• Culture Clash

    Homer did no injustice to his grief

    . Robert Frost in the words of Tobias  Wolff, from Old School. Don’t tell me about war. I lost my nearest friend in the one they call the Great War. So did Achilles lose his friend in the war, and Homer did no injustice to his grief by writing about it in dactylic hexameters. There’ve always been wars, and they’ve always been as foul as we could make them. It is very fine and pleasant to think ourselves the most put-upon folk in history – but then everyone has thought that from the beginning. It makes a grand excuse for all manner of laziness. But about my friend. I wrote…

  • Culture Clash

    Interview with John Spaulding

    . From the spring issue of West Magazine, my interview with poet John Spaulding. Your can read Spaulding’s poems in the issue here. John Spaulding holds degrees in English and psychology and earned a PhD in psychology from the University of Arizona, Tucson. He has worked as a psychologist for the Phoenix Indian Medical Center and the Puget Sound Service Unit of Indian Health Services. He teaches writing at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of The Roses of Starvation (1987); Walking in Stone (1989); The White Train (2004), chosen by Henry Taylor for the National Poetry Series; and Hospital (2011). He also coedited the cookbook…

  • Culture Clash

    “I’m Just a Bad Boy All Dressed Up in Fancy Clothes” (1957): West Poetry

    . Another poem from John Spaulding, our featured poet in the spring issue of West. Read more here. “I’m Just a Bad Boy All Dressed Up in Fancy Clothes” (1957) by John Spaulding I’m just a bad bad boy all dressed up in fancy clothes a jive bomber a rocket 88 a war baby a cherry bomb a rebel with no cause but me The newest thing under all the trashy stars– hotter than Tab Hunter, James Dean, and, Sal Mineo, better start movin on I’m a man lover who understands the only real cupcake is the cupcake of death Johnny Ace got nothing on me I am Xmas Eve…

  • Culture Clash

    West Poetry: “Bruja”

    . Our featured poet in the spring issue of West is John Spaulding. Spaulding’s The White Train was chosen by Henry Taylor for the 2004 National Poetry Series.  He is the author also  of The Roses of Starvation (1987), Walking in Stone (1989), and Hospital (2011). His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Hunger Mountain, Rattle, Nimrod and many other periodicals. Below is the first poem of his West feature. Bruja To Rose Brodell by John Spaulding Today I thought of you, fast woman of Tucson, near where you slept with coyotes howling in your dreams.  Near where you walked the desert with…

  • Culture Clash

    Speaking in Voices

    . In the new, spring issue of West, my Poetic License column offers a discussion of voice in poetry, in introduction to the poetry of John Spaulding, whose The White Train was chosen by Henry Taylor for the National Poetry Series in 2004. The first thing I look for in a poem is its voice. It is likely not the first thing I find. That may be an image, a sound, a surprising collision of words. These will help create the voice, but they are not yet it, and it is only once I hear the voice that I know if it is a poem for which I will feel passion, to…

  • Culture Clash

    Kingdom Animalia

    for JSA April 4, 1947 – May 16, 2011 Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay When I get the call about my brother, I’m on a stopped train leaving town & the news packs into me—freight— though it’s him on the other end now, saying finefine— Forfeit my eyes, I want to turn away from the hair on the floor of his house & how it got there Monday, but my one heart falls like a sad, fat persimmon dropped by the hand of the Turczyn’s old tree. I want to sleep. I do not want to sleep. See, one day, not today, not now, we will be gone from this…

  • Creative,  Culture Clash

    We Fuses

    . Julia gave me a splendid gift for my birthday today. When I was a very young man in Manhattan, in my early and later twenties, I would pour over and plow through the book reviews and journals – all the epistles from the church of literature –  including, deliciously each Sunday, the New York Times Book Review, in those days, under John Leonard, so much more seriously literary than now. I would cut out black and white print photos of so many of the twentieth century’s greats and excerpts of books and poetry collections, memoirs and anecdotes that captured my admiring and aspiring fancy. Apparently, years ago, I gave the folder with all of those clippings to…

