Monday, July 30, 2007

a midsummer's annogram

Happy mid-summer, everyone! The air is fragrant and moist and trees laden with green. Cygnus flies overhead so take a look at her beautiful wings at night. This eclectic annogram combines everything from Robert Frost to ZZ Top, so let’s get started:

Cleve Gray at Neuberger
What an honor it was to read with top Westchester poets such as Suzanne Cleary, Brenda Connor-Bey, Ann Lauinger, Linda Simone and Meredith Trede at “Inspired by Nature,” a literary tribute to Cleve Gray (1918-2004) at the Neuberger Museum of Art. Gray’s arresting artwork combines vivid color fields under Zen-like calligraphic strokes. His masterpiece, “Threnody,” a meditation on the Vietnam War, which includes 28 larger-than-life red and black panels, produces a chapel-like reflection on the costs of war. This amazing exhibit closes the first week of September.

Hence this cradle reviewed in Pedestal
Thanks to editor John Amen for arranging a review of my translation, Hence this cradle (Seismicity Editions) by noted poet-translator Eric Greinke:

Salute to Jackie Sheeler
As the metro area’s poetry impresario for the past decade, Jackie hosted the Pink Pony West Poetry Series at the Cornelia Street CafĂ© in the Village, and created a local poetry calendar,, that linked to others from Vermont to Texas. As Poet Laureate of Riker’s Island, she received a wonderful write-up about her work there in the New York Times. Jackie, author of The Memory Factory (Buttonwood Press, 2002) and to[o] long (Three Rooms Press, 2007), is leaving her website and reading series to focus on her poetry, music and spoken-word recordings. Jackie, thanks for blessing many poets far and wide with encouragement, venues and opportunities!

Sugaring recommended reading
Thanks to Valparaiso Poetry Review for listing Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007) as “recommended reading”! I am still looking for reviewers. Anyone interested in reviewing my chapbook, please contact me.

Robert Frost Stone House
In early 2000, a group of business people got together and raised funds to buy Robert Frost’s home in South Shaftsbury, Vermont. There, Frost had lived in the 1920s and written “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” While the house affords access to a bare first floor, the rooms are filled with a fascinating collage of family photos, literary criticism, and poems. I always thought of Frost as a cantankerous loner—but, in reality, he lived with his adult children and their children in this small house. I loved discovering his phrase, “the pleasures of ulteriority,” that is—saying one thing and meaning another. His grave is not far away, at the Old First Church, on a shaded hill.

Lucy’s Eggs big winner
Congratulations to Rick Henry, editor of Blueline: His book, Lucy’s Eggs (Syracuse University Press, 2006), won the Adirondack Center for Writing's Best Fiction Award for books published in 2006. The Adirondack Center for Writing, a non-profit, supports literary arts throughout the Adirondacks.

Setzer, Hynde and ZZ sizzle
I hope Frost does not turn over in his grave if I jump to a fabulous rock concert held last night at the Jones Beach Theater. Brian Setzer returned to his native Long Island for the first time in 15 years—bursting on stage like a firecracker in a red-fringe shirt and matching red guitar. His wild Stray Cat cohorts, Slim Jim Phantom on drums and Lee Rocker on stand-up bass, flailed like wind-mills as Setzer wrung each awesome note out of his guitar. They seemed unaffected by a theater two-thirds full—but, as the Bible says, a prophet is never respected in his hometown. In this case, that means Massapequa.

How long have I adored Chrissie Hynde’s soulful rock intonations? Probably since her band, the Pretenders, emerged on MTV in the mid-80s. Wearing her classic shag haircut, knee-high white boots, jeans with a silver-chain belt and sleeveless hot pink shirt, Hynde is the quintessential rock diva. Strutting across the stage, she sang and played her Fender Telecaster to hits such as “Back on the Chain Gang”, “Middle of the Road", and “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” Hynde, who had left her Ohio home in 1973 to go to London, endured five years of false starts before forming the Pretenders. Today, she is the only remaining band member thanks to the original band’s drug-related deaths—but this crew translates their magic perfectly.

