randy_byers: (Default)
Trio.jpgI was reading Sarah Tolmie's fantasy novel, The Stone Boatman, when [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond visited in May, and I waxed sufficiently enthusiastic about it to him that he found and gave me a copy of her other book, Trio, while he was here. Trio is nothing like The Stone Boatman other than in exhibiting the sensibility of a poet. As the jacket copy has it: "A collection of 120 sonnets in eight parts, Trio reveals, frame by frame, a married fortysomething female narrator in love with two younger men -- an intellectual and a dancer -- and torn between the claims of the body and mind."

I remember one of the poems revealing that the narrator/poet was in her 40s, but while I'm also pretty certain that the poems mention that she's in love with more than one man, I don't know that I could have figured out that one was a dancer and the other an intellectual, or, for that matter, that she was married to a third. In one of the poems, as I recall, the narrator/poet explicitly says she has kept the identities of everyone (including herself) ambiguous, if not confused, perhaps so that the reader could identify with all of them. To be honest, I almost gave up on the book very early on, because I found it almost inherently precious and coy, and I wasn't sure I was prepared to read a lot of impassioned poetry about love and sex at this particular juncture in my life. I have read another sonnet sequence -- Love, Death, and the Changing of the Season by Marilyn Hacker -- about the rise and fall of a lesbian love affair, so it's not that the sonnet sequence is repulsive to me as a form of literature. I'm not particularly well-read when it comes to poetry, but neither am I completely helpless.

What kept me going with Trio was the way that Tolmie flipped the gender script in a number of powerful ways. First she made the male body the vulnerable object of specifically female desire. (In Hacker's sequence, the female body was still the object of desire, even if the desiring subject was also a woman.) Tolmie also gives her female narrator/poet a sexual swagger and self-confidence that sometimes becomes mocking or condescending toward her male lovers. I found this irritating, and I was fascinated by my own irritation. Was it a purely defensive reaction? (My guess is that the answer is probably, "Yes.") The way that Tolmie made the female in the threesome -- foursome? I'm not sure whether the husband is the subject of any of the sonnets -- the figure of power and judgment and conquest was very unusual in my experience, and she earned my respect with her stance.

It took me a long time to read all 120 sonnets. Reading poetry is just a lot more work than reading most prose. I didn't reread or give a close reading to all the sonnets, but the ones that captured my attention got more of my time and energy. Again, I'm no expert on poetry, and I can't say I picked up on the over all clusters of imagery. (Karen Burnham's review at Strange Horizons strikes me as astute regarding how the poetry works, and she also points out that the narrator has two children, which is another detail I completely missed, along with the husband. Argh!) Anyway, I was also going to point out that Tolmie uses a lot of internal rhyme or near-rhyme, but it doesn't preclude the more typical couplets of sonnets. Here's one of the sonnets that I liked the best, to give you a taste of her poetry:

The love of a poet is a bullet.
Who can you ask to take it? You could not.
Can't bear the searchlight's glare, the ripping stare,
Admixture of what's wanted and what's there,
Compressed into a foreign object lodged
In the brain. Invasive love: it causes pain.
People flee it without knowing what it means,
Instinctually. The bloodied shell, falling
From its graze, carries a payload of
The DNA, fine, clean, a better print
Than the original. Such is the hell
Of the beloved, unable to tell
What he might have been, unimpeded,
Unenhanced, out of the pathway of her glance.

I particularly like how she follows the hell/tell couplet with the internal rhyme of "unenhanced" and "her glance". On the other hand I'm not sure I fully understand the metaphor of the shell. First of all I wonder if she means the slug rather than the shell, since a shell wouldn't graze what's shot at typically. Also if the slug is a load of DNA, isn't that an image of sperm? Or does she mean an ovum? Or is she talking about how the poet creates an image of the beloved that's superior to the original? I guess the latter makes the most sense: the image of beloved perfection created by the poet can become a painful form of distortion, something the real person can't possibly live up to. Blood is thinner than poetry? (She meditates in another sonnet -- one of the swaggering ones -- on how her poetry is making her lovers immortal.)
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
'Francine Porad of Seattle, Washington and past President of the Haiku Society of America says, "There are some people who believe any reference to human beings in a haiku turns the poem into a senryu. I disagree. In my opinion there should be no separation, is no separation between human nature and the world of nature." '

-- Elizabeth St Jacques, "Haiku or Senryu? How To Tell the Difference"

