I visit the zoo.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Visitor: Ah, that old ditty. Did you know that that's the most anthologized poem in the English language? It's short. It's catchy. It rhymes. It's in the public domain.

Lamb: And it's better than anything. Do not interrupt when something better than you speaks. Listen.

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Lamb: Perverse, isn't it?

Visitor: How so?

Lamb: Blake suggests his god can smile, and smile at a Terrible & Awful design. Smile in delight. A god capable of surprising and pleasing itself. Listen again.

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright

Lamb: Is that a salutation or a cry of alarm?

In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye

Lamb: Here is the hand of the god for the first of four times. It grasps and clasps and seizes. This is the real hand of a real god, the model of the god with opposable thumbs.

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

Lamb: The hand again. And is it the hand of the Jewish and Christian god? Or an older one? Is that Prometheus? A god that dares? What does that make the tiger?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

Lamb: Frankenstein was written a few years later.

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

Lamb: And now the god becomes a smith. Is it Hephaestus this time?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Lamb: This is where I am led in. A lamby cameo to show that, as the tiger is to me, the god is to the tiger.

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Lamb: The god is a hand, eyes, wings, hand, shoulder, hand, feet. It grasps and clasps and twists, dares and aspires, and even, perhaps, smiles. And it mingles with the tiger. All this dread, is it the god's or the tiger's?

Visitor: Does a tiger smile?

Lamb: Yes. You see it only once.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Dung beetle: Got it!

Visitor: My BAP2004? Fine job, Dungy. And fresh as ever. Shall we?

Dung beetle: I've got one -- thft thft -- sorry, something -- thft thft -- stuck in my teeth -- I've got one all lined up. Today's poem, hooman, is "the story" by Carly Sachs.

Visitor: I'm all ears.

Earwig: I'm all excited.

Dung beetle: Ahem. Ahem ahem.

Visitor: Ahem.

Dung beetle: Ahem.

Sachs writes six stanzas, eight lines a stanza, six words a line except for the last line of each stanza, which might have four or five words. There is no grammar but collocation and very general word order. Here's the first. Ahem.
it was and on was so
felt my saying myself could so
but or he was I in
in anymore was happening at come
to my me kept you way
across be put then me things
so we came and all him
in the feel saying me

And here's the last. Ahem.

he late room he were which
was was hear I it noise
me and what was heard was
wasn't where was there I now
on telling the G-d the shining
to he vagina straddled loving love
what I be after under Kent
on I trouble raped

A rape remembered, the words jumbled, the clues strung together. The notes (the notes!) say

This poem started off as an exercise in revisiting a memory. The poem is about survival and illustrates how the recall of a painful incident changes over time. In this case, the speaker regains the power to take charge of her words and rearrange them, supplanting the original version of events. It is a reclaiming of language, a revision of a memory, a rebuilding of the body. Yet, in a way, the shame is evident, as the memory's linear narrative is concealed, while at other points of time, the raw, jagged things that make language visceral are exposed.

That's too much to claim for these six stanzas. (Never write notes about your poems; if they don't stand entirely on their own, without your notes and CV attached, your poems are no good.)

When she says "the shame is evident, as the memory's linear narrative is concealed," it is possible, but concealed narrative, or avoidance of narrative altogether, is so common that it cannot be depended upon to have this or any other effect. And are phrases such as "he vagina straddled" and "I trouble raped" part of the "raw, jagged things that make language visceral," or just plain words from a plain description of a rape?

The poem can be rescued if we find some good lines, and it has good lines if watery clutches of words like

it was and on was so

are to your taste. You don't know what was, you don't know what was on (or was going on or was carrying on) at the beginning, but it's supposed to be an elusive recollection at first, so this dance of the seven ambiguities is to the purpose. But lines like

across be put then me things

are not as good, and there are more lines in the not-as-good category.

We're left with fairish poetry. There is industry evident in the dismemberment and restructuring of the narrative, so experimentalists might give it credit for effort, and the lines, if uninteresting ("he he anyway the to and"), aren't all aurally rotten. But we should expect more of a poem picked as one of the year's best. Be better, poem. Be spectacular.

Earwig: That's all? This is where you try to be funny, right?

Visitor: When talking about a rape poem? One that is "about survival," no less? First published in a magazine called PMS? Not without taking my address off this blog first.

Earwig: But at it go from could

Visitor: Like all the the confused words?

Earwig: one of favorite bands the the

Visitor: had had pegged talk talk guy

Earwig: bite bite me you my big

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Visitor: Where's my BAP2004?

Rhino: Well, I offered to quote some Bruce Andrews from it...

Vulture: And I told him to put it somewhere.

Visitor: And?

Vulture: And a rhinoceros has a very literal mind.

Dung beetle: But we are certain to find it eventually.

Rhino: Heh.

Vulture: Meanwhile, we are looking through our old anthologies.

Rhino: Do you want to hear some Robert Frost?

Visitor: You know what you can do with...

Vulture: Not so hasty, hooman.

Visitor: Right, then, let's hear some Robert Frost.

Rhino: Ahem.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Wobert Fwost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Vulture: And...

Dung beetle: Short, isn't it?

