Tag Archives: writing

ekphrasis again

here’s an ode to henri rousseau, the jungle painter who never left paris.

The Dream, Henri Rousseau 1910

Rousseau Relives the Jungle
You follow the soothsayer shadow with her lute
and cobra boa through the season of tiger lilies—
she is an anti-Eve hip-swaying down the black paths
of Paradise, fanned by murky hands of leaf-gloom.
These are the visions that haunt you:
apes among the tangerines, a reticulated sky
of palms and coral sun, the leer of alligator grass
and the blush of the lotus like each kiss-kernel of love
you left in her neck—Oh Henri, awake from your stupor,
your periwinkle daze. Come back to us from the gardens,
the Edens labyrinthine beneath your lids—your trance
is a planar place falling flat on the canvas, but we feel
the stir of teal and linseed on your palette, the rush
of flight you took over the hurricane’s eye. You are
a golden beast prowling indigo thickets, ambushing
the antelope and biting deep into the heavy humid
of flesh and blood, leaving scars nestled in the clavicle.
Your surprise blooms in the gesso wash unfurling
thick as a dream from your brush and lingers
like the drift of jasmine on an electric breeze.


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After Overdosing on Sean Singer

Reading Discography by Sean Singer in class this month. I was going through his book and also his stuff on From the Fishouse (AN AMAZING LINK TO SOME SWEET HONEY, GO ENJOY THAT SHIT), and I realized that this dude was blowing my head off. HE IS INSANELY GOOD. I couldn’t even hang on to some of the language he was pulling off in his work, but a week later his lines are still rattling around in my head, particularly from my favorite, “Echolocation”:
“Into a dustbowl of annihilation the rotating head/seizes its empire of blood; a storm collapses each/mouse bone as the threnody of rain crushes the air.”
But he also has a Robert Johnson poem that puts mine to SHAAAME because of the line “Doping doping all through the grape night.” LIKE. AAAAHHH.
His knowledge of jazz and blues, travel and history and his exercises in self-persona construction are amazing. So I stayed up til about 2 reading everything I could find on him and trying to soak up his tone and voice for a second. I wanted to try on his style for myself in a piece, so here’s what I came up with. Anything I do pales in comparison to his prowess though–I guess this is just a little shoutout to him for taking my skull on a walk last week. CHECK. HIM. OUT.

After Overdosing on Sean Singer

I close against this cobalt
wall of insomnia,
unforgiving in its grind.
an ocean rolls off a distant ridge—
slow dope-draw of traffic
to the hypoderm
at my temple, the thinnest veil
bearing the heart’s starved
hypoxia, its
drag and ratamacue.
Singer slips another
line down the gyri: jazz and
its hawkish homology
making another loop—
he wishes I were an onion
so I can feel his thumb
peel my layers.

the water trembles
over, too much at the glass-rim,
darkens in ominous polygons
on my carpet—some cartography
of the dreams ahead: jaws
and cheeks and shuttering lids
rising like the hedron
in the eight-ball—what
waits in the smalt-wash
of these indigo visions
and sleepless strokes?
I’ll theorize about the sounds
the animals make in my walls,
scratching wider passages
through the plaster,
their empires of arteries
pushing work in the dark.
Their bodies will fold
into some appropriate
hugeness, like how
the cavern of my mouth
cradles the bite-bruised
petal of my tongue.

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ekphrasis–my faaaave.

here are a couple of ekphrastic pieces for class. one is an ekphrastic piece based on henry ossawa tanner’s the banjo lesson, which is BEAUTIFUL.
the second is based on the life and work of david foster wallace. his 2006 commencement speech has been mentioned elsewhere as the inspiration for some of my recent work…i thought delving into his life a little would be interesting as well. i was not disappointed, but i hope my poem does him a little justice.

The Banjo
Inspired by the painting The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner

In this body there is so much pain,
can you hear it? Carried over from far-off
sea-coasts, its name dreaming of a lost lingual
land, the banjo leans into your lap, remembering
its polyrhythmic history. Your fingers find
the long paths of gut and copper, learning
to clawhammer and dropthumb, to strum
the arpeggio notes of knock-down rag ditties,
to pluck tones of the cooleset blues.
What are words to you, what is this song
you stumble to pump through your young lungs?
Against me, you are so small—a warm, beating
body as alive as the too-big organ in your arms.
Steadying the neck like a tiller, my hands
are scuffed leather and weathered wood,
resolute granite nobly crumbling back
into the land that bore me. I will guide you
over heaving seas and rolling drones,
deliver you to the truest tunes. My baby,
open your ears to the yowl yawning
through the stretched-hide drum face,
an echo resonating beyond our circling
of elbows, wrists and thighs—
to that trembling note singing deeper
than the dull twang of age and land,
bowed faces and broken hearts.

