Monday, October 17, 2016

Recent Reads: "from Lamentations" by Robert Hogg

from Lamentations by Robert Hogg
2nd Edition. Published by above/ground press, 2016.

As its title suggests, from Lamentations is a sampler of poems from an as-yet-unreleased body of work about memory. That this is the compilation’s expanded, second edition implies considerable gestation time. But even without knowing that, the sporadic growth of this manuscript can be measured by dates that accompany each poem, marking when their finished drafts occurred. As a result, Robert Hogg explores the past in layers, writing about his childhood and formative years in the 1950s and 1960s via perspectives he held on dates ranging from the early '90s up until January of this year.

Hogg pokes and prods these breadcrumbs of autobiography for gleanings beyond his own experience. “Roy Rogers – a jazz elegy” and “Summer of sixty-three” deal in fractured, stream-of-conscious details that transpose the youthful significance of its subjects to disquieting uncertainty. He slows his boyhood’s galloping adoration for Hollywood cowboy Roy Rogers to examine the simple “good against evil” doctrine of America’s wild west:

the colorful black and white dazzle of your perfect horsemanship riding
full speed the reins wrapped around the horn those mother of pearl six guns
twirling round your index fingers and firing so perfectly the outlaws seemed
to fall and die but not really it was just like the make-believe we also played
Jesus Roy did you know all that when you practiced your squint in the mirror and 
yodelled all those songs on the radio nights we were too young to know any better and
thought it was real romance?

Later, in "Summer of sixty-three", he steadies a romanticized image of his “bohemian goodfornothing but love and lovemaking friends” upon the dulling of years passed:

West Pender
Coal Harbour

place itself
nervous and precarious as this pad
perched on its stilts above a steep ravine

and below near the shoreline the rail yard
abyss we all knew
time was or would be

Tight, conservative stanzas like the above excerpt follow wooly, run-on yarns  sometimes within the same poem  as though the writer is torn between rose-tinted nostalgia and the dislocation of trying to categorize certain memories, decades on. Yet these poems aren’t so much conflicted by age as they are counterbalanced, the wild and restrained Robert Hogg appearing on page in roughly equal measure. The tone’s just right  good natured but deeply felt.

With “Ahead (in memoriam, Bob Creeley” and “Synapse, Mid-Morning, January”, the chapbook takes on true existential colours; the former poem aiding a good friend in traveling the mysteries of afterlife and the latter finding Hogg at present day, kindling a wood stove. There’s no sentiment in this last poem, just small observations on the present moment. And given so much space to interpret, I wonder if "Synapse, Mid-Morning, January" provides such a contrast from the bulk of from Lamentations because it signals the sort of insight one's left with after seventy-odd years on Earth. There's no ego; just a new memory, cut at the root.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Writing #109 : Elaine Woo

The Crux
Elaine Woo

In our every thought and act, whether settling an argument or figuring out how to build a planter box, creativity flows.  The creative force gurgles and seeps through the vast living network of connections we call the individual's life.  I foster my writing by actively plumbing the depths at which I am connected to the anticipated, lived through, or remembered.

Elaine Woo navigates the vast reservoir of life with her writing. Another work of poetry as well as a rock opera are underway.

