"[P]oetry makes nothing happen: it survives, / [...] a way of happening, a mouth." -W. H. Auden

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fit for a Sermon?

Today I was looking on Google for a link to a radio recording of one of my poems when I happened across two sermons that use that poem. I'm honored, but also humbled, and mostly I feel like these people should read my other poems -- or better, actually meet me -- and then they'd realize that I'm not a saint or a fitting sermon example. But the sermons are worthwhile in their own right, so here they are, by Revs. Jessica Rowley and Amanda Hendler-Voss, respectively.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Paris Review Poetry Purge: Update

The Writer's Chronicle featured my article
on The Paris Review "poetry purges."
In 2010, The Paris Review "un-accepted" poems originally slated for publication in the magazine when new editors came on board. This caused an uproar among writers and editors, and I was among those who thought this was an unethical action. The editors eventually agreed to a compromise and offered to publish the "un-accepted" poems on the TPR blog. Many of the "Purgerati," as they came to be known, have now appeared on the blog and the posts are grouped under the category "Poetry" (click "Older Entries" as well). The Purgerati poems are easy to spot because they each have an introduction by either Meghan O'Rourke or Dan Chiasson: 


The Result of the Police Investigation Is . . . Anybody's Guess

In August, I received the letter below in response to my complaint about the police officer who responded on the scene at the assault I experienced in July. The officer (a) did not file a report and (b) did not interview a witness who was standing with me. (See my earlier posts here and here for more details.)

What the letter indicates is that since this is a "personnel action" no information can be released about the results of the investigation. I have to take it on faith that they did the right thing and took appropriate action. What it boils down to is that the police department has no external accountability for its actions, and the public has to trust that their internal investigations are ethical, just, and sufficient.

This does not instill confidence.

P.S. - Steven is my first name, though I go by Luke. Also, the address is not current.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Art in a Time of War

"Guernica" by Pablo Picasso

A perennial question among artists is What is the function of art in a time of war? Art has historically served both the propagandistic purposes of the state as well as the protestations of dissenters. Much of this art, of course, has been and continues to be overtly "political." We are in an age in America in which it seems that--when they do produce overtly "political" work--artists rarely produce work favorable to the wars of the state. It's not a popular stance among literary types, to say the least.

In my mind, it is completely appropriate for artists to be aligned against the purposes of war, and I would argue that, generally speaking, this stance is faithful to the age-old function of art. 

The state's message in a time of war is a message of dichotomy. The language and images of the state, the military, and the media are focused on differentiating the enemy from us. It is the state's goal to subtly convince the public of essential dissimilarity between us and them

Consider the ever-present lauding of "democracy" in American political speech in times of war and "military action." Politicians speak of democracy as a good in and of itself in an attempt to justify the imposition of it on other nations, as if democratic nations had never committed atrocities of their own (e.g., the U.S. fire bombings and nuclear bombings in Japan, which targeted civilian children, women, and men, killing between 500,000 and 1,000,000 civilians). 

The tactic of the state, the military, and the media (in general) is to present us with simplistic, easy-to-swallow lies about ourselves and about the other. These lies boil down to plain dichotomies: We are virtuous. The enemy is evil. We are reasonable. The enemy is unreasonable. We have a superior political system. The enemy's political system is fundamentally flawed.

The artist, on the other hand, most often does the opposite -- that is, the artist bears witness to the essential similarity between one human and another, and by extension, between all humans. Joseph Conrad beautifully expressed this idea in his famous "Preface":
"[The artist] speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation -- and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts: to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity -- the dead to the living and the living to the unborn."

While the state, the military, and the media are engaged in oversimplification, the artist is engaged in complexities. Again, here is Conrad:

"[A]rt itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life, what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential -- their one illuminating and convincing quality -- the very truth of their existence. [...] [T]he artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate, he finds the terms of his appeal. His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities -- like the vulnerable body within the steel armour."
In fulfilling this vision of art's function, the artist need not write overtly about political matters or about the war(s) at hand. It is the empathy itself and the acknowledgment of both fundamental similarity and unsoundable complexity of the the other expressed in the artist's work that performs this function, regardless of subject or setting.

Yeats, in his poem "On Being Asked for a War Poem," seems to disparage the idea of writing a poem about war (also see Robert Pinsky's interesting recent post about misremembering this poem):

On Being Asked for a War Poem

I think it better that in times like these
A poet's mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter's night.

