Friday, February 28, 2014

Perched on Fire Escapes under Lights

I've written before about my affection for and occasional ambivalence about cities. Ironically, I'm currently
in the most rural place I've lived in my adult life. But more than my love of cities, I have a love of change. And a love of finding fun and interesting places to work. So perhaps it's less ironic than I think.
The funny thing is that despite my love of cities, I don't know how to really live in them. Cities are intoxicating to me. But like a lot of things that are intoxicating, I can't partake in moderation. I go broke in cities, I go insane with different restaurants, foods, people, places. I run and run and end up in serious trouble and desperately late for work. 

Here, I don't. I'm less enthralled with my surroundings (As Frank O'Hara said I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy...though I'd say coffee shop.) I hate places without sidewalks. I love nature but I don't like spending too much time surrounded in it. I'm always worried it will get on me. I like it like city people do- I hike and climb, explore... then head to a nice bistro for lunch.

One problem is that I'm really enthralled by a city that never really existed. I love old stone buildings and rattling fire escapes of some television studio past. It's the city of a person who grew up in a bland exurban town. And though I've lived in many real cities since then, and visited hundreds across the world, I've never totally left behind that image. It's false, but like the imagined cities, intoxicating.

I wonder where I'll find myself in the future. I imagine I'll have to settle down and cease wandering at some point. Will that mean a city or a town? A rural village? I'd be lying if I even pretended to have an answer. I don't imagine a Tardis will whisk me away to any of my preferred sites, 1920 London, 1947 NYC, 1930 Paris... Since it won't I'll take a page from O'Hara and "wait for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful" and point me in a direction.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spring Music and Tropical Wishes

Spring is the time of music. I always listen to music, regardless of time or place. Music is one of the rare constants in my day. But spring is when it matters the most to me.

Even though spring is pretending to come to the Mid Ohio Valley, I know it's a lie. Winter will reassert itself in a few days. But soon... Soon it will be spring.

This week I've been revisiting one of my favorites, Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain. It's an incredible record, something of an oddity for Davis. It's an attempt by Davis to connect jazz and other traditions, mostly Spanish folk and classical. The first track is based on a piece by the Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, who reportedly was not fond of the final result. Which is astounding to me, because I find the record to be nearly perfect. It's certainly not the modal jazz of his masterpiece, Kind of Blue. But it was perfect.

And it's a spring record. It's fun, light, engaging. Which is what spring is to me. Spring is light, fun. Spring is easy going and casual. Maybe that's why I listen to more music in the spring. My tastes range all over the spectrum, but I do find myself coming back to music that is energetic and fun. It's a nice counterpoint to my tastes in literature, I guess.

So as I post this the warm spring day has turned back into rainy, chilly winter. I knew you were a lie, fake spring. I didn't trust you. But I'm still putting on Sketches and pretending. Miles and I know the secret. It's spring when we hear it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Revenge of the Dharma Bums

I've written before about my appreciation for Kerouac. It's something a lot of people don't understand, to say the least. People typically discover Kerouac as kids and then set him aside. I get that. He's certainly a terribly flawed writer. But I'm consistently drawn to Kerouac. With all the flaws and problems and madness. Because that's his appeal. He isn't ever pretending to be anything but flawed. He was the first to acknowledge his weaknesses, and he desperately tried to catalog every instance of his own failure. Later in life you saw the sadly logical conclusion of this self doubt and criticism as he drank himself to death. He died at 47, ashamed and broken. But still writing.

The secret to Kerouac for me, and perhaps for many who still admire his work, is the madness and contradiction. He wasn't sure where he was or what he was doing. He hated his generation, he hated the war that had just ended. He later romanticized his youth but seemed to resent the Lowell of his youth even as he idealized it. He obviously lacked an understanding of relationships yet sought romance every moment of his life. I can relate to that madness. Humans are complex creatures, and we're bombarded with our own contradictions every day.

Another great hero of mine, Walt Whitman- more genteel and philosophical than Jack- was accepting of it. "I am large, I contain multitudes" could very well be a mantra of Jack's, if he had stopped to consider it. Kerouac always seemed so afraid of his intellect, afraid to pursue the great thoughts and deep passions of his life. He was always running towards a smaller world. He avoided the wild friends and comrades he loved, and sought a middle class life that never really suited him. He constantly regretted not having that monochrome world to fall back into.

