Monday, June 30, 2008

"Off the Record" Orono (Fin)

Bernadette Mayer sat for her reading, having recently hurt her neck, which lent her the paradoxical authority frailty confers. There must be something awkward about being feted like this, your poems rolling through the basement of the Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz at the Colby College Museum of Art, where the contrast with the ‘70s you lived through and the one being frozen into history before you is so stark. “Museum” is just a few letters away from “mausoleum,” there's the same coolness and echoey reverence, and there you are representing, in part, the thing you were then.

Ann Lauterbach had read the night before, and seemed uncomfortable with the set-up, most of all I thought (though of course I can’t know) with the idea that she might be serving as a piece in our Cabinet of ‘70s Curiosities. I must have stopped taking notes by then, since I can’t find it in my Mead, but I remember asides about not intending to read much work from the ‘70s, not liking that writing or feeling close to her peers in that era, being unconnected to a group or generational cluster, having to relearn how to be “American” after six years away in the art world of England. There was a mixture of hostility (“Wake up!” while clapping her hands into the mike) and vulnerability (“I’m just the warm-up act”) in her reading, not so much in the work itself but in the large number of comments she made to frame it, which suggested to me at least an anxiety about us of the Mayer/Coolidge/Language ilk misunderstanding her writing without them.

By contrast, Mayer dealt with the “Cabinet of Curiosities” problem by sitting just to one side of the pedestal erected for her. She remarked on the large audience, asking if Elvis was here somewhere. She joked about the length of Jonathan Skinner’s career-spanning intro. She asked if we knew anyone who’d publish her 400-page manuscript, which was disarming but also a little barbed: so you can honor me in Orono but you can’t get my work into print? Mayer recalled readings she did with Coolidge in the ‘70s that were so long they were meant to drive everyone from the room, but never did, because reading long then was “trendy” and a few always stayed. “So that’s what we’re doing now,” she said, with an answering laugh from the audience, but kind of a guilty one I thought, since she’d so deftly pointed out the difference between that era and our more sober, corporate-clock-driven one. “This is from the ‘70s,” she announced before one poem, “but having been to this reading, you’ll know more about the 2000s.” This was exactly right.

After the reading, I played a little outside with Alicia Cohen and Tom Fisher’s daughter, who plays sometimes in Portland with my son. We were building a knight’s tower out of dirt under the tree, studding it with acorn tops and a leaf flag, when I heard someone say: “What are you making?” I looked up and it was Bernadette, smiling and interested, pedestal-free and on her way back to upstate New York. So we told her. “Sorry to subject you to this, but it’s no worse than poetry.”

Friday, June 27, 2008

"Off the Record" Orono (Part 2)

The next day, Clark Coolidge gave one of the best readings I’ve seen him deliver. A benefit of living in the Bay Area was Coolidge bombing down from Petaluma every few months to read in all kinds of situations, often with David Meltzer, at tiny bookstores or in the modest basement of Moe’s, at memorials for other poets, sometimes to auditoriums, sometimes to just 10 or 12. He didn’t do anything different than I’ve seen him do before, but the large slab of work he read—stripped of intro, contextual remarks, orienting asides, or even I think a drink of water—wove image phrases of (presumably) childhood memories and alien invasion (“even the saucers have given up on us”) with those patented Coolidge one-liners that manage to insinuate one fraction of a conversation you wish you’d heard the whole of, with its atmosphere of razzing, zippy insult (“you deserve a good shrugging”), and stoned inspiration.

For me, a lot of the pleasure and “meaning” or whatever of Coolidge lies in the reader’s work of imagining the social contexts in which the conversational fragments of the poems might be said, just as his way with names—most often just listed as names, no further information given—compels you to create the character who might carry a moniker like that. “On the Nameways”—nouns as names, names as beginnings of movement and tumult, not fixed & given things (“I think I’ll name my garage ‘Adobe Marge.’”)

