Archive for September, 2009

Kim Addonizio – The Divorcee and Gin

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

I found Kim Addonizio from her craft book, The Poet’s Companion(1997), which she co-authored with Dorianne Laux. As is my habit, I bought her latest book at the time, What is This Thing Called Love(2004), and then found a copy of Tell Me(2000). She also came out with a new book of craft called Ordinary Genius(2009). Her newest book is Lucifer at the Startlight(2009) and was just published. Many of her poems drip with passion, desire, pain, music, sex and booze. Always wrapped is strong technique. This poem from Tell Me is classic Kim, from the topic, to the craft, to the gut-punch ending.

The Divorcee and Gin

I love the frosted pints you come in,
and the tall bottles with their uniformed men;
the bars where you’re poured chilled
into shallow glasses, the taste of drowned olives,
and the scrawled benches where I see you
passed impatiently from one mouth
to another, the bag twisted tight around
your neck, the hand that holds you
shaking a little from its need
which is the true source of desire, God, I love
what you do to me at night when we’re alone,
how you wait for me to take you into me
until I’m so confused with you I can’t
stand up anymore. I know you want me
helpless, each cell whimpering, and I give
you that, letting you have me just the way
you like it. And when you’re finished
you turn your face to the wall while I curl
around you again, and enter another morning
with aspirin and the useless ache
that comes from loving, too well,
those who, under the guise of pleasure,
destroy everything they touch.

Kim Addonizio

As an aside, she also blows a mean harmonica!

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Dorianne Laux – Music In The Morning

Posted in Poems by others on September 25, 2009 by paulscotaugust

I was first introduced to Dorianne Laux’s writing when a friend suggested I buy The Poet’s Companion, her book on the craft of writing poetry (co-authored with Kim Addonizio) which then led me (of course) to buy each of her books: Facts About The Moon, Smoke, What We Carry, Awake, and Superman: The Chapbook. There are so many amazing poems in her books, that it was difficult to pick one to post here, but this one from Facts About The Moon has it all, plus that one undefinable quality: it just talks to me.

Music In The Morning

When I think of the years he drank, the scars
on his chin, his thinning hair, his eye that still weeps
decades after the blow, my knees weaken with gratitude
for whatever kept him safe, whatever stopped
the glass from cracking and shearing something vital,
the fist from lowering, exploding an artery, pressing
the clot of blood toward the back of his brain.
Now, he sits calmly on the couch, reading,
refusing to wear the glasses I bought him,
holding the open book at arm’s length from his chest.
Behind him the windows are smoky with mist
and the tile floor is pushing its night chill
up through the bare soles of his feet. I like to think
he survived in order to find me, in order
to arrive here, sober, tired from a long night
of tongues and hands and thighs, music
on the radio, coffee– so he could look up and see me,
standing in the kitchen in his torn t-shirt,
the hem of it brushing my knees, but I know
it’s only luck that brought him here, luck
and a love that had nothing to do with me,
except that this is what we sometimes get if we live
long enough, if we are patient with our lives.

Dorianne Laux

I had the pleasure of attending The Bear River Writer’s Conference this past spring up in Michigan and doing a week-long poetry workshop with Dorianne Laux, and she is as wonderful of a teacher as she is a writer. Here is a picture of our workshop group. I am at the bottom left (in black, of course) and she is at the bottom right, in the trench coat.

By the way, after saying it wrong for many years, she informed me that her last name is pronounced “Lox.”

Richard Hugo – The Towns We Know and Leave Behind, The Rivers We Carry with Us

Posted in Poems by others on September 19, 2009 by paulscotaugust

In a large collection of poetry books I bought last year, there were 4 slim books that changed the way I read poetry, the way I write it. These were 4 volumes by Richard Hugo: White Center, What Thou Lovest Well Remains American, 31 letters and 13 Dreams, and The Lady in Kicking Horse Resevoir. The style, the grim tone, the bleak emotions, and the meticulous craft all combined to take the top of my head off. This poem in particular struck me deeply. It is a very personal poem from one man to another, Richard Hugo to his friend James Wright (who was dying at the time it was published). It is from one accomplished poet at the top of his game to another. It is quite gorgeous…

The Towns We Know and Leave Behind,
The Rivers We Carry with Us

for James Wright

I forget the names of towns without rivers.
A town needs a river to forgive the town.
Whatever river, whatever town –
it is much the same.
The cruel things I did I took to the river.
I begged the current: make me better.

Your town, your river, or mine –
it is much the same.
A murdering man lives on the land
in a shack the river birds hate.
He rubs the red shriek of night from his eyes.
He prays to water: don’t let me do that again.

