I was the guest this week on the podcast Quintessential Listening: Poetry Online Radio hosted by Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram, a poet and retired university professor. You can find the audio here.
I am currently reading Albert Camus’s Notebooks 1935—1942, and I found this little piece of wisdom from the section May 1935 to September 1937. I thought it was worth sharing, and I hope you find some value in the words.
“One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune or disillusion, must be to make contact again. But even within this sadness I feel a great leap of joy and a great desire to love simply at the sight of a hill against the evening sky.”
Camus, Albert. Notebooks: 1935-1943. Knopf, 1963.
My full-length poetry collection Outward Arrangements: Poems is now available in both paperback and ebook versions on Amazon.
The book includes 26 color photos that were originally posted to my Instagram account, inspiring the companion poems. I had previously posted a few examples here. Now I thought I would share a few other excerpts from the collection.
The Last Leaf
The last maple leaf
did not want to leave the tree,
even though his mother
told him it was time to go,
time to break free from the limb
and fall to the ground.
The little leaf said,
“Why, why must I leave
when I can still cling to this tree?”
“Because,” his mother replied,
“it’s part of life, the cycle of nature—
we drop to the ground during fall
and return in the spring.
So come on, let go.”
“I will not. I will not,” the little leaf said.
But a stiff wind stirred and the leaf
lost his grip and twirled to the earth,
falling into his mother’s grasp.
“See, that’s not so bad, is it?” his mother said.
“No Mom,” the little leaf said.
But then he asked, “Mom, am I still a leaf
if I’m no longer connected to the tree?”
In Need of Houdini
You are wrapped in chains
and stuffed in a metal chest.
The key has been discarded
and the box dumped
into the ocean.
You can’t stretch your legs
or flap your arms,
and you’re stuck in the box—
unable to lift the latch
and swim free.
How long can you
hold your breath?
The Great Equalizer
The democratic nature of parenthood.
It doesn’t matter who you are—
man, woman or trans, gay or straight,
Black, white or any other shade,
tall or short, skinny or fat, rich or poor—
when your toddler is wailing
in a grocery store or shopping mall,
when the feet are stomping, the arms swinging,
the cheeks reddened and the tears rolling—
all you want to do is pick up the child
and make the crying stop.
Wealth, social standing and comely looks
mean nothing to kids; they’re not impressed
by your credentials and you can’t negotiate
with these little angels and tyrants who rule the world.
Two clichés apply here:
parenting wipes the slate clean
and levels the playing field.
All mothers and fathers desire the same thing—
the health, safety and
development of their offspring.
The goals are simple amid the frenzy
of a life marked by stress and lack of sleep.
They are: eat the chicken nuggets, drink the apple juice,
recite the alphabet, put away the toys, finish the milk,
wave bye-bye and go down easy at nap time.
the key to happiness—
the realization that
there isn’t one.
You can’t coax
make plans for it.
You can only
attain it by accident
through the act
of living itself.
Point of View
flee the space
inside your head,
and seek the magic
of the world instead.
I’ve been tied up with post-production on a work-in-progress documentary project (more about this at another time), but I wanted to share the joy I received today when I found this literary inventory amid the pile of Amazon packages strewn in the lobby of my apartment building. Dreaming of Lemon Trees: Selected Poems is available from Finishing Line Press.
This full-length collection of poems is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013). The work covers many years of my life and is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical poems, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death.
And I must admit it was fun to rip open the box, pull out a copy and thumb through the pages. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment to see all those poems bound in book form.
This is just a reminder that advance sales of my poetry book Dreaming of Lemon Trees, to be published by Finishing Line Press, end one week from today.
For those who may be interested, please consider buying the book before Sept. 13, since pre-publication sales determine the press run. And thank you for taking the time to read this.
While searching for some novels at Bird Library recently, I discovered a poetry collection by an author whose work I would like to share. David Ignatow’s Living Is What I Wanted: Last Poems (BOA Editions, Ltd. 1999) drew me in with its short poems, spare language and universal themes of family, advancing age and death.
I was also attracted to the small, black and white author photo to the right of the title; with his white hair, glasses and mustache, I felt an immediate affinity for David Ignatow. He seemed like a great uncle who would serve you lemonade on the porch of his house in the summer while discussing his crop of tomato plants.
The publisher’s note in the back of the book indicated Ignatow wrote most of the poems in the collection in 1996, a year before his death at age 83. He was born in 1914, raised in Brooklyn and passed away at his home in East Hampton, New York, on November 17, 1997. He wrote several poetry collections, served as a poetry editor and professor and earned numerous honors, including two Guggenheim fellowships, the Robert Frost Award and the William Carlos Williams Award.
In Living Is What I Wanted, Ignatow reflects on his life and presents truths accessible to any reader; you don’t need an MFA in creative writing or a Ph.D. in English literature to understand or appreciate these poems. The most prominent subject is death, which seems to hover like the figure in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal; yet Ignatow does not run from death, but rather greets it head on, accepting the inevitable.
Here are a few selections from the book:
Reason for living.
I don’t have any.
What is your reason for not having a reason?
Is there a difference?
Are you that sour on life?
Can I separate one from the other?
What is your strategy for staying alive?
Isn’t being oneself enough?
Is it worth living without a reason?
Do I have a say in the matter?
Would you prefer not to have been born?
Did I have a mind of my own then?
Would you rather be dead now?
Do I have a choice?
