Archive for the 'Homosexuality' Category

Adrienne Rich

May 9, 2007

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(1929-)

Born white and middle class
Married and had three sons before she was thirty
Separated from her husband and committed herself to radical feminism and lesbian vision
Leading feminist poet of the twentieth century
Populates her poems with emblematic female figures
Defies modernist injunctions and is in search of a common language to describe a shared historical experience
One of the most well-known contemporary love poets
Personal feeling can never be completely separated from politics

Quotations:

Living    in the earth-deposits   of our history
Today a blackhoe divulged   out of a crumbling flank of earth/ one bottle   amber   perfect   a hundred-year-old/ cure for fever   or melancholy   a tonic/ for living on this earth   in the winters of this climate
Today I was reading about Marie Cruie:/ she must have known she suffered   from radiation sickness/ her body bombarded for years   by the element/ she had purified/ It seems she denied to the end/ the source of the cataracts on her eyes/ the cracked and suppurating skin   of her finger-ends/ till she could no longer hold   a test-tube or a pencil
She died   a famous woman   denying/ her wounds/ denying/ her wounds   came   from the same source as her power

-Power (in whole)

First having read the book of myths,/ and loaded the camera,/ and checked the edge of the knife-blade,/ I put on/ the body-armor of black rubber/ the absure flippers/ the grave and awkward mask./ I am having to do this/ not like Cousteau with his/ assiduous team/ aboard the sun-flooded schooner/ but here alone.

I came to explore the wreck./ The words are purposes./ The words are maps./ I came to see the damage that was done/ and the treasure that prevail./ I stroke the beam of my lamp/ slowly along the flank/ of something more permanent/ than fist or weed
the thing I came for:/ the wreck and not the story of the wreck/ the thing itself and not the myth/ the drowned face always staring/ toward the sun/ the evidence of damage/ worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty/ the ribs of the disaster/ curing their assertion/ among the tentative haunters.
This is the place./ And I am here, the mermaid whose dark ahir/ streams black, the merman in his armored body./ We circle silently/ about the wreck/ we dive into the hold./ I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes/ whose breasts still bear the stress/ whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies/ obscurely inside barrels/ half-wedged and left to rot/ we are the half-destroyed instruments/ that once held to a course/ the water-eaten log/ the fouled compass
We are, I am, you are/ by cowardice or courage/ the one who find our way/ back to this scene/ carrying a knife, a camera/ a book of myths/ in which/ our names do not appear.

-Diving into the Wreck

I
Whenever in this city, screens flicker/ with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,/ victimized hirelings bending to the lash,/ we also have to walk… if simply as we walk/ through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties/ of our own neighborhoods./ We need to grasp our lives inseparable/ from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,/ and the red begonia perilously flashing/ from a tenement sill six stories high,/ or the ong-legged young girls playing ball/ in the junior highschool playground./ No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,/ sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,/ dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,/ our animal passion rooted in the city.

X
Your dog, tranquil and innocent, dozes through/ our cries, our murmured dawn conspiracies/ our telephone calls. She knows- what can she know?/ If in my human arrogance I claim to read/ her eyes, I find there only my own animal thoughts: / that creatures must find each other for bodily comfort,/ that voices of the psyche drive through the flesh/ further than the dense brain could have foretold,/ that the planetary nights are growing cold for those/ on the same journey, who want to touch/ one creature-traveler clear to the end;/ that without tenderness, we are in hell.

XVII
No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone./ The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,/ they happen in our lives like car crashes,/ books taht change us, neighborhoods/ we move into and come to love./ Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,/ women at least should know the difference/ between love and death. No poison cup,/ no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder/ should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder/ not merely played but should have listened to us,/ and could instruct those after us:/ this we were, this is how we tried to love,/ and there are the forces they had ranged against us,/ and these are the forces we hand ranged within us,/ within us and against us, against us and within us.

XXI
The dark lintels, the blue and foreign stones/ of the great round rippled by ston implements/ the midsummer night light rising from beneath/ the horizon- when I said “a cleft of light”/ I meant this. And this is not Stonehenge/ simply nore any place but the mind/ casting back to where her solitude,/ shared, could be chosen without loneliness,/ not easily nor without pains to stake out/ the circle, the heavy shadows, the great light./ I choose to be a figure in that light,/ half-blotted by darkness, something moving/ across that space, the color of stone/ greeting the moon, yet more than stone:/ a woman. I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

-Twenty-One Love Poems

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Mark Doty

May 8, 2007

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(1953-)

Married early, but divorced and met his partner Wally Roberts, who died from AIDS in 1994
Work displays something of the drag queen’s pleasure in ravishing texture and spectacle, but also employs something of the mortician’s cold  grim inevitabilities of loss and death
Works in the tradition of Americanautobiographicalpoetry that extends from Whitman to Bishop and Lowell
Believes that a poem should be

“a verbal earthly paradise, a timeless world of pure play, which gives us delight precisely because of its contrast to our historical existence with all its insolvable problems and inescapable suffering.”

Quotations:

Downtown anywhere and between the roil/ of bathhouse steam- up there the linens of joy/ and shame must be laundered again and again,

where desire’s unpoliced, or nearly so)/ someone’s posted a xeroxedheadshot/ of Jesus: permed, blonde, blurred at the eges
as though photographedthrough a greasy lens,/ and inked beside him, in marker strokes:/ HOMO WILL NO INHERIT, Repent & be saved.
I’ll tell you what I’ll inherit: the margins/ which have always been mine, downtown after hours/ when there’s nothing left to buy,
the dreaming shops turnedin on themselves,/ seamless, intent on the perfection  of display,/ the bodegas and offices lined up, impenetrable:
edges no one wants, no one’s watching. Though/ the borders of this  shadow-zone  (mirror and dream/ of the shattered streets around it) are chartered
by the police, and they are required,/ some nights, to redefine them. But not now, at twilight,/ permission’s descending hour, early winter darkness
pillared by smoldering plumes. The public city’s/ ledgered and locked, but the secret city’s boundless;/ from which do these tumbling tours arise?
I’ll tell you what I’ll inherit: steam,/ and the blinding symmetry of some towering man,/ fifteen minutes of forgetfulness incarnate.

the flesh and the word. And I’ll tell you,/ you who can’t wait to abandon your body,/ what you want me to, maybe something
like you’ve imagined, a dirty story:/ Years ago, in the baths,/ a man walked into the steam,
the gorgeous deep indigo of him gleaming,/ solid tight flanks, the intricately ridged abdomen-/ and after he invited me to his room,
nudging his key toward me,/ as if perhaps I spoke another tongue/ and required the plainest  of gestures,
after we’d been, you understand,/ worshipping a while in his church,/ he said to me, I’m going to punish your mough.
I can’t tell you what that did to me./ My shame was redeemed then;/ I won’t need to burn in the afterlife.
It wasn’t that he hurt me,/ more than that: the spirit’s transactions/ are enacted now, here- no one needs
your eternity. This failing city’s/ radiant as any we’ll ever know,/ paved with oily rainbow, charred gates
jeweled with tags, swoops of letters/ over letters, indecipherable as anything/ written by desire. I’m not ashamed
to love Babylon’s scrawl. How could I be?/ It’s written on my face as much as on/ these walls. This city’s inescapable,
gorgeous, and on fire. I have my kingdom.

-Homo Will Not Inherit

Charged repudiation of homophobia, echoing Whitman

Cold April and the neighbor girl/ -our plumber’s daughter-/ comes up the west street
from the harbor carrying,/ in a nest she’s made/ of her pink parka,
a loon. It’s so sick,/ she says when I ask./ Foolish kid,
does she think she can keep/ this emissary of air?/ Is it trust or illness
that allows the head/ -sleek tulip- to bow/ on its bent stem
across her arm?/ Look at the steady,/ quiet eye. She is carrying
the bird back from indifference,/ from the coast/ of whatever rearrangement
the elements intend,/ and the loon allows her./ She is going to call
the Center for Coastal Studies,/ and will swaddle the bird/ in her petal-bright coat
until they come./ She cradles the wild form./ Stubborn girl.

