Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Responsibilities and Obligations

A while back I wrote in response to these two questions: what are you giving up? what are you doing anew?

I’ve started doing something new this year. Working out. It’s a fascinating thing for someone like me, a dedicated sedentary being. I can’t imagine a day in which I will want to go and work out. It is always a struggle because what I really want to do is sit and read or write. Still, it seems that moving the body a bit, building some muscles, exercising the heart might be a good thing.

The benefits of it were commended to me last week, when a dear friend of mine died suddenly in his sleep at age forty-two. I don’t believe that a few hours at the gym each week is going to do much to change my final death, but it gives me the illusion right now of doing something for the body to make it healthier and of conveying to the physical being that we’re having a good time in this life and would like it to last for a while. For a long while.

So that is something new that I am doing. I wasn’t planning to do it. I fell into it. And I’m doing my best to not think about it much and plan and obsess around it. I just do it. I show up. I work out. That’s it.

The interesting thing has been that doing something new necessarily involves giving up things. There is just limited time in the day. So what have I given up? That’s harder to quantify. In part, I have more energy from working out and so I feel like I’ve gotten more time in my days. I have given things up though. The house is in more of disarray than I’d like it to be. I have less time to just relax and veg out. I don’t know if this is a sacrifice, however.

Then the other day a different way of thinking about this question came to me through my friend Nicki, across the pond. A constant question that Nicki and all of the women of Woman-Stirred think about is how are we taking our visions of being writers seriously? How are we moving forward our sense of being writers in the world. Nicki raised the question of separating out responsibilities that we do need to me and sussing out obligations that are no longer relevant in order to release ourselves from those.

My challenge is of course that the obligation always feels like just that - an obligation. Not related to how it relates to my responsibilities or objectives. There are things that I’ve considered obligations that I have recently shed and there are new obligations and responsibilities that I feel as a writer and intellectual. The realization that I have had recently is that I need to start doing new things - take on new responsibilities and commitments in order to shed the old. Choosing what to give up is hard; starting something new is easier. Releasing myself from old obligations is a challenge unless it is overwhelmed by new commitments. I can look easily at how I spend my time and knock things off my list that are no longer meaningful to me, but I have to have a full plate to do that. So one of my life strategies is always coming to the question, what am I doing a new? What new commitments are going to stretch my mind and being? These answers force me to give things up and let go of old obligations.

Poem by Muriel Rukeyser


I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane.
The news would pour out of various devices
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

--Muriel Rukeyser

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Frank O'Hara and Two Birthdays

This week I’ve been reading Frank O’Hara’s collected poems. There are a few poems in there that I love. I’ll post some later I’m sure. I’m still meandering through the volume. Many people have told me that the poems I’m working on recently are reminiscent of Frank O’Hara, which I find baffling because I am not loving O’Hara. I like him. I’m interested in the work, but I find little so far that I truly admire. And nothing that I love. Nothing that makes me say, Oh, I want to do something like this. Still I’m interested. I ordered a copy of letters that someone wrote to him and I’d like to read the memoir that Joe LeSueur wrote. So an exploration of O’Hara, but I don’t think he’s becoming a guide for me on how to write poems.

Two people that are guides for me are Edna St. Vincent Millay and Gerald Stern. Both of them are celebrating birthdays today, too. This from the Writer’s Almanac.

