Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rebecca Linderberg / Love, An Index

Rebecca Lindenberg on the Magic of Craig Arnold’s Poetry

Love, An Index is the first collection of poems by Rebecca Lindenberg, and it depicts her relationship with another poet, Craig Arnold, who disappeared in 2009 while hiking on the Japanese island of Kuchinoerabujima, where he was conducting research for a book of poems about volcanos. As she toldThe Believer, Lindenberg was well into the writing of the poems when Arnold vanished, “at that stage, as you can imagine, the direction of the book changed dramatically, as did my feeling of urgency about it.”
Lindenberg’s verse takes on a variety of forms in its encyclopedic examination of the emotional impact of losing a loved one, and of trying to carry on. Private lexicons, footnotes without an anchoring text, collected quotations, Facebook status updates—no one style can contain her grief, or her joy, or her memories. I was so glad when she agreed to be the first poet in far too long to contribute to Beatrice’s “Poets on Poets” series, and the insights she brings to Arnold’s poems in the essay that follows are powerful.
I have, in my life, many vital poetic influences. The effortless, energetic intelligence of Frank O’Hara, who moves so easily between erudition and emotion, between intimacy and spectacle, and who teaches me so much about how poetry—given a certain kind of permission—can play; D.H. Lawrence, who seems to hold a kind of arch lyricism in one hand and an almost grueling candor in the other; Anne Carson, whose writings define and defy genre, steeped equally in the profound mythic resonances of Classical scholarship and the serious whimsy of Gertrude Stein; C.D. Wright, whose infinitely inventive projects include some of the move evocative and muscular writings from a place of female physicality that I’ve ever read; the mad mystical intensity of Hart Crane; the fragmented ecstasies and invocations (and arguments) of Sappho; I feel I could go on and on.
I’m deeply influenced by magnificent teachers, some of whom could twist each other into paroxysms of disagreement, and I am influenced by my own negotiation of their disagreements. But for almost a decade I shared the central conversation about poetry in my life with a man who was first my friend, then my beloved partner, and always my favorite interlocutor on the subject, the late Craig Arnold, and it’s his work I wish to consider for a few moments here.
Craig’s first book, Shells, was chosen by W.S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, and Merwin praises Craig’s work, “in [its] unwavering fidelity to pleasure, a kind of affectionate confidence in enjoyment, in both the running chatter and the irrational magnetic rightness of the senses.” And of course, that’s true—Craig was, as a poet, in enduring search of experience, in the most elemental sense you can conjure for that word. And language, for Craig, was a sense as visceral as touch or taste with which to feel the world, and feel himself moving through it.
This place, the border of the self, was where Craig lived and wrote. But it is a place of incandescent hypersensitivity, and so it is a tenuous, dangerous, volatile place. I think in Shells, Craig was trying to understand this place and in so doing, found himself often retreating from it, or trying to raise the poem as a kind of force-field before it. To my mind, one of the great gifts of Shells is the exploration of personae and performance they include—there’s something almost Browning-esque in these pieces.
They are a collection of monologues and soliloquies that perform aspects of the self, each one a little larger than life—the playful bravado of “The Power Grip,” a poem in which a male friend gives the rapt speaker some misguided pointers (literally) for cunnilingus, or the confident imperatives of “Scrubbing Mussels,” or the almost-burlesque confessions of “Why I Skip My High School Reunion” are all Craig, but they are “life plus ten percent,” as George Saunders might say. Poems like “Locker Room Etiquette” and “Great Dark Man” investigate the relationship between gender and performance—when is it masculinity? When is it masculinity plus ten-percent? Even, to some extent, the formal dexterity of these poems puts on a kind of show. It is perhaps in the long, beautifully-wrought narrative couplets of “Hot” that we come closest to understanding and seeing the machinations of this book—a story of a man who wanted so badly to feel more, more, more, he hurt himself beyond the capacity to feel at all.
This is the book’s attendant anxiety, I think, and it is consciously, carefully, elegantly woven throughout. As much as this book is a celebration of sensuality, it is about death, dying, about loss and about losing one’s connection to the world at that tenuous, fragile, border of the body. Elegies to Ian Curtis and Jeff Buckley, and many unnamed characters who people these poems help us to understand a hunger for feeling as a way of staving off a fear of mortality, or perhaps, a determined effort to make the most of what small time any of us has. There are passages of sensual virtuosity in Shells, like “I cross my legs, letting the instep nest/ the swell of your calf…” from the poem “Scheherazade,” and the following lines, from “Artichoke”:
“Under the bamboo steamer there’s a slick
of emerald-green water. I watch you pull
the petals off, each with a warm knot
of paler flesh left hanging at the root.
A “loves me, loves me not” sort of endeavor…”
But fashioning these moments onto others, much more steely and philosophical, is a deep and questioning intelligence that calculated every gesture in this collection, just so. These observations of mine, they are nothing Craig would not readily admit to, though later in his life, he would admit to some of them with a bit of a wince.
When Craig and I met, Shells was published and he was at work on his second book, Made Flesh. We talked about it a lot, by which I mean, every day for almost two-and-a-half years. I remember the first version of the manuscript he showed me—it was operatic and beautiful and rapturous and confusing. After about a year, he went back and reworked some of what was at first a single book-length poem into several long poems, in sections. Some of these he worked into metrical form, many he did not.
