About Muscle by Marylen Grigas*

FCA-64-sea-squirt-Clavelina-sp.

If there’s no need for movement, then no need for a brain, I’ve learned, 

a fact demonstrated by the sea squirt, a small creature that swims

freely in its youth until it settles on a rock. Then it devours its own brain. 

And spinal cord. It simply doesn’t require them any longer. 

(God, don’t let me settle.) Need for movement leads to need for muscle. 

The brain evolves in order to plan and execute reaching, grasping, 

turning, according to the expert on Charlie Rose, which I watch

on my iPad while walking on the treadmill to rebuild my strength. 

Plenty of species thrive without brains, he says. It could be different. 

on another planet, I suppose, but here evolution of the brain is about muscle. 

Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger or an evolutionary biologist. 

Yet the brainless sea squirt still gets upset, still squirts. 

Maybe it’s innate, like a horse’s hide shuddering to dislodge a fly. 

Maybe that’s why I started moving and arranging boulders last fall. 

I thought I was making a terrace. But afterward it looked more like a grave. 

 

*Published in the September 1, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

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Before by Sean O’Brien*

pansy-flower

Make over the alleys and gardens to birdsong,
The hour of not-for-an-hour. Lie still.
Leave the socks you forgot on the clothesline.
Leave slugs to make free with the pansies.
The jets will give Gatwick a miss
And from here you could feel the springs
Wake by the doorstep and under the precinct
Where now there is nobody frozenly waiting.
This is free time, in the sense that a handbill
Goes cartwheeling over the crossroads
Past stoplights rehearsing in private
And has neither witness nor outcome.
This is before the first bus has been late
Or the knickers sought under the bed
Or the first cigarette undertaken,
Before the first flush and cross word.
Viaducts, tunnels and motorways: still.
The mines and the Japanese sunrise: still.
The high bridges lean out in the wind
On the curve of their pinkening lights,
And the coast is inert as a model.
The wavebands are empty, the mail unimagined
And bacon still wrapped in the freezer
Like evidence aimed to intrigue our successors.
The island is dreamless, its slack-jawed insomniacs
Stunned by the final long shot of the movie,
Its murderers innocent, elsewhere.
The policemen have slipped from their helmets
And money forgets how to count.
In the bowels of Wapping the telephones
Shamelessly rest in their cradles.
The bomb in the conference centre’s
A harmless confection of elements
Strapped to a duct like an art installation.
The Première sleeps in her fashion,
Her majesty, all the princesses, tucked up
With the Bishops, the glueys, the DHSS,
In the people’s Republic of Zeds.
And you sleep at my shoulder, the cat at your feet,
And deserve to be spared the irruption
Of if, but and ought, which is why
I declare this an hour of general safety
When even the personal monster-
Example the Kraken-is dead to the world
Like the deaf submarines with their crewmen
Spark out at their fathomless consoles.
For we do not exist, and I promise
I shall not wake anyone yet.

*Published in Emergency Kit, Edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney, Published in 2004 by Faber and Faber

The Ever-Enigmatic Ezra Pound: From Foreign Languages to Fascism

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Does anyone know how hard it is to get a hold of Ezra Pound’s Cantos? I mean, they don’t even have the damn thing on eBook and they have everything on eBook these days. Since I have boycotted Amazon for their unacceptable treatment of Hachette, the less popular titles I’m after have started to seem less attainable. (While Amazon is a nasty monopoly who is literally squeezing money out of the fragile publishing industry, they have an unparalleled selection.) But as a principled book buyer, I went to Strand, talked to a human, ordered the book, waited two days (agony), and picked it up. I sort of felt like Ezra Pound was playing hard to get.

I liked Ezra Pound ever since I read this quote: “Use either no ornament or good ornament.” I’m entirely guilty of the occasional mediocre ornament, but this simple, straightforward statement on writing made me feel an immediate kinship with him. Then I started reading his biography…

Ezra Pound was a fascist. He supported Hitler and Mussolini, wrote for fascist publications, and was prosecuted as a traitor of the United States of America. How could I possibly like a poet like that!?

But that raises the question, do you have approve of the artist to like the art?

The recent Wood Allen Controversy has made many avid fans answer this question. After his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow came forward with an open letter accusing Allen of sexual abuse, fans and colleagues had to decide if this mattered. Are Allen’s films now ruined because he’s a bad person? People don’t argue if Allen’s films are good. Everyone knows they are. But does his personal life change the way we feel about them?