-Coastal (in whole)

Jeanette Winterson

December 7, 2006

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(1959-)

Born in Manchester, adopted by a Pentecostal couple
Brought up in Accrington, Lancashire: her parents wanted her to be a Christian Missionary
Announced that she was having a lesbian affair at the age of 16, and left home
Studied English at St Catherine’s College, Oxford
After the move to London her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published when she was twenty six years old: was adapted for television by Winterson in 1990
Novels explore the boundaries of physicality and the imagination, gender polarities, and sexual identities
Her stage adaptation of The Powerbook in 2002 opened at the Royal National Theatre, London
Opened a shop, Verde’s, in East London to sell organic food

Sexing the Cherry (1989)

The story of Jordan, an orphan found floating on the River Thames, and his keeper, The Dog Woman, a huge and monstrous creature
Winterson says in regards to the setting of the novel:

“I set this in the seventeenth century, around the beheading of Charles the First, because I had more to do exploring the past as energetic space. I wanted to build another word-dependent world, not restricted either by realism or contemporaneity. The past is strange. We have never been there and we can never go there. I have never recognised the past as a document, rather I understand it as a kind of lumber room, full of trunks of old clothes and odd mementoes. There are as many narratives as there are guesses.”

Ideas to expore:
Transcendence of boundaries, specifically space and time
Gender as a natural or unnatural distinction among people
Love, or the object of love, as secondary to the personal pursuit

Quotations:

“The Hopi, an Indian tribe, have a language as sophisticated as ours, but no tenses for past, present and future. The division does not exist. What does this say about time?
Matter, that thing the most solid and the well-known, which you are holding in your hands and which makes up your body, is now known to be mostly empty space. Empty space and points of light. What does this say about the reality of the world?”

“When Jordan was a baby he sat on top of me much as a fly rests on a hill of dung. And I nourished him as a hill of dung nourishes a fly, and when he had eaten his fill he left me.
Jordan . . .
I should have named him after a stagnant pond and then I could have kept him, but I named him after a river and in the flood-tide he slipped away.”

“Singing is my pleasure, but not in church, for the parson said the gargoyles must remain on the outside, not seek room in the choir stalls. So I sing inside the mountain of my flesh, and my voice is as slender as a reed and my voice has no lard in it. When I sing the dogs sit quiet and people who pass in the night stop their jabbering and discontent and think of other times, when they were happy. And I sing of other times, when I was happy, though I know that these are figments of my mind and nowhere I have been. But does it matter if the place cannot be mapped as long as I can still describe it?”

“What I remember is the shining water and the size of the world.”

“As we descended through the clean air we saw, passing us by from time to time, new flocks of words coming from the people in the streets who, not content with the weight of their lives, continually turned the heaviest of things into the lightest of properties.”

“It is well known that the ceiling of one room is the floor of another, but the household ignores this ever-downward necessity and continues ever upward, celebrating ceilings but denying floors, and so their house never ends and they must travel by winch or rope from room to room, calling to one another as they go.”

“Your greatest strength is that every man believes he knows the sum and possibility of every woman.”

“I am too huge for love. No one, male or female, has ever dared to approach me. They are afraid to scale mountains.
I wonder about love because the parson says that only God can truly love us and the rest is lust and selfishness.
In church, there are carvings of a man with his member swollen out like a marrow, rutting a woman whose teats swish the ground like a cow before milking. She has her eyes closed and he looks up to Heaven, and neither of them notice the grass is on fire.
The parson had these carvings done especially so that we could contemplate our sin and where it must lead.
There are women too, hot with lust, their mouths sucking at each other, and men grasping one another the way you would a cattle prod.
We file past every Sunday to humble ourselves and stay clean for another week, but I have noticed a bulge here and there where all should be quiet and God-like.”

“I hate to wash, for it exposes the skin to contamination.”

“‘The world is full of dancers,’ said one, blowing the smoke in circles round my head.”

“Then, it began night, and the twin stars of Castor and Pollux just visible in the sky, I spoke of that tragedy, of two brothers whose love we might find unnatural, so stricken in grief when one was killed that the other, begging for his life again, accepted instead that for half the year one might live, and for the rest of the year the other, but never the two together. So it is for us, who while on earth in these suits of lead sense the presence of one we love, not far away but too far to touch. 
The villagers were silent and one by one began to move away, each in their own thoughts. A woman brushed my hair back with her hand. I stayed where I was with my shoulders against the rough sea wall and asked myself what I hadn’t asked th others.
Was I searching for a dancer whose name I did not know or was I searching for the dancing part of myself?
Night.”

“As for Jordan, he has not my common sense and will no doubt follow his dreams to the end of the world and then fall straight off.
I cannot school him in love, having no experience, but I can school him in its lack and perhaps persuade him that there are worse things than loneliness.”

“The whore from Spitalfields had told me that men like to be consumed in the mouth, but it still seems to me a reckless act, for the member must take some time to grow again. None the less their bodies are their own, and I who know nothing of them must take instruction humbly, and if a man asks me to do the same again I’m sure I shall, though for myself I felt nothing.”

“We were all nomads once, and crossed the deserts and the seas on tracks that could not be detected, but were clear to those who knew the way. Since settling down and rooting like trees, but without the ability to make use of the wind to scatter our seed, we have found only infection and discontent.”

“My husband married me so that his liaisons with other women, being forbidden, would be more exciting. Danger was an aphrodisiac to him: he wanted nothing easy or gentle. His way was to cause whirlwinds. I was warned, we always are, by well-wishers or malcontents, but I chose to take no interest in gossip. My husband was handsome and clever. What did it matter if he needed a certain kind of outlet, so long as he loved me? I wanted to love him; I was determined to be happy with him. I had not been happy before.
At first I hardly minded his weeks away. I did not realize that part of his sport was to make me mad. Only then, when he had hurt me, could he fully enjoy the other beds he visited.
I soon discovered that the women he preferred were the inmates of a lunatic asylum. With them he arranged mock marriages in deserted barns. They wore a shroud as their wedding dress and carried a bunch of carrots as a bouquet. He had them straight after on a pig-trough altar. Most were virgins. He liked to come home to me smelling of their blood.
Doe the body hate itself so much that it seeks release at any cost?
I didn’t kill him. I left him to walk the battlements of his ruined kingdom; his body was raddled with disease. The same winter he was found dead in the snow.
Why could he not turn his life towards me, as trees though troubled by the wind yet continue the path of the sun?”

“He called me Jess because that is the name of the hood which restrains the falcon.
I was his falcon. I hung on his arm and fed at his hand. He said my nose was sharp and cruel and that my eyes had madness in them. He said I would tear him to pieces if he dealt softly with me.
At night, if he was away, he had me chained to our bed. It was a long chain, long enough for me to use the chamber pot or to stand at the window and wait for the late owls. I love to hear the owls. I love to see the sudden glide of wings spread out for prey, and then the dip and the noise like a lover in pain.
He used the chain when we went riding together. I had a horse as strong as his, and he’d whip the horse from behind and send it charging through the trees, and he’d follow, half a head behind, pulling on the chain and asking me how I liked my ride.
His game was to have me sit astride him when we made love and hold me tightin the small of my back. He said he had to have me above him, in case I picked his eyes out in the faltering candlelight.
I was none of these things, but I became them.
At night, in June I think, I flew off his wrist and tore his liver from his body, and bit my chain in pieces and left him on the bed with his eyes open.
He looked surprised. I don’t know why. As your lover describes you, so you are.”

