Tuesday, August 18, 2009
And most of us are far guiltier in stretching the chronological limits of what from the past we sift and coalesce into ideal. As Wordsworth was to say, in an article he wrote for Coleridge's The Friend (1809): "There are two errors into which we may easily slip when thinking of past times." One error lies in overlooking "the large overbalance of worthlessness that has been swept away," and selecting only the very best as "typical." In our imaginative voyaging through the past, we are like those travelers through the jungle who are told where the grave mounds of giants from earlier days may be found. When we find the grave, with the remains of what may indeed prove to have been a giant, we then assume that he was typical ("There were giants in those days") rather than that he had been given such a mound in the first place and then remembered simply because he happened to have been a giant. The second error is that we so quickly, in our habitual feelings, divide time merely into two parts, past and present, and then "place these in the balance . . . not considering that the present is in our estimation not more than a period of thirty years, or half a century at most, and that the past is a mighty accumulation of many such periods." It is precisely for these reasons that, as Ortega y Gasset was to say in our own century, every age will inevitably feel itself "empty" in comparison with the past.
I always find it fascinating when someone generalizes as to what we all do mentally. Bate addresses other profound issues in this book as well, including taste, influence and recognized achievement in (Western) poetry.
As for writers, Bate makes it seem that the search for an original phrase or expression is not unique to modern times: Bate quotes (page 3) Khakheperresenb, an Egyptian scribe who lived sometime around 2000 B.C., who wrote, "Would I had phrases that are not known, utterances that are strange, in new language that has not been used, free from repetition, not an utterance which has grown stale, which men of old have spoken."
Here is another passage I especially like. In it, Bate considers the achievements of the English Romantic poets and what directions may afford opportunities for writers today (pages 115 - 116):
And yet, with all the strikes against them, the greater Romantics still succeeded (astonishingly, when we remember that in England we are dealing with only some twenty-five or thirty years, in a nation with about a twenty-fifth of the population of the English-speaking world now). To try to touch on what each of them did would demand not only another lecture but a series of lectures, and ideally a step-by-step biography of the drama of each writer's life. I use this moment to plead for a more sympathetic - a more psychologically and a more literarily informed - use of biography: a recognition of what the artist confronted in what were for him the most important things with which to struggle (his craft and his whole relation with tradition, with what has been done and with what he hopes can still be done). In comparison, so much to which we confine ourselves in literary biography is far less relevant - no more relevant than it would be for any number of other people who had devoted their years to doing nothing. (It is like assuming, as Coleridge said, that every "deer-stealer" had it in him to become a Shakespeare.) Strangely, biographies of statesmen or scientists (or artists in other fields) are less guilty of this reductionism to the "deer-stealer" approach, and will focus primarily on what the man really did, why and how he was great: the situation he inherited and his struggle with that inheritance. Why are we alone so shy of the essential? As with biography, so with the reconsideration of literary history itself that we now seem about to make: here too these concerns could profitably be nearer the center of our thinking.
If we are forced to try to answer our question in a few sentences, we have only to repeat the cliches about Romanticism - but with a special imaginative sympathy for the particular question we have been discussing here - and we can get a tolerable notion of what at least permitted, if it did not create, this remarkable end-product of the eighteenth century, which provided the creative capital off which the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth (though in the latter case uneasily) has continued to live. For example, one answer is surely to be found in the opening up of new subject matters where the challenge of the past was less oppressive: simple life (of which there were to be twentieth-century urban as well as romantically rural varieties), children, the poor and socially slighted; landscape and scenery; such inward experiences as revery, dream, and mysticism; the whole concept of the "strange" either to awaken attention through difference in mode or phrase, to explore something really new, or to provide setting and focus for familiar nostalgia; the past itself in periods or ways not previously exploited by the traditional genres; the geographically remote or unusual, or conversely its apparent opposite (for example, Wordsworth; or the young Emerson on the central challenge of the age: "I ask not for the great, the remote . . . I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low"). Every attempt to "define" Romanticism in the light of a subject is doomed to failure except as it applies to a limited part. For the opening of new subject matters, as of approach, proceeds in almost every direction, like spokes pointing outward from the hub of a wheel but with no rim to encase them. The one thing they all have in common is an interest or hope in the hitherto unexploited. And despite the strong attraction of twentieth-century post-romantic formalism to ideals of retrenchment and self-limitation, that still remains with us as a premise with which we are disinclined to quarrel.
