Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Poem by Bruce Johnson

Black bird struttin’ by the road,
your wing’s draggin’.
you’re still proud.
what now black bird?
you still know the sentinel calls.
no use.
will you strut your heart stopt?
will the black bird that animates you
whip off?
marry a chink in the sky?
will your bird folk render a moonless night
say all the black
name the corn,
the carrion,
the black berries that enjoyed your

Monday, August 13, 2007

Let's imagine that the war is over!

I'd like to write a stream-of-consciousness passage but have no impetus to do so, no jazz up my sleeve, no will that needs to be bent along the river lines of interior thought & language, language that doesn't belong there: what of it? "legally": My mind is blank. I feel idiocized by our country's leadership. I have been reasoning all day and all during a week of pitiful anxiety -- anxiety over anxiousness itself, nervous itch to be a body -- reading in Anne Carson's Men in the Off Hours about women as domesticated animals -- that the end of the war will come as a relief to us. This is the 200th entry at Ana Verse.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Literary criticism at weblogs

There is an article by Sven Birkerts about various things business and internet, including remarks by Cynthia Ozick, at called "Lost in the Blogosphere: Why literary blogging won't save our literary culture." He writes, "So far it's clear that the blogosphere is in vital ways still predatory on print, that the daisy-chain needs the pretext of some original daisy; its genius, its essence, is manifestly supplementary."

"The controversy has to do with the fact that people in various quarters, literary bloggers prominently among them, are proposing that old-style print reviewing -- the word-count-driven evaluation of select titles by credentialed reviewers -- is outmoded, and that the deficit will be more than made up by the now-flourishing blog commentary."

Long before the internet, I worked at a regional upstate New York newspaper in the 1980s. I edited wire. There was little in the way of book reviewing at that paper, and the books that came in for review -- in case there were someone to review them -- were of little significance. They were chunks of thinly sliced lumber. In defending print culture and credentials, Birkerts doesn't mention books like that or newspapers that already lacked arts coverage. The newspaper's readers were "ordinary folks" who presumably didn't read many books.

Most of us in the literary blogosphere read both print and on the internet and are saddened at the loss of traditional business at newspapers that Birkerts regrets. Birkerts seems to imagine a flourishing blogosphere of talkers who tend not to read books, but who "review" books. It is my impression that many of us in the literary blogosphere are in print, and many are trained. The issue he doesn't mention is pay: how to do it? I have thought that a genius for our time will be someone who invents a way.

According to Birkerts, Ozick has commented in Harper's that she would like to see the literary culture become a culture of criticism.

"What is needed," Ozick writes, "is a broad infrastructure, through a critical mass of critics, of the kind of criticism that can define, or prompt, or inspire, or at least intuit, what is happening in a culture in a given time frame. . . . In this there is something almost ceremonial, or ceremoniously slow: unhurried thinking, the ripened long (or sidewise) view, the gradualism of nuance."

Blogs have been a forgotten art form from the beginning, but they are serving a crucial role in keeping inquiry afloat. I anticipate a big wave of literary print elite writers who are coming to the internet, who will be agented there, who will not have created the internet, who are not technically-oriented, and who will, in effect, take over with their more prodigious talents and their headshots, whose publishing sponsors will charge. Shall we become their literary critics? Shall we gossip about them?

Or be our own sponsors & enjoy a lighter life.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Wisdom of Dr. Abraham Low

"Whether you are right or wrong is immaterial. Temper is a matter of breeding, not of right and wrong."

"With us in Recovery it is an axiom that while a nervous ailment is not necessarily caused by distorted beliefs, nevertheless, if it persists beyond a reasonable time, its continuance, stubbornness and 'resistance' are produced by continuing, stubborn and 'resisting' beliefs."

"Humans have never been known to endorse themselves as they should."

"With reference to his symptoms a nervous patient must be genuine in feeling and sincere in thought."

"I can't tell you not to feel provoked. I may tell you that I have a great capacity for feeling provoked about every few minutes, but I hope I have an equally great capacity, and perhaps a trifling greater capacity, to hold down the feeling of being provoked."

"Patients who suffer from a depression think that whatever they do is wrong. They think whatever they have done in the past is wrong, and they recount past misdemeanors and so-called delinquencies, which have perhaps some basis in fact but are monstrously exaggerated. And you understand that such patients categorically deny that there is anything right in their thinking."