 “He admitted he was in love with her, but he said he loved me.
Translated, that means, I want everything. Translated, that means, I don’t want to hurt you yet. Translated, that means, I don’t know what to do, give me time.
Why, why should I give you time? What time are you giving me? I am in a cell waiting to be called for execution.
I loved him and I was in love with him. I didn’t use language to make a war-zone of my heart.
‘You’re so simple and good,’ he said, brushing the hair from my face.
He meant, Your emotions are not complex like mine. My dilemma is poetic.
But there was no dilemma. He no longer wanted me, but he wanted our life.”

“She was, of all of us, the best dancer, the one who made her body into shapes we could not follow. She did it for pleasure, but there was something more for her; she did it because any other life would have been a lie. She didn’t burn in secret with a passion she could not express; she shone.”

“When I have shaken off my passion, somewhat as a dog shakes off an unexpected plunge into the canal, I find myself without any understanding of what it was that ravaged me. The beloved is shallow, witless, heartless, mercenary, calculating, silly. Naturally these thoughts protect me, but they also render me entirely gullible or without discrimination.
And so I will explain as follows.
A man or woman sunk in dreams that cannot be spoken, about a life they do not possess, comes suddenly to a door in the wall. They open it. Beyond the door is that life and a man or a woman to whom it is already natural. It may not be possessions they want, it may very well be the lack of them, but the secret life is suddenly revealed. This is their true home and this is their beloved.
I may be cynical when I say that very rarely is the beloved more than a shaping spirit for the lover’s dreams. And perhaps such a thing is enough. To be a muse may be enough. The pain is when the dreams change, as they do, as they must. Suddenly the enchanted city fades and you are left alone again in the windy desert. As for your beloved, she didn’t understand you. The truth is, you never understood yourself.”

“My mother, when she saw me patiently trying to make a yield between a Polstead Black and a Morello, cried two things: ‘Thou mayest as well try to make a union between thyself and me by sewing us at the hip,’ and then, ‘Of what sex is that monster you are making?’
I tried to explain to her that the tree would still be female although it had not been born from seed, but she said such things had no gender and were a confusion to themselves.
‘Let the world mate of its own accord,’ she said, ‘or not at all.’
But the cherry grew, and we have sexed it and it is female.
What I would like is to have some of Tradescant grafted on to me so that I could be a hero like him. He will flourish in any climate, pack his ships with precious things and be welcomed with full honours when the King is restored.
England is a land of heroes, every boy knows that.”

“Islands are metaphors for the heart, no matter what poet says otherwise.
My own heart, like this wild place, has never been visited, and I do not know whether it could sustain life.
In an effort to find out I am searching for a dancer who may or may not exist, though I was never conscious of beginning this journey. Only in the course of it have I realized its true aim. When I left England I thought I was running away. Running away from uncertainty and confusion but most of all running away from myself. I thought I might become someone else in time, grafted on to something better and stronger. And then I saw that the running away was a running towards. And effort to catch up with my fleet-footed self, living another life in a different way.
I gave chase in a ship, but others make the journey without moving at all. Whenever someone’s eyes glaze over, you have lost them. They are as far from you as if their body were carried at the speed of light beyond the compass of the world.
Time has no meaning, space and place have no meaning, on this journey. All times can be inhabited, all places visited. In a single day the mind can make a millpond of the oceans. Some people who have never crossed the land they were born on have travelled all over the world. The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body. The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door, which disappears at once.”

“The Flat Earth Theory
The earth is round and flat at the same time. This is obvious. That it is round appears indisputable; that it is flat is our common experience, also indisputable. The blobe does not supersede the map; the map does not distort the globe.

Maps are constantly being re-made as knowledge appears to increase. But is knowlede increasing or is detail accumulating?
A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true.
And now, swarming over the earth with our tiny insect bodies and putting up flags and building houses, it seems that all the journeys are done.
Not so. Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else had charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identity, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections obvious only to you. Round and flat, only a very little has been discovered.”

“Lies 1: There is only the present and nothing to remember.
Lies 2: Time is a straight line.
Lies 3: The difference between the past and the future is not that one has happened while the other has not.
Lies 4: We can only be in one place at a time.
Lies 5: Any proposition that contains the word ‘finite’ (the world, the universe, experience, ourselves . . . )
Lies 6: Reality as something which can be agreed upon.
Lies 7: Reality as truth.”

“Now the future is wild and waits for us as a beast in a lair.”

“Thinking about time is to acknowledge two contradictory certainties: that our outward lives are governed by the seasons and the clock; that our inward lives are governed by something much less regular – an imaginative impulse cutting through the dictates of daily time, and leaving us free to ignore the boundaries of here and now and pass like lightning along the coil of pure time, that is, the circle of the universe and whatever it does or does not contain.
Outside of the rules of daily time, not to be is as exact as to be. We can’t talk about all that the universe contains because to do so would be to render it finite and we know in some way, that we cannot prove, that it is infinite. So what the universe doesn’t contain is as significant to us as what it does. There will be a moment (though of course it won’t be a moment) when we will know (though knowing will no longer be separate from being) that we are a part of all we have met and that all we have met was already a part of us.”

“But we do not move through time, time moves through us. I say this because our physical bodies have a natural decay span, they are one-use-only units that crumble around us. To everyone, this is a surprise. Although, we see it in parents and our friends we are always amazed to see it in ourselves. The most prosaic of us betray a belief in the inward life every time we talk about ‘my body’ rather than ‘I’. We feel it as absolutely part but not all part of who we are.”

“Empty space and light. For us, empty space is space empty of people. The sea blue-black at night, stretched on a curve under the curve of the sky, blue-black and pinned with silver stars that never need polish. The Arctic, where the white snow is the white of nothing and defies the focus of the eye. Forests and rain forests and waterfalls that roar down the hollows of rocks. Deserts like a burning fire. Paintings show us how light affects us, for to live in light is to live in time and not be conscious of it, except in the most obvious ways. Paintings are light caught and held like a genie in a jar. The energy is trapped for ever, concentrated, unable to disperse.
Still life is dancing life. The dancing life of light.”

“Time 4: Did my childhood happen? I must believe it did, but I don’t have any proof. My mother says it did, but she is a fantasist, a liar and a murderer, though none of that would stop me loving her. I remember things, but I too am a fantasist, a liar and a murderer, though none of that would stop me loving her. I remember things, but I too am a fantasist and a liar, though I have not killed anyone yet.
There are others whom I could ask, but I would not count their word in a court of law. Can I count it in a more serious matter? I will have to assume that I had a childhood, but I cannot assume to have had the one I remember.
Everyone remembers things which never happened. And it is common knowledge that people often forget things which did. Either we are all fantasists and liars or the past has nothing definite in it. I have heard people say we are shaped by our childhood. But which one?”

“The night before, our last night together as sisters, we slept as always in a long line of single beds beneath the white sheets and blankets like those who have fallen asleep in the snow. From this room, in the past, we had flown to a silver city and knew neither day nor night, and in that city we had danced for joy thinking nothing of the dawn where we lived.”

“After a few simple experiments it became certain that for the people who had abandoned gravity, gravity had abandoned them. There was a general rejoicing, and from that day forth no one concerned themselves with floors or with falling, thought it was still thought necessary to build a ceiling in your house in order to place the chandelier.”

“I thought she might want to travel but she tells me truths I already know, that she need not leave this island to see the world, she has seas and cities enough in her mind. If she does, if we all do, it may be that this world and the moon and stars are also a matter of the mind, though a mind of vaster scope than ours. If someone is thinking me, then I am still free to come and go. It will not be like chess, this thoughtful universe, it will be a theatre of changing sets, where we could walk through walls if we wanted, but do not, being faithful to our own sense of the dramatic.”

