Happy World Poetry Day!

Happy World Poetry Day!

In honor of World Poetry Day, I’m sharing my favorite poem, the one that made me want to write poetry, ‘Entry in an Unknown Hand’, by Franz Wright.

I first read this as a Xerox’ed handout in my first Creative Writing class. I took this class after a year spent as a relatively successful Computer Science student, feeling intensely unfulfilled about what I was doing with my life. After the campus literary journal took a couple of my dreadfully awful poems, I felt inspired and switched my major to English, much to the horror of my parents who, to their credit, were supportive of me following my passion at the cost of anything resembling job security. I was very fortunate to encounter the poet, editor, and teacher David Dodd Lee, who introduced me to the work of Franz Wright and many other poets that remain my biggest inspirations and influences (including Lee himself). This was quite literally the first poem we read in that class, and was the first contemporary poem I had ever read in my life. Like most I had never really thought about poetry since reading Shakespearean sonnets in high school and simply didn’t know that people still wrote it outside of Hallmark cards.

This poem by Franz was an immediate and lasting wake-up call, hitting notes of loneliness, self-deprication, anger, sadness, bitterness, sarcasm, wit, and so much more, that resounded with me very deeply. Simply put, reading this poem both enlightened me that not only was poetry still being written but it was (often) poetry divested of end rhymes and overly sentimental tone. Poetry could be vulnerable, angry, biting, wan, funny, brutal, hopeful.  It was for me a singular moment of ‘I love this, I want to read more of this, I want to write this, I want to be in conversation with whatever this is as often as I can for as long as I can’.

Misc. Updates

Her — 5
The Counselor — 4
House of Cards (season 2) — 5
Californication (seasons 1-5) — 5
Shameless (season 1) — 5
Metallica: Through the Never — 4

I ended up liking The Counselor a lot more than I thought I would after seeing a pretty staggering amount of negative criticism; the dialogue is definitely strange / stands out as being very ‘literary’, but what’s not to love about that? A lot of critics are accusing it of being ‘pretentious’ which is always a strange thing to say about movies that are at least trying to reach into a deeper / stranger ecosystem than the average Hollywood flick. The aesthetics were gorgeous.

‘Her’ was also beyond gorgeous, offering a very crisp approach to visuals and setting in regards to a futuristic Los Angeles that leans much more heavily toward what I guess we could label  ‘speculative fiction’ than ‘science’.  Manages with Jonze’s deft touch to remain  lonely and minimalistic despite the overwhelming technological foliage that’s the entire point really of the film. Reminded me of ‘Lost in Translation’, that way.

House of Cards season 2 was as addicting and perfect as season 1; it’s a show that never lets the tension go slack even for a moment, something that’s incredibly hard to do well. On the subject of criticism I don’t understand, it’s been getting a solid amount of flack from admirably wonkish political types for being ‘unrealistic’. Well, it’s fiction, of course it is. People enjoy it as a politically-framed drama, and most folks don’t want to binge on 12 hours of CSPAN for a reason.

Book-related updates will be a bit slow for me, I’m working my way through Donna Tartt’s new novel ‘The Goldfinch’, which is fantastic so far but is both lengthy and a dense-ish read, so it’ll be a bit before I finish it. I’ve also been trying to set more time aside to work on both poems and the straggling beginnings of a novel I cranked out a couple years ago. There are a couple of poetry chapbook contests ending this month that I’d like to give a respectable try at, so I’m trying to read a little less each day in general, as whatever I’m reading can (for better or worse) influence how and what I’m writing. 

Tomorrow it’s going to be 60 degrees here in Indiana, the land that winter won’t leave the fuck alone. One can almost believe we’re all going to live to see beaches and campfires again before we die.

Review: ‘The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq’, by Hassan Blasim

The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of IraqThe Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reflecting quite a lot on this short but destructive collection of short stories by the Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim, a writer The Guardian has called “perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive”. Taking it’s title from the title of the first story, ‘corpse exhibition’ feels like both a directly and subtly apt one. There are bodies littered everywhere, violence and death a never-ending haze that hangs over every sentence. There’s a stoic resolve present in the curation of these stories that reminds me of an art gallery, a sort of determination to let the art speak for itself without distraction — the prose is concise, brutally economic as it frames one portrait after another of madmen, soldiers, djinn, prophets, soccer coaches and wailing family members. While Blasim’s style lets these landscapes play out in a way unadorned, it’s a style that also refuses to cushion any blow or cringe at any mutilated body.

I really admired the artistic ambition throughout the collection, the author’s restraint to let the stories echo and haunt without any stilted prodding or winding up from the author’s visible hand. The cascade of savagely honest descriptions and portrayals of one atrocity after another would have cultivated a good amount of writerly capital that could’ve been spent on a more sentimental or politicized text, but these stories really kick the gut because this gesture has been resisted. This doesn’t mean the result is cold or lacking in criticism of nearly every actor in the long period of the US intervention, but Blasim has let the dark imagination of each story be its own best advocate. The result is a surprising, surreal, and necessary collection that will poltergeist around the mind of readers from any perspective.

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Review: ‘Walking the Black Cat’, by Charles Simic

Walking the Black CatWalking the Black Cat by Charles Simic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book Charles Simic is both maestro and ethnographer of one surreal geography after another alongside moments of the personal, sublime quotidian. The overall gesture of the book seems one as comfortable with the absurd as well as the pastoral, Simic constantly limning both everyday moments and nightmares at constant risk of becoming hilarious. While never quite cynical, the speaker of these poems feels slightly haggard with experience and knowing, a speaker that’s been around the block a few times — a block where razor blades are shuffled like cards, and Mary Magdalene dons shades and drives Jesus down Santa Monica Boulevard in a yellow convertible.

The heartbeat artistic tic of these poems are their stark images, moments of a dark, glamorous, almost cinematic quality. An ant raising a single charred straw onto it’s back, flies from a slaughterhouse pressing tiny bloody footprints across the pages of a book. As the poems oscillate between quieter scenes and parades of the ludicrous, these moments of imagery work both to magnetize tempo and the reader’s attention.

All of these poems are heavy with the human pang, nearly always looking outward from the self but the landscapes continually cast shadows back on the cave wall, the layers of imagery and metaphor becoming a subtle language that narrates a tremendous deal of emotion and introspection. As accessible as the poems are they should not be too easily considered simplistic or merely playful. This is a strange and forceful collection.

‘Blood Orange’

It looks so dark the end of the world may be near.
I believe it’s going to rain.
The birds in the park are silent.
Nothing is what it seems to be,
Nor are we.

There’s a tree on our street so big
We can all hide in its leaves.
We won’t need any clothes either.
I feel as old as a cockroach, you said.
In my head, I’m a passenger on a ghost ship.

Not even a sigh outdoors now.
If a child was left on our doorstep,
It must be asleep.
Everything is teetering on the edge of everything
With a polite smile.

It’s because there are things in this world
That just can’t be helped, you said.
Right then, I heard the blood orange
Roll off the table and with a thud
Lie cracked open on the floor.

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