Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Delicate Situation

(In response to comment on something katy):

k: ... i seriously doubt i'm getting better. i'm merely writing and rewriting the same sex scene from different angles it feels like. i guess that "i am a cat" "i am like a cat" stuff i wrote in response to william hathaway was pretty good, and different (as different as a poem about cats can get, i actually have a book of all cat poems, and most of them are horribly trite, should make me cringe really, but i love to read and reread them, i can't understand why).

i wish i was writing more poems about the fox and the green river and the sad robot boy and ... i have yet to write my spirit animal into a poem properly (i believe, but have not completely confirmed, that i am a crane, though i have no idea what kind, a greyish white one, a tall one, i guess... at least that's what i want to be; i know ryan is a fox, there's no question about this, far too many times he's reached out to me through his animal).

i guess sex isn't so bad though, i mean... everyone likes it right? not like i've asked a whole lot of people, but i'm guessing most people like sex (or whatever anyone wants to call it) and if i do it well enough (um, not sex, but the writing about sex) then it is unique and it is different. i sort of feel like this poem about a girl getting a bloody nose is just a ....


(In response to post on Silliman's Blog):

i've been checking silliman's blog every day now, not always reading the entire post, but at least checking things out. i want to keep my claws in this online-poetics universe i'm slowly unwraveling.

anyway, i think this entry of silliman's is in the same vein as some of our discussion the other night; the heart and sex of poetry. i think erotic or sensual poetry is a good way to describe what i'm going through with my poems at the moment, so my interest in this topic shouldn't surprise you.

my first reaction was to the statement about erotic poetry of late being composed mostly by women and gay men. in terms of what we were talking about last night, about the academia possibly being the bearing force on poets to restrain from sex and emotion in poetry, perhaps there are more straight men influenced by the academic sphere? i don't know about this though. perhaps they are two separate issues.

one being the academic acceptance of a poet; writing for your committee, writing for an awards bored (foetry stuffs). the other issue being one of offence.

what i mean by offence is that perhaps straight men fear that if they write too graphically or with too much of any specific emotion that they will be attacked by feminists with rakes and shovels. i don't know though, i'm not that kind of feminist. maybe when straight men write it, it's porn? maybe girls are too easily offended by sexual content. maybe girls still have issues with being seen in a sexual way. i know it makes me uncomfortable when a strange guy hits on me, but at the same time as being freaky and often times gross, it's also a bit flattering. for a poet to do it in a poem, surely that's entirely different from a gas station attendant.

as much as an issue women have with being the prey of men, i think that this issue is one that shows itself more in the academic sphere than in every day life (are academic women more prudent?). there are how many songs about sex written and performed by straight men? and it doesn't seem to bother anyone to the extent that there is any backlash, men still write and perform songs about women and sex; people keep playing them and buying tickets to see them performed live and so on.

i guess there are some male poets like matthew rohrer who have been successful with some sexual content, but even rohrer shies away from the moment by hiding behind the third person in his poetry. he doesn't address sex or love, it's just there.

there's the sex part, but what about the heart? the heart, especially in the way in which i think you mean it, is a far more complex and delicate issue to tackle.

for me, the heart in poetry is honestly. i don't mean honesty as being true to one specific life, but more... in between the caresses, the heart beats, the erotic, there are these glimmers of mortality (a bloody nose, picking toe nails, etc) that emphasize the love behind the lust. that is what i mean when i say honesty. it is our mortality that makes our love so fragile and so beautiful.

i think, perhaps, too many poets miss calculate the balance between the heart and the sex, the meat and the honesty. the sample poems in silliman's blog entry miss it i think. it's meat, great. what's sexy about a butcher's shop? that's all mortality and no love.

marie howe, on the other hand, is a perfect example of a poet who knows how to lay the balance on the page. she's the sort of poet who promises you dinner then stabs you in the stomach... here's an example from "the beast" of what i mean...

Later that night, I make love for hours.
I forget my name, where my arms
are, what

my tongue is doing. I think I must have cried out
unimaginable things and I think of my sister

in the room next door,
lying on her back, blinking in the dark.

ah, doesn't she just drain you? what a goddess. one moment you're having the best sex of your life, the next you're dirty with guilt and disgusted with yourself.

so why can't a man do this? why can't a straight man write down the sex and counter balance it with mortality and be successful? have straight men tried? or is there no appeal for straight men to feel any emotion in bed? i can't imagine that every straight male poet has no emotions tied to sex. if anything they must all do.

