Author Archives: Nim

Monday’s Verse 11/20/2017

Dear readers,

I went to the homecoming on Pitt’s campus in October of this year. The homecoming of 4 esteemed MFA graduates, that is. I don’t think it’s too extreme to call Brandon Som’s return triumphant, though he’d probably balk at that description. Fun, weird, nostalgic, a little emotional… all of those probably.

Back in summer 2014, we were fortunate enough to run a segment of his "Bows & Resonators," shortly before it was published in The Tribute Horse, which turned out to be a prize-winner. And now, I got my hard copy of The Tribute Horse signed by the author, about the same time he found out it will go into a second printing.

Brandon is an assistant professor in the literature department at UC San Diego. In discussing his poetry a few years ago, readers made a lot of his use of sound and music. The reviewers of his book did the same when it was published, and Brandon has acknowledged in interviews the importance of hearing languages as music when he was younger, and the way that shaped his desire to be a writer, and try to put all the sounds that surround us onto the page.

What follows looks like a prose poem, but I’ll recreate the page-breaks from my paperback version. This forum would be a good place to ask questions that only the author can answer. Have a great week! -ed.

NOCHE BUENA

Before another rasp-worked moon, I’ll tender a clutch of cardinals, or
the flush on a runner’s cheek to better render the young girl’s gift to the
Christ-child. Flame leaf. Star flower. What is evening in the evening? By
what accounting? The sky will go away despite the trees thrashing &
the smoke giving chase from the chimneys. "Too much torn to make a
drawing," Audobon wrote of a hermit thrush after the day’s hunt. Isn’t it
also true of some stories? The infinite graftings. Here, you take a cutting.
The blood-colored leaf, once over the heart, was thought to increase cir-
culation. Ingested, it was believed to reduce fever. You might, however,
place it in the pages of a breviary beside a favorite psalm.

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Monday’s Verse 11/14/2017

Readers,

I feel bad about last week and the delay in this week’s edition — life is overtaking me, like the merciless wave in Don Paterson’s amazing poem (3/11/14). But I’ll do my best to not let the complete be the enemy of the sufficient, and send out this lyric from Rickey Laurentiis ("I rue icky entrails"), young, prize-winning poet new to Pittsburgh. I don’t have much by the way of biography on him, but he described himself at a reading 2 weeks ago as having just moved from Brooklyn, "a terrible place," and also a veteran of St. Louis and France. He was a quiet reader — for some reason this one doesn’t look like I would have imagined, having heard it live — but an emotionally-charged one, too. He said he’s accepted that he is "the crying poet."

Enjoy, and we’ll see you again with fuller analysis soon, I’m sure of it. -ed.

BLACK GENTLEMAN

O fly away home, fly away.
— Robert Hayden

There are eyes, glasses even, but still he can’t see

what the world sees seeing him.

They know an image of him they themselves created.

He knows his own: fine-lined from foot to finger,

each limb adjusted, because it’s had to,

to achieve finally flight — 

though what’s believed

in him is a flightlessness, a sinking-down,

as any swamp-mess of water I’m always thinking of

might draw down again the washed-up body

of a boy, as any mouth I’ve yearned for would take down,

wrestler-style, the boy’s tongue with its own    …    

What an eye can’t imagine

it can’t find: not in blood, swollen in the stiff knees

of a cypress, not definitely in some dreaming man’s dream — 

Let’s have his nature speak.

What will the incredible night of  him say here, to his thousand

moons, now that he can rise up to any tree, rope or none, but not fear it?

-2014

Monday’s Verse 10/30/2017

Friends,

It’s later than Monday and this is a short intro, but I wanted to at least get this out there before the week escapes me. More A/V fun from MV! You know that MV all-star Katie McCormick was snooping around Pittsburgh last week; she helped me name a previously-ignored Robert Burns statue I’ve probably walked by 50 times. Robert Burns! 1759-1796, Scottish, we’ve read him here before several times, his poems are almost always a fun read… here’s one I hadn’t seen before but that was nonetheless readily internet-available. Enjoy! And enjoy the photos of your editor and Ms. McCormick, archivist extraordinaire, trying to ascend to Mr. Burns’ great heights. -ed.

