Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fitting and not fitting

While I was doing my research I pretty much ignored Chile and in fact I have completely ignored Gabriela Mistral because I figure everyone else has written about her already, and she's well known. Ultimately I have to go and read her poems and read something about her life - in fact, probably I'm being stupid and there's a biography of her out there in English that would be easy for me to find, with pointers to lots of other good poets.

My poet this week has been Olga Acevedo, a Chilean born around 1895. Acevedo fits firmly with the other women I've been translating, all the ones who are "not quite modernists". Well what if they're not? Why not call them something else? Because there was definitely something. Why not call it a genre? For god's sake.

My special favorite, Juana de Ibarbourou, doesn't fit strict definitions of modernismo in her early work mostly because she's not quite rigorous and formal enough. I read somewhere in an interview with her that until after her second book, she didnt' even know what a sonnet was. She'd read plenty of them, and written them, but had never studied the rules of verse. (All the poets did not study the rules of verse, but the ladies DO roll their eyes.) She just DID it - but slightly "wrong".

Back to Acevedo. I got very excited at her early poems. Acevedo mentions silence a lot. There's a lot of not-speaking, and dot-dot-dot ellipses, ghosts and statues that can't speak but who want to speak and paradoxically ARE speaking through the poem. The sort of poem that goes like this, "I'm totally mute, I'm a statue, I can't speak! Oh, the sadness!" (Not an actual line.) It's a beautiful rhetorical strategy that makes me aware of all the things they're not saying. Despite my writing ALL THE TIME there is plenty I'm not saying and can't say because of social convention or attempts to be private -- and I don't always feel comfortable with that. Show me a wall and I want to break it. Reflex! But these early 20th century women, their silent speaking statues are all talking to Rodó, in response to his essay "Ariel" in which a philosopher explains to his students (gatherred around a statue of Ariel) all about their duty as artists.

I wondered about the phrase "la tristeza de ser", which was in quotes in Acevedo's poem "Serenata". Is it a quotation/translation from French? Or Kierkegaard? I could translate it as "existential despair" but I'm not sure if I want to be anachronistic if it's an anachronism. If you're going to say "sadness of being" you might as well say "existential despair". Anyway, Acevedo's angst is expressed thusly: She's passionately addressing a ray of pure white moonlight as it streams into her room, and she wants to hide her face in its gauzy negligee and melt away into perfumed nothingness like a ravished bride. Hot stuff!

In other early poems by Acevedo, I noticed a lot of blue which is now a red flag, or really a blue flag, for me that something is going on about Art and Poetry with capital letters. Anything that's blue, or anything about fountains or swans, and the poet is definitely talking to/about Darío and "Azul" -- and so is addressing the ideas of modernismo; the poem should be read in the context of modernismo whether you "count" it or not in that genre. Pure art, inspiration, beauty -- Beauty -- as a way of being. These women, these adherents of maenidismo, saw themselves as living their lives as art. I feel like the more I read, the more I am in their dream-world. Edith Södergran is there -- and the Comtesse de Noailles -- and I'm sure so many more from other countries and languages. I want to put my Latin American women together with them in a lovely anthology, someday, to show the connections.

My own dreamworld is still this imaginary, beautiful data structure of all the texts in the world. I want it to be easy to see relationships between books. I want people to be viewable as nebulous clouds of text-production and consumption or maybe those are the wrong words; texts and people have conversations and relationships.

How much happier I am to be putting all this out into the world, instead of just in private notebooks! And not to be a lonely super-reader autodidact freak anymore. I mean, I still am, but the value of it is different once I'm not talking to the air.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Excerpts from Mitchison

I'm glued to Naomi Mitchison's wartime diaries, in a volume called "Among You Taking Notes..." I'd read her Memoirs of a Spacewoman and Travelling Light but until the amazing feminist scholar and reader Lesley Hall mentioned Mitchison's non-fiction and diaries, I had no idea she was a renowned autobiographer.

To me her wartime diaries read like a blog. I get that same sense of intimacy, of the fullness of someone else's life, without much exposition. I have to work to fill in gaps and figure out who's who. (There is a handy glossary, and the book was edited well, with footnotes interspersed.) Apparently Mitchison was part of a project called Mass-Observation, which among other things got people to keep diaries during times of social change and war. I'm very curious about this project. She refers to it sometimes as "like therapy" so I wonder what her participation was other than to write the diary and mail it off to the Mass-Obs. people? There is mention that her diaries and letters were intercepted by the Home Office as a matter of course, read, copied by hand, and pertinent facts noted. "Shall remember that anything I say may be noted. I may be able to do a certain amount that way." To note things on purpose that local people might need in hopes that politicians might help.

