Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Nubian Vultures Have the Floor, by Aimé Césaire

The Poetry Crossfire! North American editorial bureau has been electrified by Solar Throat Slashed, by Aimé Césaire, which Wesleyan University Press recently published in a crisp cloth-bound edition, restoring the previously expurgated text to its 1948 original presentation. This collection is every bit as sharp, ferocious, and blasphemous as its title suggests. Have you spent your life thus far believing Césaire to be a Division II surrealist? Never will a book leave you so thrilled to discover you're a fool. Poetry Crossfire! quickly realized it was going to have to call in some very special poet-pundits for this show.

Our panel:

Dara Wier is the author of 11 books of poems, most recently Selected Poems (Wave Books). She teaches in the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She also co-directs the University of Massachusetts' Juniper Initiative for Literary Arts and Action and is the founding editor of Factory Hollow Press.

Graham Foust is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently A Mouth in California (Flood Editions). He is currently an associate professor at St. Mary's College of California.

The poem:

The Nubian Vultures Have the Floor
by Aimé Césaire, trans. by Clayton Eshelman

Where when how from whence why yes why why why is it that the most villainous tongues have invented so few hooks on which to hang or suspend destiny its pomp and its armpits.

Arrest this innocent man. All decoys. He carries my blood on his shoulders. He carries my blood in his shoes. Peddles my blood in his nose. Death to the smugglers. The borders are closed. What horrible cocaine. Neither thumb nor screw. Let death be instantaneous. Neither known nor unknown
thank god my heart is drier than the harmattan, all darkness is my prey
all darkness is my due, and every burst joy.

You Nubian vultures at your hovering and pecking stations over the forest and as far as the cavern whose door is a triangle
whose guardian is a dog
whose life is a chalice
whose virgin is a spider
whose rare wake is a lake for standing upright on the descant roads of stormy nixies

The crossfire:

Dara Wier: Getting by the title took most of the morning, it is out of this world, exponentially rife with trouble, next the first line is exactly what has to happen after that title and getting past that took another few hours, this poem is so powerful, so beautifully and fiercely imagined, the exiting whose whose whose whose in a parallel world with water spirits, oh, rare wake is a lake, you gave us a seriously powerful piece of poetry, with an echoing that is killing, thank you very much.

Graham Foust:

Dara Wier:

Graham Foust: This picture reminds me of a quibble I have with this translation. If I'm not mistaken, it should be:

So Mary climb in / It's a town full of losers and I'm pullin' outta here to win.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Broetry, by Brian McGackin

At issue today is a new book of poems called Broetry, by self-proclaimed "Broet Laureate" Brian McGackin.

Here's what the publisher has to say about Broetry:

"As contemporary poets sing the glories of birds, birch trees, and menstruation, regular guys are left scratching their heads. Who can speak for Everyman? Who will articulate his love for Xbox 360, for Mama Celeste’s frozen pizza, for the cinematic oeuvre of Bruce Willis?"

Our panel:

Please welcome back Poetry Crossfire! regulars Amanda Nadelberg and Chris Fischbach.

Amanda Nadelberg is the author of Isa the Truck Named Isadore, winner of the 2005 Slope Editions Book Prize, and Bright Brave Phenomena, forthcoming from Coffee House Press in 2012, as well as a chapbook, Building Castles in Spain, Getting Married, published by The Song Cave in 2009.

Chris Fishbach is publisher of Coffee House Press, based in Minneapolis.

The crossfire:

Chris Fischbach: I used to live a block away from Robert Bly when Iron John came out. I read it. I grew a beard and really started "diggin in" to this whole poetry thing. I wore hockey jerseys to work.

Amanda wasn't even born yet. Plus I'm watching Tosh.0 as I type this.

Chris Fischbach: P.S. Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks awesome. But I've had a lot of Grape Juice Plus tonight. Amanda has no idea what I'm talking about.

Amanda Nadelberg: Fish you just made me laugh in public, shame on you. I do not, not at all wanna see the Ape Movie. But my dad and I saw Harry Potter last week and I want to see that movie about Earth 2. There's a guy in this coffee shop who thinks it's his job to be funny. His job! I have to go take care of a baby.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Little Called Pauline, by Gertrude Stein

A situation room means it does not my dear, means a whole steadiness, please sit in when. A pundit is a round table, a round table has sides. iReporters show shine. It is better yet. Telestrator flashes amber, flashes amber so lately. Touch the screen and talk. Stand where there is light. State that laugh. This is use. Let's turn to our panel.

