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Excerpts from JEJUNE #7, Winter 1999 (What's the use?)
prose (translation) radovan polanský
interview with robert bly
"the late capitalist system wants to eat the children"
The American poet Robert Bly is known both for his lifetime of accomplishments in literature and for his more recent association with the Men's Movement. He came to Prague in September '97 to give a poetry reading at a conference on alchemy organized by the New York Open Center and Universalia, the Czech alchemy society. In addition to his own work, Bly performed Rosicrucian and Sufi poems, often while playing musical accompaniment on a stringed instrument reminiscent of a dulcimer or sitar. In between the often playful poems he talked about his despair concerning the conditions in America, gently criticized the overly academic bent of the conference ("Don't talk to me about alchemy unless you want to talk about passion!"), and dismissed electronic communication ("The Internet is where emotions go to die."). JEJUNE's managing editor Vincent Farnsworth caught up with the tireless 71-year-old poet in his hotel room in the Malá Strana district of Prague on his last night in town. The discussion started about 10 p.m. after a long, busy weekend.
Robert Bly: So what do we want to talk about?
Vincent: It was really great to hear you start off talking about your despair for the United States. And I was wondering, if you could talk about that despair, why do you feel it?
R: I think a lot of the despair is coming up from the children. The culture with television effectively has replaced the parents, bypassed the parents. So the children are being given their values, as you know, by the advertising people, and so the children are not being defended at all from the system. The
late capitalist system, the globalization system, wants to eat the children, as you know. And parents used to... if someone said "What is a family?" well a family is a filter system for information, and that's true, you know: certain fundamentalist families were filters, in other certain ways others were filters, and the parents would let only certain information in, and that's one of the ways that you teach your children what you stand for. And so now, there's no filter at all, and everything just floods in.
V: The point was if the family has filtered things for you, that was in order for you, once you're an adult -- you all of a sudden get everything, right?-- then hopefully you choose on your own, and if the things you were taught were strong enough, you would keep them....
R: Yep. Yep. But you have the feeling that they are protecting you. You should, you know, even if they fucked up, you should still have the feeling someone is protecting you. And now the kids can't articulate it, they know the system is lying when it says "We want you to choose." What d'you mean, I'm 8 years old, I'm supposed to choose, are you kidding?! And so therefore they get slotted before they even get to the age to choose.
There's a wonderful teacher in the United States from West Africa named Malidoma Somé, he wrote a great autobiography last year called Of Water and Spirit, it's about spiritual culture in a village in West Africa. He and I did a seminar together, and what he chose to talk about was the dead, in your family, in your village. The dead go to an intermediate place, after they die. And they need grieving and help and everything from the living in order to open the door on the other side and go on and become an ancestor. Once they become an ancestor, then they can help the village again, but if they don't have help going through that door, then they get stuck right there, in that intermediate place. The Mayans use a different image, your tears are actually the oars by which the dead will get to the other shore, same kind of thing. So he asked people, in that group, to choose someone in their own family that had died and was stuck there, and then we did an altar and people came and danced, and the African Americans were particularly great at dancing in front of that altar and weeping and doing those things. But while he was doing that and we were doing it,
I said "God, that's what's going on, we are forgetting that end of the spectrum, the dead, we're not helping them to get on, and we're forgetting the children." We are not helping those. Nothing in the middle except that, us. Isn't that a scary idea? Both ends have dropped off.
V: What an incredible way to look at it too, especially for North Americans. You remember your parents, maybe your grandparents but you might not even know their full names --
R: That's it. So what happened is that about four in the afternoon we sort of finished that ritual, and he and I were sitting there, and I said I'll read you a poem that I wrote a couple of months ago about two or three years after my father died. [Bly crosses the room and picks up a book, Morning Poems.] So this is the poem it's called
When My Dead Father Called
Last night I dreamt my father called to us.
He was stuck somewhere. It took us
A long time to dress, I don't know why.
The night was snowy; there were long black roads.
Finally, we reached the little town, Bellingham.
There he stood, by a streetlamp in cold wind,
Snow blowing along the sidewalk. I noticed
the uneven sort of shoes that men wore
In the early Forties. And overalls. He was smoking.
Why did it take us so long to get going? Perhaps
He left us somewhere once, or did I simply
Forget he was alone in winter in some town?
So after he had said that, I said "Do you see this word STUCK in here? I didn't have that in mind at all when I wrote it, he was stuck somewhere, but don't you think that's what this poem's about?" And he said, "Yes." "But just writing the poem doesn't mean I've done the work, does it," I said. He said, "No, you had your answering machine on, so it means you got the message, but that's still not doing it." (laughs)
V: Another thing you said during the reading was about people trying to be more than they were, before, and now everyone tries to be less than they are.
