SOME THOUGHTS ON JOHN ASHBERY AND HIS PASSING [by M.G. Stephens]

 

In the autumn of 1966, I began to attend the readings and writing workshops at the newly opened St. Mark’s in the Bowery Poetry Project. In the poetry workshop, which was taught by Joel Oppenheimer, the Black Mountain poet, the talk was of a hierarchy that included William Carlos Williams and, to a lesser extent, Ezra Pound, and then filtered down to Oppenheimer’s own teachers at Black Mountain College, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. In between these gods (Williams and Pound) and the demigods (Olson and Creeley), there were the bountiful, nearly mythological presences such as the Objectivists, including George Oppen, Louis Zukofsky, Charles Resnikoff, and Lorinne Neidecker.

Outside the workshop, it was an entirely different matter. Everyone at the Poetry Project was talking about Frank O’Hara, who had been killed on Fire Island a few months earlier, and John Ashbery, who was now back in New York after many years of living abroad. Anne Waldman was Joel Oppenheimer’s assistant, along with the poet Joel Sloman, both of whom were more interested in the New York School than Black Mountain poetry. The World magazine, which Anne edited with her husband Lewis Warsh, was decidedly a bastion of New York School poets, particularly its next generation, which included Ron Padgett and Ted Berrigan, among many others. You could not avoid being conscious of this different kind of poetry than the one that Oppenheimer promulgated in his workshops; it was the poetry (New York School) for which the Poetry Project was becoming known beyond the Lower East Side and Manhattan south of 14th Street.

The tension between the two camps (the third-generation New York Schoolers and the second-generation Black Mountaineers) was at times palpable. The new generation of New York School poets were quite hostile to the Black Mountain esthetic. There were even fist fights which I witnessed between the two groups, and verbal shouting matches was the daily rule. It was serious business, this poetry, I remember thinking, and lots of fun; I loved a good fight, whether it was verbal or physical, it didn’t matter to me, and I was sat on a fence between the two camps, as was most of my other friends and workshop-goers. I also remember that despite being indoctrinated by Joel with his Black Mountain poetic ideology, I had an immediate fondness for Frank O’Hara’s poetry, and five days a week when I commuted uptown on two buses to work at the newly opened library at Lincoln Center, I invariably travelled those buses with a copy of Lunch Poems in my pocket. Anne and Co. perceived of me as a clone of Joel Oppenheimer, but I was more attached to Frank O’Hara’s esthetic. A few years after the Poetry Project started in the late 1960s, I remember doing a group reading with Tom Weatherly and Ron Edson at the church, which was located at the corner of East 10th Street and Second Avenue. After the reading, Ted Berrigan came up to me and said, “I wish Frank (O’Hara) were still alive, he would have loved what you just read tonight.” I had read from a manuscript entitled Gulfweed Voices, a novel (so to speak) that Grove Press was going to publish, but then never did. It was the only time that Ted and I ever had an extended conversation. I can still recall it vividly today.

The poets in Joel’s workshop who were infatuated with and influenced by John Ashbery were legion, but two who come immediately to mind were Joel Sloman, one of Joel Oppenheimer’s assistants, and Scott Cohen, one of the young stars of the workshop, a City College student, as most of the participants were. Scott would drop out of Oppenheimer’s workshop eventually and migrate over to Ted Berrigan’s class, where he felt more at home with the New York School esthetic. Eventually he became a journalist for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, and later still got into advertising. I remember Joel Sloman and Scott Cohen trying to get me to expand my horizons and read John Ashbery. This was compounded by my friendship with Andrei Codrescu, the recently arrived Romanian poet, who had come to New York via Detroit. Andrei and I both worked the night shift at the Eighth Street Bookshop, and during lulls in the proceedings, he would lecture me on John Ashbery’s poetry. It was Andrei who made the first intelligent arguments for Ashbery’s greatness.

Andrei blurted out: “The arctic honey blabbed over the report causing darkness.” I had no idea what he or that line meant, but it has stayed with me for scores of years, while other less opaque lines from other poets have dissolved away and disappeared. “Leaving the Atocha Station” comes from The Tennis Court Oath, and immediately I was aware that Ashbery’s poems were not easily accessible the way a poem by Robert Creeley was or, for that matter, Frank O’Hara. It was both annoying and captivating, and I had the good sense to tell this to Andrei, who understood that I was open to learning more about this poet, even if I didn’t understand his poetry at all in 1966-67, working in the bookshop with Andrei and the other future luminaries of the arts in downtown Manhattan.

The poem that seemed to open up Ashbery for me, if that is the right metaphor—and probably it is not—was a long poem called “The Skaters,” which appeared in his book Rivers and Mountains. Both Scott Cohen and Andrei Codrescu had told me that the poem had to do with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy, so I tried reading some Wittgenstein, but to no avail. His work was as opaque as Ashbery’s was for me at that time. Then came 1968, and a stint I did at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I had gone away to work on a novel, which I did complete while there; it was Gulfweed Voices, which Grove had contracted to publish, but ultimately never did. But that is another story. One of the books I brought along to read was Ashbery’s Rivers and Mountains, which I would dip into nightly. I did not worry about meanings, a fruitless exercise with any poetry anyhow, nor did I read for sense, though I did read the poems for their sensibility, and that became how I would read Ashbery from there on out, riding the poem’s drifts and currents, like a leaf in a storm.

I still have that copy of Rivers and Mountains somewhere, filled with my notes, most of which were written in the Keene County Jail. One night I had gone to the airport with another colonist, a painter, to pick up the writer Rudy Wurlitzer, who had flown in from Los Angeles, where he was working on a movie script. His novel Nog was just about to be published by Random House and Rudy, though a good ten years older, had become friends with me while he was at the colony. He had flown off to LA a week earlier, and now was coming back. As he came off the airplane, lights began flashing, and the next thing we knew, all of us were being spread across the hood of a police car and put under arrest. The cops had found some drugs on Rudy, so we were all carted off to jail as accessories. During those days I spend in the Keene County Jail, I only had a copy of Rivers and Mountains to read and nothing else, and I became immersed in its poetry in a way I had never been before with John Ashbery. This is how the poet put it himself: “Most of my poems are about the experience of experience.” I have the Keene County Jail to thank for allowing me to experience John Ashbery’s poetry in a fully immersive way.

The experience of experience becomes more evident with each passing book that Ashbery would publish. Two of my favorite Ashbery poems appeared in The Double Dream of Spring, which followed Rivers and Mountains. Those two poems are “Soonest Mended” and “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape.” The former poem had the oddest title I could imagine, but then it became clearer once the origin of the phase was known. Of course, the saying is least said soonest mended, which means that a bad situation can be quickly forgotten if people stop talking about it. The experience of experience of this poem includes Ingres’ painting and Happy Hooligan, a memorable character from childhood Sunday comic strips. “Farm Implements…” also makes reference to comic strips, in this instance, Popeye, Swee’pea, the Sea Hag, Wimpy, and Olive Oyl. The poem is a sestina, a Provencal verse form of six six-line stanzas in which the end words of each line are repeated throughout the stanzas, culminating in a three-line stanza, in which all the key end-words are repeated. Combining Popeye and Co. with a Provencal verse form is brilliant beyond all imagination, at least IMHO. It is a poem I read often, and it is certainly a favorite.

With Three Poems, published in 1971, Ashbery dipped into the world of lyrical prose, not exactly prose poems, the three poems of the title bear more resemblance to a prose work like Robert Lowell’s “91 Revere Street,” but with this caveat: Lowell’s writing is memoirlike, and Ashbery’s prose more resembles his poetry, with the same opacity and lack of autobiographical details, at least not obviously so (more about this anon). I had met Ashbery on several occasions, mostly in rooms packed with other poets, his time and focus divided among many people anxious to converse with him. He did not know me or my work, as far as I know. The British writer Peter Ackroyd, who was a friend from graduate school at Yale, had once taken me to John’s apartment in Chelsea, New York, where I spent most of the afternoon talking to the painter Fairfield Porter, not the poet himself. My funniest encounter came at one of those crowded Gotham Bookmart parties in the upstairs gallery. The experimental fiction writer Walter Abish introduced me to Ashbery, and being drunk, I said, “I love Four Poems, John.” There was a pause in which you could hear Walter’s mind go into a flurry of worry over my remark. But then John saved the day by saying, “Well, it’s Three Poems, but if you have an idea for a fourth one, I’d like to hear about it.”

I think most everyone agrees that John Ashbery went from being a somewhat obscure avante-garde poet to a mainstream one with the publication of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror when he won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Book Critics Circle Award in the same year. These awards were all well deserved, as the book is quite astonishing, particularly the long title poem inspired by a painting by Parmigianino.

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand

Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer

And swerving easily away, as though to protect

What it advertises.

 

This book then is the watershed in which John Ashbery crossed over into the mainstream of American poetry, and in a way unlike any of his friends and contemporaries. But something else begins to happen, too; the poems take on another quality, besides being quintessential John Ashbery works. From Houseboat Days to the present, I have thought of John Ashbery’s poetry, whatever it is he is writing about, as also being a repository of the English language as it is spoken by Americans in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Want to learn how people spoke in 2005? Read some John Ashbery poems from that time, especially a book such as Flow Chart. Interestingly, the two other writers who also were accumulating the odd words and phrases of late 20th century American speech were Gilbert Sorrentino in his various experimental novels and the editor turned fiction writer Gordon Lish, in various stories he was publishing later in the century. The poet and critic Ron Silliman, to some extent, also does this in his prosey poetry in such works as Tjanting, and Silliman is a direct link between the Language poets and Ashbery, as is the poet Charles Bernstein.

But this is an appreciation about John Ashbery, so let me get back to him. As with any poet and how we read him or her, there is an element of what we bring to the proposition. We are the readers; it is our job to respond to these poems. Reading John Ashbery from the time I was twenty years old to the present, when I am now in my seventies, I would have to say that I have changed more than he did because my first encounters with this poet were, if not hostile, then not sympathetic, though gradually I came to see the grace and intelligence, the originality, and even the lyrical necessity of what it was this poet was doing. It turns out that all the poets at St. Mark’s Church in the Bouwerie, back in 1966, were right; John Ashbery is a truly original and great poet. I was terribly late coming to understand just how important he really was. In my own case, the realization came from living abroad. I spent fifteen years in London, and reading Ashbery in that context I began to understand that he was an American original, like Whistler, Whitman, Elvis, Frank O’Hara, William Carlos Williams, and Thelonious Monk.

In 2000, I left Boston with the idea of moving abroad. But first I took a detour to Hudson, New York, where my old friend Rudy Wurlitzer—the same Rudy with whom I shared jail-time in Keene, New Hampshire, where I immersed myself in Ashbery’s Rivers and Mountains—lived in an old rectory on the courthouse square in the center of this old Hudson Valley town. Coincidentally, just adjacent to Rudy’s house—where he lived with his partner the photographer Lynn Davis—was John Ashbery’s house, the one he once described as reminding him of his grandfather’s place in Rochester, New York, on the other side of the state. I lived on Allen Street, renting place there for a year and a half before picking up and moving to London for fifteen years. Ashbery’s house was only steps away from where I lived, though I rarely if ever saw him out and about in this odd, tiny hamlet. In the eighteen months I lived in Hudson, I did not see Ashbery so much as a stream of people who would come to visit him, usually at the weekend, writers as diverse as John Yau and Frank McCourt, pulling up in their cars and going into the big, old house where the poet lived with his husband David Kermani.

Ashbery was not a recluse, but he stayed home and did his work, plus as I understood it, as he got older, there were mobility problems. I was introduced to his partner David several times, and I once looked at a property he owned on Warren Street, a loft space that they wanted to rent out. At the end of the day, I decided against it. But I did enjoy speaking with David; we didn’t talk about John, though. I sensed that was out of bounds, a private moment, if not for friends, then certainly for newly met strangers. I was having a show at a gallery on Warren Street, small drawings I had done, and I remember David telling me how much he liked one of them, a penis drawing. I had the sense he was going to buy it for John, but then he never came back to the gallery, and eventually the show ended. It was just one of those experiences about experience, something that John Ashbery might have rendered into an unmistakable poem. In a prose-writer’s hands, the transformation is less startling, but nonetheless equally significant. Several months later, I put my things in storage, and moved to England.

 

 

M.G. Stephens is the author of eighteen books, including the novel The Brooklyn Book of the Dead (“a great, great book,” says Roddy Doyle), and the essay collection Green Dreams, which Joyce Carol Oates picked as one of the notable nonfiction books of the 20th century in Best American Essays of the Century. His new book of poems just out from Spuyten Duyvil is called Top Boy.

 

 

The Air’s Home [by Joanna Fuhrman & Toni Simon]

“The Air’s Home” is part of a larger mixed-media serial poem—a book length project that Toni and I are working on. Toni makes small-scale paper sculptures of Egyptian deities, and we take pictures of them interacting with various settings around New York City. For this section of the project, we had Toni’s model of Bastet visit Gins and Arakawa’s Reversible Destiny Studio, so we view it as collaboration not just with each other but with Gins and Arakawa. We hope it serves as a tribute to their important, beautiful work.

We first visited and took pictures at the Reversible Destiny studio in 2011, and then went back last year after Madeline’s death to reshoot some of the images. On our last visit, the ankh (the ancient symbol of eternal life) dropped off and stayed behind at the studio—perhaps a sign of Gins’ lingering presence. To read more about Gins and Arakawa and the Reversible Destiny Foundation’s work envisioning an architecture to defeat death, please visit: reversibledestiny.org.

—Joanna Fuhrman

 

CONTRIBUTORS

JOANNA FUHRMAN‘s fifth book The Year Of Yellow Butterflies has just been released by Hanging Loose Press. For more see: Joannafuhrman.com.

TONI SIMON is a multi-media artist living in Brooklyn. Her illustrated book Earth After Earth was published by Lunar Chandelier Press in 2012. For more see: tonisimonart@blogspot.com.

 

WHO WE WRITE FOR [by M.G. Stephens]

I am writing another essay in the form of a blog. Who is it for? Well, myself, I suppose, and anyone else who shares my obsessions or interests, i.e., I would probably write this even if no one was going to read it except myself. This explains my notebooks, which are not really for anyone but myself, at least at this time. When I am gone, someone might have an interest in my notebooks, but certainly not in my lifetime. I can barely get anyone to read a poem much less an essay or a short story, a novel or a memoir. This is the world we live in, where 140 characters is about all anyone can handle. So I like to think of Henry Adams and what he said; he only had around five hundred readers, he claimed. But they were the best five hundred readers in the world!

My writing isn’t shaped by prizes and awards either. I don’t really care if the committee at some foundation or other doesn’t like what I do or if what I write makes them uncomfortable. If my writing makes anyone uncomfortable, then I am doing my job. When I used to teach, I often began the semester by telling the students that I was not there to verify their prejudices; I was there to challenge their assumptions. This is probably even truer when I write. But saying that, I need quickly add that my writing is not there to insult or degrade minorities, other genders from my own, different age groups, ethnic persons, or anyone else who might be deemed “the other.” If my writing doesn’t offend the established orders, then I have failed as a writer, just as that same writing should give some comfort to the outcast and forgotten in our world. It is a tall order, and maybe just an ideal that can’t be implemented, but it is from those ideals that one puts pen to paper and lets the linear progression begin.

Though I am by nationality both American and Irish, very few people mistake me for being Irish, including most Irish people. I am often thought of as the other. In Ireland I sound American; in America people bizarrely think I’m English. In England, I am thought of as a Yank. By now, after more than fourteen years of living in London, I have what is called in linguistic circles a Midlantic accent, something that is a cross between a British and an American accent, but in fact is neither one. There are exceptions to what I’m saying. When I run into my Irish relatives in London, they certainly don’t question my Irishness, although they do think I have a rather unusual accent. Why don’t I speak with a brogue? they sometimes ask. Well, that’s simple enough to answer; I don’t speak with a brogue because, although I am Irish by nationality, I have spent very little time in Ireland.

I mention all this because I think it has a lot to do with how I write and even what I write about and who I write for and why I write at all. How I write has a lot to do with my two nationalities. I have American cadences in my writing, but my sensibility has been shaped by Irish literature, the biggest influence on me of any other national literature. In fact, I am most Irish when I write, and am almost never Irish in my own life. I don’t sound Irish in my life or my writing, but that is because I often try to thwart the lyrical in my prose, believing that being lyrical is almost too easy to do if you are Irish, is almost a national curse, if you will. Some of Ireland’s greatest writers tamped down this urge to create the great prose and poetry they did produce. Samuel Beckett is just such an Irish writer; his prose came into its own when he abandoned any of the old lyrical strategies that were found in his early works, such as Murphy, Watt, and More Pricks than Kicks. It was with the commencement of his trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable) that Beckett came into his own as one of the great Irish prose writers. He went from being a typically lyrical Irish writer to being a spare, unadorned French one. C’etait parfait.

Who I write for has something to do with how I write and what I write about, and it might also explain why I write. I have always identified myself as a Catholic anarchist, having done this since my early twenties when I first met Dorothy Day by chance on East 1st Street in the East Village of downtown Manhattan in the 1960s. Ms. Day was the essence of a Catholic anarchist, leftist in her thinking, politically and socially engaged, antiwar, a great believer in helping the downtrodden, and a bit of a rebel too. It was only with the advent of Pope Francis’ pontificate that people have begun to understand what being a Catholic anarchist means. Francis has said that he too is a Catholic anarchist, and when he spoke to the U.S. Congress, he alluded to two people who are the American saints of Catholic anarchy—Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

I write because it is the best thing I do as a human being. I was a fairly good basketball player as a kid, but I was never a great player, even with a really good jump shot that rarely missed when I shot the ball. I also boxed, but again my boxing was good enough to get me seriously hurt. I once taught, but teaching was not my gift, writing was. I wrote as a journalist, but invariably I got in trouble for taking liberties that nowadays are totally accepted. But back then when I got into trouble with an editor or copy editor, I was kicked out of there precipitately. I liked baking, but again I was not a baker, just someone who baked once in a while. I liked painting, but there were others far more colorful, more expressive; and my love of music, which is considerable, was not enough to make me a musician. Writing was it.

Today writing often involves really superficial markers that determine how well known a writer will become. Where did she go to school? Who did she study with? Where is his work published? Who has given him blurbs? These questions evolve into other ones, such as, where does he or she teach and where has that person gotten grants. I have been fortunate, at least when younger, to teach in some of the best writing programs. Likewise I have degrees from some really great places. I have ten letters after my name! Though I grew up in great poverty, I have more than made up for my lack of finances to become an incredibly well educated person. Where I taught reflected that education too.

When I was younger, I was awarded some grants, though never the big ones, the National Endowment ones or the Guggenheim; these awards have passed me by, although I still occasionally apply for them. I made an application for a Guggenheim this year, and have gotten to the second and third rounds. I’m going to be seventy years old in a few months, so the likelihood of ever getting such a grant becomes slimmer and slimmer. But there are still literary awards to be won, although most prizes nowadays require fees to enter them. One of the highest paying awards in the US is the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, given by Claremont Graduate University in California. I think it is around one hundred thousand dollars, and it is one of the few prizes whose winners are poets I have read, heard of, and even know, making it somewhat unusual. Past winners have included Chase Twichell, whom I taught with at Princeton University back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Afaa Michael Weaver, whom I taught with at New York University (NYU) back in the 1990s. Both are very good poets.

I hadn’t published a book of poems in many years, not since the Nineties; but earlier this year I published a book of short poems entitled Occam’s Razor (2015). I published the book myself, under the First Person Books imprint. Self-publishing is a time-honored way of publishing poetry, and I am a fairly seasoned writer, having published my first book with E. P. Dutton in New York more than forty years ago when I was in my mid-twenties. I’ve also published a memoir with Random House, and books of essays with good university presses (Southern Illinois and Georgia), one of which won the AWP award in creative nonfiction. My fiction and poetry have been published by good small presses from Dalkey Archive to Hanging Loose Press, and I’ve published a memoir with Hazelden in Minnesota because it was a book about recovery and the family. I have an advanced degree in writing from Yale University, where my thesis advisor was a Nobel Prize winner for his poetry, and I graduated in the top of my class in writing; I also have a doctorate on poetry from a British university. I had published eighteen books before this one appeared. I am not a beginner writer certainly. My previous books had been praised by writers as diverse as Seamus Heaney and Frank McCourt, Paul Auster and Russell Banks, Hettie Jones and Maureen Howard, Hubert Selby, Jr. and Richard Gilman.

When I sent off my book of poetry to the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, I didn’t so much think I could win this award so much as they would at least take me a little bit seriously. Maybe I could make a few cuts, as I sometimes do with grants and awards, and then be jettisoned towards the end. Not long after I sent off the eight copies of the book which were required to enter the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, I received a letter from Claremont, along with the return of my books. Here is what the letter said:

Thank you for submitting Occam’s Razor for the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. However, because only full-length volumes (a full-length volume of poetry is generally understood to be 48+ pages in length) are eligible for the award I am returning your submission. When you publish a full-length title, we hope that you will consider submitting it to the Tufts Poetry Awards.

I have deposited this letter under a file labeled Irony. I had purposely designed my book to resemble little books from the alternate press I remembered from my youth on the Lower East Side in the 1960s. And I didn’t number the pages either. All the poems were quite short, most just a few lines long. They are poems that had been published in good little magazines, including Gargoyle, Exquisite Corpse, Qarrtsiluni, and the South Boston Literary Gazette, among others. One poem about President Obama was published online in the Chicago Tribune, in fact, it was the lead poem to honor the President upon his first election.

Occam’s Razor consists of 137 poems, and the book is actually 60 pages long. That is 12 pages longer than what the Tufts award committee generally understands to be a full-length volume of poetry. Someone at the Kingsley Tufts award decided that my book didn’t look like a full-length book, so they rejected it without actually checking to see how many poems there were and how many pages comprised the book. It is what happens to the majority of poetry books which are submitted to awards or grant-giving organizations. It is what happens when your work is deemed to be not on the inside looking out, but peering into the dance hall from an outside window. It is not fair, and yet no one ever said that poetry awards were fair. It is just how these things are done. It is also called the same old same old or business as usual. Am I crazy to think that poetry should have a higher standard?

 

 

 

 

MG Stephens

M. G. Stephens is the author of eighteen books, including the novel The Brooklyn Book of the Dead (“a great, great book,” says Roddy Doyle), and the essay collection Green Dreams, which Joyce Carol Oates picked as one of the notable nonfiction books of the 20th century in Best American Essays of the Century.

4 Poems [by Lea Graham]

Namecouth, (adj.) known by name; well-known, famous; notorious (rare).

Let’s say Maurice the Pants Man or
Rizutti’s Good Night Café what used
to be Old Billy’s Lounge now charred

on Millbury Street down from what was
once Stony O’Brien’s where your Gram
used to sit with her boyfriends into

her 60s, drinking gin & giving
you & your brother & sister
quarters for the jukebox, now called

Nick’s (cuz Vincent & Nicole are so
in love, says Captain Bob). Let’s say
the Greyhound that used to be

Rafferty’s & before that a name
I can’t pronounce in Gaelic & where
they say the Baker was blown & shat

that girl & I wonder which corner
or john & how much stench that place,
that dark place where we all go to watch

the World Cup with Richie Scales,
Allie Bombz, Bells & Whistles—
Everyone, you tell me, has another

name or several, better known than
their own: Giant Jesus & Baby
Jesus, Husky Jay & Bakery Joe,

Trojan Mick & Pacman Pat, Lord Pork,
Fat Ron, Polish Stosh & the Warrior.
Even in Texas, Michael mentions

“the Vernon” to Sue, his liquor
store gal from the Woo, who gives him
the thousand mile stare. She says,

Bucket o’ Blood & We were told
to look away, cross ourselves
& the street when passing that place.










“Because We Can’t Paint Flowers & Reclining Nudes & People Playing the Cello Anymore”

Thanks, Barnett Newman. As if we ever could here in America. The Island
once called “Scalpintown.” Kelley Square’s “Sacrifice Division.” Dimey beers
or hot baths for a nickel. The Nines voted “best crack.” A grafittied whale breaches

off the Vernon’s east wall, witness to the goings. White City’s alligators shot
basking on Tattasit. The Zip destroyed in fire. The Barrel auctioned to Cork.
There’s Providence to the south. Rumors of tunnels. Bathsheba Spooner hung

with child, buried under a rock near the road to Green Hill’s tool shed.
Kunitz’s father stilled on a bench across from the Greek church, carbolic acid in
Hand among the elms of Elm Park. The ghost of my own little dog still barking.











Poetics of the Scratched Patron

For Garin Cycholl

If Matthew O’Leary call 911!
A universe withdrawn to corners,
miniaturizing or what bears the mark

of infinity. Lana Do-Ya-Wanna,
always in our daydreams, the house protects
the dreamer. For dealing in the john, Richie,

this cosmos of the half-open. How we
take root, day after day, in a corner
of the world, Carol No-Teeth, before out-

spread fields & daring Lisa B. “The Leach”
to daring associations. Round cries,
Bum Tommy, of round being. Alive,

contradictions accumulate. Bobbie
Serve- At-Your- Own-Risk’s intimacy or
imagined as a vertical being

with increased intensity. Doyle—the fat
one, subject to dispersions. The mind loses,
Big-Jugs-Jeanie, its geometric

homeland. None other, CC & Hang, of
a wine deep sea. Larry & Steve the-Human-
Ferris-Wheel imagining degrees in

unity or Nelly “the Canolli”
fighting Jonny Mumbles under the sky’s
cupola, this curdled quiet trembles

before Al’s buddy, Damien, sensing
a square’s stability or what depth these
echoes, Giant Tony, seems memory’s

refuge. The simpler the image, Georgie
“for swearing at bartenders,” the vaster
this dream. Recalls songs, charms, pure threshold

 









Song of Bakery Joe

I drive through other people’s dreams.
Lilac & rudbeckia in rinsed-out brandy

bottles for the ladies when I can, rye,
pumpernickel, you-name-it until noon

at the Vernon leaving day-olds for regulars
to do something nice ya know cuz it never hurt

nobody where I go to write poems to Our Lady
of the Dollar Draft, Venus of the Blackstone,

her sweet-smiling Keno screens bring luck,
rest before song—sweet   

 sha-da-da-da   dream sha-da-da-da
baby…









Lea

Lea Graham is the author of the forthcoming chapbook, This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch (Apt. 9 Press, 2016), the poetry book, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011) and the chapbook, Calendar Girls (above /ground press, 2006). Her poems, translations and reviews have been published in Notre Dame Review, Southern Humanities Review and Fifth Wednesday. She is a contributing editor for Atticus Review’s feature, “Boo’s Hollow,” which showcases poets’ writing on place.  She is an Associate Professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

3 Poems [by Terence Winch]

The End of the World Polka

 

There is a story about a ghost   who knelt in the attic with his

mouth open, his tongue hanging out,

and even the wind was frightened

of him, and even the moon and stars

were frightened of him. He could extract

all the wisdom out of everyone in the house

and devour all the holiness and knowledge

that ever hath been embedded in the hearts

of all who dwelt in that dark place

of pestilence. Oh, who would ever deny it?

Who would have enough air to inhale

the necessary antidotes of fierce courage

and forbidden thoughts of everlastingness?

 

The constellations wink and the deep and terrifying dark of the unthinkable

universe, the one, you know, that keeps expanding further and further out

into the farthest reaches of the tiny molecule that is the actual universe

wherein all the other

supposedly infinite universes reside,

that deep and terrifying dark

releases its hot, uptown electricity

into the cosmic, comic fallen world of light, where people get married,

daughters talk back to their fathers,

and one spidery ding in the windshield

spreads everywhere throughout the kingdom

until the ground cracks open

and the priests fall in to their doom.

 

 

 

Irish Town

 

The drunken girls are in the ocean.
When they come out it will be time for Mass
and communion at St. Camillus. Our souls
are scrubbed clean by now, though we eye
their lovely curves outlined in tight white skirts.

There are no strangers here. We are all immigrants
to the 20th century and we learn time
with our feet. We can smell the music
like the new mown meadows of the homeland.
Over here, we have too much to eat
but never enough to fill us up.

We talk incessantly in our sleep
and we are always asleep. Our dreams
are ridiculous cartoons about monsters
that nonetheless wake us with our own screams.
We are stupid about love, dumb about sex,
and captured for life by the rapture of loss.

 

 

 

Incidents of Travel in the Minivan  

 

I wake up in a car park at the airport
in Darbytown, a medium-sized city
125 miles from Wellington, New Zealand.
I have only just landed, and it is a
beautiful, sparkling day. I find myself

Sitting behind the wheel of my rental
van, consulting a map, when the only
other motorist in the car park, a few
spaces away, yells over to me, “Hey,
mate, there’s a condor on your roof.
Best beware.” As you probably know

Condors are about as big as the average
sized man, and they are known to
snatch drivers right out of their cars,
who are never seen again. I immediately
hit the button to close the window

And that’s when I hear it. The condor
growling like a mad dog, angry
that I have closed the window before he
can grab me and make off with his prey.
Until then, I did not know a bird could growl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TW Dec 2014

Terence Winch’s most recent books are This Way Out (Hanging Loose Press, 2014), Lit from Below (Salmon Poetry [Ireland], 2013), and Falling Out of Bed in a Room with No Floor (Hanging Loose, 2011). He has received various awards and honors, including an American Book Award, an NEA grant, and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing.

Poem [by Vincent Katz]

Mais Suave Igualmente Eficaz

 

I saw something on Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana
photophilia an all-white showroom called Arpoador

adesivos personalizados envelopamento dos veiculos
and just off Avenida Atlantica:

bikinis yellow umbrellas beach chairs abandoned facing ocean
two fishing boats anchored

rock islands shooting up out of plane
cloud tumults blue harbored in midst of streaks dark hovering

thought I saw a shrine to bespectacled poet of Rio
but it was only a figure of public interest

two girls in black bikinis far away and long ago bend to consider wares
of beach vendor, then don their street apparel, white

young men with wide chests, exposed elderly women free in sidestreet breeze
dumptruck full of earth and rocks, dripping brown water on mosaics

Cariocas afraid rain will damage leather or imitation-leather
their frame of mind, ultimate desire to go to beach

no one believes sitting on a beach in the rain could be a good thing,
as on Long Island, or Maine, or other places we have attempted it

good we were able to forget those
attempters of life-structuring, our lives in particular, which brook no structure

our lives must fall, as yellow petals fall to mosaics, in rhythms which turn
discotheques to museums, museums to bookstores, bookstores to rain

endless walking in front of beach looking walking mountains loom
voracious mouth of violence glutted but is now sorriso of banjo player

endless bodies of looking, comparison in front of beach,
in front as day slips from noon to afternoon

in everyone’s biography, one mysterious detail: they all die
of all geniuses who lived, hasn’t one figured out how not to die?

life in this moment, siren breaking through
in two-pitch whine, waking from mid-life slumber

see things few see — parts of lives —
tiny silhouette across jumping into lighted space

light sectors in darkened building sit and watch, decide
not unimportant, not nothing, but

everything happening we are gifted with
possibility of any moment

how can clouds be white against dark sky?
how can person be ready for trip from one continent to another?

lying on beach in mid-city, looking up,
seeing one single illuminated point in all the darkness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

vincent-katz

Vincent Katz is a poet, translator, and critic. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, two books of translation, and his art criticism has been published in numerous books, catalogues, and journals. He is the editor of Black Mountain College: Experiement In Art, published by MIT Press in 2002 and reprinted in 2013.  He is the author of The Complete Elegies Of Sextus Propertius (Princeton, 2004), Alcuni Telefonini, a collaboration with painter Francesco Clemente published by Granary Books, and One-Liners, a chapbook from Faux Press.  He was the publisher of the poetry and arts journal VANITAS during its 10-year run and continues to publish Libellum books.  He curates the Readings in Contemporary Poetry series at Dia Chelsea and is on the staff of the MFA Program in Art Criticism and Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he has taught the courses “The Poet As Critic” and “Investigating Interdisciplinarity.” This poem above is from his upcoming book Swimming Home.

 

 

 

 

Poem [by Vincent Katz]

 

A walking way; a people.
Body grimace, affect; orange.
Butts, faces, guts; trimness.
        Movement, pause.

Sun red ball; sliver moon.
Endless traffic; sky haze.
Skyscraper; low-lying house.
        Garden; enormous.

Silent over jungle; hours.
Back and forth; border.
Sleep sitting wait; possible.
        Impossible.

Far below, clouds; float.
Shadows on ocean; below.
Light of sun; endless.
        Ending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

vincent-katz
Vincent Katz is a poet, translator, and critic. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, two books of translation, and his art criticism has been published in numerous books, catalogues, and journals. He is the editor of Black Mountain College: Experiement In Art, published by MIT Press in 2002 and reprinted in 2013.  He is the author of The Complete Elegies Of Sextus Propertius (Princeton, 2004), Alcuni Telefonini, a collaboration with painter Francesco Clemente published by Granary Books, and One-Liners, a chapbook from Faux Press.  He was the publisher of the poetry and arts journal VANITAS during its 10-year run and continues to publish Libellum books.  He curates the Readings in Contemporary Poetry series at Dia Chelsea and is on the staff of the MFA Program in Art Criticism and Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he has taught the courses “The Poet As Critic” and “Investigating Interdisciplinarity.” This poem above is from his upcoming book Swimming Home.