“The sense of loss was hard to talk about. What could I have lost when I never had anything to begin with?
I had myself to begin with, and that is what I lost. Lost it in my mother because she is bigger and stronger than me and that’s not how it’s supposed to be with sons. But lost it more importantly in the gap between my ideal of myself and my pounding heart.”

“When we get home, men and women will crowd round us and ask us what happened and every version we tell will be a little more fanciful. But it will be real, whereas if I begin to tell my story about where I’ve been and where I thin kI’ve been, who will believe me? In a boy it might be indulged, but I’m not a boy any more, I’m a man.”

“Are we all living like this? Two lives, the ideal outer life and the inner imaginative life where we keep our secrets?
Curiously, the further I have pursued my voyages the more distant they have become. For Tradescant, voyages can be completed. They occupy time comfortably. With some leeway, they are predictable. I have set off and found that there is no end to even the simplest journey of the mind. I begin, and straight away a hundred alternative routes present themselves. I choose one, no sooner begin, than a hundred more appear. Every time I try to narrow down my intent I expand it, and yet those straits and canals still lead me to the open sea, and then I realize how vast it all is, this matter of the mind. I am confounded by the shining water and the size of the world.
The Buddhists say there are 149 ways to God. I’m not looking for God, only myself, and that is far more complicated. God has had a great deal written about Him; nothing has been written about me. God is bigger, like my mother, easier to find, even in the dark. I could be anywhere, and since I can’t describe myself I can’t ask for help. We are alone in this quest, and Fortunata is right not to disguise it, though she may be wrong about love. I have met a great many pilgrims on their way towards God and I wonder why they have chosen to look for him rather than themselves. Perhaps I’m missing the point – perhaps whilst looking for someone else you might come across yourself unexpectedly, in a garden somewhere or on a mountain watching the rain. But they don’t seem to care about who they are. Some of them have told me that they very point of searching for God is to forget about oneself, to lose oneself for ever. But it is not difficult to lose oneself, or is it the ego they are talking about, the hollow, screaming cadaver that has no spirit within it?
I think that cadaver is only the ideal self run mad, and if the other life, the secret life, could be found and brought home, then a person might live in peace and have no need for God. After all, He has no need for us, being complete.”

“A gypsy with a crown of stars offered to tell fortunes, but when she looked at my hand she looked away. I was not discouraged; I am enough to make my own fortune in this pock-marked world.”

“When I was a girl I heard my mother and father copulating. I heard my father’s steady grunts and my mother’s silence. Later my mother told me that men take pleasure and women give it. She told me in a matter-of-fact way, in the same tone of voice she used to tell me how to feed the dogs or make bread.”

“I have forgotten my childhood, not just because of my father but because it was a bleak and unnecessary time, full of longing and lost hope. I can remember some incidents, but the sense of time passing escapes me. If I were to stretch out all that seemed to happen, and relive it, it might take a day or two. Where then are all the years in between?”

“I saw the painting and tried to imagine what it would be like to bring something home for the first time. I tried to look at a pineapple and pretend I’d never seen one before. I couldn’t do it. There’s so little wonder left in the world because we’ve seen everything one way or another. Where had that pineapple come from? Barbados was easy to find out, but who had brought it, and under what circumstances, and why?”

“I built my own model ship from the pictures. At first I had kits with balsa wood rigging and plastic seamen, but soon I learned to design my own with tools from my father’s workshop. I never bothered with a crew. The crew weren’t beautiful, they were just slaves of the ship.
At weekends my mother cooked and my father read the paper. I went to the pond and sailed my boats. I liked the uncertainty of the wind. Jack came with me, bringing his books on computer science and his father’s copies of GP, a magazine for doctors. The magazines were full of pictures of incurables, and that included anyone suffering from the common cold.
‘It has to go away of its own accord,’ said Jack. ‘All those little pills are just money-makers.’
‘Like love,’ I said, setting the rudder. ‘There’s no cure for love.’
‘Who are you in love with?’ said Jack.
‘No one. She doesn’t exist.’
‘It’s the most unhygienic thing you can do,’ said Jack.
‘It can’t be. What about people who work in sewers?’
‘They wear protective clothing. People in love hardly ever wear clothes – look at the magazines.’
He meant Playboy and Penthouse. His father took those too.”

“‘I’ve been everywhere, but I still have a feeling I’ve missed it. I feel like I’m being laughed at, I don’t know what by, who by, it sounds silly. I think I may have missed the world, that the one I’ve seen is a decoy to get me off the scent. I feel as though I’m always on the brink of making sense of it and then I lose it again.'”

“If you’re a hero you can be an idiot, behave badly, ruin your personal life, have any number of mistresses and talk about yourself all the time, and nobody minds.”

“A lot of small men would like to be heroes, they have to have their fantasy moment. Thing is, the small ones always get killed.”

“I’ve never wanted to be an astronaut because of the helmets. If I were up there on the moon, or by the Milky Way, I’d want to feel the stars round my head. I’d want them in my hair the way they are in paintings of the gods. I’d want my whole body to feel the space, the empty space and points of light. That’s how dancers must feel, dancers, and acrobats, just for a second, that freedom.”

“My father watches space films. They’re different: they’re the only area of undiminished hope. They’re happy and they have women in them who are sometimes scientists rather than singers or waitresses. Sometimes the women get to be heroes too, though this is still not as popular. When I watch space films I always want to cry because they leave you with so much to hope for, it feels like a beginning, not a tired old end.
But when we’ve been everywhere, and it’s only a matter of time, where will we go next, when there are no more wildernesses?
Will it take as long as that before we stard the journey inside, down our own time tunnels and deep into the realms of inner space?”

“So I learned to be alone and to take pleasure in the dark where no one could see me and where I could look at the stars and invent a world where there was no gravity, no holding force. I wasn’t fat because I was greedy; I hardly ate at all. I was fat because I wanted to be bigger than all the things that were bigger than me. All the things that had power over me. It was a battle I intended to win.
It seems obvious, doesn’t it, that someone who is ignored and overlooked with expand to the point where they have to be noticed, even if the noticing is fear and disgust.”

“How do you persuade someone not to feel? And so my strongest instinct is to abandon the common-sense approach and accept what is actually happening to me; that time has slowed down.
Why not? Under certain conditions our pulses slow or race, our breathing alters, the whole body will change its habit if necessary.
There are so many fairy stories about someone who falls asleep for a little while and wakes up to find himself in a different time. Outwardly nothing is changing for me, but inwardly I am not always here, sitting by a rotting river. I can still escape.”

“Poisoned or not, the mercury has made me think like this. Drop it and it shivers in clones of itself all over the floor, but you can scoop it up gain and there won’t be any seams or shatter marks. It’s one life or countless lives depending on what you want.
What do I want?
When I’m dreaming I want a home and a lover and some children, but it won’t work. Who’d want to live with a monster? I may not look like a monster any more but I couldn’t hide it for long. I’d break out, splitting my dress, throwing the dishes at the milkman if he leered at me and said, ‘Hello, darling.’ The truth is I’
ve lost patience with this hypocritical stinking world. I can’t take it any more. i can’t flatter, lie, cajole or even smile very much. What is there to smile about?
‘You don’t try,’ my mother said. ‘It’s not so bad.’
It is so bad.
‘You’re pretty,’ said my father, ‘any man would want to marry you.’
Not if he pulled back my eyelids, not if he peeped into my ears, not if he looked down my throat with a torch, not if he listened to my heartbeat with a stethoscope. He’d run out of the room holding his head. He’d see her, the other one, lurking inside. She fits, even though she’s so big.”