Our pundits:

G.E. Patterson is a poet, critic, and translator. He's the author of two collections of poetry: To and From (Ahsahta Press) and Tug (Graywolf Press).

Lightsey Darst is a poet, dance critic, and English instructor. Her first book is Find the Girl (Coffee House Press).

The poem:

A Little Called Pauline
by Gertrude Stein

A little called anything shows shudders.

Come and say what prints all day. A whole few watermelon. There is no pope.

No cut in pennies and little dressing and choose wide soles and little spats really little spices.

A little lace makes boils. This is not true.

Gracious of gracious and a stamp a blue green white bow a blue green lean, lean on the top.

If it is absurd then it is leadish and nearly set in where there is a tight head.

A peaceful life to arise her, noon and moon and moon. A letter a cold sleeve a blanket a shaving house and nearly the best and regular window.

Nearer in fairy sea, nearer and farther, show white has lime in sight, show a stitch of ten. Count, count more so that thicker and thicker is leaning.

I hope she has her cow. Bidding a wedding, widening received treading, little leading mention nothing.

Cough out cough out in the leather and really feather it is not for.

Please could, please could, jam it not plus more sit in when.

The crossfire:

Lightsey Darst: I like to think she's watching someone move and trying to get down what's happening. I move like there is no pope all the time.

I like how a new word wanders in here like a stranger at a party. Leather, leather is unexpected. Feather naturally comes with it, though. Then there is plus.

Weather forecast, hint from Heloise—except that Heloise is hallucinating. But not hallucinating. The actual Heloise is hallucinating; this is true.

You can learn so much about corners from this poem. I wonder if she was ever tempted to call the book Tender Corners.

You really have to wear a hat with this poem.

It's obvious why this is not "A Little Called Sarah."

G.E. Patterson: Frightful little.

Not all boys are Paulists—or girls.
Act like it’s a choice it’s not.

Make more caring. Often.


Petite. Desire’s hunger.

For young David and his Papa.
Last seen on a corner.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Window, by Adélia Prado

Is the only edition of Adélia Prado's poetry in print, and in English, really The Alphabet in the Park, which must be 20 years old by now? Can this be true? We here at Poetry Crossfire! hope we're wrong about that. Meanwhile, let's turn to our panel.

Our guests:

Adam Fell is the author of I Am Not a Pioneer (H_NGM_N Books). He currently teaches at Edgewood College in Madison, WI, where he is co-curator of the Monsters of Poetry Reading Series.

Matt Hart is the author of three books of poetry, including the recently released Light-Headed (BlazeVOX). He is the editor and co-founder of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, and Light Industrial Safety. He teaches writing and aesthetics at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

The poem:

by Adélia Prado

A pretty word, window.
Window: the wingbeat of the yellow butterfly.
Two carelessly painted wooden shutters open out,
clumsy blue window.
I jump in and out of you, ride you like a horse,
my foot dragging the ground.
Window on the open world, from where I saw
Anita, expecting, get married, Pedro Cisterna’s
mother urinating in the rain, from where I saw
my love arrive on a bicycle and say to my father:
I have only the best intentions regarding your daughter.
O wooden-latched window, child’s play for thieves,
peephole on my soul,
I look into my heart.


Adam Fell: What if your peephole heart looks out into a hallway? What if in this hallway two prom kids forever unzip each other for the first time? What if there is forever laughter? What if instead of laughter there is forever shattering? What if instead of shattering there is incandescing into song? I can feel it coming in the air tonight, hold on.

Matt Hart: I've been waiting for this moment all my life -- "the colors fade from red to green" -- what if I never wrote any of this? What if this is really just thinking through the glass to the sky and the birds, and beyond that, thinking through the birds and the sky to clouds and Black Flag's The Process of Weeding Out, the obliterated angles (not angels), grass growing in my pockets... One time I pissed off (both senses) a roof.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Death Poems, by Mumon Gensen

In today's episode of Poetry Crossfire!, our poet-pundits are asked to grapple with the perplexing poetry of a 14th century Japanese Zen monk. At stake: one of mankind's most vexing end-of-life issues. Not medicine, pain management, or hospice -- but metaphor.