It's the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, (books by this author) born in Rockland, Maine (1892). Her mother couldn't afford to send her to college, but when she was 19, she entered a poem called "Renascence" in a poetry contest hoping to win the large cash prize. One of the judges was so impressed that he started a correspondence with her, fell in love, and nearly divorced his wife. Her poem didn't win first prize, but when she recited it at a public reading in Camden, Maine, a woman in the audience offered to pay for her to go to Vassar College, and Millay accepted.
At Vassar, she was the most notorious girl on campus, famous for both her poetry and her habit of breaking rules. Vassar's president, Henry Noble McCracken, once wrote to her, "You couldn't break any rule that would make me vote for your expulsion. I don't want a banished Shelley on my doorstep." She wrote back, "Well, on those terms I think I can continue to live in this hellhole."
She had red hair and green eyes and people had often stopped and stared at her on the street, she was so beautiful. When Millay moved to Greenwich Village after college, most of the men in the literary scene fell in love with her. The critic Edmund Wilson was one of those smitten men.
Millay wrote poems about bohemian parties and free love in her collection A Few Figs from Thistles (1920), and she became one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she gave readings of her poetry, she drew huge crowds of adoring fans, more like a rock star than a poet. One man who saw Millay perform her own work said, "The slender red-haired, gold-eyed Vincent Millay, dressed in a black-trimmed gown of purple silk, was now reading from a tooled leather portfolio, now reciting without aid of book or print, despite her broom-splint legs and muscles twitching in her throat and in her thin arms, in a voice that enchanted."

It's the birthday of poet Gerald Stern, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1925). He began to write poetry in college but he didn't know any other poets, so he didn't try very hard to get anything published. He later said, "I was too harsh a critic of my own work, and I couldn't focus my thoughts and feelings in a way that would satisfy me."
He worked a series of teaching jobs but began to suffer from depression. Then, one day, in his late 30s, after a doctor's appointment, he suddenly realized that his life was almost half over, and he began to write poems furiously. He published his first poetry collection, The Pineys, in 1971, and has gone on to write many more collections, including Leaving Another Kingdom (1990), Bread Without Sugar (1992), and Odd Mercy (1995).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

We Can Have Both: ERA and Marriage Equality

OPINION: Commentary
We Can Have Both: ERA and Marriage Equality
By Julie R. Enszer - WeNews commentator

As the Episcopal Church comes under intense pressure to back off from its approval of same-sex unions, the ERA campaign faces a similar schism. Julie R. Enszer says that ERA and marriage equality go hand-in-hand and must stand firmly together.

Full Story: http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=3074

For any comments about this and any other story, please send a letter to the editors at http://www.womensenews.org/letters/discus.pl

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Just one poem like this

Here’s the thing about being a poet. I always love the next poem that I’m writing. Then I read a poem by a new poet like Rebecca Dunham and I think, Oh, I’ll never write anything that good. I should quit. Then, time passes, just a few hours usually, and I think, OK, I’m going to write a poem like that, and I’m off writing again.

Here’s the poem from the Poetry Daily site, www.poems.com

Curator Of Fruit
—Isabella Dalla Ragione, arboral archaeologist

It is the old women I love
most, the remembered
piles of pear, plum, apple,
cherry, peach, medlar,
& quince that they cellared
beneath their nuptial beds,
where it was cool. How I want
to possess the smell
& taste of all that's past,
to graft scion & rootstock,
bind them tight. I desire
life itself, to turn my land
heavy with musked
orbs of imperfect fruit.
A rutted road thrusts over
potato fields to the Fiorentina
tree, black-freckled pear,
its bark split & gowned
in a lichen intricate white.
The life I've chosen is not
my own. I know that many
could say the same: the trees,
blushing old women.
It is no cause for complaint.
Marriage is a stony bed,
is want. Inedible flesh
bagged in its spotted skin,
the sap's inexplicable rise
to sky, & early morning, love
heavy with the smell of winter
pears, firm & crisp & cold.

Rebecca Dunham

There's a note attached which says: ""Curator of Fruit" is indebted
to John Seabrook's article on Isabella Dalla Ragione in The New
Yorker, September 5, 2005."

There is a great review of Rebecca Dunham’s book, The Miniature Room, here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In Memory of Barbara Gittings

It is with sadness that Lambda Literary Foundation announces the passing of an outstanding pioneer of lesbian and gay literature who made multiple historical contributions to our culture.

Barbara Gittings, 1932-2007

Gay rights pioneer Barbara Gittings has died at the age of 75 from a lengthy and brave battle with breast cancer, Philadelphia Gay News publisher and friend Mark Segal announced today.

"She will live forever in our hearts and our memory. In the history of LGBT people, she will stand forever among our giants," observed Katherine V. Forrest, president of the Lambda Literary Foundation.

