Friday, April 29, 2011

On Top of My Loneliness, There Was A Certain Shame

This morning I read this and found it deeply satisfying. It's from Anna Solomon's story, "The Long Net," in The Missouri Review, Volume 34 #1.

"My father had told me never to feel lonely, but I did. He said loneliness was the result of boredom, and boredom meant you weren't taking responsibility for your gifts. So on top of my loneliness, there was a certain shame."

Maybe it's just me. Interestingly enough, here's the cover of the issue titled "Peril."

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Last Stand of the Middle Class — Why you should care what happens to Unions

Democracy, Education, Mary Oliver, and What the Rabbi told Me

Sometimes there’s a lot to be said about the world. Today, I slept late, though I have a looming deadline. I looked out at the blue sky and thought about how truly different I feel now that spring has arrived. There is a wild joyfulness about spring in the north; a sincere love of seedlings and garden planting, budding trees and bright green grass after a heavy rain, of bikes and walking, and the inaugural Outdoor farmer’s market. A momentous sense of bliss invades when the first tree leaves arrive as it will take until middle-May for the trees to flourish—that first color always a new green the color of limes.

It is national poetry month and I have just started a new job; there is less time to frolic or find torment in the words and world of writing, more of my mind is spent worried about how we will change the world, as this new job is a political one. It’s temporary work which is perhaps all I am capable of in this field but I want to be more. I have noted that people who work for socio-economic (because in the US it’s always about class) justice have to maintain the mindset of the Buddha—our righteous actions are valuable in and of themselves even if they never make a bit of difference in the world. And I guess I agree I’d rather fight injustice knowing that I am going to lose than do nothing at all—though, mind you, I don’t feel hopeless about change.

Indeed, it has always and only been a small group of committed individuals that create change in the world. Of course what we struggle with is our sense of smallness and our feelings of self-love, self-preservation: to know and process all the injustice of the world seems too much, too painful, enough to kill us.

What I am continually surprised by (really I don’t know why I’m surprised, I’m no saint or spring-chicken) is how everything revolves around the bottom line of money and greed. Really, aren’t you sort of surprised by this? Don’t you sort of want to believe all people have good intentions at heart?

A few days ago Reince Priebus came to Burlington Vermont and a group of 100 plus Pro-Labor protestors stood outside the Hilton where he was to speak at a GOP fundraiser dinner. Priebus stated, “I call that a coffee clatch,” in reference to the protestors, “I’m used to 70,000 in Wisconsin.” It seemed he was proud of the WI protests—which at their height were as many as 120,000—as though supporting public policy hated by the people is something to gloat about. However, since Priebus was never elected by the people for any public servant position perhaps he holds a grudge.

What bothers me about the current sweep of legislation aimed to severely dismantle public unions, besides the obvious feeling that this is coming from big business (Koch Industries) and aimed to strategically erode the power of Democrats by destroying the most viable groups of middle class mobilizers, is that the GOP once again is fucking with our public schools.

Photo: Jay LaPrete / AP

Democracy requires an educated public; in fact it only runs via education. The more the GOP destroys our schools the more they destroy the principles of democracy. Again, it’s all about what makes money and what costs money. Apparently the GOP would like to pay teachers minimum wage with no benefits. Apparently only people who generate revenue deserve to make a decent income. Does this really make sense to you?

If any of you out there think that teachers have it easy, I urge you to talk to teachers about what their days are like, about how hard it is to try to teach 30 plus kids –all with different needs, emotions, feelings, learning abilities—in an hour; ask them how much time they spend at home grading papers and planning lessons, ask them how much time they have to spend fighting for a decent wage and affordable benefits (my mom pays a quarter of her income for health care), ask them what it’s like to start out making $30,000 (apparently the starting income of a non-masters level teacher at Burlington High School). Then, I urge you to never ever again think of not voting “Yes” for the school budget or complaining about how teachers get summers off because if you want to live in a society where education sucks then you don’t want to live in a democracy.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images North America

Back to Reince Priebus: Right now in Ohio, Arizona, Florida, in Alaska and several other states legislation aimed at destroying public unions is being pushed: making it illegal for teachers to strike, tying test scores to teacher’s pay, and eliminating the union’s ability to deduct dues from paychecks (so every teacher would have to mail in the $20 or so due from each check-why don’t we require individuals to mail in their income tax each paycheck also).

I urge you to stay informed and speak out against this legislation. Unions are the last stand in the erosion of the middle class in the US. Again, I need to point out democracy: unions allow workers to have a say about what happens in their work place rather than having a small group of individuals making all the decisions. Unions are democracy—a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Back to Poetry Month: from Red Bird poems by Mary Oliver

I don’t want to live a small life

I don’t want to live a small life. Open your eyes,
open your hands. I have just come
from the berry fields, the sun

kissing me with its golden mouth all the way
(open your hands) and the wind-winged clouds
Following along thinking perhaps I might
Feed them, but no I carry these heart-shapes
only to you. Look how many how small
but so sweet and may be the last gift

I will ever bring to anyone in this
World of hope and risk, so do.
Look at me. Open your life, open your hands.

I want to believe that this life has room enough for the world of the spirit, for the life of the poem, for days filled with fighting for justice and days spent in the oblivion of the sun of early spring—for days alone in our private hearts and days of solidarity.

A Rabbi once told me, “Emily, your righteousness is your strength.” He did not mean that I was a rightous woman, he meant that in fighting for what is right I gather strength.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Leave Only a Blue Scroll of Notes: Lynda Hull

For years I’ve been in love with Lynda Hull. I’m trying to remember how I came across her; it might have been my friend Jeremy and something to do with Chet Baker: "You have to read 'Lost Fugue for Chet,'” he would have said, getting that funny smirk on his face—like he’s secretly laughing with pleasure about some bit of art that cracked him open. “Okay,” I would have said, "let me write that down." And I would have taken out one of my teeny tiny notebooks kept for writing things down and remembering, which was always also filled with list upon list upon list of what I needed to do.

What is it about Hull? I kept the world “Utsoroi” as my secret name, a clandestine part of me embodied in this magic word. And then this, “The Japanese call this utsuroi, / a way of finding beauty at the point / it is altered, so it is not the beauty / of the rose, but its evanescence / which tenders the greater joy,” I remembered in variation for years: writing and re-writing it down in journals, on slips of paper to stick to a wall at a desk in a room in some apartment somewhere.

There is a sadness and longing, a piercing joy, in Hull that I relate to. But also, I suspect (but have never wanted to figure out) that we share a certain disease, which I also presume killed her as this disease tends to do. I know the emptiness and grueling hell of such a life, though I did not know her and could never know what life was like for her (of course, of course), I sense it in her work, and that is what I felt connected to when I first read her.

Now, years later, I feel connected more to the beauty in her work than the sorrow…perhaps, perhaps...the beauty of the sorrow, which of course is utsuroi.

Here, from “Magical Thinking,” the color of her musical sorrows:

It is a common human longing to want utterly
     to vanish from one life and arrive transformed
          in another. When the man came home, he’d

touch her shoulders, her neck, but each touch
     discovered only the borders of her solitude.
          As a child in that neighborhood she’d believed

people were hollow and filled with quiet music, that   
     if she were hurt deeply enough she would break
          and leave only a blue scroll of notes.

This could be us, the feeling of solitude, the secondary (but primary) inner life in collusion with childhood, carrying with it still the true magic of “a blue scroll of notes.”

I know it’s sort of sacrilege to be chopping up great poems and blathering on in this lackadaisical fashion focused on only what I want to see, feel, know. Okay, I’m not that self-absorbed, but kind of. All beauty has a way of either cutting through us or reflecting parts of us. Truth and Desire. This could be any of us, and then.

At first when he hit her, her face burned.
     Far off the stadium lights crossed the cool
          Green diamond and burnished cobwebs swaying

on the ceiling. Then she became invisible,
     so when the doctor leaned over and asked
          her name all she could think of were her dresses

thrown from the window like peonies exploding
     to bloom in the clear dark air. No music –
          merely a rose haze through her lids, something

ticking in her head like a metronome
     in a parlor, dusty and arid with steam heat.

And then you see it isn’t any of us, but this one person. Yet you understand this could be any of us. That I think is a stroke of genius-magic.

          How many lives she’d passed through to find

herself, an aging woman in black, before the locked
     and empty shop. So much sleight of hand, the years
          simply dissolving. Again she hears the crowd,

a billow of applause rippling across the brilliant
     diamond, across the mysterious passage
          of time and the failure of sorrow to pass away.

I have left the first stanza of this poem out; you can find “Magical Thinking” in Lynda Hull’s beautiful book published in 1991, Star Ledger, along with the poems “Utsuroi” and “Lost Fugue for Chet.” Star Ledger is also published onlinein PDF by the University of Iowa.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Hate Going Back to Writing About Flowers and Sex

I don’t know much about Stephen Dobyns so I’m not going to pretend to or even research anything about him because I’m not all that interested in knowing things about Dobyns. Although in his picture he looks like a very nice man, don't you think?  I do know that he lives in Rhode Island and parks his truck by a lighthouse and watches the winter Atlantic. I know a mixture of humor and serious considerations about the world constitute his domain and he is uncompromising about what he needs to say in a poem. Sometimes I wonder if poets get away with writing things like (this is the first line to his poem “Werewolf”) “Last night I dreamt a jumbo jet fucked a werewolf bitch, changed for the event into half-human form” because they’re famous or well-loved, but I don’t think that’s the case with Dobyns, though he is rather famous for a 21st century poet and most likely well-loved.

I am reading “Winter’s Journey,” learning about the meditative poem which to me is much like the meditative essay, and a poem that seems to have room for saying things poems usually aren’t allowed to say: like, “Sorry, sorry, I’m getting off the subject again.”

By far the best thing I’ve read all year, Dobyns’ poem “Napatree Point.”

Here’s some of it.

from “Napatree Point” by Stephen Dobyns

A mile from where I live is a beach where in winter

I walk the dog, console myself with the ocean’s beauty,

And ponder the imponderables, like what to do about

Living in a country that has become an embarrassment,

Disliked and even gated around the world, a constant

Source of bickering among its people and led by men

And women who seem stupid, but are probably only

scared, greedy, egotistical, and ignorant. Forgive me

if I forgot a few.

Not so long ago Harvard’s top poetry critic told me

and a few others that she took pride in never once

having voted. It was hard to feel more than sad, but,

to me, she vanished, she became a nonperson, as if

she had walked out on the human race, her writings

also, since what truth could she say about poetry if

she separated poetry from the world? I know I can’t

just rant in a poem, although it’s hard to stop myself,

but given the problem I hate going back to writing

about flowers and sex.