Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lorine Niedecker

                                                                      Editor Susan T. Landry
Lorine Niedecker was an American poet, an avant-garde poet, a poet of nature, a poet of ordinary life, a poet who lived under the roof of the sky and beside a river. She had what people with limited imagination might call a modest life, and yet wrote imagistic, crystalline poems that convey a rich intellect and an ability to see, really see, what was around her.

I first discovered the work of Niedecker after I wrote and submitted a poem to the bi-weekly, short-poem group I belong to, called Brevitas. I was still living in New York City, but I think buried within me, down where the words live that come out when I have a need to conjure up poetry, I had a yearning. The desire to leave, to move somewhere quiet, close to water and the woods was beginning to insist. I can’t remember what I wrote that conveyed this, but one of my fellow poets in the group e-mailed me and said that the poem I sent around made him think of Lorine Niedecker. He said, you will like her work: she has an intimacy with nature that you are seeking.

Niedecker rarely titled her poems. They light on the page like dragonflies or sprawl inside the book like stalks of dried grass, tucked away for later - here are two of them.

My life is hung up
in the flood
    a wave-blurred

Don't fall in love
with this face—
     it no longer exists
                in water
                         we cannot fish


  stood there
      all body

  blown off

showed up

  is the head
         of spring

Birch, sumac
        the blast

Jenny Penberthy edited the definitive volume, Lorine Niedecker, Collected Works, published by the University of California Press, in 2002. (It’s the book I bought when I wanted more.) The poems I quote here are from a Web page, also edited by Jenny Penberthy, at http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/niedecker/poems.html. Bob Arnold, literary executor for Lorine Niedecker, was kind enough to give me permission to reprint these poems.

The photograph is mine, of the Maine woods.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the poets in the sidebar - up to 30 of us from all over: the US, the UK, NZ and Australia.

Susan T. Landry is this week’s editor of Tuesday Poem. She lives in Maine, is a medical editor by trade, and also enjoys fine-tuning work for friends, other creative writers and artists. She belongs to Brevitas, an invitation-only short poem e-mail exchange that meets in person only once a year, for a gala evening at the Bowery Poetry Project, in New York City; writes and posts an occasional poem on her blog Twisted Knickers, where she also natters about whatever she fancies, or doesn’t.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Margo, or Margaux by Anna Jackson

I'd drink all night but stop at one glass
of syrah, aromas of pepper, tar,
black plum, and on the tongue
blueberry, licquorice, dark
chocolate, oh it is a dark wine
for us to drink before entering
the night in my cream and silver
car and driving, reeling,
not from the wine but from
the gypsy pirate Mexican music
on the CD (with an after-note, you
suggest, of Ukrainian folk), under
your canopy of silver stars.
Don't tell me their names, tracing
out constellations like
a dot to dot puzzle. Let me
see the sky in the sky, as magisterially
as the sea can be seen in the sea
and the man in the man – speaking
of which let's not meet your mother
with her photos of you as a boy.
Let's just keep driving to
somewhere we haven't looked up
on a map, some town without
any relatives to pin your features
down to theirs, where you can do
that silent thing you do at parties
in a party we'll throw
just for us two.
This cross made up of freckles
under my ribs (two brown, one
red and slightly raised, one beige)
might look like the Southern Cross
still flying like a kite in the chaos
I yearn to see in the sky,
but come closer, inhale,
tell me my after-notes
and under-tones,
and whether you think
I should call my car Margo or
Margaux, I can't decide.

Editor, Helen Rickerby

This poem comes from Anna Jackson's upcoming new poetry collection Thicket. I chose this one because I really like the way the poem twists and turns, or maybe swirls, from wine to music, to the night sky, to mothers, to bodies, to cars, but it's all tied together by the silken sinew of wine. It becomes, almost surprisingly, a love poem, but then twists out of that sensuous seriousness, the way someone might awkwardly twist out of an embrace, to talk about what she should name her car.

I might be being fanciful, but this poem seems to me to have the dark, rich colour of red wine. Swish it around in your mouth. Give it a good taste.