Only you can improve the audience for poetry.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Please tell us about the genesis of your book.
Spot of Bleach is an organic mix of sensibility and growth up until the time book was printed in 2006, dating back to poetry first written in 1980 when I wrote the sestina “Twisted, A Sestina of Love” at a writing class at Columbia University. As I put the book together, it seemed to choose its own subjects from which I named chapters.
The placement of the chapters took some time to figure out. I took the book apart and put it together several times before being sure the fit was right. Finally it made sense that the very risqué love story should go at the end. I wrote that story in 2001 when I attended the creative writing program at CCNY, where I earned my second masters.
From the very beginning, my creative writings caused a riff in every writing class. Other members became angry about my style and very often argued about my characters complaining that the characters didn’t make them feel empathy. Most professors pointed out that the very thing that the other students didn’t like about my characters, are the things that make the characters alive and real.
What's the one thing you most want people to know about your book?
The book evolved out life experience, creativity, and my powers of observation. There are many stories to tell and within this volume I tell many. You may hate what I write about or how I write, but I promise this book won’t bore you.
I need writing like air and this book is what I breathed out. I call my poems “my offspring” because I have given them life. In that regard, the book is a parallel expression of the years from which the works are collected, an assortment of articles, stories, philosophical meanderings or what may now be called flash fiction along with narrative poetry.
Please tell us a little about the photographs that are included in your collection and how you see them as complementing the poems.
Years ago after I purchased my first digital, people said I had a good eye for showing things in a different perspective. Since the book is very personal, the photos add to this view by showing more about how I see things. For example, the cover section Philosophy has a photo I took while in Thailand visiting the Golden Buddha. The cover for the chapter forms is a famous rock form in Los Cabos. The cover pic came to me in a dream, and although the pic was ten years old, it was an urban pic of me in Central Park with my favorite statue, the Lewis Carroll Statue of Alice in Wonderland.
A Barbara Walters question: If you were a poem by any writer, which poem would you be and why?
I would be “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. Since childhood, I have loved that poem and trees have always appealed to me. I watch the moon and stars through stark branches. I watch the trees change season-to-season and sometimes fall into ill health or get blown over in a storm. Living in a big city as I do, trees are my opportunity to commune with nature. I’m lucky my building is in the northern tip of Manhattan Island where there are many parks. My apartment overlooks an extended spot of nature near the highway. I have several poems inspired by nature and trees.
Why do you write poetry?
I write because I have to; I don’t have a choice. Writing is my first love. I need writing to survive. My poetry has evolved along with me to do more than only share stories. Sometimes there’s a story within, but it will only be one facet of the entire poem which has taken on existential and surreal elements, especially in my newer bluetry series and other writing which can be seen on my blog.
Do you think the Internet is a good complement to writing—or does it just get in the way?
The internet is made for networking and research or maybe just made for me. I can surf all day and network endlessly and it seems to fit my style. It works for me. Look at all the things I’ve done on Facebook alone; first I made a fan club for someone else then for myself, then for a magazine which published my work. Then I promoted several other groups and people. Afterwards I became an editor for The Cartier Street Review and another editor took note of all this activity and asked me to edit an anthology with her. The internet helps move things along.
The only problem I see with this is for a solitary person like me, it encourages me to stay in the house and remain solitary. Why go out when I can accomplish so much sitting in front of a computer?
Do you believe all poetry is political—or just some poems?
I think all poetry is political to the extent that life is political. Every time we make a statement or write a sentence it has wider implications, unless all you say is pass the butter, and even something like that can be made political. Why not get up and get the butter yourself? So much is a mechanism of social behavior we learn. And why must we follow norms? Who is it who decides what norms to follow?
I have always rebelled against norms. For example, I love to eat with my hands instead of a fork, I love to bring up subjects that could be embarrassing. I often write about relationships based on power structures. Work relationships and the structure of work are also political so if you write about work then, in essence, it’s political. Some poetry is blatantly political, concerning the presidency or human rights. More subtle poetry is about relationships or written from a woman’s or man’s view. Sometimes people don’t consider my work political in spite of the fact that I often address social issues in my writing.
