Field Notes, Week of 02-09-21

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of February 9, 2021

I had this other thought about reading poems; reading, your mind wanders, words, phrases pull you into reverie and you miss something, or you read something you disagree with or would have done differently, or just resent. All of these pull you away from the text; it’s like reading a poem, the act of reading (even if it’s hearing) pulls you away from the poem. Maybe it’s a personal defect, but I think it’s more common than that. So, I’m in a workshop now with 11 other poets writing a poem a week, and posting them on Wet Ink, and wanting to respond, but being constantly pulled this way and that, I decided to try this: read the poem once, then read it out loud and record it on my phone.  Then play it back as many times as I need to, maybe while preparing dinner.  The oddball bits I want to change become less distracting, the relation of parts to each other becomes a little clearer, what the heck is going on goes from ‘who is this person, anyway’ to ‘who is this person, anyway’  (just kidding). And the investment in time is minimal, for most poems, a minute or so.  I hit the play button over and over until I’ve noticed more and more things about it, and rather than like or dislike, I can talk about what it is, and not just the formal elements of meter, rhyme, stanza, but the angle of attack, the emotion hiding behind the cleverness, shit like that. So I’m recommending that: hit record; hit play; hit play; hit play (the peculiarities of your own voice disappear, the line you misread repairs itself). Someone once told me, the first time you read a poem (story) you read it to find yourself in it; the second time, you read it, you read it to find the author in it, but around about the third time, it’s the poem.  It’s just that thing, fragment, remains, song.

Frank put my poem, “Authorities,” first in the packet, so I’ll tell you, I wrote it in Deshpande workshop on form, session 1, “Couplets, Tercets, Quatrains and Monostichs.” The monostich is the one line stanza (what I used to call the self-aggrandizing line). A poem made of monostichs can be used for list poems, or prophesy, or I spy with my little eye, and if you have a gift for aphorism, the monostich poem may be the venue for you. I thought it provided a networking possibility for non sequiturs, and found that I was talking a lot about who to listen to. I was very happy with the shape of it.

One of the authorities I appealed to in “Authorities” was the poets who come to watch me write my poems, and Jen Poteet brought something of the same modality to “Hart Crane and I File for Unemployment” – another in her series of poems that bring dead poets back to life for companionship and anachronism. Here, in free verse of no particular meter, she draws parallels and differences to hers and Hart’s situations. I thought the device was wonderful, especially when she and Hart “gaze/ out his kitchen window/ at the Brooklyn Bridge, its gleaming girders/ torched by winter sunlight.”

Ray Turco is getting more and more guff from the group over his biographical/ hagiographical sketches of heroes of Italian independence, in particular the prose sketches the follow, mirror and only alter slightly the information presented in the preceding poem. This one, “Maddalena Cerasuolo,” dips back to WWII for the story of a resistance fighter.  I pointed out that the whole middle stanza was made of sentences with the same syntax, dependent clauses followed by main clauses, which become distancing, informational, and repetitive. Maybe that’s what he wants, someone said.

Speaking of hagiography, John J. Trause returned with the middle tych of a triptych about Marilyn Monroe, called “St. Marilyn Chrysotricha,” which presents the movie star in a tongue-in-cheek manner as a saint. People loved it’s humor, and no one doubted that Marilyn deserves canonization.

Susanna Lee, back from a sad time out to mourn the loss of Arliss her dog, brought a stunningly simple and beautiful poem (“Poetry Practice) of one sentence in three free-verse quatrains (so similar in shape and form to “This is Just to Say” by WCW), in which her little kindnesses define a practice of poetry that we could admire. There was a lot of talk about the last stanza (which seems appropriate) because the participle “blessing” aroused attention. After all, the participle “leaving” had started the second stanza, and “blessing” didn’t seem to have an object, or maybe blessing seemed to religious. Anyway, we all got out our editorial pencils – we love changing poems too much – and gave Susanna a few suggestions to honor what we took to be her intention.

Barbara Hall brought “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Seashell” about which some people said that Barbara and the shells could stay, but Wallace Stevens had to go. He was gumming up the works. My favorite line was X, “Clam shells ease open when steamed in a pot to yield/ one of my favorite seafood dishes: steamed clams.” Wallace Stevens has to go, but Gertrude Stein can stay!

Shane Wagner brought us a short story called “Tourist”, a sci fi disease adventure of the future. Myself, I was drawn to the description of the big fireplace in the fourth paragraph, with Jacob, the host if not the hero of the story, building a fire of “quartered logs the length of his arm, two in one direction, then two in the other and so on until the pile was chest high.” And I liked how Ava watching the conflagration “imagined Jacog as a boy at this hearth learning the technique form his father….”    

