15 December 2006


(following two earlier posts)

It may not be fair to consider Chaucer. For one thing, the stories are rollicking, sometimes bawdy, good fun, and that’s a joy not difficult to find within their narratives. But for another, the language is just different enough from modern English that we take a particular joy in voicing it. Is there anyone who has not enjoyed, at some time in his or her life, trying on an accent or dialect? You set your mind and mouth in a different manner – and I’ve already begun, letting “mind” and “mouth” and “matter” begin to alliterate a consciousness of language as play. Here’s the beginning of The Canterbury Tales.

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
(When the sweet showers of April)
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
(Have pierced to the root March’s drought)
And bathed every veyne in swich liquor,
(And bathed every vein in such liquid)
Of which vertue engendred is the flour
(Which in virtue causes the flower to grow)

It’s not particularly exciting to pronounce the translated lines I have parenthetically inserted. It may be, for those first trying, somewhat perplexing to speak the Middle English. But as soon as one knows they are nearly perfect iambic pentameter, the rolling rhythm takes over, the guttural vowels let the reader linger, and soon we are off on a pilgrimage of language, invoking Anglo-Saxon (soote), German (droghte), French (vertue), and Latin (perced), sometimes within just a few words, with pleasure purchasing the pearl of moral knowledge without price, yet never leaving pleasure behind.

Labels: , ,


My next book, Certain Slants, has been sent "to press" by the publisher, Junction Press. I'm very happy about that, and looking forward to reading from it on January 15 at the Poetry Project, in New York, right after it's printed and bound.

There's not a lot that it's easy to reprint in this blog, because of the often varying margins, indentations, i.e. the use of the space in the book as a contributing part of the methodology, structure, and meaning of the poems. But here's one of the shorter pieces, from a series of Cardinal poems.

Cardinal 19

jewels glow and breathe out
as though stars go somewhere
headlands to desert to
streets with stone houses
all in all, black ink white paper
rubbed or printed
where the lines
bear or redeem
little but the organ’s intent
to form a language
of us, our homes are yours as well
as well
it composes, blooms whether little
or much water recommends face
to face
wash over the children
in the light
before it goes

This poem, like Cardinal 18 that precedes it by several pages in the book, was written with Gil Ott in mind. I remember seeing Gil at our home in this desert city, after his residency at Headlands Center for the Arts, and visiting him at his home in Philadelphia, among its stone houses. I think of both of us printing black on white, words and images, and I think of us both as fathers. It's a notation remembering a friendship, a language remembering and pointing toward a life, as well as simply a notation, a group of words, a movement of its own.

Everything flows through and in words.

I'm thinking about Gil again because I've sent "to press" (from Chax Press) a terrific new book by Tim Peterson, Since I Moved In, which is the first winner of The Gil Ott Award, an annual book series from Chax Press. The editors (Nathaniel Mackey, Eli Goldblatt, Myung Mi Kim, and I) will select one book a year for the next four years (five counting this first book), largely through the generous contribution of Julia Blumenreich. We also believe we will find funding to continue the series beyond the first five years.

Here's a poem from Since I Moved In, by Tim Peterson.


Something’s going haywire among the fens;
nettles aping naturalness until they touch you
versus the pretty important password you imbibed:
dark liquid is a good idea. Scratch a late hour,
you replicate yourself in our dark hair attempted access.
Growing out of dirt, like dirt, we archive,
in a central location, the morning’s blades. At last
our long grasses pose a security compromise;
rights you relinquish to acquire a strained wisdom
like a post office anesthetized by foppery –
hot cheeks, the fishing emails. I’m sorry,
you’ve been turned off. The inchworm
crawling up, uh, that thing there in a dark time.
A bunch of malarkey in the weeds wasn’t music,
was it? Crossed that line without friends as a scab amends
greased gladiolas, the swan tank full of weeds.
Your ancient seed: we dug it like a house
looks out onto a lake paralyzed
by adept seeing. It grows up around them throats
O pungent carapace, O immersion in that home machine.

If you find this book, buy it, and read it, you won't be sorry. And I hope you pick up Certain Slants, too.

Labels: , , ,


And we learned, a couple of days ago, that our lovely building (lovely though showing its age, certainly) wasn't built in 1906 or so, as we had thought because of the earliest mention we could find in city records. Rather, according to county records, it already existed in 1890, and likely was built earlier than that.

Update on the Warehouse

What an experience this has been, trying to stay in the downtown warehouses in Tucson. I never thought I'd be on first name terms with City Council members and department heads as well as other city bureaucrats, but here it is.

Not much has changed. We're still supposed to evacuate — isn't that a lovely term, by March 31. Yet one City Council member is proposing using 20 million dollars to upgrade buildings in the district (but one council member making a proposal is far from the city actually taking action). There are other signs of help, and so much good will has poured out from people who have read this blog. It's heartening. We're not giving up, but we will soon have to begin looking for other space, even while we continue to try and convince people in power that such a move should not be necessary, for us or for the twenty or so other artists, artisans, and arts organizations about to be displaced.

Many have asked how they might help. Write me, on paper, about the importance of arts districts, about what artists add to communities, about historic buildings and how it's important not just to love their history, but to keep using them in creative ways. And write about the value of Chax Press to you. I can copy letters and give them to people who make decisions. It might help, it might not. But it definitely can't hurt. Send those letters to Chax Press at 101 W. Sixth St., Tucson, AZ 85701-1000.

Chax Press is also in the midst of what we hope is our biggest fund drive ever. With six books out this month (two already out, four coming by the end of December), two more to come in January, and more after that, our work is more than it has ever been, and it's getting to more people than it has ever reached. It's really the culmination of a great year that began when, for writing and for my work with Chax Press, I won the Arizona Arts Award. Since then there have just seemed to be more possibilities. Next year, even more. But they all require funding. We've mailed out requests for donations to our supporters who have helped us in the past, but we need new supporters. So, as you are writing to support our presence in our warehouse, throw something in: $5 to $50, or more, or whatever you can. Or if you prefer supporting a press the old-fashioned way, i.e. buying books (to tell the truth, both kinds of income are needed, i.e. sales and donations), go to our web site, and buy one or two or three or even more books!

Thank you.