Chimera Song Mosaic
Monday, September 25, 2006
People keep telling me that they have just moved to Houston after never having visited before, having heard bad things about it, and being pleasantly surprised (and relived) to find so much art and culture and "so many readings!" See. Give things a chance.
Not sure if I mentioned that I've joined a memoir workshop, lead by Laurie Clements Lambeth and through inprint and the University of Houston. So far, it is going great. She is generous, warm, and precise. So I have been reading all the memoirs I can get my hands on (with a credit card and a willing recommender, this is no small number). I will be listing and reporting on those to the right. Laurie is a poet first, and this is why I wanted to be in her class. I especially like to read memoirs by poets. Any recommendations are appreciated.
Yes, and I found one of these trivial payoffs that I was saying never happens! Well, it’s not exactly a payoff, but I’m thinking that the way this would work is you, after having spent much time studying something bizarre, would suddenly find yourself one day in a position to say, “Hey, I know a little about that!” (Or whatever you would say in such a situation, depending on your level of smugness.)
So this sort of happened to me the other day at Brazos Bookstore. I was picking up some stuff I wanted, and I happened to see stacks of Ali and Nino displayed prominently on a table. Ali and Nino! What? I have been wanting to read this novel since this summer when I read all about the author, Lev Nussimbaum, in Tom Reiss’s The Orientalist. Though this 1999 reprint lists the author as Kuban Said, though the Austrian PhD in the back explains that this was a joint effort between Nussimbaum and Baroness von Erhenfels, it’s really just Lev Nussimbaum. Well, probably. This is someone I know all about (well, all that can be known, I presume, since Reiss did extensive research, and the book is still strangely sketchy for a biography; Nussinbaum often went to great lengths to obscure his identity). So I told the woman checking me out, who happens to be on the writing faculty at U of H, “Hey! I have been looking for this book,” and I told her a little about The Orientalist. She said she has heard great things about the novel (Ali and Nino).
So I’m going to read it right away. (Well, when I finish reading this memoir and grading some papers.) I don’t know where I’m going with this. Another thing that happened at the bookstore is that at first I didn’t get the student discount because I didn’t know teachers—or professors—could get it too. Then I was able to get it by showing my school id. This lady behind me in line, with a Rice faculty id, said, “Is the discount just for high school teachers, or is it for college professors, too?” So she outed me as a high school teacher. Except that I’m not. Even though this annoyed me, I didn’t correct her. Really, how would that go? “Excuse me, but I don’t teach at a high school; I teach college English.” That seems petty, even for me. I’m ashamed to be such a snob, and she should be too. On the other hand, I’m burning this denim skirt, least I be mistaken once again.
Even the contributor's list is exciting to read, for some reason. There are comments by the author at the end of each poem, but don't spoil it by reading those first. (There's no big conclusions offered at the end, but just please don't spoil it. Or don't read those bits at all.) My one complaint about the site is that there aren't enough through-and-through links; what I mean by this is that the author's names don't link to their bios, etc. But don't let that stop you. Many of the contributors are editors at other journals, so this could be research too.
I was most excited by an actual diagrammatic poem by Patrick Lawler, author of A Drowning Man is Never Tall Enough. I mention this because I read this book when I was a freshman in college in a poetry workshop. I didn't like it, but I remember it being the first full poetry book I read. I couldn't find much in our library for the assignment, a critical review of a book of poetry. Our library wasn't very good. I remember being turned off poetry written by a live person for the next three years or so. Even though that doesn't seem like such a long time, how much have I changed!
Most of what I read now is written by a person who is still alive, most poems having been written by this person during the last five years. But the poem is DIAGRAM is nothing like that 1990 book. I wonder what I would have thought of contemporary poetry if I had read the poem back then. What I should do now is re-read the book, especially because I feel bad about saying that I didn't like it the first time around. (I know I'm not the only one who feels bad about not liking something. How many times have you attended a reading and bought the book, acting out of sympathy rather than real interest? I know it's ridiculous, but I always feel obligated to buy the book if I can afford it.)
NEW TOPIC: I want to write about things people don't know much about. But then I realized that these things don't really exist, or if they did, I would not likely know much about them. Take some obscure fascination somebody might have, like with Samurai or 1930s American boxing. Quite a few people know a lot about those topics, even though most don't.
