Saturday, November 25, 2006

Twilit Pirates

This is the last iteration of the "pyrite twilight" combination that I can think of, but as always I can feel more combinations surging as close as my serotonin, and, like it, dammed back by my own numbness, but waiting there, staying as easy and close as words rhyming with each other. The completely def Marc McKee, the other night, mentioned a quote by Ben Harper, who said something like, "If you like the song on the album, you should have heard the one in my head," and that's kind of how my poetic obsession works--it's this charging toward the perfect combination of words that part of me believes really exists, on a horizon separated from me by the various razor wires conjured up by fear. But the poetry, like anything with love in its wiring, works better with the sense of effortlessness and infinite possibility that come with summer evenings.

That's the breed of evening outside right now, all weighted with the lightness of the wind itself, that doesn't carry any fragrance of crushed, fermenting leaves, but holds this spice like a pirate might raid a merchant ship for. It's a sweet night, and sweeter since I just discovered just how many versions of "Cheek to Cheek" are on ITunes. That's the song that was on the "English Patient" soundtrack, and I think at the end of "The Purple Rose of Cairo," that Woody Allen movie where Jeff Daniels plays a guy who comes down off of a movie screen to rescue Mia Farrow. The other song that the night brings to my memory is the one Johnny Depp sings at the end of the first "Pirates of the Caribbean," with his gold tooth winking and the steering wheel like the wooden corona of some antique star in his hands. I can't quite remember how it goes, but just thinking of the scene gives me that pirate kind of feeling. It's a good feeling to have, in the confines of one's own home, where there's no temptation to pillage or plunder.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Tiny Crisis On a Finite Earth

A long time ago, DC had this story arc called "Crisis On Infinite Earths," and the name has stuck in my head ever since then for its very intense drama. It's not just a crisis on Earth, no. That would be nothing. It's like the gorgeously hyperbolic drama that is the superhero narrative, most of the time. The world is always ending. A villain has always kidnapped, not just anyone, but the president or whoever else in the story stands for the messiah. The superhero's life is always threatened, even though it's been proven, with Superman (and the aforementioned messiah) that death, while catastrophic, is only temporary.

So it's that kind of a crisis that I'm coming to you with now. Since I've been working on a book of poems about Batman for the last four years, and my handy-dandy neurosis has kept the obsession about the poems ratcheted into an infinitely high gear, I was excited to take the Which Superhero Are You? quiz at Even though I knew which questions would lead to me being called Batman, I was struck by how many questions led me away from him. Yes, I do like redheads. Yes, I like to fly. Who doesn't? Yes, I have inner darkness, but I don't generally hurt people without realizing it. And I turned out to be Superman. This is only a problem because, in the metaphorical schema that runs the poems, my next oldest brother, Ryan, is clearly Superman--hard-working, good-hearted, father of three, lost the coke-bottle glasses of his youth to become a buff, heroic computer programmer for Atlas Van Lines. Do I need to scrap the whole book?

No! You could have told me that, whoever you are. We're post-confessional, and, even in the confessional era, the poets didn't necessarily tell their life stories factually. The sense of authentic connection to the reader was used to channel a heightened emotion, which in turn fuelled the mixture of structure and abandon that lyrical architecture springs from. It was definitely important, but the mask was equally important--the sense that the poet was playing a part. Of course, even that can be an intimacy.

T.S. Eliot, in "Little Gidding," meets a ghost on the road, and they walk, and his
ghost, who has been generally identified as Yeats with other figures intermingled, gives him an authentic take on how old men view the world. It's one of the most straightforward passages in Eliot, in my teeny (or, sorry, Super) opinion, and it corresponds to a passage in a talk he gave about Yeats, where he's discussing the revelation of Yeats's age in a poem as a personal victory. That autobiography, that revelation that the poet is human, does something wonderful, but Eliot has to come to that point by a very different path from Yeats. But they end up being similar people, just as Batman, after lots of counselling, would probably take off his mask and discover that he was always Superman after all, and that to be human was to be superhuman.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving, superfriend. Whoever you be.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The pyritic twilitic

The great Melanie Dusseau suggested "pyritic twilight," and it rules, like she does. From her, I learned to look at pop culture with new reverence, and she's written beautifully about it in her poetry and elsewhere. It seems strange now to divide it from literary and high culture, and one of the sweet aspects of postmodernism's project was the attempt to fuse the two again. So much of art since the end of church patronage seemed to flounder around the question of what to depict instead of the holy family, and what's come since then has shown us another kind of holiness.

The one who popularized the word holy again in our lifetimes was Burt Ward, who played Robin on the Batman tv series. Holy worked as an adjective for him over and over again, and I think it helped keep me spiritual. It certainly helped keep me batmanic, as did the story I read on an ABC news site today, about scientists who have trained dolphins to whistle the Batman theme.

