How to start a broken country? How to bounce a broken ball? How to roll a broken carriage down a hill? You don’t. The hawk’s eye looks for shifting in the solid world, scans for movement in the known terrain, but slides with ease into a new perspective when the earth itself adjusts. I look forward to dozens of new cities, scores of new towns, even if this body won’t be around to dwell in them. Just a few hundred years may be all it takes for the earth to shift enough to knock a few burgs over the edge, while freshing hamlets dot the hills with saner commerce and open doors, and old husks of polises are filled with farms and art and sharp, smart eyes – as Detroit blooms again. What an optimist, I know, what a flower child, some might say. I am deluded? Mayhaps, though I have my days and many where the dark veil reigns, where sane culture seems a will-o-wisp, yet something somehow songs me, some scent around the corner, that some time not too far off, after a few more calamities, of course, and big ones (how else do we learn, it seems), and should we somehow bring our population down (or should it be brought down for us), and bring our manic repro urge to heel, and should the mad greed monsters somehow evolve into humans (and I know that’s a lot of somehows, but I’d much rather that than descend in despair), then we might just have a culture once again, and thrive, and thrive amidst, with insight, foresight, hindsight, and grace, moving more or less smoothly in the semi-solid world. Here’s to the real flower children, the ones we haven’t yet become.
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ANNOUNCE :: I’ll be reading a selection of prose poems from this very non-blog on Friday the 13th of June at the Last Word Reading Series in Berkeley. As any of you who glance at my website know, toward the beginning of each month I change out the Home Page (i.e., the one you’re reading right now) with new announcements, reviews, reflections, and for almost two years, several prose poem thingies of different sorts. They do vary a bit in type – this month’s for instance are more prosaic and didactic than usual – and many are among my favorites for short-form writings over the past good while. Since I can’t submit them for publication, at least to presses that won’t reprint anything already posted online, I’ve decided to do a reading just of my favorite posts. So come on down to Nefeli Caffe on the luckiest day of the year to hear some rarely-read pieces. Deets on the Events page. And don’t forget, you can always check ’em out right here by clicking on any of the Archives to the right side of this page, all the way back to September 2012.
ANNOUNCE :: I’m honored to have a couple of pieces selected for the Summer 2014 New Poetry Issue of the international online cultural magazine, London Grip. This fab zine posts a broad range of material weekly, including reviews of books, theater, art, and music, all kinds of cultural orgs and events, and lots of new works, including a quarterly issue of new poetry edited by Michael Bartholemew-Biggs. The current issue contains work by myself and 15 other poets from the U.K. and U.S. My pieces are two of the ecstatic odes, “Laundry” and “Venetian Blinds”, in publication for the first time. You can click here to check out the issue, and then on each writer’s name to see their work, or simply scroll down the page. You’ll find mine at the top just below the editor’s note – a double-honor!
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The daunting tasks ahead become the building blocks for a new mindset. Much as we would like, much as we yearn for stability, moving forward necessitates an evershift, and one that’s not always – or ever – predictable. We all know this – or do we? It often seems as if much of the species seeks to halt things in their tracks, to maintain a comfort zone at the cost of all else, to freeze the careen into a foregone stability, if only a stability of profit. We describe some folks and factions of this ilk as conservatives, a misnomer at best, when they’d oft be better described as preservatives. The Preservative Party. Status quo stamped in amber. Meanwhile time flies on, ripping through curtains and crumbling lives, and we all fly on, plotting and tumbling, trying to predict the outcome of the scree, trying to fix the dice, plunging and pulling back, each of us conservative and openthinking in recombinant ways, each of us hoping to preserve something, all in waves, pounding and thrumming, and occasionally, just occasionally, lifting our heads, or able to lift them, above the morass, and the scree disappears, the dice vanish, the tumbling puffs into smoke, and we go over there, build a simple table, a few benches, sit down, and draw up a way to live, and consider what living is.
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REFLECT :: A lot of big smashing poetry events in the Bay Area this fine May – and who says April’s the month for poetry? First we had the fab annual Berkeley Poetry Festival, org’d by Sharon Coleman and MK Chavez, hosting sixteen poets the likes of Rosa Lane, Arisa White, Rafael Jesús González, and Aya de Leon, with the Lifetime Achievement Award going to Avotcja Jiltonilro. Following that, the 40th Anniversary reading at the San Francisco Public Library for the Bay Area Poets Coalition, one of the most open, democratic poet orgs I’ve ever come across. To wit: the features for the event, even marking such a milestone, were chosen by lottery on the day of: Bill Vartnaw, Mary Ann Murray, and Richard Linker. Congrats BAPC for aging soooo gracefully! And finally but not leastily, our very own Poetry Unbound turned a full one year old on June 1, with a rousing feast of poetry and jazz (and cheer and great folks and birthday cake). I along with my co-host Clive Matson and Art House proprietor Harold Adler were honored to showcase the talents of Kayla Sussell, Charles Curtis Blackwell, and SF poetry/jazz ensemble COPUS. Orging a series is no small task (ask any of the above), and all that wordlove and soundlove in one room made all the work seem worth it. Not to mention that my carrot cake actually turned out quite scrumptious. Thanks to all who have contributed to Unbound’s first terrif year, and here’s to all the new friends and minds who will meet in the second!
