25 February 2013


Pantone was founded in the 1950s in New Jersey. It is now best known for those fan-shaped booklets of color charts. They have a proprietary system of color coding, PMS, that is used by fashion designers and governments alike.

Pantone claims that the color numbers and pigment values for all 1114 colors in their PMS are intellectual property. In other words, they believe they own the makeup of the colors.

Every year they hold a meeting to pick the color of the year. The color that most matches the zeitgeist of the moment. In 2011 they picked Honeysuckle and said this about the choice:

In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues.

2013 is the year of Emerald. Here is what they say:

Emerald brings a sense of clarity, renewal and rejuvenation, which is so important in today's complex world.

And I mean...sure. We need rejuvenation. And I do love me a jewel tone. But...really? And the descriptions are really similar. Honeysuckle is stimulating and will get adrenaline going and Emerald will aid rejuvenation. I guess I'm not seeing a difference.

Tell me that pink makes us think of birth, of spring, that it reminds of of life. Tell me that green is vibrant, is life in full blush, is summer. Give me something a bit more...evocative of color.

The Cotswolds. Every year is Emerald.
Color is emotion. Is sense memory. That deep green reminds me of the western coast of Wales. Of the long expansive fields dotted with crags of steel-colored rock. There are probably sheep out there. Maybe mythical creatures. It reminds me of my childhood. Of a long bike ride through the Cotswolds that ended at a large tower in the middle of nowhere. The sun was dappled and I was wearing a neon green hat that said 'London' across the front of it. I probably had on acid-washed jeans. Because I was a baller when I was 12.

The pink makes me think of pigs. That makes me think of Charlotte's Web. Which makes me sad. But in a really great nostalgic kind of way. I'm thinking of the annual Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair in Pennsylvania. There are these long tents full of pens of animals, each a prize-winner or an attempted winner. Rows of rabbits, chickens, pigs, cows, ponies. Crates of vegetables and pies. The grange in PA is one of the few left where people stay over in tents on the property. The waiting lists are so long that the tents are willed to the next generation to keep hold of them. My father's mother shared a tent with her sister. People would build out the tents to have working showers, kitchens, porches. They pimped that shit out. And it was terrible-fabulous.

These are the things color brings up. Not rejuvenation. Not stimulation. Those are dull PR words for 'buy our shit'. Pantone is stupid for thinking it can copyright memory or nature. It would be telling me that a smell is not mine. That the way magnolias makes me cry is somehow not mine. That the color of the sky in early fall is not mine. That the fogged glass after a hot shower is not mine.

I will allow 2013 to be the year of Emerald if for no other reason then it means I can imagine an endless bike ride in the middle of nowhere every day. I will not allow that Pantone had anything to do with getting me there.

22 February 2013

Into Silence

Tonight I went to a poetry reading by D. A. Powell. At one point he said something close to the following:

You write yourself into silence.

Which reminded me of this quote by Rilke:

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?

Both speak to the deep need to get something out. Powell was discussing that feeling when you reach the end of a project. That sudden moment of having said the thing you needed to and knowing you were done.

Rilke is talking about the inner drive of writing. That NEED. He seems to be saying that those who cannot answer the question with a strong 'yes' should get out of the game. I agree. I have little patience for writers who don't feel it strongly.

I've been thinking/dealing/facing that silence lately. I have this novel sitting here that I should be editing but can't bring myself to even look at the computer file. I've re-named it thinking I could trick my brain to opening it and starting the hard work that must be done to get it published. But no...

I've contented myself with submitting poems and short stories to journals. It's kept me feeling busy though has done little to make me feel 'better'.

That word is a trick. I'm not so sure I know what feeling 'better' about my writing 'career' would look like. Or feel like. You will notice that I put sarcasm quotes around 'career'. Picture me using my fingers to make the quote sign.

It isn't that I don't think of myself as a writer. It's that I ONLY think of myself as a writer. That it's scary when I feel less like the thing I define myself as. I wouldn't characterize this as a 'block'. That would imply that I have no ideas or have stopped writing. This is not the case.

Ideas are piling up. They flood. I wrote a ten page poem in January and early February. The plan for it is to stretch to at least 30 pages. So, I am definitely 'writing'.

Maybe it's the book reviews. The books are, for the most part, not so great. I've read 6 books. 3 have been good. Of those 3, only one was great. The other 3 were kinda terrible. I'm writing 200-word reviews that are insipid at best. BUT, I am getting paid to do them. So few can say they get paid to write that I feel bad hating on it but there it is.

I don't even know that this is the problem.

Powell also discussed the changing form he uses in his writing. He said that after a project, meaning a book, there is a moment where you have to figure out how to do it again. How to find a new music. 

Perhaps this is just me finding that new music. The long poem I'm working on calls back to the long work I did when I was in undergrad. It is loosely based on a poem from then as well. It has roots in an idea from then.

