There’s Nothing To See

Inspired by: http://kwicksand.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/last-vacation/ and http://theshitshowthatismylife.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/if-you-pass-out-i-will-fuck-your-roommate/

Your last vacation involved a counter top

The usual white interior and dark carpet

To hide what scurrilous members made their mark

In strange quarters in a strange place.

You left a perfectly comfortable house

To go somewhere that required a new tube of toothpaste

And you didn’t dare touch those cups

That the housekeeper washed and covered

With a French fry wrapper

As if the cup was new.

And what about the bed spread?

That’s a good word for it.

Every naked sod waited for his girlfriend

While she took a shower

His legs open and his butt

Crack peeling with the scent of a long hard day.

I like how they throw it all together.

Every room is the same,

Can you imagine that for the help?

They can’t tell if they’ve been there before.

They have to leave the cleaning cart outside

In case there are more towels to get.

It is like a life preserver.

They hold on to it

Cause their heads spin

Pulling the covers over the last

Sexual charade,

Where every room

Houses the same act

Of the delusion of escape.

I watch you smile

As if we are having fun,

But I see the germ of disappointment

In the fact that we are blue collar

Enjoying something that is not meant for us.

Why is it that this room is so cheap?

I could do a better job appointing it

With knick-knacks from Ikea.

This whole fricken place is an insult

More of the same corporate America

That I thought we were leaving?

But, there’s no escaping any of it?

How am I supposed to rest?

I don’t want to be reminded of why I can’t marry you!

Why we can’t take a reasonable vacation?

I make minimum wage and how in the hell can I plan for retirement

If I take three days off and it sets us back another year?

Our vacations are the days off we get in a week,

If we are lucky,

And when we do

We just sit there and look at each other.

The last time I took a two-week vacation was in ’95.

I went to Europe. I only spent $2000 for everything.

I stayed in a youth hostel.

I was a grown man.

I was single.

I can’t imagine marrying you.

We met on a dating site

And you are crazy.

Why is it that I always end up with the molested ones?

Do I look like a psychologist?

Does it look like I care?

How can I afford you?

The world is upside down.

I’ll be single after this vacation.

We’ll fight because screaming is something you’ve learned.

Everything is knee-jerk.

There is something inside of you that is angry.

You are a ferocious naked animal

Fragile and sad

And I know that you are damaged.

You can’t rest with one eye open.

You are worried about the pit bull in the blanket.

You can leave it only for 6-hour increments

Or it sleeps with us and gets just as excited, and

I can’t take it anymore.

I don’t want that kind of a three-some.

Stop taking pictures.

This is not a family outing.

It’s my need for intimacy and your need for safety,

But the world has made that impossible.

I know we haven’t spoken for a long time,

But I was thinking about you.

You are really a sweet person

Though I can’t trust you.

Your life is beyond the law of averages.

Every day you live on the edge.

You are going to LVN school but

It is across the bay and across the city from that

And you have no car.

Your friends are invalids and

Your dates are after the same thing that I am.

And you’ll do what it takes if that’s what it takes,

And that’s why you are so lovable, and indestructible,

Or so I would like to think.

Sometimes you call me when you are drunk

Or when you’ve butt called me

And I listen to you talk to some other man,

Who is usually driving you to school?

No, there is nothing graceful about us.

You are on the edge and I am on the edge,

But we are making it and I love you for that.

Knowing you are out there makes me smile.

Just like the other guys, we don’t want to have sex anymore.

We just want you to make it.

We love you. You earned it. You make us proud.

And we know that women are stronger than men

And we worship you for it.

We wish we could help you, but we’re lost.

We are struggling ourselves.

So, stop taking pictures.

There’s nothing to see.

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Latin Quarter – Paris 1995

Latin Quarter - Paris 1995

When I was in Paris in 1995, I walked around the city. I shot each day for a week. I came upon this window and inside the store were these elements: Mirror, antique statue, bedpost, etc. and behind me was a building and a bike on the street. It spoke of the medium given my being upside down in the mirror. The black and white spoke of timelessness. The age and articulation of Europe as the origins of my soul, that I could apprehend catharsis itself in an image meant that I could stop. I have never shot a better image than this. It represents me, my eye, and aesthetic capacity. I hope to continue this journey when I eventually get to London, another city with windows in an urban environment.

