Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Flash Fiction: Thomas J. Misuraca


Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It's been...

You know how long it's been, Father Francis. I hope you had a nice week. Wasn't the weather delightful? I was able to get out of the apartment a couple of days, and my hip didn't act up at all.

Agnes took me to the mall on Tuesday. She had the nerve to ask to borrow four dollars for lunch. She hasn't paid me back yet. I hope she mentions that she stole from me in her next confession.

I wouldn't mind if I had the money, but I'm on a fixed income. I got a package in the mail saying I may be the winner of a million dollar sweepstakes. I filled out that form and sent it in immediately. hope that's not considered greed. All I want is enough to get by. When I win, I'll make a big donation to the church.

Rich, that nice boy in my building, came by yesterday to change a light bulb. He had to stand on one of my chairs. His bum was right in front of me, and I couldn't help but to stare at it. I tapped it playfully, but I don't think he noticed. Is that a sin, father? I would never do more than look. I'm so old, I wouldn't remember how.
Rich agreed that our apartment complex has gone to pot. The new manager is terrible. She rents to all these low-lifes. I thought I smelled marijuana the other day. I asked Rich if he knew what marijuana smelled like and he said it smelled like pumpkin pie. It didn't smell like any pumpkin pie I ever baked.

I used to bake all the time, but now I'm too tired. And who'd eat it? If I eat anything out of the ordinary, it upsets my system and I'm in the bathroom for an hour with diarrhea.

I'm turning 83 next month. I still have plenty of time left, my mother lived to 95. I wonder if my daughter will call to wish me a happy birthday. She probably doesn't remember what day it is. I thought about calling her, but she may hang up on me again. Isn't there a commandment not to hang up on your mother?

It sounds like there are more people out there waiting to talk to you, so I won't keep you. It must be fascinating listening to all those people. Much better than anything on television. Those afternoon serials are nothing but people having sex, and those nighttime shows are too violent. Not like it used to be.

If Agnes comes to confession, remind her she owes me four dollars.

~ Thomas J. Misuraca has over seventy-five short stories published in various literary magazines including Byline, Thema and Art Times. He has also written and edited young adult books for Angel Gate Press. You can reach him at his blog or his homepage.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Two Photos: Bavenmark

"Until It Sleeps"

"Placid and Moonlight"

~ Dennis (Bavenmark) is from Finland, but currently lives in Maidstone, United Kingdom. You can see more of his work at his homepage.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sharon Olds in Conversation

Speaking of Galway Kinnell the other day, his good friend Sharon Olds was interviewed by the Independent (UK) in yesterday's issue. Olds is one of the leading poets of the last half of the 20th century, and she's not going quietly into that good night as we enter the 21st.

Here is the introduction to the conversation:
When Sharon Olds was a child, she was told she was going to hell. "I did worry," she confesses, "that if a beam of eyesight is made of dust, me looking at a flower would get some of the dust of my sinful nature on the flower." It's an unlikely start, perhaps, for a poet who went on to write some of the most sexually explicit poems of the 20th century, one who has won an international following for her celebrations of the human as animal. In Olds's poems, we are creatures who bleed, suck, give birth and - to use her uncompromising word - fuck. "Sexual love," says Olds, "is a subject that moved me immensely. Talk about a total challenge to one's descriptive powers!"
Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fall Poetry Books

From PoetryFoundation.org, a review of some new poetry books coming out this fall, including the first book from Galway Kinnell in 10 years.

There are a couple of Kinnell poems in the new American Poetry Review, which I quite liked, so I'm looking forward to this new book.
Strong Is Your Hold, Galway Kinnell’s 11th book—his first in more than 10 years—shows him in an elegiac, retrospective mode:

I, who so often used to wish to float free
of earth, now with all my being want to stay

Kinnell writes as movingly as ever about family, marriage, sex, and friendship; stone tables, old nails, blueberry thickets, garter snakes anchor us in his world. “When the Towers Fell” is his response to 9/11; “Shelley” a striking meditation on one poet’s disenchantment with another. Kinnell’s work shows how the ideal of civic humanism continues to find its poets.