All of this is to say that I have come upon a great silence in my work. A strange void where not much is getting said. I am trying to work around it by submitting and re-thinking past ideas. The story I sent around was 10 years old. The poem I have chopped and elongated was 11. Neither were bad ideas or work, they have found a second life while I attempt to navigate whatever dark water I have stumbled into.

Whether it's ok or not. Whether the music can be found. What this silence I've found is. And what my answer to it will be. Those things are left for the moment.

I was telling JG today that I am ok with ambiguity. And I am. But I need to discover what exists inside it before I can actually LIVE with it.

18 February 2013

Top 40 : Hider Roser

for I have no idea

I have an uneasy truce with surrealist poetry. My interest in what's going on on the page dwindles as the language looses meaning.


Surrealism manages to say things literal writing cannot.

Pretty soon you have a loft
and people are getting to know your work
rearranging the letters in horse rider
you get hider roser, which means something
you will never understand
with only a few minutes left
one end of the hose going into your head and the other
going don't know where

There is an obvious play of growing fame and what it is worth at play in Mirov's second book. Each poem has a sense of sadness in it. Oddly buried in with the shifting meaning of the language.

That sadness has always been the key that lets me enter Mirov's work.

You want to write about a horse
but you have written hose.
Think of meat.
Meat thinking of jogging.
Meat going out on a date to see the water.

The image is hilarious and magical. Like the best of Wallace Stevens or even Rimbaud this book hums with wit. It's also filled with doubt. The book ends with Ribbon:

I've spent a long time
with these words in my head
and now here they are

In the final stanza Mirov addresses that key I was talking about. It is apparently also his:

If you're still listening,
put this somewhere safe.
Throw away the key.

I think the key is more than I ave discussed. Mirov is speaking a secret language. One to himself. He is making a journal. It is clearly meant to reveal all but in coded lushness. It is confession as unconfession.

15 February 2013

Top 40 : To Keep Love Blurry

The Craig Morgan Teicher that is portrayed in To Keep Love Blurry is filled with doubt, remorse, and worry. He has lost his job. His son is disabled, Teicher worries endlessly for his future.

who will take care of him when Brenda and I are dead?

He discusses his arguments with his wife Brenda Shaughnessy.

do I learn to love Brenda right, and learn
to get her to love me how I want to be loved?

He writes in his parent's voices only to have them talk about his flaws and how they are his own psyche. It is confession without the histrionics.

This is you talking to you - I'm dead.

He brings in other poets to quote them then discuss how is not like them. He worries over his fame. What his writing will be after it is over.

A very minor Robert Lowell, with a dash of James Tate

When he isn't ruminating on these things he's talking about death. The book ends with these two stanzas:

Is there truly time for so many tragedies?
Death has earned the key to every city. For who else
tends to all of the sick? Who else takes

in the old? Who else wants us all?
Not even our mothers. In fact,
only death always keeps its promise.

What rises from this book is a more honest confession. An actual look in the mirror, warts and all. At times it gets repetitive, the self-doubt borders on self-obsession. And the continued self-deprecating tone begins to get tiring in longer poems. I've always been suspicious of self-deprecation. It serves only as fishing for compliments. For someone to come back with a 'no, that isn't true' statement.

Teicher's book is great. Coldfront put it at 6 on their year-end list. I agree that this book is great. Teicher is alone inside a book that he created but I think he wants to be even though he says he doesn't.

11 February 2013

Top 40 : Bewilderment

Continuing with a look at the Coldfront Top 40. At number 7 is David Ferry's Bewiderment, which won the National Book Award. I wrote about it in December. Below is a revised version of that post.

* * *

A friend of mine had recently read David Ferry's Bewilderment. She recommended it, with a caveat:

Take it as a whole work.

At the time I wasn't sure what to make of this. The book is long, is full of translations of classical poets; Virgil, Rilke, Cavafy, and Horace all make appearances. The connecting theme is one of passing time, old age. The arcs within the sections feel like meditations. The translation acting as bookend and informative guide.

Ferry is 88. He is clearly making a last go round with this world. An attempt to connect the final dots. To find the grand theme in the narrative, etc...

Aunt Nellie's picture was in the paper once,
Triumphantly posing with a large bottle,

Black widow spiders inside looking out,
As conscious as fireflies of their situation.

Are we conscious of our situation? I write about decay in my own poetry. My MFA dissertation was based around the idea of entropy in art. I am keenly aware of death, but am I conscious of being in the jar?

The fact is that from the moment we are born we begin to fall apart. Cell walls start to break down, chemicals begin their depletion, etc. etc. etc.