But now I'm talking about Batman again. It's weird how often it pops up in my conversation, or maybe not weird, since I've been working on poems about Batman for the last four years, on and off, and have been following Kevin Young's advice, that the key to writing a book of poems about one topic was to get obsessed. It worked. I think I knew it was working when it seemed perfectly natural to me to draw a Batman logo on my chest, not to show anyone, but just to try to channel the language. Fortunately, they can medicate stuff like this, now. Woo hoo.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The pyrite twilight

I've been wanting to use that in a poem somewhere, because it's repetition of "i" sounds to the point of being glam, but have been having trouble justifying it, for the same reason. So it's safer to put here, since I'm safely unlinked to anyone else's blog and thus in my own little peninsula (or isthmus?) of tha blogosphere. And it's weird how animate that little phrase feels, like it's wanted to be put in some kind of poem somewhere, and been getting a little peeved at me for not including it. But therapy has helped me to see that poems are not people, even though they are very sexy and companionable, many of them.

But sexy and companionable would also describe Eliot's "Four Quartets," I'm discovering, as I've seen that my comments on his project, persona, and stance come a little from disagreement with his spiritual principles, but more because I've got an inner T.S. Eliot who's absolutely floored by his project, and absolutely buys it, and I've been repressing him for years. But, man, when he takes me through the whole of human history, into his own poetry-weary ruminations and out to where the thorns are bleeding roses and the wire is singing in the blood, how can I not follow him to "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time"? I've found myself like a kid unwrapping that quote like a Christmas gift from an archangel, saying "can it really be true?"

Amazing stuff. And I have a feeling he'd see "pyrite twilight" and sniff at it British-ly, and then offer back some variation on it with the wisdom of ages blowing a dusty sonata through its crystal syllables. Aw yee-uh.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tha Fire and tha Rose

The other day, I used "tha" on a handout for my composition students, then realized that most of them had matured into a hip-hop too far past NWA for that to instantly mean both "the" and "the speller of this word with an 'a' must be at least a little bit gangsta." So, it's possible that they might not see me as gangsta. That's probably for the best.

While T.S. Eliot probably wouldn't have described himself as "gangsta," Frances Dickey, the marvellous Mizzou lit professor, was telling our class the other day that he tended to think of himself as a jazz poet, and not the high priest of obscurity that much of the world saw. Such phat rhymes as "Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing" were, to him, maybe more verbal music than a gnash of teeth.

I spent a couple of hours this morning huddled over his "Four Quartets," with my attention first totally focused, then blurring into the empty space between the studious Chad and the Chad totally fed by the nectarous autumn sunlight out the window, and the bright flashes of glance through the front window by people trotting down the sidewalk, and realized that that space is where at least some of the poetry is set, that he's trying to find a place outside of time to just plunk down and stare at the world from, and that's exactly what I've been doing in my foggy recent years. He's investigating the electric connection between us and the industrial world, feeling "the wire in the blood," the surreal, popular connection between some of us and the Christian god, and all of the other connections he can think of, analyzing how each affects him and time, and, through it all, trying to get out of the self that's addicted to high society, toward the self that's pointed toward transcendence. The idea is that the high-society self has to be completely undone in order to pave the way for something greater, the God that comes as a darkness, as a "hollow rumble of wings."

His voice, in these poems, shifts based on his situation, and that fluidity of identity, that sense of self as something that can always dissolve and be remade, is something that bugs me, because it's something that I've had ever since I was a kid, and I stumbled on the thought that I had no way of independently confirming that anything was real. Some people have no problem just being themselves, and seeing all changes that happen to them as being situated within a stable identity. That makes sense to me; I've been pantomiming that approach for a few years now, and reading Eliot will show me a little more of a road map, I think. Although his approach did lead to wearing green face paint to night clubs, and I don't know if that's my style.

The most interesting part of sitting in the coffee shop, as always, was listening to the conversations around me, and looking up furtively at the beautiful people who walked by, and sat down, and talked--the man with the walrus mustache and the voice like a low chord on an organ who told the young, blond reporter about moving public benches to discourage the homeless from congregating in certain parts of town and scaring the public; the girl at the counter who speaks Spanish in a slow, honeyed tone; the dozens of other people who sat in there, or walked by outside, all caught in the same gorgeous quality of sunlight today, like they were absolute, and so was the light that hit them.

"Four Quartets" ends with "and the fire and the rose are one," and I've internalized that line in the last couple of weeks, as a way of talking about the merging of the internal, incandescent energy we all carry and the lush energy born out of love. But I don't know. If you see me wearing green face paint, you'll know my rose and fire are still separate from each other. Have a great day.