Then you are opposed to suicide?
Isn’t living hard enough?
Then to live is to be brave and on the move.
Are you telling me?
What would you recommend for others?
Can’t they make up their own minds?
Then you should be congratulated.
Have I said something exceptional?
All living is lying
All living is lying:
we are unable to say what this life is.
We speak about it in metaphors
as if it could be other
than what it is, and even of ourselves
we say we are like this or like that.
Patient we wait
we’ll know perhaps just who we were,
with others thinking back on us.
Where I built my house
Does being born matter
now that I am leaving it behind? Where
is a world I can go to
other than this ground
on which I walk and where I built my house?
Am I complaining of the shortness of life?
I am, and that makes me much like everyone else.
Follow Adam, the leader, into the ground.
Into the circle
To my friends I am in good health
and voluble, but I have moved
into the circle, after many years
in sun and shadow, having walked
as does a sightseer, in no fixed direction.
Into the circle I stand looking back
on that life. I cannot leave
nor seem to want to. As though programmed
I look out in an act of living.
Presence in an empty room
I must accept aches and pains of the body
if I am to accept
my presence in the empty room,
with no motive for being
in an empty room, and so
with no motive for being. If
I can accept aches and pains,
Ignatow, David. Living Is What I Wanted: Last Poems (American Poets Continuum). Rochester, New York: BOA Editions, Ltd., 1999.
Today I roamed through Bird Library at Syracuse University while searching for some summer reading. I took home five books, including Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Bag of Bones by Stephen King. And as I am wont to do, I pulled a book off a shelf at random, flipped it open to the middle and began reading the first text I saw.
The book had a light green cover with the title The 1916 Poets (edited by Desmond Ryan). It contains a selection of poems from Irish authors. My eyes settled on the poem “Litany of Beauty” by Thomas MacDonagh, and I found the words inspiring, particularly the lines:
Beauty of dawn and dew,
Beauty of morning peace
Ever ancient and ever new,
Ever renewed till waking cease …
Ryan, Desmond (Edited By). The 1916 Poets. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. 1979, c1963.
And here’s a bad iPhone photo of a portion of the poem.
I finished Ham on Rye last night (or more accurately, early this morning), and while I enjoyed reading about the exploits of Charles Bukowski’s fictional alter ego Henry Chinaski, I don’t think I would want to live next to him. Being Henry’s neighbor could put you in peril. He’s loud, rude, gets drunk all the time and brawls with his pals and strangers who cross his path. Say the wrong thing to him and you’re likely to be on the receiving end of a right upper cut.
But in one scene toward the end of the book, we find Henry reflecting on his life as he drinks alone in his room in a Los Angeles rooming house. Bukowski paints the scene with humor, absurdity, loneliness and truth.
Our narrator Henry takes over from here:
It was a Saturday night in December. I was in my room and I drank much more than usual, lighting cigarette after cigarette, thinking of girls and the city and jobs, and of the years ahead … Then I heard the radio in the next room. The guy had it on too loud. It was a sickening love song.
“Hey buddy!” I hollered, “turn that thing down.”
There was no response.
I walked to the wall and pounded on it.
“I SAID, ‘TURN THAT F**KING THING DOWN!'”
The volume remained the same.
I walked outside to his door. I was in my shorts. I raised my leg and jammed my foot into the door. It burst open. There were two people on the cot, an old fat guy and an old fat woman. They were f**king. There was a small candle burning. The old guy was on top. He stopped and turned his head and looked. She looked up from underneath him. The place was very nicely fixed-up with curtains and a little rug.
“Oh, I’m sorry …”
I closed their door and went back to my place. I felt terrible. The poor had a right to f**k their way through their bad dreams. Sex and drink, and maybe love, was all they had.
Bukowski, Charles. Ham on Rye. Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1982. 275. Print.
A short time later Henry walks back to the other room, knocks on the door and apologizes to the couple; he invites them over to his place for a drink. But the man, described by Bukowski as having a face “hung with great folds of sorrow,” refuses the offer and closes the door on Henry.
And so our Saturday night ends. Henry awakens the next day with what he calls, “one of my worst hangovers.”
Charles Bukowski does it to me every time. His snappy dialogue and streamlined prose make his books a joy to read. I also like the first-person narration, with added sarcasm, and Los Angeles settings, which remind me of Raymond Chandler novels. Whenever I am reading one of Bukowki’s novels while lying in bed, I will come across a passage that incites laughter. I will read it again, only to laugh louder. Last night was no exception.
I am currently reading Ham on Rye. As we pick up the story, Bukowski’s protagonist, Henry Chinaski, is unemployed and has decided to enroll at L.A. City College. And being a journalism major in college, I appreciated the humor of this conversation. I’ll let Bukowski take over from here:
My father was simply ashamed that I was unemployed and by going to school I would at least earn some respectability. Eli LaCrosse (Baldy) had already been there a term. He counseled me.
“What’s the easiest f@%*ing thing to take?” I asked him.
“Journalism. Those journalism majors don’t do anything.”
“O.K., I’ll be a journalist.”
I looked through the school booklet.
“What’s this Orientation Day they speak of here?”
“Oh, you just skip that, that’s bull****.”
“Thanks for telling me, buddy. We’ll go instead to that bar across the campus and have a couple of beers.”
Bukowski, Charles. Ham on Rye. Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1982. 221. Print.
I am sure Bukowski will keep me laughing as I work my way toward the end of the book.