Rhino: Yes. Yes, it is, short and simple, but it has fiber. It's concrete. It's full of the stuff of good poems. Only sixteen stubby lines, but it has a house and village and horse and harness and bells and wind and snow and dark and year and night and lake and miles and woods and woods and woods and woods and sleep. Things are little, queer, frozen, dark, darkest, easy, downy, lovely, deep. Things think, watch, fill, stop, go, shake, sweep, ask, promise, keep, sleep. And peaceful death pops up from the snow at the end, life and death in the doubled line.

Dung beetle: I am fond of the horse. I want to let the horse go in the woods and make Robert Frost walk home. "My little horse, that fucking shit / Has dumped me on the ground and lit / Out for some brighter, greener place / Before I got my poem writ."

Vulture: Maybe Frost would get lost out there between the woods and frozen lake. "These woods are lovely but they bite. / I should not be outside tonight / In just this silly overcoat / My nuts are freezing, small and tight." And he would wander out on to the frozen lake and crack! and under he goes for the rest of the season.

Rhino: Or maybe he would have to stop overnight at a farmhouse and he would get laid and write the funniest poem in the world about a farmer's daughter and a lost poet.

Dung beetle: Could someone help me roll this ball of dung over the curb?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Elephant: What now, hooman? And I hope you don't mind us calling you hooman. It just fits.

Visitor: Fine. Hooman's fine.

Elephant: We don't use names ourselves, but we get 'em. Joe Smith goes walking in the woods and sees one of us, maybe shoots one of us, and suddenly we've all got some pseudo-Latin name ending in Smithus.

Zebra: I've got a whole taxonomy tacked on to me.

Visitor: What now? We were going to talk about Major Jackson's "Urban Renewal" (BAP2004 and Poetry Daily).

Elephant: Oh, yeah. Back to names. OK, let's see if I remember all this.

In the notes, Jackson says that the story in the poem (yipes! narrative! run and hide, you non-narrative types!) really happened when he was at school: a substitute teacher (white, you have to suppose, though I don't think he says so) couldn't cope with their black names ("names strange and meaningless as grains of dirt around / the mouthless, mountain caves at Bahrain Karai / Tarik, Shanequa, Imani, Aisha"), so instead she calls the students after French painters with easy names like Braque and Fragonard. She calls Jackson Edouard Charlemont, who, he corrects her, was an Austrian who "painted the black chief in a palace in 1878 / to the question whether intelligence exists."

Zebra: What's that mean – did Charlemont mean any such thing with his painting?

Visitor: Ya got me. But that's not why we're here. We're hunting poetry.

Zebra: Oh, fine, that's we need around here, another Great White Hunter.

Elephant: So, in the notes...

Zebra: Again with the notes.

Elephant: So, in the notes, Jackson says, "To some extent, the poem pays homage to the long and great naming practices of African-Americans, whereby enterprising parents sought to endow their children with enchanting names that when uttered evoked power, prestige, and glory, despite their lack of physical or economic empowerment."

Zebra: Yeah, but more specifically, Major Jackson is also a little sensitive about being "Major Jackson." He says he's always being asked whether he's in the military, but that Major is a family name from before the US civil war.

Visitor: I can't blame him. I used to be called "Milk 'Em" by all the common Daves and Johns at school.

Zebra: Oh, poor little hooman. Try going through school with "Equus quagga burchelli" around your neck.

Elephant: Anyway, poetry, right? There's some pretty poetry in "the mouthless, mountain caves at Bahrain Karai / Tarik, Shanequa, Imani, Aisha," which reminds me (as intended, I suppose) of things like Keats's St Agatha:
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.

And Jackson makes sure that the black kids have the prettiest sounds in the poem. In the notes...

Zebra: Heh.

Elephant: In the notes, Jackson lists Kareem, Amari, and Mustafa, but he brings out the more musical "Tarik, Shanequa, Imani, Aisha" when it's time to convince the reader how lovely and evocative such names can be.

And Jackson does a fine job at the end of making words do double duty as he shifts between historic black heroes and the black schoolchildren on a playground:
...What's in a name? Saga rise and
fall in the orbs of jumpropes, Hannibal grasps a Roman
monkeybar on history's rung, and the mighty heroes at recess
lay dead in woe on the imagined battlefields of Halo.

Open vowels draw the "orbs of jumpropes," and orb suggests royal, the world, celestial. Hannibal grasps a real Roman before the line break, then only a monkeybar after it, but the monkeybar is then on "history's rung," which is a step on a ladder but also a bell sounded in history, and the solemn bell leads to children who are heroes only in their play but also to heroes receding into the past, and the "imagined battlefields" are both the product of children's imagination and the historic battlefields that stir the imagination. Whatever Halo is (real battlefield or a place in Philadelphia or both?), it suggests angels and it echoes the "orbs of jumpropes" from an earlier line.

Visitor: I liked that. Thanks, elephant.

Elephant: That's Loxodonta africana africana to you, buddy.

Visitor: Sorry.

Elephant: Kidding! Kidding! Mr Homo sapiens sapiens doesn't know a joke when he hears one?

Visitor: Sorry.

