Thursday, May 5, 2011

Auto-Interview; Present Tense

      "Well," the woman says once she's reached the curb, and then takes a moment to gather her hair, much of which has slipped inside her collar, and lay it gently behind her shoulders. Loreen sees that while she is not exactly beautiful, either, she is a good deal prettier than Loreen herself, with a long nose and full, wide lips. Something about her eyes looks familiar—the shape of the eyes and also the way she holds them a little wider than most people do. "I wasn't sure you'd hear me over the traffic and the wind," she says, pronouncing "wind" with an extra little "h" sound that Loreen associates with old movies. It is windy, but Loreen hadn't noticed until this woman made the pronouncement. It feels as if the woman has made it so.

     "Oh. Oh gosh,” the woman says in a way that plucks Loreen’s gaze away from her eyes and the soft atmosphere of bangs above them and makes her realize the words spoken come out of the her mouth, just like everyone else’s. And then in a tone that sounds alarmingly like pity, "you don't remember me." Not pity, she decides, watching the woman bite the inside of her cheek and stare at a spot above Loreen’s head. She seems hurt. Loreen can't stand the thought of hurting this woman who'd jogged across the street in such a familiar, trusting way. This woman who manages to appear both vulnerable and sophisticated.

     In a gesture uncharacteristic to her, Loreen places a hand lightly on the woman's forearm. "Of course I remember you. How are you? Where were you headed just now?" Every fragment of the woman returns to the moment, every feature slides smartly back into place, and a tremor of happiness traces through Loreen.

Monday, March 14, 2011


In sick today; I watched Ingmar Bergman's Persona.

Blur must recede--then sharpness

remains our faces cataclysmic.

You see in me a stalwart river's end:

in you I see the dam breaking open.

We're both sick with all this water

at last of its purifying rites and docile

only when laid on shards of glass.

Lay us down, sky, your giant cowl--

your mad burrowing clouds

break us open with their softness.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I wrote this one year ago, for the University of Arizona Poetry Center's e-Newsletter:


On Mauve Sea-Orchids & Some Maritime Disasters this Century

The more we read the more we are trained to expect specific things: what was your last experience reading a poem that was center-justified? My guess is you were reading a greeting card. Here’s an aphorism: Good poems meet our expectations; great poems upset our expectations. Though I call it an aphorism to cover my back, I think I believe that one. It feels good to be shaken up; it feels significant to have expectations blown out of the water.

Lila Zemborain’s Mauve Sea-Orchids is center-justified. It is made up of three long poems whose titles are not the least bit afraid of beauty or the lyric: “la orquídea y el moscardón/orchid and bumble-bee” “los pétalos furiosos/the furious petals,” “malvas orquídeas del mar/mauve sea-orchids.” It is also written in a tone so hard to pin down I don’t even know where to begin. It doesn’t convert well to one or two-page excerpts for easy digestion. It is best experienced at once so that its strangeness can wash over the reader. The declarative mood is a near constant. You are told that there are such things as loveglands, and yes, yes they emit the smell of baking bread. It is scientific and sensual; sensual and scientific. This book marries those terms in a way I cannot in this format. (Scisensual. Sensuatific. Still I keep trying.) And it makes me want to misuse adjectives. Mauve Sea-Orchids is pedantic in a good way. Soporific in a good way. Written entirely in the present tense, Mauve Sea-Orchids narrates constant activity of minutia; reading this book feels like watching a nature documentary that takes place inside an organic body and slowed down just a second or two so that the movements of its simulated natural world become trance-like.

Mauve Sea-Orchids is translated by Rosa Alcalá. Soon after reading Orchids I ordered Alcalá’s out-of-print chapbook, Some Maritime Disasters this Century (Belladonna*, 2003) from an online used bookstore. This chapbook dates back to when Belladonna* was primarily a reading series. Its materials are humble but its design is beautiful. A woodcut image of a ship’s sails pop out from the corner, tiny rust-colored waves enveloping them. “Some Maritime Disaters this Century” remains one of my favorite titles in the world. The poems are spare but densely populated with giants of political, poetic, and philosophical history (Rumi, Levi-Satrauss, Derrida, Garcia Lorca, Langston Hughes…).