Please share with us one poem from the collection, and then riff a little about the journey the poem takes the reader on.
Professional caregivers often suffer and burn out because of our pain. It’s a difficult job to keep giving with no payback in sight except to know you’ve done right by someone, so I related. That night, I said I’m going to write a poem about this baby and JoAnne said, Please do, it would help me to deal with it.
Others who have heard me read this before will request it at readings. I'm actually quite bad at attending readings which is kind of strange because there's this dichotomy; I'm very friendly and outgoing while simultaneously reclusive and shy. The other thing to remember is that when blues first emerged, they said it wasn’t “real” music and the same with jazz. Dare to be different, I’ve lived my life by that code.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a series of bluetry poems. I labeled them bluetry (yes I made it up) because this series concerns the common themes of blues. This year has been a year for the blues for me. I was compelled to write these. The first bluetry I wrote invokes Billie Holiday—one of my all-time favorites—and is called “I sing the blues for you today.” This poem took me three months before I knew where I was.
I threw Billie’s lines in the bluetry and they took off. I also have a bluetry poem about a dog rescue and canned hunts, another passion of mine. What I see happening in my poetry and writing is that I mix more elements together and take risks. I take a pinch of surreal, mix with equal parts enthusiasm and passion, add existentialism and observations, throw in some reality and voilà!
The most frequent comment about my work usually concerns its honesty and openness or something about my passion. Absolutely, I write with passion, the way I live. People often write me about my poetry and comment on my life being so sad. I don’t know what to do about that really but passion is evoked from intensity. That is the way I am and the way I was born. Perhaps artists become artists because they do feel things more intensely.
From way back I always have a pen in my hand. Now I mostly sit in front of the computer but if I'm forced to go out, I've always got pen and paper at hand and most often use it. Now, I have very little time, being totally involved with two current projects, editor at The Cartier Street Review, and also for The Smoking Book, an anthology concerning smoke, fire, fog, or anything that concerns smoke. I also write interviews for Street Literature Review, the paper mag. It’s also time to return to that unfinished 186 page novel and just spit it out! I love writing and love reading. Being busy with passion is what I live for.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Novack jumps in and out of each of her characters magically, like Sissy jumps in and out of the pool in the back yard and Eva jumps into wayward trouble without her mother around to set her straight. As easily as an able person can enter and leave a shower, she follows their watery moody depths from one situation to the next. Like the stick of a pinprick, punctiliously moving from one character to the next, she reveals the most hidden thoughts of each character.
Natalia wants more than what she has with her introverted reserved husband, Frank, who spends all has spare time beneath his car. Nostalgic for her gypsy roots, and romance, Natalia decides to leave. When her teenage daughter, Eva, tries to convince Natalia to stay, her mom replies, “A person’s heart doesn’t shed itself like a tree in winter, it doesn’t bare itself just because you want it to.” Natalia, bored with her life, her husband, and her children, idealizing her freedom and seeking new experiences, leaves on a trip to Europe with the doctor she works for. Natalia’s fantasies don’t play out how she imagined. Once in Europe and alone with the doctor, Natalia discovers she’s more bored with him than she ever was with her husband. Since her early childhood, Natalia had yearned to return to her gypsy family, a desire nourished by faint distant memories mixed with tales she heard from her adopted family.
Surprised, Natalia finds herself desperately pining away for her children and Frank, reminiscing longingly. This, combined with her sadness about her feelings of loss is what drives Natalia back home. Novack is inside her character’s heads, she knows them intimately.
“Didn’t he suddenly want to give Eva what a girl like her so desperately wants – to see herself through another’s eyes and to find that she is precisely as she wishes but never quite believes – beautiful and full of possibility.” Seeing ourselves through the eyes of others is what we all think we want - until we do it and are often caught off guard in what we see. We often wish to see the world through the other’s eyes. Novack has hit the nail direct.