Immediately after the reading, as everyone filed out to Alex Katz or up to Joe Brainard, I hung back to tell Coolidge how much I’d liked the reading. He was in deep tête-à-tête with I think Peter Baker and I think Sam Truitt, talking with great intensity about Bernadette Mayer: How much of her work is still unpublished, who should release it, why someone hasn’t yet, how great it’ll be when it’s all in print, etc. So absorbed I never managed to break in.

I thought this was kind of magnificent. I’m sure Coolidge has had his share of cult adulation over the years, but to sort of cede your “moment” to a detailed publication discussion of your friend’s work was … well, it was like “Thelonius Monk sinking a drop shot—you could be that.”

Great reading, Clark.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Off the Record" Orono (Part 1)

The fun of getting so many poets into a single dorm in inland Maine should be the gossip, so here are a couple “off the record” items.

In a way this was the Mayer/Coolidge ‘70s. There was a buzz in the air about their presence, they were scheduled to respond to panels on their own work (creepy), their back-to-back plenary readings at the Colby Art Museum took on the gravity of ritual as we loaded onto buses, entered the gleaming vestibule of the state-of-the-art gallery, wound confusedly past Brainard Nancys and Alex Katz cut-outs into the echoey bowels of the facility like Theseus seeking out the Minotaur of Poetry.

Everything about the event suggested a Canonical Moment: here’s our ‘70s, it seemed to announce, shorn of the dreck, the paupers revealed to be princes, crowns set on proper heads.*

Mayer and Coolidge dealt with the pressure in different ways. Clark and Susan Coolidge attended every plenary reading I did, no matter how late the schedule ran, nodding and applauding poets whose work seemed the kind Coolidge saved us from. I spotted them between panels, at mixers, talking to poets new and old. Their engagement with just about everything that was going on seemed to deflate any idea that this Orono was a secret Coolidgepalooza; the feeling I got watching them move through the conference was that it was less important to be plenaried and CLARK COOLIDGE than it was to just be in the band.

Mayer struck me as more Coyote: sly & funny, with a strong dash of the trickster. She arrived later than scheduled, so missed the chance to respond to her own panel (itself a very ‘present’ sort of absence). She was there for the big lobster banquet though, where Steve Evans gracefully delivered a passel of thank you’s, and Marjorie Perloff remembered by proxy Burton Hatlen, taking a dig along the way at how “corporate” this once-cozy conference had become. With the ‘c’-word still hanging in the air, the University president got up to unveil the Burton Hatlen Room—apparently the only air-conditioned room in Neville Hall—that the English Dept. will be building to his memory.

However kindly you eye it, there’s something inherently official and yes, a little gold-watch-at-retirement-corporate, about the dedication of a memorial room at a banquet. It had me thinking about what a different ‘70s a future university president—even a kindly Berkeley liberal one—and a Bernadette Mayer must have occupied.

Suddenly, in the middle of the proceedings, someone started laughing. Light and friendly, not derisive exactly, but loudly, enough that I could hear it in the front, and so could the President. It was Mayer, of course, a famous laugher, who could have been chuckling at just about anything, but in this situation, whatever the intention, it was like someone had opened a window from the “other” ‘70s and attentions bent gratefully in the breeze.

*“Paupers” I mean in the eyes of “Official Verse Culture” (or mainstream verse or “prized” poetry or whatever), whose '70s look so different, as Phil Metres points out. I like his phrase “OVC people”—"We aaarre ... OVC People."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Chris Piuma's beat me to the punch in reporting on his and Sarah Mangold's close-packed lovefest of a reading Saturday, so I'll just join all the other Portland poets whose names begin with letters in an alphabetic system in saying "ave atque vale." We'll have those cards arranged into something Piuma-like by your first visit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Orono '70s (Part 2)

A few other ‘nots’ of the ‘70s that emerged from the panels I attended:

+ Poetry was NOT just poetry. It was “sticky” (Eileen Myles’s phrase) and adhered to other art forms, political engagements, and social movements more easily than it does in the newly independent Slovenia of poetry today. Performance art, conceptual art, Marxist politics, queer identity, punk rock, and feminist theory were all perhaps distinguishable but rarely distinct from emerging poetics, at least in the papers I saw. (“When I thought of poetry in the ‘70s,” said Myles, “I always thought of it in relation to something else.”) Was this a feature of the era—the links between the poem and the “not poem” so intense the two blurred? Or does that sense of “adherence” arrive retroactively, on plenary sessions at future Oronos? For three days in Maine at least, I sort of bought it, this idea that “I’m not just a poet” was a more intense and necessary statement in the ‘70s than it is in poetry today, where you can say something like that—and many do—but there’s not the same feeling that you should.

+ “Avant-garde” was NOT always avant-garde. This inelegant koan arrived almost entirely from two panels I attended: “Queering the ‘70s” (Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, Eileen Myles) and, right before it, “New Narrative-New Sentence-New Left” (Robin Tremblay-McGaw, Kaplan Harris, Rob Halpern). One take on this idea came from Eileen Myles—that the ‘70s was an era when “avant-garde” was still a “gay man’s game,” as she put it: not a series of formal commitments and innovations so much as an elaborate code for signaling without saying. As the closet began to collapse with her generation, the need for the code dropped away, and many younger gay writers turned to other forms of expression, creating the conditions for the '80s phenom of the “gay universalist” (Myles’s phrase; my shameless reduction of her reading).

New Narrative
writers, too, found the avant-garde as it had come to be practiced in late-‘70s poetry circles around the Bay too “arriere” for the new social energies and fears they hoped to chart, creating a sort of deliberate “not poetry” with their turn to a different kind of narrative. K. Lorraine Graham was asking the other day for “particular poetics statements” from New Narrative and 3rd-generation New York School writers. While I’m sure they exist, part of the point I’d think was to maybe not do poetics in the patented “poetics statement” sort of way; another silence to attend to when screwing the avant-garde into the mason jar of the ‘70s. The reasons for “not poetry” deciding to be “not”—and for innovative and highly political literary forms that explored new social identities to feel uneasy within the mantle of the existing avant-garde—seemed key to the meaning and import of the ‘70s. The silence speaks. (The arguments for this reading of the '70s arrived mostly via Robin Tremblay-McGaw and Rob Halpern's papers, as well as the particular way of doing poetics Kevin Killian performed in his subversive essay on John Weiners, transsexualism, and Myra Breckinridge. Apologies if I'm a little off in the details.)

+ Just one more ‘not’: not quite sure how to put this into a neat lavender heading, but it had to do with the papers I heard that called attention to code, alternate forms of signifying, or ‘extra-literary’ ways of meaning that condition but don’t necessarily find direct expression in the apparent content of the poem. Whether this was an accident of the panels I attended, or something significant about the ‘70s—where poetry reached out to conceptual and performance art with a special intensity—is hard to puzzle out. I’m thinking especially about:

  • Bern Porter’s Wastemaker (1972), an assemblage of ads, typeforms, and pictorial elements that might be read as an instance of “blank” signifying—the signs calling attention to their status as signs—but under Kasey’s close reading bloomed into kind of a silent autobiography grappling with gender, consumerism, science, and painful personal reminiscence. It asks you to “read” its story in a peculiar, non-narrative way that risks being mistaken for non-sense if you don’t care to work its visual code.
  • The Grand Piano plenary reading with Steve Benson, Kit Robinson, and Barrett Watten. Each read a section from The Grand Piano, but interspersed with passages from a stack of different books on the table in front of them. While this on-the-spot interleafing went on, another panel member might be writing, or might start reading his own passage, apparently a reenactment, if I understood Lytle Shaw’s introduction rightly, of a game the group used to play in the ‘70s, where someone would write while another read aloud from a book pulled from the shelves. I would have missed this game-like quality of the project’s intersubjective structure if I hadn’t seen this performance.
  • My own paper on Hannah Weiner got me to the conference thinking about Weiner’s idea of “knight’s thinking”: her attention to the communicative structures that get missed in normative “linear communication.” Weiner’s own fascination with codes and visual signs connects with the elisions, compressions, abbreviations, and excisions of the clair-style, which asks the reader to be especially alive to the interruptions of the “off-code” or not fully said.
  • Bill Howe gave a very interesting paper on Robert Grenier's Sentences, and the impossibility of imagining a “complete text” of the cards that embraces all the staggering variety of ways to read through them. If I remember right, Howe argued the actual words on the cards take a back seat to the conceptual project of probing or defying the state of being “complete.” So the work's meaning takes shape against the act of imagining what can't be there.

