only slightly earlier than the Third Concerto. Rachmaninov was characteristically modest about the work's prospects, stating that "no one will ever play this work because of its difficulty and length and perhaps too... because of its dubious musical merits." In fact the sonata is extremely interesting, not the least due to its hidden program. That the work was inspired by Goethe's Faust and that its three movements seek to portray in turn Faust, Gretchen (Margareta), and Mephistopheles was not revealed even to Konstantin Igumnov, who gave its first performances. Yet a number of musical ideas in this sonata can only be explained in terms of this program. For example, according to Rachmaninov scholar Barrie Martyn,

The Faustian motto with which the sonata opens consists of two elements: the first starkly arches the interval of a fifth in quiet questioning; the second, marked forte, peremptorily dismisses the preceding phrase and emphatically asserts a perfect cadence. The juxtaposition of abruptly contrasting dynamics and of doubt and certainty seems to reflect the struggle of opposing aspirations that goes on in the mind of Faust and Everyman.*

So there you have it. Mephistopheles at work; it wasn’t only Led Zeppelin that spoke the devil’s words in music, backwards. What messages lurk behind sound and cadence? Some of this —somewhere— has to do with poetry.

* Lyn and Lawrence Schenbeci, quoting, Rachmaninoff: Composer, Pianist, Conductor. London: Scolar Press, 1990, p. 188.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Raising (minor) Poets

Innocence by Ney Cardoso Posted by Hello

I’ve been accused of popularity. I plead not guilty, but a jury of my peers must eventually decide. For the prosecution Bino and A.D. I speak to you, pro se. (“A defendant that represents himself has a fool for a client”. Anonymous.)

This is my case: Contrary to what many might believe the comments on my blog are “pushed up” because I reply to each commenter with an individual comment. If you divide the comments by two, members of the jury, you will find that I am not popular at all. It is not true that the bilingual thing raises the comment count. It is the trilingual thing that raises the count. I have one dear commenter, Aquí, who is a fine poet in the making, I might add, that I have discovered by my little self, that comments in Galician. That’s my mother tongue and although Aquí cannot speak English, he/she arms hir self with a dictionary to try and make me feel good. A nice person that Aquí. Unfortunately shi doesn’t comment often enough because hir’s too busy coming up with great metaphors. True that others, Bino and C. Dale, have commented in Spanish, but their very desire to comment in such a romantic language makes my case. Ask Neruda. (See, attached, Exhibit I.)

But my final defense shall be through the recited word. This is the only poem you shall read from me in this blog. So you must read it, members of the jury. You must read it all, out loud. It will hurt some sensibilities and if it weren’t so Frostian even C. Dale would pick it up for NER. Be brave folks, if Donald Justice can play why can’t I? (Sorry but I can’t do anything about the format on this blogger popular thing.) All is, of course, in good fun :-). I’m innocent, I swear. Just in case I plead mental insanity: Little Fucking Emerson did it.

Raising (minor) Poets

I’ve raised poets on my farm rhyming between house and barn.
Troops of poets run amok causing problems of pest control

and, later, serious spread of disease from overcrowding
(though it cleared the place of rats and vermin of the kind
that found poets gnawing on the wood of the fascia and the eave
barely visible from the creek—to see one dawn,
or was it a sunset reflected on the wall?)

Mind you, I’ve raised rats before;
all they gnawed was without cruelty.

Not worth catching and caging one of them or pairing two
should they proliferate and later think that they could sing
of heather blooming on my field to the mountain on the edge…

…imagine then the cacophony of distress
on a once quiet everlasting meadow.

By Little Fucking Emerson

Monday, January 24, 2005

Turtle Stones

"Dark Reef" by Michael Cross Posted by Hello

And we must begin now: by cunning, by consultation with the stars and conversations with the wind; by withdrawal if necessary—to a rock pile, or a woodland of stumps and ferns; to another place, one surrounded by bone and tissue, next door to a steady heart.” [“Roots”, John Haines, Quarry West 1 (Winter 1971-72.)]

It was obvious Sunday morning that something needed to be done about the turtles. My son Alberte, six, insisted that his turtles, one-year-olds, needed swimming room, next to the fish in his tank. My attempt to reason with him was to no avail; it was fine that they didn’t have brachia as long as they could swim as well as they did. “But, son, they need a resting place, a safe place to watch the day go by. They’re not fish.” He thought about it for a second, I saw it in his eyes, but knew better than to say it. (“No shit, dad. They’re turtles!”) But never mind, I knew, they either swam or sank.

I needed stones, say, palm-size, to put in the tank so the turtles could climb and rest. Why punish them swimming forever. Our beach, because it’s right there behind the house so the children insist that it is their place, an idea which I wasn’t about to counter, was filled with kelp, green and brown, from yesterday’s gale. Yesterday was winter. Today the season had changed, like the flip of coin, making us leave our jackets home. “We’re going rock-picking for the turtles,” my daughter Carme, seven, said to the neighbor, who didn’t know much what to say: “Seems like a good day for that.”

