NaPoWriMo 7/30 Now obsess

(with thanks to Gerald Stern for the first two lines. And also the word “dam.” And the endless stream of song lyrics. And letting the sleeping dog lie. Hell – thanks to Gerald Stern for all it, and all of poetry)

Now obsess on the wet kiss,
now obsess on the red knife,
slicing the cucumber cool-cool-cumber

Now obsess on your sliced bliss
now obsess on your green life
and laugh ha-ha though the day be raw

Now obsess on ancient trysts
now obsess on supposed strife
cry me a river and I’ll dam it to hell

Now obsess on not obsessing
now obsess on letting sleeping dogs
lie and rise and fly to their home, faraway home

The world is always burning

yeah, this is how poetry is written…

The Law
Gerald Stern in Everything is Burning, 2005

The world is always burning, you should fly
from the burning if you can, and you should hold
your head oh either above or below the dust
and you should be careful in the blocks of Bowery
below or above the Broome that always is changing
from one kind of drunkenness to another
for that is the law of suffering, and you know it.

from Not God After All by Gerald Stern

Not God After All [Autumn House, 2004, with pencil illustrations by Sheba Sharrow] is a small book of very small poems. Or aphorisms, or petite narratives, as Stern calls them in his introduction, all written over a period of two weeks in the Spring of 2002. This is a very unusual poetry collection, but also so very Gerald Stern, a written record of little bits of conversations and arguments a sharp, passionate, political, poetic mind was having with itself. I’m copying some of my favorites here, thinking that they’ll become writing prompts or first lines, as Dickinson’s opening lines were for me earlier this spring.

.
For my immortality
I wear only purple socks
.

.
A beaver eating loosestrife,
none of us could believe it.
.

.
I’ll never forget Saul Bellow’s
camel-hair coat
.

.
A fire I understand,
but how do you make a flood?
.

.
The reckless affection of
her unconditional love.
.

.
The poem about me is the
best poem you ever wrote
.

.
The Shit Out of Luck Blues,
Weary Blues, Potato Skin Blues.
.

.
A palm tree has finally
wrapped itself around my heart.
.

.
What a life with women, I’m
just now thinking it over.
.

.
The happiness of the dogs
running into the waters.
.

.
Her T-shirt gets tangled
when she turns over in the grass.
.

.
Always the goyische kopf
doesn’t get it—the Joosh joke.
.

.
Dream is I went from city
to city speaking Yiddish.
.

.
Charity is the right foot of
justice—sometimes the knee.
.

.
I had a way of letting the fire
rage under the dross.
.

.
The smiling face of
industrial consolidation.
.

.
Her height, her passion, her courage,
her humor, her cunning.
.

.
To be managed, that is the
most threatening thing of all.
.

.
Now obsess on the wet kiss,
now obsess on the red knife.
.

.
Bartok at the Bronx zoo
on his way to the polar bears.
.

.
Except he lacked love, he was
almost a Jew, Ulysses.
.

.
Burning bituminous and
loving the stink of blue gas.
.

.
Between her thighs the odor
of magnolia, smell it!
.

.
Honor your poet, one of
Moses’ shattered commandments.
.

.
Rebecca, if there is an
afterworld, you will have it.
.

.
I caught someone loving his
enemy and turned to stone.
.

.
Hath not a Jew helicopters,
hath he not bazookas?
.

.
I possess the truth—have a
Chinese pear in the meantime.
.

.
It burns the eyes and the lungs, the
taste of it in the mouth!
.

.
Poverty, ignorance, super-
stition, mice—I miss you!
.

.
Melancholy, you
prude, I devoted my life to you.
.

.
What is more bloodthirsty and
oppressive, God or Country?
.

Ars Poetica, Drew, 2nd Residency

Ira Sadoff on Dickinson—the powers of complex metaphors connected by association, the wilderness of her imagination

Anne Marie Macari speaking about Theodore Roethke—when I feel a poem in my mouth, in my body, I am rich in physicality

Jean Valentine quoting Berryman’s advice to a young poet—“If you have to be sure, don’t write.”

Ira Sadoff in a lecture on structure:
-Poetry is associative, the place where improvisation and form intercept.
-Poetry has everything that makes for a good crash and burn love affair.
-Consciousness engenders passion and a penchant for justice.
-Imagine if we could make every moment matter, if we refined and honed the art of paying attention
-An embodied consciousness is the religion of poetry
-poems should always move toward intensification
-the key to revision is to ask of the poem “what’s the obsession? what’s the inquiry?”

Gerald Stern describing Alicia Ostriker—she shows her loyalty by not forgetting and by insisting, which are the same thing

Anne Marie Macari
-When we get to our real poems—after a long apprenticeship—the poems only we can write write us
-We are what we write, we are our language
-metaphor is not just a poetic device, it is the ultimate pattern of thought, the source of all new insight
-Never to get lost is never to live. To be always sure of where you are is very dangerous for a poet
-I’m not interested in transcendence
-We are being distracted by distraction from distraction
-We must live as if language were matter and mattered

James Haba:
-Poetry has become something to read or hear, but before print, poetry was something you could be. Imagine poetry before irony, which has contaminated our understanding, replacing feeling with gloss and substance with reflectivity. Poetry was shared, communal, never alone or solitary.
-the effect poetry is to shatter your fundamental assumptions
-of the final line of “Prufrock” –drowning is terrifying, but then everything is terrifying

Richard Hugo – you’ve written every poem you’ve loved

Gerald Stern of Jean Valentine’s poetry—in her work, I and thou are in a lifelong conversation

Peter Cole—aesthetics is to art what ornithology is to birds

from my notes from Joan Larkin—a poem’s meaning is the combine harvesting 10,000 hours of labor (did she say that, or did I invent it in response to something she said?)

Joan Larkin on Hopkins—there is a kind of joy in the recognition that we are not alone in our despair, in the glory of the music. Anyone who can count syllables, make rhymes, is no longer in the grip of despair

Dmitri Shostakovich—Art destroys silence

Lynn Emanuel:
-A book of poems is not a plate of hors d’oeuvres
-we must avoid the fetish of the perfect poem
-when we are reading a book of poems, what makes us turn the page?