10 January 2007


Due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day church events, the Parish Hall at St. Mark's is unavailable on Monday January 15 for the Poetry Project reading, so instead the reading will be held in the church rectory. It's right next door at 232 E. 11th St. Buzzer #1. The reading begins at 8pm.

Tim Peterson and I are reading and we look forward to seeing you all there! Tim's new book is the Gil Ott Award winner, SINCE I MOVED IN, from Chax Press. My new book is CERTAIN SLANTS, from Junction Press. Both will be available at the reading, along with other books & chapbooks by the two of us.

You can also see us the day before, at Bowery Poetry Club, 2pm - 4pm, along with Glenn Mott, Charles Borkhuis, Mark Weiss, Allison Cobb, and Bruce Andrews. Friends will also be subbing for Linda Russo. Glenn, Charles, Bruce, and Linda (in addition to Tim) all have new books from Chax Press.

07 January 2007


I'm looking forward to seeing all my New York and NY area friends soon, particularly at the following events with Manhattan locations:
January 14, 2pm - 4pm
Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery (at Bleeker)
Book Launch Celebrating the Following Books:
Certain Slants, by Charles Alexander (Junction Press)
Mirth, by Linda Russo (Chax Press)
Since I Moved In, by Tim Peterson (Gil Ott Award winner,Chax Press)
After Image, by Charles Borkhuis (Chax Press)
Swoon Noir, by Bruce Andrews (Chax Press)
Analects on a Chinese Screen, by Glenn Mott (Chax Press)
Born Two, by Allison Cobb (Chax Press)

January 15, 8pm
Poetry Project at St. Mark's
131 E. 10th St.
A Poetry Reading by Tim Peterson & Charles Alexander
See you there!

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06 January 2007


Tim Peterson has tagged me in the meme to write "five little known things about myself." I don't know if there are five well known things about me, so most things apply. But here are five.

1. Two of my strongest and most horrible memories from childhood are things that never happened. At this point I don't know if they are dreams or inventions or what. Both involved my hand. In one, I am chasing a butterfly and catch it in my hand, only it turns out to be a wasp or bee, and I'm badly stung. In the other, I simply set my hand on fire, first pouring on some kind of lighter fuel. According to my mother, neither of these things is true.

2. Again, childhood. I was in a group of friends that liked to build tunnels, on an air force base (my father was probably a major then, later a lieutenant colonel). Being underground was a lot of fun, as I remember. I'm sure we had no idea how dangerous that might have been. I was perhaps 7 years old.

3. I played trumpet for years growing up, through school, although put it down for awhile because I didn't want to be in a marching band. The band directors wanted me to be a drum major, which was even less interesting to me. I picked up the trumpet again in college, took lessons with a grad student who was principal trumpet with the Oakland symphony. Now it's mostly in the closet, though a few years ago I serenaded a friend on her birthday, from outside, on the street. I'm not sure I ever feel as good as when I am making music, whether it's fumbling at the piano (I took lessons more than a decade ago and plan to do so again), singing, or playing that trumpet. So why don't I do it more? Listening to music is almost as great, but making it tops just about everything. A most touching gift, after I had once sold the trumpet when the money was really needed (I still had a cornet but never liked it that much) was when my wife Cynthia bought me a trumpet one Christmas. Yes, that one brought tears.

4. I'm good at math, and was potentially very good at math. I didn't head that direction, not wanting to follow the path of my father and sister. But there are times when I wish I had, or at least, I still find mathematics incredibly fascinating. I have a few math books I like to keep around when writing poetry.

5. In recent years I have sometimes taken one or two of my daughters (now 17 & 13) to rock concerts, seeing Green Day, Arctic Monkeys, and The Killers. I went to rock concerts whenever I could as a teenager (Chicago, Hendrix, Leon Russell, Jethro Tull, Grand Funk Railroad, and many more), and in San Francisco while in college (Rod Stewart, Yes, Eric Clapton, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Mott the Hoople, Steely Dan, and more), and later in Madison (Violent Femmes, Nina Hagen, etc) even though my listening was mostly jazz in those years. But going to rock concerts was always fun, and it still is, maybe moreso when I am with my daughters. Yet when I think of who I'm really glad to have heard, it's mostly jazz: Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Oliver Lake, Roscoe Mitchell, Weather Report, Return to Forever, Sam Rivers, and on and on.