Let’s name your river: Ohio.
Let’s name all rivers one in the blood,
red stream and debris in the blood.
Say George Doty had a wrong head.
Say the Ohio forgives what George did
and the river birds loved his shack.
Let’s name the birds: heron and sweat.
Let’s get away from the mud.

The river is there to forgive the town
and without a river a town abuses the sky.
The river is there to forgive what I did.
Let’s name my river: Duwamish.
And let’s admit
the river birds don’t hate my home.
That’s a recent development, really
like mercury in the cod.

Without a river a town abuses the air.
The river is there to forgive what I did.
The river birds hate what I did
until I name them.
Your river or mine –
It is much the same.
A murdering man lived on the bank.

Here’s the trick;
We had to stay drunk
to welcome the river
to live in a shack
to die on the bank
beneath the bigoted sky
under the river birds
day after day
to murder away
all water that might die.

A murdering man is dead on the bank
of your new river, The East,
on mine, The Clark Fork.
It is much the same.
Your river has gulls and tugs.
Mine has eagles and sky.
I rub last night from my eyes.
I ask bright water what’s happened.

The river, I am not sure which one,
Says water has no special power.
What should I do?
Or you?

Now water has no need to forgive
what shall become of murder?
How shall we live
when we killed, when we died by the word?

Whatever the name of the river,
we both had two women to love,
one to love us enough we left behind
a town that abuses the day.
The other to love the river we brought with us,
the shack we lived and still live in,
the birds, the towns that return to us for names
and we give them names knowing the river
murders them away.

Richard Hugo

My Dearest Emile

Posted in My Poems on September 17, 2009 by paulscotaugust

My Dearest Emile

— from a letter by Van Gogh

Sunset? Moonrise?
Summer sunshine at all events.
A mauve town, yellow star,
blue-green sky. The corn
is in all tones of old gold,
copper, greenish or reddish
gold, yellowy gold, bronze-
yellow, greenish red.

A size 30 canvas, and square.
I painted it with the mistral
at its height, my easel was
pegged to the ground
with iron stakes, a method
I recommend. You dig
in the legs of the easel, then
next to them an iron spike
fifty centimetres long. You tie
it all together with rope.

Then you can work in the wind.

Paul Scot August

(Originally Published in Zuzu’s Petals Quarterly – Volume 2 – Summer/Fall 1993)

(Republished January 2012 in Bending Light Into Verse, Volume III)

Larry Levis – My Story in a Late Style of Fire

Posted in Poems by others on September 12, 2009 by paulscotaugust

How do we stumble upon the poets we read? In a bookstore? In an MFA class? Suggestions from friends? By google accidents? Well, yes, to all of the above. But I like to think my best teachers and poem suggesters are other poets, and that is the case here. I found the Steve Scafidi poem The Sublime which was dedicated to Larry Levis. I found a poem by Gerald Stern titled Larry Levis Visits Easton, Pa., During a November Freeze. Tom Lux has a poem called Thus, He Spoke His Quietus dedicated to Larry Levis. I found several others, then more. You get the idea. So I ordered a copy of Larry Levis’ book Elegy, and was blown away by the beauty of the poetry, the music singing from those long lines, the raw emotions, the craft, the artistry spilling down the page, poem after poem. I then got a copies of The Widening Spell of the Leaves, Winter Stars and The Dollmaker’s Ghost. Astounding doesn’t begin to describe the poems within these books. The following poem has become my favorite Levis poem. Do yourself a favor and find his work, dig deeply into it, and submerse yourself in the beauty, the music, the craft. You’ll be changed forever.