Link

Shelly RuggThorp at SoundWalk 2011

On the 29th of September, I found out about SoundWalk 2011 from a friend who lives in Long Beach. I made arrangements after learning I could participate last minute. I have only been writing music (“making sounds”) since March. This sounded like a group of people who might accept me. My close friends were making screeching sounds when referring to what I wrote. Another joked: “He thinks he can write a Bach Concerto in two weeks.” You’d be surprised. As Alan Quach said, “If you write/play music from your soul, you can communicate and people will listen.” If you do what your heart tells, you will succeed. That is the only guide to life. With this particular piece, Shelley RuggThorp, who I had seen sitting at the main table in the central café for Flood earlier in the day, came to me at about 9:35 in the evening to say that it was time to shut down. I said, “I know, won’t the police come and shut us down at 10?” She said, “No, at 9:30.” By then, Alan Quach, an Interior Designer and promoter had suggested I let people express themselves on the mic while my music played. He invited Shelly, who started signing without words and it made me cry because someone was responding to my music in a beautiful and validating way. She’s just walked up and made something happen. It is how I make music. Anyway, as it turned out, I couldn’t both play my music through my iTouch and also video record her performance, so I would play the music and start recording her, which would shut off the music and she would sing A Capella and then I would stop the recording and play the music so she could come back to what she was using as a base, or so I thought. I think she’s quite comfortable singing without any background sounds. So, I got home and tried to find the music she was singing to, which was nearly impossible going through 6 hours of music. I often write my “music” and then write another one. I can’t remember it. So, I believe I went through all the cuts that were playing by shuffle on that day and gave up. I ended up writing music to complement her performance. I believe I have done a pretty good job. It is kind of amazing to me that I can hear someone sing and in just a few minutes, I am writing music to complement her. You will notice the harmonica in this piece. I am telling you, this is about the fifth time that I have picked it up and played it. If I can do it, so can you. Our souls are tied to music. We were born to write it. I know who you are. You are just like me. We are going to change the world. Find an instrument and learn how to play it, but not necessarily as they would have you, but as you listen to it and hold it. Maybe later I’ll learn chords, but not if it means I won’t play. We have everything we need to pursue our dreams. Be kind to people. We are fragile. We need encouragement and opportunity. Much Love, Mario Savioni

Link

Setting Sun

 

On Monday, Aug 6th, 2012 I noticed how bright and large the setting sun was and so I captured it on video then laid a bed of sound of my music written and recorded on Feb. 12, 2012.

The Past Ages of Sorcerers

Every movement forward is glum

The past ages of sorcerers

Carry sticks to the dungeons.

Mystics for the cosmetic industry

Victims of broken doors

Pallor winds itself around fingers

Colors the house blue

Puts the moon in a half-circle

In the gray sky.

Poverty mistakes beauty for

The revulsion of flesh.

It paints pictures in the reflections,

Drives in the sand of rats,

Carries an offering for the sake of an offering.

There is no change from one generation to the next.

Every family member is scared.

The tired, maudlin, tapestry

Of hopelessness remains

Stagnant, conflicting, and empty.

Kisses are for the beautiful

Or the witty.

The rest of us sit alone.

The beer hall smothers

The glistening night

In the delusion

Of questioning life.

Even lights at the fork of a tree

Limbers not one moment.

Saturations of the thin lines

Of ink bleed into an impassioned

Exercise of disorder.

I know no other Hieronymus Bosch

Except these squiggly lines,

The black and white flitter of time.

Each cup is a reflection of our

Mental notes that promise no separation.

At the party, our conversations

Are cruel. Projections of ourselves

Sitting on the stool.

There is nothing left of this clamoring

Participation, except that the eye gate

Sees.

Bumblebee and gold,

Old Mr. Government tired on a

Chair

Paul Revere and a dog by his

Chair.

Each stick of dynamite

In the chaotic lair

Draws the gunfire of hope.

Down the dungeons of hell

America’s patriots

Scheme and conspire,

Like Jackson Pollock

With shrapnel.

In every allegory of the self,

Pigs eat at the trough,

People lick each other,

And a small blue vase with baby’s breath

Covers the pavement.

By this time of night Klimt’s

Two lovers have passed out

On a table just beyond the

bartender.

There’s nothing to say of this

But that the last tender

Moment is a drunken stupor.

“Just give me a bottle,”

The stranger says.

And the white freed man

Ponys up to the stand.

I’ve seen this reference to the impressionists:

The orange cat, barkeep, and the glass.

In one man’s face is the celebration

Renoir or Gauguin, and perhaps Seurat,

But in his face I also see the digital

Revolution, that glitch in a video and more lit trees.

This is Trius, my friend in the beer garden,

Although she says:

“With Ulrike and Celeste.”

The mission in these eyes is money,

For in the past of each replica

In the haze of modernity

Is how every culture is smothered?

That long red line

Is a sad exclamation point

As the iconography floats.

Each charismatic portrait

Gives no birth.

Relationships are terminable,

Disclosed and open to interpretation.

I have shadowed you.

Put my hand as far back

Into you as you could take

And it was evil.

Bartering my single shape:

Limbless, phallic, and

Predatory.

A Review of Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club

Having written an autobiography, the reviewer sought to compare the Pen/Martha Albrand Award winning memoir The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr with his own of which a bookseller said that memoirs, “Even of famous people, are not easy” to sell.

I did not know of Mary Karr before her book, but as he suspected, she was about to correct him as to the punch line of a joke he made about autobiographers: “There is no one more lonely than an autobiographer who you’ve never heard of.”

At issue in the judgment of autobiographies is do we want to read a book about another person? In the case of Karr, how does she interest us in her life?

Initially, she introduces us with immediacy to her “sharpest memory…of a single instant,” where a doctor in a yellow golf shirt stands over her pulling at the hem of her nightgown. He asked her to show him “marks on her body.”

Karr said she liked the doctor but never trusted him. The moment remained frozen in her brain for three decades.