  • Uncategorized

    Eating Poetry (XLIV) – “After Experience Taught Me …”

    . Offered without comment because all the words belong to Snodgrass. “After Experience Taught Me …” W. D. Snograss After experience taught me that all the ordinary Surroundings of social life are futile and vain; I’m going to show you something very Ugly: someday, it might save your life. Seeing that none of the things I feared contain In themselves anything either good or bad What if you get caught without a knife; Nothing—even a loop of piano wire; Excepting only in the effect they had Upon my mind, I resolved to inquire Take the first two fingers of this hand; Fork them out—kind of a “V for Victory”— Whether…

  • Culture Clash

    Inaugurations and Occasional Poetry

    . How shall we receive Richard Blanco’s poem for the occasion of President Obama’s second inauguration? Occasional poems – poems written in honor of an occasion – may be as old as poetry itself. They have a great tradition, but quite arguably that tradition has significantly diminished. Why? One easily distinguished difference in the origination of occasional poems is whether the writing sprang from the poet’s own desire to dedicate some verse or, instead, the poet was commissioned to write the poem. The latter instance is burdened with expectation, with the occasion’s history and perhaps solemn or majestic moment, and with the simple public knowledge of the commission. There have…

  • Culture Clash

    The New Year: Drunk with Time

    . I was reminded by a reader’s visit of what I posted here three years ago today: Charles Baudelaire’s “Be Drunk” (below). A good-humored dissenting comment reminded of Baudelaire that the man died at age 46 a syphilitic laudanum addict having spent fortunes of inherited money on prostitutes and wine. Ah, well, we are such foibles as we possess. But something more, as Baudelaire attests. The commenter directed us, in contrast, to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, adding, it is only in submission to time — not in escape from it — that liberation can be glimpsed. I confess I go eternally (as it will be) back and forth in in my…

  • Culture Clash

    Eating Poetry (XLIII) – “oh antic God”

    . This past Thursday was the ninth anniversary of my mother’s death. With my brother’s wife, I was at her graveside, beside my father. Anne and I laughed before we cried: a lot of familial channeling went on – voices and manners of speech, verbal expressions. This year, more than the pain of taking away, there was the hole of missing so much, never to be filled. “oh antic God” BY LUCILLE CLIFTON oh antic God return to me my mother in her thirties leaned across the front porch the huge pillow of her breasts pressing against the rail summoning me in for bed. I am almost the dead woman’s age…

  • Culture Clash

    Eating Poetry (XLII) – Sunder

    . I just turned in my “Poetic License” column for the upcoming spring issue of West. It’s topic is poetic voice. An extraordinary poetic voice is that of Atsuro Riley, featured here once before, just a short while ago. One is instantly aware of the the uniqueness of his voice. It diminishes that uniqueness not at all – the poeticized rural Southern diction – to remark on the reminiscence in the voice, in its clipped, energized rhythms and inventive syntactical arrangements, of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Note the opening “A last rock-skip hurlstorm” and the “In right lockstitch/ snared and split.” Note Riley’s delay of the verb and adverb until the end of a clause: By dawn the older brother…

  • Indian Country,  Israel,  The Political Animal

    Writing Paradise

    . I learned at an early adult age, with only minor but memorable pain, not to hero-worship. When we lionize people, we tend to forget the natural inclination of the lion to consume the person. I prefer admiration. Admiration works from the muck up. While hero worship sets up the faithful for a fall, admiration begins in the recognition of human failings and appreciates a person’s achievement in rising above them. Fewer disappointments that way, more genuine appreciation of the distinction in the ascent. I was asked the other day, after tweeting of his death, about my thoughts on Russell Means. Not that I have any special standing to speak…

  • Culture Clash

    How We Lived On It (54) – “Scrabble with Matthews”

