Context: Lauren Slater’s Dr. Daedalus (PDF) & John Gardener’s Grendel.


though less often now that I’m older,
I feel like a monster, so sure am I of my
complete alienation from humanity.
It is probably a lie–I am as ordinary
as any Scotch-Irish-Dutch-German-Cherokee mutt
`round here, the same gray skin and crooked teeth
as the rest of my herd, the same weak movement.

I could make it so–become a monster,
build myself piece by piece into the stuff of old fiction,
the cauldron of story, raking the pit of my brain for ideas,
a scaly tail like a favored feather boa feels familiar.
Yes, I’d want wings too! Not the feathered froth of angels,
but real, human wings, naked with skin, alive, a maze of veins
apparent through the milky stretch, dry patches like ash-piles.

And I could move them–that’s how far we’ve come.
I could roil my tail along the floor or aloft,
shaking it with fury and passion, an imposing figure
to be sure, behinded by such a monolith,
though nothing compared to the unfurling
of my massive wings, the misplaced rib bones
and sculpted artificial kelson, pressed with ass flesh,
no doubt, it’s always ass flesh,
some malleable magic in those fatty mounds.

I couldn’t fly, of course; that’s just going too far.
No science to support it–too much weight for wingspan,
marrowed bone-veins, a defiance of natural law.
Limbs can be mapped; attach a tail and a tiny tail-shaped
portion of the brain lights up, a festive tinkling as
tiny neural connections stitch out the path to adaptation.

To live my alienation, instead of the cheap imitation
we call feeling–that is behind the desire for wings,
my want of a tail or coral horns, grown ever larger
as my magnificently ordinary brain connects with primordial
substance, something ancient in me recognizing
and integrating, creating, propelling my own evolution,
playing my own god; illuminating the dark cowardice of my
own frail human form, etched in relief on the floor of my brain.


Note: National Poetry Month ends today. In commemoration, and especially for Sherry NC, P & L is publishing poetry all day. This piece is an Anna Belle original, circa 2004.

Cowboy Intellectual

Note: National Poetry Month ends today. In commemoration, and especially for Sherry NC, P & L is publishing poetry all day. This piece is an Anna Belle original, circa 2004.

For Jeff Cavins

This poem will not capture your peculiar dialect,
so thoroughly hick, a mark against you, you knew,
but at home, in “Luh-cone-ya,” it made you an insider.
You played it up, hyperbolic, an exaggerated self-portrait,
courting rejection, testing, daring, like the glassy point
of your eye over your cigarette-sidled smile.
There’s no hope here of rendering your braggadocio
and swagger, your moments of keen arrogance
from knowing more than you should,
for escaping your home-spun ignorance,
more open-minded than anyone guessed.
You were my secret and we were the same, though I denied it.

No prose could explain how you called me to my roots,
made me face my denial, and how I almost hated you for it.
If not for the our talks on philosophy and politics,
if you hadn’t hungered for the written word,
if I hadn’t called you my cowboy intellectual,
I’d have run instead of climbing on the 4-wheeler with you.
I’d have missed that chance to sit by the river, cold with autumn,
a school of silver fish catching the last of the light,
hundreds flashing in mid-air, the music of their splashes
and the hiss of the fire, burning with wood
smoothed and bleached by the currents.

No epic could possibly expose your monumental battles,
your accidental birth, adoption, a distant father,
two brain tumors, back injuries from constructing
with molten steel, your face scarred with burns
from sparks flying up under the safety shield.
Your swollen leg, draining cancer from your gut,
succeeded where everything else failed. You died,
barely 40 and I still haven’t cried, though my chest hurts
and I feel the hole; I can’t believe you’re gone.

Nothing I could write will make anyone feel
the way I feel when I see the chalk on the wall,
a message left on the brick last year when you didn’t show
at the smoking area, our meeting place for nicotine
and papers; real, honest critique that you drank up,
the world somehow clearer because you finally knew
when to use that and which and what a preposition was about.
You loved irony. Your eyes narrowed to slits when you saw it.

No play would be complete without you playing yourself
because no one was shaped like you, carved by farmland,
a refugee in California, healed by shamans, prodigal’s son
returning with ambition that will never be realized now.
Your sense of humor is gone, along with your wacky faces,
no more trips to the cemetery, sharing a smoke in the sunlight,
a headstone between us like a missed prophecy.

No academic thesis will deconstruct you,
your odd mix of farm-grown axioms sprinkled
among the scholarly vernacular of our chats,
or note the peeling giant deer wallpapered behind your bed,
the chaos and cobwebs in your laundry room,
the moldy stink that seeped from the cracks of your drafty house
mixing with expensive, expansive aftershave.