Monday, October 03, 2016

On Writing #108 : David B. Goldstein

On Writing
David B. Goldstein

            We had found the house on one of those vacation rental sites that predated VRBO and Airbnb. A little less slick, a little more like roulette. It was an old medieval home, tucked up in the hills of Sintra, Portugal, the centuries-old summer roost of Portuguese kings escaping the sweltering Lisbon heat.
            Our original notion in renting the house had been to create a DIY artist colony. But one by one, artist friends dropped out over financial or family or job pressures. By the time we arrived, although art was somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a new plan: I was preoccupied with a scholarly essay I had to write about Ovid’s influence on Edmund Spenser. I was excited about the essay—for the first time, another professor had asked me to contribute to a collection of essays she was editing. But the deadline had just passed, and I was frantic to finish it. I was focused. I was committed to figuring out what I wanted to say. I would add some flash of brilliance to a timeworn subject, and modestly too!
            Try as I might, I couldn’t break through my writer’s block. I took long walks on the cobblestone streets and hiked up the paths of the hills above the town. With its towering eucalyptus trees, the forest—which one entered through a giant stone turnstile, to keep out livestock and wild boars—felt medieval, as if I might run across one of Spenser’s knights or perhaps an orc on one of my strolls. A ruined 9th-century Moorish castle sat on its haunches at the top of the hill, thinking lonely thoughts.
            We had been informed that the antiques dealer who owned the home had put away the breakables so that we wouldn’t be nervous about navigating the house’s narrow hallways and small rooms. It turned out that by “breakables” he meant, exclusively, crystal. He left all the porcelain figurines, the glass baubles, the bronze keys, the delicately painted plates, the plush chairs, the squat elegant side tables, the wooden dolls upon dolls upon dolls, scattered over almost every inch of available wall, floor, and table surface area. The house was a wonderland of antiques. You could barely move in it.
            The rooms were so tiny and weird that the first time we went through the house, counting all the beds where our family and friends would sleep, we realized that we must have missed an entire room, because we were one bed short. And indeed there it was, at the top of the tiny narrow staircase to the attic-like third floor, behind a mirror that looked like a wall but was actually a door. Beyond that door was a small double bed facing another mirror, fronted by a lamp fashioned from a wooden doll. When you turned her on, she seemed to be in flames. During the month we stayed there, no one ever felt like sleeping in that room.       
            At night I wandered through the house, stopping at each doll, each porcelain animal, each framed map, hoping for inspiration. Everywhere, instead of hearing Spenser and Ovid conversing about influence, I heard each little object hunching and whispering to itself. The history of the house, the town, the forest was so palpable and ever-present that I couldn’t think my own thoughts. I set myself another deadline. By the end of the week, if I hadn’t broken through on the essay, I would give up. Friday came. We had a lovely dinner at one of the hundred amazing seafood restaurants. There were tiny grilled squid jeweled with lemon juice. A chocolate mousse apparently made of air. At midnight that night I got up and wandered around the house. The dolls were talking. I sat down in front of one of them and started writing what I heard. I did that for the rest of the month, going from doll to doll, map to map, listening and translating. To this day I haven’t finished the Spenser essay.
            We often think of writing as going inside ourselves for inspiration, or as expressing our innermost thoughts and feelings. It’s never been like that for me. At its root, I find my poetry to be an art of listening. An art of returning to what is lost in and by the world, and prying it out from silence. An art of finding out not what I want to say, but what someone or something else in the world must say, and maybe is already saying, in language I can’t yet hear.

David B. Goldstein’s second poetry collection, Lost Originals, is just out from BookThug. It features silent dolls and other antiques from Sintra, Portugal, as well as a host of other speaking objects. Goldstein is also a literary critic, whose book Eating and Ethics in Shakespeare's England (Cambridge, 2013) won the Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award. He lives with his family in Toronto, where he is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at York University.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

We Who Are About To Die : Diana Magallón

Diana Magallón is an experimental artist:
Author of Bravísima Reseña (in collaboration with John M. Bennett), Phellipa in Wolf (in collaboration with Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, De l’oiseau et de l’ogre, largoscabellosflotantes (in collaboration with Jeff Crouch), Fábulas furtivas and Fábulas furtivas II
Where are you now?

-          Halfway.
What are you reading?

-          I’m enjoying Max Ernst - Iliazd book Maximiliana ou l’exercice illégal de l’astronomie: hommage à Dorothea, Tanning, an illustrated book of visual poetry.  And reading  “Introduction à la lecture de Kafka : Suivie de L'Epée, Dans notre synagogue, L'invité des morts, Lampes neuves (textes et commentaires)”
What have you discovered lately?

-          The amazing outsider and visionary artist Madge Gills who always made her works against all odds. Her art so unique and timeless, especially those pieces made on fabrics, all this has been an awesome discovery for me.

Where do you write?