Funny that Allen Ginsberg, so much more unstable in appearance, could appreciate Whitman and live to be an old man. While poor Jack was too frightened of his own mind to seek out the words that would have helped him cope. And as much as I feel for the person, that fear and self-recrimination is what draws me to the work. It's fascinating to me. With all of my own instability, wanderlust and hopelessly labile reflection, I never see any reason to run from myself. I never blame. It just seems counterproductive. I'm not sure if that's a sign of mental health or a signal that I'm lacking in some aspect of my reasoning. But if it prevents me descending into Kerouac's dark depression, I'll stay grateful for it.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Conquest of Initial Lines

"Read Poetry: It Makes Men Better." Pyotr Kropotkin

Leave it to revolutionaries to talk about art in such stark and serious terms. I love it. Peter Kropotkin wrote this advice, advice he himself received. He seemingly took it to heart. An amazing writer, scientist, revolutionary, and all around brilliant mind, Kropotkin was an early victim of the horrid backwards anti-revolution that was Bolshevism. But his brilliance was such that it outlived the failures of his age. Many great people do.

I'm working some interesting ideas about Kropotkin into my new poem. And it says a lot about myself that I'm having trouble finding a way to say a very simple thing. Below are several examples of one line that I'm struggling to include.

Kropotkin tended his gardens

Kropotkin tends gardens

Kropotkin has gardens in fallen Tsar’s shadow

Kropotkin tends his garden

Kropotkin, against mangled greenhouse glass, tending

Kropotkin and his gardens,

Kropotkin/ tends his gardens

In the spirit of my dear comrade and fantastic writer Hercules, let me analyze and compare! I don't promise to be as thoughtful and contemplative as he is on his many wonderful blogs, but let's have a look.

The general sense I'm trying to evoke here is this: Late in Kropotkin's life, he returned to Russia in the midst of turmoil. The Revolution had come, manipulated and controlled by a small elite group. Kropotkin and his communal anarchists were variously ignored, subjugated, oppressed, or placated. Kropotkin was famous and influential enough that Lenin allowed him some small leeway. But he was defeated, his revolution was stalled or lost, and he knew it.

In particular, I'm thinking of a scene in Emma Goldman's illuminating My Disillusionment in Russia, which details the pathetic state of the country and relates a meeting with the elderly Kropotkin in which he discussed his passions for botany, among other things. It struck me years ago, and even now I can easily recall that exact emotion- awe at a man so calm and focused, bittersweet regret that his dream died, admiration for a man still working and thinking when it felt so late in his life and his struggle.

With the line, which opens a section of my newest long poem Sophia, I'm going for all of this. This is the economy of poetry- and the curse. Sophia is about wisdom, all kinds and forms, striving for wisdom, reaching aspects, failing to achieve other aspects... It's broad and conceptual and challenging. So the line, simple and direct, needs to be all of that.

(Sometimes I envy essayists. Or raconteurs. Lucky bastards!)

In the beginning I leaned towards the simple, "Kropotkin tended his gardens" It was concise, it said what needed said. Never, poet, say more than you need to say. You're not a pundit. Yet I came back to the line because something was missing. Something was unsaid that needed said. So I tried to be more evocative, with "mangled glass" and "greenhouses." I even invoked the Tsar! With a T! 

But that was too much. It leaned towards biography, or that most immortal of poet sins, flower language. That would never do. So, Kropotkin and his gardens? "Kropotkin/ tends his gardens" has a nice flow and all, but it leads to confusing enjambment. Which, while an awesome band name, is bad for Sophia. So, what to do? 

Like all good poets, I wrote and moved on. The line will stay for now as "Kropotkin tended his gardens" and it'll do. I may come back to it. Strangely and wonderfully enough, in my mind the image of old Pyotr moving around his garden, sad but content, will come back to me time and time again. It seems only fair that the poem continue to return as well.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Muses of Fire

There is nothing in my life quite like writing. It's one aspect of my life that never changes. Regardless of where I am, what language I'm speaking, what job... I write. I write all kinds of things, but always it comes back to the Poem. Sometimes many poems but often it's one Poem, long and persistent and wordy. I can strive towards brevity in other aspects of my life, but the Poem has none of that. It's thousands of words, huge floods of words, ignoring all sense and structure.