She's in her early 40s... has 4 children off at school, a houseful of evacuees and refugees, in fact responsibility on some level for a townful of them, hundreds... writing... domestic and farming arrangements... poaching fish with the poachers for fun... and she lost her newborn baby, a heart defect, very sad. Her feelings about this recorded as faithfully as any mommyblogger's. Occasional writerly crisis and freakout over the war, like this one from 7 Aug 1941:

I do feel like hell; it is partly being tired, partly that I feel so stupid; I can't concentrate, I forget facts, I can't read a serious book.... I make serious blunders about this war. I don't know anything properly. If I'm no good I may as well do manual work and wear myself out, it doesn't matter; I wish I knew if this was age or something physical or the beginning of some kind of mental decay or what. I so much want someone to be awfully nice to me for a long time. Oh someone that I love, stand up and crown me. And I get like screaming when all these girls talk at once. How can one write when one feels like that? I can remember now the things that Denny M. said to me yesterday about writing but what the hell; he is stupider than I am, it doesn't matter what he says. It's no fun being merely one-eyed in the country of the blind. Damn.

From someone so literate and hard-working and politically committed, a successful novelist, poet, and renowned intellectual, whose life was so full and who lived to be a hundred and one ... It means a lot to me to see her low moments. It buoys me up not because of any schadenfreude at a successful person's moments of pain, but because I know that these moments are inevitable and I shoudl not measure my own life by its low points. I admire Naomi Mitchison for her exposure of life's messiness and complexity.

And that line, so beautiful, "Oh someone that I love, stand up and crown me." Her diary entries are keenly perceptive of other women's work, of women who are trying to have jobs or be writers or to survive and care for a family and whose work never ends, never has a stopping point or a congratulation, who "spend all their time caring for and petting others and who I would dearly love to pet as they are so in need of it." Sometime during 1941 she noted that she would like to take everyone in turn in the village -- a small herring-fishery village in west Scotland -- and give them a day off in bed with tea and the nicest service. She agonizes over her own luxuries... I like her immensely.

Reading her diaries makes me think of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, of course Narnia, and other childrens' books that are steeped in 30s and 40s England and the changing times. The ways that wartime and post-war books have a lustful focus on what the children have for tea struck me as odd when I was little, until I realized there was a butter and sugar ration. And the morals of children in E. Nesbit focus around nobly helping, social levelling, and gender equity - because she was a Fabian and a socialist, a feminist and believer in free love. Like Mitchison seems to have been.

I was struck by this quote from September 1939, the start of the war:
I think one sees things more vividly, storing them up, insisting on the moment, at these times. If one is wise. During the last war, when I was a girl, I felt all the time that it was wrong ever to be happy; now I think one should be when possible. It was the kind of day one could carry into the trench or a concentration camp, in one's mind.... We took care not to shoot the pheasants; it seems odd, when men are shooting one another in Europe, and when we may be much more directly involved in that ourselves, yet I htink it is probably a good idea to be punctilious at the moment about small and silly rules which are not part of this totalitarian plan which is eating us now.

Elsewhere she brings up the possibility that most democratic or humanist rights and freedoms, most civil liberties, will disappear during wartime; that it is in enclaves like her village with its discussion groups and Labour meetings and plays that ideas of freedom will survive. They won't be in textbooks; newspapers were censored and suppressed. Italian, Austrian, and german immigrants and refugees were being interned in England and shipped to Canada or Australia. One ship with I think 1500 internees was sunk by a German submarine, crossing the Atlantic, full of Italians... her friend's doctor and his wife were on that ship... It's a good reality check to compare Mitchison's take on WWII to the wartime we are in.

Where are the memoirs and histories now, right now, of the Muslim people being detained illegally by our own government? I hope they are on blogs and I'll be able to find them and read them.

Mitchison often wonders about being detained or exiled or put in a concentration camp herself especially if England were invaded. I certainly think about it too for myself - the tide could turn very suddenly in the U.S. to a paranoid and totalitarian dictatorship, as our President says in public that he is above the law. How wistfully I think of Al Gore and his stiff yet heartfelt statements about "The Rule of Law" the day after the election was decided with transparent unfairness.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Genre classifications and sexism

I come up against this again and again. Critical literature focuses on defining a genre, and women end up just outside that definition. So it always looks like they just miss the boat because they're not quite good enough. Really, though, if you look at the moments when the genre is being defined, the boundaries are arbitrary. Other genres could be declared.

I need to read more widely...

So check this out.

With respect to her poetry in particular, critics have often failed to recognize the modernity of its lyric voice on account of its traditional verse patterns. Reflecting a dual attitude of competition and cooperation with her cultural world, Noailles held a similarly double-voiced discourse toward conventional interpretations of woman. Her classification in literary history as a belated French Romantic further obfuscates the significance of her work. While recognizing her predecessors, Noailles was frequently unable to find adequate models in their works for a distinct poetic identity. In seeking new versions of the feminine self, she acknowledged women who were unable to write and, more broadly, she attempted to provide a formerly silent Muse with voice and presence. (Catherine Perry)

She's not quite a romantic... or she's a "late" romantic... but she's not quite a modernista either - like de Ibarbourou, Bernal, Vaz Ferreira, Elisa Monge, Mercedes Matamoros, and so many women poets of the 1890s to the 1920s.