R: I thought that just about two days before I came here. I was looking at some old movies, you know, those old 1920's movies? And the guys got these snap brim hats and they're always trying to act good in front of the women, you know...but there was kind of the thing of "I'd like to be a little better than I am." And that had its problems, but still, the feeling NOW is, it's okay for me to be a little worse than I am.
V: To be some sort of total slouch seems cool. I try to be careful, when I'm talking this way, to avoid the other extreme, some sort of elitism, but the point is whatever happened to the idea of dignity? When you said that, you really got a reaction out of people, put your finger on something when you said that, that's what I took from it, and now it's like "Oh that doesn't matter, you don't have to know about that," you know. The urge to improve yourself constantly. What's wrong with that?
R: I agree.
V: I have a feeling it was something that once existed.
R: Yeah, it's a human feeling. Someone sent me the other day a letter that my father wrote in 1919 when he was going to an ag school, and it was unbelievable, this kind of program, he said "What we do in the morning is work until 3:30 and then someone comes and gives us a lecture and then at night we go to a literary club" -- there? At the ag school? At the University of Minnesota?
V: What kind of school?
R: An agricultural school. They had a literary club at night. WOW. And he went through the whole week like that and I said Jeez, there's more culture there than -- and another way to look at it is that not only are people becoming more sloppy but they are becoming more childish. So the "adult" adult is gone. What you have is the childish adult, and the adult-like child, who isn't really a child, but you've poured all of this stuff into him, that he shouldn't have even found out at his age.
V: Would you say that has to do with youth culture?
R: Yeah but you know, what is wrong with youth culture? Nothing, except when the grownups take it up themselves.
I have a friend who is a minister and he tells me, he says that there are three groups of people: there are the genuine children/young adults, one to twenty-eight or something, young adults. Then you get another group from 28 to 55 and they dress like the kids, and their obsession, mainly, is the sports that their kids are in, and they seem to enjoy doing videos of the kids doing the sports more than talking to the kids. Then from 55 to 75 you have the third group, which is childish grandfathers and grand-mothers. They wear Hawaiian sport shirts, they play shuffleboard all the time in Florida, and the interesting thing is their humor is primarily attack humor, which they have learned from videos and films, videos of roasts, you know, Hollywood roasts? That's the humor they use with each other. But the interesting thing is, that's the WORST humor to use with your grandchildren. So that means they don't even accept that they are grandfathers, they're not going to be friends to these small children. They're going to go around insulting everybody in the way that they think is okay.
V: Forgetting the fact that these children might not get the joke.
R: Exactly, they don't get the joke.
V: You don't do that to a child, kid a child on his appearance or--
R: "Hey where'd you get that hat? Didja get that hat in some rag shop, is that where you got it?" WHOAH.
V: Where I see that operating is that youth culture really is telling the young, teenagers and those in their twenties, that they should be on top of the world, and that's how they behave, and yet at the same time they feel empty about it.
R: Well they know they're being lied to, because they are not on top of the world, and when they get a job someone will downsize 'em.
See it's very funny, because we have this -- I have a friend who is like Somé who is from West Africa. This man is from
Guatemala, and he was a shaman in a Mayan village and they don't give you spiritual instruction unless you will take responsibility for the community, so he was a chief over 22,000 Mayans.
SO what they do in that village is that the young girls and boys are called the "shiners," because their faces shine, and everybody loves the shining feeling that comes off their faces and that's all the young men have to do, is to shine. They put on some clothes and walk up and down and the girls admire them and the girls are shining and all that. But they're hoping to get old. The next step is they have children and they get married. You can't be a member of the community and talk if you don't have children. So he said -- so there are some people that can't have children, so they will borrow someone's child that night if they want to speak to the community (laughter). You have to hold that child or no one hears anything you say. But then, they are still hoping to be older people. Once they get past that, then they have the chance to be genuine members of the community. That's typical of traditional villages: instead of wanting to be young, they want to be older, they can't wait to be older. So....
V: It's a long way away but a lot of similar things are here [in the Czech Republic]. It took me a while to get used to it. I've had young people come to me saying things like, "I don't want to talk, I just want to listen," people who are like fifteen or seventeen -- I heard it just six months ago, from a Lithuanian who, by the way, was definitely smarter than anyone else in the room, pretty much a genius. I don't want to go the other way, I still value youthful energy, I still gravitate towards these people, often, because of the youthful energy. But that's going on here, people feel that way you just described also.