"A sense of humor is the sovereign means for curing nervous conditions."

"My purpose in life is to make myself and those people that are close to me -- let me say the members of my family, my friends, my neighbors, and so forth, my co-workers -- make them feel good and to make myself feel good."

"Nervous patients tend to be extremists with regard to their symptoms when they are still sick and with regard to the practice of rules after they have improved."

Selections from Dr. Low's Works
© 1997 By Phyllis Low Berning and Marilyn Low Schmitt
The Wisdom of Dr. Low is compiled by Cliff Brown and edited by Marilyn Low Schmitt.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ornamental Pepper

90s short stories

Take, for example, Lynne Tillman's Absence of the Heart (from the 90s series, Serpent's Tail, London, 1990), recommended by Harry Matthews, Gary Indiana, and Edmund White, and signed by the author. She writes, "To Tim -- very glad to meet a sympathetic [sone] All my best. Lynne T [squiggle], June 1991." It's a book of stories, but I'd thought it was likely a novel. The stories appeared prior to this publication in various literary journals. They are, for example, "AKA Mergatroyde" in New Observations, 1985; "The Trouble With Beauty" in Conjunctions 14, 1989; "A Nomadic Event in the Body," in Semiotexte, 1984; "Weird Fucks," in Bikini Girl magazine, 1980; "Diary of a Masochist," published anonymously in Paranoids Anonymous Newsletter, 1978; and "Madame Realism" in an artist's book.

My manfriend and I used to go to a bookstore on the west side of Madison in his old used Chevrolet Malibu station wagon, a car named "the space potato," because it was long and beige and had rust spots on it, like eyes of a potato. Anna Smith worked there; she was a talented experimental poet trained in acting, and my manfriend liked her, and it was an occasion to flirt with her while I sat in the aisles, mesmerized by titles. When it was time to go, he'd come and find me, and there I would be, reading the backs of books. "Don't read blurbs," he told me. "Read books."

Harry Matthews writes about this book by Lynne Tillman, "In Absence of the Heart, Lynne Tillman lures us into unfamiliar ground with utterly persuasive, utterly duplicitous candor. Once there, we shall never be brought safely home. ..." Gary Indiana writes, "Lynne Tillman has the strongest, smartest, most subtly distinct writer's voice of my generation. I admire her breadth of observation, her syntax, her wit."

Maybe it's that I live with my mother that the word "fuck" gets me highly annoyed, as if no one ought to use it. Even my mother used it once. I had said, "I'm not taking my fucking car back into that repair shop so they can overcharge me," and she said, "You're not going to have your ~fucking~ car much longer if you don't." She said it very precisely. There was no ambivalence in the way she did it. Her diction ting'd it like a bell.

A friend, yesterday, told this joke on the phone about Ferdinand the Bull. Some bulls are standing on a hill overlooking a field with cows on it. One bull says, "Let's run down the hill and fuck that cow." And another bull says, "Let's walk down and fuck all of them." A wisdom joke, he called it. He didn't realize that I had given up on sex, so it's no joke I would find amusing, but maybe it is wise. Did I get it? I suppose. It's about running vs. walking. It's the word "fuck" I don't like, but I guess that's the word we use.

"Weird Fucks" sounds like a list story -- it might be a list story. It's the opening piece in the collection and runs from page 7 to page 43. Pretty long. She writes (p. 9), "I was a slum goddess and in college. He looked something like Richard Burton; I resembled Liz. It was, in feeling, as crummy and tortured as that." I like the phrase "slum goddess in college." The first passage I opened to in the book and read, just by flipping through the pages, was very intriguing, but I will not be able to find it easily again. Here's another one: "As we entered the restaurant, he said casually, 'Some crazy person kept calling me today.' Ah, I thought, that's how he talks about me, the me he's dissociating himself from." He tells her, "'I'd pick up the phone and there'd be no one there.' 'No one there?' I asked. 'No, the phone kept ringing, I'd answer and there'd be no one there. Finally I put the answering machine on.'" (p. 65, "Hung Up").