I'll be looking for Perry's book. She has more to say on her brief website on de Noailles:
A discrepancy between form and content, reflecting Noailles' situation at the cusp of the antithetical world views of nineteenth-century Romanticism and twentieth-century Modernism, characterizes her poetry, where dynamic concepts and images strive to dissolve a largely classical structure. By actively engaging with her French literary heritage while finding a source of inspiration in Greek paganism and in Nietzsche's radical thought, Noailles constructed an original poetic world view. Her work is best described as Dionysian--ecstatic, sensual, erotic, playful, sometimes violent, and always marked by a tragic undercurrent which becomes more apparent in her later poetry.

"Dionysian" describes Agustini, de Ibarbourou, Bernal, and Matamoros very well. I would prefer a different name if we are going to declare a new genre... Imagine the articles as we define Maenidic poetics and make brief offhand mention of Ruben Darío - and how he doesn't quite fit the Genre. A pity, really, as his work contained echos of Maenidism, traces which can't help but reflect the prevailing spirit of the time.

It occurs to me that I have had a giant epiphany about this, but I'm reinventing the wheel. I did a little poking around and found this excellent bibliography: Gender and Genre. My god! right up top we have "Benstock, S. (1991). Textualizing the feminine. On the limits of genre. University of Okla. Press." Looks perfect! I'm still 15 years behind in academic literary theory. Though I think it might be more like "feminizing the textual" than "textualizing the feminine" - that's what's going on in a lot of the criticism I'm reading. The poets are textualizing the feminine. The critics feminize in order to denigrate and marginalize. *sigh*

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A few notes from Arntson's reading and the NYDPS

I had been looking forward to this reading of Not Dead Yet Poets' Society, and had planned for it, but my childcare options suddenly fell through on two levels. John was late, my neighbor had a complication, and so I had to stuff Milo into his raincoat, boots, whisk him off unwelcome and harried and late to the reading at the Main Street Gallery in the dimly awakening nightlife of Redwood City. Instead of composing my mind to think of my poem or even having a moment to practice I was answering questions from him about the night, the city, the gallery, Main Street, What Is an Art Gallery. Then questions about him, some from well-meaning people, some NOT. Oh, the little disapprovals and snideries! Out late, isn't he? Is he going to be a Good Boy? You do understand that a child can be Distracting? I hope you can keep him Quiet. He knows not to touch anything, right? Rather than focus on the people I would like to talk to, I have to keep my mind focused on my son and his experience. Yes, people, I do understand that a child can be distracting. What do you think?

The temptation to answer everyone with flippant rudeness... running a spectrum from "oh, fuck off already" to "Actually, as you have correctly discerned, I am the sort of unwed teenage mother who feeds my child on diet pepsi, goldfish crackers, twinkies, and crack cocaine, and I encourage him to scream as loud as possible during poetry readings in fancy art galleries with delicate breakable Art made of glass, to express my punk rock disrespect for you and all your ilk. By the way, he has double pneumonia." Well, I held my tongue, Milo quietly read Asterix in the corner, and John showed up just before the reading was about to start, since the rain and lack of chairs and large crowd delayed the reading for 20 minutes or so. Thank god!

Now that that's off my chest! Whew! It's a blog, so I get to say whatever I want!

The room was packed. Way more so than usual for the NYDPS. Really the cream of the peninsula poets came to hear and be heard. Forgive me for saying that... (Or don't.)

Jayne Kos hosted the reading, and we kicked off with some tributes to Anatole Lubovich. Kathy St. Claire wrote in talking about Anatole's attempt to write the shortest poem possible that would express the essence of cats: "Cat sits." James Lee or James Li wrote in from Sacramento with a poem about stars. "Stars are maps to the soul" ...that sort of thing. Bruce Jewett - who sometimes sends me poetry postcards and who used to publish small books and magazines in the.. 70s? 80s? I think the Fat Frog... talked about how Anatole was vibrant with verve but how they were oil and water.

Jayne then read parts of Arntson's introduction. It was funny and sort of touching when in her inimitable kindergarten-teacher style she said that many things were important influence on him, including "The Burning Man" said with a strangely wrong emphasis as people normally say it with no "the" and the "ing" elided so that it's trocheed, equal stress, BURN(uh) MAN. (Like saying "house boat" or "tow truck". The lights went off. There were xmas lights, and EL wire in a long coiling tangle on the floor, and some zappy globes making you think of the beauty of neon in the rain. All cheesy and half-assed, but in a good way that gave us beauty and atmosphere... dislocation. Arntson in his fez and pakistani-looking tunic thing. (Salwar kameez? I can't remember the name of it. ) A little tinsel and vaudeville. Two radios, one with swing music and one with a crackly broadcast of the Day that will live in Infamy... Fellow Americans... Pearl Harbor.. the pearl that fell into the ocean. Remarks from Arntson.