R: They feel that way in Norway, too. I can feel it there.... So let's go back to where we were at the beginning. So: see, as I get older, what I say to myself is that the most important thing that we can do now is to grieve. That America is very poor at grieving. We never really grieved even for the Civil War dead, that was clear when they did that thing on television a few years ago, we didn't grieve for the dead of the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War? We made the Vietnam veterans grieve, themselves, do the grieving. More Vietnam veterans, by the way, have committed suicide than died in the war. Did you know that? So therefore I'm just saying that's a new thing we have to learn to do.
V: I remember when Challenger blew up, I can clearly remember the news on NPR the next day said "Now it's time to put it behind us."
R: Oh wow.
V: It was the next day.
R: See you're smart because that's exactly what they want you to do, put it behind you.
V: "As a country we have to put it behind us." Even though I was pretty young then, I noticed it.
R: Whoah. We gotta put it in front of us. So that's what I want to say is that when I look at what's happening with the children and what's happening with the dead and what's happening to the families, then I have to grieve that. Which means I have to allow my receptors for grief to become bigger. So allowing your receptors for grief to become bigger is not the same thing as being cynical. It's not the same thing as being bitter, it's not the same thing as being a complainer, do you understand what I'm saying? All of those are possibly responses to what's going on, but none of them, including the victim people who complain all the time, really are accepting the grief, because in grief you don't blame, you just feel it.
So that's one thing, and the second thing is that if you're going to grieve, you have to keep your energy high also, and your hope, and one way you do that is through art. The images in poetry, the images in art. So you have to be careful what art you take in.
V: Speaking of which, is it just a coincidence based on the form of some of those poems that you read the other night, the ones where you're waking up in the morning and trying to write a poem a day, that I heard some similarity to Frank O'Hara in a lot of that?
R: Frank and I went to school together. I'd known him along time. He's gone now.
V: So the form and maybe being in school with him --
R: Well I just, you know, what we're talking about here, let's take this now: if I am going to make my grief stronger, I'm going to have to increase my playfulness, according to the work. And Frank was very good with that playfulness. I was very sober, and serious, when I knew him in college. He was already playful. So the playfulness is what you're hearing.
V: Also something that is more stream of consciousness. When you say "Oh, so it's a bird then," in that one poem. Your thought process is in the poem.
R: (laughs) That's right. See, I was brought up -- in which my early poems -- I always wrote let's say, outdoors, under a tree. So I would wait for something to happen to the tree, before I got my next stanza. Sometimes you has to wait a long time. But I just realized that difference -- the difference is that, there, my consciousness is out there and when something new happens like a bird comes or a leaf falls I can write something more. But this kind of poetry, you already have so many memories that you follow those through and whatever happens, happens and you can be more playful in the midst of your own thoughts and feelings. You understand this.
V: Tell me, I can understand that sometimes some of the things that you discuss rub people in the women's movement the wrong way. But the other night when you were reading all I could think
was, "How can a man who can write about himself as a ruffled hen ever get on the wrong side of the women's movement?"
R: Yeah, well, that whole thing was crazy. It had a lot to do with the media, because I taught women for a long time, before I taught men. But no one ever looked that up. All my early work in seminars was done with women primarily, and then as a matter of fact I was talking with the women most of the time and not with the men, and the men would say to me "How about a fairy story for men? You got one?" So I found one, called Iron John, and then eventually after eight years I wrote that up.
But the whole thing is so adversarial, that some of the women said "If he likes men he must dislike women," and that's a crazy idea.
V: I felt like no one who was at the reading the other night could have had any problem with you in that way...
R: No. But there has been a great amount of injustice towards women, and so for them not to be angry would be unrealistic. I find that I can admire many things in men, and I do. You can admire those things in men and admire similar things in women.
Another way you can say that is that the women's movement began with anger, and if you've ever been really angry you know you're not very choosy about it. Isn't that right? The men's movement began primarily, in my opinion, in shame. A feeling of shame for what we had done to women, feeling shame for the last wars. And I have a lot of shame in my life. My father was an alcoholic, I was brought up with shame, shame was one of the earliest feelings I felt. So when I started to teach men, I wasn't teaching them to dominate over women, on the contrary, I'm saying to them "Let's get together and talk about shame. I'll tell you a few stories about my shame." And then they'd start to feel it -- and the women misunderstood, they thought that when we were together we were criticizing women, and it was quite the contrary, often times people would start talking about their shame they felt because their father left, or because their father beat 'em up or because their father called them jerks or something like that and they'd start to feel the shame and people would talk about that all week, and uh, it was really about fathers and sons mostly.