I decided I could live with Ezra Pound’s political past, separate the poems from the poet. The poems are good. Undeniably good, but they’re also pretentious and alienating. Pound alludes to obscure figures in classical mythology and switches without warning into Italian and Greek. The reader gets the feeling that he’s got something to prove. I wish my hard-to-get copy was footnoted, but even without fully understanding the content of Pound’s poems I am still drawn to them. I sit in my room, reading the poems aloud, feeling delight at the lines that are just perfect. Below is my favorite Canto thus far.

 

Canto V

Great bulk, huge mass, thesaurus;

Ecbatan, the clock ticks and fades out

The bride awaiting the god’s tough; Ecbatan

City of patterned streets; again the vision:

Down in the viae stradae, toga’d the crowd, and arme’d,

Rushing on the populous business,

And from parapet looked down

And North was Egypt

The celestial Nile, blue deep

Cutting low barren land,

Old men and camels

Working the water-wheels;

Iamblichus’ light,

The souls ascending

Sparks like a partridge covey,

Like the “ciocco”, brand struck in the game.

“Et omniformis”: Air, fire, the pale soft light.

Topaz I manage, and three sorts of blue;

But on the barb of time.

The fire? Always, and the vision always,

Ear dull, perhaps, with the vision, flitting

And fading at will.     Weaving with points of gold,

Gold-yellow, saffron…     The roman shoe, Aurunculeia’s

And come shuffling feet, and cries “Da nuces!

“Nuces!” praise, and Hymenaeus “brings the girl to her man”

Or “here Suxtus had seen her.”

Titter of sound about me, always

And from “Hesperus…”

Hush of the older song: “Fades light from sea-crest,

“And in Lydia walks with pair’d women

“Peerless among the pairs, that ones in Sardis

“In satieties…

Fades the light from the sea, and many things

“Are set abroad and brought to mind of thee”

And the vinestocks lie untended, new leaves come one the shoots,

North wind nips on the bough, and seas in heart

Toss up chill crests,

And the vine stocks lie untended

And many things are set abroad and brought to mind

Of thee, Atthis, unfruitful.

The talks ran long into the night.

And from Mauleon, fresh with a new earned grade,

In maze of approaching rain-steps, Poicebot—

The air was full of women,

And Savairic Mauleon

Gave him his land and knight’s fee, and he wed the woman.

Came lust of travel on him, of romerya;

And out of England a knight with slow-lifting eyelids

Lei fassa furar a del, put glamour upon her…

And left her an eight months gone

“Came lust of women upon him,”

Poicebot, now on north road from Spain

(Sea-change, a grey in the water)

And in small house by town’s edge

Found a woman, changed and familiar face;

Hard night, and parting at morning.

 

And Pieire won the singing, Pieire de Maensac,

Song or land on the throw, and was dreitz hom

And had De Tierci’s wife and with the war they made:

Troy in Auvergnat

While Menelaus piled up the curch at port

He kept Tyndarida.   Dauphin stood with de Maensac.

 

John Borgia is bathed at last.           (Clock-tick pierces the vision)

Tiber, dark with the cloak, wet cat gleaming in patches.

Click of the hooves, through garbage,

Clutching the greasy stone. “And the clock floated.”

Slander is up betimes.

But Varchi of Florence,

Steeped in a different year, and pondering Brutus,

Then Σιγα μαλ ανΘις σεντεραν!

“Dog-eye!!”” (to Alessandro)

“Whether for love of Florence,” Varchi leaves it,

Saying  “I saw the man, came up with him at Venice,

“I, one wanting the facts,

“And no means labor… Or for a privy spite?”

Our Benedetto leaves it,

O empia? For Lorenzaccio had thought of stroke in the open

But uncertain (for the Duke went never unguarded)

“And would have thrown him from the wall

“Yet feared this might not end him,” or lest Alessandro

Know not by whom death came, O se credesse

“If when the foot slipped, when death came upon him,

“Lest cousin Duke Alessandro think he had fallen alone,

“No friend to aid him falling.”

Caina attende.

The lake of ice there below me.

And all of this, runs Varchi, dreamed out beforehand

In Perugia, caught in the star-maze by Del Carmine,

Cast on a natal paper, set with an exegesis, told,

All told to Alessandro, told thrice over,

Who held his death for a doom.