Like A. R. Ammons, Ferry has a keen ability to make us OK with death. To be almost friendly with it. Ammons did this in Garbage, his book length mediation on the end of his life. Here, Ferry does the same. Ammons chose to use the metaphor of a garbage dump for the detritus of life. Ferry gives us Horace.

Think of the pile of language across time. It is massive, unforgiving. Ferry is pointing out that his words are merely newer versions of older ones. The translations bleed into his poems and his poems inform the depth of the old. And they all speak with the same voice, his. As do we all.


08 February 2013

Top 40 : Meme

The meme is hardly a 21st century phenomena, though the word originates with Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. At its core, a meme is an idea that spreads until it is ubiquitous. They are useful in their carrying of cultural knowledge, norms, even news.

Meme is a shortening of the Greek mimeme - 'something imitated'. Good examples of old memes are teaching games for learning to tie your shoes, or Ring Around the Rosie. Dawkins intended the word to describe evolutionary principles in the spreading of ideas. Today we use it to talk about the weird repetitive jokes on the internet.

And while they are frivolous and silly, they still connect and convey information across great distances. They are still sort of doing their original job. It's just that they are now doing it through the many ways Michelle Williams has been dissed over the years. Are we teaching each other how to survive the plague? No. But we are disseminating cultural baggage.

Into this discussion steps Susan Wheeler's book, Meme. Published by University of Iowa Press in 2012, Coldfront placed it at 16 on their year end Top 40.

The book takes stock phrases, sayings, jokes, and places them along bits of conversations taken out of context. Wheeler uses these selections of dialogue to craft strange elegies. To her failed marriage, to her recently dead mother, to herself.

The poems read like the leftovers from these relationships. The strange magnetic echoes. Like remembering a smell. Or touching the surface of something and having a flash of memory. It is broken, and haunting.

The poems are named Canasta, Turkey in the Straw, Jeehosaphat. Here is Ten Conniptions:

           Hold your horses.

          If you don't knock it off now there will be no cake for you. You're
skating on thin ice.

          That's it. That's the last straw. You get down off your high horse,
young lady, and shape up or ship out.

          Can I pack your bags?

                    Yes, divided blessings: banishment, ruin.
                    Dragging its lines, the trawler
                    buckles under.

At times the language gets difficult to take in. The endless barrage of 'momisms' and pat phrases begins to make your brain glaze over. The effect is something akin to a scolding from a parent. But a strange one; one that you wanted to happen.

I liked the book, but mostly found the poems to be forgettable. This is the problem with memes in general. The ephemera quality of them. We remember things like 'pot calling the kettle black' but they sit idly in the back of our mind until we are reminded of them.

Wheeler's book is interesting. Her use of these well known phrases forces us to reconsider them. To rethink the language of them. In the context of a poem like Ten Conniptions these phrases begin to sound like a collective childhood. I'm not sure they become more than remembrances though.

Wheeler was a finalist for a National Book Award. I agree with Coldfront's John Deming, 'its sub-current of autobiography–the poet’s and everybody’s–alongside a barrage of sometimes-recognizable phrases will leave you with a ghost in the room.' I just don't know that the ghost wasn't already present.

06 February 2013

Top 40 : The Glimmering Room

Coldfront put Cynthia Cruz' The Glimmering Room at number 21 on their Top 40 of 2012. In the write-up Melinda Wilson wrote that:

'Images of destruction, death and illness dominate the pages of Cruz’s collection. Some poems also hint at sexual abuses...Cruz’s is a world of abuse, drugs, sex, poverty and desperation. Somehow, though, the poems yield beauty...'

Wilson then quotes Notes on the Disaster in full:

Tore the plastic tubes from my arms.
I still have the scars and I walked
Right out of that place. I say
If I’m going down, then I’ll do
The killing -

To say Cruz' book is brutal is the worst kind of understatement. Language fails at describing the experience of Cruz' world. There is implied sexual harassment. Drug use. Death. The people talked about seem to be teenagers. Young. They live in a strange crack house like world. You are never sure where it is, but it is everywhere.

Last week I posted her poem Breaking Glass. I did this mainly for the last three and a half lines:

...And memory

That warm slop of honey,
Seeping. No way to stop it
and its gorgeous hurricane of bees.

That sound of bees. I can hear it throughout Cruz' book. This constant menacing hum. One that probably will not yield honey, though it is implied it may.

The structure of Glimmering Room is one of repeated Strange Gospels. The gospels tell the story of a narrator and her friend Billy. There are 11-year old prostitutes. Billy eventually dies, though she comes back a few poems later.

Wilson calls the poems a sort of waste land. She isn't talking the T.S. kind. She's talking the Detroit kind. The vacant falling apart America kind. The not taking care of our shit kind.

The book opens with this quote from The Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.

It is clear that Cruz is clearing her plate. Metaphorically bringing what is within her. Purging of these tales, mentioning these things, makes them less poisonous. Begins the moment of discussion on them, thinking on them.