But that has changed in the last three or four years. In America I think it has become less adversarial, and I get a lot of women now who stop me in airports and say things like "man that book was so helpful for my sons and I can't thank you enough for that" and so on and so on. One thing I think has happened is that both the men and women are aware now of what is going on with the children, and the women know that that cannot be solved by one gender only. We've got to bring the men back in. The men can't raise the daughters alone, that's crazy, so I think that underlying thing is percolating through, and the underlying perception is that the ones who are suffering are not the women, the ones who are suffering are not the men, the ones who are suffering are the children. Once you recognize that, it takes away a lot of this.
V: When I went back [to the States] I had some experiences like, my sister wouldn't let her kids walk five blocks to school, because she was afraid they would be kidnapped.
I was at my parent's house and the little girl next door had been locked out of her own house, there was some mix-up, her mother wasn't there. But anyway, I brought her into the backyard and lifted her over the fence so she could go and see what's going on in her own house, and when she was over there I said "Well do you just want to wait in your backyard for your mom to get home?" and she said "No, I'm afraid I'll get kidnapped." This is a little girl, not even a teenager, not even thirteen, I'm talking, like, nine. Now if that is in kids' consciousness, at such a deep level, that kind of fear... my sister's afraid for her kids, the children are totally afraid --
R: Well we could think over the whole thing we were saying again in relation to fear. What does it mean when the family doesn't filter anything? And then the advertising agencies realize that you can wash away your love instincts, but your reptile, defense-of-your-body fear, will never go away. And you can keep feeding that, day after day after day. What are you doing, you're just deepening the fear of every child that's growing up.
Well, maybe we should stop.
a work in progress by
The following is an excerpt from a still untitled piece by the young Czech poet Radovan Polanský, who is perhaps best known for his hijinks with the Sdružení Sprejových Basníkù (Association of Spray Paint Poets). Written in the form of a diary during his obligatory army service, the initial entries reflect his impressions of the life of a fellow soldier, whom Polanský calls "Pikaso." Polanský has continued the diary beyond his army days and now works as a journalist in the South Bohemian town of Písek.
Pikasovi se zdá. Nemusí se mu zdát o nìèem, jde pøeci jen o druhý život, ten motýlí barevný chaos mezi kvìty výdechù, ten, který v doprovodu tepu pravidelnì unáší tìlo k rannímu procitnutí bolavého srdeèního svalu. Kdyby Pikaso zemøel v kleci, dívali by se pozùstalí na jeho mrtvolu, která nenašla svou volnost.
10.10. 1995, Benešov
Pikaso dreams. He doesn't have to dream about anything in particular, just another life, the colored chaos of a butterfly among the blossoms of exhaled breaths, that thing which, in the company of the pulse, regularly carries the body toward the aching heart muscle's morning awakening. If Pikaso were to die in the cage, his survivors would look at his corpse, which did not find freedom.
Nikdy jsem neslyšel Pikasa plakat a nikdy neuvìøím, že neplakal.
I never heard Pikaso cry and I will never believe that he didn't cry.
Dali mu spoustu vìcí, které pøed tím nikdy nemìl. Zvykal si, že jsou jeho, uèil se na nì sahat a snažil se s nimi usínat, staral se o nì, jakoby je zdìdil po zemøelém otci a chtìl je odkázat svým bližním. Byly prý dùležité. Stávaly se nutnýmí, nezbytnými osobami pøítomnosti. Ovládaly let hodin života v kleci, žádaly. Pozdìji si i pøivlastòovaly. Pøivlastòovaly si ho jako vìc, chtìly víc a postupnì si na nìj zvykaly. Na to, že je jejich, a že je pro nì dùležitý. Jsou prý velmi dùležité. Dùležitìjší než Pikaso, vždyť Pikaso je jen vìc, které je tu tøeba.
He was given many things which he had never had before. He got used to the idea that they were his, he learned how to touch them and tried to fall asleep with them, he took care of them as if he had inherited them from a dead father and wanted to bequeath them to those close to him. They were said to be important. They became necessary, inevitable characters of the present. They governed the flight of life's hours in the cage. They made demands. Later on they even took over. They possessed him as a thing, they wanted more and gradually they got used to him. To the fact that he is theirs and important for them. They were said to be very important. More important than Pikaso, after all, Pikaso is just a thing that's needed here.
15.10 1995, Benešov
Pikaso øekl, "jsou kolem na støechách, stromech, na trávì, v parcích, na sochách, na nebi. Nejvìtší utrpení v kleci je dívat se na ptáky."
Pikaso said, "They're all around on the roofs, the trees, on the grass, in the parks, on the statues, in the sky. In a cage the greatest suffering is to look at the birds."