First - "She saw a ghost" which was brilliant and lovely... a somewhat halting start until he got into the swing of it. You have to rememeber he recites it all from memory and he recited for probably 40 minutes nonstop. An ode to saltines, clouds, ghosts, journeys, exhaustion physical and spiritual. His poems just keept going. You realize, "Oh. There is no reason to stop here," and keep writing. This was one of the main head-opening lessons for me when I first started hearing Steve read at Waverley and San Jose Arts League at the minor street house. I wrote the essay "On Stopping" and began to push myself beyond - a push also helped by Diane Di Prima.

This little bit of the poem is not formatted properly. It should be rambling all over the page with a lot of white space, staggered and open-handed. Maybe I will come back later and try to do it correctly. (It's time consuming with HTML.)

tired of all that waking state
she started to dream before she slept
And her dream was our own on the way to the lake
qualified by crackers
nourished by those same saltines
of sodium and chlorine
packed for just this occasion of reconnaissance and homelessness
So the scenery is haunted
in spite of better knowing
the night as eclipse
collapsing the sun on a diet of corn starch
seeing all the way to the stars
the last she saw before they saw HER
like rock n roll psychedelia staring back
she thought a city to have receded with all of the sun
east to westside gone
she is of the cult of the newcomer to all this terrain
including clouds
as beautiful
as the right idea at the very right time
the sky is royally appointed
therefore she things of her angels throughout the evening
and angels there may be, convening
allowed just enough substance
to startle the mortal
traveller gone crackers-giddy in the twilight

Saltines, clouds, journeys, dream and waking come together. Whiteness in want of water.

and the answer: "Pai-ute" : "water-there"
And thus a people are named
for a direction you take to slake a thirst
And now t his witching for water in the dark
Waterboarding to blue tremolo of trembling shore
so that you shudder with the cheddar
collide with nabisco, the cracker too delicate
to last the length of jolting
She studies the ghhost and ourselves
competing tangibilities
the relative corporeal
it is as if the wind had determined to be visible
beyond its agitations of botany

The deal is, you stay with it, and sometimes you can't and you spin off into your own thoughts sparked by listening. That spacing out is okay. It takes practice to absorb and stay with a long poem. But you are reeled back in by some strand coming back. The cracker comes back and combines with cloud, or the Paiutes with water and its lack and the ghost and your attention is caught. The point of the long poem is that it is not a painting; it is a journey and you not only end up somewhere, you have travelled somewhere. Arntson's poems are road trips of the mind. You can sit next to him in the car and enjoy the journey. You can pull off the road or space out - that's the beauty of the trip.

He read "Wadsworth" - a long poem about an abandoned school. Beautiful!

Shark Car, which me and Rob Pesich published in the "Cuts from the Barbershop" anthology.

Synaptic Mandala - which I give a sample of here:
last bit of Synaptic Mandala: 1.6MB

And Mousetrap, to which I wondered what percent of the room got what it was about.

Well, I could go on praising his poetry and giving examples but I'd like to give that more time and energy than I have available this moment.

He passed out (free) a CD with three poems on it. Good quality recordings, but the music is intrusive and cheesy. Alas! How can this be? He's a good musician... but must have had a blind moment or just loves his friend the cheesy-keyboard player.

To the open mike. April, Palmer Pinney with a sort of holiday poem, a couple of other people read, but I was not fully there. I read the first bit of "The Dead Girlfriend of Novalis" not really at my best. Later Jayne pointed out that I said "amApolas" instead of "amaPOlas" ... er! whoops! I think because it sounds greek. But of course she is right! Bruce read a poem. Judith B. read a long poem about acorn woodpeckers, who live communally. Mary-Marcia Casoly read a poem "stay wild" about the sky and ocean.

Then the Saturday Poets crowd, all together:
Amy McLennan ... ghost ships. Lisa Ortiz read an astonishingly good poem about cookies, desire, and martinis. I have written before that she is the ultimate celebrator of profundity in the suburban mundane, distilling it beautifully... dark in your bitter parts, bitter in your dark. The fierce YES of the crinkling insomniac cookie bag. More people should listen carefully to what she is doing. Robert H. "People said he had crazy eyes..." Amy Miller - In the century where nothing happened - another brilliant poem. I have trouble reading my own handwriting but I exploded into note taking with a lot of exclamation points and little stars on the page. "They washed the murals off the walls..." Quite good. A science-fiction poet and I expect to see more of her stuff out there... I wish I had a copy of this poem.

