Saturday, January 26, 2008

For those headed to AWP

Stop by the Packingtown Review table at the AWP Bookfair in NYC (January 30 – February 2). They are assigned table # 513 in “Americas Hall II” at the Hilton, which you can access from the third floor. The inaugural issue is due out in November and since they do not yet have a journal to distribute they are going to display my poem, "Memory of Water" at their table as well as hand out copies of it. So if you are going to AWP, please go by and pick up a copy (and tell the editors, Tasha Fouts & Snezana Zabic, hello for me!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Praise of Melancholy

If you've been subjected to the same interminable run of dreary, lead sky days as we have here in Missouri, read this and relish your seasonally enhanced gloom. Who says we have to be happy?

Eric G. Wilson writes,"American happiness is a temptation, one to which I've succumbed on several occasions. More than once I've grown weary of the pervasive gloom of my soul. Like millions of other Americans, I have tried to flee the sadness, attempted to escape, by any means possible, the weight, the fatigue, the fret. Let's be serious: Life, in any form, is terribly and irredeemably hard. Why shouldn't we all scurry from the heartache in the most superficial ways possible, through BlackBerrys and Lexapro and liposuction? Why shouldn't we bask in the gaudy glow of the pervasive American dream? What's lost in this collective stupor? What's wrong, finally, with wanting nothing but bliss?

At the behest of well-meaning friends, I have purchased books on how to be happy. I have tried to turn my chronic scowl into a bright smile. I have attempted to become more active, to get out of my dark house and away from my somber books and participate in the world of meaningful action. I have taken up jogging, the Latin language, and the chair of a university English department. I have fostered the drive to succeed in my career. I have bought an insurance policy, a PalmPilot, and a cellphone. I have taken an interest in Thanksgiving and Christmas, in keeping my hair trimmed short, and in meticulously ironing my clothes. I have viewed Doris Day and Frank Capra movies. I have feigned interest in the health of others. I have dropped into the habit of saying "great" and "wonderful" as much as possible. I have pretended to take seriously certain good causes designed to make the world a better place. I have contemplated getting a dog. I have started eating salads. I have tried to discipline myself in nodding knowingly. I have tried to be mindful of others but ended up pissed as hell. I have written a book on the hard-earned optimism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I have undertaken yoga. I have stopped yoga and gone into tai chi. I have thought of going to psychiatrists and getting some drugs. I have quit all of this and then started again and then once more quit. Now I plan to stay quit. The road to hell is paved with happy plans.

My basic instinct is toward melancholia — a state I must nourish. In fostering my essential nature, I'm trying to live according to what I see as my deep calling. Granted, it's difficult at times to hold hard to this vocation, this labor in the fields of sadness. But I realize somewhere in the core of my bones that I was born to the blues."

Read an except from his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, being published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Artrageous Fridays

This is the poster I designed for Columbia's quarterly art crawl. Our cool little town boasts an event that:
"blends a classic gallery crawl with a quirky downtown festival" wherein "local galleries and downtown businesses merge to highlight artists’ talents and the city’s quirky, growing visual arts center. It's more than just a crawl, it's an experience."
If you happen to be in the Columbia area, join us next week for some serious fun!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

the lion weeps tonight

sad lion
Some bird had quite an aim.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Do Something Beautiful

This Sentence

(does not seem to contain a main clause)

As though it interrupted the rain, this arabesque
kick of silver. Spun sand-veil, in the storm.
Its broken bodies
Light. As though the small across the dimstopped
the road. Or as if shyness surrendered its torture, in order
to laugh. As though a war heard its name, and listened
to prayer. As
though last light would wait for my own entrance,
skirt hem dirty but so utterly available.

If light, used, as an old idea, fractured shard plunged in
as a murder undeserved and terrible. And told as often as
the death of Christ, this is how it is, this is how it was.

If light crashed and Iwalked in it, insistent,
if I entered and if it hurt.
And if the dark were no heroine with a tragic flaw,
not strange.
As though a simple stop. Mere veil, to save it. Light,
I mean, broken, as a spine. Light, at the borders of
our sentence, living on the train of the gown
as we do, available for lifting.
Here is what it has led to.

I don't know where I first stumbled upon a poem by Margo Berdeshevsky but once I did I was smitten. I googled her name and found no books but discovered she was a Chelsea award winner so I ordered that volume which featured 5 more of her poems. They were so stunning I located an email address and wrote to let her know what her poems had meant to me and to ask where I could find more. This was several years ago. We've been in touch ever since and I have eagerly awaited the arrival of her first book of poems "But a Passage in Wilderness" which finally came out from Sheep Meadow Press and arrived last week. The cover features one of her photo montages as she is not only a poet but a photographer (as well as an accomplished actress.)

Her broken sentences and syntax encase beauty, grief and rage at the spoiled world, the violence and brutality woven into lavish and wondrous creation. She bemoans our impotence, physically and spiritually, in thwarting the bewildering havoc and destruction imposed on innocents by man as well as nature. And yet in her furious complaint is a pleading, for light, hope, praise, reconciliation, love and the implication we can achieve such. From "Who Were Those Pretty:"

Five billion nights of fixing. The repaired sky hangs loose
as old men's flesh. How being a human invokes ritual, grief

for spiritual breakage, do I mean breakthrough? Nothing will help you
brace for the broken mind, the fall of the fair jester, the too sad man
in a Paris chair, wailing. Nothing will help you sew solace into the skin.

Our hope is torn from the scrape of God's womb.
Bless the broken, scars, all over this sky.

Berdeshevsky's frustration lies in the interstices between what is and what should be. Although the world simmers with beauty and offers solace, it whispers loudly of another world, a kinder rendition of the one we know. Reading these poems is like wading through the wreckage of a storm after its receded, seeing what you loved floating in ruin, each remnant a reminder of a of past love, a meal, a child, a face, a place, and as you fill your arms with as many salvaged pieces as you can carry away to start anew, you feel the sun's warmth on your face and look up, once again, into that now familiar and washed blue sky and in spite of yourself can't keep your heart handing over the keys.

Lastly, from one of my favorites:

But a Passage in Wilderness


But a woman prepares to cross the perfumed
river, little crying.

She has left candles placed like birds with folded wings.
When they are lit, she will watch their heartbeats burn.

night-sphinx of rivers, am I eye to eye with your light,
or closer to your claw, tell me this.

Sings the thousand prayers like ponies vying with winners, how
they know the course, but cannot stretch their white-downed spines
to gallop, can't span the fathoms with kicked light.

Broken-eyed roses, colts, don't fall!
Dark matter of the daily heart, do something beautiful. Do this.