Now it's my turn to tag and I tag Elizabeth Treadwell, Morgan Schuldt, Dawn Pendergast, Jordan Stempleman, Paul Klinger, and Barbara Henning. That's six. Sorry if I'm greedy.

02 January 2007

THINKING case sensitive / Kate Greenstreet

case sensitive, by Kate Greenstreet (Boise: Ahsahta Press, 2006)

Disclaimer: This is not a review, or even a close reading, as I've done on this blog with other books or parts of books. Rather, it's a path into and perhaps through a book, although I have my doubts that one ever gets through any book, or certainly any book worth its words, as this one certainly is.

I love looking back into books of poetry I have read, not necessarily looking back from the beginning and through again, but randomly, openly, finding some other way in and through, again.

Kate Greenstreet's recent book, case sensitive, is one I read a month ago and liked tremendously, and thought a book full of experience, passion, a sense of the world unfolding, often through memory, but unfolding nonetheless. I loved its intricate, developing, diverse structures of thought, of poetry.

In looking back at it today, it is precisely "thought" that caught my attention. I opened the book, as randomly as I could, and ended up on page 14, where I read,
"Matter." And "thought."
Both must.
Suddenly the book, to me, was about thought, thinking, and its relationship to matter. But mostly about thought: ideas, wondering, imagining, thinking.

I looked through the book, pretty quickly, noting 37 instances of this cluster of an idea, although primarily, 30 instances, specifically of one of these words: think, thinks, thinking, thought. In a book of 100 pages of poetry (more than that many pages in the book, but when I subtract title pages, section titles, notes, etc., it's just about 100 pages of poetry), this can't, I think, be insignificant.

case sensitive begins with the line, "Many things about the story are puzzling." The story told here isn't quite a narrative with the gaps filled in, rather very much a narrative of the gaps, the puzzles. And when one enters a puzzle, one enters with a question, with a thought. The book ends with a recall of "the idea that all messages join, somewhere." To get from puzzle to a conjunction of all things, a wholistic universe, requires not only a lot of thinking, but a lot of faith in thinking. Thought, in process, we must remember as well, is a far different thing from knowledge, or certainty. It is precisely a transitioning, a movement in the mind.

How do we get from matter to thought, thought to matter? Try this.
Once mentally created, they had life (7)
There is a balance in this book from believing in reality because it is thought, and in thinking provoked by the real. Clearly it takes both, things and thought about things, to make something permanent, something that will not "just / disappear when their presence // became uncomfortable for him." Along the way, thinking is related to speaking or saying, and Greenstreet is at her most philosophically provocative when she makes this connection.
"—talking clears the air
and brings out half a laugh
. . . we poor beings

with what we think . . .

that's our best way"
"not just for me

but the world. And while we live." (12)
But our saying and thinking directly (I wonder if "directly" is possible) are compromised, because we exist, and think, inside the puzzle that began the book.
Thinking about mysteries—the books called mysteries—as I drive past town after town, "the middle of nowhere." (13)
I want to relate thinking to meaning in the book, and soon she relates seeing to meaning, on this map through town after town, act after act.
Why bring it up again? Red eyes,
read for meaning.

The buried ring, marked map, "the consolation
of religion."

Things go together because they are together.
It's a challenge to the spirit that cleans the spirit. (21)
No, given what's gone before, I think, things go together because we see them together, think them together, say them together. The real is conditional, i.e. "If you had a cup of ocean water, I don't think that it would smell." (24)

What matters here? What endows life, what sustains life. Everything.
Affection. Love. To make things. Time to think. The outside. The outdoors. I need salt. I don't know if all mammals do. But people do." (26)
And what happens without such thinking: "Not thinking about it won't work." The salt won't be provided, desire won't be experienced, life won't be lived.
Not thinking about it won't work.
When certain foods will remind you of
certain cruelties.

Salt deprived, he could die and never feel the desire
for salt. This is common,
even fated.
Thinking can be casual, though it implies more. "Or rain, / You'd be thinking—" and thinking can be a statement of uncertainty, a kind of speculation. "These are harder, I think." (35) Sometimes the transition from thinking to feeling to matter is stupefying. As when a found bird has granules (salt, perhaps?) on its feathers, and "I don't think that could prevent it from flying, / but the feeling of the weight would stupefy it somehow."

