The power went out and it’s raining outside. I’m contemplating putting on my jacket and going outside with my bike to face the thunder. I miss roughing it out during an unexpected rainstorm. The last time I was caught, I biked in the rain through puddles and broken streets. It felt like I was mountain biking through the urban swamp. I realize I’m not in the mood to battle the rain and the potholes, so instead I’ll write about my weekend. I swam in a turquoise pool under palm trees, met some older Nola residents, and ate Indian food after a year of not having any. I also edited some photos. Recently, I’ve been going to through the photos I’ve taken here since I moved last year. I’m sharing them through instagram @portraitofjune. Here’s a small poem about documenting the days with my camera.
The wind is frantic and I’m reading
The wind is whistling
The wind scares me, and I read
Nothing but a glass window
Outside the trees sway, bowing, and curving
To the blowing wind
Sounding like an impending wave about to crash
Washing out the tiny colored houses
There’s a tall palm tree which I will hang to
Reading Poems of the American South(a tiny book of poems covering four centuries) coincided with my trip to New Orleans, mostly by accident since I found it months before, not knowing if I’d go. From these poems arise the drunken humidity and rain-glistening palmettos. The book includes poetry from a variety of voices, some long-time southerners, others passing by— those who stayed and were changed by this time and place. Like myself a few northerners (Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes…) escaped the urban chaos for quiet solitude beneath oak trees. And similarly they longed to stay. In these poems are languid hot days, hush hush mornings, scattered crows beckoning the night to see the sadness and beauty in the ruins.
Reverie in Open Air
I acknowledge my status as a stranger:
Inappropriate clothes, odd habits
Out of sync with wasp and wren.
I admit I don’t know how
To sit still or move without purpose.
I prefer books to moonlight, statuary to trees.
But this lawn has been leveled for looking,
So I kick off my sandals and walk its cool green.
Who claims we’re mere muscle and fluids?
My feet are the primitives here.
As for the rest—ah, the air now
Is a tonic of absence, bearing nothing
But news of a breeze.
I Saw in Louisiana A live-oak Growing
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green, And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of
myself, But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for
I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss, And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear
friends, (For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,) Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me
think of manly love; For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.
Donald Justice, for W.E.B & P.R.
Something of how the homing bee at dusk
Seems to inquire, perplexed, how there can be
No flowers here, not even withered stalks of flowers,
Conjures a garden where no garden is
And trellises too frail almost to bear
The memory of a rose, much less a rose.
Great oaks, more monumentally great oaks now
Than ever when the living rose was new,
Cast shade that is the more completely shade
Upon a house of broken windows merely
And empty nests up under broken eaves.
No damask any more prevents the moon,
But it unravels, peeling from a wall,
Red roses within roses within roses.
W.S. Di Piero
I’ll lick these screwfaced torches all night long
and chew the beads and blue doubloons that sail
from iron balconies mossy in the dark,
I’ll walk down Royal Street dressed as a sweet gum tree
pretending my back is front, big whiskey breath for all
who love this season of preparing. I’ll be ready
for denial, to put away all fat things, all spoils,
the meat and bulky jewels of wanting
anything, even the wish to want.
The King salutes us from his golden dragon.
He is our food today. Eat his bones, his furs,
his crown and scepter. Eat his fat throne and flesh,
his voice that laughs us into easy forgiveness.
I’ll eat the King and break his will inside me
and toward tomorrow mix him with my swallowed
pearls and coins and whiskey and days.
It is a rage against geometry:
The spiked fans of the palmetto arcing
Like improvised brushstrokes in the light breeze;
Like shadowplay, somewhere a dog barking.
Against the height of new and old brick walls,
Confounding stone, transplanted pine and palm
Lift in imperfection, as heavy bells
That would force order fade into the calm
Of azure and a faint scent of musk.
(Is it eucalyptus or just the past?)
There’s nothing in this warm, vegetal dusk
That is not beautiful or that will last.
I’m a little late on this, but I’ve been too tired to face the whiteness of the screen. The Chapbook Festival Award Ceremony took place on April 2. It’s a great event to meet new and veteran poets. On this particular night in New York City, the 13th St. Repertory Theater was crowded. People were even sitting on the stage and standing behind the last row of seats. “Who knew so many people liked poetry?” remarked the hostess. There was wine and cheese—and plenty of tiny warm smiles.
The ceremony is part of the PSA Chapbook Fellowship Program that gives new poets a chance for exposure and mentoring from veteran poets. The first judge to introduce their selected poet was Elizabeth Alexander who read for Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Her fellow, Callie Siskel read poems from her Chapbook, Arctic Revival. Her most memorable poem, whose title escapes me, was about a child entering her mother’s house and making her presence known while her mom and presumably a boyfriend were just setting up for a romantic night. The little girl represented her father in that moment when she hurled her school book bag on the floor. I thought it was powerful as it built up toward the ending.
Forrest Gander presented his fellow, HL Hazuka. Gander has a unique way of reading poems, almost bluesy, with ingrained beats while he taps his foot. It was lovely to watch him read Alfonso D’ Aquino’s Fronda and then Mano one of his own poems.
HL Hazuka’s Chapbook, True to Life: cuttings, mechanics & modification are mostly fragments of loose thoughts from films or visuals images. Gander described them as “landscapes in words,” and “how we understand the present.” The writer was not there to read her poems, so we were left without hearing her voice. But nonetheless as conveyed by Gander, we got a sense of her poems’ ethereal lightness similar to clear April morning.
I was also delightfully surprised to hear there was a Peruvian poet among the Chapbook Fellows. Marilyn Hacker, known for her formal yet colloquial style, presentedEva Maria Saavedra’s. For Hacker, Eva’s poems in Thirst demonstrate “the personal is political,” and that “double-consciousness” often paints the world of immigrants. I’m one of them. I know few Peruvians in New York and fewer Peruvian poets, so it was refreshing and familiar to hear words that felt close to my homeland. In one of her poems she mentioned pampas, meaning fertile plains or lowlands in Quechua. The world alone transfers a feeling and a memory. Here are some of her published poems: After Monet’s Water Lilies, 1919, Abuela Maria’s Refusal, 3 Poems.
Valentine is one of those approachable poets with a friendly smile. Just from her reading you can tell her humor is soft, but wise and she offers it to everyone gladly. Jean Valentine‘s presented Max Ritvo’s AEONS, and mentioned his “playful deep sense of wonder.” One of his poems mentioned “lyrical company” —and I thought yes one must always have that. He used words in juxtaposition to create something akin to language poems. The language appears to carry the meaning, and his readings are mini performance pieces.
A friend who invited me, managed to ambush (friendly ambush) Valentine, one of her favorites. She took out a copy ofHome Deep Blue with big curious eyes: “This is why I’m here!” She headed towards the stage to Jean. Last I saw they were all smiles. Before Eva left, I said hello, and chatted with her for a little. It was a swell night all around, and everything under one of those spring nights.