Another key “not,” of course, was in the panels I didn’t attend. There was a “financial” ‘70s, ably covered by Jasper Bernes, with David Harvey I guess as its presiding saint. A Coyote's Journal ‘70s, a No More Masks! ‘70s, a Black Arts '70s, a William Bronk ‘70s, a DC Poets '70s, a Bishop/Walcott '70s (!)—even Orono’s most heavily empaneled era, the Ashbery ‘70s— all whizzed just past my ear. Steve Evans said they wanted to make sure every panel decision at the conference was one that would break your heart, and they succeeded. Of the “just out of the frame” ‘70s, the two most present to me at the conference were Hannah Weiner’s and Bern Porter’s, but that’s a post for a future time. Does all this cloudy info still by 2012?

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Orono '70s (Part 1)

Here were the questions about the poetry of the ‘70s that appeared in the NPF Conference Announcement:
What emerged? What suffered eclipse? What happened just out of frame? What connections brought poetry into dialog with other fields? What social and political contexts mattered most? What of the present can be traced back to that moment? What poets, poetic formations, tendencies in poetics warrant our continued attention? What accidents of reception might we now revisit and perhaps repair?
There were probably as many answers as there were panels, and lordy there were lots of panels. The ‘70s is the most recent decade an NPF conference has ventured to touch, and you can see how things could be touchy, with so many of the participants still alive and just entering the pink of their sixties, ambulatory and active and rarin’ to stick up hands at Q&As.

I thought this might lead to a Potemkin ‘70s, burnished and airbrushed by the folks who had a stake in making it glow. Instead, the risk turned out to be in losing a ‘70s altogether in the act of reviewing so intensely a period that hasn’t been canonically groomed and thinned. I had the feeling the plenary readers and some of the other conference subjects shared the decade like you might share a public bus, everyone sitting in casual proximity waiting for different sets of stops. But that extra work you needed to do to shake a usable ‘70s out of all the panels turned out to be the most memorable feature of the conference for me, especially as it heightened the problem of churning any decade’s milk into the portable butter of history.

You could make the argument that the “decade” itself is a faulty container for cultural information, and even so far as it holds, it catches poets at wildly different speeds: Bern Porter or Kenneth Patchen or Louis Zukofsky’s ‘70s takes on a different luster than, say, Dodie Bellamy’s. (In my Top Five favorite conference quotes was Bellamy’s remark: “Me and the Seventies are about as marginal as you can get.”*) But I more or less share the conference premise: decades are still meaningful ways to sort and talk about our collective experience. Not all are equally useful though, and some decades—as those of us who minnow after the boomers feel so sharply—seem to carry more charge than others. As 10-year increments go, the ‘70s strikes me as one of the baggiest. Unlike, say, the ‘30s or the ‘60s, so compact and epochal they practically sort themselves, the ‘70s is one of those “middle child” decades, caught between the glitter of the ‘60s and the ugly of the ‘80s. Like any middle child, it ends up taking punishment from both, and pleads for our attention in ways different from its siblings. I found at the conference that “sounding” the ‘70s took a lot more conscious attention to silence, code, and the things that didn’t happen than the “easier” decades do: the Seventies that came out of Orono for me were largely apophatic, with meaning arriving in the form of the unsayable or the not said.