I'm interested in how people spend so much time studying things that they won't be tested on later, like the above examples. Besides the odd trivial pursuit question, the study of these peculiars has no end result. Like when I spent so much time as a teenager poring over fashion magazines, learning how to dress after Labor Day and which fork to use at a formal dinner, how to jump a velvet rope, the history of Cannes. When is this stuff going to come up? I would be more likely to use my Samurai training, say I get mugged in a dark parking lot. I'm not Paris Hilton, and I didn't just get discovered to be a princess, so I have a wealth of knowledge that is essentially useless to me in this life. I find this phenomenon, the "worthless" study of the uncommon, to be both frustrating and fascinating. So, the next time someone asks you the hit points of the common Lake Troll, think for a moment before you blurt out the answer, should it be on the tip of your tongue.
This blog feels more and more like a black hole, but I'm warming to it. Whereas in the past there was evidence of others trekking through here, now it seems there is just me. The likelihood of someone being linked here from another site seems, well, trivial. But perhaps that is just fine.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Then I reach Patricia's poems, knowing I would find them and having been anxious to read her new work, especially so after her recent death. But what I did not expect is that I apparently hadn't believed that she is actually gone. So when I began the first of the three poems, I couldn't keep on track, being assaulted by the reality of her death and the companion shame of never having mourned her. I was being tough, I guess. I shrugged, read sad notes on all the blogs of fellow Montana graduates, even some I don't know personally. The last time I saw her, in March of this year at AWP in Austin, she didn't seem to remember me. The year before that, in Vancouver, she didn't recognize me until I just wouldn't go away and kept following her and Nils around until she accepted knowing me. Apparently remembrance is reciprocal. I'm not shocked to know that I can be that petty, but I have to be hit over the head with the results of such pettiness to know how it hurts, exactly in what factors and allegory.
The last time I saw Patricia, she was being escorted (by two other Montana writers) through the glassy halls of the Austin Hilton, looking for the last day dance to shake her audacious tail feathers. She never found it. Evidently there was no dance this year, and even though I had fun last time (Patricia was by far the most memorable person on that dance floor in Vancouver), I shrugged it off again and made due with gossip, hijinx, and banter in one of the hotel rooms. (In which it is revealed that I am a "Perv," and the origins of Furries are uncovered.) Then I hear just a handful of months later that she is dead; it seems cruel to refuse her a last dance.
Okay, so back to the poems: when I could stop being distracted enough to read them and look at them, I was strangely transported back to a workshop session, in which I wrote about skin and bubbles and baubles, and Patricia told me that "oilskins" were not what I thought they were and that I couldn't simply write a poem that makes up a word that so clearly signals something else. Then into her office, where in a private meeting she asked me personal questions (based on my poems) that she had no business asking. But someone has to ask such questions, and that was a stubborn part of her charm. So I am granted license to be "personal" in my readings of (some of) the last three poems. She was tough and unsentimental, and for those who did not know her this is revealed most stunningly in the poem, "Hole," found here: a message for those neophytes at love and life who dare to think something of them has earned its "given" privacy.
It's not just the suggestion of death (or my own pangs of defense) that makes these poems so eerily evocative: there is autopsy here: In the first poem, "The Body," we see "[a]ppalling fields of white" and "[l]ips [are] sewn shut." Guernica is evoked, and somehow Columbus shows up, and the Statue of Liberty. The second poem is called "Death Song: Dolce Dolce." I can't help but wonder if the sweets turn sour in the mouth when death is revealed to be inevitable, when the passing of her own husband, Leonard, left her without a mate. (We ate cookies and candies and sodas in the bright and narrow kitchen while Leonard avoided the workshopper invasion by sticking close to the shadows, moving behind the doors, and using the cats as sentinels.)
The third and last poem beings with "Death" and alludes to "Ode to a Nightingale": "In this that was love's room / who cries spectre come, / deck me, cuff me with spent fuses / soon enough dwindles from false dawn / into false death wish or is it" (Goedicke). Another room: "Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; / Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, / Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies" (Keats). Maybe I am fabricating these associations, as I am wont to invent. The poem does not end with a period but finishes, punctuation-free.
I hear that she had an unfinished book that is to be bound up and published soon. But such ownership is always the present tense. There was a memorial for her today at U of M, and Josh is getting married this weekend. I look forward
Friday, September 08, 2006
Back when I was traveling this year and the previous ones, I had some things to say that I wanted to post here, but I'm not sure if I have said them yet or not, and I'm too lazy to search through the archives. What is best is to say it when I first have the urge, better yet to let the incident match up with the time. These things have their own discrete sites on the timeline (I'm picturing DNA chains unraveling and matching proteins with their respective codes), and if I don't respect their attachments, I'm all over the place and can't recall whether or not I have thought that thought already or typed that notion.
