Recently in Poetry Category

Song of an Ex

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I'm not much of a Walt Whitman fan; I prefer Emily Dickinson. But "Song of Myself" is worth knowing in that it's totally rip-off-able. For instance;

Song of an Ex

Do I tell you to fuck yourself?
Very well then: go fuck yourself.
(You are small, you define desuetude.)

The Secret of Poultry

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One of my favorite last lines of any poem EVER is from "The Secret of Poetry" by my friend and beloved teacher Jon Anderson. I wrote about him and this poem after his death a few years ago. Please read the poem if not the stuff I wrote about Jon at the beginning of the entry. It's a great poem, and it culminates with the devastating line "The secret of poetry is cruelty."

This is important because for many reasons, one of which is that whenever I read about chicken producers like Tyson, I can't help but think of a really bad line I came up with a decade or two ago: "The secret of poultry is cruelty."

It's not at all funny, because it's true: those chickens suffer cruelly.

But on the other hand, the fact that it's true is EXACTLY why it's funny.

Isn't humor strange. Isn't it just about the weirdest thing we ever invented, except maybe religion or lutefisk.

Two Different Kinds of Prodigy

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"Prodigy" typically refers to someone of extraordinary talent or ability, especially a child. A fun fact I picked up somewhere in the last two decades is that it originally meant "an unnatural happening," and so referred to omens or things of prophetic significance--as well as to something so unnatural it's monstrous. I once found it listed as a synonym for "monster."

The videos below were both sent to me by a friend who like me is a poet interested in religion. The first one involves many meanings of prodigy.... The last one is much simper, and will help alleviate some of the horror you will no doubt experience as you watch the first.

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I can't say how much that video freaks me out. The difference between the kid sitting and smiling at the "Today" lady or yawning or playing with his shoelaces because he's bored, versus the kid when he's all worked up, dabbing at his sweat with his folded handkerchief, really disturbs me. And then, when he starts jumping and down and shrieking, "But the Lord is gonna do it. That means God has to do it, and then God is gonna do it, and then Jesus has to do do it, and then God is gonna do it," as if that was anything but nonsense, I almost believe I have seen the anti-christ.

Whereas this is just nice. Perhaps the kid's mom helped him with intonation and expression, but it's still a very nice presentation of a terrific poem.

Loss Anticipated, Loss Experienced


My favorite poem by Robert Hass is "Meditation at Lagunitas," which begins

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.

Pretty much.

Friday night I went to the Sunstone Chritsmas party, my first Christmas party of the season, and perhaps my last.... I was also invited to one last night, but I couldn't make it. No other parties are scheduled for the next few weeks except a few celebrations of ME, 'cause, you know, Jesus's birth isn't the only one celebrated in December.

Anyway, there was a conversation about New York Doll, a documentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, which I wrote about several years ago in an entry that garnered lots of very interesting comments. There were people at the party who had never heard of it, and those of us who had seen it tried to explain what it was about and why someone should watch it. I mentioned what I said in my entry: that when I heard David Johansen sing "Come, Come Ye Saints" I burst into tears and sobbed until I couldn't breathe or sit up.

This struck some of the other people there are strange. "I didn't cry when I heard that hymn," one person said. "Not at all."

"You're still active in the church," I said. "You still get to sing that song as part of a community that values it. It doesn't represent a loss to you."

Loss ebbs and flows. We get over loss to some extent because we have to, and because time, if it doesn't heal all wounds, at least changes them. But our experience of loss starts not with the actual loss, but with our awareness that it WILL happen.

When He Was Lonely, He Thought of Death

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I really wish I were in Tucson today, not just because it's beautiful and warm--it's supposed to be 80 degrees, mostly sunny, with 0% chance of precipitation--but because tonight the University of Arizona Poetry Center has arranged a memorial tribute for my dear friend and mentor Jon Anderson.

Jon died last October, and when I got news of his death, I wanted to write a blog entry, but I was just too busy. So now, while there's an appropriate moment, I want to say something about why this man was dear to me.

I met Jon in the fall of 1982, when I enrolled in his intermediate poetry class as a sophomore. I took the class because a friend told me I had to study with Jon--he was the best poet and the best teacher on the faculty. That is as may be; I feel lucky to have worked with almost all my teachers, who were, by and large, extremely talented and generous people.

