18 June 2010


Next week starts my graduate class on Walt Whitman.  Nothing genuinely imaginative in my approach:  using the David Reynolds' Whitman's America and the Norton Critical Edition of Leaves of Grass, which includes the 1855 and 1891-2 editions, as well as the usual contemporaneous reviews and whatnot, plus predictable selections of Whitman's prose and smatterings of Dickinson, Whittier, and Longfellow.  But it's only a six-week immersion, and so it'll be something of an intense, break-neck rush.

It's tempting to take Whitman out of his time and wonder what he might think of the present-day American and the situation of poetry (all of which has and hasn't changed all that much)--kind of the way constitutional originalists bring forth the corpses of the founding fathers and believe their views would somehow be unchanging, uniform, or decipherable.  To me, that kind of contemporizing (is that a word?) seems so much beside the point.  Oh, what I'm thinking of is how someone would say Whitman would spit at MFA programs, how no one can do what Whitman did back then, how Whitman would champion this poetry over that poetry, etc.

What I want to say, first, is read Whitman and take him on face value:  he is dead, mouldered, now a part of the grass, that has regenerated itself a 100 times over since his death, and he's something other than the grass, the dirt, the water, and the air, that the lives of the dead are always with us, impossible close and forever removed.  To take the dead, any of them, and prop them up and have them spout this or that political line for us . . . . it's just convenient, so very convenient.  And besides, isn't the poetry itself enough, certainly more than what uses we may put the dead to, what arguments we wish to bolster, to make ourselves even more firm and staunch and correct?

Always for me, this whole poetry and art thing, is about the possibilities of being changed, of that imaginative moment of being transformed--not into a permanent other, or any thing, but a simple accretion of light, wind, blood, and feather.  To be what we weren't, a moment ago.

12 June 2010

I Almost Never Do This--Yes, a Meme

Via January O'Neil, just because . . . 

1. What's the last thing you wrote?
Ages ago, it seems, but the lyrics I collaborated on creating for Alyce Bochette's dance, "Salvage," which was performed last month.

2. Is it any good?
The "Salvage" piece, good as a voice piece (it was a duet that Katie Pankow and I voiced--Katie's the best, and she's headed off to UF to pursue an MFA in acting), but as a poem, maybe okay.  It's deeply concrete and connected to the dancers.

3. What's the first thing you ever wrote that you still have?Journals and poetry writing from my sophomore year of high school. 

4. Favorite genre of writing?Poetry, but currently moving to performative writing, that is, which is still poetry, but not meant to be published. 

5. How often do you get writer's block?
Never.  I go through periods of not writing, upto two years, but it's not that I'm trying to write and I hit an obstacle.  Here, I'm talking about writing poetry.  With any other kind of writing I do, blogging, occasional essay writing, then I never run into difficulties.  I'm not much of a perfectionist, I guess. 

6. How do you fix it?
Reading helps me get out of the doldrums.  Believing in that nothing will last helps greatly.  Why not risk it then?  That we're all disappearing, and by we I mean everything governed by the decay of atoms, is a great, freeing comfort.

7. Do you save everything you write?
No.  I've lost a good deal, almost always on purpose.  Some pieces are performance (even individual poems) that I read for one occasion, in a regular reading, and then I let them go.  Others, well, they get in books, and that gives them a permanence for as long as I'm alive.  Notebooks and fragments, I try to keep, but with moving, being a little absent minded and careless, things just get lost, left behind.

8. How do you feel about revision?
Ah, the one thing that never ends.  Maybe that's why I am liking the idea of performance--have a date, an occasion, you give it a go, and then good bye.  But with traditional poems, always fun, involving to tinker.  Mechanical.  Intricate.  And sometimes a wonder, too, as much as the initial creation. 

9. What's your favorite thing that you've written?
Favorite.  That's a tough word, because it won't be what I think might be my best work, or even work that other people like.  Probably my favorite, at least this week, is "Upon Hearing that My Grant Application Was Passed Over and the Winner Was a Bio-Tech Professor Who Has Designed Genetically-Altered Protein for Buckwheat Seed."  The title comes from an email I sent to Denise Duhamel, who had written a support letter for me, for a grant that I did not win.  She wrote back, "Oh, that sucks, but can I use that line for a title of a poem?"  I wrote her back that she could, but only if I also wrote a poem with that title.  So the story's a nice thing, but the poem also makes me happy to read because it is a little mean, irreverent, and political.  Besides, I want to create a genetic strand called Omicron-Brockide 32.  How cool is that?

10. What's everyone else's favorite thing that you've written?
Hmmm.  Book?  The Sunshine Mine Disaster, probably.  Poem?  "To the coroner who did not have to draw my blood" is generally a good, crowd pleasing piece. 