Gittings first came to the public spotlight in 1965 when she and a handful of gay men and lesbians held demonstrations outside the White House and Independence Hall seeking equal rights for homosexuals. These were the first such demonstrations in American history and began an era of gays coming out of the closet. Gitting's involvement in the gay rights movement started in the late 1950s when she helped organize the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (D.O.B.). It was there she met her life partner Kay Lahausen, who has been by her side for 46 years.

Gittings other accomplishments include head of the American Library Association's Gay Task Force. In 2003 The American Library Association presented Gittings with its highest honor, a lifetime membership. She was an active cornerstone in the campaign that led to the American Psychiatric Association dropping its categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. In 2005, she was recognized by the Publishing Triangle with its Leadership Award.

Gittings was an early community journalist. She edited the D.O.B. publication The Ladder from 1963-66 and worked with Lahausen on her 1973 book The Gay Crusaders.

Gittings continued to make appearances, even accepting an award from the American Psychiatric Association this past fall, but ill health finally led her and Lahausen to an Assisted Living Facility in Kennet Square, PA, where she went into a coma Sunday morning, February 18th and passed away with Kay at her side at 7:25 p.m. later that evening.

Gittings and Lahausen lived their latter years in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware. Along with Lahausen, Gittings is survived by her sister Eleanor Gittings Taylor of San Diego, California.

Lahausen asks that donations be made in Barbara's memory to Lambda Legal Defense Fund. A memorial is currently being planned.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

Last weekend I finished Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I’ve wanted to write about it ever since I finished it, but I’ve been ruminating about exactly what to say. I love Alison Bechdel. I grew up with Dykes to Watch Out For. I felt that the comic strip captured much of my life in the 1990s. So I was excited to read Fun Home for that reason. I wanted to reconnect with Alison Bechdel because I feel that she and I have a shared history and connection. Of course, every lesbian who has read the strip probably believe that. I was also excited to read Fun Home because I haven’t read a graphic novel. I have to confess though while it was my first graphic novel, I really primarily read the words. That was one of the striking experiences about it, for me, being a person primarily oriented to text, that is what I gravitated to in the book. Part of that, too, was probably because I was gripped by the narrative.
Fun Home is primarily an autobiography of Alison Bechdel. Her father died when she was twenty years old, just a few weeks after she came out to her family. He died, killed by a truck either in an accident or in a suicide as Bechdel explores in the book. The narrative is a fascinating interweaving of literary allusions, family history, and female adolescence. It was riveting. I suppose the pictures were good, too, but I am primarily oriented to text. The most striking thing about this book is Bechdel’s sorting through of sexual orientation across generations, but I will come back to that. The second most striking thing about the book is the way that Bechdel integrates her childhood journal and explores her own periods of obsessive compulsive behavior and other controlling behaviors of adolescence. These disclosures and explorations were fascinating and close to home. The relief of Bechdel’s escape to college also resonated for me particularly.
Then there is the character of her father, carefully restoring the house, and being caught for pedophilia. I think it is the contrast of those two things that is most stark. At the beginning of the book, the father is this particular and peculiar man restoring Victorian houses, much like many friends of mine, gay male friends of mine. Then, as Bechdel gets older she develops a greater understanding of her father and his closeted life. She comes out just before his life ends. In some ways a tribute; in other ways a profound statement of the generational differences that we experience in the gay community. What made it possible for some men the ages of our fathers to come out and live a life outside of heterosexuality while for others they married and lived a life in the closet with the joys and pains of the heterosexual families that they built. These are hard questions. Bechdel doesn’t answer them, but raises them in this incredible book. The answers may be left for someone else to write.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

There was a fascinating commentary yesterday on Fresh Air with Terry Gross by linguist Geoff Nunberg about Valentine’s Day. In particular, I liked learning about the history of the Post Office in the United States and how the proliferation of sending valentines occurred with a reduction in the price of personal mail. I sent out fifty Valentine’s Day cards this year. So I felt in particular like a participant in a long and important heritage in the United States.

