Poetry Special – (March 2015 / 15.5)
Claire Beynon is an artist, writer and independent researcher based in Dunedin, New Zealand. Drawn increasingly to interdisciplinary work, she has established valued collaborative partnerships with scientists, filmmakers, musicians, fellow artists and writers in her home country and abroad. Antarctica has her under its spell; two summer research seasons with US scientists (in a remote field camp on the edge of the Taylor Dry Valleys) significantly altered her way of seeing and being in the world. More here.
A boy from the back
is blowing into a twirling swatch of fabric
his love of sweets,
his mother’s predilection for Mandarin-curaçaos,
blue jays, Victorian steel engravings, pulp novels,
a sense of Americana at its purest,
wing collars, diamond buckles, sequins, shells,
a pair of scissors, a glass-enclosed porch,
his own fragility and suffering,
a tiny metal thimble balanced on an upright needle.
[after an untitled paperboard box (aka “Sure Cure for that Tired Feeling”), 1935, by Joseph Cornell, with text collaged from Utopia Parkway, his biography, by Deborah Solomon]
Kathleen Kirk is the author of five poetry chapbooks, most recently Interior Sculpture: poems in the voice of Camille Claudel (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), with another, ABCs of Women’s Work, forthcoming from Red Bird in 2015. Her work appears in a variety of print and online journals, including Eclectica, Museum of Americana, Nimrod, Poetry East, and Waccamaw. She is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life.
Skin Flashing Where the Garment Gapes
After Richard E. Miller’s The Bather
A water sculpture, a spring erect in the shape of a woman, fluid as a mirror held to the awakening sycamores, soothing their albescent knots and twisted joints under shedding flakes of bark. Can’t you feel the moisture in her curves? At first glance you might think her about to bathe in the clear pool by the blue stones, but truly she is made of water and rose from it, a teaser slowly dropping an illusion of a wraparound garment that is really a sheet of water, still unable to break down and become woman, she projects her image over the young man lying down on the smooth rocks, face leaning on his bent elbow, he watches her appear and disappear, the sheets of water vanishing into mist in the early hours, stares at her skin flashing where the garment gapes, oscillating between life and death.
Hedy Habra is the author of a poetry collection, Tea in Heliopolis, finalist for the 2014 International Book Award, and a story collection, Flying Carpets, winner of the 2013 Arab American National Book Award’s Honorable Mention. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies, including Connotation Press, Poetic Diversity, Nimrod, Drunken Boat, Diode, Cutthroat, Bitter Oleander, and Poet Lore. For more information visit here.
Assume that Alice is not quite right. She has stumbled on a corpse, or a corse, if she is living in that earlier time, or is it perhaps just a body, the soul having left on its other journey? Now assume that Alice would like to talk with her other, saner, self. The one she had before her parents told her they were going to get divorced. She has three options: she could kill them both, to be incarcerated for the rest of her life in an institution that, in theory at least, would support beliefs in teleportation. She can run from the house and live on the street, where most believe that teleportation usually only gets you one step closer to where you were before. Or she can face the fact that her other, older, more social and reliable self was itself an illusion perpetuated by a trick of the mirrors in her parents’ palatial bathroom, the place where she used the knife. Getting from here to there is only a matter of changing one letter, and really doesn’t depend on superluminal speeds. If Alice were to measure the length of the trip against her need to take it, whether she is running away from something or trying to get some place she’s never likely to be, she would realize the difference is negligible. Perhaps only imaginary. A hole in the ground that is more than a hole in the ground. But we’re talking about something entirely different: the possibility of a quantum leap, the science of the unacceptable. According to this theory, in the matter of only a few short years (time is relative, after all), and not more distant than a dozen strides at a good pace, she will be someone else, all the bits of her traded out for the new “Alice,” the new adventure, and the threat of being only herself at that moment will have already passed.
George Moore’s latest collections of poetry are Children’s Drawings of the Universe, published by Salmon Poetry (Ireland) in February 2015, and The Hermits of Dingle, published by FutureCycle Press in 2013. His work as appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, North American Review, Colorado Review, and a number of international journals, including Blast and Fiddlehead.
Resolution at Midnight: A Lyrical Braid
Wordsworth and Coleridge, enjoined and erased
There was a roaring unhelped by any wind.
The owlet’s cry is rising calm and bright.
The inmates of my cottage voice abstruser musings.
At my side the air is filled with pleasant noise.
‘Tis calm, so calm, that it disturbs the morning’s birth:
sea, hill, and wood running races
with all the numberless goings-on of life
raises a mist that lies and quivers not.
I was a Traveller then, the sole unquiet thing.
I heard the woods and distant waters roar dim sympathies.
The pleasant season did my heart employ the idling spirit
and all the ways of men, so vain.
