Friday, November 11, 2011

Short and Sweet: Sweet and Sour

Another bit of writing found scrawled on a napkin that made its way back from New Orleans to New York:

bright spot

I'll never forget the morning
we discovered the little lemon
A little piece of summer
fallen on the pavement
You found the sun
hiding under pruned branches
And gently broke the rind with a thumbnail
turning the air bright
Then wrapped five fingers and a thumb around it
and carried it home.

You brought the sun with us.

Even on cloudy days
it is a glowing spot
on the landscape of a year
Your little lemon
the sweetness of you both--
I taste it when the days break bright,
that little pinch of sugar
spooned over each sour note
that dared follow us home.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

To My Parents on Their 34th Wedding Anniversary: The Buccaneers of Long Beach Island

The REAL Jersey Shore. Yeah.

Narrative poemness for my parents, gifted on the occasion of their 34th wedding anniversary.

"To the Buccaneers of Long Beach Island: The Day the Treasure Was Found"
it was just after lunch when we found the map.
the clan was assembled in the sand as always:
sarah's lips stained red from cherry ice, a popsicle herself, 
tiny and poised on paired stick legs;
cousins, browned like sausages in the sun,
digging holes with neon plastic buckets;
mom, smile lines burned into the crooks of her eyes,
holding out chilled wet grapes.
there was a hermit crab captive in my hand
all wet, small, flailing legs--
a slimed almond in its shell
using tickle as torture.
we were digging near the water, 
dad and i and a few of the others,
he waist-deep and handsome in a wet hole,
the pile of sand nearby as tall as i;
and bill, with his slick green beer bottle illegally in hand, towering above it all.
then the map appeared,
conjured from the end of the old iron shovel, or it seemed.
mom was the one who pointed it out,
it teetering suddenly on the top of the pile as if dropped from the sky--
bill’s smile hidden behind ever other adult. 
i dropped the crab.
the cousins let me unwind the scroll,
coarse and wet and bound with twine,
breaded with grains of damp stone and singed black at the edges--
the oldest didn't wait for the small ones.
we raced, speedo-ed gazelle on baked plains, tracing black ink to the first stop:
a clue on a chipped shell by the grass!
then another stampede to the ancient gazebo
for the note taped to weathered wood seats.
laura released the paper with shaking fingers.

kyle, the youngest, cried--we understood. 
the excitement was too much to bear.
the entire beach was watching.
we found the X by the fence near the dunes,
where the bound plywood met the rise of sand in its drunk, erratic path, 
a barrier to the barrier to the land. 
"dig!" we cried to my father. "dig!"
and he did,
meaty shoulders driving the blade until it landed with a thud
on something that wasn't sand.
bill helped him heave the structure up and everyone gasped when they should,
an ebb of sound cresting through the modest crowd like a wave.
a small plane went by then, 
pulling an airborne restaurant ad that went wholly ignored,
efforts outdone by our bounty. 
it was a chest of bleached wood
pale and dry and entirely unmarred,
exactly as we'd seen in books,
and fastened shut with cheap rope.
one of the men loosed the top, then let us lift the lid.
our famously unsilenecable brood fell silent.
for a moment.
then the cries of glee broke free 
and naked arms and legs splayed every which way,
the tallest going so far as to pull the youngest forward for a fair view.
we were family, after all.
chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil,
stacked to the brim and glinting in the sun.
all of us--
parents, offspring, in betweens--
glinting in return,
kings and queens of the day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Short and Sweet 'Cause It's Friday: "Still Here"

While I was busy creating diversions, some piece of brain lay awake at night like a cranky baby with melancolic, busy composing this.

Sometimes the anticipation of missing someone is worse than noticing they've gone.

Insomnia Postcard: Still Here

You have gone,
and will not miss me.
There are too many new pieces there
to puzzle together,
busying a mind.

I will not be behind that strange new leaf--
the light will dapple places
your feet have never touched,
and you will peer at your toes
at a new angle,
reexamining their oddness.

In moments you might miss me--
like in populated squares
where strangers' fingers weave together
like baskets,
Or glasses of red wine sit around
in lazy, bloody pairs--

You will discover a single dark braid
laid down a slim young woman's back,
and stare at it and wonder

what it would feel like
in your hand.

I will still be here,
where every curb is one already
stepped over with you,
and each street or mailbox
is a part
of a familiar, old routine--

The dog on the corner is vaguely imitating
one we walked together.

I will see naked light bulbs
and think not of fields, or toes,
but of your head, freshly shaven,
toasting in the sun.

I will discover new things also,
and feel them in my palm,
Then turn to show you
as if you were there
finding only,
after turning,
the place you usually sit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This Blog Post Is Cheating (But It Stars Charles Simic!)

I've been smelling the rank odor of blog death for weeks now.

What's that smell? I can't write with that stank all over!
It's the perfume of your own literary failure.
Oh. Well. Can you do something about it?
If you write it will go away.
That's absurd. 'Write'...nonsense. Just burn incense or something. Sandalwood, maybe.
I prefer strawberry.
I care not for your preference, I have writer's block and want to sulk in sandalwood.
Fine, stay a Debbie Downer with failure-stank all over her.




What's that smell??

Then I remembered the golden rule of the interwebs: If you find yourself unable to generate content, steal content from real writers. It's the blog equivalent of illegal organ harvesting. Or...yard doctoring. Yes, lets go with yard doctoring as a metaphor: Having discovered you can't even handle a ficus plant let alone an entire yard, you creep into your local botanist's private greenery and purloin some topiaries, then drop them into your lawn in the dead of night. The next day: Ta-da! New content, beautifully presented. Neighbors don't even ask whether you've taken up creative shrub-trimming--they're too busy going, "Oooooh, look, topiaries!" (If you doubt the accuracy of this metaphor, explain the prevalence of Tumblrs featuring adorable kittens that never give photo credit to the feline-photographer.)