A brief moment of the Alternet.org coolness:

I was in the daily email newsletter!

Headlines NewsletterFebruary 14th, 2007All stories, blogs, and video »

Straight and In the Closet on Valentine's DayBy Julie Enszer, AlterNetOne woman challenges readers to go the whole day without revealing the gender of their sweetie.

Finally, just one more comment on Valentine’s Day. Here’s the photograph that DIDN’T make it into the Valentine’s day card.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Galatea Resurrects #5

We are pleased to announce the new issue of Galatea Resurrects #5 at
http://galatearesurrection5.blogspot.com/  For convenience, I'm cutnpasting the Table of Contents below.

Please visit us at http://grarchives.blogspot.com if you would like information on sending review copies or volunteering reviews.  Reviewers unable to make this issue's deadline can also submit their reviews for the next issue, whose deadline is May 5, 2007.

Eileen Tabios



February 14, 2007


From Eileen Tabios

Ron Silliman reviews BEEN BLUE FOR CHARITY by kari edwards

Mark Young reviews BEEN BLUE FOR CHARITY by kari edwards


Julie R. Enszer reviews BALANCING ACTS by Rochelle Ratner

Ernesto Priego reviews THE ANIMAL HUSBAND by Christine Hamm

Nicholas Manning reviews NIGHT SEASON by Mark Lamoureux

Eileen Tabios reviews FIRST ADVENTURES OF COL AND SEM by Dan Waber

J. LeClerc reviews BOWERY WOMEN: POEMS, Ed. by Marjorie Tesser & Bob Holman

Ivy Alvarez presents a Chap Roundup reviewing MY LIGHTWEIGHT INTENTIONS by Pam Brown; SURFACE TENSION by Mackenzie Carignan and Scott Glassman; TRANSLATIONS FROM AFTER by Joel Chace; OH MISS MARY by Jim McCrary; DOVEY & ME by Strongin; and THE NAME POEMS by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

Julie R. Enszer reviews A HALF-RED SEA by Evie Shockley

Nicholas Manning reviews TRACT by Jon Leon

Mary Jo Malo reviews BLOOD AND SALSA / PAINTING RUST by Jonathan Penton

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor reviews THE GODS WE WORSHIP LIVE NEXT DOOR by Bino Realuyo

Eileen Tabios reviews THE ALLEGREZZA FICCIONES by Mark Young

Jeannine Hall Gailey reviews NAVIGATE, AMELIA EARHART'S LETTERS HOME by Rebecca Loudon

Nicholas Downing reviews CIVILIZATION by Elizabeth Arnold

William Allegrezza reviews KALI'S BLADE by Michelle Bautista

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006 by Tom Beckett

Tom Beckett reviews A READING, 18-20 by Beverly Dahlen

Eileen Tabios reviews WIND IS WIND AND RAIN IS RAIN by Brynne

Allen Bramhall reviews DOWN SPOOKY by Shanna Compton

Lynn Strongin reviews SHOT WITH EROS: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS and SEED PODS, both by Glenna Luschei

William Allegrezza reviews I OF THE STORM by Bill Lavender

Richard Lopez reviews OH MISS MARY by Jim McCrary

Craig Santos Perez reviews THE TIME AT THE END OF THIS and 60 LV BO(E)MBS, both by Paolo Javier

Anne Haines presents a Chap Roundup reviewing RADISH KING by Rebecca Loudon; LIVING THINGS by Charles Jensen; and MORTAL by Ivy Alvarez

Lynn Strongin reviews THIRST by Mary Oliver

Mario E. Mireles reviews excerpts from NOT EVEN DOGS by Ernesto Priego; Matsuo Bash’s “The Narrow Road of the Interior" in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Ed. Maynard Mack; and Octavio Paz’s "The Tradition of the Haiku" in Convergences: Essays on Art and Literatur.

