Thursday, November 29, 2007

I was me. I was being introduced by Chris Merrill at Prairie Lights. I was about to give a reading.

In reality, I joked that I was a 'free agent' in the Friday afternoon workshop that the International Writing Program offers. By 'free agent', I meant that I did not belong to any organization and was sitting in on the class for my own edification.

Chris Merrill introduced me as the "A-Rod of 'free agent' poets in Iowa City."

After stepping up to the podium, I said I was more like the Andruw Jones of free agent poets: "Nobody wants me, but that doesn't make me any less awesome." The crowd laughed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

in dreams i was switching back and forth from existence as a cat—then to encounter the late cat of my daughter's and mine--prowling his old haunts in a yard we had years ago in back of place we lived in--

and going back and forth from cat to human--much as cats go back and forth limnally from human world to cat world--living alongside and among humans, then going outside among cats and animals, birds--trees--

so a poem is a movement in the grass through which one sees the
movement of a cat--the ways the fur is brushing aside the grass
blades--and making a sound in passing via the rubbing--which turns into a "rubBEing"--(the art work i do which some call rubbings/frottage i call rubBEings as they are the emergence of beings--via touch that responds to their call--)

the rubBEings move across a fence in the light, golden, which then
turns to a cool shadow--the movements of lines in fence of grey faded wooded, washed out by rains, bleached in sun and faded by shades—the myriad lines speaking and singing--voices which turn into those of cats--and back among the foliage scattered among grass, close to the ground and through cat eyes watching patiently as the cat of ours is moving slowly, imperceptibly, towards something of deep focused absolute attention that one finds glowing in its eyes--the movement for a moment suspended as the eyes grow large with the image of the prey--then the pounce--and while cat in air one's own vision is tilting wildly upwards and sees another cat spiraling down from a tree--the twisting tail that acts as a rudder to make sure the fall is completed with the cat on all fours--and there before one suddenly not a cat but a painting, as though a piece of a wall by rauschenberg has dropped from the sky--and reaching for a paint brush with my again cat
mouth teeth--beginning to paint on this wall of red and white—gleaming freshly laundered with dew in the yard where the old cat is prowling about now, a bouquet of flowers stuffed in its mouth--

speaking in french with the cat in the now dappled wall as the
sunlight has shifted and a sea-blue is flowing over the fence to the
right--which has turned a golden yellow and atop of it sitting another cat--

the morning air blew cool--le reve fraichit--calling in dreams--and
ripples among the little patches of tufted grass as now it has
changed scenery and back in a yard behind a house in watertown,
MA--and there is my little cat Max and we are building our giant shrine monument to the espresso machine, made of vacuum cleaner and car parts and gleaming bits of metallic junk--

a spaceship for time travel and wakening into this room beside the
last vestiges of departing cats pictures and poems which come back
again into another focus as one moves to rise and there finds a chair and sits and begins to draw--

the coffee and cigarette smoke of the "johnny guitar" lifestyle
wafting across beaches which elongate in th emind's eye and working on a mapping of an essay with a woman approaching the water in the sunlight of a mediterranean morning--as cold air flows in from the fresh snow covered ghetto scape--

and quiet is filing the air like smoke--streaming across paper where notations begin to emerge--and the faces of the strategies of the poems begin to move--not faces, simply markings--hatching their way into a being that begins to rise sonorously into the tranquil and chilly air among visions that swim like fish past the gazing eyes of a cat drinking coffee who turns back into a man dreaming of a poem which moves through a war and starts to
become something--in a distance--which one is in reverie of as the
coffee slowly mounts to the mouth and the morning is arriving with the feet of a desert walker suddenly finding itself in bloom among

and back one is to the memories of the cats in the dream in the yard among the grass and there in the background the fence-wall on which are forming the words eventually to become the shapes of an essay written by images projected from cats' eyes--

and becoming indeed--

something other, on a piece of a paper which turns into something
other--a continual becoming other as the words transpose always before becoming words and yet their sounds flow in,


as dreams are cooling here in the morning air brought "fraichit" by the snow--

and now having written this--time to turn the eyes back to these forms here which via dreams lead onto --an essay of an essay which is filled with the skies and sea torn from a page of a memory of a dream of a film which was never made yet suggested by one that was---

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The origin of the dream is simple: before bed, I spent an hour or so engrossed in Richard Stark's The Man with the Getaway Face (1963), the second of his many novels starring Parker the bank robber. The Parker novels are essentially novels about work, wrapped up in mundane detail--but because most of us readers work office jobs, we enjoy watching Parker go through all the planning and overplanning that underlies a successful heist.

Because I tend to take the tone and language of whatever I'm reading before bed straight into my dreamlife, soon after turning off the light I found myself in the midst of planning a heist. I was working with Parker, who was his usual hyper-professional self, and we were ticking off all the set-up elements that were incidental--yet crucial--to our heist. We had created false names, rented cars, stolen license plates, bought unregistered guns, timed police shifts and guard routes. More unusual, though, was that for this heist to work we'd had to create and produce an issue of a highbrow literary magazine.

