The British first

Looking at my post yesterday about Robert Lowell’s book, Imitations, I commented that the first edition of that book was for sale for $35. Larry looked at the picture and said, “That must be the British first edition.” I checked the source, and it was. “How did you know that?” I wanted to know. Continue reading “The British first”

Books that change your life

lowellI’ve been reading some essays by C.K. Williams (who wrote last week’s poem). In one essay he talks about reading a book by Robert Lowell, Imitations, which broke open a new way of thinking about poetry.

Imitations was influential and controversial. Lowell took poems in other languages and rather than translate them, he created his own poems in English inspired by them. Many deplored this technique, finding it arrogant and disrespectful. But it definitely gave poets something to think about. For Williams, it “released something in me I hadn’t grasped had been keeping me from moving ahead in my own work.”

How amazing it is that books can crack you open, can shed light into your own struggles and world view. Continue reading “Books that change your life”

C. K. Williams

williamsC. K. Williams died last year. I hadn’t read much of his work, but liked what I saw in a review of his Selected Later Poems.  His lines are often long, and his poems, too. This is my favorite so far. It totally grabs me in its “syrupy upsoaring netting.”

At What Time on the Sabbath Do Vultures Awake?

Yesterday, at four in the afternoon there were as accurately as I could count sixteen
xxx on fence posts
and branches banking or dive-bombing might be the better term down towards a dead
xxxdeer in a gulley
but this morning at dawn there were none none at all as I trekked by so I thought
   they’d consumed
the corpse or emptied its guts but no there it still was though I didn’t come too close for
xxxthe stench

then later on my way back were first five then at least a half dozen more circling over
xxxtheir quarry
a few scrolling down towards it and how not wonder whether they’d overslept or
if on Sundays
like this they just like to sit around reading the paper not bothering to get up till
xxxday’s going
full blast and the great pouring clouds of chattering starlings are already in flight
xxxheading south Continue reading “C. K. Williams”

Two quick chicken recipes

Optimized-2016-01-20 18.26.38Once in awhile, it seems like I take whatever is in the fridge and create something tasty. The other night it was leftover rice, a few chicken thighs, some butternut squash, mushrooms, onions, fennel, and green beans. I sautéed the onions and fennel with a little garlic and some spices, added the mushrooms and then set them aside and browned the chicken in the same pan. I layered a pan with the sautéed vegetables and rice, put the chicken and chunks of squash on top and added a bit of chicken stock. I baked them for about twenty-five minutes. While they were baking I lightly sautéed the green beans in the same sauce pan, and then sprinkled them on top. A yummy dinner in less than an hour. Worth saving the idea to make again. Continue reading “Two quick chicken recipes”

Poetry readings

I go to a fair number of these. Some are transcendent–moving, dynamic, inspiring. That’s why I go, and go again. But all often, they go more like this:

I Attend a Poetry Readingkowit

The fellow reading poetry at us wouldn’t stop.
Nothing would dissuade him:
not the stifling heat; the smoky walls
with their illuminated clocks;
our host, who shifted anxiously
from foot to foot. Continue reading “Poetry readings”

Best poetry book from 2015

JollimoreTroy Jollimore’s book, Syllabus of Errors, is my favorite new book of poems from last year. He’s a serious poet, and I find his work brave and lyrical.  He’s also not afraid to poke fun at himself.

Here’s a sample:


No more swamp existence for you, with all
its pleasures, all that rooting around
in forgotten quarters for forgotten nickels.
No more meretricious jazz piano
eliding your way between gross destinations,
unreviewed memoirs by former conundrums,
videos of venal comebacking musicians
going viral on the spiral screen. No more
slowly starving cathedrals into being,
no more convalescing by feel, no more
nosing out the neglected harmonica part
that was meant to fluff out the flourish but got
buried so deep in the mix you could get
the bends coming up from that. No more Continue reading “Best poetry book from 2015”

Bad science and xenophobia

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: Photographed on Friday, July 8, 2011 for Eat & Run...No Chinese buffet would be complete with the standby, Vegetable Lo Mein, seen here at Asia Restaurant in South Portland.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: Photographed on Friday, July 8, 2011 for Eat & Run…No Chinese buffet would be complete with the standby, Vegetable Lo Mein, seen here at Asia Restaurant in South Portland.

This morning over breakfast Larry told me he had been reading Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver’s blog, and that the whole “MSG is bad for you” story is a myth, based on flawed science.  Apparently, the negative effects only occurred when subjects were told they were eating MSG, and weren’t reproducible in blind tests.

Meanwhile, I was reading the latest issue of Poetry, a mostly depressing start to the morning, and picked up the pepper shaker absently, meaning to put some on my egg, but distracted.

“Are you planning to use that as a chess piece?” Larry asked.

Startled out of my reverie, I handed it to him.

Larry Levis

levisI’d forgotten how much I like this poet of California’s Central Valley. He often writes of farming and of his father, a farmer of small means. I think he’d be better known, but he died at 49.

Winter Stars

My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, and with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them,
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him. Continue reading “Larry Levis”

The exemplary sentence

Sentence DiagramHere are a few excerpts from the best book I read this month, The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

“Massacre is obscene. Torture is obscene. Three million dead is obscene. Masturbation, even with an admittedly nonconsensual squid? Not so much. I for one, am a person who believes that the world would be a better place if the word “murder” made us mumble as much as the word “masturbation.”

sympathizer“…no one asks poor people if they want war. Nor had anyone asked these poor people if they wanted to die of thirst and exposure on the coastal sea, or if they wanted to be robbed and raped by their own soldiers. If those thousands still lived, they would not have believed how they had died, just as we could not believe that the Americans—our friends, our benefactors, our protectors—had spurned our request to send more money. And what would we have done with the money? Buy the ammunition, gas, and spare parts for the weapons, planes, and tanks the same Americans had bestowed on us for free. Having given us the needles, they now perversely no longer supplied the dope. (Nothing, the General muttered, is ever so expensive as what is offered for free.)”

“My vocabulary was broader, my grammar more precise than the average educated American. I could hit the high notes as well as the low, and thus had no difficulty in understanding Claude’s characterization of the ambassador as a “putz,” a “jerkoff,” with “his head up his ass” who was in denial about the city’s imminent fall.

“I was a card-carrying American with a driver’s license, Social Security card, and resident alien permit. Violet still considered me as foreign, and this misrecognition punctured the smooth skin of my self-confidence…The flawlessness of my English did not matter. Even if she could hear me, she still saw right though me, or perhaps saw someone else instead of me, her retinas burned with the images of all the castrati dreamed up by Hollywood to take the place of real Asian men.”

“I was in close quarters with some representative specimens of the most dangerous creature in the history of the world, the white man in a suit.”