Anyway, I'm diversioning attention away from the lack of work by posting more work by better writers. Starting................

 THE SCARECROW, By Charles Simic
(from Aunt Lettuce, I Want To Peek Under Your Skirt)

God's refuted but the devil's not.

This year's tomatoes are something to see.
Bite into them, Martha,
As you would into a ripe apple.
After each bite add a little salt.

If the juices run down your chin
Onto your bare breasts,
Bend over the kitchen sink.

From there you can see your husband
Come to a dead stop in the empty field
Before one of his bleakest thoughts,
Spreading its arms like a scarecrow.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Morning: Inside the Envelope

Found this today. Describing it as a wispy half-love poem by a sliver of sterotype girl burning incense in defense of insensitivity while wearing a hand-stitched dress.

(Yeah, say THAT five times fast.)

Uh, anyway:

Inside the Envelope

leaning on you too much
you creak
but do not bend
                 or break
                     out loud

your foundation 
is stronger

When the lean reverses, 
for now
I fail
      or break

just let me be the sling

lean too hard and
yes, I will swing away
away, for now

but lay with me
                    or in me
and I will cradle you constantly
                                 out loud
                                 and above

above it all, away
from din and dirty.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Awkward Forward Momentum

I fell off my blog.

Lost my balance when something unseen hip-checked me and tossed me off the wheels, into some dark corner.

I spent a few months feeling shadowy. I found and goofed around with Gollum, sat beside him turning things over and over in my palms. I grew accustomed to him waking me with a hissy little "my precious." We played handball with a bouncing circle of obsession. We spent a lot of time doing many things with words that end with "ession" in general.

There's a tremendous amount of equally esoteric metaphoric hooey that I could wax poetic about until you slam that Macbook shut while eye-rolling---wait, YOU, no, don't go yet, don't click off to the next pa--

--lost that one.

Ah well.

In short I fell off of much and into more and also stopped writing altogether. Which is no great loss to readers, because there is always someone somewhere writing something worth reading; most of the time it excludes weird side-rants about playing handball with Lord of the Rings characters.

But today I tripped and fell back on and started rolling along, slowly. It's like stumbling over a curb face-down onto a skateboard and lurching forward, injured: breasts smushed weirdly against the body, scraped arms out, shocked legs taut, the toes dragging behind. But somehow, forward momentum. Awkward forward momentum.

Rolling on, as if nothing had ever happened.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Creative Vampires (A Letter About The People Who'll Suck You Dry Through Two Holes if You Let Them)

I received a letter recently from a young poet. (No, I am not going all Rilke on ya'll). Upon the printing of her first commercial poems she discovered a backhanded compliment via Facebook (the Mecca of passive-aggressive bulldinky) from a writer accusing her of aspiring to be something she's not, for "forgetting her true friends" in the process. They claimed that anyone who wrote for money was "selling out."

Gut reaction: F@#!. THAT. NOISE.

Secondary more mature reaction: This happens more frequently to writers and creatives of all kinds than any teacher or book can ever prepare you for.

It knocked loose the memory of a successful writer-poet-journalist-friend who recently experienced something similar: After a milestone year she published a piece thanking the writers, mentors and patrons who supported and inspired her over the course of 365 days. Soon thereafter an old contact got in touch to let her know he was "one of the ones who knows" her "best," and therefore HAD to express his feeling that her essay was a grotesque combination of unchecked ego and name-dropping. He also alluded to something the other young poet's friend did: selling out.

She wrote to me fuming, wounded in that way that comes with realizing you and a creative cohort are parting ways, questioning which sides of the river you'll soon be staring at each other from.

Below is my (edited) response to her. It is a version of what I will also send to the young poet.

It is what I wish someone had said to me a long time ago:

[To my creative Lovie];

Once you've hit a certain point in your growth bursts of uninvited opinion are inevitable. Some will happen to your face. Most will happen behind your back.

Jealousy and ambition in combination form a strange, unpredictable cocktail. The jealousy shot is masquerades as concern, insight, criticism or commentary. But its foundation is, "Why do these things happen for someone else and not happen for me?" A creative always wrestles with jealousy, because in order to focus on "the work" we must tune it out, stay the course, support others going through the same struggle...everything we've ever read in any verbose artist's journal. 

Your "friend" is jealous and understandably wrestling personally with it.

But his ambition has kicked in and stirred the struggle with jealousy and shame into a less-than-personable email. [Or conversation. Or note. Or Facebook post.]

By writing to you, alternately stroking and slapping you (and not in a fun, vaguely pleasurable way) with his uninvited opinions, he is subliminally saying "I know you better than these successful new contacts of yours. I am someone worth remembering." He writes to work through his own issues, and he writes so you will not forget him--so that you will remember his struggle with ambition and success, relate to it and deem him worthy...

...then tap him to be the next person pulled up the ladder by the chain of friends, mentors and patrons who have made your own success possible.

When someone writes something condescending from the position of stalwart advocate or ally, what they are really saying is this: "Please take me with you to that place I claim I do not want to go."

Tune. These people. Out.

If you are like many writers, you have never (not seriously anyway, or at least without the influence of several bottles of port or dusty pint of whiskey) pretended you want only to write in a garret somewhere, penning a great work on parchment to later hide in a cupboard where those who have not been enlightened would damage it by reading it before you die of consumption.