I wanted more of you–a year was not enough, cannot be enough.
10 months without you and I still look for your truck
parked behind the university. I hallucinate
your loud laugh bouncing off the courtyard walls,
your greetings to everyone–you did know everyone.
I hate to think of your body without you, stiff and pale
in the coffin, how it makes me think of my own death.
Nothing disturbs me more than suspecting we were right,
no heaven exists and God is a cuddle toy for the lonely and meek.

No apology could excuse me or ease my guilt
over not returning your last phone call,
the plaintive quality in your voice that I ignored,
still fuming from our argument, too petty to remember.
I realize now that you knew you were dying,
recognize too late the apology in your voice,
absent the “sorry,” of course, just like you. Just like me.
I missed my chance to say goodbye and thanks,
shaper of me. Thanks and goodbye.

Good News for Women & Girls!

This article has been cross-posted from The New Agenda.

magiclampsmall1Lots of good news to report today! Despite repeated set backs and set ups, women are making progress. Front and center in that effort is a program called Running Start, “a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring young women and girls to run for political office.” And a most thing has happened as a result of the 2008 election, in which women ran on both sides for the first time ever. From Liz Wing of

Each year they [Running Start] bring 50 high school girls to D.C. to participate in The Young Women’s Political Leadership Training, an intense, interactive 5-day training program about political leadership. In previous years, approximately 20 – 300 girls applied to participate in the program.

In 2009, something remarkable happened. 30,000 girls applied to be part of this program. Let me say that again. 30,000 girls applied. It may be no surprise that in their entrance essays about 80% of them referenced the 2008 election on why they were interested in the program. The election inspired them like nothing else. They saw great people running for president, congress and state and local office, who looked like them and who they related to.

Bolding hers and I can see why.  A jump from 300 girls to 30,000 girls? In one year? This is how it happens team! This is how we do it. We model it, and the floodgates open. Despite all we went through last year trying to protect Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin from a hostile and misogynistic media, that media could not thwart the powerful impact that just the image of these two women running would have. The Genie is out of the bottle so to speak.

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Anna Belle Has a Go

Note: Part IV of a four-part series called Break(ing) Down: Isolation and the State of American Poetry.

In literature the ambition of the novice is to acquire the literary language: the struggle of the adept is to get rid of it. ~George Bernard Shaw

The obvious first question any reader should ask is: And who are you and by what authority do you support your assertions? Why should readers even care what I think? Here’s why: Because I have a right to assert my point of view. Upon that political foundation, I place my 25 years as a student and writer of poetry, as well as my political values of intellectual consistency, inclusion, and reform. I offer the traditional credibility of being a published and award winning poet and writer with a substantial online audience. In addition, I offer my education and my status as a member of the club: I teach college literature and composition. Finally, I love poetry, passionately and earnestly, and I want to turn the focus outward again, instead of the inward focus it currently has, which Gioia identified in “Can Poetry Matter?”  It is as much within my right to attempt to do so as it is Fraser’s or Nowak’s right. But what exactly do I propose?

The purpose of language

The purpose of language is to be understood, and this purpose has been discarded or overlooked in modern American Poetry. The overarching argument of Timothy Steele’s book, Missing Measures, is that the influence of poetry has waned in direct proportion to the number of outside influences poetry has accepted. Poetry has grown less influential as it has been more and more influenced. Moreover, Steele and I are in agreement that overexposure to a strictly intellectual environment such as a college or university leaves the state of poetry isolated from the jostling chaos of everyday life-which in turn causes a growing desensitization, and a need for ever more “progress.” This is a familiar modern trend. How long did it take, for example, for the cell phone to give way to the Blackberry®, to give way the second generation of iPhone® because being able to call home is no longer enough? Consumers of that trend now demand to be fed gadgets with which they can call home and that can also store music, take photos, surf the web, allow for texting, and contain video games, just as the consumers of porn now demand more than a merely naked subject. And here are the modern poets, offering up contorted and twisted poems coupled with other actors (mediums), attempting to appeal to an audience already so titillated by language that making plain sense is no longer appealing. Continue reading

Mark Nowak and the Poegraph

Note: Part III of a four-part series called Break(ing) Down: Isolation and the State of American Poetry.

Politics is a big ego-scene…it’s the art of words, which means nothing. ~Jimi Hendrix

Mark Nowak’s book of poems, Shut Up, Shut Down, has received critical acclaim as “polyvocal, polytemporal [whatever that means] narratives of union struggle and defeat with both a strong documentary quality and a strategic use of modernist poetic genres.” The review from which this excerpt came was published in Jacket, an on-line literary magazine started by John Tranter, one of the official clearing houses for the hierarchical promotion of poetry today, and it reads like a favor to a friend. In a Publisher’s Weekly review posted on Amazon, the reviewer finds, “the result is a provocative narrative of disenfranchisement. The five serial poems are a mix of prose, short compressed lyrics and photos; their artfulness is often located in the spaces between and combinations of different registers… .” Such reviews are typical of the reception of modern poetry. What does it mean when the “artfulness” of such poetry is “located in the spaces between…different registers”? Doesn’t it suggest that the poetic energy of Nowak’s poems is not located in the words themselves? Then what is the point of such poetry?