There are times in case sensitive when we seem purely embodied in and by thought.
They wanted to know the exact location of the afterlife.

she: Are you listening? What are you thinking?
he: I was wondering . . . when the Bronze Age was. (37)

When we start thinking about thinking in case sensitive, metaphor creeps in. A house is a house and perhaps a world, and "Why is the house empty anyway? / No one thinks of it." (39)

Thinking brings the past into the present, this is how memory works, "I used to think it was you." (42) We think about how we are, how we feel, "I'm thinking how she also loved the air, / crushed ice, / the wooden walkway." (52) Thought is like prayer, lending possibility to existence and desire.
As it fell, I thought / prayed.
Maybe it won't break.

Loss of voice. Shattered glass
in our cuffs.

The river cracked. Time
isn't where it was.

"He's losing his frets." "I don't exist yet!"
He's losing the facts. (54)
Sometimes in case sensitive, thinking is present even without the words, as it becomes the connective tissue between things, between us, our desires, our saints; between sight and language, hands and words, letters and space.
What isn't made from the impression: the mold.
Maybe not named.

The numbness
and the swelling,
the blood,
the rain filling the screen,
what connects us
to the saints.

We could read the words with our hands.
"All are welcome through the eyes of God."

There are still a lot of letters out there. (57)
Maybe thoughts are the eyes of God, maybe they are the letters, out there, somewhere.

But if we are to act, to make our desires into the possibility of change, we must first imagine it. "I was thinking: I want to make / a few little changes." (78) For if there is desire, what moves it? "Love, I think. / Or maybe it was goodness." (87) And through love, we might acquire anything, acquire the sun, and even through disappointment,
look for the break
it's enough

glow brightly in a vacuum

I think we have that, don't you?
it's green

it's unpredictable (93)
So we go back and forth, from matter to thought to desire to sun, sometimes being cautioned,
"'You can think about it,' he said, 'but
don't believe in it: on the earth
already means under the sky.'" (97)
We look at ourselves in the mirror, and what do we see, or what do we think we can see. Can we know? In "Bridge" we are told, by a doctor, "How you think you can see." (98). Do we? Don't we? What do you think? And how can we know, when all we remember is what has been captured in snapshots? And what if we don't even have snapshots on Kodak paper, but in our minds? Who are we?
"Were you always like that? I say yes,
but later think: who knows what I was
like? (having just the usual handful of
mental snapshots) (101)
And what if we get stuck. Don't give up. We can think of "something nice." (110) And we might find something, not a mental snapshot, but a real postcard, which says, "I think the best part—the reason why we're here—is the lake. It's pretty round, a shape I like, a mile across. Now it's almost frozen. Even as I write this, I keep looking to the lake. We're very isolated here." (114) Isolated, but not without a place, a lake, in which, or to which, to think. Because in that lake, or in those letters (there are always more), or most importantly, in the thinking, all things gather, all things join. And we are multiple; and we are one. Thought is poised at the edge of being, and we are its companions there. It is a place where all things, all connections, are possible. The book ends,
Sometimes one person is ready. Sitting in weak sun. The lawn chair padded with an old plaid blanket, and me in his heavy woolen coat. Weren't the happiest days of our lives lived here? You know, sometimes a message from me may seem mixed. But do try to recall the idea that all messages join, somewhere. (118)
I have thought and joined or tried to join things, through thinking, through case sensitive, by Kate Greenstreet. This is only one way of reading through this passionate, thoughtful, beautifully written book. There are other ways that would better illuminate particular poems, and perhaps the whole. But I like it that the author has allowed ways in, and this particular way in, for me—to the lake, the sun, the idea, the messages.