Parker's every action in Stark's novels demonstrates that he knows what any conscientious worker learns at some point: that one cuts corners, however seemingly minor, at one's own risk. Rushed or incomplete efforts have a way of coming back to bite you--and in the case of a bank robbery, those unpleasant surprises are likely to lead to prison or death. It should therefore be no surprise that under Parker's direction our heist team produced a first-rate literary magazine. No faking here. It was well-planned, well-edited, well-designed, and full of interesting articles.

Which was good, because our heist went sour in the planning stages, and we called it off. Dejected, I sat in what ought to have been the getaway car, and my only consolation for the wasted money and time was the thought that I could at least read our magazine. So I opened it to the lead article, a double interview in which Anne Carson and a male contemporary American novelist (whose name I knew during the dream, but whose identity was lost to me on waking) walked through a forest and talked. Though I remember flipping through the magazine hoping to find a photo of the notoriously camera-shy Carson--to no avail--I recall nothing about the article except for the following passage, which I reproduce more or less as I read it in my dream, editorial notes as they were in the dream magazine:

CARSON: So in what way would you say you're most nineteenth-century?

MALE NOVELIST: [Chuckles sheepishly] Well, to be honest, it's probably my belief in a neo-Jameseian folkmeos. [A neo-Jamesian folkmeos is a belief that a male artist's domestic concerns naturally ought to be addressed by the women of a household. One can surely assume that the Alice Jameses, especially were they alive today, would have had some sharp comments about that belief.--Eds.] And how about you? How are you most nineteenth-century?

CARSON: Oh, goodness--I never even quite make it to the end of the eighteenth century!

"Folkmeos" appears to be a wholly made-up word--what it has to do, really, with William or Henry James I have no idea. More interesting is that despite the fact that I concentrated very hard on remembering all the details of the dream--and in particular that word--and even described the whole dream to my coworker Carrie, highlighting "folkmeos," by early afternoon I couldn't recall the word without Carrie's assitance. The mind really does want--and, presumably, need--us to forget our dreams.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I dreamt published a "poetry" book of poems and semi-nude photographs (of myself) and it sold really well.

Maureen wrote the introduction. Which is just weird.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Last Night Kept Dreaming of Creation emerging among War Torn & Bloodied Walls

For decades i have gone though periods of intense dreaming of words, letters, forms and colors on walls, walls in ruin for the most part, crumbling walls, the walls of interiors of abaondoned houses lived in, of side walls of bombed out seeming buildings in cities in many countries, and glorious walls also, simply old and covered with peeling layers of paints and signs running altogether to form completely new languages.

Since I worked for some years as a house painter this makes sense t one level, but at another, a lifelong inspiration of mine is the fictional painter Gulley Jimson in the book The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary. (It was made into a film starring Alec Guinness as Gulley.) Gulley, whose earlier works are regarded as great, has grown old and homeless, dreaming of walls he is going to paint, his new style of painting rejected except by the young. Visionary, spouting Blake to himself and others, Gulley watches for every opportunity to beg, borrow and steal his way to paints, brushes and--walls. Even walls that will be destroyed--as long as he can paint on them first.

Working as a house painter, living in abandoned buildings, walking around cities observing sites/sights/cites undergoing disintegration and demolition, one realizes that Walls are impermanent. Huge walls are being built al the time to Wall In and Wall Out--as well as all the walls around the world, small walls of homes and schools, hospitals, stores, bombed and blasted and bulldozed into oblivion. The Big Walls live on the blood of the small walls, they grow fatter and taller with the flesh of the small walls and their fragments, their dust. Yet someday they will grow so obscene they will explode . . . come crashing down--

The painter painting on the Walls and walls brings a vision of the dissolution of these bloody obscenities--these Walls which eat alive humans, fields, trees, drink up waters and blood, suck the brains and eyes out of the skull and crush the fingers and toes--

In these dreams the coming of paint and letterings and forms, colors, emerging among burnings, blastings, blood--is the energy and refusal, the resistance of Creation to the Internment Walls of Death--
Last night I dreamt that I got married. It wasn't a legal or religious marriage, just a commitment ceremony. It was in a large arts and crafts style dining room with long tables, high ceilings with beams, large windows, a long bar, and a big fireplace. My dream-self chose a nice location.

In the beginning of the dream my dress was white, and I was circulating among the guests before the ceremony. I overheard some of the older members of the groom's family complaining that they'd come all this way and it wasn't even a real marriage. This made me feel sad, and as I continued walking around my dress turned black. (It was a very beautiful black dress, though.) I thought about how committing to someone for life is, in spite of what anyone calls it, a big deal. And sure it's potentially very rewarding and fulfilling, but it's no longer just you, and that's scary. It's a kind of death, and I didn't feel these people fully appreciated that.