In the Wikipedia article on Nowak, which reads like it was written by the poet or his brother (and is rightfully called out as such in the discussion of the article), we find this quote:

When asked how he formed his poetry, Nowak had this to say: “Fred Wah got me very interested in the haibun, and so my new book, Shut Up Shut Down, includes experiments with the possibilities of that form in relationship to photo-documentary, labor history, etc. In one of these serial pieces, “Hoyt Lakes/Shut Down,” I wanted to see if I could find a way to replicate Marxist base/superstructure in poetic form; so I worked at developing haibun structures in which the ideological information at the top of the poem would balance precariously above the direct economic impact as base-represented by the number of taconite miners who lost their jobs in the Iron Range towns in northern Minnesota. I’m also interested in finding ways to get poems out to readers beyond those who come to bookstores and college campuses. Continue reading

Notes on Change

I changed my blog style again. I know, I know; you’re thinking that changing blog styles has become a substitute for whacking away at my hair, right? Wrong. I really liked the DePo Masthead. I wanted to keep it. I thought it had an excellent, clean, magazine-like format. It looked fantastic on nearly every device on which one could access the page, including  a regular computer, a laptop, and an iPhone. However, I had been steadily losing audience share since I made the change, which led me to ask the question: Is it form or content?

Turns out it’s form, though plenty of my content gets overlooked too. As soon as I switched back to a traditional linear view my blog stats started creeping back up. My latest posts aren’t getting much traffic, of course, since very few people give a shit about poetry at all, but stuff way down the page is getting plenty of action, apparently because lazy people can now see it without wasting a single calorie on a mouse-click.

Oh well. I’m still belligerently publishing my series on poetry, on which I worked my ass off, in a slow crawl for the rest of the month. And I do not intend to post too much content on politics or other affairs until May. Take that you poetry-haters. 😀

One of the things I really like about this style is that it has a color palette I can play with. So I can change the look of  my blog simply by fooling around with that. Right now I have cool island colors to match the illusive island fantasy in my head. I don’t expect I’ll be changing much more than the color for quite a while.

If you finish the poetry essays, or get bored with them, I strongly advise taking a stroll through my blogroll. Lots of good stuff there.

This is an open thread. (Bet you thought I forgot how to do those, eh?)

Kathleen Fraser Sculpts a Niche

Note: Part II of  a four-part series called Break(ing) Down: Isolation and the State of American Poetry.

Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for example. ~John Ruskin

To hold in your hands original copies of HOW(ever) magazine, they would seem a small thing. They are standard 8.5×11 inch pieces of sturdy ivory paper, printed front and back, and formatted to be bi-folded and bulk mailed to subscribers. I admit, there is something appealingly old school about them, and by old school I do not mean the 1960s, I mean the 1770s. I speak specifically of documents such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, or any number of political writings of the time that sought to challenge the status quo by uniting disenfranchised classes of people, including The Declaration of Independence. The declaration here is inherent in the title–HOW(ever)–which suggests a counterpoint worth considering.

I admit that when I first approached them, having read Fraser’s essay on the emergence of the magazine, I wanted to love them because I was so enamored with the goals behind HOW(ever) as Fraser outlined them: 1) to provide an audience for female experimental poets who did not have opportunities to publish for a variety of reasons; 2) to provide a medium to explore what such writers already perceived as a “difference between female and male perception, located in the poetic language men and women chose (33);” and 3) to be “engaged in urgent sifting and digging, meaning to reconstruct the pre-existing tradition of modernist women who need us to acknowledge them as much as we need them to fall back on for daring and spiritual renewal (38).” Furthermore, Fraser’s ability to report honestly in prose left me hopeful that I might finally find something worth reading in the genre of experimental poetry.

And yet, Kathleen Fraser makes so much sense in her prose that it is a shame she could not often accomplish it in poetry she writes or chooses for publication. Her theories on marginality and access make perfect sense to this marginalized feminist-poet, yet I struggle with her theories on language in poetry and with her poetry itself, as well as that of the company of experimental poets she kept. I agree with her that males and females are very different and that they use language a little differently based on those differences. What I don’t understand is how, for example, the snippet in Figure 1, from Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s “WRITING, an excerpt,” published in HOW(ever) Volume 2, Number 3, renders that concept in poem.

Figure 1

Figure 1

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