(I'd never heard of senryu before today. Now I wonder if there is a past President of the Senryu Society of America. Google doesn't think so, alas.)
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Come out Tonight
by Steven Jesse Bernstein

Forecast in chrome and plastic. Tyrants breathing alloy of slavery, planet hunger, versions of Jackie O. Sherry, Sherry baby, won't you come out tonight? And the stars whisper like old blood at the edges of the body of night. She stood with one hand on the phone for four hours, poised as though only a few seconds had passed. I watched her through the crack between the shade and the sill. She waited for a forecast in human trembling, together with other important women. Come, come, come out tonight. The world suffers for her: The clock hurries like a terrified animal, then stops, dribbling saliva. She has eaten chicken pie and bubblegum. For a month the Luftwaffe lived on raisins. Same with the French, after the war. Jackie O. received fresh oranges from John Kennedy. Silly girl. She cannot put down the telephone receiver. She is waiting to receive my body of work. She wants to take it in her ear. A mottled flush builds under her cheeks. She eats Christmas candy while she waits. The telephone rings and rings. I am not at home. I am with Jackie O. We are eating oranges from the President. We are alone on the roof of a Park Avenue penthouse. Picture of Marilyn Monroe in my back pocket molded by heat and sweat to the shape of my buttocks. You are gripping the phone smiling, eating candy, crying. I am with the important women, now. I am secretly an important man. Hang up the phone. I can't dance with you, anymore. Go to your freezer and get a popsicle. Go to your TV. Turn on your TV. You will see me and Jackie O. She will be taking it in her ear, the body of my work. In the Planetarium. You will receive a forecast. I will always be more important than you. You will never be important enough. You will never be on the whip-hand of slavery, never be the one to wield hunger against humanity. Heaven will never be an extension of your body. Your body will always belong to someone else. The picture of Marilyn Monroe flutters across the roof, steaming, shaped like me. Shaped like my ass. The sky is filled with oranges during the war. We eat them. The president is alone in a room. He is unimportant. As we eat his oranges the sky grows blacker. The moon ripens and turns red. It rots and is swallowed by the darkness. You are still by the phone. It is ringing and ringing, dead. Sherry, Sherry baby, won't you come out tonight. It is completely dark. The earth freezes. You put down the receiver and go to the window. Come, come, come out tonight.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
My soul will go as often as I like
To my lover in a dream
Because no one will blame me there.

-- Onono Komachi, Kokinshû 657 (trans. Donald Keene)
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)

I am
not I,
knotted spirals spinning,
spitting words
without grace
or even geometry.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
This is an odd one. I remembered that my high school AP English teacher asked me to read a poem aloud in class one day, and that he told me afterwards that I sped through it too fast. I've always remembered that it was by Thomas Hardy, and that the word blue was repeated a lot. So a couple of days ago I started googling to try to find it, with no luck on multiple tries at multiple search terms. I dredged the word "gentian" out of my memory, tentatively, but that didn't help either. Then I removed Thomas Hardy from the search terms and googled "blue gentians poem", et voilà, up popped "Bavarian Gentians" by D.H. Lawrence.

It's different than my vague memories. Mostly I didn't remember the mythological aspects at all. But I did remember the incantatory repetition, and the sensuous layer upon layer of deepening dark blue. I remembered it being about death, but it ends up being about sex as well.

Bavarian Gentians
D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off light,
lead me then, lead the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on
the lost bride and her groom.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
The sheep mills about,
Nervously waiting to see
What others will do.

The dog barks loudly,
Whining, scratching at the crack,
But the door stays shut

The cat sits calmly,
Quiet, dignified, knowing
The door will open.

Art Widner
from Nippon 2007 Haiku Contest Winners
randy_byers: (Default)
Ah well, the genre fiend will out. Clark Ashton Smith also leads to H.P. Lovecraft, of course. I've taken a look at his numbered sonnet sequence, Fungi from Yuggoth, and I quite liked this one, which tells a little story with faint, maddening echoes of blasphemous flutes.

XXXII. Alienation

His solid flesh had never been away,
For each dawn found him in his usual place,
But every night his spirit loved to race
Through gulfs and worlds remote from common day.
He had seen Yaddith, yet retained his mind,
And come back safely from the Ghooric zone,
When one still night across curved space was thrown
That beckoning piping from the voids behind.

