Mohja Kahf: The Marvelous Women

Below is a good example of why editors are important at every step of the publishing process.

All women speak two languages:
the language of men
and the language of silent suffering.
Some women speak a third,
the language of queens.
They are marvelous
and they are my friends.

My friends give me poetry.
If it were not for them
I’d be a seamstress out of work.
They send me their dresses
and I sew together poems,
enormous sails for ocean journeys.

Her gorgeous paean to her marvelous friends continues, until just at…

Come with me, come with poetry
Jump on this wild chariot, hurry–

…the page numbers skip from 52 to 21. I flip through the entire edition — lent to me by a man who attended one of my 2009 salons, then moved away before I could return it — and find pages 21 to 52 repeated twice, then a skip to page 85. I wanted to get on that wild chariot, dammit!

Pages 52 through 85 forever lost in this edition, suspended in limbo, caught in the aether. Someone in the comments below has provided the missing text. I’ve removed the rest of the lines above because I don’t want to be accused of stealing her work — please check out Kahf’s book Emails from Scheherezad for the full text. I’m sure the mistake has been corrected.

Finding this flaw, I think of three things in quick succession: the importance of editors, how poetry and writing is a group effort in some way, even as it is a solitary act. And how mistakes must have happened even before 1995, before the advent of the Internets and e-books and e-readers and the growing respectability of self-publishing. And how social media and the Internet have simultaneously connected us and isolated us. And I want to know the end of the poem.

The poet is Mohja Kahf, the name of the poem “The Marvelous Women,” the name of the book E-Mails from Scheherazad, the publisher University Press of Florida. I suppose I might find the full text through a simple Google search, might even be able to contact the poet (her bio, circa 2002, places her at the University of Arkansas). But part of me revels in the mystery, the hovering moment of a poem cut off before its conclusion.

Katie Peterson, Sore Throat, Inspiration, the Cycle of Percussion

The Boston Review has been sending me messages on Facebook every day for National Poetry Month (or NaPoWriMo, as the more intarweb-geek among us have been calling it). My initial reaction was just “too much poetry.” It felt like work, especially since I have a very complicated relationship with writers’ community in general. I’ve also been known to focus on the negative instead of the positive. And there was a song about that.

So I was reminded that reading other poets — and looking at art in general — can instigate a cycle of percussion that John Updike once described in a story we read when I was studying 11th grade English with Mr. McWilliams. Updike’s story went something like this: the pianist hits the key, which causes the hammer to hit the string, which sends out a sound wave that travels through the air to hit the eardrum of a listener, which causes a whirl of percussion in the listener’s brain, resulting in the pen hitting the paper, perhaps resulting in a poem or a story that inspires a musician to write down some music, which a pianist then plays…

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I do find the work of others inspiring, in spite of myriad disappointments and roiling resentments. I forget, sometimes, that I could be one of those poets with the long list of publications after their name, if I just did the work–the very very hard work–of putting pen to paper, and revising, and editing, and researching publications, and sending out submissions, and exposing oneself to criticism and rejection but also to acclaim and acceptance.

Katie Peterson says something similar, slightly macabre, about percussion, and memory, and reminders, and tangents, and hopelessness, and returns:

Sick in bed with a sore throat
I can’t get out of my mind
the image of the cat
harpsichord from the 18th century‚
soothing a prince with laughter.

Full poem here: http://bostonreview.net/NPM/katie_peterson.php

Horoscoped: poetry from statisticians

I don’t check my RSS feed as much as I used to. You could either blame my job, for giving me more to do, or possibly Hulu and Netflix, for giving me more passive entertainment options. Personally, I blame either G.W. Bush or global warming.

Seriously, though, I came across a wonderful post on Information is Beautiful about horoscopes and word analysis (apparently the latest fad among statisticians — and you know those crazy fad-conscious statisticians).

You could just take a look at it yourself and draw your own conclusions from the data. Or, you could keep reading this post for another 60 seconds and learn that it reminded me of something Douglas Adams said in one of his later novels. I can never remember if it was The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul or Mostly Harmless or one of the other ones, so I haven’t been able to look it up. I’ll paraphrase it, though, like so:

You take something as inherently chaotic and unpredictable as human nature. You apply an arbitrary set of rules to it. Et voila, your rules work.

Most of the scientists I’ve met don’t like data that can’t be hammered down to at least two significant digits, which means that they read their horoscopes only furtively. I find all that crystal woo-woo stuff great fun and enjoy learning the arbitrary rules of divination systems with the same glee that I enjoy learning the arbitrary rules of grammar, social mores, and fashion.

What I found particularly stunning — poetic, even — was the meta-horoscope those crazy statisticians over at Information is Beautiful were able to create from their analysis. And I now present to you, the poem the statisticians wrote.*

Ready? Sure?
Whatever the situation or secret moment, enjoy everything a lot.
Feel able to absolutely care. Expect nothing else. Keep making love.
Family and friends matter. The world is life, fun, and energy.
Maybe hard. Or easy. Taking exactly enough is best.
Help and talk to others. Change your mind
and a better mood comes along…

From “Horoscoped: Do horoscopes really all just say the same thing? We scraped & analysed 22,000 to see.” at http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2011/horoscoped/

*I edited it slightly because I can’t stand center-justified poetry and feel really strongly about the serial comma.