My Story in a Late Style of Fire

Whenever I listen to Billie Holiday, I am reminded
That I, too, was once banished from New York City.
Not because of drugs or because I was interesting enough
For any wan, overworked patrolman to worry about—
His expression usually a great, gauzy spiderweb of bewilderment
Over his face—I was banished from New York City by a woman.
Sometimes, after we had stopped laughing, I would look
At her & and see a cold note of sorrow or puzzlement go
Over her face as if someone else were there, behind it,
Not laughing at all. We were, I think, “in love.” No, I’m sure.
If my house burned down tomorrow morning, & if I & my wife
And son stood looking on at the flames, & if, then
Someone stepped out of the crowd of bystanders
And said to me: “Didn’t you once know. . . ?” No. But if
One of the flames, rising up in the scherzo of fire, turned
All the windows blank with light, & if that flame could speak,
And if it said to me: “You loved her, didn’t you?” I’d answer,
Hands in my pockets, “Yes.” And then I’d let fire & misfortune
Overwhelm my life. Sometimes, remembering those days,
I watch a warm, dry wind bothering a whole line of elms
And maples along a street in this neighborhood until
They’re all moving at once, until I feel just like them,
Trembling & in unison. None of this matters now,
But I never felt alone all that year, & if I had sorrows,
I also had laughter, the affliction of angels & children.
Which can set a whole house on fire if you’d let it. And even then
You might still laugh to see all of your belongings set you free
In one long choiring of flames that sang only to you—
Either because no one else could hear them, or because
No one else wanted to. And, mostly, because they know.
They know such music cannot last, & that it would
Tear them apart if they listened. In those days,
I was, in fact, already married, just as I am now,
Although to another woman. And that day I could have stayed
In New York. I had friends there. I could have strayed
Up Lexington Avenue, or down to Third, & caught a faint
Glistening of the sea between the buildings. But all I wanted
Was to hold her all morning, until her body was, again,
A bright field, or until we both reached some thicket
As if at the end of a lane, or at the end of all desire,
And where we could, therefore, be alone again, & make
Some dignity out of loneliness. As, mostly, people cannot do.
Billie Holiday, whose life was shorter & more humiliating
Than my own, would have understood all this, if only
Because even in her late addiction & her bloodstream’s
Hallelujahs, she, too, sang often of some affair, or someone
Gone, & therefore permanent. And sometimes she sang for
Nothing, even then, & it isn’t anyone’s business, if she did.
That morning, when she asked me to leave, wearing only
The apricot tinted, fraying chemise, I wanted to stay.
But I also wanted to go, to lose her suddenly, almost
For no reason, & certainly without any explanation.
I remember looking down at a pair of singular tracks
Made in a light snow the night before, at how they were
Gradually effacing themselves beneath the tires
Of the morning traffic, & thinking that my only other choice
Was fire, ashes, abandonment, solitude. All of which happened
Anyway, & soon after, & by divorce. I know this isn’t much.
But I wanted to explain this life to you, even if
I had to become, over the years, someone else to do it.
You have to think of me what you think of me. I had
To live my life, even its late, florid style. Before
You judge this, think of her. Then think of fire,
Its laughter, the music of splintering beams & glass,
The flames reaching through the second story of a house
Almost as if to—mistakenly—rescue someone who
Left you years ago. It is so American, fire. So like us.
Its desolation. And its eventual, brief triumph.

Larry Levis

Larry Levis died 49 years young, from a heart attack in 1996, only 1 year older than I am today as I type this.

His books of poetry are as follows:

Wrecking Crew (1972)
The Afterlife (1977)
The Dollmaker’s Ghost (1981)
Winter Stars (1985)
The Widening Spell of the Leaves (1991)
Elegy (1997)
The Selected Levis (2000)
The Gazer Within (2000) (Prose, essays, etc.)

James Wright – A Blessing

Posted in Poems by others on September 9, 2009 by paulscotaugust

Not much I can add here. I consider this a perfect poem. Back when I owned a bookstore I bought a large lot of poetry books from a neighbor. Included were all of James Wright’s books in their original printings, plus his collected works and a book of letters between him and Leslie Marmon Silko. Wright has many poems I would place in the “memorable” category, but The Blessing always seemed to me to have something extra special.

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

James Wright

From Poets.org: James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on December 13, 1927. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade. While in high school in 1943 Wright suffered a nervous breakdown and missed a year of school. When he graduated in 1946, a year late, he joined the army and was stationed in Japan during the American occupation. He then attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, and studied under John Crowe Ransom. He graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1952, then married another Martins Ferry native, Liberty Kardules. The two traveled to Austria, where, on a Fulbright Fellowship, Wright studied the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna. He returned to the U.S. and earned master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Washington, studying with Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz. He went on to teach at The University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and New York City’s Hunter College.

The poverty and human suffering Wright witnessed as a child profoundly influenced his writing and he used his poetry as a mode to discuss his political and social concerns. He modeled his work after Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, whose engagement with profound human issues and emotions he admired. The subjects of Wright’s earlier books, The Green Wall (winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1957) and Saint Judas (1959), include men and women who have lost love or have been marginalized from society for such reasons as poverty and sexual orientation, and they invite the reader to step in and experience the pain of their isolation. Wright possessed the ability to reinvent his writing style at will, moving easily from stage to stage. His earlier work adheres to conventional systems of meter and stanza, while his later work exhibits more open, looser forms, as with The Branch Will Not Break (1963). James Wright was elected a fellow of The Academy of American Poets in 1971, and the following year his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in New York City in 1980.

e.e. cummings – LVII

Posted in Poems by others on September 7, 2009 by paulscotaugust

e.e. cummings: Now here’s a guy whom I never, ever want to write like, even if I could, and that I can only read in small doses, yet wrote this gorgeous poem that touches something deep inside me that I can’t define. The music in a line like “the snow carefully everywhere descending” gives me shivers. I love this poem. Read it aloud. Enough said.

LVII

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

e.e. cummings