Other poets reviewed include Mark Strand, Alice Notley, Martín Espada, Lynda Hull, James Fenton, and Tomas Tranströmer.

Check out the whole review.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two Photos: Alin Semenescu

"Alone II"

"One Step Closer II"

~Alin Semenescu lives in Romania. This is his second appearance in Elegant Thorn Review. You may see more of his work at deviantART.

Flash Fiction: Suzanne Nielsen

Faces Appear Before A Notary

Rita Sajevic lost her mind on a cloudy Columbus Day six years into the new millennium. Intentions were to stabilize her mid-life crises as she had two job interviews that morning, four hours apart, within 12 miles from her residence. All this was written down on the palm of her hand.

Rita’s cat had not come home the night before and its water bowl sat tepid and full. She went to the window of her apartment that looked out into a quiet street, trees now naked from the recent heavy winds, and she remembered that her cat was livid this time of year. Rita’s cat lived to kill Blue jays.

As she prepared to print out an extra copy of her resume right before leaving that morning something snapped. Instead she slipped out the back door with her Notary Public stamp that was soon to expire, and a ream of typing paper.

She carefully placed the ream of paper in the passenger seat next to her, looped the seatbelt underneath, and put her notary stamp in the glove compartment. She thought about locking the glove compartment, but she couldn’t think of why that would be important. Rita adjusted the mirrors in accordance with her slumped posture. As she fumbled with the rearview mirror she noticed her aging forehead and the white roots of her red hair growing out to tell the truth. She wasn’t a true redhead at all. She hadn’t fooled Jane Moravia. Jane stood across the counter and sold Rita her bottled red dye for over thirteen years at Guertin Drug on the corner of Pleasant view Drive. She wondered if she ought to drive by Guertin’s and tell Jane she was partaking in two interviews this day, and one of them would promise her a future. Rita thought she remembered that Jane Moravia recently had a tumor removed from her left foot, or was it her right, and boasting never won out in the end.

Instead she drove to the corner gas station and attempted to put air in her tank and gas in her tires. A bell on the glass door cha-chinged as an attendant left the tiny building that housed him and a miniature wall of dried goods and beverages.

“Ma’am, I can pump your gas for you if you’d like,” he said, a kid of about seventeen. Rita ignored the young man and returned the gas nozzle to its holster. She slipped on the pavement’s gas glaze before reaching her driver’s door and almost disappeared under her

“Let me help you,” said the young man and that’s when it happened; him on all fours with a face completely notarized in runny black ink.

With the stamp back in the glove compartment, Rita straightened her skirt and adjusted the mirror one more time. In the background she could see a cat carrying a bird in its mouth. She started up the ignition and thought about locking the glove compartment but couldn't think of why.

~ Suzanne Nielsen is a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, teaches writing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and at Metropolitan State University. Her poetry, fiction and essays appear in literary journals nationally and internationally; some of these include The Comstock Review, The Copperfield Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Pedestal, and The 13th Warrior Review, among others.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Two Poems: Francine Marie Tolf


"Within each of us there is a God shaped emptiness"

Today I saw a blue heron
ascend from pond water
with slow, soundless wings.
It seemed that
pine trees, clouds of white air
held their breath
as two drowsy arcs
rose and sank
through pieces of mist.

I thought: how easy
to believe in holiness,
to ache suddenly
from the loss it carves.



We touch one another
with defter fingers
at night.

Rain sounds different,
its steady falling
a remembered wisdom.

What if the dark waters
waiting to carry us home
slept inside every one of us?

We were loved
before stars existed.
We are older than light.

~ Francine Marie Tolf lives in Minneapolis, MN. Her work has appeared in Rattle, Spoon River Poetry Review, Nimrod, New Letters and 5 AM.

Two Photos: Diana Calvario

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

"Consciously Living"

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Diana Calvario lives in Luxembourg. She can be found at her integral homepage, at Zaadz, or at DeviantART.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two Poems: William Everson

I have been granted permission to publish some poems by William Everson in Elegant Thorn Review. I did my master's thesis on Everson and was fortunate enough to meet him on a couple of occasions before his death in 1994.

