Odds and Ends (and a Poem)

June 19, 2007

Find below evidence of my growing web-savviness in the Regina Spektor live performance of “Samson” I found on YouTube:

The quality leaves a bit to be desired, but I opted for this bootleg over both the music video (which is ok) and the produced live version from a music festival in April. I found this more real somehow. Whatever that means. If you like the song, you can get it here.  

Also, DawgE will live! She is without parasites or any real health problems. She had some gland issues that needed to be flushed out. And I should tell you that I did not enjoy putting a headlock on the poor girl as the vet swabbed out her rectal cavity with two well-lubed fingers. The dirty look afterwards, however, was masterfully expressive. Who needs language when you have daggers like hers? Plus, I got shunned for a few hours afterwards. We’re good now, though, thanks to a treat and a long morning run.

That’s about all on the odds and ends front. As for today’s poem, it’s a piece from Yusef Komunyakaa’s Talking Dirty to the Gods. A brief bio on Komunyakaa can be found here. Though this is not the poem I wanted to post, it’s a strong piece worth the time to examine. The book is taut, and Komunyakaa imposes a systematic design to both the form and organization of the individual pieces within the collection. Each poem is four quatrains long, which adds a cohesion and a design befitting the abundance of gods, goddesses, and the geometry of nature the poems tackle. Here’s the bibliographic information:

Komunyakaa, Yusef. Talking Dirty to the Gods. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

And here’s the piece:

Body of a Dog

(Cadavere di un Cane)

 

He’s chasing a hare.

In eleven or twelve countries

The philosophy of the hourglass

Has turned into weathered stone,

 

But he races the same sun

Through threadbare silhouettes.

If there were human prayers

Left, they wouldn’t reach him

 

In Vulcan’s dream come true.

Did he know when vicissitude

Eased over hills like mist or scent

Of a bitch? Given another month,

 

He would have made the boy

Into a very good master.

He’s treed his own ghost

In a nearby poppy field.   

With “Body of a Dog,” I think we’re being asked to confront our transitory existence on earth. Referring to the “philosophy of the hourglass,” “Vulcan’s dream” and closing with the surreal and vivid image of the dog in the “poppy field,” Komunyakaa uses the ethereal and lofty connotations in philosophy, dreams, and poppies to contrast against the penultimate sentence, which spans the end of the third stanza into the first line of the fourth and helps us realize more clearly the importance of the hourglass in the first stanza. If the dog were given that month, things would have been different. In essence, it’s potential unrealized. Time had run out for the dog (and the boy, too, in a different way), and as it is those plans are left unfulfilled. 

As always, there’s plenty more to say, but I will shut it here. Feel free to drop your own thoughts on the piece or question mine.    

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Marquez and “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship”

June 18, 2007

First, I know that I promised a Komunyakaa piece for an upcoming post and apologize for the bait-and-switch. I am more upset than you about this. The book that I was to take the piece from is missing, and I suspect a great book heist sometime in the past week or so. How the thieves would miss my other awesome books, not to mention the television, the computer, the printer, and the PS2, is curious to me. But the word lives on. And I have switched out the Komunyakaa piece for a brief passage from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.” Here’s the bibliographic info for those of you who might be inclined to check it out from the library or buy it here for a few bucks (plus postage and handling):

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Leaf Storm and other Stories. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1979.

The short stories in this collection are some of the finest I’ve read. The title piece, “Leaf Storm” is like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying only set in the small Latin American town of Macondo and, at times, more lucidly told by the multiple narrators Marquez employs to offer the perspectives, motives, and interactions through various lenses. Like most of Marquez’s short fiction, the sense of religious mystery pervades the tales. And these mysteries are thematically woven through the stories by characters who, confronted with the surreal, provide the human drama so important to strong short fiction.