William Allegrezza reviews ELAPSING SPEEDWAY ORGANISM by Bruce Covey

Laurel Johnson reviews CALLS FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD by Robert Hershon

Eileen Tabios reviews BODY OF CRIMSON LEAVES by Celia Homesley

Eileen Tabios reviews THE PLANT WATERER AND OTHER THINGS IN COMMON by Kathryn Rantala

Julie R. Enszer reviews OSIP MANDELSTAM: NEW TRANSLATIONS, Ed. by Ilya Bernstein

Hugh Fox reviews SEEDPODS by Glenna Luschei


Mark Young reviews SONNET by Matt Hart

Eileen Tabios reviews THE GRACES by Elizabeth Treadwell and SONNET by Matt Hart

Andrew Joron reviews ULTRA VIOLET by Laura Moriarty

Britta Ameel reviews ALASKAPHRENIA by Christine Hume

Sharon Mesmer reviews OPPOSABLE THUMB by Joe Elliot

Eileen Tabios reviews OBEYED DILEMMA by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen

Alfred Yuson reviews BELIEVE & BETRAY by Cirilo F. Bautista

Alfred Yuson reviews MATADORA by Sarah Gambito

Alfred Yuson reviews FAULTY ELECTRICAL WIRING: POEMS by Ruel S. De Vera, A FEAST OR ORIGINS by Dinah Roma and ELSE IT WAS PURELY GIRLS by Angelo Suarez

What it Means to be Missy WinePoetics’ Dawgs

Straight and In the Closet on Valentine's Day

Straight and In the Closet on Valentine's Day
By Julie Enszer, AlterNet. Posted February 14, 2007.

I tell people that I am a lesbian regularly. In the gay and lesbian communities, we call that "coming out." Sometimes coming out is overt; I say, "I'm a lesbian." Sometimes, it is subtle; I refer to my partner as my "wife" or I mention that I am vacationing with my partner and specify her sex with the pronoun, "her." When I do this, I sometimes still get raised eyebrows or double-takes. I'm fine with that. I appreciate the opportunity to be visible to people who might not know that they know and interact with a lesbian on a regular basis.
I'm confounded, though, when people ask me why I need to tell people that I am a lesbian or that my partner is a woman. Here is the truth: I don't need to tell people that I'm gay. I never plan or want to tell people that I'm a lesbian. It just comes up in daily conversation.
Read the rest of the commentary here.
And be sure to read the comments, the first one cracked me up this morning!

What would you do with $200,000,000 for poetry?

What can two hundred million dollars do for poetry?
Issue of 2007-02-19
Posted 2007-02-12

Michael Lewis, a journalist and the author of “Liar’s Poker” and “Moneyball,” appeared in the magazine Poetry for the first time in the summer of 2005, with a satirical piece called “How to Make a Killing from Poetry: A Six Point Plan of Attack.” It offered its advice in bullet-point businessese: “1) Think Positive. Nobody likes a whiner. And poets always seem to be harping on the negative. . . . 2) Take Your New Positive Attitude and Direct It Towards the Paying Customer. The customer is your friend. Your typical poem really doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the living retail customer. . . . 3) Think About Your Core Message. Your average reader might like a bit of fancy writing, but at the end of the day he will always ask himself: what’s my takeaway?” So it was slightly odd, and unintentionally comical, when, last September, Poetry published a manifesto, “American Poetry in the New Century,” recapitulating Lewis’s lampoon as a serious position. The author was John Barr, a former Wall Street executive and the president of the Poetry Foundation, an entity created after the Indianapolis heiress Ruth Lilly gave some two hundred million dollars to Poetry, in 2002. The foundation, which “exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience,” also publishes the magazine.

Read the rest here.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Montreal, August 2006

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Ecstasy of Influence

There is a fantastic article in the current issue of Harpers called, The Ecstasy of Influence. I’ve pulled out one of my favorite sections to include on the blog, but really, you must read the full article.