Case in point: Kaplan Harris’s excellent paper on “The Small Press Traffic School of Dissimulation,” Bruce Boone’s wry name for the late-Seventies reading group that included Boone, Ron Silliman, Kathleen Fraser, Robert Gluck, Steve Benson, Steve Abbott, and Denise Kastan, then director of Small Press Traffic. One reason it’s hard to picture these writers electing to be in the same room is that they weren’t for very long—the group fell apart after six months, and Harris’s paper set out to explain why. I’d butcher the details of his careful analysis—maybe it’s available on ThoughtMesh by now [the abstract's here]—but what impressed me was the framework: his accounting for what didn’t happen and why, what it is that could have been, and why that “could have” wasn’t. (More tomorrow...)

*She followed this up with a generous memoir of her time in the Feminist Writer’s Guild that caught how dated the group seems now while also paying homage to the things it succeeded at providing, especially measured against the leaner, meaner writing scenes that came after.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Acquired in Orono

Patrick Durgin and Jen Hofer, The Route (Atelos, 2008)*

Benjamin Friedlander Drastic Measures, An Anachronism (porci con le ali, 2008)

Rob Halpern
, Imaginary Politics (A Tap Root Edition, 2008)*

Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy, editors Mirage #4/Period(ical) #149 (special travel-sized edition) featuring work by Jared Hayes, John Sakkis, Elizabeth Terrazas

Bern Porter, Sounds That Arouse Me: Selected Writings (Tilbury House, 1992)

Carl Rakosi, The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (National Poetry Foundation, 1986)

Lev Rubinstein, Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: An Evening with Lev Rubinstein, translations by Philip Metres (poems and program notes for November 5, 2007 event at John Carroll University)

James Schevill, Where to Go, What to Do, When You Are Bern Porter: A Personal Biography (Tilbury House, 1992)

Nils Ya, An Awkward Alphabet (Slack Buddha Press, 2008)

SPOTTED & CRAVED: Ronald Johnson: Life and Works Joel Bettridge and Eric Selinger, editors (National Poetry Foundation, 2008)*

*So new the book still smells good.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Upcoming Readings

Two readings of note in a span of three days--that's the equivalent of a perfect storm in Portland poetry terms. See you this week at:
The Unwin-Dunraven Literary Ecclesia
The Mizpah Church, 2456 SE Tamarack Ave.

is a poet, performance-installation artist, teacher & independent curator. Her poetry has been published widely in journals such as Tarpaulin Sky, Fascicle, The Brooklyn Rail, and Octopus, and her fourth chapbook, “From Whence Undone,” is forthcoming from Cosa Nostra Editions. Ides teaches time-based arts and art theory at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR, and lives happily ever into with Joseph Bradshaw, the Fearless.

EMILY KENDAL FREY lives in Portland, Oregon. Recent work is forthcoming from New York Quarterly, Spinning Jenny, and 42opus. Collaborative work with Sarah Bartlett will appear in Portland Review, Bat City Review, and the horse less press anthology New Pony. Poems from Something Should Happen at Night Outside, a collaboration with Zachary Schomburg, will appear in Pilot, Sir!, Diode, and Jubilat.
Spare Room, Concordia Coffee House
2909 NE Alberta

SARAH MANGOLD is the author of Household Mechanics (New Issues) and a slew of chapbooks, most recently Parlor, a limited edition print and e/chap from the Dusie Kollectiv. She publishes Bird Dog, a journal of innovative writing and art, and coedits FLASH+CARD, a chapbook and ephemera press, with Maryrose Larkin. She lives and works in Seattle.

is one of those poetry stalwarts who creates the oxygen scenes need to breathe, has been doing it for 8.5 years here in Portland, and is giving his last local reading before scuttling off to grad school in Toronto. Attendance is mandatory. You can catch the wit and considerable lexical wisdom of Chris online here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Alphabet for Orono (Part 2)