A WINTER NIGHT

When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv’d glow’r,
Far south the lift,
Dim-dark’ning thro’ the flaky show’r,
Or whirling drift:

Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreeths upchoked,
Wild-eddying swirl,
Or thro’ the mining outlet bocked,
Down headlong hurl.

List’ning, the doors an’ winnocks rattle,
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
O’ winter war,
And thro’ the drift, deep-lairing, sprattle,
Beneath a scar.

Ilk happing bird, wee, helpless thing!
That, in the merry months o’ spring,
Delighted me to hear thee sing,
What comes o’ thee?
Whare wilt thou cow’r thy chittering wing
An’ close thy e’e?

Ev’n you on murd’ring errands toil’d,
Lone from your savage homes exil’d,
The blood-stain’d roost, and sheep-cote spoil’d
My heart forgets,
While pityless the tempest wild
Sore on you beats.

Monday’s Verse 10-23-2017

Readers,

A little verbal-visual entertainment for you today. Longtime MV all-star Katie McCormick appeared in Pittsburgh Friday, and on Saturday we went to check out the 2020 exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art. Among the photos, paintings, sculptures, and video pieces was this attached sculpture called "Cleopatra’s Cape," 1973, by Barbara Chase-Riboud (Rub: I chose a drab bar). It was one of several pieces she did on the Cleopatra theme, and produced contemporaneously with a book of poems titled Portrait of a Nude Woman as Cleopatra. The wall text noted the hemp, wire, and bronze of which the sculpture is made, and that it "manifests diasporic beauty, femininity, strength, and a quiet evocation of the unknown." Why diasporic? Perhaps because Chase-Riboud was a Philadelphia-born artist then living in Paris. Perhaps because the visuals also took inspiration from her travels in China, and the clothing of the Han empire.

Chase-Riboud was born in 1928, and is acclaimed for her art as well as her novels and poetry. Her first novel, Sally Hemings, won several prizes and also a landmark copyright infringement case, when she got a large settlement from a playwright who clearly lifted some of her prose for his play "Dusky Sally" in the early 1980s. She also won a settlement later from one of the screenwriters of Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, who did not acknowledge his study of (and work on a screenplay based on) her novel Echo of Lions.

I couldn’t find many of her shorter works online, but here is an appropriate piece for the sculpture. -ed.

ANTHONY & CLEOPATRA: THE YEAR 40 B.C.

Whatever violence
I have done thee,
You’ve done to me tenfold.
And so we stand quits and quivering,
Two fools,
In love without faith.
For the honest love of one other,
Has made every man hate
The dishonest love of another.
For reasons of our own
That tender thread
We’ve lost
Now I’ll leave
You alone.

Monday’s Verse 10/16/2017 — 20th anniversary edition

Dear readers,

in early September, 1997, I got my first personal e-mail address, having enrolled as a grad student at Boston College. About 6 weeks later, the first group message with a "monday’s verse" subject line went out to about 10 friends, from lambermc. Those early notes are gone with the wind, but I’m awfully grateful that the intervening 20 years have blown multiples more poetry readers into my doors. I don’t know what this forum has done for my love of poetry during this span. I suppose that it’s largely the same, though I can say as a person who has shifted jobs (many times!), careers, cities (many times!), and schedules, reading poetry with all of you has made me feel responsible for keeping my habits up, even just a little, and even if only once weekly.

Most important, however, is the way this group has helped me to sustain the friendships from those early years. Folks with whom I only had 1 or 2 or 3 years of geographical overlap, and now live far away, are still people I’d call friends because of our weekly habit. That’s a network I take with me everywhere I go, and clearly the greatest benefit I get from leading this merry band.