Elephant: Silly hooman.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Macaque: I just read Heidi Peppermint's "Real Toads" (BAP2004). There are the notes and there is the poem. The notes say stuff like "sought to demythologize and reappropriate my imaginative space" and "marks a shift in the relations between my 'She' and 'He.'" Well, maybe. But for the reader, it's a story about two people (a man and a narrator who must be a woman if this poem marks a shift in anyone's relations between her 'She' and 'He') in a room, probably having sex, but encoded.
He got up to play in the partable

terrible vision. I don't think I can fall asleep
if the door is open, do you? Finally,

we bridge to word it, ticking off our

      trues. Sly by sly, backs up against
the all, a rational awe keeling. A thirst

bell sounded in the distress, we

scat dawn on the then monstrous. Verily
showy , the harness gives say. I'm

          rowing out to get flume flesh bare,

order a furl to quiver me a good lushing,

swap acquired state sanctioned
          for swarm, flare a now starry.

He shrugs. We ever.

Macaque: My decoder ring spits out something like this:
He got up to tune in {like play a tune?} the portable television. I don't think I can fall asleep if the door is open, do you? Finally, we edge toward it, kicking off our shoes. Side by side, backs up against the wall, a {rational awe keeling? something ceiling? feeling?}. A church bell sounded in the distance, we sat down on the thin mattress. Very slowly, the hardness gives way. I'm going out to get some fresh air...

And so on. I get a bit lost near the end, unless it really says something like "order a girl to give me a good lashing," in which case I'll have to rethink things.

But it would be just a crossword puzzle if the wordplay didn't add something to the beauty or meaning of the poem.

Visitor: Did you say beauty or meaning?

Macaque: Wanna make something of it?

Visitor: I was just asking.

Macaque: The thing at which people stare when they have nothing to say to each other shape-shifts between a portable television and a partable terrible vision. When they go to bed, they edge toward it (nervous, uncertain?) and bridge to word it (say something to connect to each other?), and as they kick off their shoes they tick off their trues (admit things to each other? go down a checklist of things people say to each other before having sex?). The wordplay compresses meaning and adds interesting ambiguity, and, like a quick one in a hotel room, it is diverting, just a bit of fun, which is also a fine excuse for writing and reading. I don't think I see where this poem demythologizes and reappropriates Peppermint's imaginative space, or dehumidifies and redecorates her crawlspace, but that is for her to know. We don't need no stinking endnotes to enjoy a poem. Just a translator, maybe.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Lion: Hey, you wanna see something really good?

Visitor: Sure.

Lion: Hey, Zebra! See that cloud? What do you think it looks like?

Zebra: A bit like an antelope, I guess? Why?

Lion: OK, good. What about that one?

Zebra: Maybe a bird. A buzzard? What's the trick?

Lion: Bear with me. What about this? RRROARRRRRR!

Zebra: *faints*

Lion: Heh.

Visitor: What the hell was that?

Lion: A roar-shock test. She passed.

Visitor: Christ.

Lion: Which reminds me. I read a couple of poems about clouds lately, clouds and sky: "Pleasure" by Carl Phillips (BAP2004) and "Clouds" by Wislawa Szymborska (Chwila). I'll read you some of the Phillips:
This far in--
where to say the sea
and mean impossible

makes sense,
why not--you can
almost forget

what brought you here,
the water it started with,
a life that has sometimes (admit

this much) seemed mostly
an only half-wanted because
finally unruly

animal you'd once hoped
to change by changing
its name: from If Only to

How Did I
to In Spite of Everything--
but nothing sticks, that doesn't

have to. Not memory;
not the naming--which, if a form of
remembering, is also

a form of to own, possession,
whose lineage
shifts never: traced

far enough, past hope, back across
belief, it ends always
at desire--without which

would there have been
imagination, would
there be folly,

one spreading itself
like a bay tree, the other
a green olive tree in the house

of God?
This far in, sky
is everything. Clouds cross it

like ships,
sheer will, regret
itself cut abruptly

loose. Lovely, when you say so,
--and when you don't.
It was never for you.

Lion: Well, I guess I read all of it. Got carried away. Anyway, then there's Szymborska's. Might as well read all of hers:
I'd have to be really quick
to describe clouds--
a split second's enough
for them to start being something else.

Their trademark:
they don't repeat a single
shape, shade, pose, arrangement.

Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.

What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.

Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.

Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they're just distant, flighty cousins.

Let people exist if they want,
and then die, one after another:
clouds simply don't care
what they're up to
down there.

And so their haughty fleet
cruises smoothly over your whole life
and mine, still incomplete.

They aren't obliged to vanish when we're gone.
They don't have to be seen while sailing on.

Visitor: Very nice.

Lion: Of course, Szymborska was writing in Polish, but it won't do us a lot of good to talk about "Z opisywaniem chmur..." here.

Visitor: So, we have an old white Polish woman and a middle-aged black American man, but they both look up at the sky and write a poem that ends with the sky not bothering to look back at them.
Lovely, when you say so,
--and when you don't.
It was never for you.

They aren't obliged to vanish when we're gone.
They don't have to be seen while sailing on.

Lion: But Phillips worries, and he worries his words, at least in comparison to Szymborska. He's still regretting, or getting over it: "regret itself cut abruptly loose" sounds like regret blowing away with the clouds. Szymborska's past regret, if she ever had any, and she has a clearer view and a plainer, lighter style. I imagine her smiling when she reads, not putting on the serious poet face.

Are they any good, these two poems? It depends what you want from a poem. People who need difficulty (even impossibility) from poems will not like his very much or hers at all. If these were rocks, Szymborska's would have a very low Mohs number and Phillips's wouldn't be much higher.

Visitor: What on earth are you talking about, lion?