I saw ZZ Top more than 15 years ago at the Garden—and they haven’t aged a bit! Okay, that’s a joke: ZZ Top’s two guitarists, Texans Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, wear foot-long beards, sunglasses and hats that the FBI might use for witness protection. All the absent tailgaters filled the theater to hear ZZ standards such as “Pearl Necklace", “Sharp-Dressed Man,” and “Gimme All Your Lovin.” I had no idea that Gibbons, Hill and drummer Frank Beard—ironically, no beard—got together in 1969 and also opened for Hendrix in Texas. After admitting that Hendrix taught him “stuff,” Gibbons and co. did an outrageous interpretation of “Foxy Lady.” ZZ performed a generous hour, accompanied by digital light show, smoke and their famous fuzzy guitars: More proof of southern hospitality.

Book reviews
Collins, Martha. Blue Front: Poems (Graywolf, 2006) recalls a lynching that the poet’s father witnessed in Cairo, Illinois. Collins spent years researching the actual event and pulls news clippings, photos and journal entries in a documentary-like free verse. Both Collins and Trethewey—reviewed below—use these resources to create poems like collage. They incorporate materials without losing the driving narrative or emotional voice. Collins often repeats phrases, lending an eerie urgency to the re-telling of this horrid tale; and examines common words used to describe it:

as a mirror on a wall, or the fall
of a dress. a dress, a shirt on a line
to fasten to dry. on the rack, or back
in the closet again, a sweet curse
on it all, sliver of nail, delayed
attack. shamed creature, a curse
on itself, so the act of doing it
changes the verb, tense with not
quite right. with rope, like a swing
from a tree. from a pole, like a flag,
or holidays, from an arch lit bright
with lights. in the night, in the air
like a shirt. without, or with only
a shirt. without, like an empty sleeve.

Blue Front is important—not only for its creative and visual lyricism, but for its truer reckoning of American history.

Taylor, Mervyn. Gone Away (Junction Press, 2006) is a collection of poems that focuses on the cultural tension of islanders who leave their birthplace to come live in the United States. Taylor, whose first home was Trinidad, produces affectionate portraits of friends and family members, and the choices they face. Like Collins and Trethewey, he also examines broader race issues, such as Amadou Diallo in “A Well-Bred Woman,” or Iraq war in “Entering the City.” In “Hard of Hearing”, his heart is back home:

They tell me it’s raining hard
in the island now. This is good,
you would think, after such a dry spell,
people would stand and drink.

But they complain it’s too much,
umbrellas are useless, shoes are soaked,
and there’s not enough camphor
to still the wheezing.

And when the sun comes out
so hot it scorches the skin it
plays a crazy song
on the galvanize.

Fowls swoon, and the blood
feels like it’s turning to steam.
They are waiting for Sunday, when
the light grows softer, the radio

plays hymns all day, and converts
tilt bravely backward into the font,
risking deafness, like Audrey ever since
going “Eh? Eh?” And still no answer.

Thanks to Meredith Trede for lending me this engaging book.

Trethewey, Natasha. Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry. This book looks at race relations—starting with the Civil War and continuing with the poet’s experience growing up in Mississippi as the daughter of a biracial couple. Trethewey uses form easily—and perhaps needs it to recall memories such as a cross burning on her front yard. She taps into photographs, Civil War journals and related histories to shape her multi-layered topic. The effect is one of a fascinating collage. Also that her mother was a domestic violence victim--Trethewey's step-father murdered her--amplifies the ulteriority of her poems. In “Providence,” she recalls the devastation after Hurricane Camille:

The next day, our house—
on its cinderblocks—seemed to float

in the flooded yard: no foundation

beneath us, nothing I could see
tying us to the land.
In the water, our reflection
when I bent to touch it.

This wonderfully brave and well-crafted book deserves the Pulitzer.

That’s all for now. I leave you with my admiration for the rockers I saw last night and their long journey to recognition. Their experience tells me that if you love your art, the journey is your destination.

Til next time,