This first poem is the title poem from Everson's first book.

These Are the Ravens

These are the ravens of my soul,
Sloping above the lonely fields
And cawing, cawing.
I have released them now,
And sent them wavering down the sky,
Learning the slow witchery of the wind,
And crying on the farthest fences of the world.

This poem is from The Residual Years, the single volume originally published by Everson's Untide Press -- a hand-press he founded while serving as a conscientious objector in WWII -- that became the title for the first volume of the collected poems, published in definitive edition by Black Sparrow/Castle Peak in 1997.

The Approach

Breaking back from the sea we ran through low hills,
The long deserted pavement falling and winding,
Lonesome farms in their locked valleys,
The coast range, ancient even as mountains,
Moulded by wind.

Till inland we curved to the far converging city,
Seeing it laid at the hill's heel,
Whirlpooled, the long lines of its power,
Beacons for planes revolving the dusk,
The black trails of concrete slipping down grade
To the first clusters, to the city,
Thick in the gloom with its few lights showing,
With its veils, its myriad roofs,
And its heavy pounding heart.

Two Photos: Nasser Majali

"Syrian Wild"


~ Nasser Majali is 26 years old and lives in Jordan. You can view more of his work at his homepage.

Major Poetry Prizes

News from The Academy of American Poets:


New York, October 17—The Academy of American poets and The Nation magazine are pleased to announce that Eleanor Lerman's collection Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (Sarabande Books) was chosen by poets Carl Dennis, Tony Hoagland, and Carol Muske-Dukes to receive the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, which awards $25,000 to the most outstanding book of poetry published the previous year. The finalists for the award are Christian Barter, The Singers I Prefer (CavanKerry Press); Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven (Knopf); Dorianne Laux, Facts About the Moon (W. W. Norton); and Ron Slate, The Incentive of the Maggot (Mariner Books).


The Academy of American Poets is also pleased to announce that Tracy K. Smith's book Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007) has been selected by Elizabeth Alexander, Kimiko Hahn, and Terrance Hayes to receive the 2006 James Laughlin Award, a $5,000 prize that recognizes and supports a poet's second book. The finalist for the prize is Frannie Lindsay's Lamb (Perugia Press, 2006).


Both Eleanor Lerman and Tracy K. Smith will read from their work at the Academy of American Poets Awards Ceremony & Reading on November 8, 2006. This event is held in New York City and is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.poets.org/calendar.

You can read the full announcement for each prize at the Academy website.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Two Photos: Tim Smallie

"The Answer Lies Behind . . ."

"Three Sisters"

~ Tim Smallie lives in London. You can see more of his work at his homepage.

Poem: Bill Hotchkiss

It goes against my better judgment to post very long poems here, but I am making an exception not because Bill Hotchkiss is my good friend and mentor, but because this is an amazing poem worthy of the space it takes up.


SUMMER lightning
Flickers the Sierra,
High granite, pure, hard, black-freckled,
And overburden above timberline,
Basalt and mudstones,
Bunchgrasses, kinnikinnik, cascara,
Whistlings of marmots and picas,
Snowfields and spring flowers in August:
Great waves of thunder crush
Through the sacred dark —
Bullbats and perching hawks
Cry out:
Now here, now there,
The sleeping mountains emerge
Into light and vanish —
Deep in gouged canyons
Ceaseless riverine voices
Whisper syllables I scarcely understand,
Though I attempt translation.

Seasons flow,
Bear me deathward.

I’m not certain who I am,
Where I came from, where I’m going —

Perhaps I’m simply a figment
Of wild imagination —
Bits of rock and particles of soil
In flotation or suspension,
Electric threads that vibrate in the clay,
Struggle to a dream of consciousness:

All process seems illusion,
Visionings of a frightened creature

Attempting through indirection, definition.

Call it miracle sufficient.

An old coyote I met along the road
Told me to speak the minute conscious flarings,
Moments vivid in memory, fragments
But hidden, disguised, incipiently alive —
For each, he said, contains a mystery —
Even as a ghostly azalea blossom
(Hidden in rootstock, in meristem, a portion of ether,
Intense conditioning of space, paradigm and template,
Genetic encodement, yet prior to that)
Makes endless replication,
Produces multitude and ceaseless variation,
Odor of something like honey faint in the air
Of a May morning in a mountain ravine —
Hidden clusters of yellow-throat flowers,
White-petaled, dark-stamened above flowing water.

