Blues for Sweet Thing

August 3, 2017

Whose little girl am I?
Anyone who has money to buy.
What do they call me?

-Nina Simone, “Four Women”

I’m honeysuckle.
A girl child crying
holy seven sins.

A harp & loom.
A rack of ribs.
A ribcage.

A pocket of coins
never to be spent
because my country

no longer exists. Almanac,
without page numbers

or prophecy.
For you I was sycamore,

pear, willow,
maple & bougainvillea.

For you
I was bathwater.

Gazelle, artichoke,
tulip & daffodil.

Your father’s tears.

Blue fern of smoke
from a cigarette

opened by a fist
of summer rain.

For you
I was a red dress.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

misfortune of poets

August 3, 2017

The poet Stephen Dobyns, who is also the novelist Stephen Dobyns, once remarked with just irritation that the narrative, as a poetic strategy, is usually misread, or not taken for what in his opinion it is: a metaphor. As though when the poet couldn’t think of anything interesting, he told a story.

Like Homer. Like the Bible.

Contemporary critics prefer, it appears, the static/rhapsodic, in which the translation of event to art is more literal: what is event in the world becomes, in the poem, luminous image. In fact, narrative is also transformation and recreation, and the use of stories managed in more ways, to more ends, than one. In the old battle to determine the greater form (a subject in itself) poet critics, eschewing the story, seem, like the Puritan fathers, to eschew entertainment, as though having a good time couldn’t happen in the presence of sublime art. But the impulse to use narrative informs the work of some of our best (and certainly most original) poets. Dobyns, obviously, but also, in a quite different way, Robert Pinsky.

It is a standard misfortune of poets (and artists in general) that their work continues to be read according to whatever impressions or verdicts attended its debut. In consequence Robert Pinsky is often regarded as a poet of extensive dispassionate curiosity and wide learning, ethical by disposition, rational in bias, a maker of grids and systems, an organizer – the opposite of the fiery prophetic, the poet claimed by, overtaken by, emotion – and, in his calm, somehow disguised or withholding. Even when, as now, he is regularly and perceptively admired, he tends to be admired for his masterful interweavings of public and private, for his formal brilliance, for the extraordinary variety of his gifts (even passionately reverential notices sometimes digress with odd eagerness into Pinsky’s work as a translator, his explorations of high-tech forms like computer games).

It is difficult to account exactly for the tone of this approbation. Pinsky is neither a poet of lyric compression nor a rhapsodist – the two forms to which readers habitually ascribe warmth, or intense feeling. And readers are, often, genuinely overwhelmed by the breadth of his erudition. But neither that erudition nor the poems’ virtuosity completely explains the curious reticences and demurrals of even his most impassioned reviewers. It has sometimes seemed to me that he is read as though he were a cultural historian, in whose mind individual agony and enterprise are subsumed into, or emblematic of, panoramic history. Readers are, I suppose, distracted by Pinsky’s considerable memory, his grasp of (and fascination with) data. But they mistake, I believe, the background for the foreground.

Story Tellers
PN Review 117 Volume 24 Number 1, September – October 1997

fighting something

August 3, 2017

How I suffer. And no one knows how I suffer, walking up this street, engaged with my anguish – alone; fighting something alone.

Virginia Woolf
diary entry, September 1929

Important information

August 3, 2017

Delightfully Sticky Chaos

August 3, 2017

3rd August

Mood today: ash-grey.

I seek for something beyond the shadow of a translucent tear. Obscurity, perhaps? Or extinction forever? Why don’t you chose?

We should be silent if silence makes us happy. Our love should not be spoken of because words are lies. Speech is a betrayal of self. It should be enough just to look at each other and hold each other’s gaze –

Your eyes seen in a dream like this one, seem huge to me. Haunted by night and its many ambiguities. In these eyes, your secret eyes, only the unreal exists. They contemplate invisible beauties and not me –

We must love. Must feel. We are here to be engulfed, to taste danger, risk hurt. And when we’re betrayed, abandoned, wounded or left broken, then we should sit and listen to the apples falling from the tree in the night. Count them if you will. Those apples falling in heaps around you, their sweetness rotting into the ground – that is the true meaning of life!

Yes, yes, it’s true. I’m a collector of beautiful moments. Remember walking naked into the sea at midnight? All those wonderful stars overhead and the sound of the waves breaking over the beach. And our laughter, the four of us, when the policeman flashed his torchlight at us from the pier. Magical that moment.