You see things, experience them, suss out meanings and work hard to put them into words. You want people to read those words and experience something as well. In order for people to read them you have to put them out there.
Writing (for now) about your experience as a starving artist doesn't mean you want to be defined by starvation. Mapplehthorpe, Warhol, Joplin, Cobain, Lennon, Patti Smith...they all believed in "art." They also wanted to, and struggled with, the desire (and occasional inability) to EAT.

Do not let anyone who covets your dinner make you defend your desire to eat. 

Now this part is important, and I add it with intense love: In almost every criticism there will be some tiny thread of reality you can choose to tug on, or not.

You  have thanked people you love and who love you, but also people you are proud to be associated with, correct? There's a little ego in that...and there bloody well should be. Why shouldn't there be? Look what you did so far. Look what you are doing. But it is true that that same sliver of ego, or inkblot of simple pride, will be interpreted by some as "name-dropping," and it will alienate them. Think about how you feel about that. If you don't care, own it and carry on. If you find you do care, recalibrate your delivery.
There is no wrong choice so long as you recognize and own it.

My own humble personal rule has been this: Promote your friends and contemporaries, but keep your mentors secret.

Or, in more sound-bitey terms: "Shine your light as bright as it can burn, baby, but keep your fuel source well-protected." 
This response is a little long. I am not sorry about that. I mean all of it and hope it helps now and in the future, because you will have many unsolicited opinions forced upon you over a lifetime.

Stay strong and be sure to stake any vampires that threaten to suck you dry.

Love Always,

KK Van Helsing

Friday, April 8, 2011

Delicate F-ing Flower #2: Chrysanthemum, and More Accidental Poetry Found Lurking in Gmails


Of course she had to pick the name that is the hardest to spell, one of those blossoms that need to be Googled before you can put it in print.

Where does the "y" go again? 

A few weeks ago I introduced and explained a metaphorical poetic garden filled with Delicate Fucking Flowers. (There will be an explaination for why we're plucking them at all...eventually.) Today, Chrysanthemum joins Tobacco Blossom, Dearie in the DFF bouquet, though her debut is unintentional.

Chrysanthemum is our youngest flower at the tender age of 16. She started writing me when this blog first debuted and has since made me spit-take coffee, cock my head sideways at her advanced insight and reminded me why I wouldn't go back to being 16 and in high school if you offered me $10 million dollars. She did it all via a daisy chain of both wry and aching emails.

When the following snippet appeared in one of the most recent Gmail messages, I couldn't help but think it fit the bill of accidental poetry, one of my favorite genres ever:

Our house is small,
and Cape Cod,
and every newly-weds’ dream.

The blue shutters
just scream “come live in me,”
as if shutters could scream.

Our landscaping is pristine,
and everything done by hand.
Our hands.

The hands of my
dyfunctionally perfect,
still married,
single child

There are flowers in the lawn.


I think the house belongs
somewhere in
a coastal Massachusetts town,
with landing seagulls
and fireworks over the bay
on The Fourth of July.

When my parents got married they had a painting made of it.

A painting.
Of our house.
Hanging in the front entryway.

Just in case you missed it
before you came inside.

This girl is 16. I freaking love her. And her real, intentional poetry debut will sprout up on the blog shortly.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Accidental Poetry, Found: The Rejection Letter

More accidental poetry, found. (Though this is intentional accidental poetry.)

Courtesy of Prose poetry posing as a rejection letter. Click it. 

If all rejection letters looked like that I'd submit daily.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Trouble With (National) Poet(ry Month), Plus the Slurred Genius of Accidental Poet "Dominque"

April is National Poetry Month. This guarantees that:

A) Today you will see a peppering of blog posts and pseudonews items about National Poetry Month.
     a1. By tomorrow you will have forgotten it is National Poetry Month.

B) Lovers of poetry will spend the next 30 days re-reminding you that it is National Poetry Month.
     b1. You will slowly grow to resent them. 

C) People with internet platforms will publicly "celebrate" National Poetry Month.
     c1. Mostly by posting cringe-verse torn from their high school journals, greatest hits from undergrad History of Lit books (largely Yeats, Whitman, Blake, Frost and Angelou) and/or lines from the most notable poetry figure from their home town/state/country.

D) On April 30 most poets will still feel isolated and under-appreciated.
     d1. Additional April 30th projection statistics: 98% of all poetry-haters will still hate poetry. 1% will have defected to the pro-poetry side. The remaining 1% will have died of old age or unrelated catastrophes. 

Also, Barnes and Noble will feature discounted boxes of magnetic poetry sets:

Only people with metal surfaces in their home are allowed to write poetry.

As the author of a blog with the word "poet" in the title, I will contribute to this arbitrary public exercise by continuing business as usual, and by posting any examples I can find of Accidental Poetry.

Business as usual:
a snippet from "On Creative Loneliness," an old cringe-piece responding to "The Importance of Solitude:"

"but who will write the writer
in return
curl words back in reciprocal arcs
greet her in the morning
with three even lines in ink
on a napkin

silence, golden 
but after the hushes
the observer bears the weight

to see so much
to be seen so little"

And my first NaPoMo contribution, a must watch (with sound turned up high):

Accidental Poetry by Dominique: "U is for Eunice"
(Bio: Dominique is an upbeat girl-about-town who recently relocated from Desperation, MA, to Self-Loathing, PA, where she currently lives under her pillow. When not recording poetry on Ryan's message machine, she enjoys binge-drinking Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, playing with yo-yos, entering spelling bees and giggling. By day, Dominique works for either eBay or Jamba Juice, we're not quite sure.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Billy Collins, Distraction Tactics, and Your Must-Read of Today

One of my favorite comment buddies recently asked, in response to my last post and the lack of new writings since then, if I've given up posting for Lent.