But before I describe what these poems mean to me, I’ll let you hear what Craig himself had to say about them. This is from a letter he wrote while he was in Colombia on a Fulbright Fellowship in the fall of 2008, right around the time Made Flesh was published:
“As a poet my practice marries a fondness for classical poetry and poetics with a fascination for the more exuberant strains of postmodernism… This new book engages with some commonplaces of archaic mythology—Persephone, Orpheus—in the revisionary tradition of H. D., Robert Duncan and Anne Carson. It reaches for images, emblems and stories that might help reconcile the self to the experience of being mortal, flesh and vulnerable, and to find in that reconciliation not only melancholy but joy. Stylistically the book has been somewhat of a departure, owing as much to Frank O’Hara as to Ovid, his desire above all to communicate the magnetic immediacy of lived experience.”
Almost as the movement from the title Shells to that of Made Fleshsuggests, Craig’s work softened, became somehow more humane. The poems are, in scope and substance, more ambitious and yet somehow, at the same time, humbler. In “Couple from Hell”, which begins with similar gestures to some of the poems of Shells, the poet-speaker assumes the persona or character of Hades, the female character in the poem becomes, of course, Persephone, but then there is a turning away, a shedding of persona, an admission of having tried too hard to make a script or story out of something real that is, therefore, unwieldy and unpredictable and in some ways unfinishable, writing into the poem’s final lines:
“…You were never the lord
of a lightless kingdom     any more
than she has ever been its queen
and the world you talked into a prison
suddenly seems to be made of glass
and your eyes see clear to the horizon
and you feel the molecules of air
part like a curtain     as if to let you pass”
Here, in Made Flesh, there’s still something of Robert Browning—but this is not the Browning of “Porphyria’s Lover”—it’s the Browning of “Two in the Campagna”. Consider these lines from earlier in “Couple from Hell”:
“…across the pathway, threads of silk
glint in the sun      at the end of each a spider
still wet from the egg     spins out a dragline
and sails off into the breeze
The air is so bright and busy
your whole body feels it
a puppet weightless on its wires”
Now put that alongside the Browning poem mentioned above, which yes, Craig knew, almost infinitely well-read as he was. The second and final section appear below:
For me, I touched a thought, I know
     Has tantalised me many times,
(Like turns of thread the spiders throw
     Mocking across our path) for rhymes
To catch at and let go.
Just when I seemed about to learn!
     Where is the thread now? Off again!
The old trick! Only I discern—
     Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn.
In Made Flesh, the same sensual virtuosity that’s visible in Shells comes rapturously into its own, unafraid and audacious. And Craig believed that poets should be audacious—should aspire to move a reader, should aspire to be soulful and memorable and brave, should aspire to write poems worthy of the world they purport to evoke, which (for Craig) was full of wonder and sublimity. And his audacity might be the thing that most influenced me—I am nowhere near as brave, and he would say things like, “Don’t write to publish poems; write to change everything,” that I would almost certainly never feel right saying. I remember asking him once, what was his opinion about those who had a problem with the “lyric I” and he replied, almost without hesitation, and grinning evilly, “I think they’re a bunch of pussies.” I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness,” and I also remember laughing out loud.
Craig did not, I think, imagine he could ever live up to his own aspirations, but he lived by them nonetheless. And in his audacity, I have found permission—to take risks, to make attempts at truths, to trust my instincts, to listen for the language of things, to take on the mysteries that seem too unwieldy, too unmanageable, too impossible to ever hope to language, knowing you’ll never do it, believing that those vast, unlanguage-able things are still worth trying to write about—love, grief, death, gods, loss, the perplexity of trying to language love or grief (or Tuesday), and perhaps above all, the material transcendence of living in the world. And Craig, in all his audacity, always found these immense things in the most startling minutae—artichokes, grapefruits, moths. And he found mystery in a hidden bird, in a train ride, in a phone number. It was—and in his poems, it will always remain—a very powerful kind of magic. I’ll close with a poem in which, I believe, that magic is wholly evident. It is an unpublished poem, from the last collection Craig was working on when he disappeared in 2009—a collection he conceived after D.H. Lawrence’s tremendous Birds, Beasts, and Flowers—a book we both loved.
Very Large Moth
by Craig Arnold
     after DHL
Your first thought when the light snaps on and the black wings
     clatter about the kitchen     is a bat
the clear part of your mind considers rabies     the other part
does not consider     knows only to startle
and cower away from the slap of its wings     though it is soon
clearly not a bat but a moth     and harmless
still you are shy of it     it clings to the hood of the stove
not black but brown     its orange eyes sparkle
like televisions     its leg-joints are large enough to count
how could you kill it     where would you hide the body
a creature so solid must have room for a soul
and if this is so     why not in a creature
half its size     or half its size again     and so on
down to the ants     clearly it must be saved
caught in a shopping bag and rushed to the front door
afraid to crush it     feeling the plastic rattle
loosened into the night air it batters the porch light
throwing fitful shadows around the landing
That was a really big moth     is all you can say to the doorman
who has watched your whole performance with a smile
the half-compassion and half-horror we feel for the creatures
we want not to hurt and prefer not to touch