-          For take notes and sketches paper or a tablet are enough then I finish the works in my studio.
What are you working on?

-          On a series of asemic geometry about the live under the water, life in salad and sweet water.

Have you anything forthcoming?

-           I have plans for a plein air collection that will be made in electronic media then will be materialized in tabloid format.

What would you rather be doing?

-          I should be inspiring the poet.

2 poems:

Sugar grains
fas°¯°·.t·° .·°°°dis°¯°·.·° .·°°°olve
qui•• ••te°¯°·.·° .·°°°cubes
•..ו does•• trick÷•
`•.,¸¸,.•´¯ sugar  is smaller than salt ¸¸.•´¯`•¸¸.•.
••.•´¯`•.•• ••.•´¯`•.•••.¯•`••´•.• ••´.•¯•`.•••
×..• d•soe• tric÷k•¯.°··° .°·°u°bces`
,.¸••,¸´.¯ sgaur  is smlaler than slat ¸•´¸¸•¯.¸•.`.

Altius , Citius , Fortius
The gods are eating grapes
Altius , Citius, Fortress
Altius , citrus , Fortius
After the hope sits an "it is possible"

Citius Altius to from stands a glimpse of Fortius
Who can  not endure Such Difficulties .
A second man , Citius, who have equipped himself With
one but only one obstacle , Unlucky Circumstances .
They all are heroes.
Thoughtlessly , Altius , the gatekeeper ,
he can not suffer
and Becomes childish , I still mumbles: I can’t hear a word!.
Altius , Citius, Forty
In a moment of madness , Citius,
Which breaks inextinguishably
Entire out of his senses , diminishing

Friday, September 23, 2016

On Writing #107 : Gina Myers

Is there room in the room that you room in?
Gina Myers

In the opening sonnet from Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, Berrigan asks, “Is there room in the room that you room in?” In poetry, we measure things by stanzas—stanza being Italian for room—so I can’t help but wonder if Berrigan is asking if there is room for us inside your poem. Of course, there is a chance that Berrigan didn’t write this line himself as The Sonnets challenged notions of authorship and first introduced, at least to me, the idea of community as a way of process. One thing that I love about Berrigan’s work is this inclusivity--the space created for other voices, the welcoming of other people, and the creative potential of conversation and friendship.

The New York School poets have been essential to me and my own understanding of what poetry is and what it can be. Bernadette Mayer’s writing experiments remind me that the material of poetry is everywhere, whether it’s a snippet of overheard conversation on a street corner or language snatched from a dream or a Facebook ad. CA Conrad has said, “All the globe becomes a poem.” I find these ideas incredibly generous and permissive. There is a freedom that comes with opening one’s self up to the idea that poetry is everywhere if we’re willing to listen for it.

In an interview, Eileen Myles defines what it means to be a New York School poet: “As an aesthetic it means putting yourself in the middle of a place and being excited and stunned by it, and trying to make sense of it in your work.” This, putting one’s self somewhere and being excited to be there despite all that being there involves--the joyful as well as the heartbreaking and ugly--and trying to make sense of it, is what poetry is for me. And I am happy to be here. And I’m happy you’re here too.

Gina Myers is the author of two full-length poetry collections, A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013), as well as numerous chapbooks. Originally from Saginaw, Michigan, she now lives in Philadelphia where she works in higher ed communications.

Monday, September 12, 2016

On Writing #106 : Valerie Witte

On Writing: By the Grace of Gilmore
Valerie Witte

the first thing. since departing. or arrival, depending on how you look at it. regardless, a demarcation of time and space. a border crossed, mountains, a region traversed. i escaped the drought and waded into rain. i belonged to a community; now, an outsider, an interloper, coming for jobs, and land.

This is the first thing.

the first I've written since. necessary losses. pure surfaces. hard cider. fritter away, the quiet of a fog machine. humming. other people’s phrases. a hoping-for-survival guide.

