Thursday, November 26

"Yesterday in the factory. The girls, in their unbearably dirty and untidy clothes, their hair disheveled as though they had just got up, the expressions on their faces fixed by the incessant noise of the transmission belts and by the individual machines, automatic ones, of course, but unpredictably breaking down, they aren't people, you don't greet them, you don't apologize when you bump into them, if you call them over to do something, they do it but return to their machine at once, with a nod of the head you show them what to do, they stand there in petticoats, they are at the mercy of the pettiest power and placate it by a glance, a bow. But when six o'clock comes and they call it out to one another, when they untie the kerchiefs from around their throats and their hair, dust themselves with a brush that passes around and is constantly called for by the impatient, when they pull their skirts on over their heads and clean their hands as well as they can--then at last they are women again, despite pallor and bad teeth they can smile, shake their stiff bodies, you can no longer bump into them, stare at them or overlook them, you move back against the greasy crates to make room for them, hold your hat in your hand when they say good evening, and do not know how to behave when one of them holds your winter coat for you to put on."

--Franz Kafka

fr. Diaries 1910-1913
tr. Joseph Kresh

[New York: Schocken Books, 1965]

Sunday, September 27

"Okay, look at it this way. I have absolutely no feelings of guilt. Not one tiny little one. Why in the lord's name should I? I have never felt any remorse. I have never been locked up for what I did. I have nevere gone crazy, even for a moment, thinking about it. I just believe that this whole thing has been personalized too much. It was combat. War. There was nothing personal in it. I didn't feel, 'Good, I have wiped out Hiroshima.' No way. It was just a bomb job that I was called in to do in rather unusual circumstances and did to the best of my abilities. I would do the same thing today if I was asked to. That is what obeying orders is all about."

--Paul Tibbets

fr. The Hiroshima Tapes by Gordon Thomas
(excerpted in the Japan Times 8/9/82)

Monday, August 31

"Charles Abbott came to see us one winter's day about ten years ago. We sat in our front room all afternoon, Floss, he and I, over a highball or two, staring into a wood fire in our grate, letting the light fade. We hardly moved other than to refill our glasses. The phone didn't ring once. We thought we were in heaven."

--William Carlos Williams, Autobiography

Thursday, August 13

Poems from the Book of Nanoseconds, #47

blackness around them
not even the sound
of the forest

Monday, August 3

Slow Poetry (Translation Division)

"Tollas Tibor, a poet who spent several years in solitary confinement during the most repressive phases of the Hungarian communist regime, says that in the Visegrád jail, where hundreds of intellectuals were imprisoned, the inmates kept themselves occupied for more than a year by devising a poetry translation contest. First, they had to decide on the poem to translate. It took months to pass the nominations around from cell to cell, and several more months of ingenious secret messages before the votes were tallied. Finally it was agreed that Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" was to be the poem to translate into Hungarian, partly because it was the one that most of the prisoners could recall from memory in the original English. Now began the serious work: everyone sat down to make his own version of the poem. Since no paper or writing tool was available, Tollas spread a film of soap on the soles of his shoe, and carved the letters into it with a toothpick. When a line was learned by heart, he covered his shoe with a new coating of soap. As the various stanzas were written, they were memorized by the translator and passed on to the next cell. After a while, a dozen versions of the poem were circulating in the jail, and each was evaluated and voted on by all the inmates. After the Whitman translation was adjudicated, the prisoners went on to tackle a poem by Schiller."

--Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

fr. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
[HarperPerennial, 1990]

Friday, July 17

Paragraphs from Stein, 12

"In the newspaper thing it is the crime it is the criminal that is interesting, in the story it is the story about the crime that is interesting. Now think, you will perfectly realize that the newspaper practically never tells anything about detecting, a little in the case of Dillinger, a little in the case of Hauptmann but still really very little and in lesser crimes not at all the emphasis is entirely upon the crime and not upon the detecting and in the written story it is impossible to hold the attention by telling about the crime you can only hold the attention by telling about detecting. All this is very interesting most most interesting and has to do with what the newspaper has to say and what it has not to say and the fact that in the long run one might say practically any day the newspaper is not really exciting."

fr. Narration: Lecture 3

Monday, May 11

Works in Progress, 49

getting in touch with the cable guys
swinging the birches
testing the waters
pushing radical music agendas

rewriting the country's labor laws
seeing a psychic map of our obsessions
building electoral coalitions that will win
emphasizing the overlapping interests of the affluent

cleaning up after Gustav, Hanna, Ike
cleaning up after Bush, after Cheney
rewriting the history of consciousness
blurring the possibilities

supporting any effort to reunionize
failing to generate meaningful responses
becoming one with the centipede in oneself
getting some good poems out of it

slumbering well until after nightfall
setting this brain of mine afire
reaching irritably after fact & reason
shunning easy consolations

subsidizing extraction industries
helping women victimized by male violence
doubling the sign-up bonus for volunteers
supporting the troops while doubting the war

counting the dead
waiting for them to break silence
descending the steeps of the soughing twilight
assimilating foreign cultures

demilitarizing outer space
completing the application and mailing it back
reviewing our few remaining options
showing off poetry's "extreme generosity"

maneuvering pothole-sized cars around
designing more effective marketing campaigns
speaking solely in terms of racial justice
examining burial pits and naked skulls

getting out the vote
fetching water from the well
educating the masses
confessing to our personal demons

clearing minefields from past wars
laying them for wars yet to come
staying executions, pardoning the innocent
blurring the boundaries, the borders

reading maps in the dark with the top light off
folding them all back up rightly
cramming them into the glove compartment
getting moving again in the right direction

cooling our wardheelers
voting early and often
keeping our fingers crossed
paying full-price for our journey

assembling a glossary of oft-used phrases
keeping silent while the tea is poured
maintaining an inventory of our beliefs and unbeliefs
finding time to clean up around the house

making the world safe for gerontocracy
clearing the minefields and cow pastures
converting analog files to digital
rereading An Anatomy of Melancholy

fighting the high cost of prescription meditations
comparing the works of Proust, Gide, and Sartre
putting something aside for a rainy day
asking for another user's name and password

scanning the shelves for news
cleaning up after the latest tsunami
trying not to think about elephants
looking forward to end-of-life decisions

reassessing works already completed
exterminating the brutes
chipping ice from the windshield of the car
rebuilding the old road from Fredrikstad to Skjeberg

getting more bang for the buck
setting something aside for that rainy day
worry about what to really worry about
getting back to the Bang, the Big One

teaching the Chinese how to speak English
learning about Putin, reading his soul
cashing in on Homeland Security
making that list of things to make lists of

deciding whether or not to escape to Canada
enhancing revenue without raising taxes
learning more about hematology--its life, its times
mapping talk-free zones in public parks

making the punishment fit the criminal
recovering our census-takers
fitting the glove to the velvet hand
dialing for (four) dollars

laying mines at the Prose/Poetry border
celebrating the rebirth of death
transferring funds to overshore accounts
counting the years from start to finish

unpacking after the last long/short journey
saying goodbye to the undead
finding trusty pocket tools for indoor use
pleasing others in letters

recouping ancient losses
moving data from there to over here
scanning the text as rapidly as possible
keeping Kandinsky in mind

replacing old maps with new ones
preparing the cat for summer camp
paying the bills in advance
brushing up on our Spanish

stealing stones from the temple
building a nearby church
stealing stones from the church
building a nearby bank

filling the sandbags
repairing the levee
spreading plutocracy around the world
counting and bagging the dead

cleaning up after Rita, Katrina
remembering we must pay our bills
washing windows of opportunity
trying to find the snows of yesteryear