He waked that morning as an older man,
And nothing since has looked the same to him.
Objects around float nebulous and dim—
False, phantom trifles of some vaster plan.
His folk and friends are now an alien throng
To which he struggles vainly to belong.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
randy_byers: (Default)
Clark Ashton Smith leads us by obscure (and probably Cyclopean) passageways back via George Sterling to Ambrose Bierce, although there's little of Smith and Sterling's late-Romanticism in this piece of sour wit. It's very much in the vein of Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary.

The New Decalogue
by Ambrose Bierce

Have but one God: thy knees were sore
If bent in prayer to three or four.

Adore no images save those
The coinage of thy country shows.

Take not the Name in vain. Direct
Thy swearing unto some effect.

Thy hand from Sunday work be held—
Work not at all unless compelled.

Honor thy parents, and perchance
Their wills thy fortunes may advance.

Kill not—death liberates thy foe
From persecution’s constant woe.

Kiss not thy neighbor’s wife. Of course
There’s no objection to divorce.

To steal were folly, for ’tis plain
In cheating there is greater gain.

Bear not false witness. Shake your head
And say that you have “heard it said.”

Who stays to covet ne’er will catch
An opportunity to snatch.
randy_byers: (blue angel)
I Knew I'd Sing
by Heather McHugh

NSFW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! )
randy_byers: (Default)

In Lemuria

Rememberest thou? Enormous gongs of stone
Were stricken, and the storming trumpeteers
Acclaimed my deed to answering tides of spears,
And spoke the names of monsters overthrown—
Griffins whose angry gold, and fervid store
Of sapphires wrenched from mountain-plungèd mines—
Carnelians, opals, agates, almandines,
I brought to thee some scarlet eve of yore.

In the wide fane that shrined thee Venus-wise,
The fallen clamors died... I heard the tune
Of tiny bells of pearl and melanite,
Hung at thy knees, and arms of dreamt delight;
And placed my wealth before thy fabled eyes,
Pallid and pure as jaspers from the moon.

Clark Ashton Smith
August 1921
randy_byers: (colma 1987)
Elektra on Third Avenue
for Link

At six, when April chills our hands and feet
walking downtown, we stop at Clancy's Bar
or Bickford's, where the part-time hustlers are,
scoffing between the mailroom and the street.
Old pensioners appraise them while they eat,
and so do we, debating half in jest
which piece of hasty pudding we'd like best.
I know you know I think your mouth is sweet
as anything exhibited for sale,
fresh coffee cake or boys fresh out of jail,
which tender hint of incest brings me near
to ordering more coffee or more beer.
The homebound crowd provides more youth to cruise.
We nurse our cups, nudge knees, and pick and choose.

Marilyn Hacker
randy_byers: (Default)
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands a lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet know its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
The Colonel
by Carolyn Forché

WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

May 1978
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
by Francis William Bourdillon (1852-1921)

THE NIGHT has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.

The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.


Feb. 18th, 2010 04:31 pm
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Here's one for the mothers and fathers out there:

The remarkable poet Lucille Clifton was asked, at a reading I attended, 'Why are your poems always short?' Ms. Clifton replied, 'I have six children, and a memory that can hold about twenty lines until the end of the day.'

-- Barbara Kingsolver, "Civil Disobedience at Breakfast" (quoted in comments on TNC's blog)
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Ode on Melancholy
by John Keats

NO, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kist
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
As Pater revealed, however, such concerns with mutability are irresistible to the aestheticist sensibility when they are presented alongside an unusual awareness of what William Morris called "the beauty of life." Edmund Gosse commented upon precisely this feature of Rossetti's poetry when he remarked that "her habitual tone is one of melancholy reverie, the pathos of which is strangely intensified by her appreciation of beauty and pleasure." And these comments by Richard La Gallienne reflect the same perception: "The note of loss and the peculiar sad cadence of the music, even though the song be of happy things, is [a] distinctive characteristic of Miss Rossetti's singing. It wells through all, like the sadness of the spring. Her songs of love are nearly always of love's loss; of its joy she sings with a passionate throat, but it is joy seen through the mirror of a wild regret." La Gallienne's responses to Rossetti's "tragic" note, like the remarks of Gosse, focus upon the frequently observed Keatsian qualities of her verse: the juxtaposition in it of images of beauty taken from nature and preoccupations with love, mutability, loss, and death.