NEW NARRATIVE’S reasons for choosing not to be ‘70s poetry

Peter O’LEARY assembling convincing wardrobes around Gatsbyesque “boater”

POETRY or penis size: Does it really matter?” (Bernadette Mayer's occasional poem for Orono)

QUEERING the ‘70s avant-garde as gay code with Eileen Myles

Kit ROBINSON reading his and Ted Greenwald’s sestinas fresh off the laptop

Lytle SHAW coining “groupness”

Robin TREMBLAY-McGAW reading New Narrative against the New Sentence with no less than eight of the players in the room

UNDERSTANDING “ditzy” vs. “smart, disjunctive” feminism in Dodie Bellamy’s witty, warmhearted memoir of The Feminist Writers’ Guild

VOCABULARY Gatha for Peter Rose” as set into motion by Patrick Durgin


“X” handled more skillfully than this by Jonathan Skinner in his alphabet intro for Bernadette Mayer

YOU can read it on ThoughtMesh

Steven “Endless Invention” ZULTANSKI cross-legged at Open Reading reading Open Reading Poem I’ll Probably Remember Best

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An Alphabet for Orono (Part 1)

Rae ARMANTROUT poem made of “The Happening” trailer shown at “Iron Man”

Stephen BURT imagining star Radcliffe undergrad Hannah Weiner attending I.A. Richards's lectures

Joshua CLOVER maintaining dignity in a lobster bib

Patrick DURGIN thanked, thanked, and thanked for Hannah Weiner's Open House

Steve EVANS as scoutmaster, “fixer,” human PA system, time dervish, and non-corporate dream compere, in black up to the eyewear through Maine summer heat, no sweat.

“FOUNDS” of Bern Porter as made to sing by K. Silem Mohammad

Merrill GILFILLAN at work at the Doggy Dog Diner in SF, shirt labeled “Gil” (as Grand Piano’d by Kit Robinson)

Rob HALPERN putting “China” back in Soup.

IS that Santa’s brain I see there in your ashtray?” (Clark Coolidge)

JOLT of hearing Eileen Myles wormhole from “analog” ‘70s to “digital” neo-benshi

Kevin KILLIAN not taking a single note (legendary reports all from legendary memory.)

Ann LAUTERBACH drawing poems from mouth with aid of just one hand

MYRA BRECKINRIDGE revealed as Rosetta Stone of postwar American poetry by Kevin “Memory Kid” Killian

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Poetry of the 1970s

Gone to Orono, mostly with the hopes of getting into one of Kevin Killian's famous "What I Saw at the Orono Conference" reports, which made me want to go in the first place; partly to give a paper on Hannah Weiner and Basic English. See you there, or keep an eye out for Shouts & Murmurs from KK.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Hot on the heels of the Unwin-Dunraven Literary Ecclesia comes Smorg, Portland's shiniest new reading series. The Waypost, where I caught Chris Stroffolino last year, is a terrific venue for poetry: intimate, liquor licensed, Christmas lit. All hail Smorg.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Dept. of Whoa

“If there’s anything that I think I generically aim for in lyric poetry, it’s a kind of failure, in the sense of aiming negatively, not to hear one’s voice return to one’s self.

But hearing Thom read I think reminded me as well just how beautiful it can be, if not exhilarating, to recognize one’s voice in the voice of another, while recognizing that one’s voice is not one’s own.”

--Rob Halpern, speaking at the George Oppen Centennial Celebration
Buffalo, NY 4/23/08

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tom Orange in Portland, 5/30/08

Met up with Tom Orange on his recent pass through Portland, one thing led to another and a reading ensued. First from American Dialectics, where “Hence, I tergiversate” captures some of the tongue-in-cheek wobble as a rhetorically shifty and relentlessly shifting “I” piles up truthy statements thick with “I”s; then on to some terrific comment box poems left as responses on Ryan Walker’s Bathybius; then a few from Tethering, a series of six-line poems in conversation with Sheila E. Murphy’s, to close.