In abuleia.      But Don Lorenzino

Whether for love of Florence…but

“O se morisse, credesse caduto da sé”

Σιγα σιγα

Schiavoni, caught on the wood-barge,

Gives out the afterbirth, Giovanni Borgia,

Trails out no more at nights, where Barabello

Prods the Pope’s elephant, and gets no crown, where Mozarello

Takes the Calabrian roadway, and for ending

Is smothered beneath a mule,

a poet’s ending,

Down a stale well-hole, oh a poet’s ending.           “Sanazarro

“Alone out of all the court was faithful to him”

For the gossip of Naples’ trouble drifts to North,

Fracastor (lightning was midwife) Cotta, and Ser D’Alviano,

Al poco giorno ed al gran cerchio d’ombra,

Talk the talks out with Navighero,

Burner of yearly Martials

(The slavelet is nourned in vain)

And the next comer says “Were nine wounds,

“Four men, white hourse. Held on the saddle before him…”

Hooves clink and slick on the cobbles.

Schiavoni…cloak… “Sink the damn thing!”

Splash wakes that chap on the wood-barge.

Tiber catching the nap, the moonlit velvet,

A wet cat gleaming in patches.

“Se pia,” Varchi,

“O empia, ma risoluto

“E terribile deliberazione.”

Both sayings rule in the wine,

Ma se morisse!

Bruise by Michael Ondaatje*

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In the medieval darkness of the Holland Tunnel

with luminous green paint, on whitewashed walls

of the Madrid zoo, in his thick fingered handwriting

onto dust at the dry Casablanca aquarium

 

When last I held you in my arms

my love, the West African Black

Rhinoceros was still magnificent 

and still alive…”

 

What have you been doing to Paul Vermeersch?

He has searched for you encyclopedically

in Albacete, in Zagora, in those cities

whose names have changed,

till the maps he relies on wear out.

In what disguise did you leave him?

So he will not recognize

your gait anymore,

or your stare out from a diorama.

 

Hunt and Torment. Call by no Response.

In the end words of love reveal

just yourself. Not why

or the wished-for thing. Only the Spanish

consider his plea, only the drivers

deep in a tunnel into New York

nod wisely, agree with him.

But it is the black rhino whose loss they mourn,

not the person he once held in his arms

 

When it is over, it is over,

they say in the passing dark.

There are no longer great nostrils

to scent out the source of torment.

It is a generation since our love,

to justify anger, had a horn, a tusk.

 

*Originally published in the January, 13 2014 issue of The New Yorker. 

The King of the Cats is Dead by Peter Porter*

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The light on his thigh was like

a waterfall in Iceland, and his hair

was the tidal rip between two rocks,

his claws retracted sat in softness

deeper than the ancient moss of Blarney,

his claws extended were the coulter

of the gods and a raw March wind

was in his merely agricultural yawn.

Between his back legs was a catapult

of fecundity and he was riggish

as a red-haired man. The girls

of our nation felt him brush their legs

when they were bored with telling rosaries-

at night he clawed their brains in their

coffined beds and his walnut mind

wrinkled on their scalps. His holidays

were upside down in water and then

his face was like the sun: his smell

was in the peat smoke and even his midden

was a harmony of honey. When he stalked

his momentary mice the land shook

as though Atlantic waves were bowling

at the western walls. But his eyes

were the greatest thing about him.

They burned low and red so that drunks

saw them like two stars above a hedge,

they held the look of last eyes

in a drowning man, they were the sight

the rebel angels saw the first morning

of expulsion. And he is dead – a voice

from the centre of the earth told of his death

by treachery, that he lies in a hole

of infamy, his kidneys and his liver

torn from his body.

 

Therefore tell

the men and horses of the market-place,

the swallows laying twigs, the salmon

on the ladder that nothing is

as it has been

 

time is explored

and all is known, the portents

are of brief and brutal things, since

all must here the words of desolation

The King of the Cats is Dead

 

and it

is only Monday in the world.

 

*Published in Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times, Edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney

 

Note: WordPress does not allow you to indent lines significantly, a frustration for anyone transcribing poetry. Thus, please not that the stanza breaks are really supposed to be indents.

 

Apricots by Jennifer Grotz*

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I judged them very carefully, as though

I’d been given the charge to determine

which are good or bad, and they were all good,

even the slightly overripe ones with bruises,

had a better ferment that only brightened

the scent. And the too young ones, firm

and slightly sour, not yet softened by the sun.

And the ripe ones, which felt like hiring into

my own flesh, slightly carnivorous.

 

They had been elegant in the tree, tiny coquettes

blushing more and more until I picked them,

then they were minimalist and matte-colored

in wooden bowls, so barely furred one couldn’t

help but clothe them, enclose them with your hand,

caress each one thoroughly before taking a bite,

exploring the handsome freckles left

from some minor blight.

 

Now I stand under the tree and

pluck them one after the other.

Each one tastes different, like a mind having

erratic thoughts. Going into the trance

halfway between eating and thinking,

the thought of an apricot, the apricot of a thought,

whose goodness occurs over time, so that

some had been better earlier, others soon

would become correct, I mean ripe.