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Robert Walser / Poem

by Robert Walser

I would wish it on no one to be me.

Only I am capable of bearing myself.

To know so much, to have seen so much, and

To say nothing, just about nothing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

T.S. Eliot / The Mystery Cat

Macavity: The Mystery Cat
by T.S. Eliot

 Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw -
 For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
 He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
 For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
 His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
 And when you reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!
 You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air -
 But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

 Mcavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
 You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
 His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
 His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
 He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
 And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
 You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square -
 But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!

 He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
 And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
 And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
 Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
 Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair -
 Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

 And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty's gone astray,
 Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
 There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair -
 But it's useless to investigate - Mcavity's not there!
 And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
 `It must have been Macavity!' - but he's a mile away.
 You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
 Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
 He always has an alibi, and one or two to spaer:
 At whatever time the deed took place - MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
 And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
 (I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
 Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
 Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

T. S. Eliot, 1939
Cover illustration by Edward Gorey, 1982


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Washing Lines / A colletion of poems

Washing Lines
A collection of poems
Selecte by Janie Hextall and Barbara McNaught
by Lin

I came across a review of this book of poetry & immediately knew I wanted to read it. In the note on the back flap of the book, Janie Hextall & Barbara McNaught write that they became friends because of a shared love of poetry. They discovered that they both collected poems & woodcuts about laundry & enjoyed train travel because it meant they could look at washing blowing in the breeze in other people's backyards. Their passion for poetry & laundry led to the creation of Lautus Press - Lautus being the Latin for washed, clean or refined, elegant. The book that resulted from this passion is a beautiful object in itself. Pale lilac cover with French flaps & a lovely woodcut, Wash Day by Clifford Harper, on the cover.

The subject of all the poems & woodcuts (above is September Morning by Anne Hayward) is washing, laundry, cleaning, but the poems range from the traditional to the modern. They use laundry as a way to remember childhood or a symbol of the love of a mother for her sons. Sometimes it's a way of testing the loved one's resolve as in this famous song,

Can you make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Without any seam or needlework?
And you shall be a true lover of mine.

Can you wash it in yonder well,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Where never sprung water, nor rain ever fell?
And you shall be a true lover of mine.

Can you dry it on yonder thorn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme 
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born?
And you shall be a true lover of mine.

In Gillian Clarke's poem, Women's Work,  the poet is thinking of her own writing & remembering a long-ago summer,

August Sunday morning,
and I'm casting for words,
Wandering the garden sipping their poems,
leaving cups of them here and there in the grass
where the washing steams in the silence
after the hay-days and the birdsong months.

I am sixteen again, and it's summer,
and the sisters are singing, their habits gathered,
sleeves rolled for kitchen work,
rosy hands hoisting cauldrons of greens.
The laundry hisses with steam-irons
glossing the collars of our summer blouses.

I enjoyed Anna Laetitia Barbauld's Washing-Day, full of the apprehension of bad weather spoiling the wash & the irritation of an uninvited visitor when wash day is in full swing, The woodcut above is Lympstone Washday by Pam Pebworth.