Echo or mirror of joys!
How oft in our dejection do we sink to watch
fears and fancies of sky-lark warbling in the sky.
From morn to evening, all the hot fair day,
such a happy child of earth am I.
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
and from all care so gazed I
till the soothing things I dreamt:
solitude, pain of heart, distress, and poverty.
And so I brooded all the following morn
as if life’s business were a summer mood
fixed with mock study still rich.
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up.
Build for him! Sow for him! And at his call
townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved!
I thought of Chatterton that sleepest,
who fill up the intersperséd vacancies
by spirits so beautiful it thrills my heart
but thereof come in the end despondency.
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
a leading from above, a something given,
in the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim
when I with these untoward thoughts
shalt wander like a breeze.
I saw a Man before me unawares
of ancient mountain and beneath the clouds.
As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie
and mountain crags, so shalt thou see and hear
wonder to all who do the same espy
of that eternal language which thy God
endued with sense: Himself in all,
and all things in Himself of rock or sand reposeth.
Make it ask whether the summer clothe the general earth
feet and head betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
as if some dire constraint of pain or rage
smokes in the sun-thaw, whether the eave-drops fall
a more than human weight upon his frame.
Or if the secret ministry
of frost upon a long grey staff
of shaven wood to the quiet moon.
The frost motionless as a cloud
loud as before and moveth all together
left me to that solitude, which fixedly did look peacefully
as if he had been reading in a book with its strange side,
to him did say, “This populous village!”
A gentle answer did the old Man make
(inaudible as dreams!) and him with
further words which fluttered on the grate,
“This is a lonesome place. Methinks its motion
in this hush of nature broke from the sable orbs
of his yet-vivid eyes, making it a companionable form,”
but each in solemn order followed each by its own moods,
choice word and measured phrase
above the reach of thought in Scotland.
I gazed upon the bars that to these waters he had come
with unclosed lids—hazardous and wearisome—
whose bells roamed from moor to moor
like articulate sounds of things to come
and in this way he gained an honest maintenance.
Sleep prolonged my dreams but now his voice to me
was like a stream. Mine eye and the whole body
of the Man did seem if the door half opened
or like a man from some far region sent
for still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
My former thoughts returned: the fear that kills
my play when we were clothed alike!
Cold, pain, and labor, and all fleshly ills,
whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
perplexed, and longing to be comforted, pauses:
“How is it that you live?”
With tender gladness, far and wide
and in far other scenes the waters of the pools.
saw naught but they have dwindled long
by slow decay by lakes and sandy shores.
While he was talking thus, the lonely place
which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
in my mind’s eye I seemed to see him,
lovely and intelligible, wandering about alone and silently,
who from eternity doth teach the same discourse renewed.
Great universal Teacher!
(He shall mold with demeanor kind to thee.)
“God,” said I.
while the nigh thatch heard only,
“Hang them up in icicles.”
[An alternation of lines and phrases from William Wordsworth’s “Resolution
and Independence” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”]
Bill Yarrow is a Professor of English at Joliet Junior College. He is the author of Blasphemer (Lit Fest Press 2015), Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX 2012), and four chapbooks, The Lice of Christ (MadHat Press, 2014), Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku (Cervena Barva Press, 2014), Fourteen (Naked Mannekin, 2011), and Wrench (erbacce-press, 2009).
Pamela Johnson Parker
Here Lies One: Remembering You through Cavafy
And if you
After 25 years, return to sand, to silver glints
Of gum wrappers and lead weights on broken
Test line, return to the spot where he removed
Your swimsuit so deftly and posed you there
And drew you to him after he drew you, your
27-year-old body, in India ink with a wash of grey
At twilight, the magic hour when the sky’s
Violet, when the first stars pock it like rain on water
And below them the lake lies, zinc, and waves are
Wrinkles looking for someone’s brow—but not yours,
For you’ll be ink on ivory forever—and unchanged.