Došel až ke lži, ležela v bìlostné mýdlové pìnì na zažloutlé chladné dlažbì. S úsmìvem se díval na její pokroucené tìlo, podivnì složené z mnoha trupù a údù. Místy barevnì rozkvetlé, jinde porostlé jemným zelenkavým mechem, tu a tam pokryté èirým sklem, nebo lesklým kovem. Mìlo tøi rùzné hlavy. Velkou ptaèí, se zahnutým žlutým zobákem, obrostlou leskle modrým peøím, psí, která cenila zvlhle zuby a malou lidskou hlavu se žlutýma oèima. Všechny tøi pravidelnì a bez jediné nepøesnosti souèasnì otevíraly a zase zavíraly oèi a ústa, pøesnì do zrychleného Pikasova Dechu.
Pikaso tedy zatajil dech.
Témìø k nahým patám dopadl žhavý proud rozpáleného svìtla, letícího až nepøirozenì šikmo, skrz møíže podlouhlého okna nové klece, paprsek se kroutil a syèel touhou, jakoby se toužil zabodnout pøímo doprostøed lži. Pikaso by si ji velmi rád prohlédl dùkladnìji, a tak tušíce, že je velmi lehká, sedl si k ní a èekal, že prùvan posune lež na svìtlo. Bez dechu se však zaèal brzy dávit a umdlévat, až omdlel....
He got as far as the lie, which lay in the fresh white soap foam on the cool yellowish tile. With a smile he looked at its distorted body, strangely formed from many trunks and limbs. Some places it was colorfully in bloom, other places it was grown over by fine greenish moss, here and there covered with limpid glass or shiny metal. It had three different heads. A big bird's head, with a crooked yellow bill, covered with lustrous blue feathers, a dog's head, which showed moist teeth, and a small human head with yellow eyes. All three regularly and without a hint of imprecision opened and shut their eyes and mouths at once, exactly in time with the acceleration of Pikaso's Breath.
Pikaso then held his breath.
A white-hot stream of overheated light descended almost to his naked heels, flying at an unnatural angle through the bars of the oblong window of the new cage -- the ray twisted and hissed with desire, as if it desired to pierce the lie at its center. Pikaso would have very much liked to have investigated it thoroughly and so, suspecting that the lie weighed almost nothing, he sat down and waited for the draught to move it into the light. Without breathing, however, he soon began to grow weak and nauseous, until he fainted....
Q: WHAT'S THE USE?
A: In a nutshell
or a peapod
between your toes
up your nose
behind your ear
in the coals
after a shave
aprés le déluge
without a shovel
daydream & grits
in time for the trailers
sitting for the credits
poem for the people
arguing with Communists
avoiding the Market
determining a dog's age
in people years
To wake up
having gone to bed drunk
her having forgotten to mention
these rather big crystals
Lotus kept between mattress and sheet.
To hear her ask why I was hobbling around
like a cripple.
To fuck, I said
to get out the kinks.
Q: WHAT'S THE USE?
A: is a question i can't answer, and i fall into despair just thinking about it. is it optional?
i was waiting for your kisses
but they never came.
i see you've still got them,
stuffed in your face.
for deep still dark reasons
a junkie, or just
leaking scorn and resentment,
crafting pitfalls and
punishments against all protest,
pushing the boundaries of
filling hope's conquered lands
with perverted desires
i resist then
i have strength
if it's not endless
god of grief
i'm on my knees
rock me easy
let me free
he is huge
a lot to know
he wants it though,
the pain to grow
the screams are silent now
the dreams sucked dry
what lips she said
my lips and so on
but i just cry
for wasted time,
wandering in the morning fog,
wondering from afar
about the obstruction
as things turned out,
so messy and shameful
for everyone who ever
tried to lover you,
failing and failing
and hating you finally
only in passing
on the way to
i met a woman from brooklyn, who said
"the last of the long lost lovers
has weathered well upon his pedestal.
not the heart in his breast
nor the hand in his pants
was ever so ably committed.
graffiti deface the monument
i raised, involuntarily,
and full endlessly circling
his colossal prick,
not inexplicably, flies..."
her name was amanda, and she lived in queens,
but her works show up in manhattan
Q: WHAT'S THE USE?
A: Well, that's the wrong question for a librarian.
What's it called? perhaps, or What's it like?
Where is it?
How is it?
But using it is your job.
And if you were to ask
What's the use -- of it all?
Then I would probably say, Yes,
use it all.
The squashed tomato : which / Jonah made. In the courtyard :
with his new purple sneaker, yesterday.
Is streaked across the cement : constellating seeds ; flattened
towards the sky. (It was a Sweet 100)
It includes one curled and brown worm hole, like a mouse-shit
1. The way such small destructions can dominate the eye. 2.
Vegetable transgressions. 3. Purpose--And the power to ungive.