I know the commandment
And speak without choice.
Do you wish to hear my words?

No matter, no matter.
The best poetry means to be lived.

The words — art, cadences, images —
The mystical creature sheds its skin as it goes.

A Great Coyote grins.

You live another’s thoughts
At the risk of your own,
You bask in another’s poems
And hesitate to test the river’s current.

Old Swollen-thighs solved a riddle
Drew on the cloak of power,
Was envied by those who looked upon him —
Yet ruin came as a summer flash-flood.

The human creature is frail
Death swallows the greatest pride:
It’s foolish to envy anyone,
For life lacks tenure, and no one’s fortunate
Until he’s dead.
Thus sang the ancient ones:
Only the dead have peace.


Friend, I think
We should comprehend one another.
I suspect we’re more alike
Than we suppose.


I remember light that came in a burst,
And with it a blur of images,
A babble of voices, sensations
That filled me with fear —
I cried for the simple beauty
Of dew on the leaves of wild lilac.

I came awake amid streams and mountains,
Forests and long ridges and creek channels
Where half-crazed miners, obsessed,
Once frenzied for gold —
Men who cut and shot each other, hunted Indians
On holidays, tore at the earth, and went away.

Reclusive, I was seldom at ease
Among groups, like a coyote in a cage,
Unable to accept merely human madness.

Perhaps you understand?

We read of torture, lynchings, pogroms,
Death camps, purges, genocide.

American cities are haunted
By pain and fear of violence,
Seething unrest, utter depravity —
Wanting, wanting, wanting —
Inchoate desire, thirst for rare wine.

What I can’t accept, I try to avoid:
That old wound of mine, knowledge
And dread — I’m not quite civilized.

In the forest I carry a gun —
Though not in fear of bears or mountain lions.

The enemy’s real, bipedal, large-brained.

Death, cries the earth, death, death....


My own words trail off behind me
Like wind-driven sparks from a night’s campfire.

I think of a flight of wild swans one morning
In the northern Sierra, white birds on the water at sunrise,
And I regret I never wrote about them until now.

I wish I could make you feel what I felt then —
I wish I could make you see them.


We’re merely visitors. Our stay is brief.


Landforms, lifeforms are the ultimate poems
The source of all poetry whatsoever —
We’re from them and of them — rocks and trees
Are brothers and sisters,
From the earth we receive meaning;
And when we grow tired, the glittering soil
Draws us to its bosom, embraces us.

Forms and processes surround us always,
Forever speaking, capable of telling us
About themselves and about ourselves as well,
Hieroglyphics minuscule cut into stones,
Runes utterly sacred.

Rocks and sediments are rich with clues
Which invite and challenge.

All living things reveal
The same priestly writing, even as now
In muted thrum of a rainy December night,
Coyotes sing chorus to a Coyote-headed God.

A handful of soil contains secrets
Of creation and destruction,
Divinity and the human soul,
Solitary consciousness,
Of a vast, rough-hewn, exacting intellect.

Earth music continues;
But caught in human frenzy,
We often fail to hear.

Yet something’s inside us,
Coded deep in the spindles —
It corresponds, effects harmonic, sings
In the presence of beauty or love or wonder.

Wildness chants to a wildness within,
Suggests but never defines
Harmony with all we construe as life
And all we construe as non-life.

Is not the earth itself
A huge living thing, sentient creature
Drifting through suns and tides,
Infinitely small in a cosmos of titans?

We’re no more than the most minute
Cell in the star-shelled body of All,
God and Goddess forever coupled,
Forever interpenetrating, in spasm....


As a boy, I was obsessed
With the woods,
Was driven to know
Every creek, canyon, meadow, and hill
For miles around my home.

I wanted to take others with me,
Show them places and things I’d found.