We later learn that she never had to lift her nightgown and was lead away by the sheriff, who was looking. They had taken her mother “for being nervous” and they went to look for her father at the plant where he was working the graveyard shift.

There is more than just good writing in Karr’s descriptions; she moves us deeper with the nature of her mother’s spouses and the seeming shiftiness of her origins. Her mother carried Das Kapital in her purse for years and her father was an active member of the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. He was a picket-line brawler.

She uses emotive-descriptive words like “dragged” her mother out of New York or “slick-talking hick” and “buffaloed.” Her father “hit people and they fell down.”

In a single sentence, she describes her mother’s “economic decline[:]…she’d gone from a country house in Connecticut to a trailer park in Leechfield [Texas].”

Other elements that make The Liar’s Club an interesting read follow from the fact Karr never lets up with her inviting style and tidbits that seem to dwarf our experiences. Life, we learn from Karr, is an eloquent adventure filled with people we have never had to get close to but who manifest personality red flags that make for good conversation but not comfortable reality. Extremes and drama often go hand-in-hand. In real life, we would rather existence were not filled with tumultuousness.

In Karr, we see a good example of the statement by Christabel LaMotte in A. S. Byatt’s book Possession (page 47): “If you can order your Thoughts and shape them into Art, good: if you can live in the obligations and affections of Daily Life, good. But do not get into the habit of morbid Self-examination. Nothing so unfits a [person] for producing good work, or for living usefully. The Lord will take care of the second of these — opportunities will be found. The first is a matter of Will.”‘ We can also assert that perhaps Karr’s is an autobiography that William Gass in his Harper’s (May 1994) article, “The Art Of Self – Autobiography In An Age Of Narcissism” explained as one of four or five we would be willing to let represent human being.

Still, as I am an autobiographical writer, I realize the details of Karr’s life are not his and although he feels she is a better writer, she romanticizes reality and seems to forget those moments filled with color changes in leaves, dust coming in the windows, a rainy day, or just the silence of one’s thoughts while waiting for the next departure, for example. There is a different feel to Karr’s autobiography than to his. It is that feel that manifests the worth to the writer of having written. It becomes the process of writing not that there probably should only be four or five autobiographies. Karr’s is a moment of communicative eloquence, an eloquence of the idea of autobiography that stands for a moment awarded aptly and set within the confines of a Penguin Press cover and made of soft, comfortable pages that turn gently and process us through a series of words and phrases that help us to dream. Karr’s words are the high art of literature. They are the charcoal residues from the burning of life. Karr’s is a gift from a person of substance and character. She has made life interesting.

On page 14, Karr reveals the nature of her title. Her “daddy” used to go under the guise of paying bills to “the American Legion or in the back room of Fisher’s Bait Shop” to play dominoes on his days off. She said her father used to tell her stories about his childhood to a point that they seemed more vivid to her than her own. He told these stories while playing dominoes. Karr said an angry wife named the gathering The Liar’s Club. This is where Karr went with her father and he told her a magical statement when one of the men said he was spoiling her. “Leave her alone,” he said when he gave her a quarter to buy a soda, “she can do anything she’s big enough to do, cain’t you, Pokey?” The implication is that early on Karr would be privy to a freedom and respect as to judgment, even a Vice-president Al Gore might not issue. It seems Karr was treated as the young adult a child is. From her father, I “guessed,” Karr got her knowledge as to “how to be believed.”

The tale winds around her father telling a story and we are just as seriously tied to the words Karr is telling and we feel the leadership of her father and his control of the audience. Then, another magical moment plays itself with the entry of a black man named Shug, who in this season of her childhood, has a “famous intolerance” for her daddy’s “horseshit” and “tends to up the credibility factor” of her father’s stories when he is around. It warms you amid this on-going affirmative action questioning whether or not a black man needs a handicap to play the game of life. With his “forest-green porkpie hat with the joker from a deck of cards stuck on the side,” you wonder about the Shugs in this world. They have certainly got all the cards to play. Knowing what we know of life, it is not always the stories that count but the credibility we feel that makes us proud and satisfied within the context of real life. Karr allows us philosophical wallowing. She is a sparkler for sociological issues. She treats life as a gentle description of facts. In this case, we see the black person in the context of truth.

In the meantime, the reviewer has read The New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell (Nov. 25, 1996) account of the Texaco controversy, where Gladwell argues that racial civility is a different thing from racial equality. I go back to the Karr text and sees that Shug “is the only black man [she had] ever seen in the Legion, and then only when the rest of the guys [were] there.” Karr is telling the truth. It is the complexity of truth, the differing layers of what is that makes Karr’s words edifying.

Curiously, after Karr announces an evil she feels for not standing up for Shug given an obvious prejudicial response to him, we sense an appropriateness to Cooter’s condemnation. Shug interrupts a joke with the need to be serious: “Wasn’t no such thing,” he says, “if you shut up, I can tell your thickheaded self what they was.”