Ha-ha...well-played. And No. (Or at least no, not intentionally.)

I've truthfully been bogged down with some new literary undertakings.

So I'm going to do what all writers desperate for deadline extensions do in their low moments: distract you.

Specifically, I'm going to distract you with this excellent, awesome and easily digestible interview THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ran this morning with the excellent, awesome and easily digestible former poet laureate Billy Collins.

Read on, especially for this quote: "I found that 83% of American poetry isn't worth reading. That's my figure. The other 17% is hard to live without."


Billy Collins enjoys something rare for a poet: name recognition. As his publisher gleefully notes, Mr. Collins's nine books together have sold more than 500,000 copies, and he served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

In his latest collection, "Horoscopes for the Dead" (Random House), Mr. Collins continues his penchant for writing witty, companionable verse that's often rooted in everyday matters (shopping for mattresses inspires one new poem, "Hell"). "I want my poems to be accessible in that you can enter them in the beginning," said Mr. Collins, a native New Yorker who now lives in Westchester County. "But as the poem goes along, its desire is to move the reader into less clear areas."

With April marking National Poetry Month, the Journal recently spoke with the 70-year-old about his own work and why a chasm persists between poetry and mass culture.

When do you decide you have enough poems for a collection?
That's in the very back of my mind. One swings like Tarzan—from book to book, instead of from vine to vine. But as I'm writing an individual poem, a book is the last thing on my mind. I'm just trying to write a good poem. I send my poems to a friend, a younger poet named George Green, who grades them: A, B, C, D. After a couple of years, if I have 60 or so poems—if I have a lot of As and Bs—then it starts looking like a book.

What's the inspiration for the title poem of your new book?
My poems tend not to be terribly personal in the autobiographical sense. I assume strangers are about as interested in my personal life as I am in theirs—which is to say not very much. But a longtime friend of mine, Michael Shannon [the co-founder, with Mr. Collins, of the Mid-Atlantic Review], passed away a few years ago. Our birthdays were around the same time of the year. I sometimes read horoscopes. So after he died, I'd read my Aries and shift over to his Pisces. I like the title in that it conveys a hopeless optimism.

For someone who grew up in Queens, your poems don't feature much urban imagery.
It's not there at all. My persona is semi-rustic or suburban. I spend a lot of time in New York City, but there's too much going on and I want to create a vacuum where very little is going on and then a poem arises out of something very small happening.

Do you think your popularity is due to the accessibility of your work?
It's embarrassing to account for one's own popularity. "Miss Kentucky, why do you think you're so beautiful? Well, my nose for one thing is cute." I've been very fortunate in being connected to a wider audience through NPR. It's been extremely critical to what's happened to me.

Do you accept that poetry isn't part of mass culture, or do you fight that perception?
There's this chasm for a reason, and part of the blame lays on the poets who are creating poetry that is a) willfully obscure and calls on the reader to do a fruitless amount of work, and b) assumes an interest on the reader's part in the poet's personal suffering. I read poetry because I want to be linguistically pleasured. As Poet Laureate, I was asked to go out and beat the drum for poetry. I found that 83% of American poetry isn't worth reading. That's my figure. The other 17% is hard to live without.

This month's issue of Oprah magazine has poets modeling fashion. Have you ever done anything silly to promote your poetry?
I wrote a poem for the 40th anniversary of Golf magazine, for which I was paid a certain amount of money, negotiated by my agent, and given two Scotty Cameron putters—one for me and one for my agent. I'm not sure if you know anything about golf, but Scotty Cameron makes very good putters. There, you got that out of me.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dryer Lent (Seasonal Musing)

Mardi Gras has ended. Mourning photo:

Single. Black. Tear.

No poems or prose or plugs today, just a barely creative sneeze musing on how it is time to be repentant, to give things up and to give things out, because it is officially Lent.

(Lent: Christianity's second chance at all your failed New Years Resolutions!)

Regardless of spiritual or religious leanings, giving and giving up both seem worthy of musing. Is God okay with me giving up grudges instead of TV or beer? I assume as much:

for Lent the one good Catholic I know is parting ways with alcohol
except for wine, which we agree is good for him

which made me think of heavy things, like charred memories, I'd like to part ways with too
except for those with funny parts, which we agree are good for everyone

now that we can laugh at them

Protestants do not repent the same way during holy days
but as a good non-Catholic I can at the very least

and relenting is the best way to give and give up
and take something at the same time

Monday, March 7, 2011

Delicate F-ing Flower #1: Tobacco Blossom Dearie

A momentary shift of gears.

See, there's this metaphorical garden. It's overgrown with Delicate F-ing Flowers, fragile-stemmed blossoms with poetic petals, sharp tongues and hidden thorns, all perfumed in that intoxicating way that makes you have to sniff them. 

They may or may not snap their jaws shut fly-trap style and consume you whole when you stick your lovely nose in. They have been known poison admirers when worn in a lapel.

But you'll still want to pick them because they're so damned pretty. 

Today I humbly submit for your approval the first of the bouquet. This first bloom is from Louisiana, a green sapling somehow old enough to dangle years of Spanish moss, who knows what it means to miss New Orleans and to help grow it back from scratch. When she's not tending cities she's tending herbs, making roux, stitching vintage undies and dresses back together and making them new, putting little birds under her wing until they're grown, and occasionally tossing back red wine like water.