Lion: Think of Arnold's old line about the touchstone. Ahem:
Indeed there can be no more useful help for discovering what poetry belongs to the class of the truly excellent, and can therefore do us most good, than to have always in one’s mind lines and expressions of the great masters, and to apply them as a touchstone to other poetry. Of course we are not to require this other poetry to resemble them; it may be very dissimilar. But if we have any tact we shall find them, when we have lodged them well in our minds, infallible touchstone for detecting the presence or absence of high poetic quality, and also the degree oft his quality, in all other poetry which we may place beside them. Short passages, even single lines, will serve our turn quite sufficiently.

Well, I'm suggesting that we could develop a scale of difficulty, not excellence, based on the geologist's trick of rubbing unknown rocks with known rocks to see which scratches which. The one that scratches the other is the harder, and with this knowledge you are on your way to knowing the unknown. It's something like paper rock scissors, but really rock rock rock rock rock rock rock rock rock rock. Diamonds scratch everything. Talc is scratched by everything. Szymborska's is something close to talc. "Pleasure" scratches "Clouds" but "Pleasure" is still pretty soft. And harder doesn't mean better. I prefer Szymborska's, even if the Mohs number is low.

Visitor: So now you're a fucking geologist, too?

Lion: The ladies always did all the work for me. And now here, there's not much to do at all. So I read. Anyway, I was going to say that we could identify well-known poems, the diamonds and the talc and everything in between, on a scale of difficulty, and we could use them to say how hard other poems are by scratching the unknown poem with the knowns.

Visitor: Oh, look at the time!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tiger: Greetings, hooman.

Visitor: Hello, Mr Beast.

Tiger: You want your book back, I suppose.

Visitor: Not just yet.

Tiger: Good. I've just read "Chicken" by Kim Addonizio and it's giving me an appetite. It's hard to have an appetite around here.

Visitor: Tell me about it.

Tiger: There are bars you can't bite through. Mothers and fathers try to act knowledgeable but they're just reading the sign there to their kids. The kids don't give a rat's ass about my Latin name. They want to scare me. They roar at me.

Visitor: Tedious, eh?

Tiger: But the poems keep me going. It's either that or pace.

Visitor: So tell me about the Addonizio.

Tiger: Well, it starts like the old "why did the chicken cross the road?" joke and then explains that the chicken was running from captivity, like a convict running from prison. A ripping yarn. So it segues to an escaped convict. Chicken's out of the picture. Farmers give the convict asylum and food, and suddenly the chicken is back, because the nice farmer breaks her neck and his wife feeds her to the convict. Man, what time is it?

Visitor: About noon.

Tiger: Good. Almost feeding time. Anyway, so the poem segues back to the chicken, which was hit by a truck while crossing the road. The chicken dies and the convict goes on to live, but acting like a chicken, like his body is inhabited by the soul of the chicken. You know how when you bite the head off a chicken?

Visitor: Not really.

Tiger: And the chicken runs with no head? It hits this, it hits that. Then it falls over. Kinda funny.

Visitor: Mm-hmm.

Tiger: Well this poem's not like that. It's built like a good henhouse: two stanzas of chicken on the run, two of convict on the run, two of chicken dead and cooked, two of convict with the chicken's soul. The chicken and the convict yearn for a little free-range action and they get it, but fate gets them in the end.

Visitor: What about the poetry?

Tiger: I don't know. It's a good solid story with plenty of compression, but there's not much wordery. This part's good, though. From when the convict is being fed: "They'll bring"
the chicken the farmer found
by the side of the road, dazed
from being clipped by a pickup,
whose delicate brain stem

he snapped with a twist,
whose asshole his wife stuffed
with rosemary and a lemon wedge.

Here I'm thinking "dumb chicken" and suddenly she's got a delicate brain stem and she's in trouble and oh! no! the nice farmers are brutal killers and they violate the delicate chicken's corpse. And I like "with a twist" and "lemon wedge" being together like that. And "rosemary" being near the wife, because that should be her name, and maybe she's a stuffed asshole, too.

But it's a straightforward story, and it's all about fate, you pesky paper-writing Google-searching "theme"-hunting plagiarist kids. Fate: "God knows how she got out. / God sees everything, God has his eye / on the chicken" and "Everything has its fate, / But only God knows what that is."

Ten thousand biting gnats: Thanks!


Gnats: * fall like rain *

Friday, November 12, 2004

Visitor: About this Billy Collins poem. "The Centrifuge" (BAP2004).

Hedgehog: Oh, I was getting to that...

Visitor: Well?

Hedgehog: You know, they won't like this...

Visitor: What?

Hedgehog: Well... anything.

Visitor: It's the name, isn't it?

Hedgehog: That's where it starts. The name he has. And the name he is. "Billy" and Billy are just too damned friendly and popular.

Visitor: Better to be Bill or William.

Hedgehog: Or william.

Visitor: But that's just the beginning, right? Just the baseball cap on the well-loved famous poet who gets more for one reading than you'll see all year?

Hedgehog: Yes. It's also that he says stuff. In "The Centrifuge," he comes right out and says, "It is difficult to describe what we felt" and "we all wondered openly" and then goes on to describe what made them wonder, right there on paper for children to see. In complete sentences.

Visitor: That's problematic, eh?

Hedgehog: Problem-o-matic. You are not permitted to induce wonder with simple exposition.

