Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Morning Romanticism

Poetry and Academia
I’m self-taught in my writing.  I never got an English degree or an MFA though they might have suited me well.  I opted for History and TESOL, safer routes.  I avoided English, fearing what criticism could do to the shy, introspective person I was.  When I was in grad school, I took the train from NY to Stony Brook.  One day the line was cut.  An English grad student had jumped onto the tracks.  We tried to make sense of her act through her poems which appeared in the college paper.
History was safer but even then, in my seminar on war, I was the only female, always called on first in every session.  I got a C in the course to the protests of the other students.  When I spoke to the professor, he confessed how lonely he was and how solitary his life was.  What was I supposed to do with that information?  No wonder I shunned academia for years, though I ended up working in it.
   I recommend “In the Palm of Your Hand” by Steve Kowit for those of you, like me, who are writing alone.  The exercise was to take the first line of Rossetti’s poem and go with it.  So here is a bit of Monday morning romanticism. 

“After I am dead my dearest”
fill my grave with companionate figures,
ceramic men and women
toiling the soil,
and standing guard,
the tasks of life
I no longer share.

Close my eyelids
with a kiss,
my lips too cold,
Purify the corpse
with fire,
Collect remains
In a bright ceramic vase
painted with birds and bears.
Lay it deep in the earth
with my terra cotta
statue friends.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Religion, Myth, and Magic*

Religion, Myth, and Magic*
The writer, Chris Albani says you can come back from torture, rape, violence.  He should know having survived Nigerian prison, not once, but three times.  Resurrection is the theme of this week.
That leads me Palm Sunday.  I was raised Catholic but for decades only attended church for weddings and funerals.  Since I returned to Buffalo, I reconnected with an old friend from my UB teaching days who had since become a priest (progressive, of course).  Mass is familiar from a childhood of mouthing the words.  Yet there are some differences: no male pronouns are used and the Holy Ghost has become the Holy Spirit.   I’d forgotten Palm Sunday is a solemn celebration.  It touches on the modern themes of betrayal (Judas) and abandonment (my God, why have you forsaken me?)
Albani was also raised Catholic which might help account for the theme of redemption in “Graceland” where as he puts it, “everyone is redeemed”.  From there he went to Buddhism.  As my Korean student who attended a Buddhist university put it, in Buddhism, you become the saint.  Instead of the “I am not worthy to receive you” you have a pervasive basic goodness and the goal of an enlightened society (in the form I’m familiar with).  As my Iraqi student says there is no God.  You’re on your own.  And my question is where is the witness that has been part of our modern therapeutic culture? 
In the end, Albani tattooed the traditional Igbo deities on his arm.  Besides Catholicism, I was raised with the distant remains of Pre-Christian Latvian culture with spirits inhabiting all of nature. My personal gods are my grandmother and a polar bear.  I like to think of the polar bear as a totem animal from the far north of my mother’s ancestors. My grandmother is the muse of my first published poem. 
Yet, I still love the saetas- the songs of love sung to the statues of Mary (or Jesus) in the processions of Andalusia and the shouts of “guapa” (pretty) when she passes.  The processions go on all night and the drums are heard long before they appear.  They can be solemn or the waiting time for the procession to appear can be spent in a bar.  My apologies to the faithful.
I love the geese of the 16th century Barcelona cathedral and the L’ou com balla- the egg dancing in the fountain on Corpus Christi. 
Ritual, tradition, and repetition.  Does one ever really escape them?  Or even want to?
* the title of an anthropology class I took

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

City of Illusions (my apologies to Michael)

A film about the Burmese refugee experience in Buffalo is being screened.  Apparently the city is shown in a negative light and that's causing controversy.  "Buffalo needs all the help it can get" is one comment I heard.  Well, the Burmese refugees are housed in a violent gang ridden neighborhood and that's been their major complaint. 
   Unfortunately, Buffalo is riddled with neighborhoods like that and for all its good points, it's a city with severe problems- depopulation, crime, and lack of investment.  That doesn't mean the city doesn't have its historical, architectural beauty and its friendly small town feel. One aspect doesn't negate the other.  So, instead of glossing over the negative or pretending it doesn't exist, you can actually admit it and then move on to act.  During the 92 Olympics in Barcelona, some TV channels showed the poorer gypsy neighborhoods of the city to the cries of "unfair".  If it exists, then it's fair game. 
    So accept it and do something about the problems.  Don't vote for politicians who are wildly corrupt and don't care as they view life from their suburban gardens.  Without a vibrant city, suburbs die - the first ring of suburbs here are empyting out already. Stop letting the city bleed its slow elephant death.
    And onward..

Ma-Ya  (Not That)

No one will ever say -she’s the mother of my children, head bowed in homage.  Yet, I am the mother of many dreams and a few scattered kindnesses.

I have been the bitch of a litter of seven puppies, the taker of portrait photographs with the requisite puff of air, and a maple tree sending forth a seedling borne on air that settled in a small patch of earth and lived 100 years. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Found Poems

“If everything is art, then nothing is art”   Where did that quotation come from?  I’m still looking for the source and going back to the days of Duchamp and the “Institutional Theory of Art” where the concept is the only original part of the art itself.
    And I can easily apply it to writing, which brings me to the “found poem.”  Yes, you can find poetry everywhere, but isn’t it the job of the poet to translate image into words?  The poet can also find those words ready made, but then, what is it?  It can be a commentary on society; it can be a scathing criticism, or simply an amusing discovery.  The question is, is it a poem?
   I recently went to a poetry reading where the poet read a couple of found poems.  Granted, this was a well known writer who has every right to read whatever pleases.  One found poem was the menu from the evening’s dinner.  The other was the instructions of what to do in case of a fire, taken from a motel room.  Both were entertaining.  But beyond the concept, the work can be meaningless which is of course, the point, once again.
   So here is my found haiku- at least one line was found.  It’s written for fun, not for meaning.  The only meaning lies in debate.   

City graffiti
“Be ready and carry chalk”
washed clean by spring rains.