She sent us this piece scrawled on an old envelope (the best kind of submission) as Mardi Gras approached, when sequins and feathers should take priority over words, earnest or otherwise.

So on this sacred Lundi Gras we post this bit of poem, mailed in from the south by Tobacco Blossom Dearie

Untitled (or "none in particular, or all")

the wind has picked up 

my hat lifts, and sails

i shift the weight of solitude from hip to hip,
testing its heft,
and round the corner

a child chases a dervish of leaves,


further on
an old man walks by
under my hat.

i can smell the rain on his breath.

-in loving memory of RJS.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Don't You Just Hate Poetry Readings?: The Debut of Banjoetry


A few weeks ago I turned to a trusted buddy and said, "I want to score poems to banjo."

She said: "That is a terrible idea."

I said: "I want to read them live, with the banjo."

She said: "That is a terrible idea."

I said: "In front of a bunch of people."

She said: "That. Is. A. TERRIBLE. Idea."

I began scribbling notes.

A few days later I mentioned to a trusted mentor that I had a feature slot reading at Bowery Poetry and wanted to perform a suite of poems scored to live banjo twanging.

He said, "That sounds like absolute agony."

I decided then to do it.

I fortunately have a dear friend who can twang banjo. He has toured with Pete Townshend of The Who and pop-punk demigod Bob Mould. He has recorded with members of Teenage Fanclub. And Sleater-Kinney. And The Posies. And Ash. He has his own indie album of aching, perfectly strummed alt-rock tunes. (Aside: I highly recommend that record--great break-up album. Doubly sweet on vinyl.) Oh, and a Tony Award and a bunch of big Broadway credits and a list of off-Broadway mega-roles, like rock diva Hedwig from Hedwig and The Angry Inch. Sometimes you see him on TV. His name is Michael Cerveris and he was, and still is, clearly overqualified for my plot. 

I told him I wanted to score some poems about New Orleans to banjo. And read them. In front of people. I explained he was essential because he is the only one I know who can play banjo.

He said, "Okay, let's do it."

Thus the inside joke of "banjoetry" went public. Both the friend and mentor who said it was a terrible idea attended the performance. I have video proof (embedded below) that they cheered like loons for us in spite of themselves. A bunch of other people did too. They may even have enjoyed it. Or banjoyed it. (Either works.)

Fantastic photographer Jenny Anderson was there to get it on film (scroll down for pics). There's video of the whole set. I'm also pasting in the text from my "set" opener, "Don't You Just Hate Poetry Readings?" below. I love reading but somehow always get nervous and start shaking like a crack-baby for the first 5 minutes of all performances, which occasionally leads to tripping over the words of whatever is read first. I wrote the poem a few hours before hitting Bowery, so it was especially unfamiliar and raw...the text is here to fill in the gaps where my crackbabyness failed the piece.

Don't You Just Hate Poetry Readings?

Behind a curtain, under some stairs,
shoe-horned into community centers or the nearest jail,
spawning on student coffee shop stages,
dressed up and made up and paraded for sale
at your nearest megabookshop franchise, there it is folks! (and this is no joke),
we got right here for you fine folk the fruit fly of the literary world,
the buzzing
slip of public word breeding known to us as The Poetry Reading,

Where everyone’s less than secretly competing for rattiest scarf,
holiest boots,
most crumpled transcripts of items that could’ve been committed to mind if we’d taken the time

Best disapproving sigh,
best judgmental eye,

least best chance of separating spectators short on patience from Thorazine patients when you prop them all up in one straight line;

Most likely to jack from Kerouac
to buy off Bly
or rip off poor Miss Smith by dragging up some poorer stiff
with a guitar with them to riff on riffs while the whole ship goes down and watchers go stiff

before they make it to the awards portion of the night!
where blue ribbons are given for angriest word rant,
droniest tone poem,
most unnerving piece of childhood nostalgia,
most unremarkable slab of melancholia,

and don’t forget the coveted award of most maligning backhanded complimented handed out as you walk out the door, and that’s before

we event mention honorable mentions for artful statings of the obvious,
heartfelt ramblings by the oblivious,
irreverent references,
obscure preferences,
whored out metaphors
ALL absorbed while keeping an ear out for a cell phone ringing or Death finally bringing
some carefully delivered blessed delivery from asking why we’re here again, especially when
every time we leave one of these creaking old creative heaves we always seethe

Because we know if we don’t go
we’ll not have heard that line or word
that makes it clear while we’re all here

and still coming to poetry readings.

Michael Cerveris rockin' the MANjo for the love of banjoetry.

"I love reading out loud thiiiiiiiiiiis much...."

Seriously? This photo? What the hell am I doing? It does look intense though, maaaaaan. **Poetic beat finger snaps.**

The "banjoetry" starts around the 6:57 mark. (At one point some affable lout steps in front of the camera, which was resting on the bar next to a whiskey and ginger. He quickly realizes his folly and steps back outta the shot.) 

This set includes the above detailing of why poetry readings are agony, delivers missives for my inarticulateness in romantic situations, paces out a suite of poems about the alchemy of New Orleans while Cerveris twangs the strings, then brings the hyperbolic silliness of Mick Jagger's Shirts back to its original home at Bowery Poetry.

Hannah's set is sex, mangled love and why you should think twice before letting her play librarian, with a spotlight thrown on the accidental poetic rhythms hiding in GMail threads.

Banjoy, and thank you to everyone who packed the house. Special thanks to Michael for lending his talent and insight during the collaboration process, George Wallace and Russ Green of Bowery Poetry Club for having for allowing me to read poetry in public.  

