Self and reality. Symbol and language. Myth and image. Memory and consciousness.
Dream and unreality: locus communis.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oedipus and the Hummingbirds


On the corner of my writing desk leans a pile of notes, clippings, scraps of papers. One leaf of photocopied information contains an illegible scrawl in my handwriting—made with a red felt marker, which I rarely use, the script displaying a rhythmic pattern, wave-like, expressive scratches asserting a strong point. An indecipherable point, but something of importance nonetheless. One portion of the note seems to state the word hummingbird then a few words later rather than Oedipus. Since I do teach Sophocles’ play Antigone, the marginalia could reference the lecture— but why hummingbirds?

This past summer when the Texas landscape burned from drought conditions, migrating hummingbirds became displaced as their territory became engulfed in sudden flames and progressive wildfires. My parent’s backyard transformed into a haven for these miniature birds. Almost every afternoon we would watch handfuls of them stitch across the property line of trees, darting and embroidering the landscape to reach a feeder filled with syrupy nectar— each little warrior representing an idea. A word. An unclaimed sentence. A bridge into a stronger metaphor. A miniature epiphany ready to dart close to a woman’s ear and whisper newly disclosed secrets.

Of course, today, middle of winter, the back gardens are in disarray. Milkweed stalks cut back expose left over weeds spreading out in the mulch. The sight of the backyard generates a sense of overwhelming responsibilities. New projects to finalize— every day a new line added to the list of chores. Oddly enough, Brendan sleeps longer during his afternoon nap; he has merged his two daily naps into one lengthy sleep during the middle of the day. But I am afraid to move sometimes. I know as soon as I start working on something he will awaken and demand a yogurt or some fruit concoction to satisfy his growing desires. So I take projects at a slower pace. Ready to stop and cater to his needs whenever I am the only one in the house. What results, in the end, I allow the projects to sort themselves. The various poems shift and float in the head as carp waiting for food— the larger ones scurry quickly to the surface of the water to gain a mouthful compressed pellets, a new phrase, a rewording, a casual additional word.

Lately I hunt for newer, more elusive wordings. Phonetics which I have unintentionally avoided in the past. Take raunch for instance, or vulgarity,— the typical word that would not appear in a haiku. A rust-covered shovel or decomposed remains of a bird—I have said this already in the past weeks. But it bears repeating. Reinforcing the intentions into my consciousness, into my active writing mind. My series of haiku dealing with a dive dance club continue to develop themselves. It’s interesting how a series of short fractured verses blend and blur into something larger.

A handful of my own favorites:
17/ A man just walks in— wears a dragonfly tattoo on his left shoulder.

24/ As he walks into the back room his dragonfly tattoo flutters once.

26/ Waiting to score a trick, he leans in the alley— breathes in smoke— exhales.


More important: in March I will be participating in a poetry reading in New York. Twenty-five poets in Manhattan reciting their work. Building up a sense of nervousness considering what poem to read, what jacket to wear, what ad lib remark to introduce the work. Full information can be viewed here: Assaracus: A Celebration of Gay Poetry.

Still cannot comprehend my old note—human? humanity? humus? Maybe in a few days the verbiage will click again once I go over the full page of notes. Then again, making a connection between hummingbirds and Oedipus would be interesting.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Item of Interest || Random Notes

from John Gallagher's web log Nothing to Say and Saying It:
Never worry about the reader, what the reader can understand. When you are writing, glance over your shoulder, and you'll find there is no reader. Just you and the page. Feel lonely? Good. Assuming you can write clear English sentences, give up all worry about communication. If you want to communicate, use the telephone.
I want to tattoo this on my forearm for future reference— a constant reminder. Or across my shoulders as a warning.

A few days ago I found a list of practical approaches to poetry created by William Matthews. See number three.

Random Notes for a Bar at Last Call
• a tray of glasses falls
• he stands under clump of devil's ivy or mother-in-law tongue
• in the corner of his eye
• another moment
• lights rise / fog of alcohol lifts
• then he hears soemone call his name

The above random notes establish phrases for possible later use— a situation undefined and without cohesion.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Rebellion of Individuality

Today exists as a day without a concise organized movement— that is, the mind’s goals quickly become tangled into a maze or obstacles and hurdles— partly self-induced, partly outside circumstance. So. After two early morning lectures on basic Analytical Literary Criticism I walk across campus for a strong cup of coffee— set a short path to an achievable prize. Not as an act of procrastination per se, but rather as a method of stalling to clear the head. Break free of the patterns built into the blood.