My reader may, understandably, be on the verge of crying, “Communist!” A large, diverse society cannot survive without property; a large, diverse, and modern society cannot flourish without some form of intellectual property. But it takes little reflection to grasp that there is ample value that the term “property” doesn't capture. And works of art exist simultaneously in two economies, a market economy and a gift economy.
The cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange is that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people, whereas the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection. I go into a hardware store, pay the man for a hacksaw blade, and walk out. I may never see him again. The disconnectedness is, in fact, a virtue of the commodity mode. We don't want to be bothered, and if the clerk always wants to chat about the family, I'll shop elsewhere. I just want a hacksaw blade. But a gift makes a connection. There are many examples, the candy or cigarette offered to a stranger who shares a seat on the plane, the few words that indicate goodwill between passengers on the late-night bus. These tokens establish the simplest bonds of social life, but the model they offer may be extended to the most complicated of unions—marriage, parenthood, mentorship. If a value is placed on these (often essentially unequal) exchanges, they degenerate into something else.
Yet one of the more difficult things to comprehend is that the gift economies—like those that sustain open-source software—coexist so naturally with the market. It is precisely this doubleness in art practices that we must identify, ratify, and enshrine in our lives as participants in culture, either as “producers” or “consumers.” Art that matters to us—which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience—is received as a gift is received. Even if we've paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us that has nothing to do with the price. The daily commerce of our lives proceeds at its own constant level, but a gift conveys an uncommodifiable surplus of inspiration.
The way we treat a thing can change its nature, though. Religions often prohibit the sale of sacred objects, the implication being that their sanctity is lost if they are bought and sold. We consider it unacceptable to sell sex, babies, body organs, legal rights, and votes. The idea that something should never be commodified is generally known as inalienability or unalienability—a concept most famously expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the phrase “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . .” A work of art seems to be a hardier breed; it can be sold in the market and still emerge a work of art. But if it is true that in the essential commerce of art a gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity. I don't maintain that art can't be bought and sold, but that the gift portion of the work places a constraint upon our merchandising. This is the reason why even a really beautiful, ingenious, powerful ad (of which there are a lot) can never be any kind of real art: an ad has no status as gift; i.e., it's never really for the person it's directed at.
The power of a gift economy remains difficult for the empiricists of our market culture to understand. In our times, the rhetoric of the market presumes that everything should be and can be appropriately bought, sold, and owned—a tide of alienation lapping daily at the dwindling redoubt of the unalienable. In free-market theory, an intervention to halt propertization is considered “paternalistic,” because it inhibits the free action of the citizen, now reposited as a “potential entrepreneur.” Of course, in the real world, we know that child-rearing, family life, education, socialization, sexuality, political life, and many other basic human activities require insulation from market forces. In fact, paying for many of these things can ruin them. We may be willing to peek at Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire or an eBay auction of the ova of fashion models, but only to reassure ourselves that some things are still beneath our standards of dignity.
What's remarkable about gift economies is that they can flourish in the most unlikely places—in run-down neighborhoods, on the Internet, in scientific communities, and among members of Alcoholics Anonymous. A classic example is commercial blood systems, which generally produce blood supplies of lower safety, purity, and potency than volunteer systems. A gift economy may be superior when it comes to maintaining a group's commitment to certain extra-market values.
Read the rest of the article here.

What have you inherited?

Tillie Olsen’s granddaughter, Ericka Lutz, has written the most amazing list of “The Things She Gave Me; The Things I Took Away” about her grandmother.

It is well worth reading - and then returning for further consideration

What has been given you? What have you taken away?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

After by Jane Hirshfield

Everyone in the northeastern corridor knows what a delightful train ride it is from Washington, DC to New York City on Amtrak. The trip isn’t too long but it is amply long to curl up with good books. One that I read on Friday afternoon on the way up to New York was Jane Hirshfield’s new book of poetry, After. I enjoy Hirshfield’s work, particularly the poem “For Horses, Horseflies” from Given Sugar, Given Salt. After is a strong book. Hirshfield has a sequence of poems that are “assays” on single words. She explores the meaning and function of these words in the poems, including sky, hope, tears, to, and other words. This is an ample collection with over ninety pages of poetry. The poems are not divided into sections; the poems proceed with great directness and clarity through the book. There are a few poems that are simply transcendent in this collection. One, “It was Like This: You Were Happy,” is the concluding poem of the book and I include it in it’s entirety below.