Yana Kane’s poem, “Family Tree” takes that ready-made metaphor, and then talks about tree stuff as a means of elucidating family. It has great repetitions of “too many times” that provide the ostinato of the poem, and you do get the feeling that the speaker’s family’s been through a lot, but for me, the suggestion of a family wasn’t strong enough to break through the news of what happened to the tree.

Don Zirilli’s poem “Welcome to My Giant Castle of Myself” was, according to Don, inspired by wondering how you could invite someone into your life, but maybe never succeed. So the poem uses what he called “untethered metaphor” to animate the house. I liked best the parts where the human idiosyncrasy was built right into the structure: “I’m trying to get better lighting/ but the ceilings are worried about you./ Not all the angles understand/ how to accommodate your perspective./ Be careful of the well/ in the drawing room.”

Our fearless leader, Frank, brought “How Can a Loser Ever Win” in which he fell into the wake of Kyle Brosnihan’s big poem “Empire” which Kyle read last week as the feature at the RWB reading last Wednesday. What Frank had admired about Kyle’s poem was the way it took a simple core and built out from it lyrically, finding places where iteration was the driver and elaboration was the lyric experiment.  He hit pay dirt many times in this piece, but none better than the tercet in the second stanza: “I want to change my job into a ministry./ I want to change my computer skills into hospice skills./ I want to change my blue jeans into a sari and wear a kimono and toga.”  You could feel the tug of the desire to do good, and then the sourpuss of middle age reassert itself in the monostich stanza that followed: “I want to change a few enemies into whale shit.” 

All in all, another day at the workshop with my friends.  Try recording these poems and playing them back.

—Arthur Russell

RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 10, 2020

Janet Kolstein

Conrad Heyer (1749-1856), The Earliest Born Man to be Photographed (in 1852)


He’d heard of the thing
and eyed images born of the contraption.
It wouldn’t take long for his own aged self 
to replicate on the silvered plate.

The man who’d crossed the icy Delaware 
with the Father of Our Country
had orbs reminiscent of the General’s.
His great, beaked nose had grown craggy with years,
his mouth indignant at the loss of teeth.

Maybe, it had been enough to see himself
in the mirror of clear lakes,
or to face his murky reflection on grooming.
He’d looked inward, and knew his character
forged with the gravitas of nationhood.

Changes come to those who live long lives,
some small, some monumental,
some bringing awe and trepidation.
As a farmer, he knew how crops grew from seeds
with the sun and the rain that nurtured his fields,

and that all living things are pitiful
when Death comes calling,
but this new machine, a camera,
miniaturized and memorialized
the very shades of his being,
and, in the beam of his eyes, 
brought forth a new way of seeing
and remembering.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 3, 2020

Arthur Russell

Fellatio Salon


I used to think Japanese porn,
with its pixilated penises,
wasted the strengths
that this ethnic type 
perfected,
the ultra femme
squeaky female voices 
no other nationality
could do as well.
Pixilating the cocks,
the coitus, as well the uniquely
directional pubic hair 
of the actors, 
was a shame.

But tonight, I grazed
on a long video
about a sex worker
in a fellatio salon
giving head to five 
guys in forty minutes.
There were no booths.
The guys sat on a pair
of wide banquettes,
both facing the same direction,
waiting their turns
while the others
got sucked off
one at a time.

The sex worker gave 
each of them her full, 
coquettish attention 
for seven or eight minutes.
She started them off
with a bright caress 
of the face, but no kissing.
She’d help them 
get their pants and unders off
then enthuse
as though she’d
spontaneously come up
with the most delightful idea:
oral sex.

She’d entered the room
with a miniature
riding-hood basket
stocked with 
individually wrapped
moistened cloth towelettes
dangling from her fingers.
When she struggled 
to tear the wrapping,
her smile twisted a little.
She’d clean the guy’s groin
before, and again —
more gently —
after he’d come.

She opened 
a second towelette
to wipe her lips 
between patrons.   
What I particularly liked
about her blow jobs
was that she’d
bring a guy off 
in three, four 
minutes tops,
then, after lingering
on the display and swallow
of his cum in her mouth,
which did not appeal to me at all,

she would go back 
to sucking him off
while his dick 
was sagging down 
to limp for nearly 
as long as she had 
on the run up, and, 
for at least one guy,
the second round of sucking
had more impact
than the first.
He turned his head aside and shrieked
into his own shoulder.