The possibility that Yeats seems to have overlooked in this response, however, is the possibility that a work of art need not overtly address the positions or policies or statements of the state -- instead, pleasing that young girl or that old man might itself be the function that counteracts the machinations of the state.

Friday, September 30, 2011

If Charles Dickens Wrote a Review

It is a far, far better song Death Cab for Cutie sings than they have ever sung before; it is a far, far better album they've made than they have ever made before.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Poem on the NPR Program "Being"

(photo: The Consumerist/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

A poem I wrote after experiencing a physical assault this July will air nationwide on the NPR program "Being" this weekend (check http://being.publicradio.org/stations/ for your local time) following the interview with Rabbi David Hartman, but the entire show, including my poem, is available now on the website. Krista Tippett's introduction to my poem begins at about minute 46:25. Listen here: http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/opening-up-windows/

The poem and my introduction can be read on the "Being" blog here: http://blog.onbeing.org/post/8640670635/hate-crime-a-poem-of-grace-and-gratefulness

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ave Atque Vale, Troy Davis

Ave atque vale, Troy Davis, a hero. He said in his open letter, "I have been spiritually free for some time." I hope it was so even at the end.

Troy Davis is about to be executed (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/21/opinion/a-grievous-wrong-on-georgias-death-row.html?ref=troydavis). Call: Judge Penny Freesemann (912-652-7252) or Larry Chisolm District Attorney 133 Montgomery Street Savannah, Georgia 31401. Phone: (912) 652-7308 Fax: (912) 652-7328 or (912) 447-5396. LCHISOLM@chathamcounty.org

Friday, September 9, 2011

Weak Devotions Now Available

I'm happy to announce that my first book of poems, Weak Devotions, is now available for purchase here
Art by Makoto Fujimura.

"Luke Hankins' poetry shimmers with intellect and craft. However, what is most surprising about it, especially in our time, is that it wrestles with the issues Donne, Herbert, Hopkins, Vassar Miller, and countless others also found worthy of their most impassioned work. Hankins' voice, which, even in the midst of a religious meditation, can be irreverent and secular, is neither out of date nor irrelevant to the lives of millions. But one need not be religious to be moved by poetry as finely wrought as is found in his brilliant title poem and elsewhere in this book." 
-John Wood

"There is great compassion in these poems, most especially for the vicissitudes of childhood, when the mystery of life is first unfolding. But Hankins understands that 'there are few words left sufficient to this world' to explain or console or lift up as praise, and that even the loveliest poem may prove a weak devotion. Still, Hankins does not give in to uncertainty or despair. Rather, in masterfully wrought poems, he exhorts us to 'abandon ideas and concepts of beauty' and 'be part of it,' a natural and blessed part of life's great dance. In the beautiful poem 'Wisteria,' the poet convinces us that it is in fact possible to give oneself over to the mysterious 'sweetening sun,' like a vine-wrapped tree that becomes 'what rises through it.' Such brave surrender is, I think, what gives these heartfelt poems their clarity, power, and grace." -Richard Jones

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Lion Lies Down With The Lamb

Maybe I'm a sap for posting this, but how can we not be moved by the lion lying down with the lamb? And how can we not be outraged at the willful disregard of fellow humans?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hate Crime in Asheville: Mountain Xpress Article about My Assault

The Mountain Xpress has posted an article about the assault I underwent last Thursday:

You may report license plate numbers of any vehicles in Asheville that match the description to me at lukehank [at] yahoo.com and I will pass them on to the police.

You can also see my poem about the incident here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Way They Loved Each Other: A Hate Crime in Asheville

"Blue, Green, and Brown, 1951" by Mark Rothko

I was assaulted at 12:30 am this Thursday in a parking lot at a local grocery store by 4 teenagers for no other reason than that they thought my shorts were too short and that I looked like a "faggot." Swollen face and jaw, black eye, was up all night with nausea and roiling emotions, then threw up at 4:30 am. Went to the ER. 3 fractures in my face.

Below is a poem I wrote about the incident. I don't feel any anger against the perpetrators, only confusion and pity and sadness. I do want them brought to justice and to face the consequences of their hatefulness and violence, but not because I hate them. 