 

*Published in the January 13th, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

The Philosopher Savant Takes a Walk by Rustin Larson*

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On my way to the post office this morning, I was feeling

Pretty balanced, pretty good. I looked at the movie posters;

I passed the tattoo-and-piercing establishment. Some

Restaurant was frying up a batch of onions.

I got over that and kept walking. I retrieved my mail.

If I can be someone’s entertainment by being myself,

I have no regrets. I believed in my footsteps. I crossed

To walk through the gazebo. There were a few marigolds.

The sun was tilted and cooly golden. A crippled woman

Watched me from her car. It was a Tuesday; I remember

that much

 

*Published in the January 13, 2014 issue of The New Yorker 

Poetry is Not a Luxury by Audre Lorde (1977)

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The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through these lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is throughout poetry that we give name to those ideas which are–until the poem–nameless and formless, about to be birthed but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.

As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us.

For each of us as women, there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises, ‘beautiful/ and tough as chestnut/ stanchions against (y)our nightmare of weakness/ ‘ and of impotence. 

These places of possibility within ourselves are dark because they are ancient and hidden; they have survived and grown strong through that darkness. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep.

When we view living in the european mode only as a problem to be solved, we rely solely upon our ideas to make us free, for these were what the white fathers told us were precious.

But as we come more into tough with our own ancient, non-european consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge and, therefore, lasting action comes.

At this pout in time, I believe that women carry within ourselves the possibility for fusion of these two approaches so necessary for survival, and we come closest to this combination in our poetry. I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word poetry to mean–in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward surveil and change, first made into language, then into idea, them into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experience of our daily lives. 

As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action. Right now, I could name at least ten ideas I would have found intolerable and incomprehensible and frightening, except as they came after dreams and poems. This is not idle fantasy, but a disciplined attention to the true meaning of “it feels right to me”. We can train ourselves to respect our feelings and to transpose them into a language so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

Possibility is neither forever nor instant, I tis not easy to sustain belief in its efficacy. We can sometimes work long and hard to establish one beachhead of real resistance to the deaths we are expected to live, only to have that beachhead assaulted or threatened by those canards we have been socialized to fear, or by the withdrawal of those approvals that we have been warned to seek for safety. Women see ourselves diminished or softened by the falsely benign accusations of childishness, of nonuniversiality, of changeability, of sensuality. And who asks the question: Am I altering your aura, your ideas, your dreams, or am I merely moving you to temporary and reactive action? And even though the latter is no mean task, it is one that must be seen within the context of a need for true alteration of the very foundations of our lives.

The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us–the poet–whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.

However, experience has taught us that action in the now is also necessary, always. Our children cannot dream unless they live, they cannot live unless they are nourished, and who else will feed them the real food without which their dreams will be no different than ours?’ If you want us to change the world someday, we at least have to live long enough to grow up!’ shouts the child.

Sometimes we drug ourselves with dreams of new ideas,. The head will save us. The brain alone will set us free. But there are  no new ideas still waiting in the wings to save us as women, as human. There are only old and forgotten ones, noes combinations, extrapolations and recognition from within ourselves–along with the renewed courage to try them out. And we must constantly encourage ourselves and each other to attempt the heretical actions that our dreams imply, and so many of our old ideas disparage. In the forefront of our move toward change, there is only poetry to hint at possibility made real. Our poems formulate the implications of ourselves, what we week within and dare make real (or bring action into accordance with), our fears, our hopes, our most cherished terrors.

For within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjuncts or pleasant pastimes, feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men. But women have survived. As poets. And there are no new pains. We have felt them all already. We have hidden that fact in the same place where we have hidden our power. They surface in our dreams, and it is our dreams that point the way to freedom. Those dreams are made realizable through our poems that give us the strength and courage to see, to feel, to speak, and to dare.

If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is discounted as luxury, then we give up the core–the fountain–of our power, our womanness, we give up the future of our worlds.

For there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt–of examining what those ideas feel like being lived on Sunday morning at 7 a.m., after brunch, during wild love, making war, giving birth, mourning our dead–while we suffer the old longings, battle the old warnings and fears of being silent and impotent and alone, while we taste new possibilities and strengths.

 

Street by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

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He fell in love with the butcher’s daughter

When he saw her passing by in her white trousers

Dangling a knife on a ring at her belt.

He stared at the dark shining drops on the paving-stones.

 

One day he followed her

Down the slanting lane at the back of the shambles.

A door stood half-open

And the stairs were brushed and clean,

Each tread marked with the red crescent

Her bare heels left, raiding to faintest at the top.