Carp: Crap!

Visitor: And? There's more, right?

Hedgehog: You can't be about things. This is strictly forbidden.

Carp: I don't like it one bit.

Visitor: But other poets write about things in simple sentences. A drawer full of rubber bands, for instance.

Hedgehog: They might sometimes write simple sentences about things, but one sentence should not follow another sentence, not from beginning to end like you're telling a story. Collins starts right in with a story and follows it all the way to the end without losing anyone for even one line. There is an internal logic. There is sense in the sentence and consequence in the sequence. You cannot interchange any of his sentences. He depends on the story.

Visitor: You're supposed to say narrative. But whatever. This is not done. Right?

Hedgehog: No, this is not done, not often, not in the best circles.

Carp: I don't like it. I'm not having it.

Guppy: But what does he do, exactly?

Hedgehog: In the notes, he says he was thinking about the religious power of technology and about early Hitchcock movies. In the poem, a family pays admission to enter an aluminum dome and be before a great and powerful machine, which is said to have a counterpart somewhere else. They go home and discuss it at tea. They mention the lodger, who is reported to have slipped out.

We have the simple props: the dome as a place of worship, the god-machine, the suggestion of an invisible connection to some greater power. The time is past: an aluminum (old future material) dome holding a machine from the age of giant steel, technology as celebrity ("Look! Electricity!"), a large family (more old technology) having tea around a table, a lodger staying with the large family and disappearing quietly.

We have the words: admission (confession), a "mightier" (suggestion of 'almighty'?) invisible power, and wonder.

Carp: I don't like it. Please shut up.

Hedgehog: So if I were a kid back in hedgehog school (ready, cheaters?), I'd probably write some crap...

Carp: Crap!

Hedgehog: ... about how the centrifuge is a device that separates by qualities, and perhaps in this case separates the large worshipful family from the lonely disappearing lodger. Or, the centrifuge is nothing of the kind. Instead, the centrifuge (representing technology) is what is splitting society apart, the family representing before and the lodger representing after. Or the centrifuge is both. See how easy this stuff is?

So let's run through it again for the kids wring papers. Admission is confession, the dome is the church, and the machine, of course, is god. Or something. The invisible connection to the invisible counterpart machine is prayer. And then the lodger is, I don't know, Jesus with an umbrella?

That sucks all the poetry out of it, but that's probably exactly what your teacher is after. Make up your own silly shit around that. Poetry teachers will buy anything if you sound like you mean it and write in complete sentences.

A thousand guppies: Thanks, Uncle Hedgehog!

Carp: I don't like it.

Visitor: Fine, you don't like it now, but say this centrifuge is a time machine that takes itself back to 1910. Manikins wear new clothes. Poets don't work in universities. Hardly anyone's read Frege. The centrifuge parks itself on H.G. Wells and leaves only skid marks on the acid-free page. Would it then be called a good poem?

Hedgehog: In theory?

Visitor: No, I'm saying we leave theory out of this.



Hedgehog: What?

Visitor: Would it be called a good poem in 1910? Or in 1930? Or 1950? Or 2020?






Visitor: The last bus is coming. See you tomorrow.



Carp: I don't like it.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Visitor: I like the last stanza of Kenward Elmslie's "Sibling Rivalry" (BAP2004). Well, I like more of it, but I like the last stanza especially. I think of a modern fairy tale.
The outside world,
The endlessness of its endlessness.
Lost Empires to map.
Inca. Aztec. Codes to crack.
Toy cars. Oz. War. Afar.
My very own Princess, Margaret Rose.
Adolf Hitler's radio rant.
My very own Empire under attack.
Cooled ear pressed
against sprinkled on grass,
if I listened hard, past its crust,
through Planet Earth's
molten lava core,
from my safe perch
I heard China roar.

Bison: A Khan job. Kubla, Fran and Ollie.
Mynah: I like the sounds. Listen to the esses and tees in this part.
Cooled ear pressed
against sprinkled on grass,
if I listened hard, past its crust,

And then the ohs and arrs, the els, the ths and chs.
through Planet Earth's
molten lava core,
from my safe perch
I heard China roar.

Mynah: That's what I like.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Hippo 1: Welcome, hooman! We were just finishing dinner.

Hippo 2: We got some Chinese take-out from Charles Bernstein's "Sign Under Test" Restaurant. Care for a fortune cookie?

Visitor: Don't mind if I do.

Hippo 1: Care for a few dozen?

Hippo 2: We've got plenty.


Hippo 1: OK, here's mine: "It's not the absence in the presence but the presence in the absence." What's yours say?

Hippo 2: "The pit of the cherry is like the soul of a self-righteous man: when you find it, you want to spit it out."

Visitor: Mine's "It is equally problematic to shout 'Theater!' at a crowded fire."

Hippo 1: "Don't ask me to be frank. I don't even know if I can be myself."

Hippo 2: Oh, that's good. That's reeeal good.

Visitor: Heh.

Hippo 1: "Simply stated, there's nothing to state."

Hippo 2: Yep.

Visitor: How 'bout this one? "The station wagon stayed stationary at the station."

Hippo 1: Not "The station wagon stayed stationary at the stationery shop?"

Hippo 2: Even better.

Visitor: "The haze doesn't obscure the view it makes it palpable." I kinda like that one.

Hippo 1: Not bad.