Orange explained that “tethering,” aside from its earthier meanings, is used in space travel to describe the process by which one orbiting mass draws propulsive energy and momentum from another. It hit me as an apt description of the way we all move through the poetry cosmos, borrowing thrust from bodies and orbits most readers rarely see. Orange brought a heightened attention to the relationships of affection and camaraderie that mulch inspiration, and had me convinced by the end all poems are essentially comments left on some other poet’s blog, not such a bad model for the art. Plus I liked the way he lit up when talking about Ryan Walker's writing; a whole poetics just in that.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dlugos in His Youth

David Trinidad edits a collection of 20 early Tim Dlugos poems in the new Columbia Poetry Review, short winning things Dlugos penned around his time with the Christian Brothers in Philly and his move “to openly embrace a politically active, gay lifestyle” (Wikipedia)/ “[pursue] an openly gay lifestyle” (Trinidad’s Editorial Note) in DC, home of the active and open.

Dlugos’s easy way with the pop splits time with a Romantic Sehnsucht that never takes itself too seriously, but doesn’t apologize for being there either, so that a poem that starts out with a Skippy jar and ends with Liza Minnelli can ask in between “Who will have whom in the next life?” without batting an eye. (“Night Kitchen”)

Frank O’Hara’s a deep shadow and presence, but so is David Cassidy, a genuine erotic object but also an excuse for exercising the discipline of love, where you know the object’s unworthy but decide to want it anyway, want it partly for its unworthiness:
Shelley Winters you’re such a pig I love you
Not “even though” you’re ugly and never shut up
And dress like the wife of a cabbie who won
the Lottery, but because of it!

--Tim Dlugos, “Shelley Winters”
At the end of his life, Dlugos was studying to become an Episcopalian priest, and it’s easy to read these early pieces as the first push along that arc—“I carefully scrub and chant/in a voice full of longing my litany of names.” But you can tell from the start the arc would be eccentric and all his own, with Christ looking a lot like David Cassidy and love assuming positions like this:
David Cassidy, I want to fuck you!
Arrgh! Ummmmm!

What a body, like a teenaged boy’s,
And love eyes in the fan magazines!

You’re a pussy,
But I crave you—oh!

I want to fuck you, David Cassidy!
I couldn’t find a picture of Dlugos on Google to go with this post, which I hope is no index of how much he’s being read. The issue came with a Dlugos “fan badge,” which is cooler than Google anyway.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I need to see words.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Clare Day

Of the many sad things in Karen Armstrong’s twin memoirs of her inability to live a human life inside a convent and to find a complete one outside it, one of the saddest is this:
“Only that afternoon, I had been giving a tutorial on the Romantic period to three students. They had been quiet, docile, and attentive, carefully noting down my every word—even the jokes—but had not seemed at all excited by Coleridge’s poetry. None of them had asked me anything, except how to spell a word or repeat a date.
“What do you want to do next week?” I had asked at the end of the hour.

They gazed at me blankly. “Dunno,” one of the boys eventually volunteered.
“You must have
some idea,” I had said, a little testily. Silence. “What about Keats?”
“Oh no,” the girl groaned. “Oh no—anything but Keats.”

“What have you got against Keats?” I demanded. What could anyone have against Keats? Didn’t they admire those extraordinary odes, the sonnets—the letters, for heaven’s sake? The students continued to look at me expectantly, and for a wild moment I longed for one of them to get up and yell that he absolutely hated Keats, that he thought Keats was insufferably indulgent, pretentious, and overrated. I would have welcomed any sign of involvement or commitment. “Do you really not like Keats?” I asked again, hoping to coax them into a reaction.

They shrugged and smiled sweetly. There was no hostility; they were perfectly … pleasant. I gave up. “Well, what about John Clare?”

“Okay,” the girl replied equably, “I’ll do Clare.”

—Karen Armstrong,
The Spiral Staircase