Kimberly Kaye at Bowery Poetry Club 2/20/11 from Hannah Miet on Vimeo.

And Hannah:

Hannah Miet at Bowery Poetry Club 2/20/11 from Hannah Miet on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Unsaid, While You Were Angrily Cleaning Up Dinner

It's been a while since anything poetic and not promotional has been posted.

So good morning:

"Unsaid, While You Were Angrily Cleaning Up Dinner"

I'm sorry I don't save words for you. I try to,
each morning, plug up and reserve something.
Mostly by day's end the best drain out.
The first of the day are barely worth speaking.
I croak them to baristas and doormen,
to women whose purses take up entire train seats;
sometimes, I practice on bosses.
Then "love" goes to my father, and "why" flies to my mother,
and expletives dart to tourists who halt mid-step
on the sidewalk. Loosed by noon,
phrases marked yours slide by. That joke.
That compliment. That piece of honesty.
They slip into the ears of others and I don't stop them.
Sometimes I pull a few to the side,
apples at the weigh station, perfect pearls for stringing,
but God, they age so quickly.
I wish they weren't so limp when handed over.
And of course the best ones--
the things I mean, things you need, the way I mean to say them--
struggle to survive in open air.
Written down on paper they seem trite. Which is best,
since I'd feather you in Post-It notes otherwise.
So read them in my face. Study the way I slip a finger in your palm
and trace avenues there.
Listen how I ask for nothing.
Let an egg, broken in a pan and poached in oil for you, speak.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Call to Save the Poetic Ta-Tas: Come for the Tit, Stay for the Lit

I promised in the last post more on the epic pseudo-Valentine's Day gift that landed at my feet on February 13. And I still promise to share that shortly...

...after this glorified appearance announcement posing as a blog post. (Look, I'm ashamed. Just please forgive me.) Today's shameful self-promo moment is for a mammary-heavy reading myself and poet Hannah Miet will be featured at this Sunday, February 20. The event starts at 4pm and runs just over an hour at 308 Bowery, NYC, with booze available before, during and after.

Promise: This week's event will include a poem about hating poetry readings, live banjo, a hipster-friendly piece about riding rusty bicycles through New Orleans, at least one poet on prescription drugs after minor surgery, one Tony-Award winning surprise guest and, by popular demand, the return of Mick Jagger's Shirts.

For those of you who hate poetry (and, PS: if you do, you must have landed here via Google Images while searching for pictures of Mick Jagger. In which case you must be really frustrated by now.), give us a chance to prove you wrong.

Back story: Last month, George Wallace and Russ Green of the famed/infamous Bowery Poetry Club were deranged enough to let an unknown writer with an un-notable blog take the stage at Beat Hour as a featurette. They rewarded my not falling off the stage, throwing up, or reading a poem about my uterus by inviting me back for the series' February installment as a top-heavy top-liner. (I feel obligated after titling this post the way I did to continue making breast references.)

Beat Hour's always a blast, but this one is particularly hard to beat because three of its four featured performers are women (a rare occurrence at readings not organized by womens' groups)--cheers to Wallace and Green for making room for the ladies. In addition to Miet and myself, Jane Rosenberg Laforge will also be at the mic spitting out vivid visuals, and there's an open mic for you soon-to-be featurettes. (PS: Don't forget Ed Stever, as well as George and Russ, holding it down for the men-folk.) With one cheap ticket and as many cheap drinks as you like, you can help fight the good fight for both tits with pens and the continuation of the literary world at large.

A closing promise: There will be zero earnest poems about uteri, ovaries or menstrual cycles.

Hope to see you there. More details here: Beat Hour at Bowery Poetry, February 20, 2011.

(**Note: No breasts were harmed in the making of this post. The Trouble With Poet does not encourage the baring of bosoms during poetry readings...though we do not necessarily discourage it either.**)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cupid and His Paintball Gun, or, Black Tears and Happy Apocalyptic Ballads

I don't do Valentine's posts (she says as she posts on Valentine's Day. For more information on bloggable hypocrisy see the original rules of The Trouble With Poet, specifically: "The Trouble With Poet reserves the right to be totally full of it at any time"). But I do have amazing little nuggets gifted from other artists recently that make me feel someone similar to Cupid is fluttering about, carrying a paintball gun instead of arrows. And I prefer paint splatters to chalky conversation hearts any day.

The first is the picture above, given to me by street artist M.F. Rey. Titled "Single Black Tear," the duo-tone stencil piece was inspired by my favorite Walk of Shame element: the single charcoal path of mascara that runs like a slug's slime-trail down one cheek during the cold trek home after a long, long night or a long, long fight. He's mounted a small version for me to keep in my room and that would be enough, but there are plans for it to be blasted before the sun rises on the side of LES buildings sometime in the near future, along with M.F.'s numerous other installations. For that I'm honored and touched. (I'm also on call to bail him out of jail when he inevitably gets arrested, as street artists sometimes do.)

The second is the song below. I mentioned to a dear friend from Desperate Times Call for Tangible Lies on a sad day that I wished I had a happy song for bad afternoons, a little uptempo ditty I could play like underscoring in a twee indie film to buoy me when I'm sinking. Within an hour this rough lovable popped up in my inbox. "The Ballad of the End of the World" may not sound all that romantic or optimistic, but in my twee indie film it plays while I wipe away a single black tear, buy a handful of colorful balloons, tie them to the back of a rusty old bicycle and ride down Broadway with warm breeze at my back. (I run over Zooey Deschanel as I go, leaving her mangled body and stained baby doll dress crumpled at the crosswalk behind me.)