The following quote opens the story. Told in the third person in driving, frenetic prose, we are in the perspective of a misathropic young man who intentionally grounds a ghost liner into the coast of his small town. This eight or so page story is one long paragraph. It’s one long sentence, for that matter, but it reads fluidly enough, and the reader auto-locates the natural pauses in the speaker’s cadence. It’s an amazing feat, truly, to constuct language without relying on the standard conventions of grammar and mechanics. Instead, we seem to slide into the speaker’s mind with enough ease that we accept Marquez’s technical and stylistic choice without even realizing it. Without further blather:

“Now they’re going to see who I am, he said to himself in his strong new man’s voice, many years after had seen the huge ocean liner without lights and withou any sound which passed by the village one night like a great uninhabitated palace, longer than the whole village and much taller than the steeple of the church, and it sailed by in the darkness toward the colonial city on the the other side of the bay that had been fortified against buccaneers, with its old slave port and the rotating light, whose gloomy beams transfigured the village into a lunar encampment of glowing houses and streets of volcanic deserts every fifteen seconds…”

As I mentioned earlier, a sense of religiosity is one of the trademarks of Marquez’s brand of magical realism. And it’s important to note that the ghost ship is taller than the village’s steeple. We have to believe this is not accidental on Marquez’s point; instead, we should realize that the ghost ship’s looming silence casts a sort of shadow over the town, looming over the “encampments” we glimpse in the circling motion of the “rotating light.” It’s an interesting juxtaposition between faith (represented in the steeple) and the regular intervals of light and dark over the town.  

 I suggest finding a copy of the collection in a library or used book store near you, if only to read “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.” Judge this cover:

 leaf_storm.jpg

Pretty cool, eh?

  

  


Shoreline Sure Am

June 15, 2007

We’re reaching record temps for the area this week, and as I griped in a previous post, my upper apartment is sweltering. Though I found this morning some mangled and ill-shaped screens on my steps that I can only assume are meant for my windows, it’s too little too late, and I’ll have to wait until this evening to cool the joint down. 

But here’s a great link to a poetry website that, in addition to showing the text, has a limited selection of classic work being read by a pretty well-honed reader. I’ve listened to the whole catalog, and it’s worth it. There are no downloads or anything like that. It’s supersimple point-and-click. Also, there’s an email address to drop suggestions their way. Enjoy the site, and tell ’em Puddle sent you. Just kidding. I always wanted to say that, you know, like my name opening great and secret doors. Or a speakeasy and illegal gambling den filled with men in tailored clothes and flappers dancing on plywood floors.

Keep on, all. And tune in soon for a Yusef Komunyakaa poem with a brief gloss.

Puddlehead 

     


I *Heart* Literary Journals

June 7, 2007

One of my favorite things about being a writer is the sense of tradition I feel whenever I fire up a new Word Document or take pen to paper, jotting in my illegible scrawl some thought, some image, I will one day try to craft into a piece. The act of writing is the act of joining a community that spans time and space, and cannot be limited by age, race, or era. When you write, you join a conversation. A “California Supermarket” that shows up in one of your poems cannot be seperated from Ginsberg’s. We write from, or in response to, the views of those who came before us. For me, I write from Cormac McCarthy’s driving prose, from Yusef Komunyakaa’s lyrical visions, and from Wallace Steven’s technical precision. And, if you write in English, you cannot escape the Great Bard’s impossible shadow. Nor, for that matter, can you escape Emily Dickinson or Uncle Walt, or T.S. Eliot or whomever. The point is is that those tried-and-true English-speaking writers (not to mention the many great non-English writers) have left some vast footprints, and it’s important to know where we come from. That’s what our anthologies and favorite college texts help us with. And I love revisiting certain authors whose work continues to mean so much to me.

Equally as important, though, is to know where our contemporaries are. This point is why I think it is so important that we nourish what literary journals we can. I don’t only mean with our submissions but mean as well with our monetary support through subscriptions. Too many dedicated editors and their quality publications fold for lack of funds. Often times, these journals rely solely on subscription fees to keep afloat. There are only so many grants to go around, and many editors find themselves unable to keep their journals afloat for lack of subscribers. Yet, there never seems to be any shortage of submissions.

