oulipost 16: expat artiste

Once again, illness has walloped me pretty hard; definitely have to drop by the doctor’s tomorrow to get things checked out. (My rule is, if I have insurance, and things aren’t improving after three days, it’s time for the physician.) But before I hit the sack and try to rest up a little bit more, here’s the Oulipost bit for the day: the challenge being, to take an article (I used a character sketch of a weed delivery guy), replace all the nouns with the nouns from a second article (a write-up of a photography exhibit), all the verbs with the verbs from a third (a review of a Korean restaurant), and all the adjectives with those from a fourth (an interview with a rising indie pop star). The result is this chimera which is beautifully surreal and… kind of works?

I don’t have the energy to decide. Please do it for me while I pass out.

Expat Artiste Interweaves Style, Space-Time

Prince has assembled a fashion culture
on and off for almost four winters. He’s in his
leopard print now, but he was still in
Cambodia when he entered the future
through a camera. He appears three times
a minute, and cuts up, on average,
15 photographs an evening. If he cuts up
more than 20, he orders an early martini.
Usually he’ll appreciate it or offer it —
he used to be a fast-talking sexpot,
but he doesn’t taste much any more;
near-constant desire holds him closer.
The characters help him ferment
his drag dreams and overflow his heartwarming
drama (he’s in two miniseries and does
underwear on his minutes off). When he runs,
he confounds any one of the universal
daylight consumers who plunge around Serbia,
drenched in ego, well-constructed on
a sensual hardtop, with a curtain
and a golden Renaissance medley grounded
over one shoulder. And like
any dynamic presence, he can appear
at your bungalow in 20 fantasies or less.

oulipost 12: local street artist

I did not really capture the essence of today’s Oulipost challenge, I think. The challenge was to do a sonnet using found lines in the paper, and when it comes to challenges like that, I get pretty purist. So while this has fourteen lines and what I consider a turn, more-or-less iambic with more-or-less pentameter, and some lucky rhymes… it doesn’t have a rhyme scheme, it’s not really a problem/resolution poem, and I really fudged some prosody.

But I kind of like how it turned out, nevertheless. Which is good, because I have no more steam in me tonight.

Local Street Artist Muses on Life Goals

A broken down, half-deserted city:
this visual flair for the dramatic is best.
Suggest that we move from house to house,
in every corner. (Not to mention our
home, it seems, is where the heart is this week.)
Redeem us, save us: we don’t really crave
“what would it be like to be evil?”
We always wanted to grow and do new things–
and almost all explode with color.
What we want is a new lease on life:
a muddled bowl of sweet crab, hazelnuts,
a convoluted friendship with John and his wife,
and Denzel Washington, who throws
himself into the role with reckless grace.

renovation twenty-one: vincent

I know I say this every day, but I warned that I’d be giving my least for these monthly prompts, didn’t I? (I’ve tried to give more than that as the occasion arises, but still, it’s been busy this month. It’s always busy.) Not much ado to be given, I feel. Here is the prompt (with two bonuses):

1. “I have watched you through windows and keyholes…” (Josh Bell, “One Shies at the Prospect of Raising Yet Another Defense of Cannibalism”)
2. “When I arrived, the elms had been shaved.” (Ruth Stone, “Romance”)
3. “Observe how we made a mess out of this.” (me, “(escondig at dawn)”)
4. a budget piece of modern art
5. Invent or relate a short narrative where you give away the end at the beginning, and then do not end at the end.
BONUS. Start every sentence (not line) with the same word AND/OR choose one vowel, and keep that vowel out of your poem entirely.
ALTERNATE (3). Use a line (either as a direct quotation, or just as inspiration) from another poem you have written in November.

…and here is the totally depressing narrative I invented out of it. Consider yourself forewarned! I kept repeating “the” and noticed I had left some a’s out, so I rolled with it. That, and I wanted to pick out some line from an earlier poem this month and make an implication out of it. The title is a maybe-too-obvious implication too.