The Way They Loved Each Other

What to be more astonished at:
my calm as the fist made contact
and I saw a flash of white
and the world went silent
as if I had stepped out of it
momentarily, only to be brought back
with a rush of sound and visible objects -- 
the way I asked them to help me
find my glasses, expecting them 
(even as they taunted me,
even though they had just assaulted me)
to feel underneath the violent tribal urge
the obligations of empathy --
the way even as one of them found my glasses
and smashed them again on the ground
I refused to believe that was really
what he wanted to do -- the way
they loved each other 
in the most primitive manner
but loved each other nonetheless
despite feeling the need to punish a "faggot"
who did not dress like them, because
he did not dress like them --
the way tears and nausea overwhelmed me
nightlong much more than had the blow itself --
the way such small suffering can feel
unbearable -- the way no strength is found
for what seems to have no explanation,
a troubled mind more harmful
to the body than fractured bones.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Battle Cry to Treat this Absence: Son Volt and Harold Camping

Harold Camping has been on my mind lately, for obvious reasons (see my previous posts here and here). The song below, "Back into Your World," by one of my favorite bands, Son Volt, strikes me as incredibly apt. It sounds like it could have been written for Harold Camping:

You should have known
what is real by now.
Let the judges meet their maker.
Can't slow down,
burning that four-barrel speed,
a battle cry to treat this absence.
Let me back into your world.
At the blink of an eye,
no uncertain terms.
Let me back into your world.

Dean Young on Morning Edition after Heart Transplant

Poet Dean Young talks with NPR's "Morning Edition" after his heart transplant and reads three beautiful poems here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Poem for Harold Camping

James Tissot (1836-1902), "Peter and John Run to the Sepulchre" 


dedicated to Harold Camping

Now he will have to face
the breathing machine,
the morphine, the ordinary
death, the humiliation
of having thought himself 
bestowed with a rare place
in the ecclesiastical annals,
a soul privileged
to see the Lord
returning on the clouds,
to meet him in the air.
At 89, he at last
encounters his mortality
and trembles, wondering if 
his faith, too, will prove mortal.
“Sue,” he says to his daughter
on the phone as the hour 
of his rapture passes,
“I’m a little bewildered.”

Note: See http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-rapture-20110522,0,5118540.story

Reading John Wood and Thinking of Harold Camping

Pieter Pourbus, 1551

Yesterday, as the hour — time zone by time zone — of Harold Camping's prediction that the rapture would occur passed, I began to feel great pity for Camping. I imagine that the failure of his delusion must be utterly devastating. His "prophecy" and preaching has done great harm to many (incredibly) credulous people, but I think it cannot have been a malicious act on his part, but a sincere attempt to live up to a delusion that he firmly believed. Here is a fascinating brief view into this man and his family's life from an article on the Los Angeles Times website, with a quote from Camping's daughter, Sue Espinoza:
On Saturday morning, Espinoza, 60, received a phone call from her father, Harold Camping, the 89-year-old Oakland preacher who has spent some $100 million — and countless hours on his radio and TV show — announcing May 21 as Judgment Day. "He just said, 'I'm a little bewildered that it didn't happen, but it's still May 21 [in the United States],'" Espinoza said, standing in the doorway of her Alameda home. "It's going to be May 21 from now until midnight." 
"I'm a little bewildered," we hear the 89-year-old, who has apparently staked all of his life's energies and hopes on this one day, say to his daughter at the failure of his prophecy. It is utterly sad.

Thinking about these things, I was reminded of a long poem by John Wood about the Hoadeites, a mid-nineteenth-century religious community that believed Jesus would return in 1857. Here is one section (from Wood's Selected Poems):