I remember watching “Gilmore Girls” in my parents’ basement the autumn after I graduated from college, in that period of uncertainty when you are launched after 16 years of schooling into “the real world,” with little idea of where you will land. I remember after moving to San Francisco two-and-a-half years later, missing an episode and frantically retrieving a videotape from a stranger on Craigslist—the small crisis that missing your favorite TV show once was. I remember taking a photo of my TV screen during the final scene and sending it to the man with whom I used to watch the show in St. Louis. At the time, I considered the conclusion of the series the end of a chapter of my life.

Now, eight years after ending, it’s resurfaced . . . in the form of a podcast (yes, the show itself is also returning, but that’s another discussion). As I prepared to move to Oregon, I listened to the entertaining, meandering conversations of the Gilmore Guys—one a self-proclaimed superfan, the other watching the show for the first time. They made up recurring segments seemingly on the fly, such as the “Fashion Report” and “Pop Goes the Culture”—and ended each episode by singing the theme song, “Where You Lead,” by Carole King.

if not for. voices I would listen to. what matter if something “happened.” if characters spoke like “real” people. because a tv show is a warm blanket, a podcast a conduit. for comfort.

Their episodes often stretched to three hours in length, and I listened to each one—whether a Gilmore Gab, a Gilmail discussion, or a standard episode analysis. As I packed and cleaned out our apartment, I listened. As we drove up the coast, as we slept on the floor of our new apartment before our furniture arrived, I listened. For months, as we settled in, I listened. I wrapped myself up in their clever observations of human nature, as it related to the show, as well as their thoughtful critiques of plotlines and character motivations. I acquainted myself with their parade of special guests (of course I came to have my favorites). And, all the while, I was reassured by the charm, warmth, and wit of my favorite TV show, an endlessly loyal friend whose consistency and steadfastness had taken me from the cusp of adolescence to adulthood, from the Midwest to the West Coast. I listened while I made dinner, while I walked through the park, as I went to sleep at night.

all I’ve done is. follow. oil trains. moths to flame. civil coping. ecliptic as cuneiform. a sun’s path, radical. acceptance mechanisms. the comfort of collecting. plastic car parts. forgotten glaciers.

I often do my most satisfying writing under difficult circumstances; I feel better about feeling bad when I can make something meaningful out of the shit that does, indeed, happen. But in this case, I was overwhelmed . . . from the stress of moving and adjusting to our new space (where we were greeted by snow on our first night—a rude awakening to reality for this Californian), and three weeks later, being laid off from the job that I’d planned to keep in Portland.
threadbare. unraveled. skin and all. shed or. shredding, yet. i continue to inhabit my own body. break. down breweries. breakside. balanced body rollers. blueberry bourbon basil. i want to pain. away sideways pdx.

During this time, the closest I came to writing was . . . whenever I was out and I came across something interesting or potentially helpful in constructing my new life, I would “write it down” in my Notes app. Hence, my iPhone held a collection of poetry presses, installation titles, athleisure items, job board sites, local poets, local bars, local breweries, local donuts, local reading series, album names, and self-help books. This was the only “writing” I was doing.

expelled, disfigured or. the body imperfect. to be tied, like a knot. avoided or voided, periodically neglected. i have never felt this pain before. the delicacy of a spine. a massage to eliminate. is pressing better or letting. the energy of negation, of trying not. to hurt. what hinges you or what you hinge on. consideration of a core.

Three days after I was laid off, my boyfriend and I went to see the Gilmore Guys perform at a local theater. I had mentioned the live show to him weeks earlier, and, to my surprise, he wanted to go. He said he wanted to know what I had been experiencing these many months. We dutifully watched the episode to be discussed, Episode 608, “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out”; and we arrived to find a long line at the door. The place was packed, the crowd enthusiastic, a group of Jess Mariano enthusiasts (with matching “Team Jess” T-shirts) seated in front of us. What followed were nearly three hours of sheer exuberance and hilarity, featuring the Gilmore Guys singing the classic, “Let’s Talk About Jess,” in honor of the character’s momentous return to the show; and a stealth cameo by Lane Kim herself (ie., Keiko Agena). My boyfriend lamented that he wished he were a little more like the Gilmore Guys. It was the most joy I had felt in a very long time.