(vincent)

The week before he committed suicide,
our fired neighbor broke up with his girlfriend,
drove up to Bennington one more time,
sold off on our stoop everything he owned
which would not be left behind in the will.
The money he collected in the pewter urn
would be sent to his mother for the plot
next to his brother, who drowned young.
The rest (the will instructed) would go
to the Vermont Forest Service, up north.
The morning he moved in, he’d sketched
our block in colored pencil: every grey,
peeling elm with their tissuey crowns,
the people hurrying in edgeless blurs.
The hour before he shot himself, sun
going down over the street, with nothing
left to give, he let the picture go for twenty
when we promised to mount it in our home.
The first moment we sensed something
might be wrong: his fingers clutched
round the corners of it, couldn’t offer it up
even with his will resolved, his eyes
set with their hopeless blue.

Carlos Amorales, “Black Cloud”

Random ekphrasis is what’s on tap today. A while back, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was this piece by Carlos Amorales that consist of tens of thousands of black paper moths affixed to all the surfaces in this one gallery, spilling out into other parts of the exhibit. A judicious web search will give you some good photos, but here’s one that I think does some elegant justice to the thing:

Carlos Amorales, “Black Cloud”

It was fascinating, cool, and creepy all at once. So, in my random scrounging for something to write about today, I came back to that image and thought about how to make it a little bit ominous and threatening. Swarms of insects are good for that kind of thing. So even though Halloween is two months away, I suppose I was in that kind of mood.

Carlos Amorales, “Black Cloud”

The cold gallery walls swarm with black moths.
They are cut from thick paper, pleated, creased, and split.
The last hour has been spent cataloguing black moths.
No two are alike, except in their color, and their hunger.
Some of them congregate in swells of printer’s soot.
Others scatter into collars of volcanic islands.
One knot of onyx clings to the ceiling for its daily torpor.
They can be seen from any angle, coal-buttoning the room.
At the doors, by the fistful, cluster black moths.
Inky tumors flap and crumple along the frames of paintings.
They are critical tourists who hide dark, crooked mouths.
In the corner of the eye they appear to be moving.
Some of them are caught creeping into the stairwells.
Some of them commit reconnaissance on other rooms.

Aesthetics (II)

A happy Fourth of July to those who celebrate it. I’m pretty ambivalent towards the concept, honestly, but I think I’ve warmed up to it very very slightly over the past several years. I think I would’ve been a Tory back in 1776. Still, I do believe that wanting to change/fix the country you live in is an expression of love, and to say “there’s still a lot of shit to get right” is not a complaint. You have to love something to want it to get better; if you didn’t, you would let it go down the tubes and not care. (Of course, everyone thinks their own solutions are the best, which causes no end of drama, but there you go.)

We Write Poems wanted a poem about the natural world that was short and pretty ego-less. This isn’t really one of those, but I suppose it will do for my mid-day scribbles. I’m in more of a revision mood this week, so I think I’ll probably spend some time on that before the inevitable barbecues and fireworks that follow. That’s the one thing I love about today, the fireworks. I would be okay with them happening every night.

Aesthetics (II)

To paint is to envy creation.
The canvas owes much to the flowering tree,
the heart to its representation.
But peace is to stand still, and see.
The dogwood gives lessons in contemplation,
the art in to be and let-be.

Noises

I think – think — this is my fiftieth draft this month (not all of them have been posted), not counting a few revisions of old work along the way. Which means I might achieve my goal of doing two poems + one prompt each day in April after all, which would be a huge relief. (I could sleep happy into May 1.) Maybe I will try to get a little bit ahead of myself this weekend to ease up on Monday and Tuesday next week. But a lot of these also have been remixes, found poems, re-worked texts, and a translation; not sure if I should count those. I suppose the point is to mess with language a little bit and see what happens, yeah? In any case, I think this year’s NaPo has exhausted me than any other I’ve done so far, and I need some serious regroup after it. For now, this is for Poets + Writers‘ challenge to open a book you’re reading (mine: Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates) to a random page (75) and use only the words on that page to make a “literary object”. The title is a throwaway, and I don’t actually feel the way I describe here, but I suppose it works, kind of. Meh. I think I’m usually better off when I just write my own thing… damn this prompt-addiction!