The Poem is commencing. I know I'm hurtling towards a madness like my friend Ezra here, but I can't resist the poetry!

I've completed one 200 page epic, and I love it.

I had hoped it would cure the poetry... But it didn't. It ignited more poetry. I'm beginning to suspect cold turkey is the only way to salvage sanity, but I'm too weak to stop the Poem.

And it's worse than that. Because two competing poems are being written even now! I'm definitely careening towards squinty shirtlessness like Mr. Pound. Thankfully Ezra's poor political choices are not my curse... I'm too goofy and sentimental for fascism.

One of the poems is progressing nicely. It's a long poem based on the Gilbert schema of Ulysses. The Irish one. Not the Greek one. I love how it's moving along. Enjoy the first few pages!

Pattern Imposed


Stately it begins,

​​ending when years do,

​​at odds with bright energies and fortune.

​​O poem,

​​​think on it as journey to discover
​​​old dirt roads carved through temporary
​​​with temporary needs considered.

​​​All this a methodology of civilizing

​​​​under bridges, tired vestiges of old ways

​​​​​​old ​​days

​​​​​​old misanthropes

​​​​​for the lost dead.

history of you

framed devices​​​​​​​screened reality

​​trains pull against

​​​​​old world had
​​​​​horses cattle aquaducts

​​(what else but)
​​​organized civilization. Order and/Chaos

levels and pulleys machines and muscles
​​powerful plays go on

​Stones push up against nitrogen and oxygen

​Victorious dead
​​​​​​​past is

proscribed Arrow of time ---------------->
​​​​​​laws of
​​​​​​energy space

Forever motion
​​​​​to this, a conclusive statement


​​I am unsure of the surety
​​​confident of sincerity.

Friday, February 7, 2014

I'm 37! I'm not old!

Van Gogh died at 37. I don't know why that intrigues me so much, but it does. Van Gogh died when he was exactly my age. It's a meaningless coincidence. But it intrigues me.

Partially because I adore everything about Van Gogh. But mostly it's something else.

These years are odd ones. These are the work years, the family raising years. These are the times in which we settle down, we focus on practical things, and we summon whatever pragmatism lives deep inside of the most insane of us and get to work. And I've done that. By and large- my job still consists of wrangling kids and talking about magic.

(Today a student informed me that she didn't get money for her lost tooth because 'The Tooth Fairy is broke!' And if that isn't a confluence of magical and pragmatic I don't know what is)

But largely I've tried to be practical, working, raising kids, bedtimes, etc. I spend my evenings writing and creating, I'm eccentric enough, but I'm normal. For a given value of normal.

But 37 is where that focus on normalcy is not only most important to your life but also most challenging. It's harder to be normal at 37 than 20, because you don't truly get normal yet at 20. It's harder to be normal at 37 than at 70, because at 70 you're past concern with shallow ideological conceptions are either just live- ideally- or just stop.

37 is the end of "I'm just doing this til my big break." It's the start of being creative and delusional as a state of existence rather than a young person's hobby. 37 was Van Gogh painting through madness in Arles.

I think this is more profound to me now than it will be at 40. Though it's speculation- I've never been 40, maybe it'll awaken new levels of maddening introspection! I can only wonder and dread!

I can't help but think, though, writing my newest huge rambling work, reviewing everything I've created, love or hate it... How odd it is to be 37.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Blog Post Redux: The remastered tapes

My year is progressing nicely. Moving right along, busy and productive...

Oh except for the blog! I had almost forgotten!

I had planned on posting a long series of articles detailing my move from Ithaca to my current teaching gig in Parkerburg, West Virginia... But hey surprise surprise that didn't happen! Setting up in a new state, teaching kindergarten and managing my family has taken more energy than I had anticipated. More than I possessed earlier in the year.

I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things soon, however. For a few reasons. One, I have way to many images of Krankor not to share.

Two, I want to find some center in the mad whirlwind of teaching and working and moving, and that is best achieved through reflection. I assume. I've never been terribly successful at finding balance, however, so it's all highly speculative at this end. At the very least I can hope for a dogged professionalism.

So, that's the range. Perfect balance of mindful contemplation and work, seamlessly blended, or the dogged professionalism littered with bizarre pop culture references and Japanese movie stills from the 1960s. That's a fun spectrum!

I should have titled this blog The Fun Spectrum.

Location:5th St,Marietta,United States