“The future is intact, still unredeemed, but the past is irredeemable. She is not who she thought she was. Every action and decision has led her here. The moment has been waiting the way the top step of the stairs waits for the sleepwalker. She has fallen and now she is awake.”

“It’s almost light. She wants to lie awake watching the night fade and the stars fade until the first grey-blue slates the sky. She wants to see the sun slash the water, but she can’t stay awake for everything; some things have to pass her by. So what she doesn’t see are the lizards coming out for food, or Orion’s eyes turned glassy overnight.”

“I asked if their language had some similarity to Spanish and he laughed again and said, fantastically, that their language has no grammar in the way we recognize it. Most bizarre of all, they have no tenses for past, present and future. They do not sense time in that way. For them, time is one. The old man said it was impossible to learn their language without learning their world. I asked him how long it had taken him and he said that question had no meaning.”

“We packed our things and left for his ship. I would gladly have taken the dog kennel and its occupant, but she would not come. We made her a raft from a chicken crate and left her staring at the smoke-filled sky.”

“His face was pale, his hands trembled. I thought it was the devastation he had seen, but he shook his head. He was coming through London Fields when the fog covered him and, hurrying, he had fallen and banged his head. He came to, and feeling his way, arms outstretched, he had suddenly touched another face and screamed out. For a second the fog cleared and he saw that the stranger was himself.
‘Perhaps I am to die,’ he said, and then, while I was protesting this, ‘Or perhaps I am to live, to be complete as she said I would be.’
‘Who is this she?’
‘Fortunata.'”

“The future lies ahead like a glittering city, but like the cities of the desert disappears when approached. In certain lights it is easy to see the towers and the domes, even the people going to and fro. We speak of it with longing and with love. The future. But the city is a fake. The future and the present and the past exist only in our minds, and from a distance the borders of each shrink and fade like the borders of hostile countries seen from a floating city in the sky. The river runs from one country to another without stopping. And even the most solid of things and the most real, the best-loved and the well-known, are only hand-shadows on the wall. Empty space and points of light.”

James Baldwin

November 28, 2006

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(1924-1987) 

James Arthur Baldwin
American writer, noted for his novels on sexual and personal identity, and sharp essays on civil-rights struggle in the United States
Born in Harlem, New York City, son of a domestic worker and brought up in great poverty
Never knew his own father, his stepfather was cruel and a storefront preacher who died in a mental hospital
First short story was featured in the church newspaper at the age of 12
At age 14 , Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem
Left home at 17 for Greenwhich Village to write
Most important source of literary support came from Richard Wright until Baldwin criticized his novel “Native Son” (from which Baldwin got the title for his novel “Notes of a Native Son”) in his article “Everybody’s Protest Novel”

“I knew Richard and I loved him. I was not attacking him; I was trying to clarify something for myself.”

Claimed to have traveled so much because it allowed him to clearly focus on American civilization
Died of cancer at the age of 63

“What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only ways societies change.”

Everybody’s Protest Novel 1949

Essay attacking the kind of fiction, specifically Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Native Son, that had been written about the ordeal of the American Negroes

Quotations:

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. /Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – like its multitudinous, hard-boiled descendants – is a catalogue of violence.”

“But that battered word, truth, having made its appearance here, confronts one immediately with a series of riddles and has, moreover, since so many gospels are preached, the unfortunate tendency to make one belligerent. Let us say, then, that truth, as used here, is meant to imply a devotion to the human being, his freedom and fulfillment; freedom which cannot be legislated, fulfillment which cannot be charted. This is the prime concern, the frame of reference; it is not to be confused with a devotion to Humanity which is too easily equated with a devotion to a Cause; and Causes, as we know, are notoriously blood-thirsty.”

“It is this power of revelation which is the business of the novelist, the journey toward a more vast reality which must take precedence over all other claims.”

“The virtuous rage of Mrs. Stowe is motivated by nothing so temporal as a concern for the relationship of men to one another – or, even, as she would have claimed, by a concern for their relationship to God – but merely by a panic of being hurled into the flames, of being caught in traffic with the devil. She embraced this merciless doctrine with all her heart, bargaining shamelessly before the throne of grace: God and salvation becoming her personal property, purchased with the coin of her virtue. Here, black equates with evil and white with grace; if, being mindful of the necessity of good works, she could not cast out the blacks – a wretched, huddled mass, apparently, claiming, like an obsession, her inner eye – she could not embrace them either without purifying them of sin.”

“Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.”

“The aim has now become to reduce all Americans to the compulsive, bloodless dimensions of a guy named Joe.”

“It is the peculiar triumph of society – and its loss – that it is able to convince those people to whom it has given inferior status of the reality of this decree…”

“The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended.”

Giovanni’s Room  1956

Baldwin explores the connection between race and sexuality 

Quotations:

“I had asked her to marry me before she went away to Spain; and she laughed and I laughed but that, somehow, all the same, made it more serious for me, and I persisted; and then she said she would have to go away and think about it. And the very last night she was here, the very last time I saw her, as she was packing her bag, I told her that I had loved her once and I made myself believe it. But I wonder if I had. I was thinking, no doubt, of our nights in bed, of the peculiar innocence and confidence, which will never come again, which had made those nights so delightful, so unrelated to past, present, or anything to come, so unrelated, finally, to my life since it was not necessary for me to take any but the most mechanical responsibility for them. And these nights were being acted out under a foreign sky, with no one to watch, no penalties attached – it was this last fact which was our undoing, for nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom. I suppose this was why I asked her to marry me: to give myself something to be moored to. Perhaps this was why, in Spain, she decided that she wanted to marry me. But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.” 

“Then, for the first time in my life, I was really aware of another person’s body, of another person’s smell. We had our arms around each other. It was like holding in my hand some rare, exhausted, nearly doomed bird which I had miraculously happened to find.”

“And my father’s face changed. It became terribly old and at the same time absolutely, helplessly young. I remember being absolutely astonished, at the still, cold center of the storm which was occurring in me, to realize that my father had been suffering, was suffering still.
‘Don’t cry,’ he said, ‘don’t cry.’ He stroked my forehead with that absurd handkerchief as though it possessed some healing charm. ‘There’s nothing to cry abount. Everything’s going to be all right.’ He was almost weeping himself. ‘There’s nothing wrong, is there? I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?’ And all the time he was stroking my face with that handkerchief, smothering me.”

“For I am – or I was – one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all – a real decision makes on humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named – but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not.”

“‘I don’t believe in this nonsense about time. Time is just common, it’s like water for a fish. Everybody’s in this water, nobody gets out of it, or if he does the same thing happens to him that happens to the fish, he dies. And you know what happens in this water, time? The big fish eat the little fish. That’s all. The big fish eat the little fish and the ocean doesn’t care.’
‘Oh, please,’ I said. ‘I don’t believe that. Time’s not water and we’re not fish and you can choose to be eaten and also not to eat – not to eat,’ I added quickly, turning a little red before his delighted and sardonic smile, ‘the little fish, of course.’

‘Anyway,’ he said mildly, ‘I don’t see what you can do with little fish except eat them. What else are they good for?’
‘In my country,’ I said, feeling a subtle ware within me as I said it, ‘the little fish seem to have gotten together and are nibbling at the body of the whale.’
‘That will not make them whales,’ said Giovanni. ‘The only result of all that nibbling will be that there will no longer be any grandeur anywhere, not even at the bottom of the sea.'”