It was Like This: You Were Happy

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent--what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness--
between you, there is nothing to forgive--
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a think now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Lisel Mueller poem

Lisel Mueller is one of those poets whose work I want to read more. So when this came in email today from The Writer’s Almanac, I read it with interest.

Poem: "The Blind Leading the Blind" by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Blind Leading the Blind

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of your throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
Once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for the occasional bits and bubbles of light —
Birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lambda Literary Award Nominations

The complete nomination list for the Lambda Literary Awards is available at their website. It’s such an impressive list! Enough to build a lot of reading for the next year.
I want to highlight the lesbian poetry. I haven’t read it all, but what I have read (or heard about) is delicious.

Nominees for LESBIAN POETRY (16)
        •        Inch Aeons by Nuala Archer (Les Figues Press)
        •        Collected Poems by Djuna Barnes (University of Wisconsin)
        •        Domain of Perfect Affection by Robin Becker (University of Pittsburgh)
        •        Days of Good Looks by Cheryl Clarke (Carroll & Graf)
        •        Like All We Love by Kate Evans (The Q Press)
        •        The Butterfly Effect by Susan Hawthorne (Spinifex Press)
        •        Sleeping Upside Down by Kate Lynn Hibbard (Silverfish Review Press
        •        Thirst by Mary Oliver (Beacon)
        •        The Truant Lover by Juliet Patterson (Nightboat Books)
        •        Lemon Hound by Sina Queyras (Coach House Books)
        •        First Person by Red Summer (Two Fingers Press)
        •        Not Just a Personal Ad by Vittoria Repetto (Guernica Editons)
        •        Hopeless Insomniac by Laura Riehman (Laura Riehman)
        •        Touch to Affliction by Nathalie Stephens (Coach House Books)
        •        What I Want From You edited by Linda Zeiser & Trena Machado (Raw Art Press)
        •        Emergency Contact by Tara-Michele Ziniuk (McGillian Books)

Elizabeth Bishop's Birthday and Letters

Last night I cooked up a storm - homemade brownies and a full dinner, potatoes, steak, and broccoli. I am going to love Wednesday nights this semester because it is when I am done with classes.
In the poetic forms class this week, the professor was talking about how important letters and journals are of poets lives. The power of reading about what poets that we admire were thinking and reading at the time they were writing. It’s so true. I love that. I especially love the letters between uncommon friends. One of my favorites are the letters between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright. They are so beautiful. The book is called, The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, and it appears to be out of print on Amazon. That’s a shame. I’ve mentioned before here the letters from Hayden Carruth to Jane Kenyon. They are gorgeous. I love that intimate writing made public in a book.
Here’s The Writer’s Almanac on Elizabeth Bishop:
It's the birthday of poet Elizabeth Bishop, (books by this author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1911). Her father died when she was a little girl. Her mother had an emotional breakdown from grief and spent the rest of her life in various mental institutions. Elizabeth spent most of her childhood moving back and forth between her grandparents in Nova Scotia and her father's family in Massachusetts. For the rest of her life, she was obsessed with travel, and she never felt at home anywhere.
She was painfully shy and quiet in college, but during her senior year she mustered all her courage and introduced herself to her idol, the elder poet Marianne Moore. The meeting was awkward at first, but then Bishop offered to take Moore to the circus. It turned out they both loved going to the circus, and they both also loved snakes, tattoos, exotic flowers, birds, dressmaking, and recipes. Moore became Bishop's mentor and friend, and she persuaded Bishop that poems didn't have to be about big ideas, that they could be precise descriptions of ordinary objects and places. Bishop began to write poems about filling stations, fish, the behavior of birds, and her memories of Nova Scotia.
She was an extremely slow writer, and published only 101 poems in her lifetime. She worked on her poem "One Art" for more than 15 years, keeping it tacked up on her wall so that she could rearrange the lines again and again until she got it right.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

East Is East

East Is East is a delightful film from 1999 about a Pakistani-English family in Salford, Manchester in 1971. I’ve read about the film in a few academic books recently, notably Gayatri Gopinath’s lovely book, Impossible Desires. The film was assigned this semester for a class I am taking with Sangeeta Ray on post-colonial theory. A variety of things struck me about this film. I’m not going to write as much about it’s significance for post-colonial theory because frankly I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that is. Instead, I want to write briefly about what I found most interesting in the film.