from "The Gates of the Elect Kingdom"*
by John Wood

XVI: Waiting for Jesus

They waited from New Year's to Year's End
as expectation and disappointment rose to fill each day,
rose like the ripe sweet stench of silage
that hovered over the farm all summer.
Most thought it would be New Year's;
then that it would be Easter; and then, and then,
and on and on till finally at last on the Year's Eve
at midnight's wide eye's twinkling, they knew
in that sparkled turning He would descend
star-like upon the fields with light falling about Him
and night turning morning, and years and time all falling away
as clocks and calendars began again at noon in the year One.
And so they prepared the greatest feast they'd ever set:
pieces of comb were broken from the hive
heavy with honey and big as hands;
pigs were roasted and glazed rosy
with the jam of sweet plums from last canning;
and hot cabbage in wide wooden bowls
was shredded and sweetened and studded with caraway;
and jars of peaches, pickled and smelling of clove
and cinnamon stick, were opened and set out;
and the long table looked as it never had looked.
And the sisters went about their work
asking the questions they'd asked all year:
"What will you say to Him?" "What will you do
if He looks at you?" "What if He touches your hand
when you set His plate before Him?" And they worried,
"Will I be able to say, 'More cabbage, Lord? More pork?
Some cider for your cup?" And the men rehearsed their lines, as well:
"We've waited a long time, Lord; thank You for coming."
"Do You plan to shift the seasons, turn winter back,
to begin the planting now?" "Do You need a dray, Lord,
or will Your plow furrow through fields at Your touch?"
And "Forgive us our stupid questions, but this is so now, Lord;
we don't know how it is to work with You, or if we even need to speak."
But by six in the morning discontent and anger had set in,
the pork was cold and covered with a caul of grease,
the women had fallend asleep round the long table,
and von Tungeln, one of the original twelve,
said he'd had his doubts, that Hoade was false,
and he and his were heading westward. And rage broke out
like a fire in the corn and faces were dark as bruises
and others said they'd go with von Tungeln
or would just go. And they did and the end began,
and all Winkler's words couldn't stop it:
"Even prophets can misfigure,
but the Vision's still true.
Christ's still coming.
Why leave; life's good here."
But Winkler had no voice for prophecy
or magic and could hold few for long--
and finally none but his own, and they worked
what acres they could and still believed,
still waited, still sometimes picked up
the bright, sweet scent of vanilla on the air.

*Reproduced by permission of the author from Selected Poems: 1968-1998 (The University of Arkansas Press, 1999)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Featured Artist: Bruce Bond

Caravaggio's Narcissus, which graces the cover of Bruce Bond's book, The Throats of Narcissus.
Bruce Bond's poem, "Jon Faddis and the High Note," was awarded second prize in the first annual Asheville Poetry Review William Matthews Prize, selected by judge Sebastian Matthews from a stellar group of finalists, and will appear in the 2011 issue of Asheville Poetry Review. Bond will be participating in a reading along with the 1st- and 3rd-place winners (Michael White and Mary Makofske, respectively) at Asheville Wordfest on Saturday, May 7th at 4:00 at the YMI Cultural Center in Asheville. In anticipation of that reading, I have asked Bond's permission to reproduce "Echolalia," an amazing poem from his book The Throats of Narcissus, here. 

Bond's mastery of metaphor and phrase is ubiquitously evident, as, for example, when he compares the sound of a spoken phrase, though it be a question, to "the wraith of answers," which is in turn compared to "the bucket returning with air from the bottom." This poem is a powerful exploration of the ways we somehow find comfort within the comfortless reality of mortality--it should be impossible, but nevertheless it happens--and Bond's poem is one such impossible source of comfort for me.

by Bruce Bond

Late in the day's contagion
of patients, my mind consumed
in my body's problems, my difficult heart,
I see a girl on the waiting-room carpet
crouched in her invisible house.
She is fitting a red plastic hammer in the hole
a doll's head should be,

pounding a nonexistent nail
into the eye of her shoe,
and to my own quiet surprise I ask
What's wrong?   What's wrong,
she says, word for word in a colder music,
as if speaking were her way
of listening, of passing my question on.

I'm not the only one between us
lost in translation, unlocking the voice
inside the voice, each voice a doll
split from another doll's belly;
whatever I say is her tongue's gospel;
she would make herself small for me.
And since she's not my child,

I'm bound to ask again, compelled
like the lonely confessor on a bus. 
We could be talking to our own bodies
our stunned pulse, a frozen hand
waiting for replies in pins of feeling.
Heaven knows what lies there
coiled in her ear, breaking my English

down into an ever quieter English,
if what she hears is a query
descending, a little drier on her lips,
or the wraith of answers, released:
the bucket returning with air from the bottom.
It reminds me of the malice of children,
how they mimic one another into madness,

though I know better. That night I catch
my breath in the stairwell.
With every step a fading stutter of feet.
It's a story so foreign I feel mine
pale where hers begins, with a doll
whose head pounds the daylights
into the cold bright nail of sleep

what's wrong, what's wrong, what's wrong.
I too want a way out, to make a person
of my problems and so survive them,
my heart stronger, clearer. I want to unlock
the hole in her throat with my words in it,
and I keep going there, stair after stair,
a stranger's breath on my own tongue.