“Now the cabdriver asked us where we wanted to go, for we had arrived at the choked boulevards and impassable sidestreets of Les Halles. Leeks, onions, cabbages, oranges, apples, potatoes, cauliflowers, stood gleaming in mounds all over, on the sidewalks, in the streets, before great metal sheds. The sheds were blocks long and within the sheds were piled more fruit, more vegetables, in some sheds, fish, in some sheds, cheese, in some whole animals, lately slaughtered. It scarcely seemed possible that all of this could ever be eaten. But in a few hours it would all be gone and trucks would be arriving from all corners of France – and making their way, to the great profit of a beehive of middlemen, across the city of Paris – to feed the roaring multitude. Who were roaring now, at once wounding and charming the ear, before and behind, and on either side of our taxi – our taxi driver, and Giovanni, too, roared back. The multitude of Paris seems to be dressed in blue every day but Sunday, when, for the most part, they put on an unbelievably festive black. Here they were now, in blue, disputing, every inch, our passage, with their wagons, handtrucks, camions, their bursting baskets carried at an angle steeply self-confident on the back. A red-faced woman, burdened with fruit, shouted – to Giovanni, the driver, to the world – a particularly vivid cochonnerie, to which the driver and Giovanni, at once, at the top of their lungs, responded, though the fruit lady had already passed beyond our sight and perhaps no longer even remembered her precisely obscene conjectures.”

“Giovanni stared. ‘Mas tu es fou,’ he said mildly. ‘There is certainly no point in going home now, to face an ugly concierge and then go to sleep in that room all by yourself and then wake up later, with a terrible stomach and a sour mouth, wanting to commit suicide. Come with me; we will rise at a civilized hour and have a gentle aperitif somewhere and then a little dinner. It will be much more cheerful like that,’ he said with a smile, ‘you will see.’
‘But I must get my clothes,’ I said.
He took my arm. ‘
Bien sur. But you do not have to get them now.’ I held back. He stopped. ‘Come. I am sure that I am much prettier than your wallpaper – or your concierge. I will smile at you when you wake up. They will not.'”

“But they made me tense – with their ribaldries, their good-nature, their fellowship, the life written on their hands and in their faces and in their eyes.”

“I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea. Time flowed past indifferently above us; hours and days had no meaning. In the beginning, our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear; but they did not work themselves to the beginning until our high beginning was aloes on our tongues. By then anguish and fear had become the surface on which we slipped and slid, lsoing balance, dignity, and pride. Giovanni’s face, which I had memorized so many mornings, noons, and nights, hardened before my eyes, began to give in secret places, began to crack.”

“Giovanni liked to believe that he was hard-headed and that I was not and that he was teaching me the stony facts of life. It was very important for him to feel this: it was because he knew, unwillingly, at the very bottom of his heart, that I, helplessly, at the very bottom of mine, resisted him with all my strength.”

“And what distinguished the men was that they seemed incapable of age; they smelled of soap, which seemed indeed to be their preservative against the dangers and exigencies of any more intimate odor; the boy he had been shone, somehow, unsoiled, untouched, unchanged, through the eyes of the man of sixty, booking passage, with his smiling wife, to Rome. His wife might have been his mother, forcing more oatmeal down his throat, and Rome might have been the movie she had promised to allow him to see. Yet I also suspected that what I was seeing was but a part of the truth and perhaps not even the most important part; beneath these faces, these clothes, accents, rudenesses, was power and sorrow, both unadmitted, unrealized, the power of inventors, the sorrow of the disconnected.”

“And this was perhaps the first time in my life that death occurred to me as a reality. I thought of the people before me hwo had looked down at the river and gone to sleep beneath it. I wondered about them. I wondered how they had done it – it, the physical act. I had thought of suicide when I was much younger, as, possibly, we all have, but then it would have been for revenge, it would have been my way of informing the world how awfully it had made me suffer. But the silence of the evening, as I wandered home, had nothing to do with that storm, that far-off boy. I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine.”

“He smiled, ‘Why, you will go home and then you will find that home is not home anymore. Then you will really be in trouble. As long as you stay here, you can always think: One day I will go home.’ He played with my thumb and grinned.”

“‘I don’t see what’s so hard about being a woman. At least, not as long as she’s got a man.’
‘That’s just it,’ said she. ‘Hasn’t it ever struck you that that’s a sort of humiliating necessity?’
‘Oh, please,’ I said. ‘It never seemed to humiliate any of the women I knew.'”

“I began to realize it in Spain – that I wasn’t free, that I couldn’t be free until I was attached – no, committed – to someone.'”

“I may have been the only man in Paris who knew that he had not meant to do it, who could read why he had done it beneath the details printed in the newspapers.”

“I move at last from the mirror and begin to cover that nakedness which I must hold sacred, though it be never so vile, which must be scoured perpetually with the salt of my life.”

Else von Freytag-Loringhoven

October 24, 2006

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(1874-1927)

Leading Dadaist figure
Born on Polish-German border under a different, less regal name, the abused child of a stonemason
Arrived in the US. in 1909 after having lived a life filled with name changes, job changes, husbands, and lovers
Assumed her title of baroness through marriage to a man who soon left her
Lived in Greenwhich Village, New York working menial jobs, modeling for artists, and committing petty crimes
Arrived at parties wearing a birdcage or a bustle with a taillights
Produced art objects out of garbage
Improvised poems out of the words and images that chanced her way
Returned to Europe and became involved during this time in a bisexual affair with novelist Djuna Barnes, and she idolized Barnes for the remainder of her lifetime
Died in Paris when someone (it is suggested that it was a previous lover) snuck into her room and turned on the gas
Referred to in Pound’s Cantos as a woman living by

“the principle of non-acquiescence”

Mary Anne Caws describes her as

“the author of texts as bizarre as her outfits”

Quotations:

City stir- -wind on eardrum- – / dancewind : herbstained – – / flowerstained- -silken- -rustling- – / tripping- -swishing- -frolicking- – / courtesing- -careening- -brushing- – / flowing- -lying down- -bending- – / teasing- -kissing : treearms- -grass- – / limbs- -lips. / City stir on eardrum- -. / In night lonely / peers- -: / moon- -riding ! / pale- -with beauty aghast- – / too exalted to share ! / in space blue- -rides she away from mine chest- – / illumined strangely- – / appalling sister !
Herbstained- -flowerstained- – / shellscented- -seafaring- – / foresthunting- -junglewise- – / desert gazing- – / rides heart from chest- – / lashing with beauty- – / afleet- – / across chimney- – / tinfoil river- – / to meet- – / another’s dark heart- –
Bless mine feet !

-Appalling Heart (in whole)

Kaleidoscopic text suggests a scene both urban and natural, and an interior life marked by psychic mobility

It is- -is it- – ? / heart white sheet ! / kiss it / flame beat ! / in chest midst / print teeth / bite- –  – –   – –  / this green / ponderous night.

-Is It? (in whole)

Langston Hughes

October 17, 2006

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(1902-1967)

Major American poet, leading name in Harlem Renaissance poetry, premier poet of political left, international poet
Born in Joplin, Missouri in a racially segregated society where lynching was a growing problem
Wrote more than 20 poems on lynching alone
Descended from a distinguished abolitionist African-American family
Held long term same-sex relationships
Strongly influenced by a diverse range of poets: Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman
Captivated by African-American singers more than any writer
Attended columbia University for one year, but spent the time exploring the world of Harlem
Unlike most poets, was able to support himself through writing
Traveled as a journalist to Spain during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39
Notably inventive in his use of culural styles and materials in poetry: adapted blues and jazz forms as well as oral traditions
Paired poetry with illustrations to tell stories more vividly
Relied on performing arts and drama to create a multi-voiced poetry
Investigated by FBI because of campaigns against lynching and leftist affiliations during the Cold War: not permitted to assume position of Poet Laureate
Forced to tone down politics in poetry and could not travel outside the country until 1960
Became the image of a poet who combines artistic innovation and vitality with joyful humor and humanity and the effective expression of social justice

Quotations:

Oh, silver tree! / Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
In a Harlem cabaret / Six long-headed jazzers play. / A dancing girl whose eyes are bold / Lifts high a dress of silken gold.
Oh, singing tree! / Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
Were Eve’s eyes / In the first garden / Just a bit too bold? / Was Cleaopatra gorgeous / In a gown of gold?
Oh, shining tree! / Oh, silver rivers of the soul!
In a whirling cabaret / Sing long-headed jazzers play.