    . The kind of poetic conceit etymologicon that delights in the service of deep feeling. Scrabble with Matthews BY DAVID WOJAHN (Poetry magazine October 2002) Jerboa on a triple: I was in for it, my zither on a double looking feeble as a “promising” first book. Oedipal & reckless, my scheme would fail: keep him a couple drinks ahead, & perhaps the muse would smile upon me with some ses or some blanks. January, Vermont: snowflakes teased the windows of the Burlington airport bar. The waitress tallied tips & channel-surfed above the amber stutter of the snowplow’s light: it couldn’t keep up, either. Visibility to zero, nothing taking off & his dulcimer before me (50 bonus points…

  • Culture Clash

    The Poetry of Democracy

    . In my Poetic License column for the fall issue of West, I return to last year’s New York Review of Books contretemps between Helen Vendler and Rita Dove over the latter’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. When I first wrote about the dispute, I considered the the politics in poetry. In “Diction and Democracy,” I delve more deeply into the politics of language, and how it reforms itself further into the language of politics. The casual reader might be surprised to learn of such passion about and behind poetry, but then it was the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky who, during his Soviet show trial in St. Petersburg in…

  • Culture Clash

    How We Lived On It (53) – “We are the knife people…”

    . Maybe none of it, finally, is like bone – not solid and lasting enough – or muscle – not as strong – but cartilage: something in between, partaking of both, lesser, but also greater, because it is all about connections and making them. Some semi-random connections. Robert Hughes died this past week. What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto…

  • Culture Clash,  Uncategorized

    Eating Poetry (XL) – As from a Quiver of Arrows

    . A poem about loss, or the end of things, if there is an end to things, or transformation, or it maybe being the nature in things to be lost, and remembered, so how remembered? Or maybe it is forgetting we want, and where is that, and if we do forget, what was it? To work against forgetting, or not. And who would we be? AS FROM A QUIVER OF ARROWS by Carl Phillips What do we do with the body, do we burn it, do we set it in dirt or in stone, do we wrap it in balm, honey, oil, and then gauze and tip it onto and…

  • Culture Clash

    Eating Poetry (XXXIX) – “From back when it was Nam time I tell you what”

    . Here is the vernacular as the purest verbal music, singing the culture from which it is pulled, clots of earth still clinging. You may find it hard to separate the units of meaning on first read. It will be easier on second, and if you listen here to the poet reading it, you will feel you emerged from a cave into sunlight. A better reading, I think, would be faster clipped, more energetic, but still, it is like learning a new language on first hearing. Hutch By Atsuro Riley —by way of what they say From back when it was Nam time I tell you what. Them days men…

  • Culture Clash

    Eating Poetry (XXXVIII) – To the One Who is Reading Me

    . To the One Who is Reading Me by JORGE LUIS BORGES Translated from the Spanish by Tony Barnstone You are invulnerable. Didn’t they deliver (those forces that control your destiny) the certainty of dust? Couldn’t it be your irreversible time is that river in whose bright mirror Heraclitus read his brevity? A marble slab is saved for you, one you won’t read, already graved with city, epitaph, dates of the dead. And other men are also dreams of time, not hardened bronze, purified gold. They’re dust like you; the universe is Proteus. Shadow, you’ll travel to what waits ahead, the fatal shadow waiting at the rim. Know this: in some…

  • Culture Clash

    Eating Poetry (XXXVII) – The New Physics

    THE NEW PHYSICS Al Zolynas for Fritjof Capra And so, the closer he looks at things, the farther away they seem. At dinner, after a hard day at the universe, he finds himself slipping through his food.  His own hands wave at him from beyond a mountain of peas.  Stars and planets dance with molecules on his fingertips.  After a hard day with the universe, he tumbles through himself, flies  through  the dream galaxies of his own heart.  In the very presence of his family he feels he is descending through an infinite series of Chinese boxes. This morning, when he entered the little broom-closet of the electron looking for…