Cooter interrupts him: “Let him tell it.” We see there is no simple position on this interaction although Karr remarks: “Cooter is bothered by the fact…Shug is colored, and takes any chance to scold him…” We understand inappropriate responses by people less intuitive or versatile. Shug seems to have made a conversational error by not knowing Karr’s father was lining up for a punch line. Karr says there are rules for not defending black men and she “lay[s] low.” We have two violations of the truth by Karr. One, relates to her sensitivity as to the negativity by Cooter toward Shug, but she was wrong to feel guilty. The rhetorical context made Shug’s response inappropriate. He committed a faux pas. This is where Karr’s apologetics gets in the way of her better judgment.

As a child she is perhaps aware of the negativity toward Shug. It is a kind of negativity that is perhaps not worth the protection of a punch line, but we realize a person not aware of the subtleties of conversation and about to destroy the flow of a joke by taking the facts seriously, leaves us cold. I find this example profound in the context of current affirmative action debate. If you take race out of this example, you have an individual who needs to lighten up. You have another human being (Cooter) as Karr knew from experience, who needs to ask himself why he is “bothered by…colored[s].” I believe that as Karr’s writing evokes discussion she is doing us a favor by helping us contextualize our social problems. Shugs and Cooters remain despite the fact times have changed. Shug needs to come up with a retort that reinstates his credibility, Cooter could have been more tactful.

On page 64, I was entranced, partly by the magnificence of Karr’s description of a sexual encounter, partly because in parallel, it happened to him though he was much younger. He remembers the leopard bedspread and the death of a Kennedy on TV as his gorgeous baby-sitter in a silver lingerie had her legs wide open. The sticky red flesh and her seductive words invited him. I remember also in a cave of dead ivy the ugly girl, who showed him her cleft following the removal of her jeans and panties. There were other moments like these. No matter the victim, it is an odd recollection. What is arousing and at the same time wrong is this juicy companionship of dick and sinkhole. Nothing allows me, perhaps as a man, to treat this event (of Karr’s) as anything more than a cousin to his early sexual encounters. What I long for is the innocence of a beginning that does not know, because in a crowded room he has not the balls to ask the beautiful face to an empty place, to do it the right way, which is to slip with equal interest into the well of darkness and realize one’s dreams.

It is disturbing how Karr’s rape and her “picturing him reading this” struggles softly, if even at all, for in my mind, her “it couldn’t have taken long” or “diddling” are like crayons and not loud gallons of paint on the canvas of her violation. Eventually, with the shortened, nonchalant tellings, you realize by way of an evolution that the details are difficult. The heinousness of the act, what you could only relate to as a man playing a game of “torture” (or doctor) now becomes misintentioned friendship, a devious trick, an ugly moment when, “…I look up from the sloping page, to see if he’s buying it so far, the whole mood of the room has shifted. The zipper of his chinos is level with my eyes…”

I trail off into memories with the gentleness of her words. As a great writer, Karr helps readers to see themselves.

When Karr describes her father’s slow, effacing death near the end of the book, you are again aroused to your own summation. Words that relate to what she has told you, pour with synonimity:

Tears are for oneself

At the bedside of death

We see in the rest home

Our futures:

Old bodies pushed in wheelchairs

Old lips we’d never kiss

to taste that aged saliva

to see around a corner,

where someone tries

to wait with hope

what comes with dismal cynicism –

the bleak immobility of our disrepair

and wisdom.

Interlocked, these concepts are until

the warm liquid fills the cup

(at our side) and we hear

the waste of our thoughts

that lasted a lifetime.

As I have learned, a good autobiography is an autobiography that relates to our lives by activating our memories.

Chomsky v. Zizek, Part 3

Continuation of a debate about the validity of Zizek’s writing/speaking as espousing theory or ideas vs. Chomsky’s condemnation of him for not espousing theory.

You can check out articles about this attack by Chomsky that lead to the debate at: http://www.openculture.com/2013/07/slavoj-zizek-publishes-a-very-clearly-written-essay-length-response-to-chomskys-brutal-criticisms.html

I have to admit that I have a very bad cold, so I hope I am thinking clearly.

@Jkop, What I meant by Chomsky’s failure to address the meaning of Zizek’s terms is that if you read Zizek and if you define the words he uses, you will come up with what I found, which is that Zizek is clear.

Zizek’s statements offer conclusions. His whole book Parallax View, for example, is a thesis/theory about two sides of an intellectual coin.

I am really put off by this idea that Zizek does not theorize. His propositions are theories about reality.

When I talk about Thomas Kuhn, I am addressing paradigm shifts, where, which I am sure you know, old great theories are replaced by other great theories, which will also be replaced. What that says is that it turns theories into postulates that seem to work as the legal concept known as shifting sands. We are so sure until someone comes up with a better idea or theory. Lakoff talks about metaphors. Our theories are metaphors for how reality works. As human beings, we can think in terms that our brains can define and share. When we communicate great theories, we reduce them to metaphorical symbols or formulas and I believe great theories are born through insights that are then proven. Ideas give birth to accurate ways of seeing the world or at least new ways of seeing. Each idea about something is a theory.

Chomsky attacks talking. He attacks the generative nature of language. He hates that Zizek or Foucault, I am sure, or any other number of writers, who tool up complex language to define something that he thinks should be made simple for a 12-year-old to understand. Well, I disagree because that would be to take the joy out of reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness or Heidegger’s Being and Time or Foucault’s section on “Madness, The Absence of an Oeuvre,” for example.