Although in theory, I had more “free time” than at any other point in my adulthood since that summer before “Gilmore Girls” first aired, looking for a job is not exactly conducive to freeing the creative mind, requiring as it does the seemingly endless drudgery of resume revision, awkward email-networking, job board scanning, webinar viewing, unemployment-benefit-process deciphering, and the steady stream of application submitting—all undergirded by the sinking suspicion that you will never hear back from anyone. To search for a job is to be caught in an infinite web of opportunities and requirements, hung against a backdrop of near-unbearable silence.

that no one wants you here. of all places. to reinvent yourself as good as any. filter. 24x7. the first thing i've written. women’s building. unit souzou.

Thus, I could not bring myself to think critically, or creatively, about anything. Thinking in this way required a certain kind of energy—an ability to examine my circumstances, an openness to play and experimentation, and a willingness to expend mental energy on the abstract act that is writing. This was an energy that I didn’t have. Instead, I mostly performed lazy, passive activities or tasks tied more to survival than anything else: organizing, exercising, cooking, watching TV, reading the news, and especially, listening to a whole lot of Gilmore Guys.

to plumb the west. poetry press week seems much shorter than its name implies. karma living wall. from the spare room board. hanging. stitched or the switch. title 9 stand by.
Every now and then Kevin, Demi, and Guest actually talked about the show: Lauren Graham’s brilliant face acting. The strangely high number of Mussolini references. The fact that whether Lorelai is putting tater tots, meatballs, or chicken nuggets on top of a frozen pizza, there is no way the thing would cook evenly. The reluctance to label oneself as Team Dean, Team Jess, or Team Logan.

More often they discussed topics only tangentially related to the show: What would your doggy swami fortune be if Paul Anka told it? Kevin, did you cry?

But most of the time they talked about things that bore merely a spiritual connection to the show, at best. What would a Carole Kings of Leon mashup be like? (This was followed, of course, by the creation of one by Demi.) What are the best comedy film sequels? What’s the most thoughtful date you have ever planned? What if you die erect and they can’t close the casket?

what we search for. if it doesn’t. where i am from or for. what matter. california poppy. oregon grape. celery space.

Recently, I went to a local vintage store, where an artist who had published a new set of tarot cards was doing mini, single-card readings. I selected a card from the pile: the Fool. Although at first this seemed a bit concerning, her face lit up at my choice, as she said, are you starting a new project? I said, yes, my life. Well, I just moved here, I explained. Which she seemed to think was so apt—and I agreed. She framed her interpretation of the card very positively: Each time you start over, you have more to draw from, she explained. This seemed encouraging. This seemed like something I could write about.

Apparently, the Fool is a card of potential, new beginnings, and innocence. The card represents the onset of creativity and a desire to work toward new goals. The Fool asks you to take a “leap of faith” and to trust in the Universe that you will find success in your new endeavors. This Fool does not seem to mind if he does not really know what lies ahead.
“The Fool is an excellent Tarot card to meditate on if you are experiencing a lot of fear in your life.”

i’m beginning to feel like myself again. haywire. skewed. try medicating. the question of soreness versus injury. to relief but. exquisite deformation.

After months of listening, I’ve finally caught up to the podcast in real time (they’re on episode 181 as I write this). So now, every Monday and Wednesday, I have to wait for the next one to drop—and they’re in the final season, Season 7. I’m not looking forward to the end of the podcast. But I’m looking forward to writing again.

the first thing i write down names, inelegant threads. what’s an alien hunter. rice museum. what to put into. sharp relief. kurt vulgar. or vile. miswriting the song. i walk on a pretty. jagged edge. wasted. disintegrated. apart at the seams.

i’d birthmark. fall from, frayed. like a blouse.


Valerie Witte is a writer and editor in Portland, OR. She is the author of the book, a game of correspondence (Black Radish Books), and her poetry has appeared in many print and online publications. To see more of her work, check out her website,