maybe the whole matter (including this new one of straight men feeling emotions towards sex) is to do with the fact that sex for straight men has never been taboo, it's always been accepted and praised; whereas for women, virginity has held such a heavy weight over the heads of so many that the act of physical love is such a revelation that it can't not be an emotional experience. for gay men, well, the world is still struggling to accept the gay population (of men and women); what other fuel for emotion is there than revolution?

well? your turn dear.

a: It's so funny, I was just reading the same post the other day (for similar reasons, I presume). It seems our conversation is (has been) developing two intertwining lines: the personal and poetry (which I admit are difficult to distinguish at times). So, for your question "don’t you and the beast cuddle? i don’t mean to get too personal or anything, but well, don’t you?" I'd say, we're talking poetry here (and erotic poetry, to be specific), so I don't think it can get much more personal than that. And don't worry about asking me anything "too personal": 1) I'm an exhibistionist who plasters his life on the web for no one to read, 2) I always have the option of not answering, without any indignation. So, yes, of course we cuddle; our relationship isn't all hot smokin' sex all the times, unfortunately. We're not overly affectionate (much to my chagrin), especially in public (and I am not very tolerant of public display of affection, generally). However, Wojtek has this "tick" where, after he's been away for a while, he's almost reflexive. It always reminds me of that mathematical paradox (that I can never remember the name of) where if you divide a distance in half, and then divide the half, and go on and on, you will reach a point where the distance is negligibly small, but never zero. And I think Rilke said how the distance between two people is similar to that (thank god?). In any case, the point is, it seems to take him a couple of days to "warm up to me again". See, our "love" tends to be more of the sitcom marriage type (think "Roseanne", or even better the British sitcoms "Keeping Up Appearances" and "My Family"). Except sometimes it's not so funny. But I always remind myself of a great line from another Dalida song, "Ta Femme" (You Wife/Woman): "This communion of the everyday, it is a form of love." (God bless the Great One!) In any case, back to poetry...

So, I started reading the same post the other day, and it was a nice surprise that you sent it, so I finished it. It's funny how, as much as Silliman tries to deny it, he is the GrandDaddy of online poetry these days... Good for him! He certainly is industrious enough and knowledgeable enough to earn it. In any case, what I think about this issue of erotic poetry and women and gay men on the one hand, and straight men on the other is not that "there are more straight men influenced by the academic sphere" as much as I think that there are simply more straight men in the academic sphere. (Or am I mistaken and being paranoid here?) And that is an interesting point that you made, that "maybe when straight men write it, it's porn?" I really do wonder how much straight men, especially those in academia (the supposedly more sensitive ones), have been effectively castrated by feminism. I do agree, though, that there certainly is something about the challenge to one's sexuality (in this instance, or anything for that matter) that brings it to the fore, that makes it more precious, that makes one more aware of it. And I do think that that makes us more articulate about it, because we don't take it for granted as much, because each time it is a conscious deliberate act. (In any case, I realize, reading Silliman, how much I have to learn still, though I have a feeling I will die without learning or reading everything I'd like too... Oh, well, the pity!)

But I think you hit it head on when you were describing Marie Howe's poetry as "these glimmers of mortality... that emphasize the love behind the lust. that is what i mean when i say honesty. it is our mortality that makes our love so fragile and so beautiful." That is so well-said (and so existential, by the way: as Heidegger and Sarte and Camus said, it is that mortality that brings that urgency to our life that makes it that precious!). But it is the kind of statement that I might have been reluctant to articulate for fear if "ruining the magic". But now I realize, that even if you "reveal the formula", there's something about the magic of it that is essential (kind of like the KFC secret recipe!) And Marie is a master of this form, this delicate balance. Again, as you so gorgeously put it, "she's the sort of poet who promises you dinner then stabs you in the stomach...". Touche!