-- Anthony H. Harrison, "Aestheticism"
randy_byers: (brundage)

Yesterday I stumbled across a reference to Christina Rossetti's poem "Goblin Market" (1862) and was reminded that it is about fruit sold by goblins and the effect that it has on humans, much as Mirrlees' novel Lud-in-the Mist (1926) is about fairy fruit and the effect it has on humans.

We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?

Rossetti's poem is much more overtly sexual than Mirrlees' novel, but to the extent that Mirrlees does make the connection to sexual passion and potential debauchery, she also does so in the form of the effect of the fruit on adolescent girls. Both writers also compare the effect of the fruit to drugs and addiction, depicting symptoms of withdrawal in the aftermath of ingesting the fruit.

"The Goblin Market" is amazingly ambivalent about its subject matter. It has something of a Hollywood ending in which normalcy is restored and the events of the poem are said to be a warning to children, but which leaves us feeling that the images of sexual arousal and dangerously unconventional behavior (well, otherworldly and lesbian at least) are much more vivid than the conventional conclusion. (Rossetti apparently did tell her publisher that the poem was not actually intended for children.)

She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore

I see that Neil Gaiman made the connection between "The Goblin Market" and Lud-in-the-Mist in an article for the Guardian, "Happily ever after". I don't know much about Rossetti except that she's connected with the Pre-Raphaelites. My sense is that both she and Mirrlees are associating Faerie here with bohemianism. Sex and drugs and the horns of Elfland, baby!

20 Nov. Update: Eventually, she manages to save her sister by running home and asking Laura to "Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / Squeezed from goblin fruits for you," explaining that "For your sake I have braved the glen / And had to do with goblin merchant men." Laura's cure, implemented by her sucking the juices from Lizzie's face, is somewhat baffling; the reader is left confused as to what actually cured her, the residual juices or her sister's love.

So what we are left with is this: a woman performed a heroic, self-sacrificing action (certainly related to Christ's sacrifice of himself) to save her sister. Good. However, it seems apparent that there are problems with the framework for feminine heroism constructed by Rossetti. It remains a passive kind of heroism. Lizzie does not attack the goblin men, demanding the antidote for their fruit, or weave a spell of benign magic over her sister. She is forced to offer herself up to goblin abuse (physical, sexual goblin abuse) to perform a positive action. It is possible to account for the passive nature of Lizzie's act by putting it into the context of Rossetti's Christian beliefs, but that does not seem enough. The ambiguities at the end of "Goblin Market" and the almost out of place, strangely irrelevant feel of the last few lines (caused by their sanitized, formulaic tone at the end of a poem so rich in erotic and violent detail) indicate that Rossetti herself had not reached a satisfactory conclusion on the subject of female heroism.

-- W. Glasgow Phillips, "Theme in Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market'"


Sep. 19th, 2009 07:20 am
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
So today I turn 49, which is seven squared, which must be perfection perfected.

I took the day off from work yesterday to celebrate in advance. Went to Roxy's for breakfast and had a mimosa. Surprised myself by deciding to go see a matinee of Jane Campion's Bright Star, which just opened yesterday. It's about the romance between John Keats and Fannie Brawne. I had mixed feelings about it. A beautiful portrait of young love, but something about it left me cold. Perhaps I just don't like Keats' poetry. Nonetheless, there was a lot to enjoy in the movie, not least its visual textures, and it captures very well the tempestuousness and confusion and tenderness and cruelty -- the sweet unrest -- of romantic love, while still grounding it in a social and familial setting.

In the evening, Denys (whose birthday is on the 25th) and I went to Mashiko for sushi with [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw, [livejournal.com profile] juliebata, [livejournal.com profile] kate_schaefer, and Glenn Hackney. As I've mentioned before, Mashiko has gone sustainable, but I sure couldn't tell the difference in the chef's choice chirashi (sashimi on top of a bowl of rice) that I had, unless it was the mussel, which I'd never had as sashimi before. Kate's chef's choice nigiri included rainbow trout, which she said was great. Glenn had a couple of rolls that used catfish, which they are calling namagi and are pitching as sort of a substitute for unagi (while acknowledging that it tastes nothing like it). One of the rolls that Glenn had was called the Southern Roll and had the catfish and tempura sweet potato. That sounded pretty good to me.

Anyway, excellent food and excellent company.

Today I'm wearing a pirate shirt (arrrh, mateys!) and there are various possible plans afoot. Fine beer will almost certainly be involved at some point. Meanwhile, here's the eponymous sonnet.

Bright Star
by John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.


randy_byers: (Default)

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