The last guy
she blew 
had this cool 
bass baritone grunt,
and a short, thick dick
she seemed to like,
and she made 
a Tootsie pop sound 
each time she popped it 
out of her mouth.
She giggled 
in a slightly more 
delighted way for him
than she had for the others.

All the guys 
were super grateful
and kind of happy,
as though they’d 
just gotten 
a free car wash.
No money
changed hands.
They must’ve
paid outside,
like
a movie ticket.
Inside, they faced forward
and accepted her joy.

The big surprise
for me 
was that after 
the first few minutes, 
I didn’t mind
the pixilated dicks at all.
I didn’t 
need to see 
the lip-on-dick contact.
I could follow
the obvious progression
and read 
the implied emotion
in her courtesan face. 

Pixilated
dicks show modesty.
Her spaghetti-strap 
satin top—
which she hardly 
paid attention to 
for the first 3 guys— 
dropped off
one shoulder for the 
fourth guy. Her tit 
came out, 
but it was an accident.
She lifted it back 
with her thumb.

On the last guy, 
the one with the thick dick
and the baritone grunt,
both straps came off.
Her whole torso,
with its lovely clear
skin and her youth 
intact 
came into view.
You might have caught 
an accidental glimpse of her 
as you walked
past your teenage daughter’s
open bedroom door.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 25, 2020

Frank Rubino

We Love Sad Songs
 
I play the songs she listens to over and over.
They help me get into her mind
because those songs are playing in her mind too,
and the voice they take is her voice
inside her thoughts.
 
The voice she hears in the songs in her mind
is resigned to loss.
So much, she hears that voice
that’s sad, that’s yearning to be soothed,
and it makes me think that,
within her private experience,
she feels this yearning, and needs someone
to reach her.
 
Anyone you’re talking to,
anyone you’re standing next to,
or walking up the stairs with,
on their way with you in the meek herd
through the iron passageways
under Penn Station, across the iron gangplanks
hanging over the underground tracks—
anyone with their devices in their ears like networked robots,
all of them, also, have their sad songs.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 18, 2020

Jennifer Poteet

Family on Stone Harbor Beach


If only I could have joined them, 
the clean-shaven father 
in madras shorts who strained to manage 
both umbrella and cooler in the sand. 
He reached for the freckle-faced 
woman beside him. 
Their boy tugged at the towels 
slung over her left shoulder. 

They chose a remote spot near the dunes 
but I saw them from the dock. 
The boy helped his father secure 
the beach umbrella with a hammer. 
Soon, he ran, laughing, toward the waves. 
The father produced a ball, 
joined his son at the water’s edge 
and threw it to him. 

Boats bobbed in the distance 
like bathtub toys; 
a lazy airplane banner touted Goodrich tires. 
The mother put on a straw hat 
and started to read the newspaper. 
This was the family I might have had. 

My own father let my mother and me 
drag him to the seashore once, 
but wore a sports coat and dress shoes. 
He wouldn’t go anywhere near the ocean. 
My mother’s wet bathing suit 
dripped on his oxfords. They argued, 
then we endured a long car ride home, in silence. 

Now, the mother removed three sandwiches 
from the cooler and waved. 
Father and son, bodies bronze, 
stood in the sun and waved back. 
Only one thing was missing, 
it would have made them too perfect— a dog.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 11, 2020

Bill Moreland

Buy a Book Ya Bastids!


I sell reference books.
I’m a jockey in a cubicle
galloping across state lines 
and time zones.
My wobbly wagon is overloaded with
multi-volume, hard cover 
carcasses,
vetted by academics.
We offer it online free with the print 
and without that
digital ghost riding shotgun,
I’d have been extinct 
some time ago.
The Librarians I sell to have sentries;
Patience with fangs,
Fortitude with no budget.

I call them all,
and their names sometimes suit them;
from Somerval Linthicum 
at the Savannah Arts Academy
I can smell gardenias.
Tanya Faucet runs at the mouth.
Toylanda is a spoiled librarian.
But I will not cross 
Sister Loretta Marie Schollhamer
(assassins also have multiple names).
In the fall I like to call
Jennifer Two-Axe 
from Ichabod Crane High School.

I have a rambunctious librarian whose hobby 
is as a jammer 
for the Bay City Roller Girls
in the local Roller Derby League;
she elbows her way through the pack – 
on her back is stamped her pseudonym,
‘Sigourney Cleaver’.