The words these great minds use create vast landscapes of ideas and thoughts, they bring us to a greater appreciation of who we are because we are not left on a single plane of understanding or appreciation. When I read Heidegger’s Being and Time, I felt he understood, as I felt, that there are billions of things going on at once, which is easily understood by a 12-year-old because of the capacity of the intellect or sensitivity to life. Heidegger wrote in such a way as to both manifest his point and to alter the reader’s mind. It was being in the mind of the genius as he thought about being and time.

What defeats Chomsky or makes his argument disingenuous is his statement about mathematical linguistics and his lack of credentials and yet he gives talks and the mathematical linguists listen because he might say something that is correct or new. Being credentialed does not a theory make.

Zizek can use the English language anyway he wants, because in the end we simply take our dictionaries and define the terms and address the grammatical constructs, which have meaning. We can test his theories in terms of our experience/experimentation.

I do not agree with your assertion that some of Zizek’s terms are indeterminate. None, as far as I can tell, are thus. They are based in the English language or at least they are translatable.

Nothing I have read of his evades argument. His words are inherently argument, for anything a person says is arguable.

It is theory in the sense that one definition of the word theory is: “A contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking.” (Taken from Wikipedia).

As a poet, I disagree that poetry is not theory. It is an emotive synthesis of reality akin to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It works on the plane of emotion, while Einstein’s works on the plane of explaining the phenomena known as dilation when measuring quantities that are relative to the velocities of observers, and where space and time should be considered together, but where the speed of light is unvarying for all observers. (Taken from Wikipedia)

Both poetry and Einstein’s theory are trying to communicate what reality is, the poet in emotive terms, Einstein on even more abstract terms and hence Einstein’s obscure postulates that could just as easily be called indeterminate, except that he puts words to the postulation, just as the poet puts words to her postulations. (Please read

POETRY IS NOT A PROJECT by Dorothea Lasky

http://www.uglyducklingpresse.org/archive/online-reading/poetry-is-not-a-project-by-dorothea-lasky/ to know what I mean by the similarities between poets and scientists.)

When I write the following, for example, I am contemplating a rational type of abstract or generalized thinking. It is a theory about a moment in a cafe, where I am looking through the front window at a woman. I hope to be with her just by her crotch, which is what I want of a particular design, and where I come to this point, time and time again, such that in terms of the measurements of these various quantities they are relative to the speed of my observation, to the similar observations of others, who also come to this point, dilating, where the space and time of the moment should be considered together as the light in knowing this is invariant:

In Truth

It looks like rain but it isn’t, thunderclouds but they aren’t. Back in Milano, the cafe, that is, where I peer through the shattered glass of the front window, hope walks by… I can’t see faces just the crotches of slim women – what I want in a lover. Time and time again I come to this point. (The poem, “In Truth,” page 14, Uncertainty, by Mario Savioni, (c) 2000 and revised in 2011, go to: http://www.blurb.com/b/2134039-uncertainty)

Both Einstein and poets are using the English language to explain a phenomenon they have experienced or in the poet’s expressive obscurity he too is communicating what is true because obscurity may be his theme. There is no failure in obscurity; sometimes that’s the point. I once reviewed an artist’s work and found her work ugly, but it was in that ugliness that she was making a point about reality that was true. At times ugliness is true and truth is always beautiful, even though it may be asymmetrical (See: http://chronicle.com/article/When-Beauty-Is-Not-Truth/136803/).

I think you guys are not getting the point. Zizek is a great mind and Chomsky is disingenuous or at least forgetful that ideas are the stuff of theory and words are definable and so we are never lost to obscurity. If so, we are not working hard enough.

Link

A Paraphrase/Response to The Holistic Wayfarer’s poem “Disarmed the Sun,” posted Aug 9, 2013

My response to the poem

“disarmed the sun”

by The Holistic Wayfarer (See: http://aholisticjourney.wordpress.com/about/)

She must have breathed hard,
Red-shouldered
In the evening.
And you wonder about such women,
Who hope like this
As the rain fell for no good reason,
And the sun stared.
But, I wonder now as the decisive rain
Disarmed the sun, which grammatically
Stuttered, but did the rain not drench her
Or was it the sun, or did she smile both
Because of the disarming rain
And the staring sun?
By this image, I see no expectation,
But indulgence.
I see no men or women lovers
Or perhaps, a woman simply loves herself
In the in-between.
For beauty has a waiting list,
Which apparently
She is not conscious,
Or at least not interested.
May she always be free to choose
And not be burdened.

Such Beauty Must Have a Name

“Annonciade”

Author: Poems by Elizabeth Spires

Reviewed by Mario Savioni

Such Beauty Must Have a Name

I must admit to a certain pull having seen the picture of Elizabeth Spires in an ad for the “Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference” and wanting to get back into a “definitive analysis” of poetry that I pulled from the shelves of Pendragon Books her book “Annonciade,” which was the only one they had by her.

As all people have these dreams about rough equivalents, we see them in person (or in photographs) and want to know if they can measure up. Our dreams of soul mates, we would rather these dreams be more.