covering up the latest cover-up
rereading all we've reread as of now
reviewing the plays of Pinter, their silences
uncovering the cover-up of the cover-up

comparing apples to orangutans
criminalizing conservative politics
finding new ways to profit from disasters
rescuing painting from the dead end of Pop Art

robbing Peter and Paul to pay Mark and Luke
waking up to a brand-new day
forgetting that old Underwood we once loved
overcoming inertia and ignorance

freeing the slaves
admonishing those who do evil
stamping out political brushfires
democratizing the US

closing the books on the old year
balancing the checkbook (first time ever)
remembering to reshape my face (yet again)
changing course (as always)

securing the seaports
transfiguring the night of the prom
seeking an audience with His Holiness, the President
bombing the Middle East into freedom and democracy

telling civil war from your garden-variety insurgency
recognizing our deepest needs, wants, and wishes
finally getting that poodle to the groomer
learning to live on self-serve island

keeping an eye on the military-industrial complex
reseeding the lawn for the nth and final time
staking out claims on the future
moving the party toward a more radical center

restoring the Gulf to its pre-US condition
administering flu shots to every chicken in every pot
studying studies on the results of previous studies
reducing the pulse of alien shadows

reducing light pollution in our major cities
rescuing the castaways
creating unwanted database gaps
accommodating carbon dating to Biblical truth

bombing our way to an "endurable" peace
retelling the tales of bygone wars
seeing what might be learned there
measuring the manatee

returning that defective broadband router
speaking kindly of those we no longer respect
giving up keeping up as a modus vivendi
putting our thoughts into action

sticking to issues that directly affect us
bemoaning the cautiousness of today's athletes
co-opting the arguments of their opposition
welcoming Latino immigrants at the border

throwing our hats in the ring
translating our actions into thought
seeing that Anna Nicole Smith achieves sainthood
rehanging Saddam and getting it right

paying off our debts, incurring new ones
getting the MS of the new book out into the mail
preparing ourselves for our press conference
seeking an end to cross-pollination

hammering out justice, all over this land
disturbing the neighbors by night, by day
enjoying privacy at our place in the country
transmuting dross into gold

pronouncing the names of the dead
bringing Elian back to his Miami relatives
rejuvenating all those pre-aged youngsters out there
throwing our hats in the ring

finding our way to the next whiskey bar
extending that fence to both east and west coasts
revising our previously revised revisions
building the ark to end arks

preventing its dividing itself up
realizing our potential potential
spending more time with the family
waking up to unreality

finding the photos of the old house
rowing the boat ashore
thinking things through again
keeping the guard up


Wednesday, April 1

A Paragraph by Skip Fox

One reason why I love getting new books from Skip Fox:

"To be a poet is to write poetry. That is, if your notion of poetry is sufficiently realized. How can we measure? Such notions might lie just beyond speech or miles without. Perhaps they can only be learned (not taught, though they seem so natural that only with difficulty can they be considered learned. Preparations? Preconditions? A lack of rigid predispositions as a setting for requisite attentiveness, definite interest in being alive (are you surprised how uncommon that is?), willingness to provisionally accept anything, disdain for predigested product, deepening respect for personal implication, desire to extend notions of beauty, to be real and at one's furthest application, and to be doing with the result resolve obtains, more than the residue of activity, and which involves you each time you consider it, a resolution aflame, association of sensibilities in passionate engagement, an issue or unfolding, simply, of more than time, opening rose, the genitals of soft freight an issuance, the color of her light and the timbre in her heels echoing down the parking garage, three floors below where she'll eventually find the body, and other things beside."

fr. Delta Blues
[Tokyo/Toronto: Ahadada Books, 2009]

Monday, January 19

First Night in the White House

The Potomac's sunset was wonderful
and the new President
after a long festive day
falls asleep on Lincoln's bed

He dreams jackdaws
And no matter how soft he nears
and his hand
no matter what the offering
--away they fly