Ode to Allergies
paper the air
and the pale, hatched hairs
of my legs are let out
in the yard, where a sun-hazed
display of insect minutia
makes it through to the hollow
behind my eyes, bypassing the pupils.
Nose hairs are collecting droplets of mucus,
with their sweeter
No more than three
The Library of Congress never assigns subject headings to original books of poetry.
1. Raccoons--Religious aspects. 2. Nervous system--20th cent.--Specimens. 3. Light--Antiquities.
In this world, there's only been time so far to do the sciences badly. Perhaps that was the wrong place to start, but it's too late now.
1. Women--Tense structure. 2. Artichokes--Political aspects. 3. Trout (Rainbow)--Study and teaching.
As well, you're not supposed to use more than three; the idea being that three specific headings should be enough, and would cut down on filing. Still, especially with computers, some of us secretly aspire to up the ante (four)--we cheat a bit (five, six). With my password, I can do it from anywhere--
1. Moons. 2. Nipples. 3. Memory.
Dreams of hot handfuls of thick manila cards. In caps cross the top: here, and here, and here, is what you want. Everyone has their own. You can't be sure. The heft of the drawer when you pull it out: the words descending. Margins. Colons. The full stop and double dash. Tongues. Nodes. Coccyges.
1. Hipbones--California. 2. Molecular biology--Social aspects. 3. Egg yolks--Behavior--Criticism.
Peter Pan in Central Park
"they were supposed to improve people not just physically but morally...the contemplation of this sort of landscape would make you a better person" Geoffrey James on Frederick Law Olmstead's parks
He would not walk discreetly round
the edges of the fountain. Yet that circle
drew him. That was the difference:
eccentricity, rather than circumference.
And though Olmstead was the one who made
the fountain round, who can say if it was
because of some improving alignment
or just misapprehended memory of
the inside of a nest?
(Peter always thought the angel at the top should be dangling a worm--)
Making his way round the roving center (something
about the shadows of her wings)
Peter found his own moment
and, fingering it gently, like a baby,
he peed a perfect circle in the pavement.
Perfect, in the sound,
like language falling out the window;
and that, even in its passing
it said exactly what he meant.
Q: WHAT'S THE USE?
A: Mr. Farnsworth, the Editor, asks me What's the use? I'm assuming in my humble, jejune innocence that he's referring to Poetry. I hope I'm right. For as all poets, pooets, potheads and nincompoops know: hell hath no fury like an editor wronged. So: what's the use of Poetry? The Editorial timing of this question couldn't be better, because it's a question that's been dogging me much of late. You sit there hunched over your trendily decrepit Forties-Noir typing machine, brow furrowed, chainsmoking your way through a gift box of Black Russians, biting your nails as the diaphanous slip of the Muse sways languidly, just out of your feverish grasp. What IS the use of another damn poem? So what if it's the finest, most exquisitely tuned sonnet since Shakespeare fell off his high stool in Ye Olde Bard's Arms and hit his nut on his initialled pewter tankard? We're drowning in the stuff; and no matter how brilliant it is, or how mystically it makes the human condition shimmer, it's just printed words in some dusty book high up on the shelf where most of the population can't be arsed to stretch up and pull it down. I personally have often dallied with the idea of giving up. But what turns me around is, perversely enough, the reading of some excellent poem; just a few words that send a shiver down the spirit and make me say to myself, in hushed, wistful tones: Why The Fuck Didn't I Write That? And I'm very glad -- nay, grateful -- that the Poet concerned didn't give up, and felt the way he did -- even if that was a terrible feeling -- and put pen to paper; if only for little old me to read.
I should probably stop here and Mr. Farnsworth is welcome to take his Editorial scissors to my laborious tirade at this point, BUT, I think, for anyone really in the grip of the poetic disease (sorry: enchantment) it's hard to stop. Once you start fiddling with those enjambments, trochees, spondees and spondulichs, a lot of other little things -- like careers, domiciles, family, mortgages, and feeding the cat -- tend to go out the window. In many ways poetry is worse (or better, depending on your supplier) than cocaine. In the words of the rather neglected Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh: poetry is a mystical thing, and a dangerous thing. Fiddling with your verse is apt to lead you into strange forms of isolation, but, those forms of isolation can give you the best tunes. Finally, mercifully, whatever the "dangers" involved, and in however small a way, making poetry enhances Life. And it's much less messy than love-making.
Here and Now
Tonight I'm tired
of transitory things,
tonight each hand is a hammer,
my mouth is stuffed with nails,
I have the wings of the Here and Now
in a vise-like grip,
beating on the walls of the room....