*Reproduced from The Throats of Narcissus (University of Arkansas Press, 2001) by permission of the author.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Portraits by George Terry McDonald

Here is a very cool flyer featuring artwork by George Terry McDonald for the translation event I'll be participating in at Asheville Wordfest on May 6th. (More details here and here.) I've included a few of the portraits in original size below the flyer.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Heart Found for Dean Young

A heart has been found for poet Dean Young, who has been awaiting a donor, and he was in surgery today. It sounds like things have gone well so far: http://isak.typepad.com/isak/2011/04/breaking-a-heart-for-dean-young.html

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Featured Artist: William Pitt Root

William Pitt Root was one of the featured poets at the First Annual Asheville Poetry Review Reading Series (along with Marilyn Kallet and Pamela Uschuk), and he shared the marvelous poem below, which I have reprinted from his book White Boots: New and Selected Poems of the West with his permission. He told the audience that he saw a video of slugs mating on a television nature program and was mesmerized. This poem is the result. I have also included a video of slugs mating below the poem. It is truly incredible, and Bill's poem is a moving and fitting tribute to this wonder of nature.

Slugs Amorous in the Air
by William Pitt Root
"The spirit moves,
Yet stays:
A small thing,
                -Theodore Roethke

On mucous films they glide,
gracefully monstrous:

slick misbegotten whales,
halved, cast out onto land,

shrunken, left to cross forever
the shoreless sea of earth.

Indifferent to us,
these constant voyagers

detecting in each other clues
of readiness--who knows how?

They soar like gradual
eagles up a bank of tree

out onto a dark current
of limb, then dangle

from a single length
of shared umbilicus

high in clear blue
air, spinning

slowly in the globe
of their own motion,

two beings intent
upon each other

as only lovers are,
each laved by the liquid other

in bodylength embrace.
Like darkly pairing tongues

or the sundered halves
of Leviathan

trying bright reunion
in the sea of air,

they hang in that whole kiss
while we look on

radiant with disgust and envious,
pitching toward awe

as from each head
organs emerge unfurling

like silk parachutes
exquisite with awareness,

each coddling its exact
other in the counterfeit

with a long careful touching,
numinous as saint,

unutterably lewd
as they merge

in a bright soft lock
joined as orchids

might join if animated
by desire, trembling

blossom against blossom,
slow pulse

matching slow pulse
as these doubly sexed

beings will do,
continuing an hour

and more,
each gross shape further

extending (from the chill
of what should be

its head) the lucent
figure of an organ

wholly sexual as angels,
male and female brilliance twinned.

And what passes
between them

in this urgent healing
sought by the never whole

passes slow as nectar
shining in the deepest

flower we know
and multiplies

into these glistening miracles
we who grow gardens

in our annoyance
never guess.

*Reprinted from White Boots: New and Selected Poems of the West (Carolina Wren Press, 2006) by permission of the author.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Xylophone Played by Gravity and a Wooden Ball

This is the kind of thing that is possible when people are devoted to beauty:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Poem as Devotional Practice

My essay on the devotional mode in poetry, looking particularly at the 17th-century Metaphysical poets and at the contemporary poet Franz Wright, is now available online at Contemporary Poetry Reviewhttp://www.cprw.com/the-poem-as-devotional-practice-luke-hankins-on-the-metaphysical-poets/

An excerpt:
Although it is, of course, impossible to know, based on the text of the poem alone, to what extent a poet did or did not have the conclusion of the poem in view during the act of composition, we can say this much, at least: Some religious poems (like Herbert’s “The Search”) dramatize a mental or spiritual struggle; other religious poems (like Donne’s “Holy Sonnet X”) do not purport to dramatize a current struggle, and instead explain or explicate a struggle that happened prior to the composition of the poem. In the latter case, the entire poem functions as a conclusion; even if there is some dramatization, as there is in Donne’s poem (a speaker personifying and addressing death), there is no uncertainty in the rhetoric since the conclusion is foreknown and stated or implied from the beginning. This kind of poem engages the reader the way a sermon or an essay might. On the other hand, the rhetoric of a poem that dramatizes a struggle in the literary “present,” as Herbert’s poem does, proceeds with uncertainty and thus engages the reader the way a play might. This effect is intensified to the extent that the reader senses that the poet’s composition of the poem proceeded in uncertainty—not only of the literary or formal outcome of the nascent poem, but also the spiritual outcome of engaging the poem’s idea.