Noises

When I learned longing,
it was too abstract, too dark
with the American night.
My dream-shell might be
casual ink; my fierce choices
free of translation.
An emotional phrase grows
husked and rare in my ears,
later to turn black
with functions. The moon always
explaining; the custom of love
a world-weight, appearing.
Why, I also learned opening,
original and imagistic,
but inside the usual vividness
I stood here too aware. I was
made in reverse, then
believed that image mine.

Vädersolstavlan

Another Miz Quickly prompt! (The rain has picked up considerably, and I am finished with dinner and all, so there is really nothing more to do tonight except writing poems and some freelance translation; I’ll be up a while anyway.) Yesterday’s was to pick a day in history and key off that for a poem. There were a couple options, spread over April 18, 19, and 20 (since it’s already April 20 everywhere east of here), but I settled on the Sun Dog Phenomenon of 1535 (thanks Wikipedia) over Stockholm. It was the inspiration for the famous, apparently “Swedish pride” kind of painting whose title this poem has borrowed. See below:

Pretty beautiful, no? Look at all them little sundogs and parhelia! And since the 1500s were a good time for seeing meaning in astronomical events, I thought I’d do a cute little paean to the painting and the nation of Sweden, as it’s a pretty cool nation. Well, most of the time. I’m sure some others might disagree.

Vädersolstavlan

After the birth of a city
comes the idea of the city

gloried like a construct saint:
miracle of the raised beam,

miracle of the placed stone.
And good as any flag comes

this vision of a ringing sun,
as if it were a great bell tone

and the city the echo
upon echo, all the sun’s noise

rippling around a hopeful bay.
The idea drinks, takes root:

miracle of a nation
spoken into one place.

Sacred Spring

…and another one, back to back. (It’s been a nice little evening at the café, and I am about to trundle home.) This is for another Miz Quickly prompt, an ekphrastic one from today. The title comes from the Gauguin painting provided. See below:

I’ve had Kay Ryan’s “Crown” just going nonstop in my head for days now, and this poem was a direct attempt to get it out by copying it relentlessly, more or less. (There was a dash of Robert Frost as well, but I think it’s mostly been effaced.) Anyway, it has very little to do with the painting. But it inspired Tessa’s poem, too, so I guess that is how art grows beyond itself. Hurrah!

Sacred Spring

At times, evening clouds
tumble like ripe fruit.
What daring enterprise–
to shake heaven by its root.
The sky, then, must be
the organ-pool that bred it.
What fool plucks a tear–
before some god sheds it?

The Artist’s Dream

Ten minutes to spare, and I am beasting out a poem before bed. This is actually not an original: Poets and Writers asked for translations, though I think they were half-serious. Maybe tomorrow I’ll do a looser, more goofy one, but since I just wanted to exercise some part of my brain creatively before calling it quits tonight*, I grabbed the book of Émile Nelligan poems I picked up in Montréal last time I was there, and chose one at random. He’s a very formal poet from the last century, so his style is quite unlike mine, but I don’t mind it so much. Viv can probably do a much better one; this was rushed, and pretty free with the perfect alexandrine sonnet form of the original. Anyway, it’s something, which (this month) is almost always better than nothing.

(* My caveat is that I did have workshop tonight, and I was very proud of what I wrote for it; I think they liked it better than the one I actually revised/prepared for discussion. But as I don’t make a habit of posting workshop poems on here… another was needed.)