Bob Hicok is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Words for Empty and Words for Full (University of Pittsburgh Press). He is associate professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech.

William D. Waltz is the author of Zoo Music (Slope Editions), chosen by Dean Young as the winner of the 2004 Slope Editions Book Prize. He is also the editor of Conduit, "The Only Magazine That Risks Annihilation." He lives in St. Paul.

The poems:

Two death poems, by Mumon Gensen (d. 1390)

These two poems are reported to have been recited, one after another, in the moments before Mumon Gensen's death.

Life is an ever-rolling wheel
And every day is the right one.
He who recites poems at his death
Adds frost to the snow.


Life is like a cloud of mist
Emerging from a mountain cave
And death
A floating moon
In its celestial course.
If you think too much
About the meaning they may have
You'll be bound forever
like an ass to a stake.

Ready, set, crossfire!

Bob Hicok: I wrote two responses. And didn't count the titles. Or the spaces. Off to swim. Or to be more accurate regarding my abilities: not drown.

Thurman Munson's death responds to Mumon Gensen's death

Life is squatting
in dirt and catching
a ball happily
with your crotch. Death
is a monarch
hovering over
queen anne's lace
in a field
where a stadium
once cheered
eternally. The god
damned pitcher
still shaking you off.

The mummy reads Mumon Gensen

Life is knowing your brain
will be swished
around and pulled out
your nose. Death
is walking
without dialogue
through movies,
except a groan
suggesting hemorrhoids.
I am bandages,
I am wound, I am
a cloud of mist
in the mind
of a poem.

William D. Waltz: When I began reading Japanese death poems, my friends were concerned, much like they would be if I started rooting for the Yankees. I liked Thurman Munson, despite his Yankee uniform, because he was from Ohio. Another Ohioan who moved to New York was Hart Crane and he drowned, which is weird because his father invented the little candy shaped like a life preserver.

Bob Hicok: While I knew of your antipathy to the Yankees, I didn't know about Hart Crane's pop. Pop Crane. do you remember Pops from Speed Racer? I wish Speed would have committed suicide, and Spritle too. I think Hart Crane would have liked Racer X. I think he should have jumped off The Brooklyn Bridge. "But we have seen the moon in lonely alleys make a grail of laughter of an empty ash can." I would give my pineal gland to have written that. In a box. With a bow. If I knew what the pineal gland does, I might revise that offer. It does it well, so far as I know, whatever I don't know it does. Hart Crane's bones are cairned by the ode of the sea. Your love of Ohio is commendable and touching. A state that makes you say O coming and going, as if it has a mind for exultation and orgasm. Put that on your state flag. Or, "Of all the people who've drowned here, Hart Crane was none of them." But in Latin.

William D. Waltz: Ah, I do remember Pops and agree with you regarding the demise of Speed and Spritle. I'd throw Chim-Chim in there too. I found Speed and his checkered flag supremely annoying and often wondered if other kids actually liked Speed and if I was the only one who rooted against him. My love of Ohio perplexes some. One splendid thing about Ohio is that the state flag is really a pennant and is thus unique among the state flag brotherhood. Another is the Great Serpent Mound, which depicts a snake swallowing an egg and was built three thousand years ago. I don't know what a pineal gland does either, but I think you're on to something with exultation and orgasm.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Generally Speaking: Author Photos as Cover Art

A blow-dried bouffant. An Eartha Kitt stare. A shirt unbuttoned halfway to Acapulco. Thirty years ago, it wasn't entirely unusual to pick up a slim volume of contemporary verse and find a towering author portrait gazing majestically from the cover. Today, that treatment is reserved almost exclusively for collecteds. Do contemporary poets deserve more than a thumbnail snapshot on the back cover -- like a neglected child staring desperately out a station wagon's tailgate window at a world that's already drifted past? Did poetry lose something the day it declared the look-at-me cover unfashionable?

Our guests:

John Colburn is a co-editor and publisher at Spout Press, a publishing collective; a member of the improvised music group Astronaut Cooper's Parade (a collective); and co-founder of the Center for Visionary Poetics, based in Minneapolis and well on its way to becoming a collective. Through his work as a teacher he is trying to turn your children into feral Marxists. And he just took this goddamn picture right now.