I suppose my friends grew weary
Of being dragged off to Goat Rock, Bear River,
Chalk Bluff, or Woodpecker Ravine —
But surely that was where the words began,
In pine and oak woods, hills, arroyos
Of the Sierra’s west slope.

A boy discovers a bee tree
In Fall Creek Canyon, you understand,
A boy talks about the bee tree.
A boy says, “Look, look at this damned bee tree.
And the waterfall. Look how sunlight glints
In the flow, there, just where it curves
And fans over the rock-rooted ledge....”


Before I could ever speak syllables,
I knew what was out there
Was fierce and beautiful,
Corresponding to something
I could vaguely recall.
I sensed this Other had rhythms
And needs of its own, sibilant loveliness
Indifferent to the cries of cougar
Or kingfisher or human being,
Yet beautiful beyond all expression:
I didn’t wish to live without it,
Made certain vows.

Religious and aesthetic awakening,
The dogmas few, commandments absolute....


That young boy obsessed with woods
Is smitten still, and knows it. He’s addicted,
Is drunk and staggers down the years.

Several times I’ve nearly drowned
Because lure of swift-running streams
Overcame good judgment —
A promise of rushing green water,
Effusion prismatic with sunlight.

I’ve been chased by a bear
(Somewhere I’ve read
One should never run from a bear).

I’ve gotten myself stuck
Halfway up a rockface,
At ten thousand foot in the Sierra,
And no one around for miles.

Stepped on rattlesnakes. Slid down mountainside
Snowfields and near broken my neck.
I’ve gotten lost in limestone caves.
Ocean waves are also dangerous.
I’ve learned to beware the kissing bug
And the poison oak
And one or two other things.

Cleave the wood and thou shalt find Me...

I was ten, and the promise of an August day
Drew me up to Genoa Peak — I didn’t tell my parents
For fear of prohibition. Then far below
The blue-black surface of Tahoe gleamed
In showers of sunlight, while westward across the lake,
The snow-touched peaks of Rubicon and Tallac
Boundaried my new-found vision of heights:
I scrambled among granite boulders,
Tested a hand-hold, it came loose in my grasp,
And beneath, motionless, an amber-green scorpion:
Mysterious and potent, I presumed, with death.

Hardly able to breathe, I replaced
The stone shard, made quick retreat.

Lift the rock and I Am there....


Rain cuts through darkness tonight
While higher in the mountains
A white fury of blizzard frenzies,
The snowpack deepens, winds coil out
Through high crags, swirl among cirques.

In the year the stars fell the streams
Were still full of beaver —
Men asked, How’s the stick floatin’?

But beaver vanished, buffalo disappeared
From American plains and prairies,
Wolf and grizzly grew rare:
Our far, sprawling lands were changed —
Emigrants moved westward
Until they confronted the Pacific.
The merely human tide was turned —
And fierce old Eden grew tame in places.

Gold, silver, copper, iron —
Coal, petroleum, uranium —
Dams on the great rivers,
Forests cut. Huge cities rising —
Interconnecting weave of highways.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which way a tide runs —
Waves chew at rocks, rains fall, and snow drifts down.


With mallet and chisel, brush and pincers,
I tease from compacted debris and hardened muds
A fossilized human hand, a skull,
A fragment of glass, a rusted metallic lump.

I see millions of people
Dying of starvation,
And still our numbers grow:
I see diseases sweep
The planet again,
I see bones everywhere.

Survival of this race
May lie in diminishment,
With total population
A tenth its present count.

A merely possible salvation....

During my lifetime (these seasons of witness),
Human numbers have more than doubled,
Have tripled almost.....
Too many people now, and we know it.

Frenzy before long silence.

I recall several wars — astonishing weapons,
Technology we can scarcely control,
Yes, and lurking specter and reality of mass starvation,
Sexually-transmitted super-viruses,
Perhaps unstoppable, hosts of malignancies:
Scientists engage in a frantic race,
But success eludes them —
I see desperate acts, madness and violence,
Religious war, race war, oil war,
Conflicts of competing ideologies:
The only apparent end is power itself,
Cancerous imposition of government
Upon the lives of all,
Humanity forever in conflict with itself,
Horribly ignorant — yet certain in ignorance,
Hatefully willing to die in attempts to strike
Faceless enemies, oblivious that civilizations
Have risen and fallen many times,
That all ideologies fail.