Do listen. It's lovely. He's lovely:

Last is an epic gift given to me last night. It is so epic that I have to wait to take pictures, then post, which I will do soonly.

Thanks are in order to my various Cupid paintballers. I hope the rest of you have been similarly splattered.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Shameless Self-Promo Moment: Be My (Abridged) Valentine?

Interrupting your regularly unscheduled programming to plug a genius story-telling event I've been asked to participate in this coming Valentine's Day at NYC's 92Y Tribeca. The event, produced by SMITH Magazine, is a Time Out New York's Critic's choice, made The New Yorker's list of notable goings on and is going to be an ever-loving blast. If you're in town, please come be my six word valentine.

Details: SMITH Magazine is famously known for its six word memoir project, an abridged story-weaving exercise that's spread like wildfire and spawned books, story-slams, party games, etc. The memoirs range from hilarious ("Married by Elvis, divorced by Friday.") to disturbing ("Dear Glee, you saved my life.") to gut-wrenching (Hemmingway, regardless of how you feel about him, was the master. His: "Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.").

The NYC Valentine's Day themed event includes live music, getting sloshed at 92Y's well-stocked bar, audience members sharing their own memoirs, and featured memoirs + their back stories from a panel of well-loved and/or up-and-coming writers. Here's the line-up:

Deborah Copaken Kogan ("Shutterbabe")

Elizabeth Wurtzel ("Prozac Nation")

Baratunde Thurston (The Onion & co-founder, Jack & Jill Politics)

Darin Strauss ("Half a Life")

Rachel Sklar (Editor-at-Large,

Michele Carlo ("Fish Out Of Agua: My Life On Neither Side Of The (Subway) Tracks")

Sara Barron ("People are Unappealing")

me, parentheticalled with ("The Trouble With Poet" blog and forthcoming book, "Delicate Fucking Flower: Sweet Poems by Sour Girls")

.... as well as Michael Hearst of One Ring Zero turning audience members' six word memoirs into short songs.

How I ended up getting asked to participate with this list of writers is beyond me; I'm out of my depths. My goals are to not fall down en route to the stage and to not nervously shake like an f-ing crackbaby while I read off my memoir and the story behind it. I won't post the memoir and set-up I'll be slamming that night, but I will post the six words I almost used:

"Next Station: Your Worst Date Ever."

 The story involves a potential reject from the cast of The Jersey Shore, a set of train tracks, a Ford Probe, six police cars and one wet, gold, snakeskin dress. Tickets HERE. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pippah and her Box, or, Septuagenarious Long-Form Love Part II: It Does Get Easier, It Seems

Snowed in back on February 1, 2011, I got bored and decided to post an intro to a fiction piece about Saul and Pippah, two geriatric lovies who start a cross-country affair in their late 70s. I'm not sure about continuing to post, despite very kind comments from lovely people asking what happens next. The lovies are wrapped up in an early draft now (edits, not cold breezes). A mentor told me once that nothing should be kept more private than early drafts. A different mentor says that advice is bullshit. I don't know who to agree with. What I do know is there's more story and some of you have requested it, so I'm putting it up. I can catalog facepalm regrets later. 

It's a bit long--read a bit, take a break, grab a highball, return if you fancy. Bourbon feels appropriate. Or vodka stingers. Old ladies love vodka stingers.

Meet Pippah. She just landed.

It Does Get Easier, It Seems (continued)

Pippah Allenson hated New York City. The lack of sky. The unfamiliar faces. Paved main arteries crowded with taillights, glowing day and night. Something vaguely sinister about it all. Little things in that city triggered hidden anxieties, crept over her normally squared shoulders like a heated straitjacket, pulling her in on herself. By day’s end there she was always an inch shorter, hunched over slightly at the shoulders, finding it hard to breathe. New York City took her breath away and not in the good way. 

The people there were kind enough, or at least more than how the biddies back in Boise frequently complained they were. New Yorkers opened doors for her, offered up their train seats. Kind eyes or a helpful hand when going up steep stairs. But she found their reckless speed distressing, as if at any moment she would witness some catastrophic collision, the kind one sees behind closed eyelids long after the event takes place. She especially felt it on subway platforms--that sucking pressure in the tunnels stirring dread into the air, the monster in its cave approaching, rats skittering around. From the safe distance of tiled walls or behind oversize public trash cans Pippah would watch foolish local prey creeping closer to the edge, flinching when they clamored over one another as each screaming train pulled in. She always worried one of them would topple over, spilling onto the death trap of track and toasting on the third rail. 

Or worse, knock her in during their graceless racing if she stepped too close herself.

Pippah found the city streets only marginally less distressing. The grid of midtown’s avenues were easy enough to navigate, but other sections of town, the insidious “villages” in particular, were as poorly organized as playing cards thrown onto the ground. Sometimes street signs disappeared under unsteady-looking scaffolding, rendering them unidentifiable without younger eyes or ladders. And their names, the layout, the lack of logical progression...they had been organized with no directional rhyme or reason she could distinguish. The West Village for example, where West 12th Street was not followed by West 11th; Bank Street separated the two, with Perry and Charles appearing after 11th but before West 10th. And there was no West 9th at all. Just Christopher Street and then Grove--which, if you walked in a certain direction, turned back into Christopher again. The city was a labyrinth designed to test her patience.

