Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Now come in with the right, Al!

Jim here, as are the other two posts below without a tag.
Off-poetry-topic political blog: Al Gore ripped Bush a new one on Monday. If he had been able to give a speech like this one while he was running for president, the gang of nine would not have been in a position to steal his victory. I am pretty sure I detected a note of desperation in the way the wingnuts were dismissing his speech. Basically, the only real excuse they can come up with is "sometimes Clintonstretched civil liberties too..." And the examples they have are pretty lame, too. As a schoolteachers Jen & I know how to deal with this excuse: "We're talking about *your* behavior now, George. Don't try and put your actions off on other people."

The two real questions are: 1) is there any chance this man will run again? And more importantly if so, 2) is this really a new Al Gore, or is it just Al Gore's Brave and Charismatic Twin, who always goes into hiding whenever we actually need him around, like, say, during an election?

Well, I won't get my hopes up. But, well, if nothing else I say f*** yeah to him for telling the truth about what's happening in America.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


We recently got the movie Henry Fool by Hal Hartley from Netflix and both loved it. The premise is pretty standard for a movie about poetry: the title character, who is seemingly a brilliant, experimental poetic exile, discovers a geeky schmoe garbage man, Simon, and gets him to start writing. It shouldn't surprise anyone who knows the form to discover whether the "real poet" turns out to be Henry, who wears a rumpled three-piece suit, talks in a bold dissociative stream of consciousness and knows Wordsworth backwards and forwards, or the shy, reserved Simon. If you have any doubt, the movie clues you in with inspirational music when Simon attacks a marble-front comp book with a stubby pencil, then wakes up the next morning passed out over a book filled from start to finish.

Nevertheless, the movie has plenty of surprises. The scene where Henry accidentally proposes to Simon's slutty sister (played brilliantly as usual by Parker Posey), using the washer to an old refrigerator for a ring and while having an attack of diarrhea, damn near made me pee. But the humor in the movie is mixed with equal parts tragedy, including suicide, spousal abuse, alcoholism and child molestation.

What I really liked about the movie was the way it addresses the desire to be "great." In several places Henry, a drunken ex-con incapable of any kind of responsibility, says that all his failings will seem insignificant once the world sees his long-hidden Confessions. Again, it's no surprise how that turns out. But his statement brings up the feelings that so many people have in striving for artistic greatness.

All of us may love to read about Charlie Parker's heroin- and booze-soaked lecherous exploits. And however much we say otherwise, there is a part of us that tends to believe that his talent wipes all his truly reprehensible misbehavior away. But think about how many junkie lush lechers there have been who, however they might have believed otherwise, didn't turn out to be great artists, or even very good ones? And how many of them thought that it was okay they shot shit like Bird if only they could play like Bird, to reverse the old saying? And what about the rest of us whose lives are much more excusable, but inside believe our true selves can only be justified if it's in an introduction to our part of a Norton anthology?

I wonder, is it true that all of us who strive, successfully or not, for artistic success of some sort, are trying at least in part to excuse our failings and weaknesses? It can't be just me and Henry. But maybe other artists don't have that need.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Poetry and (Silence)

One of the really challenging things about hearing that poem read (and it was a poem that has to be heard, I think), was that many people (me included) found themselves laughing at the difficulty of pronunciation. Of course, that was the point of the poem, so she in a sense was giving people permission to laugh. She was doing what many of the best artists do, which is to find humor in what must have been a horrible experience. But it also tended to make the listeners (me at least) uncomfortable when we found ourselves laughing. I'm sure that was part of the point, too. The tension between "ha ha that is funny"/"that is not funny at all, I shouldn't be laughing" is what made the poem so deep.

Hearing her read reminded me of a character in a book called Hyperion by the author Dan Simmons, who is a serious poet who also writes sci-fi. The character, whose name I have forgotten because I read the book over 10 years ago, was a rich, dilettante would-be poet who got on a starship and went into deep-freeze to travel across the stars. Because the deep-freeze malfunctioned, he had brain damage and lost all his knowledge of language except for a few dirty words: "shit", "piss", "fuck", etc. He also was dumped in a miserable refugee camp, which he barely survived. In this situation, he was forced to reconstruct all his language from scratch, and in this way became the greatest poet in the known universe. Obviously, this is not like Norma, who was a great poet before her stroke. But it nevertheless made you think of what it would be like as a "word person" to suddenly have to do without words.

The idea of losing all language and starting over seems very appealing to a poet (though certainly not worth going through what Norma experienced!). It seems like you would be forced to throw out all the unnecessary bullshit ornaments we use to decorate our language, and focus on exactly what you mean - which is pretty much what poetry is supposed to be. Not having gone through it, though, I don't know if it really works that way.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Poetry and (Movement)

I have always been really recaletrant to define myself as a “handicapped poet” or a poet with a disability. This hesitancy has been based on a number of factors. For one, I do not necessarily enjoy poets who write as if trapped in their own minority experience. I also have a deep desire, perhaps instilled in me by my parents, to “fit in” on the world’s terms. I also want to note that the only other poet I know with cerebral palsy, Larry Eigner, never made disability a centerpiece in his work. When you do write directly about your “problem” (and we all have them) you risk becoming a poster child. Or James Galvin put it to me best: “One doesn’t need to write about being disabled. (or any minority) Disability will show through in your work no matter the subject.” i.e. One should not use poetry as a method to argue with their oppressors.

However, I have been thinking about movement, breath, voice, and disability in relation to poetry. I recently wrote the lines

An Ars Poetica

Thoughts always
move faster than
the hand.

Soon after, my husband and I went to see Norma Cole, who is arguably one of America’s most important, innovative poets and a good friend. I wasn’t aware that Norma had had a stroke, which had left her silent for a number of months. During the reading, she had difficultly reading. Rather than making a tragedy of the situation, Norma read an oft beautiful, oft-hilarious poem in which she used all the words that she had difficulty saying. The end result was a magical poem.

January 12, 2006

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Welcome to SES Blog

I guess no one will see this yet. But let's just see if it works. Here goes.