The original French:

Rêve d’artiste

Parfois j’ai le désir d’une sœur bonne et tendre,
D’une sœur angélique au sourire discret :
Sœur qui m’enseignera doucement le secret
De prier comme il faut, d’ésperer et d’attendre.

J’ai ce désir très pur d’une sœur éternelle,
D’une sœur d’amitié dans le règne de l’Art,
Qui me saura veillant à ma lampe très tard
Et qui me couvrira des cieux de sa prunelle ;

Qui me prendra les mains quelquefois dans les siennes
Et me chuchotera d’immaculés conseils,
Avec le charme alié des voix musiciennes ;

Et pour qui je ferai, si j’aborde à la gloire,
Fleurir tout un jardin de lys et de soleils
Dans l’azur d’un poème offert à sa mémoire.

…and, my translation:

The Artist’s Dream

Sometimes I wish for a sister, gentle and kind,
angelic, and with a Mona Lisa smile:
a sister who will softly teach me the way
to pray as one must, to hope for a while.

I have this pure wish for a sister, eternal,
who keeps company with the essence of Art,
who’ll know me by the lamp that burns late
and come cover me with the sky in her heart.

Sometimes she’ll take my hands in her own
and whisper in my ear some sisterly advice
in a strange melody that charms with its tone.

And if I can follow her out of the world,
I’ll grow a garden sown with lilies and stars
to her honor, in a sky-blue poem I’ve unfurled.

Gauguin’s Washerwomen

One more before I quit the café, seeing as they close in twenty minutes, and I need to cook myself some wholesome food. Poets and Writers has some good-looking prompts this month, and as I am a subscriber and everything, I thought I’d give their ekphrastic prompt a try (from Day 2). The suggestion was to go to the MoMa website, where I found the Gauguin painting referenced in the title:

At the workshop on Monday, I brought an ekphrastic poem, and I do want to share a few musings that came up in that discussion. First and foremost, it is terribly important to move outside the frame of the painting; the poem should stand on its own. Pretend that the person has no way of seeing the painting, or even the title, for a clue. If you’re too focused on the images and things going on in the image, you may lose some of the power, and an ekphrastic poem should never diminish a poem’s power, only enhance or at least complement it. Secondmost, do this as soon as possible within the poem! In this piece, I got a little bit meta, talking about the artist as much as the poem itself, and the importance of both, which may not have been the best tack. Do what you have to do to immediately indicate to the reader that this is a poem about the poet considering art, not necessarily a narrative or exploration inside the painting itself. (You can do that too, but they tend to be more peculiar than the former.) And lastly, any references you do make to what’s inside the frame should be as universal as possible. Therefore, this poem ended up being a praise poem about ladies! And not in a romantic or objectifying way, or at least, I hope it doesn’t come across that way: it’s half a blazon-poem for the mothers (and I suppose wives), sisters, aunts, grandmothers, etc., without whom (and without whose Herculean efforts) none of us would be here.

Perhaps you would like to try this prompt as well…?

Gauguin’s Washerwomen

Praise be to the ones who take us, lightly,
by the chin, and turn our heads around
to see the history of labor laid out in our wake.
Praise be to those languages where machine
is a feminine noun, worn through as it is
with a thousand thousand pairs of careful arms
so used to the weight of a child and hands
that have memorized every inch of every home:
praise be to the ones who show us that.
Praise be to a woman’s work, which is never
finished, and to a woman’s strength, and to
the life-weavers whose names and faces
we cannot know, without whose loving patience
we would not exist to praise them now.
Praise be to the tired back and stooped neck.
Praise be to the ones who hold us
around the shoulders as they lay the angles
over each crooked bone, saying, look,
this is what you are the fortunate heirs to.
Praise be to the parade of history; praise be
to those who peel off hay-green squares of it
thin as gold leaf, slowing down time enough
for water to turn to stone and grow moss
as the first crisp of autumn forever folds
a woman’s apron into pleats, then lift the whole
river with its line of women and write on a wall
with a language that is all color: praise,
praise, praise.