For David Foster Wallace

A boy from Ithaca, you knew the white walls
of snow ridges and ranges, heavy quilts
of frozen water weighing you down
as you scissored angels into the drift sides.
You were the best of them, hurling hunks
of ice from rusted car bumpers in the farthest
arcs to the point of exhaustion—burning
deltoids, numb fingers, collapsed lungs.

You followed your father to his alma mater
and aced modal logic, philosophy, mathematics—
they worshipped you. Summa cum laude,
postmodern novelist, they diagnosed you
‘a brilliant ironist,’ ‘the voice of a generation,’
earnest, intelligent, clinically depressed.

Your brain enslaves you while drugs fight
to free you: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil,
in combination with unilateral ECT
(during a two-week voluntary in-patient course),
Parnate both with and without lithium salts,
Nardil both with and without Xanax. What

goes on inside is too fast and huge
and all interconnected for words to do more
than sketch the outlines. You want to stop
moving through your rounds: booking tours
and deadlines, bills and banking—your default
setting of solitude in a sea of humans.

From your window in Claremont, severed
from the manic pull of verbal calisthenics
and the avant-garde—of topping your keystone
with another crown—you have a vision
of a blue hole in a northeastern snowbank
where your body can rest; sleep off the hardest part,
dream, awaken later to tackle reality.

In the sling of your homemade noose, you slipped off
every fear of failure like icepacks pressing
into your skull, hard, cold, too heavy to bear.
It was easier to drift into deeper sleep than
stay awake in the winter of a writer in demand.
In your chest, the language was so barren, so tired.
You saw so little left. You had to conserve.

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first class prompt: REVOLUTIONS

My craft of fiction class is about the role of rap in the poetic context. Thus, we’re listening to Sugarhill Gang and Run DMC, our reading material consists of Jay-Z’s autobiography, and contemplating the metric validity of profanity. HILARIOUS.
But today we studied Gil Scott Heron, a more poetic figure in the hip-hop/rap movement; he’s kind of the godfather of rap (although a lot of his interviews indicate he didn’t like that much). He’s a SUPER COOL DUDE, though. His cover of Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil” is AMAZING. And I love his reading voice. WHAT A COOL CAT.
His most famous piece is “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and we were to write a poem completing the line “The Revolution __________.” I love writing about the backstory of the artist (Robert Johnson, Amy Winehouse, Justin Vernon, and so on…), so I decided to uphold that trend with such a prominent figure in American history in both poetry and music.
BLAH. My poem is kind of forced, I feel. I needed to include 5 allusions and 3 similes. I was distracted by a large stack of Oreos and plotting tomorrow’s run. But here’s the first draft:

The Revolution Begins

Jackson, Tennesse, 1960: you ran out of tears
under your mother’s piano, wringing them out
on your grandmother’s Chicago Defender
like Langston’s prosodic streams:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

You heard the music in Jackson. From Shannon Street
to South Cumberland the blues came howling
like a lost griot’s chant, kicking up the stench
of rusted red gullies and corn whiskey, of sweat-soaked
youths ducking nervously on southern stoops.
With a six-transistor under your pillow
you’d tune in to WDIA Memphis and your bones
would melt into blues, blues, blues. You rode
the dispatch to the South Bronx, Lady Day
and Coltrane blending backbeats into your words
as a black teen felt the bullets bite his lungs and
a black reverend climbed white marble steps,
fingering the wrinkled pages of his dream.
At 125th and Lenox, you talked back to jazz because
there was no going back home—that land had cut down
the reverend and you, staring into the red mouth
rumbling of insurrection and crying of discontent,
tripped along the lines of black and white
keys and dropped your pulse into conga drums.
History got to you like a punch in the diaphragm
and tried to dry you out, made you scream neo-soul.
Like a preacher at his pulpit, you stood before smoldering
mikes and trashed televisions and relayed riot rhythms,
anaphoric anthems asking over and over
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

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this poem is kindof about amsterdam.