JC Watson - "for family". "old friendship an ancient car/something always coming loose." As always, good. Once at a readaround we took turns reading her poems in our varying reading styles. Because sometimes her delivery style blinds you a little. It's very powerful. But the poems can be VERY different read aloud by someone else. It was instructive. It was also cool to hear her do one of my poems HER way.

Christine Holland - a poem about a painting of native americans - history - painting - colonialism - solid. I started thinking of John McPhee. She is the John McPhee of poetry? Hmmm. I'm not sure if that would please or insult her but it's what I was thinking and I meant it as a compliment. She paints and extends vision. David Cummings in faultless flowing rhythm - "and I think of Blake's other law," - really a technical master and a builder of complex thought.

Charlotte talked about Anatole, a heartfelt cascade of feelings about how he was quite amazing, cosmopolitan, cultured, bizarre and fantastic, somewhat unappreciated because he was difficult and prickly as well. A story about having dinner with him and fearing death by food poisoning because the food was in the fridge but the fridge didn't actually function as a fridge... And he is quite stubborn and of course no way to convey to him that maybe chicken should be kept particularly cold. Charlotte really is grasping over saying something between a (self and other) reproach and a confession of love for us all as a community, that... she didn't realize until he was gone how much she would miss him, this person almost a stranger whose work she has known for so many years, seen once, twice a month at Events... And that maybe we all are that important to each other and that is as it should be - but how to recognize it? What does it mean? That's what I felt she was saying.

Patrick Daly - read a poem of Anatole's. I riffled through a couple of magazines but he chose the best poem of Anatole's from that selection ' "Grey Hereafter Ever After" and I did not want to read one that was an order of magnitude less interesting (all the others.) A poem castigating the "grey breath" of hedonophobes. Anatole at his best when formal and technical and exquisitely clever. I like his sonnets. I am not a neoformalist or any kind of formalist, but I enjoy formality when other people do it well, and I don't give a rat's ass what's in fashion. As if we are limited by time! Bah humbug!

Steve Arntson stood up again to recite (from almost-memory) a sonnet of Substance by Anatole. "When I consider the things that swirl through space...' ..."I am amazed that I can reach this far..." Alas, I cannot memorize a poem or even write fast enough to keep up. I could have typed fast enough to capture most of it, but was not quick on the draw with the laptop.
Arntston passed out a packet of poems, some typed, some xeroxed from his manuscripts. This made me so happy! I begged him and begged him to do it! And he did, huzzah! I want everyone to appreciate his genius.

Everyone cleaned up, and left quickly... and Arntson was off to take the train to his night watchman job at a huge downtown building, a granite palace where he makes Tchaikovsky echo off the dimensions of Solomon's Temple.

A great, memorable reading!

I always take brief notes and looking back on them can rememeber and reconstruct most of an evening. I feel self-conscious to type it up with everyone's names... but I hope they enjoy coming across it if they do some vanity googling.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

the pleasure of discernment

I can't do justice to the great readings tonight. I'm sort of cranky from ulcers and a long, long day. So instead... you get this.

As I drove home I was stuck with the thought of how much I love judging and discernment. I can't stop doing it. I realize it's obnoxious and sometimes out of place or unwelcome. I get such a kick out of hearing samples of the same people's work over time. I'm always thinking, "Ah! This is a good one! Much better than last month's workshopped-to-death thing that had all the edges smoothed off it!" or "Hmm, this is maybe the 6th time I've heard this person read, and now I have a handle on Their Trip. And yet tonight is different - they're doing something unlike what they've done before." So I compare people to themselves.

And of course comparing them to each other. I put people in categories, fuzzy ones, but I know I'm still ranking, ordering, grouping, looking for connections.

Rhymed doggerel about driving to work being stuck in traffic, or angst about one's own body fluids, or ... well, imagine your personal poetic hell in this space. Gosh darn it, at least that villanelle about chopping carrots on a granite countertop while bluebirds sing in the garden and Hurricane Katrina victims are eaten by crocodiles, at least it's the best villanelle it can possibly be. Since I don't want to live in a state of irony and snark (as I was dipping into just now with the imaginary Katrina carrots) I try to be analytical and fair-minded instead. With critical faculties turned up past 11, I'm guaranteed some entertainment.

Unfortunately... around the poetry-reading time of night, I am usually in some sort of fairly intense physical pain. The only way to deal with that is to think as hard as possible, for distraction.

Judgement is also a defense mechanism against boredom. Because I catch on quickly and people are often stunningly predictable... I can amuse myself during moments of literary tedium by making up theories, or considering what exactly makes it tedious and wondering why it isn't tedious to everyone or what factors people are enjoying or what it means for the person who wrote it. Value IS relative in many ways. I have to dislocate the center of my judgement in order to get to the place where I can understand that relativity and see poetry newly. Yet... some writing still sucks and is dull. To me. For my purposes. At this particular moment. Oh, I could argue all day about this!