The time for the ceremony approached and I did not see the groom. I knew (in the dream) who he was, who I was looking for, but I couldn't find him. Since we were both reticent about marriage in general, I feared that he'd changed his mind-- but I forgave him for this, because it is a big deal.

But as I approached the room's central aisle, he was there, with a smile on his face and his hands out. And now my dream turns all Spike Lee for a moment because I came to him in a double-dolly shot. I held his hand. We followed the Mistress of Ceremonies down the central aisle toward the place we would sit during the wedding feast. She gave us a large gold chalice to drink from, and we drank.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Recurring dreams about animals. The animals are plural, friendly, and come in threes. Last week, dogs, cats, and birds in a dream-- coming to me in packs/flocks and then dissipating. The animals wanted to be taken care of, but I wasn't their caregiver (and they were healthy, but they still wanted something). Last night, a large box that held baby cows that morphed into puppies and then into very colorful baby birds (they were not ready to fly yet). John and I stood over the box and petted the animals. They were more fragile and needed care but they were not ours so we had to trust that they were being cared for by other people.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Last night I dreamed that I invited 20 contributors to participate in an out-of-town reading and offered to get them a hotel room. Of course, when I said hotel room, I meant one, for all of them to stay in -- with Chris and me. There were two queen beds, one for Chris and me and another for the other 20 poets to share. They were pissed and complained they were uncomfortable, crowded and I promised them . . . I became exasperated with their complaints and argued with the more vocal ones. Nobody was swayed. What did they expect from me? I'm just one woman, I thought. Eventually I relented and got a second room, and allowed one of the tinier poets to join my bed. Some of the contributors (Jill Essbaum, Bruce Covey, TB (? -- since when did she write poetry?) and six others) took it upon themselves to get a third room with a stocked bar. But I still got the sense everyone was disappointed with me.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I dreamt I was reading a story about a young writing prospect who was writing a story. His story was a simple one, a mystery of the old-fashioned kind, a crime, a detective. a side-kick, some traveling around in an unknown country, a wise old priest, a solution. When he was finished, it was barely long enough, but was long enough, to be a novel, so he set about finding a publisher. But first he showed it to his friend. The friend showed him the faults, and suggested ways of correcting them. First of all, the novel, if it was a novel, was disproportioned – the opening and entrainment of the narrative took too long, the denouement and proffered solution were too hasty – it felt more like a collapse than a completion. The book had the wrong shape. So it has to be longer. But above all, this novel lacked intellectual and aesthetic significance. Even in a detective story, he said, we want more than plot. We want the sense that what we’re reading is important. Give us this sense.

So the young writer hearkened to his friend, took back the manuscript and set to work. He darkened the story, deepened the characters, brooded on the landscape, discovered wiser things for the wise old priest to talk about, things that actually did seem pretty interesting, about architecture and its effect on churchgoers, about what happens to the soul when people look at trees in autumn, that sort of thing. The young writer was happy, he liked this repacking and embroidering, and soon the novel was twice as long. He showed it to his friend, the friend was satisfied, this is a really good piece of work you’ve done.

It wasn’t long before a publisher took an interest (this is a dream, remember) and gave the young writer a decent contract; soon enough the book was published, the little reviews like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly were raves, the book got into the windows of small bookshops, and had two stacks of itself on a prominent table at every B&N. Sales were impressive, though not remarkable. The young writer walked about in a swoon of delight.

Then the real review came. Big as his ambitions, serious as his novel – was it in the NYRB, or a monthly? – the review savaged the book. It told the writer what perhaps he suspected all along: the plot was compact and intelligible, the characters plausible, the local-color set pieces effective – it was, the reviewer said, a very clever piece of work. It had muscles, good bones, fair reach – but it had no heart. No heart at all. Just clever workshop stuff, a do-it-yourself project with no soul.

So the young writer went home and shot himself. In the head, or the arm, or the belly, but not in the heart. He had learned that he had no heart to aim at. Later that day, an indifferent world received the news of his by now predictable decease.

At this point in the dream, I became aware that the last sentence I had just read was a variation, parody, of the famous last sentence of Thomas Mann’s The Death in Venice, about the shocked and respectful world receiving the news of Aschenbach’s death. I realized that there was more to this sad little story I had read than I thought at first. I realized (how?) that the story actually came from a collection of linked tales, a whole book of them called Kafka’s Brother. And that the ‘friend’ spoken of in the story, who gets the boy to spoil his work with false ambitions, is actually the Kafka’s brother of the title, the unknown accompanist who guides many generations of young writers unerringly towards illusory public success and profound personal despair. It is Kafka’s brother who whispers big plans, who guides the writer’s hands towards plausible solutions and away from the structures of thought and poetry. So it is to escape Kafka’s brother that some writers on their deathbeds cry out No, burn all my work!