Lack of sleep does not help. Last night Brendan woke up howling at 11:36, either from a nightmare or discomfort, something unknowable at any rate. His diaper was only slightly damp, but he cried continuously for a good fifteen minutes after the changing. Perhaps it all stems from the fact that last week he started walking and instantly he moved into the toddler mentality of self-independence. He understands barriers exist. He strides into the room now ready to conquer any potential obstacle. He demands attention. He expects answers. One can see the strategy of his young mind seeking preferences for the toys or the picture books scattered in the room. Last night was no exception— after the change of pajamas it was clear he did not want to be rocked back to sleep. He communicates now with arching and twisting towards his desires: away from the parent and towards the goal. Last night he wanted to be placed back in his crib and have his back stroked— only this action served as consolation— only the smallest amount of my parental presence was required, my fingertips running in circles around his shoulder blades. He and I have reached a new level of communication.

Afterward, as expected, what resulted was the fact I could not go immediately back to sleep. I lay in bed trying not to think. Scattering of responsibilities always managed to drift to the surface of my consciousness the more I tried to submerge details of the approaching day. Phrases of poems bobbed on the brim of sleep, as carp wanting food. The remainder of the night existed as a series of rising and falling motions, short series of slight slumber, then half wakeful awareness.

In my e-mail this morning however, a blast e-mail from the Academy of American Poets provided a poem by Arthur Sze that stood out, titled “Comet Hyakutake.” I cannot pin-point which specific line or image or phrase that connects, yet Sze weaves together a collection of unexpected elements to show a commonality within diversity, ancient and modern. To simply quote a phrase breaks the intense structure of a full river of information. To select only one fragmented line from a collection of fragments destroys the whole.

Here is the full poem with the line breaks preserved as the e-mail presents them: “Comet Hyakutake” Arthur Sze

Comet Hyakutake's tail stretches for 360 million miles—

in 1996, we saw Hyakutake through binoculars—

the ion tail contains the time we saw bats emerge out of a cavern at dusk—

in the cavern, we first heard stalactites dripping—

first silence, then reverberating sound—

our touch reverberates and makes a blossoming track—

a comet's nucleus emits X-rays and leaves tracks—

two thousand miles away, you box up books and, in two days, will step through the invisible rays of an airport scanner—

we write on invisible pages in an invisible book with invisible ink—

in nature's infinite book, we read a few pages—

in the sky, we read the ion tracks from the orchard—

the apple orchard where blossoms unfold, where we unfold—

budding, the child who writes, "the puzzle comes to life"—

elated, puzzled, shocked, dismayed, confident, loving: minutes to an hour—

a minute, a pinhole lens through which light passes—

Comet Hyakutake will not pass earth for another 100,000 years—

no matter, ardor is here—

and to the writer of fragments, each fragment is a whole—

In part what Sze creates here confirms what my newest project attempts, deliver minute fractures of a picture, allowing in the end for the reader to piece together his/her own unique story through a process of blending all of the supplied various elements together.

I find it ironic he uses a comet as a major vehicle for his overall theme of the work, whereas with my poem, the image of a comet is strictly a simile, a short bridge moving between two ideas.

For the Grackle, Fox, and She-Bear series of poems here is the latest:

Turn the page. The thought
lingers behind— yet splintered.
Yet whole. A red fox shifting
between cypress trees, moving
as comet, as metaphor.

Silence weighs heavy—
without warning the language
of leaf and branch snap
shut, forgotten. Phrases lost
can no longer be carried.

Reddened cypress leans
forward to tell me something—
but comprehension
scatters. Brought down to nonsense
sounds: foot-treads through under brush.

A slight smear of blood
on a pale white kimono
or a red cypress
branch spearing a bank of snow:
at one time past, this was me—

or rather a brush
fire at midnight, red trails
slipped over landscape
in the darkness, a blank page
suddenly stroked in red paint—

Now I’m limited
to one shape— one small shadow
kept clipped to the ground—
my definition remains
whole, but without translation.

Let me clarify—
Its hard to provide private
personal accounts, details
of a true hidden nature

even to myself,
even with open moments
like this: an open
book in your hands, your face close,
leaning to knots of my words…

At this point my major hurdle is preventing the work from transforming into something much larger. There is an art for simplicity and understatement. I, on the other hand, tend to overstate and over-embellish, translating a simple idea into a grandiose, complexity of language. Trimming back excess remains a challenge at times. As the world’s readers spin closer and closer towards wanting smaller clumps of information, my poems spiral out towards pages of text, volumes of discourse and (re)examination. What was to be a six stanza poem becomes almost three typed pages.

So it seems I am much like my son— wrestling against the safe and the expected. Wanting the rebellion of individuality. Only thirteen months old and he has begun teaching me new ideas about myself.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Ghost of T. S. Eliot Comes to Visit

The latest poem in the newest sequence remains untitled, still. This fact hovers over the entire project. For some unknowable reason I need a title to help flow the tide of words and phrases. Titles act as an anchor for the reader. A stability to base the flow of information which the poet-writer provides. In this particular case, with this serious of poems a strong grounding in some sense of reality or logic is necessary do to the fantasy-folktale world the project bases itself.