I think of species becoming extinct.
Not since the dinosaurs
Has there been such die-off,
And we, like locusts of the field.

At the last we may leap
Over a cliff-edge ourselves,
Stored lightning behind our eyes
Of little significance.

Death, intones the moon, death, death....


But tonight I look into a black window before me,
Confront my own image, distorted — I think of snowfall
In the Sierra, I think about other ranges
Farther east — Whites, Rubies, Snake Range, La Sals,
Tétons, Wind Rivers, Absarokas —
I see ancient bristlecone pines
Silent in darkness, silver flame-like forms
Huddling high on desert peaks,
Roots tight to weathered limestone,
Trees that live thousands of years,
Endure extremes of heat and cold and harrowing wind:
Witnesses, patient, endlessly patient,
Curious perhaps (if trees are curious)
What may occur next.

These bristlecones
Are gaunt, grave witnesses —
And far too few.


Human life’s a fleeting dream, match-flare
Against delimiting, timeless dark.

Years run inexorably,
And the boy who grew up obsessed
With wandering California woods
Has awakened, puzzled, to find
Himself a gray-beard doctorate,
Member of that class of individuals
He always considered harmless old men
Full of books, their lives somehow behind them.

Death sings in the wind, death, death....


The boy understands what’s happened may be
No more than alteration of dream-setting,
Landscape somewhat changed,
The metamorphosis essentially unmodified.

He and I, one person, walk down a canyon
Where creek alders clad in grapevines
Cast cool shade by running water;
We suspect we’re a long way from home,
Don’t question the matter, proceed in good spirits.

Our sun’s crossed meridian.

These woods are filled with strange, wild voices —
Lights glitter from the stream
We walk beside, reflections so intense
We’re obliged to shield our eyes.


I want to know where the creek runs;

I have no intention of going home yet.

My own conjectures frighten me,
Not in terms of personal, transient safety,
But regards the human race —
Though something tells me I shouldn’t chew
On that old bone.


When I find survey stakes and ribbons
Out in the woods, I remove them,
Though my actions accomplish nothing —

Yes, I carry a gun
But promise not to fire
At non-human animals.

I observe pollution of air and water,
Devastation of landscape, human erosion —
A wearing upon things by the simple fact
Of bipedal passage, including my own.
I think about fires
Harbored beneath
These mountains I love.
I toy with tectonic theory,
Playfully envision sudden shifts
Along the many zones of fracture,
Great new mountain ranges forming.

And the sunlight chants life, chants life, chants....


When I was yet a boy —
During wind and rainstorm in the early hours
Past midnight, I made my way to a hilltop
Where I climbed a pine and clung to a crown
Wind moved like a great metronome,
And from that crow’s nest I surveyed my life —
I was seventeen — the city and the university
Ahead of me, all things
Still clutched in the node of sheer potential —
Yet what I could sense was darkness of storm,
Energy immense of wind and rain.
What, damn it, was it all about?

Now at the edge of age, I laugh:
The life-storm runs past me,
A man who would cry
For times past and friends past,
One who gives thanks for manifold blessings
And senses his days shorten, the net tighten,
A child who intends to stay out until starfall.

Pilgrims between darkness and darkness,
We don’t understand the nature of quest —
But know at least most west-running rivers
Ultimately find their vast Pacific:
We vanish into a zone of wonder,
And long darkness promises peace.

Man may not become wise
Before he owns winter’s share
In the world’s beauty.

Dream-settings are characterized
By unending transformation,
And we must speak.

Old Man Coyote,
The one with all the whims,
He says so.

Review: Library of America’s "American Religious Poems"

Any time Harold Bloom has a hand in editing a book of poems, it's an event. In this case, it's an anthology of religious poems from Library of America -- American Religious Poems -- and he stretches the definintion of what we might think of religious poetry in ways that feel important. The book comes in at 685 pages with over 200 poets, so I'm guessing that he was very inclusive in his selections.

