Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, and do so with all your heart. --Marcus Aurelius

Let men see, let them know, a real man, as he was meant to live. --Marcus Aurelius

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reviewing and Reading

Life is full of surprises, we all know.  My April has been full of them.  After a winter of feeling like a wanderer inside my own skin, and of being affected by the death of a friend, Dan Jones, I have experiened an April full of energy and interests.  One thing is I began two blogs, this one and one about Texas poetry.  How these two came about and how they came to be called what they are called was somewhat a comedy of errors and complications due to the fact that my employer switched over to gmail and I was creating these blogs through gmail, and due to the fact that I was basically wandering rather than planning.  But everything has turned out ok.  As George Harrison sang on his last record--"If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there."

One surprise has been that I have not been writing this blog, which is the blog I thought I would write, and I have been regularly posting on the blog devoted to Texas poetry books.  And that is what I want to comment on now.  I have really enjoyed reading the four books I have written about:  Along Greathouse Road (Anne McCrady), The Woodlanders (Larry D. Thomas), Toss Me to the Waiting Sky (Mary Margaret Carlisle), and the human condition (Paul Christensen.)

The thing is, those who know me and my reading habits, know that I say that I do not read books, I read in books, especially poetry books.  Usually, I pick up a book and read a poem here and then flip some pages and a title will catch my attention, or I will see a form that interests me, and then I will put the book down.  I have thought about why I do that, and I think it is because my formal training in poetry was in literature classes and usually we read from anthologies.  Then when I began buying poetry, I would buy collected works or selected works by older, famous poets. 

So I was never taught that there was such a thing as a volume of poetry in the same way that there is a novel, something with a beginning, middle, and end.  Poems were individual things, and they were either great and worth saving and reading, or they were unimportant.  Looking back it is strange that I would think this.  I didn't think this way, say, about record albums.  Sgt. Pepper's is a conception, a unit, made of individual songs.  My wife makes fun of me that I still listen to albums or CD's from beginning to end.  She, on the other hand, prefers greatest hits records.  On records, I love the minor songs as well or better than the hits.  So why I wouldn't think the same way about poems is surprising.

Well, now I am experiencing volumes of poems in the way that the writers intended them to be read:  page one to page one hundred.  I am liking the flow and the movement and the repetitions and the echos.  I am not looking for the hits, for the anthologizable poems. 

Here I will say what I am attempting in those readings.  Actually, I may have just discovered the term I was looking for.  I never liked the fact that I called those blog entries "reviews."  "Reviews" seems to say that I was going to be evaluative, that I was going to raise a thumb up or twist the wrist into a thumbs down.  My goal, instead, is simply to see what these poets are concerned with and to discover what craft and what aesthetic they bring to the task.  What do they write about and how?  And I don't really care if they do it well or not.  Because, you know, it seems to me that the question of quality, in the long run, will not be decided by me or us, but by the generations.  And, on second thought, maybe not even by them.  So I think my term will be "readings."  "Readings in Poetry from Texas." 

I also have to say that the "review" as a genre has worn me out.  I used to do a good deal of "reviewing," which always included some sort of statement about "go to your bookstore today and purchase this new book.  You won't regret it."  Or another kind of statement, like "with this book, so and so has not lived up to what we expect from his previous works, let's wait until he gets his act together, we hope by the next book, and support him with our purchasing his books then"  or it could be so direct as "don't waste your money."  After a while, you begin to construct your review simply as a justification for your opinion.  It all began to seem a bit shallow and a waste of ink and time.

And we are just attacked daily with the score cards on celebrities and politicians, writers attempting to one-up each other in their clever assasinations.  I hope to leave that world behind.  I don't care who's in or who's out and I have no ambition to determine who is.  Let's just read each other, listen to each other, and maybe time will determine who's been meaningful.  

Saturday, April 23, 2011


As this is the first post of this blog, I begin with intuition and not design.  What will it become?  I do not know.  So I will begin with a poem I wrote a couple of years ago that brings together a couple of threads that are fraying themselves in my awareness today.  First, Marcus Aurelius.  Second, Easter.  And third, Katrina, which floods into the poem, midway.  But fourth, my sons are wanting me to go with them to the pool.  Enough of writing and fiddling with setting up this blog. 


Jesus stood among our diseases
and mixed sweet concoctions of word

and wheat and set them before us
to eat without complaint.  We all

believed what he said, but what he did
seemed intended to amaze and surprise

only the good among us.  “Hurry,”
he would say, “You have so little

time to lose your chains.”  He perplexed
the rich, rejected our offers

for easy credit; laughed at tax
disguised as handouts for the poor,

those hidden, stranded on rooftops
in hurricanes of our neglect.

Stealing what tiny craft survived,
he rowed into the rising waters

and found the frightened with brilliant
steady light.  We thought him a salesman

in Sears suits passing out coupons
for the circus of perverted saints.

But Peter observed what he knew
was miracle:  The morning bells

were ringing, and a liar found
the ground to kneel upon and pray.