Eva is filled with anger and wanting more, yet stuck with her kid sister, Sissy and her Dad when Mom abandons them. Eva searches for love and finds separation and sorrow in the middle of nowhere as do all teenage girls in trouble. Eva keeps herself alive and vibrant through her interactions with Sissy, her pivot. Eva is guilty for being a young girl who goes out to hang out with boys and have an affair with an older married man while she is responsible for taking care of her younger sibling. Eva sustains herself by feeding stories to Sissy. Eva’s stories are fed on exasperation mixed with myth and her anguished insights into adult behavior. Disillusioned by love, her family, her mom’s return home instead of righting things in the family, sends Eva over the edge into a place she cannot come back from.
The title of the book, Precious, and the placing of the title in the story raised a childhood memory for me. As a youngster from a poverty stricken Jewish family in New York City, filled with illness and sorrow, I watched my sister pamper her dolls. I was not permitted to touch my sister’s dolls because although she was eleven and I was six, she held on to her dolls for dear life. She had very little too and was miserable. I respected her belongings because I feared her temper. She’d hit me before. I only got my first new doll (not hand me downs or throwaways) the Christmas after this ensuing event. I had another sister eight years older than me too. One day after we’d all arrived home from school almost simultaneously at about three-ten; my sister discovered her beloved porcelain doll with its head broken off.
Because my sister could see no other possible culprit, she accused me of breaking the doll and proceeded to beat living daylights out of me with no interference from anyone in my family. Later, I was surprised to learn my mother had kept silent and let me take a beating for something she knew I hadn’t done. That made no sense. Several days later, mom divulged she’d had a guest that day who had brought her small child with her when she visited and mom had not paid attention to the child. I surmise my mom was afraid of my sister’s temper too and that was why she let me take that beating. I had no clue back then. I was six years old.
The doll in Novack’s tale is also ruined when Sissy and her best friend Vicki fight about who can play with the doll at a sleepover. During their struggle when the doll is literally ripped in two, Vicki becomes Sissy’s ex best friend. I wondered why a half page description about a doll named Precious becomes the title. Maybe because relationships and people mean more than we imagine and when we give them up we discover their preciosity and maybe because of the evocative tone of Novack’s descriptions. After all, Novack’s words brought my memory back to me from my six-year old self.
It is Vicki, Sissy’s ex best friend, who broke Sissy’s favorite doll Precious, who goes missing, never to be seen alive again. Vicki’s disappearance drives the story forth, revolving around every character’s angles. The townspeople come together to try to help Ginny deal with the loss of her child. Natalia is conflicted with survivor guilt and grateful her children are safe even if she had nothing to do with keeping them safe. She cannot confront Eva’s behavior and accusations. Eva and Frank are unforgiving and relentless in their judgments. Natalia rehearses speeches she cannot say while struggling to regain her footing in a lost life.
After reading Precious, I ask, what possibly couldn’t and won’t go wrong? Isn’t that the way of the world, after all? Everything in the world goes amiss, changes in lives occur in a finger snap. Novack’s lyrical and haunting prose maintains a rhythm; she doesn’t skip a beat.
It reminds me of a Woody Allen character who announces, dead-pan, earnestness exuding from his pores, “It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics: sooner or later everything turns to shit.” And in this small town turned topsy-turvy through a whirlwind of unconnected events, that is exactly what occurs inside Novack’s elegant poetic prose.
When we read others writings and feel inspired by what we read, plus the author provokes memories, this is where we explore the connections. It is in this vein I write, to reach the person who reads and responds with their guts, with passion.
Novack reminds us that every day we make choices in our losses. Each moment begins with new choices. Each choice provides new possibilities. We live with daily decision-making processes that influence us as we plunder through our lives. Novack exposes our most primal fears concerning approval and loss. She makes us wonder if anything new will ever take the place of what we lose or if there’s even the slightest chance to begin to fill all the empty spaces from all our losses put together. Wounds hurt. At funerals divorces and such, people always try to assuage sadness by saying things like, “Oh, it gets better as time goes on,” but that’s absolutely untrue. Some hurts last a lifetime. Trust me, I’ve had a few.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
“A Man May Change”
by Marvin Bell
As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.
From http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=175942 accessed 20 July 2009.
Question for discussion:
* What do you think is “the regular weather of ordinary days”?
“An Introduction to My Anthology”
by Marvin Bell
Such a book must contain—
it always does!—a disclaimer.
I make no such. For here
I have collected all the best—
the lily from the field among them,
forget-me-nots and mint weed,
a rose for whoever expected it,
and a buttercup for the children
to make their noses yellow.
