On the Value of Poets

If I had to hold up the most heavily fortified bank in America, I’d take a gang of poets. The attempt would probably end in disaster, but it would be beautiful.

– Roberto Bolaño, in “THE BEST GANG,” (January 1999 – April 2000), Between Parenthesis

Always Near Poets

We are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps but an expression of a poetry that was lost.

– Gaston Bachelard, in The Poetics of Space

I’ve seen it all…

Well, it’s Ninth and Hennepin

All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes

And the moon’s teeth marks are on the sky

Like a tarp thrown all over this

And the broken umbrellas like dead birds

And the steam comes out of the grill like the whole goddamn town’s ready to blow

And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos

And everyone is behaving like dogs

And the horses are coming down Violin Road and Dutch is dead on his feet

And all the rooms they smell like diesel

And you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here

And I’m lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway

And I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat

And no one brings anything small into a bar around here

They all started out with bad directions

And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear

One for every year he’s away, she said

Such a crumbling beauty

Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won’t fix

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse

With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet

Till you’re full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin

And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen

And I’ve seen it all

I’ve seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train

– Tom Waits, “9th & Hennepin,” one of my favorite poems, which came to mind today when I crossed 9th Street, while driving down Hennepin, in downtown Minneapolis.

Typical

Every week or so, I take all the little scribbles I accumulate in various apps and on strange, half-forgotten scraps of paper and I file them in their proper place in my system; a process I call my notebook démêler (h/t to the Cajuns of my wife’s homeland for the term, which is a fantastic way of saying “de-messification”). Today I was doing all this de-messificaiton and I noticed my list of books to read was kind of outdated (new books to add, books I’ve read to remove). Anyway, my point is that in the ten minutes it took me to update the list, I somehow managed to buy yet another book of poetry. Typical.

Also: to all the publishers who are thoughtful enough to include a page that helps you set the text size correctly on your e-reader so the poem line breaks are shown correctly, thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you for publishing poets.

Prophecy

What prophecy actually is is not that you actually know that the bomb will fall in 1942. It’s that you know and feel something that somebody knows and feels in a hundred years. And maybe articulate it in a hint — a concrete way that they can pick up on in a hundred years.

– Allen Ginsberg, Paris Review, “The Art of Poetry No. 8”

Still I Rise: Maya Angelou

The great Maya Angelou, spinning hope and wisdom and anger and love, always a difficult balance to achieve, but damn, Dr. Angelou, you make it look so easy:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

– via Kottke.org

The Power of Process

look

I’ve always admired poets, who manage to express so much under the significant constraints imposed by language. The selection of constraints has a great deal to do with a poet’s process, and Solmaz Sharif, evidently not content at the typical array of linguistic constraints, composed the poetry in Look around the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. The result of his process is a powerful commentary on war, conflict, and language.

– via Hyperallergic

The World as I See It

I can’t help it: I watch the world, I read the news, I let all these urgent messages crash through my head. I imagine among them I hear the noise of voices straining to outshout each other’s prayers. I ignore it all, like a disgusted god like a regretful creator, totally over what he has made. …