Ed Bok Lee is the author of Real Karaoke People (New Rivers Press, PEN Open Book Award) and Whorled (Coffee House Press, forthcoming September 2011). He lives in Minneapolis.

Ready, set, crossfire!

John Colburn: First off, I just want to say that it's ok for poets to be sexy and I find John Ashbery almost unbearably sexy on this cover (Get up I feel like being a poet!) and I find absolutely NOTHING wrong with putting authors' photos (dead or alive) on the covers of their books a la Richard Brautigan or even Hannah Weiner. Remember Prince's Lovesexy cover (fig 1. below). Mmm-hmm. Now imagine the Ed Bok Lee version. Oh yeah. Because this whole headshot marketing Poets & Writers celebrity academic bullshit culture movement is NOT revolutionary, so we might as well play with it a little. Why do poets become brands? Sure we can construct a glamorous other on the book cover, just as one is constructed on the page and maybe it's tacky, yes, all the more reason to embrace it and be more honest about the ego's involvement in this poetry that's trying to be "important" but screw that, I want a poetry that creates no economic debt for anyone involved, that exploits no hierarchy and creates no dominance, a poetry that can live anywhere and is against wages (slavery) and there's probably a word limit to this soundbite but FUCK WORD LIMITS no one can keep me down all power to the people the 'free market' is not my father figure.

Ed Bok Lee: I’ve never found a book of poems (or outfit from the ‘70s) at Savers or Goodwill that I didn’t love. . . just for surviving the fires of style.

Because isn't that also one of poetry's objectives: to get everyone to share everyone else’s face and dreams and body oils simultaneously for all of time?

So, it's more a kind of sacrifice. Yeah, my vote: all poets should show as much skin on every page and cover and billboard and myelin sheath as they can!


fig. 1. Prince, Lovesexy cover (1988)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Great Loneliness, by Mary Ruefle

It's Zach v. Zach on Poetry Crossfire! today. A Zach Attack. A Zach Down. A spice rack of Zachs inside blister packs. Why so many Zax? Simple: if you're going to ponder something as ineffable and inexorable as The Great Loneliness, you're going to need more than one.

The pundits:

Zach Savich is the author of Full Catastrophe Living, which won the Iowa Poetry Prize; Annulments, which won the Colorado Prize; and The Firestorm, from Cleveland State University Press.

Zachary Schomburg is the author of The Man Suit and Scary, No Scary, both from Black Ocean. He edits Octopus Magazine and Octopus Books and lives in Portland, OR.

The poem:

The Great Loneliness
by Mary Ruefle

By March the hay bales were ripped open
exposed in the open fields
like bloated gray mice
who died in December.
I came upon them at dusk
and their attar lifted my spine
until I felt like turning over an old leaf.
So I walked on, a walking pitchfork.
From every maple hung a bucket or two
collecting blood to be distributed across America
so people could rise from their breakfast
healthy, hoping to make a go of it again.
Now this is a riddled explanation
but I am a historian of pagan means
and must walk five miles a day
to cover the period I will call
The Great Loneliness
and the name will stick so successfully
that for years afterwards children will complain
at meals and on sunny days and in the autumn and at Easter
that their parents are unnecessarily mute
and their parents will look harshly down
upon the plates and beach towels and leaves and bunnies
and say you don't know what you are talking about
you never lived through The Great Loneliness
and if you had you would never speak.
And the children will turn away
and consider the words, or lack of them,
and how one possible explanation
might be that inside our bodies
skeletons grow at an increasingly secretive rate,
though they never mention it,
even amongst themselves.

The crossfire:

Zach Savich: Once, in a blizzard, Basho ate his own tongue to show the pleasure of eating anything off a knife. It couldn't matter. The ribcage is large enough for bunnies. Loneliness  it's just them mating.

Zachary Schomburg: Like a dead leaf, I lay down my body, The Great Loneliness, across America, spread for killing the grass — all these children, not mine, sucking blood, their own, from my billion teats. To have lived through that, everyone's shared secret.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Louisiana Perch, by Ron Padgett

Today on Poetry Crossfire! we ask some of the tougher questions America is struggling to answer: Why don't veggie burgers make for good lyric poetry? If a waiter or waitress inspires a poem, is one obligated to tip more than 15 percent? And will someone, for God's sake, please pass the ketchup? Let's turn to our pundits.

Our guests:

Matthew Zapruder is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Come On All You Ghosts, from Copper Canyon.