Meditating on the Banks of de Herengracht

I wonder what could lie in all that mud.
A graveyard of machines—abandoned, stolen
illegally parked. Bring me the dumped and rusting,
the buckled wheels and lost saddles. I want
the broken chains and twisted spokes, I want
the warped forks and fenders. I want
someone to help me get this out, write this down.
I can’t trap the labyrinth on the page:
stucco, stock brick and gothic finials,
viridian water choked with grimy swans,
torrential crowds, the smoke on my tongue
stinging like diesel and overripe fruit.
I am endless desire and desperate need. I am lost.
Someday I’ll backpedal into this moment
and skim off the desperation. The reverberating sky
and ruby moons will beckon me back down
tulip-strewn streets, into dark shops and secret
boutiques. I’ll remember the solidity of earth
beneath my body in motion. I’ll remember
the sweat, the joyful loss of breath and the promise
of every cyclist manically buzzing by.

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what do we call poetry? an experiment.

I was writing this paper on a book of poems by Hafez of Shiraz, this mad Sufi bloke (he is so good, you should read some of his stuff). As I looked down the table of contents, I felt like each title was chosen as a line in a poem all its own. Does anyone ever notice that? Anyways, I decided to play with the titles a little, and created this. But that leads me to the following question: Is this poetry, the simple act of rearranging lines already forged by another hand? In one way, this is slightly plagiaristic. In another, its a re-conceptualization. Do I have artistic license here? Or am I just being lazy in pointing out something poignant that existed outside of me?
Anyways, it looks and reads kinda cool. Maybe I just want someone else to notice that.

The Subject Tonight is Love:

Forgiveness is the Cash
At This Party
Why All This Talk
In a Handful of God
Because of Our Wisdom
We Keep Each Other Happy
This Place Is Where You Are Right Now
In a Tree House
We Are a Couple of Barroom Sailors
No Other Kind of Light
You Say, I Say
Where Do You Think We Will Be?
The Day Sky
Out of the Mouths of a Thousand Birds
I Knew We Would Be Friends
That Sounds Wonderful
Your Shape of Laughter
Something I Have Learned
Narrow the Difference
The Small Table of Time and Space
The Happy Virus
The Wonderful Lawlessness
They Call You to Sing
Your Medicine
It Happens All the Time in Heaven
I Saw You Dancing
Absolutely Clear
Carrying God
Deepening the Wonder
Join Me in the Pure Atmosphere
Playing the Brilliance
And Acting So Cool
Just Sit There
A Suspended Blue Ocean

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Spring Break breaks the Writer’s Block

I have not written in a long time. Months, probably. But now that spring break has arrived and I’ve had more time to think, I thought I’d try my hand at some ideas that have been bouncing around in my head the past few months:

The Russian Firebird
Mexican alabrijes

I’m kinda happy with the piece I cranked out tonight: a poetic rendition of Kerouac’s On the Road. If I can’t travel this break, why not go vicariously through the word?

Mexico City

Your feet came slapping up the weather-shined
wooden stairs in those dusty huaraches, the beat
bending with the sound of locust calls and rattling
train cars speeding away from us to San Antonio.

I don’t know how you got me here.
The memory folded up and tucked itself inside
dysentery delirium, where I shuddered and sweated
on a cotton bed roll while the cannabis and whores
streamed through our loft in an endless haze.

Oh, I needed this rabble and its coal-black depths,
needed it to fill the space where my grape-picking wife
fell out, needed it to wash over me in waves stained
with tobacco and mosquito corpses and falling stars.

But before that, there was a ’37 Sedan
with broken headlights screaming through Colorado,
a dreamless place full of card games and baseball—
that place was not for us, sleepless as we were

with our itch for the road, the bracken culverts
of the Midwest in which we laid our bum-hearts
down, the raging parties and the Zen lunatics
and the mad poetry and the jazz, jazz, jazz.

But things are stiller now. Here in the stale wake
of illness I watch you at the window, a caricature
of Roosevelt or Gotama or God. You scuff your sandals
on the red dusk of Mehico, light you cigarette and tell me

you’re shoving on. I thought this hot, flat sprawl
of swampland was the end of all roads for us, the glorious
frenzy of not-being-but-doing. But you’re headed to Frisco,
and as the sun drops behind Sierra Madre, I pray
I make it back to Jersey before the car falls apart.

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