Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Bare bear poets in their youth

September 22, 2016

In a full-page ad (p. 11) in the 9/26/16 New York Review of Books (for a photography exhibition at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco), celebrated fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon’s photo of poets Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, naked and in a hairy phase, in New York on December 30, 1963. The ad is reproduced in AZBlogX rather than here, because Avedon chose to include Orlovsky’s (flaccid) penis in the photo. (Ok in a gigantic ad in an intellectual magazine, not ok in WordPress, Facebook, or Google+, where a minor might come across it.)

The photo is often reproduced with Orlovsky’s dick cropped out (ouch), but I won’t do that here, because I think that misrepresents Avedon’s intentions, which were to portray a pair of lovers. Without the dick, what we’ve got is two bearded hippie buddies hangin’ out together. The dick is a sign of sexual connection — by no means the two men’s only connection (they were together for over 40 years, until Ginsberg died), but still an important point.


Julian and Sandy

September 9, 2016

(Some coarse sexual slang, so it might not be to everyone’s taste.)

From the August issue (pp. 37-39) of The Advocate, “Speaking Lavender” by Chadwick Moore, about Bill Leap and the Lavender Languages and Linguistics Conferences (Lav Lgs 23 in February 2016 at American University, Washington DC; Lav Lgs 24 in April 2017 at the University of Nottingham (UK)), with the subtitle: “From Regency England to 1920s Harlem to Miss Piggy, gay vernacular has given voice to homosexual identity and desire in a hostile world. It still does.” and a section on Polari (and its scholar and champiom Paul Baker). Eventually the story leads us to the campy queens Julian and Sandy, and from there by sound associations to the remarkable entertainment (also campy) Façade, uniting the playful poetry of Edith Sitwell and the music of William Walton, notably in the “Valse” / “Waltz” movement beginning “Daisy and Lily”.


How sweet the daphne smells

September 7, 2016

… and how poisonous it is.

A birthday present from Chris Waigl (plants and poetry, with something of an Edward Gorey twist) , this note:

I was thinking of you the other day when I remembered a little (somewhat twee) poem my mother liked. It’s from a German humorous herbarium (the book is called Heiteres Herbarium [‘Bright/Cheerful Herbarium’]) by someone with the extraordinarily Bavarian name Karl Heinrich Waggerl. The book’s still in copyright [and is described as lyric poetry], so there doesn’t seem to be much online. Apparently, it sold extremely well for a book of, at least on the surface, poetry.
The poem I was thinking of was about the pretty, traditionally medicinally used (and quite poisonous) Seidelbast (Daphne mezereum). Not native to the Americas and therefore not much talked about here. It has a ton (dozens) of common names in German. I knew it as Zeiland in Austria and Lorbeerkraut (lit. laurel herb) at home. Much lore and warnings. The poem is a warning, too, with a quasi-moral level of meaning and at the same time a … rhyme at the end that marks it as jocular.


Spontaneous poetry

September 5, 2016

Written in passing, in my posting on a P.C. Vey cartoon in the New Yorker:

[If you’re a poet], everyone thinks that your task is trivial, because, like, poems are so short, how much work could it take to turn them out?

The closest I get to spontaneous, off-the-cuff poetry is the captions I create for various images, and I do a lot of these (see the Page on AZ captions), but they’re spontaneous only in comparison to my other free verse, which regularly takes days or weeks or more. So: maybe an hour or two for a few lines, which is really fast in my book. (Sometimes it’s finding a donnée, but always it’s the re-writing.)

Then there’s the wonderfully spontaneous poet Frank O’Hara, one of whose tossed-off poems “At the Old Place” (from 1955) appears in the current, August/September, issue of The Advocate (p. 32):


Good poetic lines

August 25, 2016

From the 7/26 issue of the New York Review of Books, in “The Troubling Genius of Delmore” by Jonathan Galassi (a review of Once and for All: The Best of Delmore Schwartz, ed. by Craig Morgan Teicher and with an introduction by John Ashbery):

… The critic Michael Clune has written [where? Galassi doesn’t say, but maybe in Clune’s 2013 book Writing Against Time] about Ashbery that the basic unit of his poetic practice is not the book, or even the poem, but the line. I think the same can be said for Delmore; apart from his few best poems, what really stays with the reader are individual lines, some of them employed, with slight variations, as titles:

The heavy bear who goes with me…

In the naked bed, in Plato’s cave…

The beautiful American word, Sure…

Tired and unhappy, you think of houses…

We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.

The mind is a city like London, Smoky and populous…

The actual is like a moist handshake, damp with nervousness or the body’s heat.

It’s impossible to gainsay the brilliance of these phrases, even when great poems fail to rise out of them.


Thurber the illustrator

May 26, 2016

James Thurber drew stuff, all the time. Some of this stuff was published as single-panel cartoons in the New Yorker (indeed, went a long way towards defining the New Yorker style in cartooning). Other stuff served as illustrations to his writing. In at least one case — The Last Flower, which I’ll look at below — the text and illustrations are fused, in the fashion of a graphic novel.

All of this you can appreciate in a single volume, Thurber: Writings & Drawings (1996), from the estimable Library of America (contents selected by Garrison Keillor), which has the complete My Life and Hard Times (1933), The Last Flower (1939), and The 13 Clocks (1950) — for an appreciation of this last book on this blog, see my 7/29/13 posting — and substantial selections from most of the rest of his output, from Is Sex Necessary? (White & Thurber, 1929) to The Years with Ross (1958).


Who is Silvia?

February 23, 2016

The title of a posting from the 21st: “Who is Alice? What is she?”, the answer to the question turning out to be Alice Lee, sister of author Harper Lee. My title was a play on the first line of a song from Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlement of Verona, a play in which Silvia is a central character: “Who is Silvia? What is she”. (The two lines are closer than you might think at first, since in the song Silvia is clearly meant to be an initially accented disyllable, just like Alice.)

Of course, Shakespeare’s play doesn’t come with a tune for the song, so one must be devised (or borrowed from another source) for purposes of performance. A notable setting of the English lyrics is by none other than Franz Schubert.


Pittman, Dickinson, and Goya

January 14, 2016

In the January 18th New Yorker, this notice:


A typically complex, crowded Pittman, composed of disparate elements (see my discussion of Pittman in this 5/10/11 posting).


The Crew with packages and boxes

December 31, 2015

(The bulk of this posting — below the fold — is a long piece jam-packed with descriptions of the male body and gay sexual practices in very frank vernacular English, so it’s definitely not for kids or the sexually modest. No X-rated images, though, and some observations about language. The piece is also about affiliation between gay men, deep friendships and love, so that, amidst all that coarse sexual stuff there’s considerable sweetness.  And humor.)

When I posted this image a couple of days ago, I promised that I would supply a caption for it, and now I will.


The caption is very long; it tells a complex story. Like virtually all my captions, it’s free verse: writing intentionally divided into lines, but unmetered and with no other systematic formal regulation (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, whatever). In fact, it’s free verse with long lines, a style of writing that many commenters find hard to classify: is a piece of long-line free verse a prose poem (a poem, but with prose features)? Or is it lyrical prose (a piece of prose, an essay or fiction, but with poetic elements)?

There’s no good general answer to this question, and I’m inclined to say that while there are prose poems and pieces of lyrical prose, sometimes it’s a mistake to insist that a bit of writing with mixed features must always be classified as one or the other. Long-line free verse, I would say, is usually both.

On to the story, um, poem.


Rhyme or reason

November 30, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, with an idiom and a nursery rhyme:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

So we have Humpty Dumpty, recently fallen from his wall, but no explanation of how this terrible event could have come to pass.