C. D. Wright

wightLast month, C. D. Wright died suddenly in her sleep. There have been many good articles about her life and work since then. This poem, from her book String Light, reads to me as a self-written obituary.

Oh, the Novaculite Uplift–a chert and flint formation in the mountains of Arkansas (where Carolyn was born), Oklahoma and Texas.

Our Dust

I am your ancestor. You know next to nothing
about me.
There is no reason for you to imagine
the rooms I occupied or my heavy hair.
Nor the faint vinegar smell of me. Or
the rubbered damp
of Forrest and I coupling on the landing
on route to our detached day.

You didn’t know my weariness, error, incapacity.
I was the poet
of shadow work and towns with quarter-inch
phone books, of failed
roadside zoos. The poet of yard eggs
and sharpening shops,
jobs at the weapons plant and the Maybelline
factory on the penitentiary road. Continue reading

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Morning reading

I set aside David Lipsky’s review of Nabokov’s Letters to Vera in Harper’s to read this morning, and was rewarded by a truly elegant piece of work.  Lipsky doesn’t just review the letters, he provides a succinct and literate overview of Nabokov’s life, his work, his long marriage. “No marriage of a major twentieth-century writer lasted longer,” he quotes from Brian Boyd’s introduction. He manages to cull and quote gems from the 864 pages and relate them to the body of Nabokov’s fiction.

lolita1He notes the shocking intimacy of Nabokov’s work–“The hero takes a sleepy, eye-watering yawn–and the world ‘shivered and dissolved in the prism of his tears.’ …Nabokov’s people are constantly yawning scrunching, nose wiping, bug-bite scratching.”

He’s especially funny about the popular “hurricane” of Lolita, published thirty years into Nabokov’s literary career: “There were Lolita dolls, Lolita cartoons (arriving Martian: ‘Take me to your Lolita’), a Kubrick movie, a San Francisco drive-in serving Lolitaburgers.” And Eichmann–instrumental in the murder of (among others, Nabokov’s brother), who finds the book “unwholesome.”

veraThe essay was especially moving to me having visited the Nabokov museum in St. Petersburg–all those many title pages with hand-drawn butterflies dedicated to Vera. Continue reading

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Bob and Ray

04elliott3

Back in the days of radio, the comedy team of Bob and Ray provided hours of low-key comedy.  Ray Goulding has been gone for some time, but Bob Elliott’s obituary just appeared in the NY Times this morning. Continue reading

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Two poems about birdsong

orioleThe first, in sonnet form, by Robert Frost, published in 1942. The second a more contemporary song by Troy Jollimore.

Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same

He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds’ song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.

Robert Frost
A Witness Tree

Oriole

A bend in the river.
A flaw in the surface.
How many continents
has this lone oriole
crossed to come balance
on our sagging clothesline,
and what urgent thing
is he trying to tell us?
That those who could translate
his song are lagging
a thousand miles
behind? Or that those
who can speak both his tongue
and ours have not yet
been born, that we will go
into the ground
and a thousand years pass
before their eyes open,
the wayward atoms
of our nests and tongues
having been dispersed,
reassigned, and repurposed
into their bright,
unforeseeable bodies?

Troy Jollimore
Syllabus of Errors

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The British first

Looking at my post yesterday about Robert Lowell’s book, Imitations, I commented that the first edition of that book was for sale for $35. Larry looked at the picture and said, “That must be the British first edition.” I checked the source, and it was. “How did you know that?” I wanted to know. Continue reading

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Books that change your life

lowellI’ve been reading some essays by C.K. Williams (who wrote last week’s poem). In one essay he talks about reading a book by Robert Lowell, Imitations, which broke open a new way of thinking about poetry.

Imitations was influential and controversial. Lowell took poems in other languages and rather than translate them, he created his own poems in English inspired by them. Many deplored this technique, finding it arrogant and disrespectful. But it definitely gave poets something to think about. For Williams, it “released something in me I hadn’t grasped had been keeping me from moving ahead in my own work.”

How amazing it is that books can crack you open, can shed light into your own struggles and world view. Continue reading

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C. K. Williams

williamsC. K. Williams died last year. I hadn’t read much of his work, but liked what I saw in a review of his Selected Later Poems.  His lines are often long, and his poems, too. This is my favorite so far. It totally grabs me in its “syrupy upsoaring netting.”

At What Time on the Sabbath Do Vultures Awake?

Yesterday, at four in the afternoon there were as accurately as I could count sixteen
xxx on fence posts
and branches banking or dive-bombing might be the better term down towards a dead
xxxdeer in a gulley
but this morning at dawn there were none none at all as I trekked by so I thought
   they’d consumed
the corpse or emptied its guts but no there it still was though I didn’t come too close for
xxxthe stench

then later on my way back were first five then at least a half dozen more circling over
xxxtheir quarry
a few scrolling down towards it and how not wonder whether they’d overslept or
xxx
if on Sundays
like this they just like to sit around reading the paper not bothering to get up till
xxxday’s going
full blast and the great pouring clouds of chattering starlings are already in flight
xxxheading south Continue reading

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Two quick chicken recipes

Optimized-2016-01-20 18.26.38Once in awhile, it seems like I take whatever is in the fridge and create something tasty. The other night it was leftover rice, a few chicken thighs, some butternut squash, mushrooms, onions, fennel, and green beans. I sautéed the onions and fennel with a little garlic and some spices, added the mushrooms and then set them aside and browned the chicken in the same pan. I layered a pan with the sautéed vegetables and rice, put the chicken and chunks of squash on top and added a bit of chicken stock. I baked them for about twenty-five minutes. While they were baking I lightly sautéed the green beans in the same sauce pan, and then sprinkled them on top. A yummy dinner in less than an hour. Worth saving the idea to make again. Continue reading

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Poetry readings

I go to a fair number of these. Some are transcendent–moving, dynamic, inspiring. That’s why I go, and go again. But all often, they go more like this:

I Attend a Poetry Readingkowit

The fellow reading poetry at us wouldn’t stop.
Nothing would dissuade him:
not the stifling heat; the smoky walls
with their illuminated clocks;
our host, who shifted anxiously
from foot to foot. Continue reading

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Best poetry book from 2015

JollimoreTroy Jollimore’s book, Syllabus of Errors, is my favorite new book of poems from last year. He’s a serious poet, and I find his work brave and lyrical.  He’s also not afraid to poke fun at himself.

Here’s a sample:

Lament

No more swamp existence for you, with all
its pleasures, all that rooting around
in forgotten quarters for forgotten nickels.
No more meretricious jazz piano
eliding your way between gross destinations,
unreviewed memoirs by former conundrums,
videos of venal comebacking musicians
going viral on the spiral screen. No more
slowly starving cathedrals into being,
no more convalescing by feel, no more
nosing out the neglected harmonica part
that was meant to fluff out the flourish but got
buried so deep in the mix you could get
the bends coming up from that. No more Continue reading

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