I'm not judging every second and in fact at some point during a poem I can abandon judgement or make my decision quickly and sit back to enjoy the ride, whatever that ride is. I can stop being Elitist McSnootypants for a brief moment, but then it kicks right back in afterwards.

When something is good...I am SO happy, relieved, excited, and inspired. Like Steve Arntson's recitations tonight... and I would especially mention the open mike readings by Lisa Ortiz, Amy Miller, David Cummings, JC Watson... others. Like I said, I will check in tomorrow and write up the reading by Arntson and others. And in the next few days I'll talk more about Anatole's work and the tributes to Anatole we heard tonight; I hope with examples of his poetry. Charlotte lent me some journals from 12 years ago and I look forward to reading early... or earlier... poetry by various poets I've been hearing around town since 2001.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some notes from Waverley

From last Friday. I can't transcribe all my notes, but I thought it might be fun to mention the people who read.

Intro by Karen Grosman.

Kit - her first time reading here. We all applaud and give her The Love. "Shepherded".
Tony - poem about the Mekong river
Anita Holzburg - "Chances"
Jayne Kos - "Road Trip"
Charlotte Muse - I don't have a title but it was something memoir-ish. I often really enjoy Charlotte's pensive musings.
Karen Grosman
Brucey Slama - poem about the Holocaust.
Jackie Marderossian - Abomb, steamer trunk, small girl named Yoko, Magritte's attitude towards objects. I follow Jackie's work with interest. She experiments quite hardworkingly with form and subject material and I always think she is on the edge of finding a solid voice. Sometimes she catches the bus and sometimes not. More and more often, yes.
Steven Riddle - a quirky poem and I am not sure if he said "K9 Down" or "Canine Down" or something else, but I thought of that William Burroughs poem where he starts rambling about "Pilot K9, you are cut off." A really wonderful last line in this poem that I wish I had written down or retained but it had something to do with marigolds and calendula.
Mel - the guy I think of as "The Anchorman". A poem, rhyming & hilarious, to Anatole Lubovich.
Lu Pettus - grandchild in front of the mirror. Good. blank verse. Or, dips in and out of blank verse. Lu usually writes long narrative fantasy poems that seem to be set in some kind of consistent mythical world of her own invention. This mirror poem is a departure from that and it is quite good.
Rob N. - A villanelle. Kachina's keep.
Tom Digby - Christmas on Terra. I always enjoy Digby's flights of fancy. They are not "good" poems by literary snootypants standards and are often prosy, a thing which normally bugs me. But in his case it doesn't bug me. They are vignettes and explorations of a wacky idea - in a way that entertains. (Therefore they ARE good.) Often people quietly roll their eyes or don't know what to make of his stuff.
Sharon Olson - she reads "Blood Soup". (Which was in Composite#2). I think last year Sharon joined the Sixteen Rivers collective. Her work is meditative, page-poety, naturey. I think of Sharon, Charlotte, Jean Chacona, Christine Holland, Patrick Daly, David Cummings, and some others as representative of the core of Waverley's thing. Thing. But it's a tight, odd community and in so many ways I'm an outsider in it. I think there are people who have been poeting and workshoping together for 20 years and I never understand those nuances. And for god's sake, their work is so good, but it seems like it never gets published anywhere, which makes me crazy when so much inferior work gets published. Anyway - Sharon also is a founder and organizer for the Art21 reading series.
Marie Solis - a sonnet.
*** BREAK ***
Thanks to everyone who bought my little magazines! Yay, lunch money. I put some right back into Jackie M.'s fund for gas money etc.

Steve Arntson - Portal of Bones poem. I prompt. Actually during some of the above readings I was puzzling out Steve's splotchy handwriting in his tiny notebook. I love this poem. He left out a lot of bits. I could feel its layered rush.
Me - a translation of nestor Perlongher's poem "Para Camila O'Gorman". It is weird and nonlinear. I can't remember if I've read it before, here. I kind of garbled it. Oh well. All my recent work is way too long to read here so it's translations away!
Person whose name I just can't remember. OMG. I should. I have only known her for 4 years. Judith? Oh hell. I'm senile. She read 2 poems. Prophecies and healings. Katrina. Streetcar.
Mary Marcia Casoly - Pomo poem written at/about Asilomar. about objects and stuff. I often like her poems' odd jumping around, very ethereal. They come at you sideways. This one did not grab me... a couple of lines did but I can't remember thm.
Kathy Abelson - family poem. a memoir about moving to Los Altos or Sunnyvale back when it was all orchards. Actually, this is another very typical thread of what I think of as typical Waverley poems. It's a thing they have going on. Exploration of memoir and family memories, especially connections with the dead and time. Everyone quick go read "Remembrance of Things Past."
Jean Chacona - "Unity" . Jean has a very strong particular individual voice, quiet and definite. She works in an orchid greenhouse, I think. Or used to. She's right in there with the meditative nature poem and Zen bonding with flowers or one particular leaf. She should team up with a painter for a poem/painting series.