Their breed, their kind is fierce and territorial.
The librarians’ heart beat as a pair of lions.
The American Library Association
were the first to push back 
against the Patriot Act and
“…opposes any use of governmental power 
to suppress the free and open exchange 
of knowledge and information 
or to intimidate individuals 
exercising free inquiry…”

Integrity like that you won’t get at Google.
In fact, they’ll sell it, they have a government contract.

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association
threatened to boycott our 
Notorious Lives set
if we did not expunge O.J. Simpson 
from its cover.
Editorial replaced him with Barry Goldwater,
and Barry Goldwater High School in Arizona refused to buy it,
a worthy exchange.
Our reference title on banned literature 
was itself banned
from a school district in northern Virginia 
of all places.
That is a ribbon we don with pride.

Once, a librarian whose building
was demolished by Hurricane Katrina
admonished me.
I told her our donation of a large set 
“was nothing, 
just books.”
And through tears she politely, 
firmly, as a librarian might,
sir-named my ass;
“When you scoop up books
with a flat shovel, 
and dump it 
in a muddy wheelbarrow, 
it’s more than ‘just books’, 
Mister.”

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 4, 2020

Frank Rubino

DJ


I walked out the 33rd street side of my building, 
across the street for lunch, and felt, “We’re all soldiers.”

I see more and more homeless people in Penn Station camped in the passageways,
behind the departure board near track one where there’s a wall they go behind.
Maybe the cops are letting them stay. The cops are an army.

One homeless man, whose stomach is bare even in winter 
because he wears a skimpy cropped shirt, 
lets us pass around him in coats and gloves.
Are we an army, too? 

I know the Amtrak cops in Penn Station because I hit my head
on a fire extinguisher, and we chatted while they waited to see if I had a concussion.

I met DJ waiting for the Boston Amtrak. 
He was just out of Rahway jail serving twenty years. 
“I am not that kind of person,” he said, “but I will kill you if you fuck me.” 
I said, “DJ, if you always react like that, you’re going to be ruled by anger.” 
“You’re right,” said DJ. He asked could I help him get a train ticket to Camden, 
to get back with his ex-wife.
I don’t know if she knew he was coming.

Later, I considered whether I’d done a good thing 
giving DJ twenty bucks.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 28, 2020

Jennifer Poteet

My Mother Wanted a Daughter So Much
 

She took off her silver earrings first, 
and pierced the silicone cup of her diaphragm 
with an earring post, 
and stood, naked in the bedroom. 
She skipped the spermicide, too, 
while she waited for my father. 
He didn’t want more children. 
There were two already 
from his first marriage. 
What if my father had stopped to look 
at that little lanced disk, 
dormant most of the time 
in a pink silk pouch 
on the bottom shelf of the linen closet?

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 21, 2020

Out of Tune

Tierra Sherlock


Whenever you came over,
you bee-lined for the guitar at the foot of my bed. 

I tried to learn to play when I was younger.
I spent hours sliding my fingers across the steel strings 
and pressing down so hard that they bled.

We laughed at how small my beginner guitar looked when you cradled it.
You said the quality was shit, 
but you still reached for the pick you always carried in your wallet.

I watched how easily your fingers found the frets, 
how you could feel for the right notes even with your eyes closed.
The strings never made a deep impression on your skin, 
your fingers never bled.

The guitar hasn’t been tuned 
since you stopped coming over.
I was never as good as you at letting the calluses form.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 7, 2020

Paul Leibow

Death’s been good


Death has been good to my neighbors.
I watched as they pulled their new Jag,
it’s gleaming black lacquer skin, out of the drive.

I notice the chill in the winter’s sun,
a thaw off the rear defrost
clearing horizontal slats on the back window.

They own the funeral home on Main Street
where I went to pay my respects to Sophia’s relatives.

The police managed the lines around the block:
they form that way when they die young.
Breast cancer took her at forty-­one.

I remember the first time Stacy, her beautiful sister,
introduced us on Palisades Avenue.
Sophia looked stunning.
I never fully understood why I felt that way.

I remember working with her in the art department
at Zip-­Five books.

I felt awkward when she was passed over for a position offered to me,

the art director’s job I didn’t deserve nor take.
Life can be cruel that way.

I was hoping she might have been offered the position after I left.
I don’t think that happens when your boss is sexist.

I recall the time she came over with her husband.
We all were shocked after her daughter fell and bit her lip.

Sophia was casual, holding the blood-­drenched napkin
on her daughter’s mouth as she stopped the crying.

Death already very confusing. Is more so when premature.
I never properly processed what happened.

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