Thicket, which will be coming out in July, is Jackson's fifth poetry collection (not counting her inclusion in AUP New Poets 1 and her collaborative collection Locating the Madonna, published by moi). I haven't read the whole thing yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Each of Jackson's previous collections have been a bit different from each other - trying different things or writing in different styles (something I feel I do too - once you finish a book, if you continue writing the same kinds of poetry you could end up becoming a parody of yourself) - and it sounds like Thicket will continue this. It sounds like it will be a bit more free-flowing, covering various styles and topics, compared to, for example, Anna's previous collection, The Gas Leak (also wonderful), which was quite highly structured and conceptual. This is what AUP says about Thicket:
In Anna Jackson’s fifth collection of poetry, a rich and leafy life is closing in on the poet. ‘These are our thicket days’, she writes, ‘and it does seem darker, / though the sun is at its peak / over the crown of leaves.’ But a thicket is also something to walk out of, and Jackson offers us fairytale bread-crumb tracks to follow, through poems that consider badminton at dusk, Virgil at bedtime, theory over wine; shimmering, multi-faceted poems of swans and puppets, sons and brothers, a woman who has become a tree. Thicket is an accomplished book from a poet of unease, who constantly turns her attention to the brambled path, the track-less-followed, the subterranean presences in everyday life.

Anna Jackson lectures in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington. As well as being a poet, she also writes fiction from time to time, and her story 'When we were Bread' was recently highly commended in 'The Long and the Short of it' competition run by Sport and Unity Books, in the long (over 10,000 words) category, and was published in the competition book. You read more about her on the Book Council website: http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/jacksonanna.html.

On my own blog I've posted another poem from Thicket, 'Hansel in the house', a dark, fairytale-ish look at the sometimes difficult relationship between parents and children: http://wingedink.blogspot.com/2011/06/hansel-in-house-by-anna-jackson.html. And if you want still more, also another poem from Thicket, the much lighter and totally charming 'Frank O’Hara for Charles', was published on the Tui Talk blog last week: http://tuitalk.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/tuesday-poem-frank-ohara-for-charles-by-anna-jackson/. And of course check out the other Tuesday poems in the blogs on the sidebar.

This week's editor, Helen Rickerby, is a poet, publisher and public servant. Her most recent book was Heading North, a poetry sequence published last year in a hand-bound edition by Kilmog Press. She’s a co-managing editor of JAAM literary magazine, and runs Seraph Press, a boutique poetry publisher. She hopes she's nearly finished working on what she hopes will be her next poetry collection, but you never can be sure. She blogs, irregularly, at http://wingedink.blogspot.com/.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Zot and the Axolotls by Janis Freegard

          Earlier in the afternoon we had all admired
          the newly constructed axolotl tank, more of
          a complex really, with a glass bridge between
          chambers, a grand axolotl hotel, five stars with
          room service, porters and a parking attendant.
          It was still empty, its soon-to-be residents
          slumming it in temporary accommodation.

like other amphibians, the axolotl has a three-chambered heart
they are perennibranchiate, reaching sexual maturity in the larval stage
axolotls were a staple in the Aztec diet

          I was stoned, I remember that.

the axolotl is neotenous and rarely metamorphoses spontaneously
it can regenerate entire lost appendages in a matter of months
the days of the axolotl surviving in the wild are numbered

         Zot tripped and fell to the floor and lay there,
         unmoving, by the new de luxe tank. I was
         sitting next to him in an armchair thinking:
         Zot’s fallen over. Just that. It was someone
         else – Denise perhaps – who noticed the
         blood. Soon afterwards an ambulance arrived.

Lake Chalco has been drained (but see how they smile their wide amphibian smiles)
Lake Xochimilco is reduced to canals (oh, oh, those beady well-spaced eyes)
roll up, roll up, tasty axolotls

        Oh, see how their pretty gills flutter.

Editor, Saradha Koirala

Axolotls are creepy. They're tricksy shapeshifters able to sneak their way out of the water and walk on land. Something about the tank's "soon-to-be residents /slumming it in temporary accommodation" worries me. Where are they hiding?

I love the way this poem plays with diction. The text-book language in italics has its own beauty: "a three-chambered heart" is magical and echoes the design of the "de luxe" accommodation built for this unique creature. On the other hand, the language is frank and immediate: "I was stoned, I remember that." And then of course that last line! Ah!