And I do realize, that while this is perhaps my favorite form of poetry these days (and I think of it as the more mature form of poetry), I can certainly think of other forms that operate of very different premises that I find compelling in their own ways. Two kinds I can think of right now I'll call the Situational and the Delicate. The Situational I think of mostly as the stuff I love in French chansons. It is not narrative per se (as "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" or "The Prisoner of Chillon" are), certainly not as epic and rambling, but more snippets of life, their art lying in the light they shed of one aspect of it in a few strokes. I think here mostly of Charles Aznavour and Dalida (though I am sure others such as Jacques Brel might be better know for that). Aznavour, for example, has "La Mamma" (later sung by Dalida) that describes the dying of the matron of a family, with all the children flocking in, including the blacksheep of the family, and surrounding the bed. Or "Comme ils dissent" (perhaps better known in its English version, "What Makes a Man a Man"): of the transvestite helping his mother with the chores and then going to strip for a living. Or "Happy Annivesary", about a couple trying to celebrate their anniversary, and the celebration going wrong, as they all do. Dalida has the epic "Gigi l'amoroso" (Gigi the Lover), about his Italian Don Juan character whom all the women of the village fall for, and how he was seduced by this rich American woman and emigrated with her, about the town after he left, and he heartbreak and return... (And I say epic mostly because the song had a very campy sequel, "Gigi in Paradisco", that follows Gigi in his afterlife, where he turns paradise into a disco! LOL!). She, however, I think, was best when she turned the camera on herself, and in that way she was perhaps more daring and lacerating that any singer I know of. She tended to sing a lot about her situation as a childless famous woman, trying anf failing continuously in love (three of her lovers committed suicide, she trying to follow them every time, until it finally worked the third time). She tended to expose her most intimate in song, and therefore life in its most poignant and sincere. For example, after the suicide of her first lover, Luigi Tenco, following the failure of his song "Ciao Bambino" at some contest, she sang it, to great resonance and success. "Mourir sur scene" (Dying on Stage) couldn't have been more poiganatly prescient of her suicide, a song to Death, teeling him when and how to come. She sang the above mentioned "Ta Femme" from the point of view of a woman having an affair with a married man; "Lucas" about a star taking her former lover's child, who adores her, out on a romp around town and then dropping him back off; "Depuis qu'il vient chez nous" about a love triangle where her lover seems to direct his affection towards the other man; and "Bravo" about her desperation for more applause. And on and on... Even when she sang other's songs, such as "Ciao Bambino" above, or my favorite Ferre's "Avec le temps", or Serge Lama's poignant "Je suis malade" ("I am sick", which in one of her performaces of, after her secnd suicide attempt, I believe, she broke down on stage, and is by far the most moving live performace I can think of), she sang them with such personal poignancy that... well, you know the point.

Of the second form, the Delicate, I can only think of Lorca's poetry at this point, just because this form is so easy to go Hallmark and bla. It is a very delicate balance to write delicate things and not come across as hoaky. (By the way, have you seen Lorca's sketches? They are the most gorgeous and delicate little things... Sublime!)

And I decided I want to buy a Rohrer book. I want to give the guy another chance, since you love him so, and I trust in your judgement. And maybe if I saw his work on paper, I would be more recptive.

Ok, I gotta go now. Wojtek wants to do an "in-service" (a military/marketing term) about our relationship/life! (I guess it's something like resolutions and stuff...). Should be fun!

k: hi hi hi! (am in a particularly great mood at the moment)

i have a copy of lorca’s poema del cante jundo (poems of the deep song) with the original texts and English translations paralleling them. also, there is an intro from the translator (i like introductions), so i’m going to spend some time with it tomorrow. i’ve not spent much time in this collection, i remember one about a lamp post… anyway, your email reminded me that this collection has been neglected. i’ll deliver a proper response after i’ve read some lorca (can’t seem to find his sketches online, aside from the one) and read through your dalida history lesson with more care.

you really want to give rohrer a proper chance? that means so much to me, ashraf! i’m a little fearful that you mightn’t like him, but that you want to give him a chance is just lovely! could i buy you one of his collections? please.

i’m glad you don’t take any offence to all my prodding and poking. if ever i cross any lines you’ll tell me, won’t you? i don’t ever want to offend you or push you. thank you over and over and over for being so generous and obliging when it comes to my silly curiosities. the poet in me is always asking questions, considering options, filling in gaps (the human imagination at work) and wondering. thank you for putting pieces together for me.
i just hope you can tolerate ryan and i; we’ll have been married 2 years in april, but we still act like we’re on our honeymoon!

so tomorrow… more off me, as always. i’ll hopefully have time to read most of this lorca collection at work.

a: Hey dear,

Glad you are in a good mood!... I hope I didn't bore you to death with my Dalida stuff. I know I can be a bit over zealous about her; please let me know when I go overboard.

I am so glad you're going to read Lorca; I think you'll like him. He is such a great persona! And maybe I'll scan some of the cards with his sketches I got from Granada from work and send them to you.