After reading Alcalá, I can see why she was drawn to the work of Zemborain. Alcalá uses line breaks to play with meaning in a way that is strangely akin to the many meanings made by Zemborain’s near run-on line structure. Zemborain loves the semicolon. The semi-colon connects ideas softly: it correlates rather than mirrors ideas. I imagine Alcalá saw possibilities in that. And I imagine the rangy tones in Mauve Sea-Orchids allowed her to capitalize on the grammatical possibilities of translation. Nor are Alcalá’s poems voiced by a single speaker. They have a collectivity that is trance-like in the same way Zemborain’s scientific-sensual marriages are trance-like:

…I am 

the memory

of milk You

would not

recognize me

After the heat

Of sugar

Mills I shine


Little ghost

Sifted star

(from “Polvo”). 

It also moves on a level of minutia and in a way that feels slowed-down: 

you voice hands

over knees

and beg


your body

folded as much


as outward

sways its


…my dis/focus


(from “This Way of Talking”). 


The landscape superimposes its figures over 

the sordid reading of facts; bluntly, 


Texts on horse medicine

And a girl on a Vespa

Cross the Roman Bridge

I cannot wait for the meeting of these two minds!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some books I recommend...

As Halloween Approaches

A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans. 2007.

Halloweenish Features: Demonology. Mysticism. Psychological drama.The uncanny. Coming of age?

This truly chilling story unfolds as a man discusses his childhood with his therapist, adroitly moving between two time frames. Was he haunted/possessed by a demon as a child or is the demon a metaphor for other trauma?

Pilgrim by Timothy Findley. 1999.

Halloweenish Features:
Immortal, moody man. Burning mental institution. daVinci as an asshole. The uncanny. Jung and the Collective Subconscious.

This is an astoundingly ambitious book. It's the least Halloweenish of this bunch, but it is moody and eerie and mystical. And scary smart.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. 1859.

Halloweenish Features:
Madwoman/misused eccentric. Mistaken identities. Count Fosco and his creepy love of white mice. Isolated, decaying country estate. Burning church.

Even better than Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I promise. Fosco is as unforgettable a villain as Cruella Deville.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. 2009.

Halloweenish Features:
True crime, mystery, scary early scientific theories like phrenology and physiognomy.

Everything we take for granted about forensic science and detective work, both in real life and in fiction, are traced meticulously back to the Road Hill murder case. How did Summerscale write something so painstakingly informative yet so thrilling?

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. 2010.

Halloweenish Features: Eerie twins. Haunted London flat. Highgate Cemetary. OCD. Harshly reviewed novel nonetheless well-liked by me.

Julia. Valentina. Elspeth. Great names, no? You might find the ghost story here annoying, but there are some really great characters in this novel--hard-to-like characters that you end up liking despite yourself are the best, aren't they? Oh and there are some cool details about the history of Highgate Cemetery, conveyed through Robert, a graduate student writing his thesis on the topic.

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. 2002.

Halloweenish Features: Highgate Cemetery. Discontented Edwardian Women. Precocious children.

Only a medium on the halloweenish scale, but about half of this novel takes place in Highgate Cemetary. Its historical scope includes the Women's Suffrage Movement and Victorian customs of mourning made fashionable by Queen Victoria. It's moody and voice-y (it is narrated in the voice several characters, young and old, male and female). I recommend absolutely everything by Chevalier but absolutely nothing Amazon says you'll like if you like Chevalier.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Latest Listenlight

Click here to read Listenlight, featuring

* Francis Raven
* JP Dancing Bear
* Krystal Languell
* Adam Fieled
* Amy King
* Bonnie Jean Michalski
* Nancy Huth
* Paul Maziar
* Marthe Reed
* Michael Rothenberg
* Justin Evans

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I will read with Joanna Fuhrman on March 20, 2010 at 7pm at the Drawing Studio, 33 S. Sixth Avenue, Tucson, Arizona.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Brandon Shimoda, along with Akilah Oliver and Philip Jenks, read at the Poetry Center on Thursday night.

Read reviews of their works here.