Archive for August, 2009

David Bottoms – In a U-Haul North of Damascus

Posted in Poems by others on August 30, 2009 by paulscotaugust

David Botton’s poem In a U-Haul North of Damascus is a modern story of sin, divorce and redemption. I ran across this poem in Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio’s book The Poet’s Companion. My immediate reaction was on a visceral level, but on repeated readings it opened up to me with a strong set of images, nice enjambment and I love the way it poses unanswered questions.

In a U-Haul North of Damascus

Lord, what are the sins
I have tried to leave behind me? The bad checks,
the workless days, the scotch bottles thrown across the fence
and into the woods, the cruelty of silence,
the cruelty of lies, the jealousy,
the indifference?

What are these on the scale of sin
or failure
that they should follow me through the streets of Columbus,
the moon-streaked fields between Benevolence
and Cuthbert where dwarfed cotton sparkles like pearls
on the shoulders of the road. What are these
that they should find me half-lost,
sick and sleepless
behind the wheel of this U-Haul truck parked in a field on Georgia
a few miles north of Damascus,
some makeshift rest stop for eighteen wheelers
where the long white arms of oak slap across trailers
and headlights glare all night through a wall of pines?

What was I thinking Lord?
That for once I’d be in the driver’s seat, a firm grip
on direction?

So the jon boat muscled up the ramp,
the Johnson outboard, the bent frame of the wrecked Harley
chained for so long to the back fence,
the scarred desk, the bookcases and books,
the mattress and box springs,
a broken turntable, a Pioneer amp, a pair
of three-way speakers, everything mine
I intended to keep. Everything else abandon.

But on the road from one state
to another, what is left behind nags back through the distance,
a last word rising to a scream, a salad bowl
shattering against a kitchen cabinet, china barbs
spiking my heel, blood trailed across the cream linoleum
like the bedsheet that morning long ago
just before I watched the future miscarried.

Jesus, could the irony be
that suffering forms a stronger bond than love?

Now the sun
streaks the windshield with yellow and orange, heavy beads
of light drawing highways in the dew-cover.
I roll down the window and breathe the pine-air,
the after-scent of rain, and the far-off smell
of asphalt and diesel fumes.

But mostly pine and rain
as though the world really could be clean again.

Somewhere behind me,
miles behind me on a two-lane that streaks across
west Georgia, light is falling
through the windows of my half-empty house.
Lord, why am I thinking about all this? And why should I care
so long after everything has fallen
to pain that the woman sleeping there should be sleeping alone?
Could I be just another sinner who needs to be blinded
before he can see? Lord, is it possible to fall
toward grace? Could I be moved
to believe in new beginnings? Could I be moved?

David Bottoms

Bottoms was born in 1949 in Canton, GA., and his first book Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, was chosen as winner of the 1979 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. He has published 7 more books of poetry and two novels, as well as edited The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets (1985). His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Levinson Prize, an Ingram-Merrill Award, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Bottoms is currently the Poet Laureate of Georgia and holds the Amos Distinguished Chair in English Letters at Georgia State University.

His poetry book are:

Waltzing Through the Endtime, (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
Oglethorpe’s Dream
Vagrant Grace, (Copper Canyon Press, 1999)
Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)
Under the Vulture-Tree (1987)
In a U-Haul North of Damascus (1983)
Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump (1980)
Jamming with the Band at the VFW


Steve Scafidi – The Sublime

Posted in Poems by others on August 29, 2009 by paulscotaugust

I ran across Steve Scafidi’s first book in a local indy bookstore and bought it on a whim. Might have been the cover. Might have been the title. Most likely it was glancing at a few poems and going for it. And I am glad that I did. It is filled with some amazing poems. But this poem in particular spoke to me on several levels. Emotionally, it packs a wallop. Craft-wise, it does things that amaze me and draw me back to it over and over. It is one that I have attempted to memorize and recite, and I am close, but my brain cells, well, that’s another story. I have this poem printed out and pinned on the wall above my desk.

The Sublime

—– For Larry Levis

And what good is a dream finally? It breaks your head open
and cello music pours out of a stranger’s window and the most
gorgeous woman you ever loved says to hit the road and you do
see them—that stranger and this woman. Kissing everywhere.

In the trees. On boats. In the kitchen cupboards. The fog
of daily life never lifts and the checkbook needs proper
calculations and the dog would like supper please and now
without warning the dream returns. It breaks your head open.

You lie there for a week and no one finds you until the dog
having lost its dignity finally eats and when there is no more
howls. It howls. And you are a missing person, a passage
of shit quivered into the dirt. A good boy. A terrible dream

someone picks up with a plastic bag wrapped in his hand
to throw away and you are thrown away. You do it every day.
Waking too early, driving to work, working and returning.
Reading poems of great beauty and crying at the movies.