No sooner pinned than it flies
to the river of clouds in the sky,
to the sky that floods into the star-buoyed Sea,
the Sea a stream in the mighty transient Ocean...
But I can catch myself
with starry hammer and starry nails,
bent with streaming starry hair over the beak
of the streaming bird,
a ghost aiming to pin a ghost...
And this, if nothing else, is Beauty.
The clash of the smouldering
civil war in my head
fades into the fluttering treetops;
is the faded echo
of the uncapturable sound
of a lone spearpoint sharpening itself
among the marching cloud.
Could never disturb matterhorns
high stratospheric snows of the air;
its origins forgotten, its effects
scattered by the wind of chance,
my self-embroilment is
buried in insignificance; and yet
I feel larger than Life.
The Deep Field
Three of us
packed into the bench
in the Abbey garden
as one man.
And which of us
had the vision,
of the deep field
of all the Universe blazing
in the Church window,
and felt the infinite cold,
and was gripped
by the shoreless majesty,
ready to lose his mind
or gain a greater,
and which of us rose
and snuffed the fusion of sense,
the deep field nothing
but reflected lamplight,
I don't know.
Q: WHAT'S THE USE?
A: And what's the use
of all these getting-up-in-the-mornings
All these rubbings-off-on and into.
All these eating-of-meals, all this
all these rooms.
Nothing is real and it's all dancing, right?
I'm gone but my voice wheedles on.
"You always hurt the one you love."
Like that? Here's another:
"You never know what you have until you lose it."
Isn't that terrific? These are
pearls from the mouths of
Fashion Institute of Technology babes,
they talk just like that I swear.
But it wasn't always like this.
Once I was feeding five-yen coins
into a Japanese pay phone in the
pouring rain. Sitting up,
watching the red dot of a cigarette,
thinking how nothing in Japan
is far from the sound of water.
It was an easy MO to copy
filtering krill through my teeth and
wearing a paper nightgown down
a long, well-lit hall.
Is there nothing behind this handsome facade
Just a white guy trapped
in the body of a white guy.
A silent screaming or a
screaming silence, you
get to choose.
Don't come any closer....
I have the pills and
I know how to swallow.
Sometimes I find myself thinking of the
Lakewood, Shorem, SeaTak,
and South Shore Malls in Puyallup.
I don't want to.
Men and the works of men
make me sick.
Spiro Agnew, an anagram for
grow a penis. Gee, no thanks I'm
still full from dinner.
And basking in the glow of the realization that
the bullies of my youth are now
somebody's bitch in Attica.
Single guy with tattoo gun seeks
woman with skin the color of
I've already changed the locks don't
make me get a restraining order.
Pick up your phone and call the
24-hour insurance hotline right now.
My life is totally empty and
Other than that,
fine, and how are you?
I vote for effective pain management every time.
On my planet, that's called a
And I'm not a whore I'm a
short term relationship consultant.
I get paid no matter how the project
Hey! I lost relatives in the war!
My uncle fell off the guard tower at
Bergen Belsen and broke his neck. And
we were acquitted on all other charges,
including the ones against humanity.
Insurance is theft.
Another five minutes and
I'd have given her a kidney,
an example of the ridiculous overestimation
of each sex for the other and
source of many French comedies.
Which turns out to be the point of all life
Everything for billions of years all pointing
to the production and dissemination of
situation comedies and French farce through space
to the entire universe.
brachyosaurus, tree sloth, NASA,
all geared to the production of
half-hour narratives with
many doors slamming.
The universe was simply, ah, wrong.
And I was their lizard king.
These dimensions are all there,
they're just unexplored.
Must be liver and onions day at
"Believe me, if I started murdering people,
there'd be none of you left."
It's kind of like Mary Mattlin and
James Carvelle's baby.
They didn't care whether it was a
boy or a girl as long as it was a
slimy, lying little bastard.
Rupert, "the Virus," Murdoch,
Good night, good night,
see you on the radio.
Our tentacles were everywhere it
was an amazing moment on screen.
Now playing at Allenwood Federal Detention Facility
Think of it as an apology.
it's been great to be here
(an inside joke)
and a smile that says
don't expect me back soon.
Thank you darling you were fantastic.
The check is in the mail.
Think of it as an analogy.
If we had salaries you could fire us, or,
a fish always rots from the head.
This is where cars come from
all over the world to
Thank god for
all white juries.
Any fool can eat off of wax but
what do they do all day
under the sky?
Promoters of the great American
pinheads from another planet.
I speak to the living in
the language of the dead.