Guess what, I just bought A Green Light by Rohrer. I'll let you know how it goes... You know, I just realized that Amazon had previously recommended that book to me (I remember the cover distinctly; I am big about covers, and that's a good one). And you know what too? Both him and Marie Howe won the National Poetry Series! Hmmm... Maybe we'll be next!

k: hello ashraf,

your copy of a green light has purple writing on the cover then? mine is
pink. i want a purple one too. a green light is his 3rd collection and admittedly, the one i’ve spent the least amount of time appreciating. i just read the first three poems again… sigh. he’s good.

enough of my swooning, and onto lorca. i have read the entire collection before, but it was some time ago (i believe i first picked this book up while i was still in high school). i hadn’t read the introduction before, which is stellar. i had no idea lorca was so deeply rooted in his culture and in this deep song religious practice. his poems, as song lyrics, are compared to flamenco (flamenco being the mere shadow of the deep song). i had no idea, too, that he was such an icon. every one knows who lorca is, he’s one of those names. i wonder if he is so revered among Spaniards as he is among poets.

today at work i managed to read through a little less than half of the collection, but i found a few poems which i think detail what you mean by delicate…

The cry leaves a shadow
of the cypress upon the wind.

(Leave me here in this field,

Everything in the world is broken.
Nothing but silence remains.

(Leave me here in this field,

The moonless horizon
is chewed up by bonfires.

(I’ve told you already to leave me
here in this field,


Dead he was left in the street,
with a dagger in his chest.
Nobody knew who he was.
How the lamppost was shaking!
How that little lamppost shook
in the street!
In the dead of night. Nobody
was able to glance wide-eyed
out into the harsh night air.
And he was left dead in the street,
and with a dagger in his chest,
and nobody knew who he was.
some of the poems are lazily translated, unfortunately, so i can’t say that all of his poems demonstrate the art of delicacy. these two do though. i remembered this one about the lamp post from when i’d read the collection before. i’m not sure if i’m meant to take the lamppost’s shaking literally, if the shaking is a sort of personification, or if the shaking lamppost is representative of something else altogether. i haven’t a clue. you? my instinct is to personify the lamppost, because that’s what i would do in a poem.

AY! is a particularly good example of what you described here:

…I can only think of Lorca's poetry at this point, just because this form is so easy to go Hallmark and bla. It is a very delicate balance to write delicate things and not come across as hoaky.

i can imagine how this would have appeared on a card, a “been thinking about you” or “sorry i missed your birthday” or something like that. i thought today about possibly tying my hand and breaking the balance to see just how far i have to AY! in order to make it truly hallmark-able. i might have a go at it tomorrow (stupid hotel, getting busy on the weekend!). oh and i can’t wait to see those sketches (i can wait, but i’m really looking forward to seeing them.)

as for your dalida, you didn’t go too far at all, it was all very interesting and exciting. the poor poor woman though!! heavens, three husbands(or just partners?) had killed themselves and she tried to follow every one? how sad she must have been. i can’t imagine it. it’ll be great to hear her, but like i said, i want you to be able to introduce us.

as for the color thing.. i figured it out!! there’s a “compose” field and an “edit html” field. i’d been composing my posts in the html one, trying to be all clever and type in the codes and things, when there’s a part of blogger that does it for you J i can be quite silly at times. so just never mind me!

and now for something completely different: the pencil test.

i haven’t given it an official name, but “the pencil test” sounds pretty good. since you said that you compose your poems on paper with pencil, i decided to have a proper go at the same. (i usually compose on pc (the hotel science series was composed entirely on the seat of my pants in the blogger composition field), but i am comfortable enough with paper, and though i usually use pen, i enjoy the texture of a pencil.) i started on the 18th and have so far only come up with one poem that i am pleased with (there’s a lot of scribbling, swirling and complaining going on), though i am going to continue this for another week or so, who knows, i might get back into the habit. the attached doc is a photo i took of the poem called “goodnight” and i’ll type it up for you here so you don’t have to strain your vision with my poor tech skillz.

the weight of his body
rests on my breasts and belly
through the blue duvet.
i keep my eyes locked open
to see if he opens his.
once i know, i shut mine too.

he rolls off, over, all the way
and flicks the switch
that sets his alarm.
i turn onto my side, reach,
and do the same; double checking
the set time and calculating
how many hours of sleep
that is and that isn’t.

i settle into my pillow,
my legs curled almost up to my chest
waiting for him to realign them.
his warmth enveloping me,
pulling me deeper into his lap
and i fall asleep with his steady breath
gracing my haunches.
that’s the way i wrote it first time around, no edits (other than what’s on the page itself (the tense in the first strophe and the change in line breaks in the third one). might edit it here and there, not sure about “haunches” and some of the punctuation. so that’s my experiment at the moment. i might break out the type writer again just to have a go at it. what are type writers like in the winter? i think i’ve only ever used him in the hot summer months (he particularly fond of decks). poetry is fun J

thank you for the inspiration, for writing in pencil again.

i hope you’ve had a good day and a good weekend and are well and joyful. have you read any rohrer yet? i’m anxious to know what you think!

1 comment:

Brian Boutwell said...

I have a prose poem: Heated, it is a sex poem, I'm straight.