So I look at Spires in black and white, whose most important eyes and hair, the sharpness of her face are the correct insignia for provocation – something below the belt that measures time and love, which is nothing more than yearning.

As I turned the book around, I greeted her, as in another black and white. This time younger, less eloquent and with tousled hair. I am not as impressed with her in youth as I am with her hair of late (or later as I cannot guess). She is better now, stern, less relaxed, and more the bookish maiden with an arm that may have added weight.

“Annonciade,” by the way, does not exist according to “The Random House Dictionary of The English Language.” It should have gone between “Anno Mundi” and “Anno Regni.” And just as it does not exist between these words, nor should I between Spires and her husband Madison Smartt Bell, about which (the marriage, that is) I learn on the first page.

I wrote of Bell, as follows, in a review of “Granta’s” 54th issue:

Madison Smartt Bell’s “Looking For The General” is “Taken from the second novel in a planned trilogy about the Haitian slave revolution of 1791.” The story deals with a nomadic man with scars who seeks a general who has “undertaken to avenge” the slaves of Saint Domingue. He eats lizards, walks barefoot, and wears a “grubby cloth…around his loins.”

The story is also the perspective of the indigenous, who in this case, “Distrust[s] all sayings of white people.” Bell is empathic. He speaks of the journey of this person as it might be.

Bell illustrates the basic disposition of this individual, who has nothing to trade, whereas “The soldiers…alone seemed to deal in money – among the others all was barter.”

This is the strength of Bell’s story. It is a white person putting himself in the place of a Haitian slave. It is also the weakness of the story, for one wonders, as the complaint could be made, why a white person needed to tell the story of a Haitian? It reminds the reviewer of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, March 1992, exhibit: “Encounters With Paradise – Views of Hawaii and It’s People, 1778-1941.” Hawaiians did none of the art (on display).

Let us get back to Spires. She loves Mr. Bell, for whom she dedicates the book: “again, for Madison.”

In Spire’s poem “The Beds,” in London, she writes: “Each day, I take the lift from the sublet down to the ground floor.” From on high Spires descends. “On the street,” she passes a shop that sells beds, “sumptuous beds, made…each morning…/by smiling clerks who please their own moods.” I have seen this too, but more oft in sandwich shops along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, for example. My initial assessment of Spires’ mood-self-pleasing clerks as bearing a “cool” attitude differed from what Spires alludes to when she further clarifies: Her clerks do beds “one day in flaming sunrise and sunset tones,/and the next, in shades of white on white…” Of these clerks, who please themselves, I celebrate with Spires.

Spires is telling us that not only are these beds made up in “expertly threaded…ribbons and bows,/like a bride’s too-delicate underclothes,” (which is reminiscent of the flow of Eliot’s “J. Alfred Profrock”) but she says these beds have no purpose otherwise than to be seen since “nobody sleeps in [them], [or] makes love in [them]. They wait, like a young girl with too much imagination,/to be taken away for a weekend…to a great house where lovers flirt and scheme…[and] know…what beds are made for.” “Anxious clerks,” she says, “stare out at the soiled street…” Of “the passersby,” that the clerks see, Spires has inserted a grammatical complication. Either “the passersby, waiting for money/to stop, walk in the door, and ask to buy a bed,” or the clerks are “waiting for money/to stop, walk…” In either instance, she errors. Money does not come ’round and passersby do not wait, they are moving.

Better is her contradiction of the “anxious clerks…[with] circles under their eyes…[as] beds must make way for other beds…as if [the clerks have] been sleeping badly. All the while, father time ticks in the distance and Spires says eloquently that “the day vanishes,/pulled by an unseen hand through a small hole in the sky/somewhere in the…East End.” Her London “East End” is like the New York “East Side,” which I consider.

“Spire,” by the way, is “the highest point or summit of something,” according to “Random House.”

“Night falls,” she says, “so quickly on this street of Dream Merchandise!.. Now all…reverse [themselves]…/to come home to well-intentioned stews with husbands and wives,/” where she is wrong as to the “all” in her logic and as to where there are no “leftovers made to stretch…economically.” Nor are there “silver tones” at my feet, and I do not recollect change falling “end over end in [a] pocket…”

“Backlighting” is good. Is spire not a synonym of tower, however? The new moon backlights the towers and spires? How can it also “drape itself…across the beds/like a misplaced towel or bathrobe?” And who is this woman, “[who]…can’t be recognized [because of ‘new evening clothes,’ and because she is] made up so carefully?” Saved perhaps, she is, by the mystery of her departure till morning, when she may not sleep even then, “in the perfect bed of her…making.”

We move to Spires’ poem “The Little Boys,” which begins: “The little boys are lined…, two by two/…” [You see I hope that by the “…” you realize I indicate unnecessary words, for this is another problem of Spires’ poetry.] “in short gray pants, white shirts, blue cardigans.” These words are mere descriptive not rhyming or gentle, a list of monotonous facts.