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arc of light / dark matter 17

With a new book coming out of work, for the most part, quite different from my 1992 book, arc of light / dark matter, I want to stress how that kind of work is still with me, still really important to me. I don't want it to be lost. Here is part 17, to which I randomly just opened the book.
able to buy more socks, examined by lips, at an austere angle, what my name is, beginning an orange without an anticipation of biting or sucking, music by any other question marking time a made thing compromising the improvisation, hips palpitating, rich fibre, two voices one with melody the other as if grunting were rhythmic punctuation, not broiled or otherwise heated with spice, killing to lessen the world's music never considered by those opposed to the war, brown hair, holding a microphone with mixed purposes, agnostic, fit for a sleeping cat with white stomach never heard the news, no one in the world, her glasses, red a skin or not shared, fully clothed at least until, the myth of self, just saying what the ear allows as speech without a sense of expression made, reception as in love of water, good for the hair and skin even without rubbing another, soul as site, moves together, almost incomprehensible words grinning, the end of a sentence encountered with no color except perhaps red for that moves, from a wound a window to see why the bomgs decided this was a time to fly, foreign films several times a day thanks to cable's unending novelty or slow repetition, asking the moon or forgive me, arm rubbed bu cat's nose, chimes delivered, photographic intentions snapshot or otherwise, and in friendship, to discuss our dreams as though plurality were possible, peace, echoing easier access and would you, of eggs, enter my room laughing but cognizant of bodies and their availability, stung, a little too effervescent the mind can, to want to calm you when pronouns are ways of spreading the blame, sustain us formally considered as a plea for stopping, milking cows, abject

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what poem

what was what is what leads what follows
what remains what strums what listens
what wants what resists wanting what for
what if what sucks what blows what showers
what bathes what aims what sprays what bubbles
what rests what acts what receives what bends
what stiffens what goes what comes what meddles
what mends what organizes what runs chaotic
what ass what hair what penis what breast
what vagina what oil what condom what connects
what concerns what centers what disperses
what begins what ends what overthrows
what goes under what turns over what sizzles
what slices what enters what leaves what plants
what waters what never turns around
what spins constantly what loves blue
what greens yellow what overs what unders
what ughs what grrrs what embraces
what turns scornfully away what cares what loves
what hates what hates love what loves hate
what predicts what waits what sees what blinds
what devil what angel what kisses what tongues
what ears what starts what stops

random holiday notes

a holiday in limbo, i.e. we were headed to Oklahoma, got caught in New Mexico in a huge storm, and couldn't go east. turned south to come back to Tucson, spun out (a 180 degree turn, definitely uncontrolled) and landed against the interstate guard rail, but everything was intact & all right, so we continued home uneventfully. ended up spending new year's eve at home with family, just glad to all be here.

new mexico green & red chile cuisine is so marvelous!! why is it more possible to get good middle eastern food here in Tucson than to get new mexico red & green??

i can't help resenting it, at least slightly, in the holiday period when it becomes so obvious, due to the mla preparations & proceedings & post-conference reports, that the buffalo poetics list is, after all, an academic list. i get it that this year's mla, thanks to the marvelous marjorie perloff, was truly "an event" for post avant poetry, but still, for those of us who are not academics and who do not consider poetry primarily to be an academic activity, it's a little depressing to be reminded that, at times, it is an intensely academic activity. give me tim peterson, elizabeth treadwell, ron silliman, brenda iijima, & my other nonacademic cohorts, any day, every day . . .

reading Immanuel Kant on Ethics, i.e. his Lectures on Ethics (Harper Torchbooks, 1963 edition). I love his insistence that acts are not moral, but dispositions leading to acts (but not always leading to acts) are. And even though I don't share his belief in god, I like it that he believes acts are moral not because they are enabled or endorsed by God, but that God enables or endorses them because they are moral. So, in a sense, virtue and morality are prior to God. This gets very tricky, though, because he also believes that the disposition to do good in man is something that springs from God (I capitalize it when using Kant's sense of it, lower-case it when using my own).

just purchased the debut disk from the Neil Young Archive Performance Series, live music from a 1970 concert at Bill Graham's Filmore East. The music is terrific, but another really exciting aspect is knowing that Young & Crazy Horse performed that night as part of a double bill, the other part being Miles Davis & his band. I remember music being mixed like that, i.e. audiences liking rock, jazz, rhythm & blues, soul, even a bit of country. And some radio stations playing it all. was it really more exciting and wondrously mixed then, or am I deceiving myself? In 1970 I was just 16, and I certainly remember listening, in those days, to Neil Young and Miles Davis and not feeling like these were different worlds, although certainly different parts of the one I inhabited.

most grateful in this still new year that Frank Parker, poet & friend, is out of a care center & back home. welcome back to health, Frank!