Here is a bit of the review that appeared as a web-only exclusive on Newsweek/MSNBC:
The book, coedited by Jesse Zuba—not only a Yale Ph.D. candidate but a multi-instrumentalist with the jazz-funk jam band Alcibiades Jones—covers more than 200 poets; but Bloom’s introduction is mostly a celebration of Walt Whitman: “a new kind of religious bard,” “our prime shaman,” a writer more “vital and vitalizing” than Proust or Joyce, and author of the single greatest American poem (“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”). He touches on Emily Dickinson—for Bloom, Whitman’s only peer—whose “conceptional originality ... is dwarfed only by Shakespeare’s,” and on Hart Crane, “her greatest disciple.” Bloom knows how over the top all this is: “I do not fear being called hyperbolical, since the Critical Sublime is precisely that.” And I can’t imagine he cares that other readers may find Crane’s prophetic-archaic mode unbearable: “O harp and altar, of the fury fused,/(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)/Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,/Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry …”

But just what is their work (and Wallace Stevens’s and John Ashbery’s and Jorie Graham’s) doing in an anthology of religious poems? They’re certainly not devotional poets, like Edward Taylor—the closest to John Donne and George Herbert early America ever got—or monitory poets, like fellow Puritan Michael Wigglesworth, whose earnest “Day of Doom” has such lines as “Thy best enjoyments are but Trash and Toyes/Delight thyself in that which worthless is.” Bloom can only justify the anthology’s title by redefining “religious” in the way his own 1992 book “The American Religion” did: as he tries to explain it now, the American religion “makes obsolete most distinctions between theism, agnosticism and atheism.” Something like Unitarianism, maybe, a tiny bit like Pentecostalism (Bloom became so interested in “spirit-filled churches” that he attended several services), something like Whitman’s ecstatic spiritualism. In other words, what Christian fundamentalists or ultra-Orthodox Jews would consider irreligious and blasphemous. But Bloom says it, so it must be so. His poets include Christians, Jews and Muslims, as well as all the whatevers; he also has American Indian songs and chants and African-American spirituals. “The Criteria of Political Correctness,” he writes, “I dismiss with weary contempt.” Go ahead and laugh, but I’ll bet the Great Enjoyer really does enjoy it all.
I just added this book to my wish list at Amazon. I already have a couple of very good anthologies of religious/spiritual poetry, but this is a can't miss book. Follow the link above and you can get this at Amazon for around $26 instead of the $40 cover price.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

A Conversation with Poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

The Academy of American Poets has posted parts of an interview with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge at their website. Berssenbrugge talks about creativity and working in the margins.

Here is some of the text:
LH: I am especially interested in your use of the collage method, which includes the use of photographs, laid out on a table along with words and other images. Are you still working in this manner, as in, say, Nest?

MB: My process has evolved slowly. I find books that are contingent to my idea. I like French philosophy, Deleuze, Derrida. I like historic Buddhist texts – anything I read that strikes me as pertinent to my poem I underline. Then I print the notes and cut them out. I add pictures that seem to fit in some way, without questioning too deeply. Sometimes I take Polaroids. It's an unconscious process. When I'm ready to write, I arrange these pieces of text, photos, notes across a big table and compose the poem. I used to appropriate texts directly. Now I alter them more. I work from a "map" of the poem, and I find it's a good way to get more breadth, more horizontality. I also find that the light and landscape in New Mexico, where I live, inspires horizontality.

In "Nest," the title poem of my recent collection, I decided to write about how, in the margin, fertile things happen. When things are fixed, things can't grow. I was specifically interested in the minor mode, instead of a major, victorious tone. I was interested in the shadows, the not-quite-successful – to re-cast failure as convex, positive. I had the urge to explore this minor key and also to include the audience. I used to think just about what "I" wanted to write. Now I've started to think about my audience, what I call the genius of the audience. I was interested in not looking down on that and seeing where I could go. I'm trying to discern what people 'like.'
Read the whole interview.

Two Photos: Aeterna Doloris


"Everything Falls II"

~ Aeterna Doloris is 19 years old and lives in Portugal. More of her work can be found at her homepage.