Then an interesting feature: “The bow-tied [emphasis mine] schoolmaster stops them at the corner/by resting his heavy hand on the head/of the first boy.” Still informational, not poetic. Prose formed as stanzas. “The light is against them./A snaking line of twenty twitching minds [which I can’t agree is the case for all twenty]/jostles and shoves as it comes to an unwilling/standstill. [And we are forced to race along informationally as the line continues:] The term has just begun, each fall/a new beginning [redundant] for everyone except the unsmiling/schoolmaster. October always rushes by, he thinks,/but this year his boys have dwindled…/a little even as they’ve grown, [non-sequitur] inch by awkward [Oh, come on]/inch, into a little manhood [And what might this be given the information provided?]. Already the first form/divides and subdivides along Darwinian lines/into bullies and crybabies…[which makes no sense given the implication of evolution and not that the strong survive, etc. as she would hope. There is no division of form to create bullies and crybabies and there is only one division (no subdivision) among the children, according to Spires, into bullies and crybabies.]…trying not to cry, trying/and failing to hold back the hot smart tears [of which they are neither intelligent nor painful (tears) in and of themselves]/that doom them to years of crybaby torture.”

Here however, she writes beautifully with: “Bad dreams, bad words, bad smells, and small moments/of heroism[, which is] a little boy’s life./The line shuffles and shifts, [as] the stoic schoolmaster/…wish[es] the light would [change]. Green to red…, like the season/turning, cars slide to a stop as the no-nonsense/schoolmaster firmly raises his hand[.] As if to push/a heavy door…, [he] marches the boys…/into a manly future. Fearful or brave [there must be more options], all must follow,/all must do as he says or suffer [otherwise]./Chins up, heads high, zippers unzipped [Again the fallacy of “all” implied.], and shoelaces/dragging [Is every shoelace dragging?], they disappear [dragging shoelaces or the quicker ones?], the quicker/duplicitous [As if even one knew the meaning of this word. Wouldn’t you think it took intent to be duplicitous?] ones already plotting an overthrow/where no mercy will be shown, no prisoners taken./There is no turning back for a little boy[, which if you thought by her surmising, this is the key to what might be called a man’s world, or the reason for what men are to women. By her account, she is both oblivious to all little boys and incorrect as to all of their formative influences.

In her poem “Faberge Egg,” she writes: “Dear Friend, ‘Called away’ from my country,/I square the egg and put it in a letter/that all may read, gilding each word a little/so that touched, it yields to a secret/stirring, a small gold bird on a spring/suddenly appearing to sing a small song/of regret, elation, that overspills all private/bounds, although you ask, as I do, what now/do we sing to, sing for? Before the Great War,/I made a diamond-studded coach three inches high/with rock crystal windows and platinum wheels/to ceremoniously convey a speechless egg [This is odd; better words would have implied an egg as a message] to Court./All for a bored Czarina! My version of history/fantastic and revolutionary as I reduced the scale to the hand-held dimensions of a fairy tale,/hiding tiny Imperial portraits and cameos/in eggs of pearl and bone. Little bonbons, caskets!/The old riddle of the chicken and the egg/is answered thus: in the Belle Epoque/of the imagination, the egg came first, containing,/as it does, both history and uncertainty, my excesses/inducing unrest among those too hungry to see the bitter joke of an egg one cannot eat./Oblique oddity, an egg is the most beautiful of all [redundant]/beautiful [redundant] forms [redundant], a box without corners/in which anything can be contained, anything when he set me ticking. Here, among the clocks/and watches of a country precisely ordered/and dying, I am not sorry, I do not apologize./Three times I kiss you in memory/of that first Easter, that first white rising,/and send this message as if it could save you:/Even the present is dead. We must live now/in the future. Yours, Faberge.” On many levels, this poem is beautiful.

In the poem “Josephine,” which begins: “In the big bird-house, questions and answers,/wolf whistles, love songs, and desperate calls for help are batted back and forth like tennis balls./Hellohellohello, cries the mynah to no one in particular,/a white woodpecker tapping, obsessively tapping [redundant],/an arrhythmical line below the scre[a]ks and wails/of black bulbuls, saffron toucanets [which by the way can only be “greenish,” according to Random House], and lilac-breasted rollers/in the cages next to Josephine’s, a great Indian hornbill.

Josephine’s is the story of our lives involving long periods of nothing, and then “a pale green grape” appears. Sheltered, as it were, from the realities, our lives are relatively free from machetes and spears. We have our cages with “walls and ceiling[s]…painted sky-blue,” and within this world, “the big birdhouse,” we make our lives “as old bridge partners.” Bird as a “dowager” in this poem is a powerful image.

In the poem “Victoriana: Gold Mourning Pendant with an Eye Painted on Ivory,” Spires writes: “Who made this thing?/A eye staring/without blinking,/laid down on the dead/white ivory by paint/and and brush, pearls ringing/the pendant’s oval as if/grief could be transformed/into a cold and costly/object. How calmly the eye/contemplates the scenes/put before it: by birth,/a tear in time’s fabric/I crawled through quickly,/headfirst, quickly forgetting/the blood, the pain, the lights.

“Halfway into my journey,/the cold wind of coincidence/throwing my shadow against yours/to meet and marry for life.

“And the deaths in a line/on the horizon, black/silhouettes waving to us,/though we don’t wave back.