Here is clover for the lucky
to roll in, and milkweed to clatter,
a daisy for one judgment,
and a violet for when he loves you
or if he loves you not and why not.
Those who sniff and say no,
These are the wrong ones (and
there always are such people!)—
let them go elsewhere, and quickly!
For you and I, who have made it this far,
are made happy by occasions
requiring orchids, or queenly arrangements
and even a bird-of-paradise,
but happier still by the flowers of
circumstance, cattails of our youth,
field grass and bulrush. I have included
the devil’s paintbrush
but only as a peacock among barn fowl.
From http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=175938 accessed 20 July 2009
Question for discussion:
* What could be “the flowers of circumstance”?
by Marvin Bell
If I am sentenced not to talk to you,
and you are sentenced not to talk to me,
then we wear the clothes of the desert
serving that sentence, we are the leaves
trampled underfoot, not even fit to be
ground in for food, then we are the snow.
If you are not what I take you to be,
and I am not what you take me to be,
then we are the glass the bridegroom smashes,
the lost tribes underfoot, no one sees,
no one can speak to us, in such seas we
drift in we cannot be saved, we are the rain.
If I am unable to help myself,
and you are unable to help yourself,
then anything will happen but nothing follows,
we eat constantly but nothing satisfies.
We live, finally, on the simplest notions:
bits of glass in the head’s reticent weather.
From http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=175934 accessed 20 July 2009
Question for discussion:
* What is the value of communication?
Only you can improve the audience for poetry.
Friday, August 07, 2009
by William Stafford (pictured, right)
Day after day up there beating my wings
with all the softness truth requires
I feel them shrug whenever I pause:
they class my voice among tentative things,
And they credit fact, force, battering.
I dance my way toward the family of knowing,
embracing stray error as a long-lost boy
and bringing him home with my fluttering.
Every quick feather asserts a just claim;
it bites like a saw into white pine.
I communicate right; but explain to the dean—
well, Right has a long and intricate name.
And the saying of it is a lonely thing.
from http://www.newsfromnowhere.com/stafford/stafford00.html accessed 7 August 209
"I've always believed in the Keirkegaardian notion that education, real education, begins when the teacher learns from the students, when there's a reciprocity." ~Theodore Roethke (pictured, right)
In this updated version of her landmark book Learning to Listen, Learning to
Teach , celebrated adult educator Jane Vella (pictured, right) revisits her twelve principles of dialogue education with a new theoretical perspective gleaned from the discipline of quantum physics. Vella sees the path to learning as a holistic, integrated, spiritual, and energetic process. She uses engaging, personal stories of her work in a variety of adult learning settings, in different countries and with different educational purposes, to show readers how to utilize the twelve principles in their own practice with any type of adult learner, anywhere.
On Teaching and Learning takes the ideas explored in renowned educator Jane Vella’s best-selling book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach to the next level and explores how dialogue education has been applied in educational settings around the world. Throughout the book, she shows how to put the principles and practices of dialogue education into action and uses illustrative stories and examples from her extensive travels. Dialogue education values inquiry, integrity, and commitment to equity—values that are also central to democracy. Learners are treated as beings worthy of respect, recognized for the knowledge and experience they bring to the learning experience. Dialogue education emphasizes the importance of safety and belonging. It is an approach that welcomes one’s certainties and one’s questions.
When a person encounters another person in total immediacy, he or she may also experience a glimpse of God. ~Martin Buber (pictured, right)
September 1, 1939
by W.H. Auden (pictured, right)
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
And the international wrong.
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
– W. H. Auden
from http://poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15545 accessed 7 August 2009
Only you can improve the audience for poetry.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Christ's poems are full of colorful snapshots of people, the poems themselves bearing the brightness of Polaroid moments. Along the journey, we meet monks in Tibet, Fyodor Dostoyevsky at a dinner party, and even God. In the title poem "Philip and the Poet," we are swept away with feelings of nostalgia as the speaker recalls watching a young boy dive into the water with a head full of imagination:
there goes Philip in my memory,
trotting toward the water, calling out
"To the Netherlands!" or maybe "To China!"
Read the full review here.
Only you can improve the audience for poetry.