The Principia, a
tiny book written by Sir Isaac Newton
on a small rock spinning through space
in a tiny part of a tiny universe.
And the meat shall inherit the world.
Q: WHAT'S THE USE?
A: Where I come from, "What's the use?" works as both a question and an answer. A suitable response, in either event, would be "Indeed." On the other hand, Allen Ginsberg once said it's "a triumph just to have been here, and changed."
Ten feet of front lawn is not a "farm."
So, I throw away ten years of phone
messages, of ways to remember
some hours. The sunlight plangent
against the hard, tall mountains.
A years ago rumpled bed, coffee
cups, cigarettes, books of poems and
an early insight into the hand-holding
thing. From whence I most did take
my delight. Someday, sweetheart,
the real farm. But for now there's just
no one to talk to, hardly are there words
to say. Tell me again, were we fools to want
such things? Was it wrong to be alive?
Describe the thousand stars in
that patch of night just over
your head. Moonlight and scent
of jasmine. The air dark velvet.
Dream oh dream. On such nights
one could write a song about it.
Many have. Include a vague tragedy
of lovers. Say it rained on the
day the rent fell due. Lost his
job poor fella. Walked home in
his ruined loafers. And the girl
well she just gave up. Or got bored
with the promises she made. You know.
In an apron. Alone. Waiting by the
window. Ah bitter. Don't be so
harsh. After all this is art.
This is a song of how small and
helpless we are under an immensity
of stars. Song of jasmine intoxicating.
Of how we haven't really been handled
well and in all this moonlight.
For Sydney Walsh
As the stately pomp of these clouds
clear a way in the sky for far vistas,
plains, hills and mountains in the
distance, all touched and tinged in
blue, landscapes leaping are too much
for someone you love is dying and
someone else you love is writing
a letter and someone else you love
won't pick up the phone and yet
someone else you love is shooting
a movie in the Caribbean in the
leafy blue, where oceans mingle,
dawdle and take up everyone's time
beside the impossibly white and hot sands,
and all of it all beneath a sky as
clear-perfect and heart-breaking as
a born-again belief, like the belief
I have in the curve of your cheek,
in the way you say your consonants,
in everything you gesture toward.
Q: WHAT'S THE USE?
A: THERE IS NO ANSWER
What's the use
It's all a lie
The trees shed their leaves
The undertaker goes about
The walls hide messages
Like greedy beggars
The doorbell rings
The telephone rings
It is all the same.
The rich man is thinking of death
The young man is thinking of riches
Poets have become exotic merchants
Butterflies are beautiful
They have no desire to fly
To the moon
Like Kaufman said
Poets don't sneak into zoos
And talk to tigers anymore.
It's perfectly all right
To cast the first stone
If you have more than
The other person.
The avon lady displays her wares
The blind dog sniffing his way
Up her legs
The boxing matches
The football games go on
And we go on too
Like a tired tongue
Resting between the legs
Of a very bored woman.
The truth is that
D. A. Levy was right
Some people just cannot
Beat the system
And poets can't even pretend
They're beating the system.
What's the use
There is no answer.
NORTH BEACH YUPPIE BAR
hard to believe jack spicer
richard brautigan drank here
looking at two businessmen
playing liar's dice
at gino and carlo's bar
faces white as pie crust
Italian imported shirts
the legal mafia making
their own rules
the one with the twisted smile
hides behind his dice cup
silently poking at the olive
in his martini glass
looking like a hit man
waiting to fulfill
IN THE OLD DAYS
the executioners wore hoods
in the days of hangings
inviting the public to watch
the man who drops the pellet
as is the executioner who
pulls the lever
deserters are blindfolded
when facing the firing squad
and in utah
they offered lorca
a blindfold too
but he chose to look
them in the face
the bullets tearing into
the day the dirt turned
red in spain
I couldn't pay attention then
what with her mother's cook yelling
at her step-father's driver
our feet dangling in the pool.
She cried over "Momma's utter lack of affection"
tenderly noted the pool cleaning robot
nuzzling up from the deep end
said it was cute
in exactly the tone she referred to me.
Lotus's parents flew out to Portland
the morning after they heard
I'd left her to go back East.
Bought her a house on a cliff
overlooking lazy Willamette Valley
the day after they arrived.
I was living on a cliff myself
the day after the day after
when Lotus called with her good news.
Washington Heights, upper Manhattan
capital of Dominican drug trade
the ass-end of all things Caribbean
Mi casa merde es tu casa merde.
The Hudson's wide there
about a mile
but it would have to be awfully wide
not to see New Jersey
or the Oregon just beyond
where she still starts her days with a doobie
& calls everyone until General Hospital comes on.
One would be a brick
not to think of rain.