But there was indeed something special about Jon. For one thing, he was so goofy and disorganized. I admit I found him alarming at times--he was a mess in many ways, not just disorganized but slovenly. Our class met once a week-- Tuesdays, I think--at 3:30 in the afternoon; Jon would show up and tell us, as if we couldn't see for ourselves, that he had just gotten out bed. (Back in the early 80s, people wore surgical scrubs as pjs a lot--not fancy ones, just the mint green kind. They worked well for that. Jon would show up to class in a pair of ratty 501s and a scrub top.) But one thing he said that first semester truly raised my eyebrows, and I will remember it my entire life.

A Curmudgeon I Like


The other day I was discussing memorizing things with a friend who noted that I have an exceptionally good memory. This is a gift that has served me well throughout my life: it helped me become "scripture chase champion" (meaning that I could identify a passage of scripture based on one or two key words, then recite it verbatim, more swiftly and more accurately than anyone--what an accomplishment!) when I was in high school; it helped me memorize the discussions in Chinese as a missionary; it helped me get through a bachelor's degree with really great grades and a minimum of studying.

Some things are especially easy to memorize--certain poems or songs, for instances. One of the easiest poems to memorize is This Be the Verse, a bitterly funny poem in iambic tetrameter with simple diction and a straightforward ABAB rhyme scheme. TBtV is one of my favorite poems ever, and my very favorite poem by Philip Larkin, a curmudgeonly British poet whose attention to the intracacies of rhyme and form contrast nicely with a very earthy vocabulary and a sensibility keenly aware of loss. (As Robert Hass writes in Meditation at Lagunitas, "All the new thinking is about loss./ In this it resembles all the old thinking.")

Consider, for intance, Larkin's poem "Sad Steps." It begins with the line, "Groping back to bed after a piss," an occasion that provides the speaker with a view of a brilliant moon. The poem becomes a meditation on the fact that the moon's "wide stare"

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again
But is for other undiminished somewhere.

Larkin doesn't seem like a particularly nice person but he wrote wonderful poetry, even if he is known as the poet of dirty words. If you aren't familiar with his work, check it out.

Venus Pandemos


In 1987, when I was finishing up my bachelor's degree in creative writing at the University of Arizona (at that point I was still primarily a poet), a beloved teacher and friend loaned me a copy of Little Star, Mark Halliday's first book. I loved it. It was one of my major influences. The title poem is about wondering who sang lead on some 1950s pop song. Halliday acknowledges that the poem

is not the first time I've tried to
get a rock-&-roll song into a poem and it won't be
the last; it is my need to call out
This counts too!

After reading Halliday, I began writing all kinds of poems with rock & roll songs in them, or inspired by rock & roll songs; I wrote a poem about the video to Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" and I wrote a bunch of poems about death by hanging inspired largely by "Gallows Pole" by Zeppelin and I wrote a poem called "1812 Overture" but despite the reference to Tchaikovsky the poem is really about how much I love the song "Close to Me" by the Cure, how sad I always was when the song ended, how it was over far too quickly.

Because I was poor, I never bought Little Star; I just returned my teacher's copy after reading it once, then got a copy from the library and kept it until I finished my master's degree four years later. And then it went out of print and I didn't think much about it, aside from the poem "Why the HG is Holy," which is one of my all-time favorite poems.

But a few months ago, I mentioned to Tom how much I loved that book, and as he had a copy, he loaned it to me. And I got to reread a few of the poems I had rather forgotten about, including the longest poem (seven pages) in the collection, which is called "Venus Pandemos."

When I first read that poem, I thought it was funny, mostly because I didn't have much personal reference for what it was talking about. I was an incredibly naive Mormon virgin who had little experience with dating and had never been in love, and though at that point I quit riding the bus to campus because I found enduring the catcalls and whistles I got while I waited at the bus stop on a busy street too upsetting, I still laughed at this poem, thought he was saying something clever. In fact, I once read much of it aloud to one of my friends who ran the women's center before she stopped me, almost heaving with distress. The poem begins

What am I going to do with my desire
for women?

To be more specific, what am I going to do
with my interest in women's bodies?


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