Anyway. Currently I collected a menagerie of possibilities, each one a slight rewording of the main idea—from January 11:
Monologue from a Displaced Character
• Displaced Nō Character in Monologue
• Character Monologue from a Japanese Nō Play
• Displaced Character Wearing a Japanese Nō Mask of a Fox
• Ray Soto as a Displaced Figure from a Nō Play
• Ray Soto Wears the Mask of a Displaced Fox
• Narration from a Displaced Figure in a Nō Play

Obviously, none of these work. They are too specific. Too clinical. What resulted: the ghost of T. S. Eliot came to visit and snickered at my distress. Every school term I lecture on the Modernist movements and of course "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"— which shows how a poem can be defined by what it is not. The title declares an expectation which the poem does not deliver. Nor does the title directly warn you it will be a narrative monologue. This classic example of creative manipulation set me into a knot of contradictions. What needed to be resolved: what is my main purpose in the end?

In my particular case— unlike the works of say Jean Valentine which depend on a lack of strong realistic reaction of the world— or the nightmarish situations Yannis Ritsos creates, which defy logic and coherent thought— my recent series of proposed works need a clarification to help justify their quest-theme.

I do dislike the word "justification." It is too close to the word "defend" or "explain." The independent-rebel-artist in me cringes at the need to "validate" a creative description."Confirm" is a good word choice. Or even "uphold"— "support." Let's use support then: A strong title will support the quest-theme in the series of verse.

It falls into the logic of choosing, or not choosing, a specific form for a project. A restriction for a traditional sonnet sets the goal-posts in a recognizable pattern. Likewise, a strong title sets up a sense of a restriction for how the poem will perform.

Tonight, therefore, I fell into sleeplessness, again. Found myself wandering around the titles verbiage:
Displaced Character Wearing the Nō Mask of a Fox
• Narration from a Displaced Character in Transition, Wearing a Nō Mask of a Fox...

"Narration from a Displaced Character in Transition, Wearing a Nō Mask of a Fox"—

—for some unknowable reason this works. Within this established definition of the work lies room for experimentation and creative phrasing. At least what resulted is something to play with and develop over the next few weeks.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Slightly Drunk, with a Blurred Voice

So. Here I am again. Insomnia returns like a past lover. Calls up in the middle of the night, slightly drunk, with a blurred voice in the phone. Wants to talk about what actually went wrong.


Basho would more than likely use this opportunity to compose a psychological-intense verse. Me? I begin to rant like an irritated old man. That old song and dance. Yes. Well.

Trying to remember the last time this happened. The sleeplessness, I mean. It has been quite a long time ago... maybe even more than a year... yet now, for the last three nights in a row I have awakened after only an hour's rest, the mind slowly re-emerging into the waking world. After maybe five or ten minutes, then full consciousness, signaling sleep has left the building. And then the anger sets in— maybe bitterness is better word. And resentment. A review of failed goals, broken ideals. Again: bullshit. Fight the cynicism.

Spent Saturday revising lectures on Thomas Jefferson, Phillis Wheatley, and Benjamin Rush— so, even now the trio sit in my head having a discourse on American slavery, race issues, and definitions of poetry. The academic mind interrupting the creative writing mind; at the moment an early Kronos Quartet recording murmurs from the stereo: Monk Suite. A CD purchased when living with Bob in Minneapolis, one of the worst winter's on record, and me walking to work in a small arts supply chain in the middle of downtown, spending more money than I could possibly earn in a year. Often I would drink gallons of coffee, paint expressive abstractions all night, or write elaborate modern verse for later use. The cold temperatures would drift under the windows, brush against the arms and hands— You see? Yes, those old ghosts again. Funny how we develop patterns within patterns, the older we get. Is this the catalyst of my insomnia? Regrets of Minneapolis, twenty years later?

Trying to fall into the mindset for haiku—

For my short series on the coat check clerk at the Mid-America night club:

08 b/ Tonight he daydreams arms on the counter, he daydreams Head in hand, the coats dissolve into a cloud of blackbirds.

08 c/ When no one notices, With no one around, he inhales leather musk of the patron's jackets.

08 d/ With no one around, he buries his face within each leather (winter?) jacket.

—or the longer tanka forms; the Brendan poems: the scene plays out in my head but refuses to fall on to the page— metaphorically, at this stage, the poet-speaker is an older man wearing the mask of a ghost-fox, but he cannot take it off— so he sits in his wilderness ruminating in his multi-fold robes of orange-red, fires and ashes, ruminating, seeking closure. But then the sound of a flute in the distance. Brendan playing a flute to the grackle.