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While I’m on the subject, I might as well get all of my prosy overgeneralized rants out in one month (at least the recent ones). Woo-hoo! Because the challenge of sitting down to table as a group of openthinkers (which some might call “liberals”, but I find that term problematic as well), is that by their nature they’re analytical, and I mean they practice the act of critical analysis, not bullshit rhetoric, and are therefore less likely to agree. Whereas preservatives follow the rote arg, employ the vetted platitudes, and are quickly satisfied that someone has done the thinking for them, as long as it’s couched in reassuring blab. So how do a bunch of Think-It-Yourselfers move forward while gridlocked by the mass of marching mindless? I don’t know! It’s like we’d have to agree or something, or agree to differ and march onward ourselves. This may be the one thing I cheered most in the Occupy movement, just how much was set aside by how many to make a common step forward, a common noise. Yes, it was not all-inclusive, and nowhere near as much as it imagined itself to be; yes, not all was set aside that might have been; yes, the mass movement was short-winded and easily disrupted by internal demons and external hoodlums; yes, there were many crits to be made (squawks the openthinking mind), but really, can’t we all take a deep breath a little more often, and stand fists in air to the manifest damage of the soul?
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Whenever Mary Mackey writes, she makes worlds. Whether you pick up one of her historical novels (The Notorious Mrs. Winston), her speculative early culture fiction (The Earthsong Trilogy), or her poetry (Sugar Zone and many others), you are guaranteed immersion in a universe that radiates from the focus of action outward. Her latest book of poetry, Travelers with No Ticket Home, is no different, except in that we journey without a guarantee of return. In this collection, Mackey transports us through several scapes, each as vivid as the last though vastly different in and of themselves. As she has in her previous two collections, she takes us through Brazil and into the heart of the Amazon. She travels with us there, but she is no tourist, as she and her husband, a professor of Environmental Studies, have been visiting regularly for over twenty-five years. This is her world, her backyard, a Rio and a rainforest that she knows, and she brings us to it with razor details swimming in verdant language (some of it Portuguese). So soon enough we find ourselves
nesta cidade dos sonhos
in this city of hallucinations
the air is like cola quente / hot glue
and the buildings are stuck waist-deep
in asphalt tão suave / so soft
you can chew it like gum (“Travelers with No Ticket Home”)
suspended on a black mirror that reflects the sky
we pass our fingers through clouds
as if they were the souls of birds (“A Estação das Chuvas / Rainy Season”).
Both very real and, yes, hallucinatory, her tone and word choice convey the impact of the places she deems to take us on several levels at once, the experience steeped in emotions, scents, cultural filters, shocks and epiphanies and the cycle of life lurking in every corner. This terrain is gorgeous and epiphanic, yet Mackey pulls no punches; whether stewing a monkey in cream sauce (everyone’s favorite image from “In Those Days Rivers Could Not Cool Me”) or lamenting for
…this city of despair where the poor live
in cardboard packing crates and children
are born to be shot (“Where I Left You”),
she remains uncompromising in her vivid and deft recounting.
Despite what I’ve said, lest you imagine this merely a travelogue, as the title implies these are places from which we might not leave, or which might not leave us. Perfectly in line with that conceit, this book takes us beyond the physical world to journeys into the affairs of the human heart and spirit. For Mackey also ventures more than a few steps into the experience of madness (via fever, drugs, and the world-beaten brain); explores the deep dusk of grieving, where lost ones “move toward us slowly like swimmers / floating toward the top of a pool that has no surface” (“Dreaming of the Dead We Have Loved”); and lifts us into the more ecstatic realms of human love. These latter pieces are given a section and a series title of their own, The Kama Sutra of Kindness, and it is indeed a kindness to place these toward the end of the book, lightening our journeys after treks through myriad daunting terrains.
There is, in fact, an ecstatic quality to much of this book, regardless of tone and subject, and this is precisely how Mary Mackey seems to travel – by throwing herself into life and place. And as language is itself a vessel, a carriage, a mode of travel, it carries that same excitement, an intoxication by which she transports us into the realms of the jungle, the realms of the mind from which there may be no complete return. As she notes in “After Carnival,” “how easy it is to give ourselves to the gods, o meu bem / how hard to take ourselves back”. Do yourself a well-deserved good, and book a one-way trip with Mary Mackey right soon.
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Then the death of a kitten puts everything in perspective – leaping, wild eyed, ready for life – gone in a stumble, by absolute chance. We are brought back to our fragility, and that of everything around us. Our lives and world just a flash in the night, though it all feels so correct. So when what seems a special life, tiny and fervent, is squelched, it is all the more reason to fight back – not against some abstract “system”, not against some theoried psych, but against the unfairness of physics and the tumble of time and rock. Against the unfightable. To mend. To treat each other well. To create space for smoother movement, smoother life. All the big issues not set aside, but collapsed into the tiniest of motions, the gestures of caring. To care, and care broadly. To work toward a culture where all are able to care, not just in grand actions, always welcomed, but in all those minute moments, a hello, a sip, a breath. Even in the difficult months, like the one I’ve just had, when you’ve got dramas splattered all over and stuck in your eyes, even then a gesture to lift uplifts us all, and makes us all slightly more human. And so, as tiny animals, we might live well, and thrive, despite the harried hail, and the maddening men, and the sheer sharp dark of the night.