Befriending Frankenstein

hoaglandI have been reading Tony Hoagland’s newest book of essays, Twenty Poems that Could Save America (published by Graywolf Press, a wonderful imprint). In his first essay, “Je Suis ein Americano: the Genius of American Diction,” he talks about the current direction of American poetry, the experimentation, the fractured language and syntax, the shifts and ruptures of trying to cobble together something fresh.  This is the final paragraph:

“American English is a great experiment in progress, and American poetry is its laboratory on a hill. Several decades ago, Tim Dlugos published a chapbook of poems with the title Je Suis ein Americano, as if making the point of this essay in brief. I suppose the mythic analog might be the story of Frankenstein’s monster. The creature we know as Frankenstein is patched together by a mad doctor, who employs a cut-and-paste method using the recycled parts of executed criminals. The monster escapes, descends from the mountain, and terrorizes the villagers. It sounds a lot like postmodernism, doesn’t it? Yet the big, interestingly fabricated fellow is trying to communicate something—maybe he just wants a hug, but he can’t make himself understood to the frightened townspeople. Their natural-enough tribal reaction is to try to kill him. In American poetry, too, the boundary between the natural and unnatural continues to shift, and American poets keep pushing the limits, searching for a creation at once wide awake and divine.”

So for today, here’s a poem by Dean Young. He plays with set phrases, awkward translations, myths, and most of all expectations. Don’t worry about making sense of it (though I think it has a delightful, deep, cumulative logic). Just revel in his surprising images and word choices, which are always fresh:

Changing Your Bulb

I disconnect the power for at least
five minutes until your bulb is cool
and no longer producing song through
small chewing devices at the end
of its beak.  Clunk goes the tipped-over
pounce-meat.  When I change your bulb,
am I really changing my own?  This concludes
these opening remarks.  Later you will be asked
to repeat them as a test of metal decay.
Now take your steel ring by any sharp
of tool at place of two gap or at least
that’s what the instructions say.
Maybe you were made in Tunisia.
I have loved you longer than my one life.
In the north, Siegfried rests after his hunt.
The new adults go into summer hibernation,
called aestivation but we are just waking.
Wing-wear: always a troublement, but there,
in the Wild Valley and Forest of the Rhine
your new bulb gets installed, acting mainly
as an exacerbation to fuzzy brain function.
I feel like I’m approaching a cliff wrapped
in an enormous kite, cheery as life insurance
and I can’t be sure if the statuary
is of rich citizens or supernatural forces. Continue reading

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Ukiyo-e at the Asian Art Museum

grabhornLast week, a new show of wood block prints, scrolls and artifacts from Japan’s “floating world” opened at the Asian Art Museum. The wood block prints are from a collection donated to the museum by the widow of Robert Grabhorn, who first with his brother Edwin and later with Andrew Hoyem, ran  Grabhorn Press, the iconic letterpress print shop. This press exists now as Arion Press and the Grabhorn Institute.

In any case, the prints are worth a long, leisurely look. There are some videos of the process, too. It’s an intense, collaborative effort.  The artist draws the image, and the woodblock cutter makes a block for each color.  The papermaker makes the paper, and the printer prints a single run for each color. The blocks must match exactly to provide the perfect registration of each color into the whole.

If you can’t make it, here’s a taste. The text accompanying the prints is comprehensive, and it noted in the bathhouse image below, there are shadows of the objects on the wall, probably influenced by Western engravings:

IMG_2094

I had never noticed that these prints are generally shadowless. Continue reading

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Straight to the quarter

changeWhy are we bothering with pennies, nickels and dimes? For everyday use, the quarter is the only meaningful coin. And both pennies and nickels cost more to produce than they’re worth! Insanity. We could keep odd amounts for electronic transactions but just STOP making any other coins and round up or down. I know all those charities, vending machine and nickel slot machine folks are going to be upset. But hey, get with it. Admit reality. Adjust!

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Eyesight

ammonsDriving up I-5 from LA yesterday, spring had come to California. The hills are briefly green and gold, and the orchards all in bloom. I thought of this poem by A. R. Ammons, and was surprised to find I haven’t posted any of his work.  Here’s a poem to remedy that:

Eyesight

It was May before my
attention came
to spring and

my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see: Continue reading

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Bragging

Larry battingLarry had a great softball game yesterday. He hit for the cycle, that means a single, double, triple and home run in one game.  He caught everything playable, and had five hits and seven RBI’s.  This was his writeup on the Creakers’ web page:

“For the hard fought victory, the major domo big banger award goes to Larry, Mr. BeBop, Basher who hit for the cycle Plus….a crushed homer to deep left, a ringing triple, (2) doubles and a single driving in a bevy of runs.” Continue reading

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If you want to mark up a book, buy it

As longtime readers know, I love libraries. Just now I have about six books from the UC Library, three from Berkeley and another four or five from Contra Costa.  But when I opened The End of Beauty, by Jorie Graham from the UC Library, I found that a previous reader had heavily underlined, parenthesized, exclamation pointed, and otherwise defaced the poems.

page

Continue reading

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Sharon Olds on Monday

slug6I had forgotten this wonderful poem by Sharon Olds. Then I saw, after the rain last week, one of these big banana slugs in the garden and went to look for it. It didn’t disappoint me:

The Connoisseuse of Slugs

When I was a connoisseuse of slugs
I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the
naked jelly of those gold bodies,
translucent strangers glistening along the
stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies
at my mercy. Made mostly of water, they would shrivel
to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt,
but I was not interested in that. What I liked Continue reading

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The exemplary sentence

zagajewskiI picked up a book of essays by Adam Zagajewski, called In Defense of Ardor, an elegant title. The title essay discusses the role of irony in modern writing, and makes a case for less of it, more engagement. It’s worth reading in it’s entirety if that subject interests you.  But the quote today is from the essay “The Shabby and the Sublime,” about the act of writing.

“Maybe we’re not altogether alone in our empty room in our workshop: if so many writers love solitude it may be because they’re not really all that lonely. There really is a higher voice that sometimes–too rarely–speaks. We catch it only in the moments of our greatest concentration. This voice may only speak once, it may make itself heard only after long years of waiting: still, it changes everything… Continue reading

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Contemporary poetry

a-e-stallingsI went to a poetry reading at the incomparable University Press Books bookstore (support it!) this weekend, and the subject of accessibility came up. One reader, Rebecca Foust, mentioned that her mother, who never went further than high school, memorized and loved Robert Frost’s poems. Though his poems, to a poet, are layered and complex, Rebecca said her mother went to them for simple comfort.

This is very hard to achieve today, when we have largely shed form, and the adjective “accessible” often denigrates a poem. But here’s a great example of a layered, accessible contemporary poem by A.E. Stallings that includes rhyme, poetic and prosaic allusions, and humor:

Pop Music

Musicfor a new parent

The music that your son will listen to
To drive you mad
Has yet to be invented. Be assured
However, it is approaching from afar
Like the light of some Chaldean star. Continue reading

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Labyrinthine

Labyrinth_optJust before the rainy days, I managed to finish weeding and replanting the labyrinth for spring.  Lots of spinach, sorrel, herbs, and mustard greens remain and self seed each year. And this year some blue honey wart, too. Not to mention my friend’s statue.

And meanwhile, this by Robert Shiller from today’s paper, read to me by Larry, on the labyrinthine world of finance–the path through that is more convoluted:

“Governments…use expanded credit in a desperate effort to placate a dissatisfied electorate. Credit expansion can create housing bubbles and an illusion of wealth for many people, for a while, at least. ‘Let them eat credit.’ “

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