Disruptive Juxtaposition

Thursday, September 21, 2006


from "Benediction for the Savior of Orlando"

Signs and wonders: Jesus Is Lord Over Greater Orlando
snake-tagged in cadmium on a vine-grouwn cyclone
fence along I-4 southbound north of downtown
is a credo that subverts the conventional wisdom
that Walt Disney is the messiah and his minions the christened
stewards of this place, that the Kingdom to Come shall be Mickey's,
that the bread of our communion will be proffered by A.T.M.
and the wine quaffed without taint of sulfites
or trademark infringement, all of which is certainly true
and yet too pat, too much like shooting mice in a barrel
when there are far nastier vermin to contest
and purgatories far worse than Disney's realm of immortal
simulacra suckled at the breast of Lake Buena Vista.


See also.


These opening lines - this opening sentence - reminds me of the way I taught some canny upperclassmen to read McGrath and Goldbarth and their ilk: disservice though it may have been, I advised that they simply underline their best guess as to the poem's main and sub-ideas. "Purgatories far worse" is a good candidate, and "far nastier vermin to contest" slightly less so. And sure enough the poem's a rollicking good timey dirge for strip-mall America - "Chuck E. Cheese is the monstrous embodiment of a nightmare, / the bewhiskered Mephistopheles of ring toss." The best of McGrath's poems provide these kinds of keys, and there are enough keys in McGrath to keep the poem jingling, as it were. The poem "talks," but isn't conversational. As speech, is remains elevated in a way that the speech of other poets using this so-called "ultra-talk" technique (I'm glad that phrase has died before its birth) just isn't. "Benediction"'s language might be talkier than most poems, but it's not talky; it's as high a speech as the plastic chintz materials that is its muse can afford.


If the above paragraph reads murkily to you, it's not you: I gave blood today on one of the longer days so far. But hey, you, give blood. There are more car crashes and shootings in your town than you may know. When you go, talk to the attending nurse. Bring a book of poems. You will find that a veil over your workaday goings-on will fall away. Spoken and written words bear new weight. Angles of commonplace objects pique your curiosity. And if you're lucky, you'll get an unexpected compliment: "Done in four minutes! Wow, those are some juicy veins." Pizza, Cheese Nips, and Oreos to the left.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I miss him too, John.

RJ: "Dream Song 111", John Berryman.

Fact, confusion. "I miss him." Fact. "Then I shot him dead. / I don't remember why." Confusion. If you can say that a Berryman poem is actually about something - and we must, or else why read & try to interpret anything - then this would seem to involve a Wild Bill Hickok-style card game, with tempers running high and guns in the room. Neat idea about the cards: all of them are implied to be red. With all of the violence implied on this ship, it would seem that the sudden profusion of red points us to an act of violence the speaker catches up with only after the end dash. It's as though he's been shot or, more reasonably, realizes he's been hurt.


PoemHunter, take note: no one, but NO ONE, wants the "Fun Cursors" your site so tirelessly peddles along the left margin of your Web page. Especially if they're animated. Criminy.


The Great Pyramids of Giza, as monuments to the lost, are beginning to make tremendous sense to me. Not in terms of the slavery and loss and cost in their construction. More in terms of this totemic statement of permanence - or as close to permanence as we can come. This impulse to memorialize hugely.

Monday, September 18, 2006

RJ: "The Dumka" by B.H. Fairchild

The Dumka

His parents would sit alone together
on the blue divan in the small living room
listening to Dvorak's piano quintet.
They would sit there in their old age,
side by side, quite still, backs rigid, hands
in their laps, and look straight ahead
at the yellow light of the phonograph
that seemed as distant as a lamplit
window seen across the plains late at night.
They would sit quietly as something dense

and radiant swirled around them, something
like the dust storms of the thirties that began
by smearing the sky green with doom
but afterwards drenched the air with an amber
glow and then vanished, leaving profiles
of children on pillows and a pale gauze
over mantles and table tops. But it was
the memory of dust that encircled them now
and made them smile faintly and raise
or bow their heads as they spoke about

the farm in twilight with piano music
spiraling out across red roads and fields
of maize, bread lines in the city, women
and men lining main street like mannequins,
and then the war, the white frame rent house,
and the homecoming, the homecoming,
the homecoming, and afterwards, green lawns
and a new piano with its mahogany gleam
like pond ice at dawn, and now alone
in the house in the vanishing neighborhood,

the slow mornings of coffee and newspapers
and evenings of music and scattered bits
of talk like leaves suddenly fallen before
one notices the new season. And they would sit
there alone and soon he would reach across
and lift her hand as if it were the last unbroken
leaf and he would hold her hand in his hand
for a long time and they would look far off
into the music of their lives as they sat alone
together in the room in the house in Kansas.

~ B.H. Fairchild


Huh. Hmm. The first stanza's so... so... dull. Ten lines and one real image? I like my poetry to be made of thicker stuff. I forgive this poem that initial slackness, however, in that the subject matter requests and makes good upon that quiet outset: it is the peace from which the poem spirals out, says its peace about the sobriety nostalgia and gratitude can (should?) impose, and eventually returns to. The poem begins in Kansas, in other words, and returns to Kansas by stanza four: "together in the room in the house in Kansas", as an ending, is way more powerful than the words themselves have any right to be. This is what's meant when we say a line or an ending must be earned: "the sky green with doom" and "the homecoming, the homecoming, / the homecoming" transfigure the ending line into more than the sum of its parts. It's a final line rife with the weight of lived experience.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


It's in my unshakable spirit of needless acronymization that I christen this latest project of mine my RJ - it's a Reading Journal. I don't read enough poetry to earn the poet / rogue status I so often quietly claim. Therefore:

Elizabeth Bishop, "View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress".

Seems appropriate and timely. A march is a march - as in Sherman's to the sea. As in the Bataan Death. Bishop's poet's-poet subtlety is as finely tuned here as it is anywhere. She plays... coy. Coy and sad all at once: she knows what lies under the march, but disguises her recognition of the martial basis of the march via this museful tone - much of which depends upon those crucial two words "I think" in "I think the trees must intervene." Anybody else read "The gathered brasses want to go / boom -- boom" with a substantial pause between the two booms? Idea: the poem itself occupies the space between booms (wars). I feel like such a literalist.


What happened to McNabb and the Philly Eagles? What happened to the dependability of a good ol' death from above passing-game-only drubbing?


Indie rock kids and record store clerks take note: the new Yo La Tengo album, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, is a return to form. Naysayers naysayed Summer Sun for being too samey; I was not among them. But here Yo La goes back to the scattershot eclecticism of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One; this album, like that album, juxtaposes Sonic Youth-style noise rock numbers with the sort of ambient midnight dream-pop Mazzy Star managed to imitate well that one time. There are some new textures too: "Mr. Tough" sashays with some unexpected but spot-on Motown horn flourishes.


Now playing: Yo La Tengo, Electr-O-Pura. Perhaps their best in a catalog of bests.