-- Gregory Corso

fr. Long Live Man
[New York: New Directions, 1962]

Saturday, January 17

On Purple Prose

Oh, yes, we love it so. The French doors open to a breeze that flutters the brocaded tassels of the curtains, the long table gorgeously set for a dinner for two, as yet untouched, although a carelessly brushed over goblet has spilled its cabernet sauvignon out over the expansive whiteness of the linen tablecloth. All three servants, off for the night, probably in town, laughing and carousing in some public house. We love the long view of the path along the top of the seaside cliff, the white-capped sea beyond—below. We love the wild foot chase, one of them hurrying after the other. One shoe left behind in the dust of the path. Their tear along the clifftop, the struggle that, from a distance, could be taken for one long last embrace. Hard to say which comes first—the shout or the scream, diminuendoing its way down to the wave-lapped rocks at the base of the basalt cliff, echoing the cries of seabirds rising up to greet its downward plunge. We love the mad rush back to the Gothic enormity of the house, the bags already packed, the car in the drive, driven this time, not by the grumbly chauffeur, but by another. The drive to the airport—not too fast, not too slow. The ticket and passport in someone else’s name. And then the long flight, three martinis in a row, the trembling hand, the uneasy sleep. The arrival at last at an airport in some distant Spanish-speaking land, a tattered city, with mountains nearby to hide in. The anxious searching for a newspaper in some language one can read, something that tells the tale. We love the dusty bus ride to the hills and the mountains beyond. And then the little house, the quiet nights, the long wait.

A Hypothetical Dialogue

Interrogator: In the first line of your sonnet which reads, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day", would not "a spring day" do as well or better?

Witness: It wouldn't scan.

Interrogator: How about "a winter's day"? That would scan all right.

Witness: Yes, but nobody wants to be compared to a winter's day.

Interrogator: Would you say Mr. Pickwick reminded you of Christmas?

Witness: In a way.

Interrogator: Yet Christmas is a winter's day, and I do not think Mr. Pickwick would mind the comparison.

Witness: I don't think you're serious. By a winter's day one means a typical winter's day, rather than a special one like Christmas.

--Alan M. Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence"
[Mind, Vol. LIX, No. 236 (1950)]

Monday, January 12

On Movies

If you blink very fast when you’re watching a movie you will notice that nothing is really moving, that all you’re seeing is a succession of photos speeding by so quickly that people, things, objects seem to be moving. Movies favor characters who seem to be running, leaping, plunging (think of Run, Lola, Run or any of the Bourne series) over those who (as in that rare film My Dinner with André) just sit in a restaurant and chat about this, about that, whatever comes to mind, and rarely even bother to lift a forkful of food to their mouths. (I won’t even mention Warhol’s Sleep or Empire.) Cars seem to hurtle through the streets, crash through plate-glass windows into restaurants crowded with elderly diners realizing—all too late, many of them—that they’ll never finish those early-bird specials spread out on the tables before them. They even terrify rush-hour commuters on the expressway by seeming to drive contrary to traffic, weaving in and out of lanes, leaving a trail of burning and smoldering wreckage—dented, mangled and blown-up cars and buses and trucks that stretch for miles behind them in the gathering darkness, as the camera slowly zooms in on a sign saying “Report Aggressive Driving.” Most movies are full of people pretending to be other people. They say their lines as though, more quick-witted than most of us, they’d just made them up, all by themselves. No wonder we admire them so—their words, their wit, their good looks. We’re money in the bank for them. And yet . . . and yet, if we had their courage, their nerve, we’d get out of our seats, walk down the aisle to the stage, climb up to the screen, and discover that they’re nothing but reflected light, not even skin-deep, so to speak.


[in The Bloomsbury Review, July-August, 2008]

Saturday, January 10

Poems from the Book of Nanoseconds, #46

At the far end of candles
came a nun, flickering at her devotions
this early in the morning.