Hippo 2: What we need's a little music here.

Hippo 1: I'll play something on the piano.

Hippo 2: How 'bout a little chopsticks?

Visitor: Oh, that's lame.

Hippo 1: Lame? You want lame? "A husband returns home to find a burning cigar in his ashtray. He soon discovers a man in the broom closet. 'What are you doing there?'—'Everybody's got to be somewhere.' [Henny Youngman]"

Hippo 2: Sure. Blame the other guy.

Visitor: No respect.

Hippo 1: That's Rodney Dangerfield.

Hippo 2: Still.

Hippo 1: Oh! The chopsticks are sticking to my chapstick.

Hippo 2: Another Bernstein fortune cookie?

Hippo 1: Nope. The chopsticks are sticking to my chapstick.

Visitor: 'I see,' said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Visitor: So let me read you the beginning of "The Theorist Has No Samba," which is one of America's 75 best poems of 2004.
there is a new instantism > a language of tangent = tanguage > ambient funguage > there is a modern path > invented through accidental spontaneity + of mock language sport = fractured intelligentsillys > there are sage athleticists + important children farmed out to the furthest reaches of nowness > ... > ... >

Maggot : Imagine that! New! New! New! Nobody ever thought of it before! And now it is! Now it's now! New and now!

Visitor: There's more. There's "this bastard maggot poetry" and "wild screaming bastard maggot that IS poetry!"

Maggot: You're making that up. Let me see that. Oh. I'm not sure I like this.

Dead horse: Well I find it enlivening.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Bluebird: See, you push a piece of straw in here, wind it through here, and it comes out here very neatly. But now it's turned, so the lighter yellow shows. And it curls in the middle. A surprise for the eye. And this piece of hair, I've wound it three twigs round and secured it with mud. Something to consider.

Visitor: Fine work. And I see you've got part of a black shoelace and twigs from several trees and leaves of different colors and sizes.

Bluebird: And I've got Ron Silliman's "Compliance Engineering" (BAP2004) in there. I put the full moon in here and pull the rectangular moon out here. I work in circles and parallels and frames and rectangles and circles and lines and no right angles.

Visitor: And there are workers stampeding out just after an outbreak migrating.

Bluebird: Yep. And Christmas lights, a special light, and a fluorescent night light.

Visitor: Toyotathon and Pop-up Video and Discovery Zone and Where's Waldo.

Bluebird: Indeed. "Our true form in the blurb."

Visitor: An ice cream machine and fire doors.

Bluebird: All construction materials.

Visitor: And there are various birds.

Bluebird: Oh. I never notice birds in poems. They're always so two-dimensional.

Visitor: So you wouldn't say this is a poem for birds.

Bluebird: No, it's more like a poem for badgers.

Visitor: Not magpies?

Bluebird: Badgers.

Visitor: Digging. But not finding: "meaning evident to no one."

Bluebird: Badger badger badger.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Fruit bat: We have been working on kari edwards's "short sorry" and we've had some interesting results.

Visitor: Do tell.

Fruit bat 1: We encoded it into DNA.

Fruit bat 2: Actually, we encoded it into "dnA."

Fruit bat 1: Yes, "dNa."

Visitor: Science, eh? And then what?

Fruit bat 1: And we spliced "the DnA" into a fruit fly's DNA.

Visitor: And?

Fruit bat 2: We "have / another / fruit" fly with seventeen wings.

Fruit bat 1: "We" have a fruit fly "with one" small eye on the tip of its nose.

Fruit bat 2: We have a fruit fly that doesn't like fruit.

Fruit bat 1: Which "is nice."

Fruit bat 2: But it eats it anyway.

Visitor: Ah.

Fruit bat 2: At "least the wee" bugger gets no satisfaction from it.

Fruit bat 1: And you know the bit that goes
"AD." "and I" and before that "came" esp., et al's and fac that we are . cond col of the crt so nb the gigo dacrim cpiauxbf mfa's and tgif . . . Lt's who frEq frwy's and fx env's "to grip" "s"t "wit" here to and it."

somewhere in the middle of it all? That line that is so much fun at readings?

Visitor: Yes.

Fruit bat 1: We tried fruit flies with
"AD." "and I" and before that "came" esp., et al's and fac that we are . cond col of the crt so nb the gigo dacrim cpiauxbf mfa's and tgif . . . Lt's who frEq frwy's and fx env's "to grip" "s"t "wit" here to and it."

and we tried fruit flies without
"AD." "and I" and before that "came" esp., et al's and fac that we are . cond col of the crt so nb the gigo dacrim cpiauxbf mfa's and tgif . . . Lt's who frEq frwy's and fx env's "to grip" "s"t "wit" here to and it."

and we couldn't see any difference.

Fruit bat 2: Mind you, we're fruit bats.

Fruit bat 1: One did taste a little funny, but that "might have been anything."

Visitor: Ah.

Fruit bat 1: And we have a fruit fly that has two little fangs in the upper left and two little fangs in the upper right.

Fruit bat 2: We're calling is Drosophila bartletta.

Fruit bat 1: It "bit" us.

Visitor: I see.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Visitor: So, about this "Mars Needs Terrorists" by K. Silem Mohammad: are you ready?

Koala: Colon!

Mynah: Dot!

Koala: Colon!

Mynah: Dot!

Koala: Colon!

Mynah: Dot!

Koala: Colon!