Watching the children on the beach, climbing rocks, dangerous ones for them—“bigger than Everest”—I sensed their feeling of place. The smell of salt and kelp; the kids’ tiny steps on the sand. The baby crabs. (Wordsworth’s “pleasure feeling of blind love, / The pleasure which there is in life itself.”) We picked small stones like Japanese gardeners considering curves and flat surfaces: tipping equilibrium from a turtle’s point of view. The children picked fine specimens, some like quartz, jagged and crystalline, others simply dark and round; little boulders tossed by many a storm.

We didn’t agree on the final count. “We don’t need so many. The turtles need room to swim in the tank.” Sure, dad.

I climbed the hill back to the house, a heavy load of stones tipping against my stomach and chest. The neighbor continued with his garden pruning. “Stones…for the turtles,” I said. “Sure, turtle stones,” he said, “nice day for that I suppose.”

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Fear among the peerless

James Ensor "Aux Masques" Posted by Hello

Great post at Michael Hoerman’s Pornfeld (Tuesday, January 18). I’ll sabotage a small portion since I had the same note written down on my notebook that caused Michael intrigue. It was the following comment by Ron Silliman that raised both our eyebrows:

…anti-group behavior has never served any younger poet well…The tendency of so many younger poets has been to be militantly anti-group formation, yet in a field of literally hundreds upon hundreds of younger poets (say, under 40), it seems very clear that this strategy serves almost none of them well at all.”

Michael’s twist on this —his neuroeconomics discussion— deserves a careful read. You will find there that “male monkeys will pay in juice to see a picture of a high-ranking monkey, but must be given extra juice to be coaxed into looking at a picture of a monkey on the lowest rung of the social scale.” Translate that into the politics of poetry and see what you come up with. As a metaphor it works quite well and you need not be T.S. Eliot to bring this one home.

I happen to agree with Michael about his take on autodidact poets vs. academic poets, loners vs. groupies. None of the descriptions being derogatory, of course. But all of it also runs into previous discussions I’ve had with Bino Realuyo, Roger Pao, and A.T., among others, about the need (or not) for group formation in order to succeed in a poetry “career”. By group formation I also mean “cliques” or “clikes” (so A.T. can bang me right away). I’m not much into groups and their politics; e.g., recall the anthology “Asian American Poetry. The Next Generation”, edited by Victoria Chang and what that did to raise—aside from interest—a great deal of controversy and discontent. We heard about all kinds of things about that anthology—as we did from Houlihan on BAP 2004 —but little if anything on the poetry itself. Not something to write home about.

But reality also brings these issues into focus. Consider Charles’ recent posts about multiple submissions and rejections. Consider the reality of having your poetry given the minimum consideration when you are a nobody: a groupless poet without the necessary connections. Granted, we must consider in all of it the “quality” of what is being accepted or rejected (and the subjectivity of the taste with which you are judged), but it isn’t the same for C. Dale to get a 48-hour return on his submission as opposed to a two-month return for Charles. C. Dale is an established poet and editor, Charles isn’t. (Thus, multiple submissions are bad for some, good for others.) Likewise, consider what cutting down and careful definition can do for those yet to be published. Consider a narrower—by definition—anthology of Asian American Poetry vs. a mammoth BAP. Within the concentric circles of group definition narrowing the group is extremely effective. Belonging to a group is extremely effective.

So you’re right, Michael: “Naturally, it is disturbing to think of my diminished chances in a system where members of a group advance each other. But if everything I do, I do on merit alone, fuck it any other way.”

Thursday, January 20, 2005

‘what's wrong’ fresh from wales

"Looking Away" by Christine Hamm Posted by Hello

On my mail box today Ivy Alvarez’s new chapbook —what’s wrong— together with a lovely personal note from the author. Lot’s of good reading: the story of Bill and Ann.

Most girls avoid Bill. They are wary.
You would. Not Ann….

Won’t give it away. No, no. Read it on your own people. Since I understand that Ivy will be in the States soon as a MacDowell Colony fellow in New Hampshire it will be a good chance for people to get a copy of this wonderful chap. Drop her a line. Congratulations, Ivy! Indefagetable. (With cover art by another fellow blogger: Christine Hamm.)


One of the many benefits of blogging is the opportunity to literally see and feel what people are doing at various stages of a work’s development. One thing no one can take away from the Internet is this ability to develop relationships across continents and borders. And to do so with such immediacy. During the past couple of weeks I have had the pleasure of reading and, in some cases, the opportunity to comment on some fine poetry in the making. (Ivy’s is a finished chap and she’s already moving on to other projects. Where does she get the energy?) But I also had the chance to read Suzanne Frischkorn’s ongoing work on “Drunk from the Storm” (I think I can give away the title) and Eduardo C. Corral’s full-length manuscript (untitled as of yet). What a pleasure to read and to comment and to have these poets share their work with such openness. My thanks to them.