From "Absence of the Heart" (p. 67): "It was a battle for her to think. It was pointless. She spoke to herself. I am the one who waits. I am the one who will be waited upon. I have the kiss that can change men's lives. I can awaken the dead. I can never die. I am empty. I am perfect. I am full. I am all things to all men. She shook her head violently. He watched everything. The shake of the head, a sign to him. A fire lit. Something was burning. He felt ill, he felt wonderful. She was sublime, and he wondered how words like that existed before her."

Perhaps I should read the whole book. Read it to do it justice from the inside then reinvent the ways in which it partly molded me, or not and shrug it like a sleeve or do and get out of it like pants. Reading fully is to put your hands in the hands of the maker. It is not a glance.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Small party for an excuse

She tore up in a beauty parlor, I should say, not up a beauty parlor. Not that she wasn't beautiful in her own way, more likely she was just mad at it, at beauty, not at anyone's in particular. At her 23rd medallion party, she sat next to me -- I was 37, glad to be there, glad to be alive (but not yet grateful). She said, "You seem to have a few hormones still kicking around inside you." I didn't realize what was next in the general scheme of things, the bans, if you want to call it that, bans on singles having sex, bans on marrieds having sex, and worst of all, bans on marrieds being married, what a horrible drill that was to become ... (and this was the only way I could interpret it) ... for real estate, bans which must have been working better than war to revitalize the economy. I was in my graces, and she was keeping her chin up; she had left her husband for sex then gone back for him, and he was sitting by her. She was a quipper, quicker than anyone. There was a book called Not-God that she had discussed in the meeting. I had read it.

The internet gets quiet weekends. My mother and I are going to see Sicko tonight. Tony says people in Minneapolis might do well to worry about that bridge, but people across the country shouldn't worry about it -- that's what he's been doing in New York, watching on TV all day and yesterday about the 35W bridge. Infrastructure, I said, and he said, yes, that is a good thing for the whole country to worry about then, infrastructure. Wiretapping, another thing, I was thinking, but we didn't talk about it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

After the elms

Without the elm trees, the garden will be sunnier, but what will happen to the wildflowers that grew in their shade, wildflowers that require shade? The rose garden will be less encumbered by the elm trees' root systems, roots that cable under it. In the garden, rose is a queen; the human gardener places her higher than deer who would eat her and elms dying at her feet, but I cannot help mourn the trees' passing. The rose tree from Lake Nokomis suddenly blooms again, after a slow year; the deer leave her.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Did he ever say to you, "I wish I could go running?" And so you stopped. You stopped going running when you needed your strength most in order to take care of him -- it was the summer he had the transplant, and you were decorating the house, and his mother was staying w/ him -- didn't you need your strength more than ever ... more than ever ever? If I said, "I wish I could go sailing," as you say you wish I would say, that it would occur to me to say, instead of saying what I did say, wh. is that I cannot meditate sailing on such a day, you would bitterly retort -- go sailing then, knowing no stray or bull or carnivore would take me. No, it wouldn't matter whether I said I could just go sailing on the day my sister says we wouldn't even know each other anymore, except for the relationship of sister -- and what a marvelous thing truth is; no, truth is that you like hurting me because it frees you to go sailing. That you can go sailing & feel caressed by the lake on the day after you have sent your sister to a prickly bed … that you can take her men, lightly, away from her, that you can abnegate her, frees you. I did go out on the lake this summer & tried to meditate w/ the swoosh of the water & the sun, but w/o a boyfriend in that setting, the sea was not of me, the lake, the way it was in childhood, the way nature envelops divorced people ... they are friends, but men aren't interested in me anymore, and it isn't that I wasn't spiritual enough, as you say. … Do you believe that men deserve happiness for all the happiness they have created in themselves & for others? Some of us have given every evening of our lives to working spiritual programs and still -- maybe it is men wouldn't be enough for me, a stray who likes the flash of fake blond hair, like a bird that likes shiny objects. Maybe it is that love would be enough for me, the right one. So I wrote about love in a slightly different way than you. I've been thinking about finding women again, that maybe one of them would find me worth knowing & loving & that our good humor would return to us; are there lesbians w/ boats or do only strays, bulls, and carnivores have them? and that she might be interested in something besides the flicker flash of fake blond hair, my poetry inside of me, the depths of good whales.

First Edition (Rose)

Buried tree