Janis Freegard is an award-winning Wellington writer whose work has been published in all the literary journals I can name, including Poetry NZ, JAAM, Turbine, Trout and brief. Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus, is her first solo collection of poetry, published by AUP.

The poems "explore the various interactions between human beings and other animals, but also deals with wider subjects: love and loss, evolution and conservation, sex and death." Freegard has arranged the animal-themed poems according to eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus' classification system of the natural world.

You can read more about Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus at the book's webpage. For more on the poet herself read Janis Freegard's blog. And then check out the sidebar here where 30 Tuesday Poets from four different countries post poems by themselves or others they admire.

This week's editor, Saradha Koirala, teaches English at a Wellington Secondary school. Her first book of poetry Wit of the staircase was published by Steele Roberts in 2009. Her work has also appeared in various literary magazines, including Hue & Cry, broadsheet and The Listener. She is currently working on her second book in every spare moment she can find.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Book of Equanimity Verses: Richard von Sturmer

Five verses from a hundred verse sequence,
inspired by The Book of Equanimity, a Zen Buddhist
collection of one hundred koans.


The upper hand
lies forgotten
in a bottom drawer.
The lower hand is lost
gathering dust
somewhere in a basement.
Now that all conflict has ended
the roof tiles reflect the moonlight.


It's in the space between
the pillar and the lattice windows.
It's drawn to scale
by a blind person in a dream.
Look — when the kingfisher flies
into a phoenix palm
all the colours of the Nile
carry you across the evening sky.


The donkey looks at the well.
A bank of nasturtiums.
The well looks at the donkey.
A field of violets.
It’s mid-summer
and by the slowly moving river
blackberries are ripening
lobe by lobe.


When the ancient scholar
retires for the night
rats come out
and eat his manuscript.
The most demanding passages—
those he had to write and rewrite
are also the most
difficult to digest.


I divide my time
between High Street
and the Tang Dynasty.
This afternoon
half asleep
from one glass of wine
I allow a red bus to take me
down the road to Changan.


                                                Editor Harvey Molloy

Why do I enjoy Richard's poetry so? We have never met yet through his poetry I feel that I know something of him. The poems have an immediacy and energy which I immediately respond to. Nothing is wasted and there is no noise or redundancy. Richard's work fosters an expansion of awareness; the poems call us to pay attention to the sounds and splashes of colour around us. There's also a sense of play or surreal delight in his poems. Like a trapped djinn, Edison's last breath finds release under the stars not yet totally drowned by his lights.

The sparkling intelligence at work in these poems is shaped by Zen poetic forms and Zen practice. Richard's poems acknowledge a greater reality, an awareness of a spiritual power or energy that flashes through the poems and provides both the poet and the reader with a knowledge or insight that can only be expressed within the poem.

When I first started to read Richard's work I saw a certain tension between the poetic forms of the Zen tradition and the very vitality of experience offered by the poems. How much of all this awareness is a trick of language or poetic form? That tension comes from a misunderstanding of awareness: "For those who desire/the pure sky/it's a disappointment." In Richard's poetry, awareness and form are always tied together much in the same way that emptiness and form are tied together in Zen. He's a skilful poet whose crafted work has no bum notes.

Richard von Sturmer is a New Zealand writer and has published four books: We Xerox Your Zebras (Modern House, 1988), A Network of Dissolving Threads (Auckland University Press, 1991), Suchness: Zen Poetry and Prose (HeadworX, 2005) and On the Eve of Never Departing ( Titus Books, 2009).

More selections from Richard's The Book of Equanimity Verses are online at Trout and Interlitq.
His wonderful poem Gathering Clouds is available on Best New Zealand Poems 2003.

For more Tuesday Poems, enter the sidebar. If a post says 'Tuesday Poem' click to read - we are a community of up to thirty poets from NZ, Australia, the UK and the US.

This week's editor, Harvey Molloy has published poems in a number of journals including Enamel, International Literary Quarterly, Landfall, NZ Listener, and Poetry New Zealand. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008. He is the co-author of the book Asperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and Identity: Looking Beyond the Label. He is now working on his second book of poems.