What you didn’t realize is that ivory cracks and after
Find her poor
He dies at this same spot where you were first filled
Up with his child a quarter of a century ago you yield,
You crack and craze; you unravel like fishing line or
Shot silk or kapok; you float into the air, into the water;
Waves wash over you then, when grief finally beaches
Itself like a hull in your heart’s drift. The lake
Laps back and forth and fossils wash up in shoals,
And a bass leaps, flares silver and green, and falls…
And after you cry, you slip out of your swimsuit
And you look at your breasts that pleased one man
And two children, at your belly that cocooned them,
At the scar that he kissed when you first made love
After your C-section and you were shy, when he said
It is coming home o it is — the only sure things now are
Breast belly crescent scar cunt—this is you, this is
Your body, and can this body so set in its ways
Please another, will another wander to find you
And feel at home? And you slip into the water
As though you were slipping back into your slip and
You float and it is satin shock it is cold and clinging
And your breasts bob and your hair’s gilt
In the late afternoon sun and you cry just a little more
And you climb on the rock where you once lay
On top of him and you lie there till you’re warm
Won’t have fooled you
And you leave off your sundress, your sapphire slip,
Your sandals (each dribbling sand like an hourglass),
Your sunglasses, your St. Christopher, you gather
Them up in a towel and naked you walk to the water
Your face wavers and his words echo and you do
See that maybe there is still something to you,
Something of the figurehead, bare-breasted ravaged
By wind and wrinkling waves, a difference
That perhaps he still sees, and you promise you’ll
Learn to promise to love and honor and cherish
Someone else and you scatter the last of his ashes
And scratch his name in the sand and watch
She has given you
Water filling the letters you have carved so deeply
That it will be late morning before the very
Last serif has been erased by the waves.
Pamela Johnson Parker, widely published in journals, is the author of Other Four-Letter Words (Finishing Line Press, 2010) and A Walk Through the Memory Palace (Phoenicia Publishing, 2009).
Essay: Karren LaLonde Alenier
MY PAUL BOWLES
In 1982, I spent three weeks in Tangier, Morocco, through a writing program sponsored by New York’s School of Visual Arts in which Paul Bowles was the figurehead seminar leader with novelist Fred Tuten. My friend Kathryn King, who laid out many of the early Word Works books, pointed out a small ad in a national magazine for the SVA fiction program. She knew I had gone to Morocco in the summer of 1981 and how I had raved about what I saw and experienced. In 1980, she and I had traveled together for a long weekend at the COSMEP publishing conference in the small town of California, Pennsylvania, where we got to hang out with Allen Ginsberg. She knew Ginsberg considered Bowles a spiritual mentor whether Bowles liked that honor or not. She said I had to go.
LEAVING MY NEW DESKTOP COMPUTER FOR TANGIER WITH TYPEWRITER
Amazingly, I managed to get accepted to the program with 50 pages of novel that I would finish in two years, make that trip without knowing anyone else who was going (due to a violent transportation strike, it had been rough getting out of Casablanca on my last trip), juggle a full-time federal government job in computing, take a break from my beloved six-year-old son, and deal with the recent loss of my dad. Paul Bowles was puzzled by my 50 pages in which I had not named my characters, but had only used X Y Z placeholders. I figured I would name the characters once I had gotten further along. On the other hand, Fred Tuten immediately understood that, though I had brought a manual typewriter to Tangier, I was using a personal computer at home and could easily change these placeholder IDs after I returned. Tuten was my go-to counselor for my first work of fiction. Bowles suggested that in our private conferences we could work on my poetry.
WHY GERTRUDE STEIN SLAMMED PAUL BOWLES’ POETRY
To prepare for the SVA workshop, I read as much of Bowles’ fiction as I had time for and bought a copy of Next to Nothing: Collected Poems 1926-1977. Black Sparrow Press had published this volume in 1981. When I asked Bowles to sign it, he wrote this note in my copy: “for Karren Alenier Don’t judge me too harshly by what’s in this volume. All best, Paul Bowles Tangier, 29/VII/82”. Years later after I understood how Gertrude Stein had told him he wasn’t a good writer, I thought most of Bowles’ poems were too dark for Stein’s approach to literature. For example, his 1927 poem “Elegy” repeats a thought about being too late. Why?—because everything and everybody are destined to destroy everything and each other.
We are all too late
Everything is finished and we all have arrived too late
Let me make you understand
Let me make linen shrouds for all of you
Let me strangle you softly
Let me dismember you deftly
Linen shrouds are fashionable this year
Then the matter of Bowles, a seventeen-year-old, getting published along with James Joyce, André Breton, and Gertrude Stein in 1927 in transition, an international literary magazine, must have seriously vexed Stein who, before she met Bowles, thought he was an elderly gentleman.
THE IMPECCABLE EAR OF PAUL BOWLES
What struck me about the help I got from Bowles on my poetry was how connected his suggestions were to music. For some years, I had been writing about Gertrude Stein and her circle of friends. I had taken inspiration from reading Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. In her book, I found a playground of vignettes. My most abstract poem that came out of that inspiration was “Leo on Seesaw,” a rhythmic play of words both in English and German. Bowles helped me regularize the beat. This poem because of its musicality leaps international barriers. I have been as successful presenting this poem in China as I have been in the United States. Little did I know then it would become a centerpiece in my opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On.