11. What writing projects are you working on right now?
Currently working on a bunch of failed fragments on the Gulf, from which my house is a mile away.  Also revising a series on dance that I hope will be the "New" part of an intended "New
and Selected Poem" volume--I feel that's about where I am in my poet career.  And for performance, I'm hoping that I might collaborate with a couple of very talented folks for something for Art Royale 2010.  Oh, and if my schedule works this year, I may do something my school's 24-hour Festival. 

12. What's one genre you have never written, and probably never will?
A novel.  I could see doing something collaborative with my wife (we've written a few chapters on a Florida condo mystery), and I've toyed making a novel of The Sunshine Mine Disaster, but I get tired of the canine aspect of novel writing, the whole complicated architecture of it, where you sniff, sniff, sniff everywhere, developing character, riffing on some subplot, and all that whatnot. 

13. Do you write for a living?
Paper grading, syllabus writing, report writing, minute taking, assessment gathering, memo-happy professor of English.  Nah.

14. Quote something you've written, the first thing to pop into your mind.

My Rhode Island Red goes cock-a-doodle-doo
in Providence, and in Bali she sings
orio orio orio-io-io, and in the Faulklands
she cries elgin baylor!  And don’t think
it’s ever the same for my hen, my mad red hen.  

    from the "Dance of the Polyglot," something I've been revising.

09 June 2010

Happy Birthday!

To my son, Carson, who is enjoying his 21st (yikes!) birthday today.

Carson, chillin', heading east in Wyoming, 1996

05 June 2010

Ghost Writing Requests

In my life as an academic poet (and I don't mind that label, because I'm very much that critter--it's not as small as certain po-biz critics like it to be), and because I'm the "go-to" creative writer in my program, I routinely get the most interesting overtures for various ghost writing projects.

In my case, because of where I live in Southwest Florida, land of retired CIA directors and Gasparilla Island, where the CIA used as a training base for the Bay of Pigs, I have received a couple of requests from retired CIA agents, that they have something big to tell, and so forth. I usually ask them about their own interest in writing, essentially asking why they even need a ghost writer (and why risk some big story to some left-leaning Idahoan who'll give up the goods the second he gets caught?). They will talk about being numbers guys, or that they just didn't have enough time for that. I ask them who their favorite poet is. That request usually ends their interest in my services--that, and when I confess that Frank Church was my childhood hero. Besides, I don't want to be involved in a project about spy vs. spy, assassination plots, subterranean imperialism. I don't want to be working with someone who knows twelve ways to kill me with a fountain pen.

This last week, I have phone messages from a 80-something-year-old retiree, in "finance," and he wants me to help him write a tract on his scheme to create a "Tea Party CONSERVATIVE" political party. Evidently the "CONSERVATIVE" label is to scare away the libertarians associated with the movement.  He tells me that he has connections with media folks and talk show hosts who will put their names on as authors. This is all geared to launch his grandson, an eighteen-year-old freshman at Ohio State, into a political career shortly after he gets his law degree from Ave Maria.

I also receive more benign overtures, and everyone of them has a touching element, all about being afraid of disappearing, of having left not yet quite enough legacy. At worst, the requests are from men who've been executives most of their lives, pampered and groveled to, and yes, they want that final reassurance that they matter, still, but that the work of writing has been always beneath them. And it really pisses them off when I dare mention that some poor adjunct might be available to do the work for $25 per hour. Somehow, the ghost writer is always supposed to do this for free. Anyway, I always get off the hook when I say that I'm only a poet. Still, they are sweating against time--such a desperate thing it must be to pick up the phone and call some university in hopes of finding a professor who might listen to them for a few minutes.

Yes, I sometimes tell them about various writers groups, that it may be best for them just to jot down or record their thoughts, let a family member do the caring and typing and such.

What I want to tell them is what a happy and lucky thing it is to disappear, to have lived some while, and then to join the big whatever thereafter cosmic soup-drift. To me, the idea of poetry isn't really about hitting that big-time homerun poem that will stand the test of time, that will be universal, but rather, just to be one token of the temporal. What else are we? What vanities more do we need to have affirmed?

02 June 2010

Goodbye Mercury!

Kind of like that as a title . . . but alas, Ford closing its Mercury division. I remember my father taking us (all four kids) in a test drive in a used 1963 Mercury Monterey with the supercool "Breezeway" roof, zipping down Gowen Field Road at 70 mph. It seemed like such an impossible lark, and then the next day, we had it in our driveway. I loved that car.

01 June 2010

Ah, June

Month of Gerri's and Carson's births, of Gods & Money's publication, of the Purple Martins and their roosting spectacle in downtown Fort Myers, of my Walt Whitman seminar, of the start of hurricane season. of the solstice, of slowing down.