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

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: