Readings: muskrat stew

George Perec’s empithalamia

This little poem
where only simple words have been used
words like daisy and broomstick
like lady-bird and cream sauce
like croissant and nonchalance
and not words like palimpsest, pitchblende, cumulonimbus,
decalcomania, stethoscope, machicolation, or
has been specially composed
on the occasion of these nuptials

Jake from Ore Bar used to date Peter Kane Dufault’s granddaughter. This from a New Yorker obit by Brad Leithauser.

One of my favorites among his earlier poems is “On a Painting of a Mastodon in a Child’s Picture Book.” As the title promises, the vision is sketched in outsize outlines and bold primary colors: billion-year-old fossils, condors “wide as storms.” But something subtler materializes when the mastodon itself rumbles into view, and we’re asked to ponder

the groping divinity
that heaved that hulk,
heavy with ivory, forward
out of the black
cone forest and gray muskeg,
snows on his back.

Blake’s tiger is treading nearby; Dufault has found a fresh way to ask what “immortal hand” could frame so fearful a symmetry. Both poets are transfixed by the notion of a deity experimenting with megafauna, exulting in the creation of staggeringly powerful animals.

William Brewer rediscovers Appalachia

From its soot, from clay, you’d assemble your sons, their hands
assemble like air above a creek cattails

hem the edge of like a skirt
the hands slide under in the dark of your infinite

storeroom and wander. Barges
spinning on a mud-sick river. No, some canoe

deaf to the wind on a porcelain lake
black-nailed fingers of a child creep across to pick

the last bits of muskrat stew

Theis Ørntoft writes odd spare cruel verse.

Beneath the asphalt
sheep heads roll
down over steep slopes
to the factory where my children
are sewing into themselves.


Readings: Guenda


Modiano’s Nobel Prize speech:

I have always thought that poets and novelists are able to impart mystery to individuals who are seemingly overwhelmed by day-to-day life, and to things which are ostensibly banal – and the reason they can do this that they have observed them time and again with sustained attention, almost hypnotically. Under their gaze, everyday life ends up being enshrouded in mystery and taking on a kind of glow-in-the-dark quality which it did not have at first sight but which was hidden deep down. It is the role of the poet and the novelist, and also the painter, to reveal the mystery and the glow-in-the-dark quality which exist in the depths of every individual. My distant relative, the painter Amedeo Modigliani, comes to mind. In his most stirring paintings, the models he chose were anonymous people, children and street girls, maids, small farmers, young apprentices. He painted them with an intense brush stroke reminiscent of the great Tuscan tradition – Botticelli and the Sienese painters of the Quattrocento. He also gave them – or rather revealed – all the grace and nobility that was inside them, beneath their humble appearance. The work of a novelist must travel in the same direction. His imagination, far from distorting reality, must get to the bottom of it, revealing this reality to itself, using the power of infrared and ultraviolet to detect what is hidden behind appearances. I could almost believe that the novelist, at his best, is a kind of clairvoyant or even visionary. He is also a seismograph, standing by to pick up barely perceptible movements.

Solmaz Sharif’s writes minimalist collages of political terror.

• it was my job to put a cross on each home with dead for clearing • it was my job to dig graves into the soccer field • I wrote red tracksuit • I wrote Shahida, headless, found beside Saad Mosque • buried in the same grave as the above • I wrote unidentified fingers • found inside Oldsmobile car • I wrote their epitaphs in chalk • from my son’s wedding mattress I know this mound’s his room • I dropped to a knee and engaged the enemy • I emptied my clip then finished the job • I took two steps in and threw a grenade • I took no more than two steps into a room before firing • in Haditha we cleared homes Fallujah-style • my father was reading the Koran when they shot him through the chest • they fired into the closet • the kitchen • the ninety-year-old standing over the stove • just where was I • uno a uno tu cara en todos los buses urbanos • Here lie the mortal remains of one who in life searched your face • call me when you get home • let’s miss an appointment together •

John Walser writes of midwest landscape and longing in the eclectic Hiram Poetry Review to which today I will submit a few things.

Because in March
when I still drive down
every other weekend
but not on this,
at one in the morning,
this cold alternate Saturday morning,
I will sit lonely in the window
of a loud, crowded, dark Main Street bar,
drinking a glass of wine,
reading by streetlight as thin as condensation
a paperback of Gogol or Kafka,
while she sleeps alone in her bed
232 miles away

and the snow falls in swarms
like lakeflies in July,
in waves of summer moths

A. Anupama’s poetry blends myth and science and sex.

A red hibiscus flower in a tall hedge
attracted me with its color
and its long bright stamen,
extended in a sort of greeting.

I didn’t notice until I got closer
the green parrot sitting directly above it.
I stopped still, for fear of startling the bird.
It looked at me with one eye, then hopped
deftly into the flower,
where it disappeared.

Xtiidxanu’ hruzá’ xquendabiaaninu

Our language molds the gifts of our thoughts: Zapotec poetry by Irma Pineda.

Pineda’s poems weave universal themes of birthplace, homeplace, and the human connection to the natural world. Two other poems, which she performed to music matching the rising and falling tones of Zapotec, are part of a series that describes choosing a clay pot for her child’s doo yoo. This “cord-house,” holding the baby’s umbilical cord and placenta, is buried on the family’s land, physically connecting person and place. Isthmus Zapotecs speak metaphorically about “home” as doo yoo: both the specific site of their buried cord-house and the broader landscape to which they are intrinsically tied. Pineda says of doo yoo, “This tradition happens less and less often. We’re becoming less and less connected to the earth.” She writes in another poem about the doo yoo:

The clay vessel is wide and cool
so your soul might rest
protected by the land of your grandparents
the land bathed with their sweat
the land blessed with their labor

In the Zapotec version of this stanza, Pineda uses the word guenda, which exemplifies the Zapotec connection to the earth. The word appears frequently in Pineda’s poems and resists straightforward translation. She translates it into Spanish most often as “soul,” but also as “totem animal,” “spirit,” “guardian,” and “gift.” In Pineda’s poems, these gifts include a woman’s brilliant gaze, one’s whole life, a child’s smile, and the darkness in the eyes of the dead. Talent—say, for writing poetry—is also a guenda, as is taking on an important community responsibility such as being elected town mayor. “Guenda is also our parallel being in this life,” Pineda says. “This parallel being journeys with you through life. If something bad happens to your guenda, you will be hurt, as well.”


In which I post links to writing here so I can close windows on my browser because I can’t trust myself to remember anything anymore.

Globalism is surreal and borders are absurd in Deepak Unnikrishnan’s stories.

In a labor camp, somewhere in the Persian Gulf, a laborer swallowed his passport and turned into a passport. His roommate swallowed a suitcase and turned into a little suitcase. When the third roommate, privy and vital to the master plan, ran away the next morning with the suitcase and the new passport, he made it past the guard on night duty, made it on the morning bus to the airport, past the bored ticket agent at Check-In, past Security, past pat-down and a rummage through his suitcase, past using the bathroom once, twice, thrice, to pee, to shit, to sit, past Duty-Free, where he stared at chocolates and booze and magazines and currencies, past families eating fast food in tracksuits or designer wear, past men and women sleeping on the floor, past his past, past his present, past the gold in the souks, the cranes in the sky, petrol in the air, dreams in his head, past God and the devil, the smell of mess halls, past humidity and hot air, past it all, until he found an empty chair in the Departures lounge, where he sat and held his future in his palms.

Rivka Galchen writes about Kafka and writing about Kafka.

Often his character recalls both Larry David and Bertie Wooster. Many are the plans that Kafka makes in a manner that ensures their eventual unmaking. Over five years he courts, engages, un-engages, re-engages but never marries Felice Bauer, a woman with whom he spends less than 15 scattered and not always happy days, whose dear friend Grete Bloch he also woos in letters, and whom he makes clear he could not be sexually available to in a marriage. Then, in a letter he sends to her in advance of a meeting at which they plan to discuss things (she has even quit her job at his bidding so as to be able to move to Prague), he calls her ‘my human tribunal’. During the First World War, Kafka repeatedly begs his superiors at work to release him from his job so he can become a soldier; but as he later writes in his diary, he doesn’t go too far; he never becomes a soldier. Nor does he marry the next woman he asks to marry him, or the one after that. Nor does he deliver (or destroy) the long letter he wrote to his father. Nor does he, despite extensive plans and study of Hebrew, move to Palestine. Kafka at times causes others to suffer in a manner akin to the way the illimitably charming Don Quixote does, by adhering to an untrue but more ennobling view of the world.

Eileen Battersby’s best-of list is composed mostly of books in translation.

German translator Adrian West introduced me to Marianne Fritz.

After the headless figure had spoken, the scattered groups of people merged into a single human mass. All of them held their heads at their side, holding them in their hands and resting them on their hips. Each head was the same as the others. And all the heads resembled helmets.

“What have I done to you?” Rudolf cried. And since no one answered him: “Why am I hanging here on this cross? Why?”

One headless being after the other stepped forward from out of the mass of people. The voices of women, girls, men and boys drowned one another out in turn.

“You can’t catch a ball.”

“You can’t play an instrument.”

“You can’t even sing.”

“You always fall down.”

“Your nose bleeds.”

“You have two left hands.”

“You can’t remember your numbers.”

“You can’t even remember the ten commandments.”

“You can’t write properly.”

“You can’t even copy things down.”

“You can only draw animals and just barely a house; you can’t draw people with two hands, ten fingers, two feet, and a head. Your people have five eyes and monstrous mouths. Your people have seven heads or no head, twenty-three fingers or none at all.”

“You can’t catch frogs.”

An interview with Kevin Young.

In The Grey Album I joke that I was looking for a unified theory of black culture. If you look at Lucille Clifton’s work, you can see that kaleidoscopic quality. Take a poem like “won’t you celebrate with me,” where she’s thinking that every day something has tried to kill [her] and failed, and she says, “born here in babylon / both nonwhite and woman.” It is such a specific poem. But there’s something about that shared “I,” and in her case, a lowercase “i,” that is so powerful. The specificness of her vision is part of the breadth of it.

And this is true of someone like Seamus Heaney, too. When he’s writing about his family farm in Derry, I realize he could be talking about my family farm, or the land we lived on in Louisiana and still have. It’s been there in the same parish for something like two hundred years. There’s a real rootedness in what he’s talking about. It’s important to my poetry—that idea of a place—which isn’t so far away from the idea of multitudinousness.

Michael Mazur is important to me for some reason (I lack the verve to know why). Maybe because he brought intense observation into a zoo that hurts as much as my glancing but continues to look forever.

A loving touch and an exquisite sense of color and light go full tilt in Stoneham Zoo (1976–1979), even as the subject matter is on the cusp of being repellent. This is the kind of challenge that most artists, no matter what the medium, avoid: to confront and stroke difficult subject matter, to be open and sympathetic without trivializing or becoming sentimental. This is what Cormac McCarthy does with the repugnant Lester Ballard in his short novel, Child of God (1973), and what Mazur does with his primates in Stoneham Zoo (1976–1979).

Nicholas Brady’s texts for Henry Purcell’s music– I am studying.

‘Tis Nature’s Voice; thro’ all the moving Wood
Of Creatures understood:
The Universal Tongue to none
Of all her num’rous Race unknown.
From her it learnt the mighty Art
To court the Ear or strike the Heart;
At once the Passions to express and move;
We hear, and stright we grieve or hate, rejoice or love;
In unseen Chains it does the Fancy bind;
At once it charms the Sense and capivates the Mind.