Touching the hair of your niece who laughs at water. Flying
over cornfields so close and so openly that when you wake
there is silk in your beard. Your arms are tired and hang
at your sides like the wings of a migratory bird who is about

to die. And what good is a dream finally? It breaks your heart
and you stand in the lush dark of the moment after twilight
ends and begin to sing and nothing makes sense to you
and you sing louder for a while, then awkwardly sit down

where you are. And the stars overhead shine a little—no more
or less than usual—and whether it is daylight and they are invisible
or whether it is night and they are the embers of a blacksmith’s
fire, they shine and you are grateful. That love is like a hammer.

Steve Scafidi

The book is Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer (2001). His second book is For Love of Common Words (2006). Both are from LSU Press and are worth owning, reading and re-reading.

Steve Scafidi was raised in Virginia and earned his MFA at Arizona State University. His first book was nominated for the 2001 National Book Award, the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and won the Fifth Annual Larry Levis Reading Prize. He occasionally teaches poetry at Johns Hopkins University, but in the real world he works as a cabinet maker and lives in West Virginia with his wife and daughter.

Thomas Lux – Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

Posted in Poems by others on August 28, 2009 by paulscotaugust

I first met Thomas Lux in June of 2008 when I attended the Summer Writers Seminar at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. I was one of 10 poets in his workshop for the week. In addition to being a fantstic poet, he is also a great teacher and runs an amazing workshop. One of my poems that we workshopped and revised over that week was later accepted by Passages North Magazine for their Winter 2010 issue.

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy can be found in his book Half Promised Land (1986) and in New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995 (1997). Tom Lux read this poem at the faculty reading at SLC, and when I attended the Bear River Writers Conference this past summer, Dorianne Laux recited this poem in our first workshop. It has been added to my personal anthology and has become one of my favorites…

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

For some semi-tropical reason
when the rain falls
relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long

and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is a justice,
rewards for not loving

the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hogsnake,
rats) creatures, if

you believe these things then
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors

and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,
as individuals, would not turn up

again someday
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld

of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dream—
they may tell the others

in a sign language
four times as subtle
and complicated as man’s

that you are good,
that you love them,
that you would save them again.

Thomas Lux

One of the perks of the SLC seminar is that we play softball on Tuesday and Thursday during the week. I was on his team in 2008 and on the opposing team in 2009. Here we are at one of the June 2008 weekly softball games:

(I hope he forgives the 3 home runs I hit against his team this summer)

Here is his Bio from Thomas Lux was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1946. He was educated at Emerson College and The University of Iowa. His books of poetry include:

God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008);
The Cradle Place (Houghton Mifflin, 2004);
The Street of Clocks (2001);
New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995 (1997), which was a finalist for the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize;
The Blind Swimmer: Selected Early Poems, 1970-1975 (1996);
Split Horizon (1994), for which he received the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award;
Pecked to Death by Swans (1993);
A Boat in the Forest (1992);
The Drowned River: New Poems (1990);
Half Promised Land (1986);
Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy (1983);
Massachusetts (1981);
Like a Wide Anvil from the Moon the Light (1980);
Sunday (1979);
Madrigal on the Way Home (1977);
The Glassblower’s Breath (1976);
Memory’s Handgrenade (1972);
The Land Sighted (1970).

Thomas Lux also has edited The Sanity of Earth and Grass (1994, with Jane Cooper and Sylvia Winner) and has translated Versions of Campana (1977).

Lux has been the poet in residence at Emerson College (1972-1975), and a member of the Writing Faculty at Sarah Lawrence College and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He has also taught at the Universities of Iowa, Michigan, and California at Irvine, among others. He has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and has received three National Endowment for the Arts grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Poetry Saved My Life!

Posted in General Poetry Stuff on August 27, 2009 by paulscotaugust

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. Then again, maybe not. But a few years back, at a time when I could see no beauty in the world and things were getting pretty dark and ugly, I realized that poetry was the one constant beauty in my life.

I don’t really have a specific goal for this blog, so I am just going to post poetry-related stuff as it comes to me.

I used to post a daily poem thread on another web forum, but it was run by tight-ass puritanical idiots. I stopped posting there when a poem I posted by Stephen Dobyns (The Requisite Grin) was characterized as advocating rape and was subsequently deleted as being obscene. I had a small group of avid readers who I hope will find me here.

Hopefully you’ll find something useful to you, or just entertaining. Maybe something will make you go hmmm. And maybe something will lead you to read deeper into a poet’s body of work.

Please feel free to comment, start some discussion, or just say hello and let me know you’re out there reading…

Poetry Reading in NY