-Jazzonia (in whole)

An attempt to adapt jazz to poetry

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, / Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, / I heard a Negro play. / Down on Lenox Avenue the other night / By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light / He did a lazy sway … / He did a lazy sway … / To the tune o’ those Weary Blues. / With his ebony hands on each ivory key / He made that poor piano moan with melody. / O Blues! / Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool / He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool. / Sweet Blues! / Coming from a black man’s soul. / O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone / I head that Negro sing, that old piano moan – / ‘Ain’t got nobody in all this world, / Ain’t got nobody but ma self. / I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’ / And put ma troubles on the shelf.’ / Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. / He played a few chords then he sang some more – / ‘I got the Weary Blues / And I can’t be satisfied. / God the Weary Blues / And can’t be satisfied – / I ain’t happy no mo’ / And I wish that I had died.’ / And far into the night he crooned that tune. / The stars went out and so did the moon. / The singer stopped playing and went to bed / While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. / He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

-The Weary Blues (in whole)
See Poetry Speaks

Transformation of isolated pain into solace, art, and human connection

I’ve known rivers: / I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My sould has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. / I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. / I looked upon the Nile and Raised the pyramids above it. / I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down th New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers: / Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

-The Negro Speaks of Rivers (in whole)
See Poetry Speaks

One of Hughes’ first poems, written in high school

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother. / They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes, / But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table / When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare / Say to me, / ‘Eat in the kitchen,’ / Then.
Besides, / They’ll see how beautiful we are / And be ashamed-
I, too, am America.

-I, too (in whole)
See Poetry Archive

Compare to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear American Singing”

Oh, wash-woman / Arms elbow-deep in white suds, / Soul washed clean, Clothes washed clean, / I have many songs to sing you / Could I but find the words.
Was it four o’clock or six o’clock on a winter afternoon, I saw you wringing out the last shirt in Miss White Lady’s kitchen? Was it four o’clock or six o’clock? I don’t remember.
But I know, at seven one spring morning you were on Vermont Street with a bundle in your arms going to wash clothes. / And I know I’ve seen you in the New York subway in the late afternoon coming home from washing clothes.
Yes, I know you, wash-woman.
I know how you send your children to school, and high-school, and even college. / I know how you work to help your man when times are hard. / I know how you build your house up from the washtub and call it home. / And how you raise your churches from white suds for the service of the Holy God.
I’ve seen you winging, wash-woman. Out in the backyard garden under the apple trees, singing, hanging white clothes on long lines in the sunshine. / And I’ve seen you in church on Sunday morning singing, praising your Jesus because some day you’re going to sit on the right hand side of the Son of God and forget you ever were a wash-woman. And the aching back and the bundles of clothes will be unremembered then.
Yes, I’ve seen you singing.
So for you, O singing wash-woman, / For you, singing little brown woman, / Singing strong black woman, / Singing tall yellow woman, / Arms deep in white suds, / Soul washed clean, / Clothes washed clean, / For you I have / Many songs to sing / Could I but find the words.

-Song to a Negro Wash-Woman (in whole)

Edna St. Vincent Millay

October 10, 2006

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(1892-1950)

Major poetic voice of the rebellious Jazz Age
Hailed as the greatest female poet since Sappho of ancient Greece
Wrote for the American mass-media culture of newspapers, magazines, radio, live stage, and the national lecture circuit
Served as the personification of “The New Woman” of European-American bourgeois society
Flaunted Victorian conventions of femininity while serving as a flapper heroine and political rebel icon
Became the first woman poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry
Robert Frost viewed her as his most serious competitor: feared she would be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters ahead of him
Raised in Maine by a single mother
Educated at Vassar College
Not only a gifted poet but also a talented playwright and actress
Gained fame for public poetry readings
Master of traditional forms, sonic effects, and memorable images and phrases
Frankly expressed her sexual independence: conducted many love affairs with both men and women
Married Eugen Bossevain, widower of the great suffragist Inex Milholland
Valued for strong and accomplished voice in the traditionally male-dominated genre of sonnet, sometimes painful inward probings, and for her eloquent and outspoken assertion of her political and social beliefs

Quotations:

I shall forget you presently, my dear, / So make the most of this, your little day, / Your little month, your little half a year, / Ere I forget, or die, or move away, / And we are done forever; by and by / I shall forget you, as I said, but now, / If you entreat me with your loveliest lie / I will protest you with my favourite vow. / I would indeed that love were longer-lived, / And oaths were not so brittle as they are, / But so it is, and nature has contrived / To struggle on without a break thus far, – / Whether or not we find what we are seeking / Is idle, biologically speaking.

-I shall forget you presently, my dear (in whole)

Only until this cigarette is ended, / A little moment at the end of all, / While on the floor the quiet ashes fall, / And in the firelight to a lance extended, / Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended, / The broken shadow dances on the wall, / I will permit my memory to recall / The vision of you, by all my dreams attended. / And then adieu, -farewell!-the dream is done. / Yours is a face of which I can forget / The colour and the features, every one, / The words not ever, and the smiles not yet; / But in your day this moment is the sun / Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

-Only until this cigarette is ended (in whole)

We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / Itwas bare and bright, and smelled like a stable- / But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, / We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; / And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; / And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, / From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; / And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, / And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
We were very tired, we were very merry, / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / We hailed, ‘Good morrow, mother!’ to a shawl-covered head, / And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; / And she wept, ‘God bless you!’ for the apples and pears, / And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

-Recuerdo (in whole)

Based on her late-night perambulations through New York City with her fellow poet Salomon de la Selva
Recuerdo means remembrance, recollection, or souvenir in Spanish
My reflect the native language of de la Selva
Makes a point of the liberated, cosmopolitan lifestyle of Jazz Age New York and the joys of heterosexual romance
Also suggests the quiet suffering of those left behind by the economic boom

I, being born a woman and distressed / By all the needs and notions of my kind, / Am urged by your propinquity to find / Your person fair, and feel certain zest / To bear your body’s weight upon my breast: / So subtly is the fume of life designed, / To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind, / And leave me once again undone, possessed. / Think not for this, however, the poor treason / Of my stout blood against my staggering brain, / I shall remember you with love, or seas / My scorn with pity, -let me make it plain: / I find this frenzy insufficient reason / For conversation when we meet again.

-I, being born a woman and distressed (in whole)

Struggle between bodily impulses and rationality of the mind
Biological and social implications of being a woman

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, / I have forgotten, and what arms have lain / Under my head till morning; but the rain / Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh / Upon the glass and listen for reply, / And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain / For unremembered lads that not again / Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. / Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, / Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, / Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: / I only know that summer sang in me / A little while, that in me sings no more.

-What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (in whole)

My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends- / It gives a lovely light!

-First Fig (in whole)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: / Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

-Second Fig (in whole)

Was it for this I uttered prayers, / And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs, / That now, domestic as a plate, / I should retire at half-past eight?