Matthea Harvey is the author of three books of poems. Her most recent book is Of Lamb (McSweeney's), created in collaboration with the artist Amy Jean Porter.

The poem:

Louisiana Perch
by Ron Padgett

Certain words disappear from a language:
their meanings become attenuated,
grow antique, insanely remote or small,

Or become something else:
transport. Mack
the truck driver falls for a waitress
where the water flows.

The great words are those without meaning:
from a their or
Or the for a the
The those

The rest are fragile, transitory
like the waitress, a

beautiful slender young girl!
I love her! Want to
marry her! Have hamburgers!
Have hamburgers! Have hamburgers!

Ready, set, crossfire!

Matthew Zapruder: I regard almost every decision made in this poem from the title on down with almost complete bewilderment yet each time I read it find the end of the poem almost as enjoyable as actually eating a hamburger. Which is saying a lot.

Matthea Harvey: Pensive lyric to sound poem to ode! What a shimmy! I love a poem that swirls together love and hamburgers. This makes me want to take a photograph of a miniature trucker juggling hearts and hamburgers. And does anyone else hear an “or perch?” at the end?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yoga, by Miroslav Holub

Welcome back to Poetry Crossfire!, where on today's show a pair of Northampton poets twist themselves into new asanas over the poetry of a Czech immunologist. Namaste!

Our guests:

Emily Pettit is the author of two chapbooks How (Octopus Books) and What Happened to Limbo (Pilot Books). Her first full-length book, Goat in the Snow, is forthcoming from Birds LLC. She lives in Northampton, MA where she is publisher of jubilat.

Mark Leidner is the author of several chapbooks including The Night Of 1000 Murders and a book of aphorisms, The Angel in the Dream of Our Hangover. He lives in Western Massachusetts.

The poem:

by Miroslav Holub

All poetry is about
five hundred degrees centigrade.

Poems, though, differ in combustibility.
Those soaked in spirits
catch fire first.

What would they be without their disease.
The disease is their health.

They burn, straw dummies,
they don't read Nietzsche,
what doesn't kill you
tempers you.

They smolder.
They sizzle.
And yet only a bad yogi
burns his feet
on hot coals.

Ready, set, crossfire!

Emily Pettit: Holub said this and he also said,

in A Boy’s Head –

There is much promise
in the circumstance
that so many people have heads.

- Heads like poems
are capable of combustion.

It is hot in our heads.

Mark Leidner: This poem seems to be saying something like "Poetry is a powerful fire..." and "Play with the fire..." and "You won't get burned if you're good enough..."

Friday, July 8, 2011

As if by saying “morning” on January 8th, by Michael Palmer

In this episode of Poetry Crossfire!, we put two pundits on the hot seat and ask them to stare into the great sphinx of San Francisco. Nobody blinks. Including the sphinx.

The guests:

Brad Liening is the author of Ghosts and Doppelgangers, from Lowbrow Press. He’s poetry editor of InDigest Magazine and runs Hell Yes! Press. He lives in Minneapolis.

MC Hyland is the author of Neveragainland, from Lowbrow Press. She runs DoubleCross Press and the Pocket Lab reading series and lives in Minneapolis.

The poem:

As if by saying “morning” on January 8th
by Michael Palmer

As if by saying “morning” on January 8th
the light would be set forward
along the megalophonous shore

Was there anything else you wanted to know
about the body where I belong
how the torso is cut off from a waving arm

by the yellow space in the background
and how the head has been put on wrong
or not wrong. Each looked into the water

and w
as frightened by a different thing
of his or her own making
One was frightened by stripes

and the other by a turtle
even though I knew it wouldn’t bite
but would take me for a ride

It was the time when the phone always rings
to dissolve the mediating scene
in which a phone always rings

to help us with our counting
I say
hello to the lateral darkness
who answers guardedly

in painted fragments. The drop of a hat
If the shoe fits. A thin bird flaps
before it sits. Who answers noiselessly

Hans Memling is watching from my matchbox
the serpent lives
This is his nest

Ready, set, crossfire!

Brad Liening: That's funny, I go out drinking with that serpent all the time and he's never mentioned any of this. And I'm pretty sure that giving rides to poets but not biting them is a turtle's idea of hell.

M.C. Hyland: Unlike the turtle, I bite every poet I see -- tenderly.