At this reading I missed hearing Robert Pesich, David Cummings, Christine Holland, and Patrick Daly. I haven't been able to come to Waverley very often this year because of my school schedule in the spring, and then doing hurricane relief work and getting really sick this fall. So I felt like I didn't get my fix! They had better all read next time or there will be hell to pay.

Oh yeah I have one more slightly catty thing to say. It doesn't make it poetry just 'cause you leave out the "the"s. Remember that now. If you're doing that to make your poetry seem less prosy - a noble goal - you need more radical surgery. Leaving out pronouns is just as bad. I'm not sure exactly what to tell people. Go read some super tight good poetry and diagram its sentences? Or its lack of sentences? Rewrite two of your lines 10 different ways? Maybe take that good poem and mess it up by rewriting two of its lines to be as bad as possible? I should come up with an exercise for it.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Obituary for Anatole Lubovich

I'll miss Anatole. He livened up the Not Yet Dead Poets Society of Redwood City for so many years!
At readings I would often beg his tiny, thick notebook and read through it. What excellent sonnets! He was a well-read, masterful formalist with a great sense of humor - I especially liked his dirty limericks about Milton. It seemed like he was always winning Esperanto haiku contests - he was just that sort of person - truly interesting and quirky. Hopping around madly, hyper, a little guy in glasses with a neat beard, sharp-tongued and sparkly. After he moved to Sacramento, he'd take the bus all the way back to Redwood City to come to the monthly readings of the Society he founded. He came to the Chimera Books translations readings, too, and at times to Waverley.

This Wednesday at the Main Street Gallery in Redwood City, at 7pm, there will be a reading - featuring Steve Arntson, but also I am sure there will be many tributes to Anatole during the open mike.

Anatole Taras Lubovich...
Was born on March 9, 1937, in Ukraine. During World War II, Anatole and his family were interned in a prison camp and following the war lived in refugee camps in Germany. By the time the family emigrated to the United States in 1950, Anatole had become fluent in several languages and had developed his lifelong love of words. He eventually studied 14 languages, with a particular passion for English which he spoke and wrote with precision, wit and elegance. He loved literature, particularly poetry and the plays of Shakespeare. He received a degree in musical theater from San Francisco State and appeared in numerous theatrical productions.

Anatole worked for many years as an engineer and a teacher, but it is as a poet that he will most be remembered. He was published in anthologies and journals, won several awards, and was featured at readings. Anatole translated poetry into English from Ukrainian and other languages. He was founder of the Not Yet Dead Poets Society on the Peninsula and, after moving to Sacramento, became active in the local poetry community. He was also active in the local Humanist organization. He was an Esperantist, a philatelist, an opera lover, and an ardent bibliophile. Anatole passed away on November 16, 2005, as a result of complications following coronary bypass surgery. He is survived by his sisters, Lily Empie of Wassila, Alaska, and Rose Wirolubowich of Oakland, and by his significant other, Do Gentry, of Sacramento.

Published in the Sacramento Bee on 11/23/2005.

I feel like I should post something by him, but all I have is his "Ten Suggestions for Reading Poetry at Open Mike".

STAY AWAKE. When the emcee calls on you to read, be ready with a legible, familiar copy in hand. Shuffling through papers shows you're not with it, wastes time and is inconsiderate. If you've got nothing to read, dont. It's cool to come only to hear others; actually, it's more of a compliment. Don't read a poem written by another dude just to read something, and nev er read some crap you just scribbled on a napkin. Take it home; in time, you may turn it into a poem, but not tonight. Show respect for the art.

BE COOL. Don't get shook up - there's nothing to be afraid of. You are among friends who are dying to hear you. What's the worst thing that could happen? If you should make a fool of yourself, no big deal - that won't be the first time, will it?

DON'T RUN YOUR MOTOR IN IDLE. Keep an introduction, if any, very short. Do not apologize for your work, offer excuses or long descriptions of circumstances and the process of writing. Such explanations are seldom called for, and seldom will they result in your work being viewed in a better light.

DON'T SAY WHAT YOU'RE GONNA SAY. Your piece shoudl say it for you. If it does not, take another look at it. But, if the poem contains a strange word, comes in some special form, or has some other kind of weirdness, where it would be a help to the listener to be prepared or warned, point it out, by all means.

KEEP TRACK OF TIME. Follow the rules of the program; don't abuse t hem. If the emcee lets you read one poem, read one poem. If the limit is five minutes, read four, not six. Exceptions should be cleared with the emcee before, not at the time of, reading. Time your poems beforehand. Keep in mind that any introduction is a part of your allotted time. Don't try to wow the audience with the volume of your works; leave some for next time.