The silent breakfast-meal is soon dispatch'd
Uninterrupted, save by anxious looks
Cast at the lowering sky, if sky should lower.
From that last evil, oh preserve us, heavens!
For should the skies pour down, adieu to all
Remains of quiet; then expect to hear
Of sad disasters - dirt and gravel stains
Hard to efface, and loaded lines at once
Snapped short - and linen-horse by dog thrown down,
And all the petty miseries of life.

                                 ...Woe to the friend
Whose evil stars have urged him forth to claim
On such a day the hospitable rites;
Looks, blank at best, and stinted courtesy,
Shall he receive. Vainly he feeds his hopes
With dinner of roast chicken, savoury pie,
Or tart or pudding: - pudding he nor tart
That day shall eat; nor, tho' the husband try,
Mending what can't be help'd, to kindle mirth
From cheer deficient, shall his consort's brow
Clear up propitious; the unlucky guest
In silence dines and early slinks away.

As well as an enjoyable collection of poems about the delights of cleanliness & domesticity, the Afterword of Washing Lines by Alexander Lee also explores the environmental issues at stake. I'd read about this trend in the papers & was incredulous that some cities in the US ban householders from drying their washing outside. They're forced to use clothes dryers which now consume 6-10% of domestic electricity in the US. The smell of freshly dried sheets is one of the joys of life & I'm lucky to live in a country where I can dry my washing outside all year. Banning the outdoor drying of laundry just seems so ridiculous. It's free & it's environmentally friendly. Alexander Lee has started a movement,Project Laundry List, to encourage outside drying & cold water washing. There's even a National Hanging Out Day!

I've only used a couple of my photos of the gorgeous woodcuts in the book as they make them look quite muddy & don't do them justice. If you enjoy poetry & woodcuts on domestic themes, I recommend Washing Lines. It's a little gem.



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I'm an avid reader who loves middlebrow fiction, 19th century novels, WWI & WWII literature, Golden Age mysteries & history. Other interests include listening to classical music, drinking tea, baking cakes, planning my rose garden & enjoying the antics of my cats, Lucky & Phoebe. Contact me at lynabby16AThotmailDOTcom

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Neil Gaiman / The Girls

Photo by Michel Feugeas

by Neil Gaiman

She seems so cool, so focused, so quiet, yet her eyes remain fixed upon the horizon.

You think you know all there is to know about her immediately upon meeting her, but everything you think you know is wrong. Passion flows through her like a river of blood.

She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here.

— Neil Gaiman, “The Girls”
From Fragile Things

Monday, January 14, 2013

Maya Angelou / Three Poems

Atsushi Suwa

Three Poems
by Maya Angelou


Give me your hand

Make room for me
to lead and follow
beyond this rage of poetry.

Let others have
the privacy of
touching words
and love of loss
of love.

For me
Give me your hand.


Your hands easy
weight, teasing the bees
hived in my hair, your smile at the
slope of my cheek. On the
occasion, you press
above me, glowing, spouting
readiness, mystery rapes
my reason

When you have withdrawn
your self and the magic, when
only the smell of your
love lingers between
my breasts, then, only
then, can I greedily consume
your presence.


We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Maya Angelou / Passing time

by Maya Angelou

Your skin like dawn
Mine like musk

One paints the beginning
of a certain end.

The other, the end of a
sure beginning.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Maya Angelou / Men

The Rape of Proserpina - detail 2 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The Rape of Proserpina, detail 

by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1621-1622

by Maya Angelou

When I was young, I used to
Watch behind the curtains
As men walked up and down the street. Wino men, old men.
Young men sharp as mustard.
See them. Men are always
Going somewhere.
They knew I was there. Fifteen
Years old and starving for them.
Under my window, they would pause,
Their shoulders high like the
Breasts of a young girl,
Jacket tails slapping over
Those behinds,

One day they hold you in the
Palms of their hands, gentle, as if you
Were the last raw egg in the world. Then
They tighten up. Just a little. The
First squeeze is nice. A quick hug.
Soft into your defenselessness. A little
More. The hurt begins. Wrench out a
Smile that slides around the fear. When the
Air disappears,
Your mind pops, exploding fiercely, briefly,
Like the head of a kitchen match. Shattered.
It is your juice
That runs down their legs. Staining their shoes.
When the earth rights itself again,
And taste tries to return to the tongue,
Your body has slammed shut. Forever.
No keys exist.

Then the window draws full upon
Your mind. There, just beyond
The sway of curtains, men walk.
Knowing something.
Going someplace.
But this time, I will simply
Stand and watch.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Maya Angelou / On the pulse of morning

by Maya Angelou 
Spoken at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony 

January 20, 1993.

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words

Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.

Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers -- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours -- your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.