Mynah: Dot!

Koala: Colon!

Koala and Mynah: Flarf!

Visitor: OK, I think you're ready. How about you capuchins?

Capuchins: I'm afraid we're a little behind.

Mynah: You are many little behinds.

Capuchins: But we've done a bit of research and found that the first 12 lines were all cadged from two web pages. Very flarfy pages.

Mynah: Do tell.

Capuchin 1: One is "horny boy's Journal," in which a San Francisco college boy (said "horny boy") tells stories about his sexual encounters and the times he got to see celebrities (because his mom is in the business). This "horny boy" says stuff like "I felt like I was in Eden, yet, as in Louisville, we never even fucked."

Capuchin 2: We feel a kinship with this boy.

Capuchin 3: "Instantaneously I squirted into the air like a wild garden hose, making quite a mess."

Capuchin 4: "Twice she brought me to the brink of orgasm by delicate touch alone, then barely touched each testicle simultaneously to send me squirting uncontrollably all over myself and her."

Capuchin 5: "While I tried to navigate the traffic approaching the Golden Gate Bridge, she played with me until I squirted all over the car and myself."

Capuchin 6: "I squirted about five feet, all over a painting above the headboard. I hope that it wasn't a Great Master. LOL!"

Capuchin 7: Then we got down to business. Our "horny boy" was the source for line 5 and lines 8-12.

Capuchin 8: But the source for lines 1-4 and 6-7 disappointed us.

Capuchin 9: It's some other damned poet, a guy named Mark Peters.

Capuchin 10: No squirting.

Capuchin 11: None to speak of, anyway.

Capuchin 12: So we moved on to the last two lines. They come from the track listings for a couple of albums. Mohammad must have been looking for something to do with "Republican" and "battle" when he hit a track listing for a Michelle Malone record ("6, Inside Out of Here (3:26), 7, Battle Him Republican (3:47)") that made line 13, and looking for "Teenagers From Mars" when he found a track listing for a Misfits record ("8.we are 138 9.teenagers") that became line 14.

Capuchin 13: And that's it. The first stanza.

Koala and Mynah: Flarf!

Visitor: OK, let's hear the first stanza!

:.:.:.:.: alien parasites
:.:.:.:.: alien slave ship survivors
:.:.:.:.: alien teenagers in 1950s Florida, sex
:.:.:.:.: terror and destruction, terror
:.:.:.:.: designed to part dumbass teenagers
:.:.:.:.: some now very wet
:.:.:.:.: romantic, the republican
:.:.:.:.: told me of their terror
:.:.:.:.: outfit for ?I?ma slave
:.:.:.:.: a fundraiser for Republican
:.:.:.:.: and wet buns contest
:.:.:.:.: parents talking about sex
:.:.:.:.: of here 7.battle him republican 8
:.:.:.:.: 8.we are 138 9.teenagers

Visitor: I like the way you say colon, koala.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Visitor: This one, tortoise, is by Carl Rakosi, an Objectivist, Marxist, psychologist, social worker, and poet who recently died at the age of 100. "In the First Circle of Limbo" is a good epitaph for a good poet, which it probably why it was chosen it for BAP2004.

Tortoise: Why are you telling me this?

Visitor: Because we're here.

Tortoise: *pulls head into shell*

Visitor: I know you can hear me. Here's the poem.
Liberate me,
from this encirclement
               of categories.
Your themes
               are plein-air
Put some wit
               and compassion
into this pen!

In the BAP notes, Rakosi explains that "categorizing is a seductive process" that is "much too limiting and tends to hold one in bondage." The last sentence seems unnecessary. Let the grass grow over the rest.
Liberate me,
from this encirclement
               of categories.
Your themes
               are plein-air

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Visitor: Alice Notley's "State of the Union" (from BAP2004) was written, as she says in the notes, "at the time of the 2002 State of the Union address by the president, who is perceived finally [in her poem, though also, of course, elsewhere] as nothing but a set of genitals."

The first thing I noticed about the poem was that it made my eyes glaze over. It's one long paragraph of uncapitalized, incomplete sentences with few poetically interesting lines. But I got a coffee and made myself read it because I had declared it my duty to read it. To you, Ms Hyena.

Hyena: Fanks.

Visitor: Strippers are big in this poem. If I've counted correctly, they show up eight times here, wearing green g-strings in the "lime light leprous."

Yak: Naked people are disgusting.

Visitor: These aren't exactly naked people. They wear g-strings.

Chimp: It keeps them housebroken.

Visitor: And they aren't even real strippers. They don't have real strippers at SotU addresses, not even at the Republican-led ones. These strippers are the servants of money. They are the greedy, reluctant taxpayers who drive the Republican machine. They are naked greed personified, or militarism, or something like that. Maybe it's a G to cover the Bush. Only kids writing papers need exact interpretations. They're strippers in green g-strings.

The poem, with the help of sleazy dancers humiliating themselves for small bills, does capture something of the feeling I get when I watch a SotU address. But these are poetically skinny strippers, not the tons-of-poetic-fun strippers I want in a poem. There aren't any lines here I thought were great, and you'd hope for a few in a best-of-the-year poem. Maybe the editor wouldn't have chosen it if she hadn't been looking for topical poems from big names.

By the way, Notley says "State of the Union" is part of a 300-page novel-poem. I wonder if it's one long paragraph of uncapitalized sentence fragments?

Mayfly: Can't wait.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Beatrix: Down here.

Visitor: Can we get a coffee on the way?

Beatrix: Sure. I could go for a doughnut.

[Five minutes later, at the petting zoo.]

Bunny chorus: You see before you, hooman, a cage within a zoo within a zoo. And we are in the cage, condemned to an eternity of mothers screeching to toddlers, "Oh, look at the bunnies, Hannah, Isabella, look at the bunnies, oh, Madison, Joshua, Jennifer, Jason, Emily, Jacob, look! Oh, Kaitlyn, look, how cute, how cute, how cuuuuuuute!"

Bunny 1: We fucking hate "cute." Spare a smoke?

Bunny 2: There's not an Abigail or Aidan we would not kick to death if we could get through these wires.

Bunny 3: I would smother them, personally. Get all fluffy on their wet-wiped asses.

Bunny 4: Mothers and children.

Bunny 1: Spare a smoke?

Visitor: Have you read that Lisa Jarnot I lent you?

Bunny 1: Funny you should mention that. We were just talking about it.

Bunny 3: Entrancing stuff. And I mean the trance bit. Words all beaded together into hypnotic songs. Beads repeat in slightly different patterns. Loaded entrails plucked and slung for prognostication. Here's one from Ring of Fire that everyone likes:
Ye white antarctic birds of upper 57th street,
you gallery of white antarctic birds, you street
with white antarctic birds and cabs and white
antarctic birds you street, ye and you the
street and birds I walk upon the galleries of
streets and birds and longings, you the birds
antarctic of the conversations and the bank
machines, you the atm of longing, the longing
for the atm machines, you the lover of the
banks and me and birds and others too and
cabs, and you the cabs and you the subtle
longing birds and me, and you the
conversations yet antarctic, and soup and
teeming white antarctic birds and you the
books and phones and atms the bank
machines antarctic, and you the banks and
cabs, and him the one I love, and those who
love me not, and all antarctic longings, and all
the birds and cabs and also on the street
antarctic of this longing.

Bunny 3: I hope she doesn't get her lawyers after us for reprinting it.

Bunny 4: Eh. We're bunnies.

Bunny 2: It stays just on the edge of meaning something in particular by mentioning things in particular, the atms and phones and cabs, and you think there is an address (to the birds) coming, right from the vocative "Ye white antarctic birds" of the opening, but nothing in particular is stated and nothing in particular is said to or about birds. And maybe there are no birds. Sense is secondary. But it isn't tedious in the common "what the fuck?" manner. Billy Collins even picked it for his 180. (Don't get nervous, Jarnot fans, you can still like it.)

Bunny 3: It's lyrical, as they say. Beautiful.

Bunny 4: But Jarnot won't put you off your Purina. Even the poems that could be cute ("Go to sleep little doggie / while the moon is still foggy...") aren't cute, not in the way that would make you despair.

Bunny 3: Which is good.

Bunny 1: 'Cause if Jarnot were to be cute, and were then to make the mistake of standing too close to a certain bunny cage...

Bunny 2: Someone might despair.

Bunny 3: Someone might despair and call her Madison.

Bunny chorus: Someone might despair and call her Madison and kick her blue!

* scary bunny laughter *

Beatrix: It's time.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Visitor: Let me try this one on you. It's "Ignis Fatuus" by Yusef Komunyakaa. Lyn Hejinian put it in BAP2004. You'll like it.
* reads it to Chameleon *
Visitor: And?

Chameleon: I never went in for that furren stuff.

Visitor: He's a black guy from Louisiana. He probably knows his swamps. His Trinidadian great-grandparents had the name Komunyakaa, then they lost it and became Brown when they went to America, so the poet started out as James Willie Brown Jr. of Bogalusa, Louisiana, but he took back the old family name. Now he's mister famous.

Komunyakaa says that "Poetry is a kind of distilled insinuation." And here it is in this poem. This "ignis fatuus" "foolish fire" "Will o' the Wisp" glow in the swamp floats through the first half of the poem. Then it's someone in the breath on the back of your neck and the sweat in the air and "luminous buttons" and other things left behind. By Someone. It's a good, simple poem. It suggests, insinuates. It's probably not the sort of poem a Language poet would go for, and 'tain't no Flarf, but who's asking them?

Chameleon: Mm-hmm.

Visitor: You could at least look at me when I'm talking to you.

Chameleon: I am.

Visitor: Hey, where'd you go?

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Penguin chorus: We are with Emily Dickinson, hooman.

Visitor: How so, friends?

Penguin: She said, "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry."

Tiger: And what about the rest?

Penguin chorus: "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."

Tiger: Perhaps you would like to attend my Dickinson workshop.

Penguin chorus: *shiver*

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Baboon: Say, hooman, you don't have many books, do you?

Visitor: No, not many. About as many as I can carry. You don't have any.

Baboon: The baboon is an oral poet.

Visitor: Why is you bum turning so red?

Baboon: It's my ass, hooman.

Boa: Well, how 'bout you "open" this "cage" for me?

Visitor: Sorry, I "can't" do that. Why don't you ask Bruce Andrews to foreground the process by which that lock "works?" Anyway, you'd probably squeeze me.

Boa: Yes. It's almost certain.

Visitor: And stop it with the hissing sounds.

Boa: Sorry.