So here are a couple of observations, possibly appearing for a second time and out of alignment with respect to their location in time:
One, that when I was in St. Petersburg two summers ago, Marisa and I ran across some cryptic but meaningful chalk drawings on the sidewalk pavement. We didn't have much time to examine these signs because we were in a harried rush to the river to join a midnight tour of the canals. At the time, I speculated that these could be remnants of a chase trail laid by the hares of the Hash House Harriers, and that if we had only followed the clues, we would have ended up in a bar somewhere on the outskirts of the city, drinking fleshy and substantial beer, but after floating across a website today of many intriguing and seemingly irrelevant games, I have now concluded that they must have been the result of a Go Game in action. There's one happening in Austin next month. Do I sign up for it, risking yet more complication in my suddenly overfull life, or do it let it go, like most things? I'm in some kind of manic stage right now where I agree to any kind of commitment coming my way, so I'd better watch out if I don't want to be stretched too thin.
(Okay, now I am SURE that I must have written of this before because I can remember linking to the Hash House Harriers. Oh, Bother!)
Two, that when I was in Dubai this summer, Lance and I were on this tiny, electric boat, and we met this very interesting man. Serving the guests at the classy, Vegasesque megahotel (irony, please) where we were staying, the Mina A' Salam, the boat ferried us two and fro around the complex, which butted up against a beautiful, white sand beach, and the opulent, over the top, luxury hotel Burj Al Arab. The canals were furnished with real seawater, which washed in and out with the tides. Well, the hotel employees ferried us around, not the boat itself, and we met one man from Sri Lanka who was eager to tell us all about the hotel and his situation. He, like many recent immigrants to the U.A.E., was sending money back home, where he could only visit once every four years. He said it was nice working in Dubai, but he missed his home and wished he were able to travel back more often. Dubai is hot year round and especially in the summer, when we visited. He said that he could certainly use a break from the heat. One of the most striking things about him was his eyes, which were bright, pale, aqua; they really stood out against his very reddish skin. He was the first person I met (that I know of) from Sri Lanka, although we met many Filipinos, Indians, and Pakistanis while in Dubai and Doha. Many people expressed a wish to travel home more often, but they Filipinos we met said they were able to get back at least once a year. It is strange how we in the United States consider our country to be the land of immigrants, but so many other places are hosting this experience (for good or for bad).
Saturday, September 02, 2006
I added two: Art and Fear (which is a self-helpish counter to Guest's bewildering--essays? notes? poems? craft lectures? I don't know what to call them) and The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steve Rinella. Okay, I have already finished that one, just a couple of days ago, and I did enjoy it. I especially liked the hunting vignettes, which were both meditative and immediate and, I'd say, accurate. It was very fun to revisit Montana through Steve's writing, some Missoula haunts and folks. (I was in a nonficion workshop with Steve at UM.) The companion website is a MUST!
But, a warning, if you are looking for an gluttonous, indulgent, XXX epicurean fantasy, you may not get all the details you are looking for. No, for that you would need the scratch-n-sniff edition. For example, you never do find out how cotelettes financieres ("glazed medallions of bighorn sheep stuffed with creamed morels, partridge, and pheasant") or faisan a la georgienne ("pheasants and chukars poached with walnuts in a sauce of pressed grapes, pressed oranges, wine, green tea, and espagnole sauce") or selle de chevreuil Briand ("saddle of antelope larded with bear fat and roasted on a bed of vegetables and garnished with pears poached in red wine") tastes, but you do get cotelettes de saumon, Cyrano consomme, pigeonneaux crapaudine, along with bear, wild pig, snapping turtle, smoked eel, rabbit, and stingray--just enough so you have an idea of what things taste like, and more than enough to make you want to find out for yourself.
I got a digital recorder to take down ideas, maybe poems, that occur to me at inopportune moments, namely while driving, but on a freeing roadtrip to Austin one day I filled up the entire chamber. If I had one with physical tapes, I would have removed that tape, labeled it, stuck in another, and gone on. But now I have a filled recorder and no way to relieve it or reuse it (the computer again!). So I thought about transcribing it, posting it all onto my blog (it would be like three years out of date by now), but I knew that would take forever, so I just left it.
Just had a terrifying thought: what if I were to videotape myself 24 hours a day, not for anyone's viewing but for myself to go through later to document those moments of creation, whenever I roll out of bed (or stay in it, most likely) and write a poem. Eventually I could get used to it, and I would forget the recorder was there, and later I would know what happens to the outside world, the environment of the room, when I go into that trance for 30 minutes. But then I thought of how I would have to go through all that material. Even on fast forward, the search would be agonizing. Then what would I do with all that by-product? By-product of documentation is the documentation itself.
Likewise I used to take copious notes whenever in a classroom environment. But then I realized that I would likely never go back and read them, never do anything with them. This is likely what started me blogging the first place, the hope to force something else to do my dirty work. Posting feels like having done something, and the archives are all there for you to click on.