Thursday, July 27, 2006

Official Hiatus

You're wondering how you'll notice? Well, you'll notice when I come back. I'm off to rest, read, and re-group; when I return, I have a class on "Teaching Poetry" to prep and lead, which should prompt a variety of postings, and a new version of my usual "Reading Poetry" course as well. New books all around--it should be interesting.

On thing that my immersion in romance fiction has done, oddly enough, is give me a new appetite for poems, if not necessarily for poetry criticism. I'm packing Christian Bok's Eunoia and Lawrence Joseph's Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos along with the swoonier material. We'll see how they measure up!

--Gone fishin'


Sunday, July 02, 2006


For the first time, yesterday, I checked out the Sitemeter statistics on this blog. I'm stunned: evidently, some of you out there are reading me in Lima, Peru, in South Africa, in Germany...all around the world. I had no idea, but now that I know, I'll try to do better, I promise.

Which means what? More about teaching and poetry, and less about ouds? Probably, but bear with me for one or two more personal posts as the summer goes by.

Tonight, for example, I'm thinking about Powers. Not powers of horror, powers of darkness, or even Norman Finkelstein's fine long poem Powers, part three of his trilogy Track, which I'll be teaching in another two weeks over at Chicago's Spertus Institute. No, I'm thinking about the Powers I learned to love in Ireland two summers ago: John Power & Son's Irish Whiskey. I bought a bottle for myself on father's day this year, and have been savoring it, and the memories it stirs up, ever since.

Some of those memories, as it happens, are entirely literary. I first heard of Powers in a poem by William Corbett, whose freshman comp class my first year at Harvard stays fresh in my mind after 24 years. (I can only hope one or two of my own classes have that staying power for students.) Bill was a wonderful, genial, enthusiastic teacher, and is a wonderful, genial, enthusiastic poet. A few years back I reviewed his memoir, Furthering My Education, and his then-most-recent collection of poems, Boston Vermont, for my favorite journal, Parnassus. Reading it, I was struck by a poem called "At Last," which I take to be about what it was like to write the memoir.

"Thirty years writing / this book / and now it comes fast!" Corbett grins.
I put down
the certainties of my youth.
Satisfying to work all day
no longer embarrassed
by who I was.
I am on the bus when
these words come to me
and having no pen, buy one
in Cambridge, an expensive Cross,
green and black Lalique
like frog skin,
treat for all that I have done.
I use it waiting for Ed
in The Cellar's dark corner
over Powers and a Newcastle Brown.
I had to look up "Powers" at the time, and I remember how much I savored Bill's off-hand, all-but-unconscious rhyme between the poet's restored "powers" and his chosen tipple. (A lesser, more self-dramatizing poet wouldn't have chased it down with the Newcastle Brown.)

A few years later, again while writing a piece for Parnassus, I stumbled over this in The Orgy, Muriel Rukeyser's autobiographical novel about a trip to Ireland:

The Irish touched my lips, cool, and then branched out in purity of fire, lips, breath, breasts, and reaching out and down, in concentration more like cognac, in the most noble white strength. The clearest fire of color I have ever seen was when a photographer set up a bank of lights to make a close-up of my left eye, and the blaze went off beside my head. There was a moment of black; and then two flames in sequence, the most intense lime-green, the most appalling lavender, that I have ever seen, burning, beyond all color. Earthly color is the shadow of what I saw.

All other whisky is the shadow of Power's.
I don't know about you, but I'd be happy to see more product endorsements in poetry. So far in my life, I have poetry to thank for one lamb dinner, saved when I remembered Elizabeth Bishop's line about a sea "green as mutton-fat jade," and for a truly fine tipple. Surely I should have learned more than that after 30 years of reading! Ah, well, perhaps another memory will murmur its way to the surface if I have just another drop before dinner. Until then,

(Image removed per request--)