Just as autumn’s orange tinge officially set down roots in Ada County, Pippah boarded a red-eye flight from Boise Airport to JFK, exiting a terminal in Queens, New York, on the morning of her 76th birthday. She came alone this trip. John was, almost thankfully, unable to join her, due to his participation in a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament that weekend at their local Elk's Lodge. She was characteristically unsentimental about the day or its significance. 75 had been the big one. John and a few friends had taken her for dinner, passed around bottles of sparkling white while she tucked into veal. 76 was just another blip en route to the next milestone, which she levelly had reasoned was 80 or death. Given the reason for the trip she preferred not celebrating at all.

Pippah’s endurance began being tested the moment she arrived at baggage claim and found her suitcase had vanished, or at least failed to complete the trip as punctually as she. The day’s first little finger prick. A set of doors. A line. She read and reread the letter from the offices of Burrows & Corrado while she waited for an ambivalent customer service representative to provide the necessary forms. 

Sign here, please. 
Sigh there, please. 
Yes, we’ll do our best. So sorry for the inconvenience.

The cab she’d nearly fist-fought for to get away from JFK reeked of foul exhaust. The traffic crawled on slug-like until she’d missed the morning’s first appointment. By the time she climbed four flights of stairs to the filthy one-bedroom in a crumbling building under the subway in Astoria, Pippah’s bladder and midwestern confidence were already stretched to their limits. 

Using the key that had come in the mail Pippah opened the creaking door to apartment D7. The sound of her heels on uncarpeted floors as she carefully stepped around the space competed with the gurgling squeal of a radiator in the corner. So many boxes. Stained photographs. A brown couch and dead house plants. No one to come help her sort out the remaining mess. The cramped bathroom, which she used, had dark lesions from black mold. Resentment started gnawing at the morsels of her resolve, nibbling with persistence until she waved it aside. No time for this now. She checked her watch, looked around then headed for the door, locking the noxious smell of cat piss behind her as she exited.   

Four stops toward Manhattan on the N train--thank heaven for an elevated stretch of train, it’s little glimpse of sky--and five blocks by foot delivered Pippah at a faceless grey building next to an anonymous office park. Her breath made little vapor clouds as she checked and rechecked the address, again referring to the note from Burrows & Corrado. Inside, another line of people. She signed some papers, waited in a plastic chair and finally was called on. A girl with dark eyebrows behind the counter wished her happy birthday when Pippah passed over her driver’s license for identification. Pippah politely nodded and then the girl was gone, meandering into the maze of hallways and rooms half-visible from the waiting area. Pippah absently tapped the thumb of her right hand against the tip of each finger while she waited again. Pinky, ring, middle, index; pinky, ring, middle, index. 


Resentment nibbling at her innards again, grief tagging along with it. She reflexively waved them both away when the counter girl returned. 

The girl with the dark brows produced an average-looking square box, wrapped in brown parchment paper and tied tightly down the middle with a piece of white string, placing it in front of Pippah.

“And I’m the only one?” Pippah asked from her side of the counter, afraid that putting hands on the box tied her to an invisible contract.

“According to this?” the the eyebrows replied, furrowed from behind their paperwork. “Yeah, that’s you." Then: "Sorry for ya loss, ma’am.”  

Feeling it improper to put the box in her purse and worse about carrying it around in the paper bag the eyebrows offered, Pippah chose to hold the package right out in the open, clutching it closer to her tiny chest as each brutal piece of day sped on. Subway to the city. Cab to the west side to meet with people at Goodwill. Traffic again downtown. Thousands of bodies milling around no matter where she went. Soon careless nudges from passersby or failures to find a cab were worming their way into her throat, growing and swelling into a stubborn lump that Pippah could not quite swallow. With every errand and errant stop she focused strength into the parcel, until by noon it had become both battery and burden. Three days more, just three days more, then this will be over.

It was 4:45PM by the time Pippah left the offices of Burrows & Corrado, fumbling out the door in an overwhelmed daze. She had not eaten yet, still hadn’t checked in at the hotel; her cell phone hadn’t signaled any arrival of the missing luggage. 4:45PM and still so much to do...where to go next, how to get there, what to do with the box? How to make a plan for tomorrow and the next day and the next... 

Selfish. Pippah stewing, heated straitjacket tightening around her. Selfish, this whole request. Latch the sleeves into their buckles. A final manipulation at the hands of a relative stranger.

A relative stranger. She rolled the phrase over in her head as she raced up Madison Avenue, searching for the E train which would finally take her to the hotel.  

She was still rolling the words and their relevance when she smashed full-speed into Saul Silverman just as he was rounding the corner at 50th Street and Madison. The blow knocked Pippah Allenson’s package to the ground, where after a few unsteady steps she very nearly joined it.

“Where the Hell’re you going?” Saul barked out to her hoarsely, greying eyebrows furrowed into an arched line of disdain. 

“I...,” Pippah began slowly, disoriented from the collision. She was still looking at concrete, shocked by the sudden impact. Pippah collected herself and stared up at the strange, tall man. Silvering hair, steely blue eyes, sloping Roman nose. What sounded like a New Jersey accent when he verbally accosted her. Another unfamiliar a face demanding unavailable answers. She suddenly noticed the wrapped box laying on the ground between them, brown parchment scraped back on the corners where it hit the pavement. Something about the paper, how it looked like skin, seeing it on filthy sidewalk knowing what was inside... 

“I don’t know!” she barked at the man in uncontrolled reply, voice gone jagged at the edges. Half the corner turned to watch its latest confrontation. “I don’t know, I don’t know, Idontknow, Idontknow!” Her voice cut off entirely as Pippah sunk down her knees, reaching for the box as she dissolved into the first tears she’d cried in thirty years. 

(to be continued)