—–LEO ON SEESAW
———————for the pleasure
———————of Gertrude Stein
Little Buddha little brooder
Kleiner Bruder tiny brother
bitty bother sitting baldly
in the butter in the batter
—–shaking philosophic digits
—————in the kitchen
—————for the Kuchen
—————has been eaten
—————by the kitten
wearing mittens in the winter
hiding splinters in his fingers
—————in the cracks
—————of the plaster
—————So we laughed
twenty HA HA HA HA HA
in metered breathing
—————to the day
—————he was born
Back in 1982, I had no idea I would create a libretto for opera. In hindsight, there was no better advisor for my Stein poems than Paul Bowles who had written music for Tennessee Williams’ plays and a bona fide opera of his own.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES OR NOT…
What was it like interacting with Paul Bowles? Bowles was a man of many contradictions, such as his long marriage to Jane Auer Bowles, a lesbian. Jane, the woman who gave him courage to write fiction. Jane, who died in 1973 after a prolonged and difficult decline. Jane, whom he was still mourning in 1982.
Vignette 1: Leaving the SVA fiction seminar, Paul offers me a lift in his Mustang. I offer to get in back where the legroom is minimal, but he says, No no, sit up front with my driver. Gradually I realized that he always sat in back with his knees up to his neck because that is how one positions oneself if a man has a driver. For him, sitting up front was déclassé.
Vignette 2: I arrive at his apartment for a private writing conference on a sweltering August day wearing a djellaba (a traditional Moroccan robe that allowed me to keep my purse under cover and away from pickpockets). I say, I’m so hot. Do you mind if I take my djellaba off? He says, sounding flustered, Oh my, I forgot my jacket and turns to put his jacket on but says I should make myself comfortable.
Vignette 3: In preparation for another private writing meeting with Paul, he asks if I would like to see some artwork by his companion Mohammed Mrabet as well as have Mrabet make me a dinner of my choosing. I say yes and ask Paul to recommend some dishes. Paul says Mrabet’s father was the head chef at a celebrated hotel in Tangier that was frequented by famous people and that Mrabet learned to cook from his father. Paul recommends chicken with pickled lemon.
On the appointed day after meeting privately to work on my poetry, Paul gets up and says Mrabet will show me some of his paintings. Paul exits the room. Mrabet shows me his work. I offer to buy a painting and we strike a deal. Then I figure Paul will return for dinner. Not so. The meal is delicious and I am well served, but I never get any further information about why Paul doesn’t return to join me for dinner.
WHAT WAS TAKEN FROM HIS CLOSET
One additional interaction I had with Bowles toward the end of the three-week period of my SVA seminar was a joint interview done with two journalists who were part of the fiction seminar. I made a recording of the interview and got a portion of the proceedings published in Rick Peabody’s Gargoyle Magazine in 1984. Later this interview (as published in Gargoyle) was re-published in an anthology of Bowles interviews edited by Gena Dagel Caponi under the title Conversations with Paul Bowles.
Vignette 4: During the interview, one of the journalists asks if Bowles has published recently-composed music. Bowles waves that off, responding that his recent music was not meant to be to be published. I ask, “And you’re not sending this music to the Library of Congress?” Bowles answers that he has never sent his music to the LOC except for commissioned recordings of Moroccan Music. I say, “But they have copies of some of your sheet music.” Bowles looks stunned and replies, “Have they?” “Yes,” I answer. He continues, “I didn’t know. ” I add, “They’re catalogued—a piece you did—‘In the Summer House,’ I guess.” Bowles is visibly moved, “They have that? They have the score to that? But I’ve been wondering where it was for the last 30 years. I haven’t anything, you see. All my things disappeared.” I say, “They also have a piece you did for Gertrude Stein, some theatre music for Tennessee Williams, and some others.” Bowles says, “That’s interesting to me because I’ve been trying to find things for 20 to 30 years. My sheet music and my manuscripts—they’ve all disappeared. A lot of them turned up in Austin, Texas, in the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas.”
Further comments from Bowles revealed that the last time he saw the sheet music I mentioned, as well as his manuscripts, they were in a closet in New York. So my research trip to the Library of Congress had meant a great deal to Bowles, and to move emotionally the enigmatic Paul Bowles meant a lot to me.
More on the life of Paul Bowles and the influence Gertrude Stein had on him here.
Karren LaLonde Alenier is author of six collections of poetry, including Looking for Divine Transportation, 2002 winner of the Towson University Prize for Literature, and On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane and Paul Bowles (Kattywompus Press, 2012). Forthcoming from MadHat Press in 2015 is The Anima of Paul Bowles. Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, her jazz opera with composer William Banfield and Encompass New Opera Theatre artistic director Nancy Rhodes, premiered at New York City’s Symphony Space Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater in 2005. She is also the author of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas, a collection of essays, reviews of contemporary operas, and the libretto of her Stein opera. For more, visit her here and here.
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