Eternity – by William Blake

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

– William Blake

Blake was an early Romantic poet. Studying him at Vassar had a tremendous impact on me, although I’m sure Professor Beth Darlington had a lot to do with that as well. There’s an excellent biography of him at Poets.org. He was quite a radical for his days — among other things, he taught his wife to read and write and had her work side by side with him in his engraving shop. (Of course, he also used to wake her up in the middle of the night to sit with him when he wrote, so I doubt I would have found him an ideal mate). He created and perfected a style of printing that allowed him to reproduce the delicate watercolors he used to illuminate his own poetry. Vassar’s special collections contains one of the original editions printed using this method. I don’t believe it survived him.

Tricycle’s Daily Dharma quoted this poem recently. It’s an excellent illustration of the Buddhist principle of nonattachment and also a reminder that spiritual principles repeat themselves over and over again across cultures, races, and places.

Marguerite Guzman Bouvard — Night Strides Across Borders

Excerpted from After Maillol

Night

Night strides across borders.
Hush, she commands the barking dogs,
the searchlights, the buckling barbed
wire fences. She cradles
the earth in her gleaming limbs
until the only sounds are those of mingled
breaths, the quick intake of the child’s,
the drawn out sobs of the aged
and the ill. Beneath her steady wings
soldiers dream of tilling fields,
prison doors slide open.

— Marguerite Guzman Bouvard
The Unpredictability of Light
Word Press. 2009: Cincinnati, OH.

The Gods Wait to Delight in You – The Laughing Heart, by Charles Bukowski

Last fall, every day, on the way to the Alewife stop on the Red Line, in a very dark time, I would see a poster someone had pasted on the concrete under the overpass. Superimposed over the image of a person, spreadeagled under a nighttime sky, these words:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

The poster is still there, fading, parts of it ripped and flapping. The words can still make me cry, even more so now, when I learn that they were written by Charles Bukowksi, who carried his own black dog and still strove to walk the strand that all artists walk, between solid land and the ocean.

Full attribution: Charles Bukowski. “The Laughing Heart.” Betting on the Muse. Harper-Collins.

Recipe for Drizzling – Poem by Katrina Kostro

Recipe for Drizzling

Pick three dying daisies whose petals are still attached
Detach the petals and lay them
   on an olive green clay plate
Sprinkle powdered sugar over the daisy petals
   and tell them just because they have exceeded
   their time of living, they are not powerless
The poem is to lift up their self-esteem
Play old Bruce Springsteen; make it loud enough for them to hear
    so it’s not as if he has died as well, but
    don’t blast it, because the dead daisy petals are delicate
Have a cry
Collect your tears in a tall dark blue glass
Stop crying now
Sing along to a couple of Bruce lines, so the petals
    know you’re listening too
Get an eye dropper
Dip it into the dark sea in the blue glass
Fill up the dropper
And drip a few tear-drops over the petals
    so it’s as if they have been drizzled on
Turn off Bruce
The daisies will be angry
Tell them to treat others as they are treated
And it will start to drizzle outside

– Katrina Kostro
From Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po LISTSERV
Richards, Starace, Wheeler, eds.

More about the WOM-PO LISTSERV:
http://usm.maine.edu/wompo/

Then — Poem by Lesley Wheeler

Then

If my son is a lantern spilling light and warmth
throug the rose panes of his skin

if combustion is a chemical reaction involving oxygen
and if its byproducts are heat and carbon dioxide

if we also exhale heat and carbon dioxide
if we are fire, converting the molecules around us

if the flames banked all day leap in me at night
and if I am too tired to rise and write

if I carry the spark in me, conserving it,
but its bright engine keeps changing the fuel of my life

into ashes, ashes–if the first conflagration is over
and the long deep burn is underway

if I feed with my breath, if I burn hotter,
if I smother it, if I keep changing air into spirit

— Lesley Wheeler
from Heathen

Note: Interview with the poet coming soon.

Five Things to Be Grateful for Today

  1. Got to see Marge Piercy read in person at the Longfellow House yesterday. I told her that The Moon is Always Female is still my favorite book of hers, and she recommended What Are Big Girls Made Of?. She also knew how to spell my name correctly. And she signed my copy of one of her latest volumes of poetry.
  2. The sun is shining and the relative humidity is low. I’m going outside for a walk while I still can.
  3. Got a call from one of my business owners at 9:30 AM. I had a mouth full of yogurt when she called, but at least I was on my way into the office, which is more than can be said for more days than I’d care to admit in the last year or so. After 7 hours working on something I expected to be able to fix in about 30 minutes, I’ve got the changes ready for release.
  4. Today is the 20th anniversary of the ADA. Thanks, the the first George Bush for signing that. And thanks, Bill Clinton, for signing the FMLA. Without those two pieces of legislation — and an employer big enough and honorable enough to care about adhering to employment law — I’d probably be out of a job right now.
  5. There was a big rally on the Common today to celebrate. I was hoping to go, but I have surgery scheduled on Friday. I’m grateful for the health insurance that makes the procedure possible, and all the love and support I’ve gotten from friends and family around this and the other health issues that have been KICKING MY ASS in the past couple of years.