READ SLOWLY AND CLEARLY. Do not hurry. Read in a voice loud and clear enough so that the farthest listener will understand you without strain. Do not swallow the initial or final sounds. Mumbling is for prayers. Mumbled recitation is a waste of time of both the reader and the listener.

DO IT WITH FEELING. Put life into your words. Make it easy for the audience to feel the cadence and grasp t he meaning. Treat poetry as art. If you can't communicate the meaning of your work, how can the other cats make any sense of it? Nothing is more boring than hearing words mouthed off monotonously and mechanically.

DON'T MAKE 'EM PUKE. Different themes and styles are expected and welcome. Although neither the subject matter nor the vocabulary is censored, it's a good idea beffore reading to check out the crowd as to what the prevailing attitude of the people you are about to entertain seems to be. Do not test the hearers' tolerance by grossing them out with gratuitous obscenitites. Don't make a mockery of the art and you won't be remembered as "The Gross One."

DON'T SPLIT before the program is over. Reading your piece and then leaving without hearing those who follow is a major breach of etiquette. It is likewise a bad scene to arrive late just to hear yourself.

COME BACK (unless asked not to). It is hoped that your reading will provide pleasure and that you will enjoy hearing others. Introduce yourself to and make friends with poets in your community. Contribute to the program with your presence and support.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

It's poetisas all the way down

You know that dumb story about how the universe rests on the back of a turtle and then the turtle is standing on another turtle, and it's turtles all the way down?

People tend to take a particular rhetorical stance when talking about women's writing. Even I do this. Even critics I admire the most. I was just reading this wonderful excerpt from Vicky Unruh's book which will come out next spring. Take a look! The preface is titled "The "Fatal Fact" of the New Woman Writer in Latin America, 1920s-1930s". Fifteen years ago, Unruh wrote a book called "Latin American Vanguards" in which women appear in one sentence - a sentence that denied they fit properly into the Vanguard genre. Now she's writing this book, which I can't wait to read, about women writers in that same era! In the preface I think she is circling dangerously close to saying that women only in the 20s just started literary life... But she completely avoids saying that, and instead talks about women as choosing to occupy a particular position in a performative, public, literary conversation. The book looks great. I am never going to hit this level of scholarly academic articulation, maybe. Yet I'm writing the same sort of ideas, and what's more, I'm acting on them. I'm sharing that set of assumptions and theory, sharing that critical stance, and putting them into practice, as a poet, translator, critic, and editor.

Since I am researching the conversations not just of the 20s but of some decades earlier I am extremely wary of making claims about the Newness of anything - as people so often do. I guess what I'm trying to say is that- when people MAKE those claims, be very suspicious. I hope other critics follow Unruh; I hope it's a general trend, and people will stop saying "Before this writer, women just didn't write, and weren't educated; how unfortunate" or "And here is the moment when love poetry began". Acknowledge a little ignorance on your own part, instead. (I can't tell you how many people think there was Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, and then there was nothing for a long time because women were just so terribly oppressed, and then there was Delmira Agustini or Gabriela Mistral. Maddening! It's okay not to know, but it's not okay to claim you know when you don't and to base a lot of assumptions on that.)

Here's an example. Maria Monvel started off her 1930 preface to "Poetisas de América" by celebrating the huge numbers of Latin American women poets, and wondering with a dismissive shrug why Spain lacks them. She comes up with an elaborate explanation of why this is so, and then mentions the few exceptions Spain has in her opinion. Other than those three women she "lets in" to the club of Real Women Writers, it's like there's a blank. Maybe she didn't know; maybe she was deliberately creating a blank space in history. Either way, it's criminal.

I'm looking at some of my xeroxed pages from a book I found, from 1915, called "Antología de Poetisas Líricas", a huge book in two volumes; it was published by the Real Academia Española. It's full of poetry by Spanish women from the 16th and 17th centuries. (In fact I bet you could make a strong argument that what Cervantes was making fun of - was them and their romances. Classic "make fun of women's popular successful writing" stance. Surely someone's said this.) I feel like listing a few of their names:

Doña Isabel Corrca
Doña Juana Josefa de Meneses, condesa de Ericeira
Sor Ana de San Joaquin
Sor Gregoria Francisca de Santa Teresa
Doña Juana Teresa de Noronha
Rafaela Hermida Jarquetes
Doña María Josefa de Rivadeneyra
Doña María Hore
Doña Margarita Hickey y Pellizzoni
Doña María Nicolasa de Helguero y Alvarado

That's just part of the first page of the table of contents of a 1000 page book. Okay? And the hundreds of Spanish women poets in there are just the few who got published in their time, and who survived the erasure of history. Think how many more their probably were!

Or if you read about French feminism and feminist writers and movements and poets ... and you keep looking further and further back... you will finally get to the 18th century... and think you can say "And then it began." But no. Keep looking and you find more. I have ceased to believe in a beginning.

It's women poets all the way down!

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