It is horrifying and it is gorgeous. One of the most vicious books of poetry I have ever read.

I would have put Cruz much higher up on the list.

04 February 2013

Other People's Poems

from Fable of the Last Untouched Town

A storm raged for a week and our town was erased
by hills of snow.
Afar, our one story chambered apartments
look like concrete harmonicas. It's easy for snow to swallow us.

But after the storm, a gigantic glacier appeared inside
the king's most cherished open-air stadium.
It took up the whole arena.

Our leader launched a campaign.
Defunct factories suddenly produced heat lamps
and they strung a ceiling of scalding tubed bulbs over the stadium,
but the glacier only glistened.

So he demanded legions of laborers to come
chip away at this offensive glacier.
I was drafted to help.

When I arrived, I was awed, I was so awed, I began to cry
but when someone questioned my tears,
I said I was crying for our king and cursed
the imperialist-plotted ice.

The sheer sapphire cliffstone towered so high,
the whole ocean seemed frozen inside it.
Under its shellacked panes of ice were marblings of color
I'd long forgotten: tangerine, topaz,
canary and rose.

Like fluorescing cuttlefish,
the colors pulsed, swirled and bloomed
into contracting rings. The ice breathed.

We slowly chipped away with our picks.
As soon as we gathered a pile,
the wind burst in and scattered the powdery snow far
into the air like spores.

One laborer accidentally swallowed ice
and it caused him to hallucinate, blither in another language.
He was immediately exterminated.
We were forced to wear masks.

One day, I decided to steal some.
I pocketed one grain.

The snow glowed bluely in my hovel.
My little lamp.
Then one night I don't know why I swallowed it.

And this is what I saw.

- Cathy Park Hong

Poem-A-Day Reprint : Rom-com

I need a day off. So here's an old poem.

Rom-com 2/13/10

See -
I need you to be perfect
But also broken - I'm

I need a little
rose-colored light
on this balcony

Some flowers
come cuddle with me
watch some Hart To Hart

I'm - broken
but the bruises are

01 February 2013

Top 40 : Engine Empire

'Also, the new observatory's been ransacked for its myths,
the telescope shattered to a million bifocals,'

Year end lists are an odd sort of summation. A way to mark off the end of a cycle. A start of a new one.  They are a lens to judge the past.

Coldfront has put together a list of their Top 40 books of poetry for 2012. I've read 5 of them. At number one is Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong.

Hong's book is a new Waste Land. A sort of attempt to explain the present with the past. Specifically the past of humanities need for overextending.

The book is divided into three sections, each detailing a part of 'boomtown' culture. The first seemingly set in the American west. The second in a fictional town in China. The final section is set in the future, in a land ruled by interconnectedness.

I cannot hep but think about the American Dust Bowl. I have just come off of reading two books on the subject. The idea that man could change the world to fit his ideals, that the world would then turn on man. It seems to be having a bit of a moment.

don't need our heirloom

Is it because the last of that generation, the one that saw two world wars, a depression, a Dust Bowl, a Holocaust, is dying off? That this moment of time is passing from immediacy into history into a thing in a book?

We are afraid of our future. I am. I am sure you are too.

We are at an impasse on nuclear arms, religion, science, economy, labor. We cannot see the next thing beyond the current one.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin
We have killed the future so we don't have to face our past.

'The voice of Gregory Peck booms: Honey Suckle.'

Recently there has been a string of people posting photos of themselves posing seductively at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Marc Adelman has been collecting them and showing them.

His work centers around photos gay men have been posting on the dating/sex finding app Grindr.

'Xiao, bring me my napkin,
my thumb is smudged with the horizon.'

Many questions arise. Why take photos there? Why use that photo on what is essentially a sex finding app?

Is this disrespectful? Even anti-Semitic?

I think this is an example of the 'tourist effect'. When people snap narcissistic photos of themselves seeing things of 'import'. In front of the World Trade Center work site. At the side of the Grand Canyon. These are the same impulse. To say 'I was there. I saw this thing.'

In seeing it I have proven myself to be a part of a larger collection of humanity. Or. 'This photo of me looks good, don't you want to fuck me?'

We forget everything easily.

At one point in her book, Hong reveals an outdoor amphitheatre that has filled with a glacier. The king has hired her and others to chip away at it. To reclaim his building.

Once something has been lost to time, can it be reclaimed?

I don't think the Holocaust has been lost to time, yet. But there is that question of when. At what point does something pass. Whether it turns to myth, legend, or just vanishes. At what point does it become a thing in a book waiting to turn to dust?

At what point do we?

These are the questions Hong raises. She is concerned not with where we are going, but what we did to get there. What we forgot along the way. And who we lost.

'Then one night I don't know why I swallowed it.

And this is what I saw.'