-Grown-up (in whole)

 

Siegfried Sassoon

October 4, 2006

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(1886-1967)

Born into a wealthy Jewish family: lived the pastoral life of a young squire; fox-hunting, playing cricket, golfing and writing romantic verses
Being an innocent, Sassoon’s reaction to the realities of the war were all the more bitter and violent: went public in his protest against the war and thought insensitive political leadership was the greater enemy than the Germans
Sassoon earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his near-suicidal exploits against the German lines — in the early manifestation of his grief
Authorities were convinced he was suffering from shell-shock and he was sent instead to the military hospital at Craiglockhart where he met and influenced Wilfred Owen (the two were rumored to have had a relationship)
Known as a writer of satirical anti-war verse during WWI, and later won acclaim for his prose work
Spent thirty years reflecting on the war through his memoirs; and at last he found peace in his religious faith
Critics found his later poetry drastically different from war poems: Sassoon stated in response to these critics:

“My development has been entirely consistent and in character.  Almost all of them have ignored the fact that I am a religious poet.”

Quotations:

Everyone suddenly burst out singing; / And I was filled with such delight / As prisoned birds must find in freedom, / Winging wildly across the white / Orchards and dark-green fields; on- on- and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted; / And beauty came like the setting sun: / My heart was shaken with tears; and horror / Drifted away . . . O, but Everyone / Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

-Everyone Sang (in whole)

Groping along the tunnel, step by step, / He winked his prying torch with patching glare / From side to side, and sniffed the unwholesome air.
Tins, boxes, bottles, shapes too vague to know, / A mirror smashed, the mattress from a bed; / And he, exploring fifty feet below / The rosy gloom of battle overhead.
Tripping, he grabbed the wall; saw some one lie / Humped at his feet, half-hidden by a rug, / And stooped to give the sleeper’s arm a tug. / ‘I’m looking for headquarters.’ No reply. / ‘God blast your neck!’ (For days he’d had no sleep.) 
‘Get up and guide me through this stinking place.’ / Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap, / And flashed his beam across the livid face / Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore / Agony dying hard ten days before; / And fists of fingers clutched a blackening wound.
Alone he staggered on until he found / Dawn’s ghost that filtered down a shafted stair / To the dazed, muttering creatures underground / Who hear the boom of shells in muffed sound. / At last, with sweat of horror in his hair, / He climbed through darkness to the twilight air, / Unloading hell behind him step by step.

-The Rear-Guard (in whole) 

I knew a simple soldier boy / Who grinned at life in empty joy, / Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, / And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum, / With crumps and lice and lack of rum, / He put a bullet through his brain. / No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye / Who cheer when soldier lads march by, / Sneak home and pray you’ll never know / The hell where youth and laughter go.

-Suicide in the Trenches (in whole)

Why do you life with your legs ungainly huddled. / And one arm bent across your sullen, cold, / Exhausted face? It hurts my heart to watch you, / Deep-shadow’d from the candle’s guttering gold; / And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder; / Drowsy, you muble and sigh and turn your head… / You are too young to fall asleep forever; / And why you sleep you remind me of the dead.

-The Dug-Out (in whole)
See Poetry Archive

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land, / Drawing no dividend from time’s tomorrows. / In the great hour of destiny they stand, / Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows. / Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win / Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives. / Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin / They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives. / I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats, / And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain, / Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats, / And mocked by hopeless longing to regain / Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats, / And going to the office in the train.

-Dreamers (in whole)

Rupert Brooke

October 4, 2006

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(1887-1915)

British poet known for his idealistic poetry written during WWI
Friends with the Bloomsbury group of writers, some of whom admired his talent, while others were more impressed by his good looks: W.B. Yeats called him the “handsomest young man in England”
Belonged to literary group known as the Georgian Poets, and was the most important of the Dymock poets
Toured the United States, Canada and islands in the South Seas to write travel diaries: he may have fathered a daughter with a Tahitian woman
Struggled with his sexuality his entire life: wrote often about his attraction towards his own sex
Unable to feel either truly homosexual or heterosexual, Brooke was often unsatisfied with his romantic life
Entered the army as an officer, as befitted his social class, and took part in the Antwerp expedition in  1914: sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
Died of septic pneumonia from an infected mosquito bite
Since Brooke’s death, the name Rupert has been used as a term of mockery for any young Army officer with a public school education

Quotations:

If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England. There shall be / In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; / A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, / Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, / A body of England’s, breathing English air, / Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away, / A pulse in the eternal mind, no less / Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England give; / Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day; / And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness, / In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

-The Soldier (in whole)

Contrasted with Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’
Parts were adapted for the contingency television address that would have been read by President Richard Nixon in the event the Apollo 11 astronauts became stranded on the moon
Brooke died within the year he wrote ‘The Soldier’
Generations of British school children would be taught the opening patriotic lines

Amy Lowell

October 3, 2006

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(1874-1925)

Amy Lawrence Lowell
Born into a wealthy and prestigious family
Quarreled with Ezra Pound over who should lead the imagist movement: Unlike Pound, Lowell did not think that imagist poetry needed to be obscure: Pound declared her type of poetry “Amygism”
Advocated a clean poetic line, devoid of sentimentality and conventional meter
Composed volumes of translation and creative writing in Orientalism
Received a Pulitzer Prize in 1926, a year after her death
Promoted Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman for their infusion of Asian aesthetics into their poetry
Presented poetry in theatrical readings: created a cult following traveling the country
Open homosexual: wrote many love poems to her partner Ada Dwyer Russell
Wrote the longest sequence of lesbian love poetry in the U.S. before Adrienne Rich: wrote pioneering texts in the lesbian-feminist tradition

Quotations:

Across the newly-plastered wall, / The darting red dragonflies / Is like the shooting / Of blood-tipped arrows.

-In Time of War (in whole)

Translation of a Japanese poem
Completed during major Allied offensives in WWI

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; / The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; / The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, / And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows. / Under a tree in the park, / Two little boys, lying flat on their faces, / Were carefully gathering red berries / To put in a pasteboard box. / Some day there will be no war, / Then I shall take out this afternoon / And turn it in my fingers, / And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate, / And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves. / To-day I can only gather it / And put it into my lunch box, / For I have time for nothing / But the endeavour to balance myself / Upon a broken world.

-September, 1918 (in whole)

September 1918 was an important period for the Allied offensive in WWI
Speaker sees the beauty in the afternoon, but won’t take pleasure in it until the war is over: questions what a poem should be like in a time of war; what is poetry’s role during war

The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air. / The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light. / Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their relfections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my fingers sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.

– Bath (in whole)

An example of what Lowell called ‘polyphonic prose’: described as a form that makes use of all the voices of poetry (free verse, meter, assonance, conosance, alliteration, rhyme, and circular return)

I put your leaves aside, / One by one: / The stiff, broad outer leaves; / The smaller ones, / Pleasant to touch, veined with purple; / The glazed inner leaves. / One by one. / I parted you from your leaves, / Until you stood up like a white flower / Swaying slightly in the evening wind.
White flower, / Flower of wax, of jade, of unstreaked agate; / Flower with surfaces of ice, / With shadows faintly crimson. / Where in all the garden is there such a flower? / The stars crowd through the lilac leaves / To look at you. / The low moon brightens you with silver. / The bud is more than calyx. / There is nothing to equal a white bud, / Of no colour, and of all; / Burnished by moonlight, / Thrust upon by a softly-swinging wind.

-The Weathervane Points South (in whole)

An example of Lowell’s term ‘cadenced verse’: which encompassed Asian and French poetic forms
First published in Vanity Fair
Comparable to Georgia O’Keeffe’s representation of the white flower in her artwork: both women were influenced by the “Boston Orientalists” of the late 19th century

“The poets in this volume do not represent a clique. Several of them are personally unknown to the others, but they are united by certain common principles arrived at independently. These principles are not new; they have fallen into desuetude. They are the essentials of all great poetry, indeed of all great literature, and they are simple these:-
1.  To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.
2.  To create new rhythms- as the expression of new moods- and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist upon ‘free-verse’ as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
3.  To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.
4.  To present an image (hence the name: ‘Imagist’). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.
5.  To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
6.  Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.”

-Some Imagist Poets, Preface