The head is tilting forward slightly now; eyes a little more sluggish... first sign that sleep is trying to return. Perhaps it is time to turn off the system and lie down again? Perhaps the demons were cast out once more.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Insomnia and Paralysis


For some unexplainable reason, bouts of insomnia return to haunt me these days— in my particular case, when these moments strike, they hit me with a paralysis— if I try to follow the recommendations of leaving the bedroom and shift the feelings aside, the body sends mixed signals and incoherent thought patterns which result in a lack of productivity. In other words, I cannot write or read or draw or watch television— this is the closest I find myself to a state of vegetation. In these moments, I exist, unable to move or think creatively. The body may be at rest but the mind is raging forward, almost a hormonal storm at sea. Waking nightmares in a sense. Frustration.

2011 was a good year in a number of ways—received a few poetry acceptances, made strong connections, developed new ideas, proved to myself that the Internet’s Social Media concept can work in small ways.

What surprises me, on further reflection, I have six magazines submissions and seven manuscript inquiries floating around publishers’ desks— without any indication of possibility or decline. Usually by year’s end I will have two or three slower responding journals, who react once a query e-mail is sent— but this year a total of thirteen different publications have yet to respond to various projects. THIRTEEN. I find myself checking for new mail every other hour hoping I overlooked a response.

What this situation generates is a feeling of invisibility, of non-existence. Of paralysis. Perhaps this is my second greatest fear: being unable to creatively function in the world. To be unable to respond to the world or to not have the world respond back. This is a death in itself. A frustration building stronger as time passes. In a way, it is the same situation on campus when the semester begins, when the students place zombie-masks over their faces every term. Self-induced nihilism of intellect. A blank no-face. Silence. Communication shut down. Nothing going in. Nothing coming out. An existential crisis in itself.

The worst offender surprises me: Hunger Mountain. Back in March I sent four poems through the Submishmash submission manager system, and my work sits there, in the in-box, “in progress” mode. Two inquiry letters were sent. Posted a gentle “tweet” asking for clarification. No response at all. Not even a form letter saying my message was received.

And of course I have been circulating the work elsewhere. Simultaneous submissions are frowned upon by various journals; fewer these days than from a decade ago I notice. However, waiting over six months for a form-reject-letter is too extreme. So multiple mailings are sent.

Perhaps what irritates me the most is the fact Hunger Mountain was recommended to me by another writer. And the fact that the magazine is sponsored by Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Where I earned my MFA. Hello?

Perhaps it is time for the stone-age-out-dated system of communication: a phone call. We’ll see what happens in the near future.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Raw Underlining of Modern Experience

A beauty lies in decay. In dilapidation and rust. Even in haiku poems, scenes of elaborate filth and squalor or raw tones of decomposition can be utilized to embellish a poet's message. Modern writers such as Richard Wright and Santoka Teneda knew this when creating their memorable poems. Even Bashō on occasion used this technique to his advantage. There is a danger making haiku verse into a sentimental recording of an event, a danger in capturing only picturesque moments or sequences of "deeper meaning"— Recreating moments with disturbing images or even mundane, ordinary objects can impact a reader with a strong emphasis, allowing them to transcend the information into something other.

Some Quick Examples:

     A horse is pissing
In the snow-covered courtyard
     In the morning sun.
                                   —Richard Wright

     While urinating
I feel slightly self-conscious
     Before the spring moon.
                                   —Richard Wright

Making my way through the fallen leaves,
I have a good shit in the fields.
                                   —Santoka Teneda

Red urine—
How long will I be able
To continue this journey?
                                   —Santoka Teneda

fleas and lice
now a horse pisses
by my pillow


What these five poems have in common is the emphasis of articulating the grit of everyday living— and moving beyond the "ugliness," beyond the unspoken rituals of existence.


With this in mind, I am currently developing a series of haiku sentences on themes not normally associated with such meditative verse. The first handful I have generated specifically delve into the night life of a gay dance club— the ones with less than posh atmospheres, the ones that carry scenes of a warehouse dive, or the hidden Mid-American beer joints with secret entrances.

What I hope to accomplish is a stronger, more direct approach towards my writing— a frank honesty, or a means to expose the raw underlining of modern existence. To utilize themes less expected from an average haiku.

A litany of these will be posted on Twitter: @Pan_Within.

A Quick Preview:

1/ From the stage— leaning through a blur of cigarettes— their hard bodies sway.

17/ When he drinks, his tongue slips forward first—darting into the mouth of the glass.

25/ On backstairs, he hears brusque intakes of breath. Then invisible whispers.

Works Cited Page