“An eye that sees too much/and yet sees nothing./Why do I hate it so,/hate the artist who/would work the body into a relic of hair and ivory,/who, in love’s memory,/would pluck the eye/from the socket, leaving the living/model blind in one eye?/I will turn from the art/of eyepainting, so distant/from hands, lips, heart./Until we die, we live/in an everlasting present/of physicality that feels things blindly, inch by inch,/ by sense, by sound, by fingertips./Let the dead learn from us.”

“Victoriana…” is haunting. It drinks the blood of a lifeless eye and says that as artists our eyepainting is dwarfed by the “everlasting present/of physicality.” Still, her poem is not the angst of Sylvia Plath’s “Winter Landscape, with Rocks,” a poem also featuring eyes. It follows:

“Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone,/plunges headlong into that black pond/where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind/which hungers to haul the white reflection down.

“The austere sun descends above the fen,/ an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look/longer on this landscape of chagrin;/feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook,/brooding as the winter night comes on.

“Last summer’s reeds are all engraved in ice/as is your image in my eye; dry frost/glazes the window of my hurt; what solace/can be struck from rock to make heart’s waste/grow green again? Who’d walk in this bleak place?”

You see Plath is far superior as a wordsmith. This beauty has a name. It is emotional maturity. To have lived as a thorn bird, impaled and on her last breath, Plath consumes the reader with such command of the English language.

Perhaps we can learn from the dead.

The strength Spires’ poem “Sunday Afternoon at Fulham Palace” is its ability to respect the insertion of the idea of the woman “passing out pamphlets” later in the text or that she includes an overture: “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines,… Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo,” or other allusions to nuclear fallout or a contrast to it, which is like the opening of the movie Blue Velvet, where high saturation primaries and waving firemen are the opposite of the alleged seediness that follows.

Spires’ is a gentle poem introducing us as we remembered to the difference between what was and what could have been. In the back of our minds, we realized at any time, the view could go up in smoke. She pulls us into the contemplation of the idea and her sentences disappear as does art, whereas it evaporates and we forget its canvas gently shoved us into the direction of these thoughts.

She says so much in the poem “Mutoscope,” a girl’s peep show journey with images “mounted radially on a rotating drum… [from: Random House].” She performs for us the heterosexual woman’s view of the undressing of another woman’s body. This alone is worth the cost of her mutoscope as she has stripped naked and her words that tell us what she thinks…pennies for thoughts, remind us of a place, which is no longer Brighton but dim. “Mutoscope” is a good poem for its personification.

In the poem “Rosa Tacchini,” with exception to an “unreasoning bottle,” which is to say that it is not the fault of a bottle, Spires creates a wondrous personification of a ship (from 1872), weathered like her face as a “daughter of time.”

In the poem “Primos,” Spires appears as the omni-present female viewing a man who survived the capsizing of his boat only to wind up telling stories of it with a drunken voice, and she speculates on his future. The poem is powerful.

In the poem “Profil Perdu,” Spires ends with “the evidence,” which stops the flow of this love story. She should have ended the poem with: “Their life, and ours…”

Given the similarity of “Annonciade” to annunciation in the poem of the former word, and given the context of the poem, I garner a meaning for the former. Is it not disclosure?

In the poem “Glass-Bottom Boat,” it seems petty to be concerned with simple repetitions, like “clear, clean water” [I can’t remember which came first the commercial or the lyric] or “a thousand years,/ten thousand.” And what is a “world-without-end hour?” It seems such a melodramatic mood for a tour of the reef in an commercial craft, no doubt filled with bland occupants, whose mouths form “O”s on their lips “and then again an O!”

Mark Strand, on the other hand, can repeat words because what comes before them, as in the poem, “Nostalgia,” is something so heavy and enigmatic that the repetition of “yesterday,” for example, proves to reassure us that we can understand. What came before “yesterday,” as in: “The professors of English have taken their gowns/to the laundry, have taken themselves to the field./Dreams of motion circle the Persian rug in a room/you were in./On the beach the sadness of gramophones/deepens the ocean’s folding and falling./It is yesterday. It is still yesterday,” melts the mind. This twisting breadth Spires cannot accomplish.

Perhaps I understand why mediocre poems are seldom taken seriously. In the context of a world where existence is so easily the acceptance of what is, someone spending time trying to layer life, where there is nothing more than the room within which we live and the events outside, it you see that a poem as complaint or the making more of something small merely evokes pity. Strand or Plath remind that a poem is not just prose. It is the black hole of language sucking us in and particularizing our minds and then pushing us out having undertaken a profound experience with words. Truth is not the need to layer or repeat. It is caught quickly, not necessarily understood as fact but by impression. Repetition, on the other hand, is used to help those who have lost their way. With Spires, we see a beautiful woman but whose poems are only skin deep.

Publisher: Penguin Books, http://www.penguin.com/usa/usahome.html
Copyright 1989
ISBN 0 14 058.638 5
List Price: $8.95 (US) Soft Cover
67 Pages (Poems)

Other Books by Spires are: “Globe,” “Swan’s Island,” and “Worldling.” Related pages includes http://www.amazon.com/Annonciade-Poets-Penguin-Elizabeth-Spires/dp/0140586385

Review Author: Mario Savioni.