But, it’s not charity that drives me to subscribe to journals when I can; it’s greed. I love reading what my contemporaries are doing, love finding some gem of a poem that sends me spilling beyond my boundaries. I love when, a year later, I see a first book published by someone whose poem moved me when I read it in a journal. I am not advocating any particular journal, mind you. But I do advocate buying a back issue of a journal or magazine you might submit to. For me, it’s a good way to get an idea if my work would fit, but I am also exposed to more work, more writers I might not have read if it weren’t for their appearance in said journal. And, if I like the mag overall and have the funds, I’ll drop the 15 or so dollars for a year subscription.

The other side of writing well is reading well. Many of my books and magazines are annotated to the point of sin. There are cross-reference marks, question marks, lines I love underlined softly in pencil. That way, I’m actively involved . I’m a participant in making meaning of what I read. Not only is this fun, it helps me as a writer. If I am careless as I read, I will be careless when I write. That does no one any kindness.

For my part, I read as I’d like to be read. Sure it’s a remake of childhood’s golden rule, but I tell you what, whatever you read has cost someone a lot of time, effort, and energy. Plus, it might be damn good and, if you’re rushing, you’ll miss the greatness. And there’s a lot of greatness in journals and magazines and other small presses.

If you like, I’d be happy to comment on a few of my favorites, but I am not advocating any particular press or magazine. Rather, I believe writers should read nearly as much as they write. And just about every University has a magazine filled with worthwhile prose and poetry.

Anyway! I’m off to watch the rest of the NBA game. And then off to read and to bed and in the morning…Friday, which is Billiards day for me. Nine ball run, come on! Whoot!


On Recalling A Smarmy Man

June 6, 2007

I left home when I was 18, moved out to Colorado, got a few part-time jobs in order to scramble the cash needed to upgrade my camping equipment so I could, within the year, travel the Southwest. Which I did, and which is a story for another day. I only mention this to lead here: While I was camping outside Taos, I somehow got invited to a writer’s party. Since it was a decision between hanging out with writers or hanging alone by my sputtering pinion fire in late November, it was really no decision at all.

Yet, within minutes of getting handed a glass of wine and hating how my bootheels clacked across the hardwood, I wished I was home, as in back at camp, where at least I could smoke cigarettes in peace, journal, and enjoy the cooling high desert night. I was slightly intimidated by these people. They were well-dressed, older, and clearly moved in educated and urbane circles that I had yet to encountered. To be fair to myself, I was nineteen, reading everything I could get my hands on, and just starting to put together some sort of aesthetic, some system of beliefs and values that would inform my writing, my reading, and my thoughts on literature, life, and just who I wanted to be. And what I learned that night was who I wasn’t and who, gratefully, I could never be.   

After a while, a smarmy loafers-and-no-socks, white jeans and braided belt kind of guy started in on me, asking pointed questions about college (which I had yet to attend), what I thought of this, that, and the other book he clearly knew I knew nothing about, etc, etc. Long and short, I was his intellectual sparring partner and vastly out-gunned. The group I had been chatting with awkwardly laughed and drifted away.

“So,” He asked, “What do you intend to do with your writing?”

What I told him I knew even then was ridiculous, pompous, and every bit as smarmish and mean-spirited as he was. But I wanted to find a way to smear the condescension on his face into shock, indignation, anything but that patronizing smirk.  

“I intend,” I said slowly, “To be the only American writer that matters.”

Which I knew then and know still is complete bullshit. I don’t want that. Though I didn’t know what I wanted, I knew it wasn’t that. To write, travel, and live well was about the extent of my plans. Other than that, I couldn’t say, and now, years later, that’s still about as far as the master plan goes.

But I can tell you this: that experience made me realize the importance of keeping a balance on the inside. I am never as great nor as hopeless a man or writer as it may feel in any given moment. I plug on. I write on. That’s it. I judge harshly my work and revise. I’ve learned to see writing like any other job. I’m like an accountant but with words. Or a carpenter, a pipefitter, whatever. 

That smarmy twit taught me was that I’d rather been known as a good man than a great writer. I’d like both, of course, but would not sacrifice the former for the latter. We write best from love and praise, from a place where mystery sings the world’s hymn, and we’re lucky enough to hear it and transcribe the results. 

So thanks, Smarmy Man, I appreciate what you’ve done for me.