Alert reader Janet Kim of NYC sent me a link to this very cool story last week. I was remind, immediately, of Kevin & Jenny’s adventure in Spain, and the poetry-on-the-spot they commissioned from Antonio Alfaro Sanchez. Mr. Sonia-Wallace upped the degree of difficulty by plopping himself down at the Mall of America. And it was their idea, not his! Judy and I went to said mall in 2015 and had fun. I bought an ice cream cone and a clearance-bin copy of Ray Davies’ memoir; I think I may have gotten out of there spending as little money as possible.

I found the Guardian piece pretty fascinating — how quickly shoppers forged a connection with him, how easily they opened up their lives, how some of them went back day after day. These are projects Brian Sonia-Wallace participates in all the time, it turns out. Here’s a short poem he typed on what looks like a restaurant-receipt printer, for Katie (which is the title I’ve given it). Check out his website, "RENT poet," it’s pretty fun. And have a great… next 20 years! -ed.

FOR KATIE

at marker’s end
no space to throw
the husk away
only to re-imagine
a system
a thouroughfare
a canal of color
draining through your
face, leaving only the
lines in vivid relief

etched out in crushed cans
pulled from the garbage by
weathered hands
we all have to make a living
the things society
threw out
cans & art & friendship

reclaimed
scavenged by the river bed
by a concert, a symphony
of calloused hands

Monday’s Verse 10/9/2017

Dear readers,

tip o’ the cap to Chicago reader (not Chicago Reader) Adam Sleper for the link to this poem. I’d never heard of Matthew Olzmann before. The Poetry Foundation website does not give me a year of birth, but he looks about… as old as I am. He’s got a nice pedigree, has won some nice poetry prizes and teaches at a university, but to me his major credential is having been born in the same city that made Phillip Levine’s poems famous, Detroit. He’s written 2 books of poetry, the latest of which is Contradictions in the Design. Now obviously Adam was alerted to this poem by a tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, though it does not appear that the most recent event is the one the poem responds to — if it responds to any specific event, at all. But such is our country. It’s possible to write a poem about multiple gunshot casualties and be writing about our general condition, not current events. -ed.

LETTER BEGINNING WITH TWO LINES BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me.

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed

for children walking to school?
Those same children

also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop

to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might

reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,

I had one student
who opened a door and died.

It was the front
door to his house, but

it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written

any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old

and was aiming
at someone else. But

a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t

distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent,

and how was the bullet
supposed to know this

child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment

because his friend
was outside and screaming

for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who

opened a door and died?
That’s wrong.

There were many.
The classroom of grief

had far more seats
than the classroom for math

though every student
in the classroom for math

could count the names
of the dead.

A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,

nor could the gun, because
“guns don’t kill people,” they don’t

have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose

or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t

have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how

we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,

and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside

each of them. Today,
there’s another

shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,

a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world

is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,

you may open a door

and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be

mourned, then buried
in rhetoric.

There will be
monuments of legislation,

little flowers made
from red tape.

What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close

like a door above you.
What should we do?

And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.

-2016

Monday’s Verse 10/02/2017

Dear readers,

back in mid-June I noted the installation of Tracy K. Smith (b. 1972) as the poet laureate, and said "I hope we’ll all have the chance to see her in public forums in the coming year." Well, she was in Pittsburgh Saturday night, and read alongside the Bangladeshi poet-in-residence, Tuhin Das, at City of Asylum.

Tracy K. Smith only read three poems, appropriate for her anagram, "my hat tricks." The one below was my favorite. Note how many polysyllabic words it uses–a tonic to our fear that poems have to mine obscure concepts through grandiose vocabulary! Have a good week, -ed.

ASH

Strange house we must keep and fill.

House that eats and pleads and kills.

House on legs. House on fire. House infested

With desire. Haunted house. Lonely house.

House of trick and suck and shrug.

Give-it-to-me house. I-need-you-baby house.

House whose rooms are pooled with blood.

House with hands. House of guilt. House

That other houses built. House of lies

And pride and bone. House afraid to be alone.

House like an engine that churns and stalls.

House with skin and hair for walls.

House the seasons singe and douse.

House that believes it is not a house.

-2015