First, the interracial/intercultural relationship between George Kahn and Ella. They are the parents of the seven children and married in 1946 and have been married for twenty-five years at the time of the film. The film does an excellent job of capturing the tenderness between George and Ella and also the difficulties.

Related to that relationship is the brutality that George shows to Ella and his sons. The domestic violence is disturbing. Yet, the rage of George and his frustration with not being able to fulfill his duties as a Pakistani father in producing Pakistani sons, even though they are English born to an English mother, is made palpable and understandable by that brutality. It’s difficult for me to have violence become the tool by which a viewer gains empathy for a character. That lingers with me and continues to disturb me.

The other thing that struck me about the film is the way that George is unable to connect with his sons and daughter and understand what makes them happy and what they want from their lives. That is the tragedy of George, which Ella points out to him. The large clan of sons, six in total, make it difficult to connect with each in viewing the film one time, but the joy and individuality that each have is lovely and George’s loss, obvious.

Finally, I did have the sense during the film of the familiarity of the experience. That’s probably what made it a hit. This family is Pakistani, but it could have been about any group of immigrants struggling with old and new, the homeland and the newland. Moreover, there could be a variety of ethnic and religious substitutions that could have been made to make the film separate even from immigrant status. The film draws its strength from the particularity of the Pakistani family in Manchester, but it gets its appeal because it is identifiable to many.

The film is only ninety-six minutes and is funny as can be. I won’t give any jokes away, but do be sure to watch for the circumcision of the school-age child as well as the fabulous yoni artwork of the artist son. It’s a great film to watch.

The Anniversary of the Birth of Gertrude Stein

The Aquarians really do it for me (Virginia Woolf, my beloved, Gertrude Stein. . . .)
From The Writer’s Almanac
It's the birthday of the avant-garde novelist and poet Gertrude Stein, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1874). She was one of the early students at Radcliffe College, the sister school to Harvard University, and her favorite professor was the psychologist William James. He taught her that language often tricks us into thinking in particular ways and along particular lines. As a way of breaking free of language, he suggested she try something called automatic writing: a method of writing down as quickly as she could whatever came into her head. She loved it, and used it as one of her writing methods for the rest of her life.
In one of her first novels, The Making of Americans, she started out writing about an American family, but because she wanted to incorporate everything that had led up to the life of this family, her novel grew into a 900-page history of the entire human race. She finished it in 1908, but it took her 17 more years to get it published.
Stein's first book to attract attention was Tender Buttons (1914), a book-length prose poem based on her automatic writing. Her most popular book was the one she wrote about herself from the point of view of her lover, Alice B. Toklas, called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).
Gertrude Stein wrote: 

I am Rose my eyes are blue
I am Rose and who are you?
I am Rose and when I sing
I am Rose like anything.

Friday, February 02, 2007

End the tax on DP Benefits

Originally appeared in The Washington Blade

End the tax on DP benefitsSame-sex couples are treated unfairly by the IRS and it’s time for the Dems to make changes.
By JULIE ENSZERFriday, February 02, 2007
End the tax on DP benefits
AS OF JAN. 1, 2007, for the first time in my adult life, I am on someone else’s health insurance. That someone else is the woman with whom I’ve lived for 10 years and to whom I have made a lifetime commitment. Still, it makes me uncomfortable to not be working for my own health insurance.
I’m grateful, however, that she works for one of the larger companies in the United States that offers domestic partner benefits. I’m also pleased that she’s over the rage at the amount of paperwork that she had to complete to “certify” that we are domestic partners when her heterosexual colleagues need only say that they are married.

Read the rest at The Washington Blade here.