Friday, December 28, 2007
A Half-Dozen Poems
Octavio Paz once told an interviewer, “I would like to leave a half-dozen poems that, perhaps, from time to time, would be remembered by a future reader. To be read as I have read some poets. Nothing more.”
Muse [highlights from New Yorker article - date? see below for other sources]
• Throughout history, the changing image of the Muse has reflected changes in sexual behavior and in the status of women, but the process by which the art comes into being is always sublimation. The love that the artist feels for the woman becomes spiritual: a dream of Eros, a vision. On its highest plane, where sublimation results in art that is itself sublime, the visions move historically in cycles.
Two hundred years ago, the early German Romantics infected all Europe with the idea of divine inspiration, which they had revived from the Platonic revival of the Renaissance...
• The argument: Muses are passive, therefore passe. Muses do not choose to be Muses; they are chosen. Who wants to be a symbol anyway? The Muse is only a man speaking through a woman, not the woman herself. What male artists call Woman is a construct designed to keep real women in their place.
• But when a gifted male artist embraces his Muse he... in fact made a woman appear in the art, because he has voluntarily embraced the woman in himself. Joyce's Molly Bloom in Ulysses. Tennessee Williams' Blanche DuBois...
• Picasso's "Girl Before a Mirror" --a case of the painter apprehending the Muse apprehending herself. [It is not the man speaking through the woman, but the woman speaking through the man.]
• It is the being of the woman who has inspired the [gifted male artist]
• The Olympian male imagination will always do more for the woman than he would do for herself, says Arlene Croce ["No woman could have created Balanchine's choreography, yet it was so transparent that his women seemed to materialize individually under their own power."]
• Women's names were numinous: Block's wife was a Liubov (love), Mandelstam's a Nadezhda (hope). Stravinsky and Nabokov both married women named Vera (faith); the same name in Russian, with one consonant added, is Venus (Vera, Venera; Mrs. Nabokov used the French acute "e").
• As for Vera Stravinsky, who was also a painter and had been an actress, the part of Muse came easily, though even she found it necessary to set down some rules:
1. Force the artist to work, even with a stick.
2. Love his work no less than him.
3. Welcome every burst of creative energy. Kindle him with new ideas.
4. Keep the main works and the drawings, sketches, and caricatures in order. Know each work, its scheme and meaning. [Vera S. had been married 4 x, once to Russian painter Sergei Sudeikin].
5. Relate to new works as if they were surprise gifts.
6. Know how to look at a painting for hours on end.
7. Be physically perfect and, therefore, his model forever.
"You are a limitless source of life," Sudeikin wrote her in return. She could cook, too.
• The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova never doubted that she was entitled to worship the same Muse who came to men. And she herself was Muse to many others. Her "doubles" [other women who were Muse to men & to A. herself] seem to have functioned as a necessary distancing mechanism, letting her see herself more clearly.
• Without objectivity, self-study degenerates into narcissism (something Anais Nin never knew).
• Can a woman have a muse? If the Muse is that dream of Eros which inspires art, and if the woman artist is as possessed by worldly ambition as she is by the dream, then there is probably no alternative to bisexuality, writes Arlene Croce.
• It is possible to rule out Vita in favor of Vanessa as Virginia's Muse. Vanessa was Virginia's sister, and an artist and a mother.... this may mean that sister as a resource for a woman artist is under-explored. Akhmatova could say, "The Muse, my sister."
[highlights from New Yorker article - date?]
* * *
• It has been said ‘Dreams are pictures of the soul.’ If that is so, what are poems? And what, then, is the relationship between a poet and her/his body of work, and the larger society?
• “Where no vision is, the people perish.”
“That poetry matters to the people who write it,” says Dana Gioia, “has been shown by the ordeal of Soviet poet Irina Ratushinskaya... sentenced to prison for 3-1/2 years, she was given paper and pencil only twice a month to write letters to her husband and her parents and was not allowed to write anything else. Nevertheless, [she] composed more than 200 poems in her cell, engraving them with a burnt match in a bar of soap, then memorizing the lines. ‘I would read the poem and read it,’ she said, ‘until it was committed to memory--then with one washing of my hands, it would be gone.’”
[Poets & Writers Magazine, May/June 1998]
New Yorker issue (TBA – date?) “Muse” article...
Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass, ” Penguin Classics, Edited by Malcolm Cowley
Michael Meyer, editor, “Poetry,” 2nd Edition, Bedford Books
Natalie Goldberg, “Wild Mind”
Poets & Writers Magazine, May/June 1998
Monday, December 24, 2007
Self-Portrait (1500) by Albrecht Dürer, oil on board, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
|Birth name||Albrecht Dürer|
|Born||May 21, 1471(1471-05-21) |
|Died||April 6, 1528 (aged 56) |
|Famous works||Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513)|
Albrecht Dürer (pronounced [ˈalbʀɛçt ˈdyʀɐ]) (May 21, 1471 – April 6, 1528) was a German painter and mathematician. He was born and died in Nuremberg, Germany and is best known as one of the greatest creators of old master prints, along with Rembrandt and Goya. His prints were often executed in series, including the Apocalypse (1498) and his two series on the passion of Christ, the Great Passion (1498–1510) and the Little Passion (1510–1511). Dürer's best known individual engravings include Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and speculation. His most iconic images are his woodcuts of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1497–1498) from the Apocalypse series, the "Rhinoceros", and numerous self-portraits in oils. Dürer probably did not cut his own woodblocks but employed a skilled carver who followed his drawings faithfully. He painted a number of religious works in oils and made many brilliant watercolours and drawings, which through modern reproductions are now perhaps his best known works.
His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Renaissance in Northern Europe ever since. His work reflected the apocalyptic spirit of his time, when famine, plague, and social and religious upheaval were common. He was sympathetic to the reform work of Martin Luther, who at Dürer's death wrote to a friend, "Affection bids us mourn for one who was the best."
Friday, December 21, 2007
Albrecht Durer's engraving "Melencholia" is taken as the classic representation of melancholy. However, according to Wikipedia, "This engraving portrays melancholia as the state of waiting for inspiration to strike, and not necessarily as a depressive affliction."
According to Wikipedia,
"The name 'melancholia' comes from the old medical theory of the four humours: disease being caused by an imbalance in one or other of the four basic bodily fluids, or humours. Personality types were similarly determined by the dominant humour in a particular person. Melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile; hence the name, which means 'black bile' (Ancient Greek μελας, melas, "black", + χολη, kholé, "bile"); a person whose constitution tended to have a preponderance of black bile had a melancholic disposition. See also: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric
"Melancholia was described as a distinct disease with particular mental and physical symptoms as early as the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Hippocrates, in his Aphorisms, characterized all "fears and despondencies, if they last a long time" as being symptomatic of melancholia.
"The most extended treatment of melancholia comes from Robert Burton, whose The Anatomy of Melancholy treats the subject from both a literary and a medical perspective.
Burton wrote in the 16th century that music and dance were critical in treating mental illness, especially melancholia. In November 2006, Dr. Michael J. Crawford and his colleagues again found that music therapy helped the outcomes of Schizophrenic patients.
"A famous allegorical engraving by Albrecht Dürer is entitled Melencolia I. This engraving portrays melancholia as the state of waiting for inspiration to strike, and not necessarily as a depressive affliction. Amongst other allegorical symbols, the picture includes a magic square, and a truncated rhombohedron. The image in turn inspired a passage in The City of Dreadful Night by James Thomson (B.V.), and, a few years later, a sonnet by Edward Dowden.
"The cult of melancholia
"During the early 17th century, a curious cultural and literary cult of melancholia arose in England. It was believed that religious uncertainties caused by the English Reformation and a greater attention being paid to issues of sin, damnation, and salvation, led to this effect.
"In music, the post-Elizabethan cult of melancholia is associated with John Dowland, whose motto was Semper Dowland, semper dolens. ("Always Dowland, always mourning.") The melancholy man, known to contemporaries as a "malcontent," is epitomized by Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet, the "Melancholy Dane." Another literary expression of this cultural mood comes from the death-obsessed later works of John Donne. Other major melancholic authors include Sir Thomas Browne, and Jeremy Taylor, whose Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial and Holy Living and Holy Dying, respectively, contain extensive meditations on death.
"A similar phenomenon, though not under the same name, occurred during Romanticism, with such works as The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe or 'Ode on Melancholy' by John Keats.
"In the 20th century, much of the counterculture of modernism was fueled by comparable alienation and a sense of purposelessness called "anomie."
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Zoloft, meditation, Janet Jackson, coffee enema, Munch & Mirror
A) “Was it the Zoloft, the meditation, the hikes, or the steady love, listening and faith of my family and friends that helped me through? Was it the acupuncture, the eight hours a night of medicated sleep? The anxiety management class on Wednesday nights, the yoga class on Thursdays, the warm days and brave light of spring?” --Meredith Maran, “Anatomy of Melancholy,” More Magazine, Dec. 07 – Jan. 08.
B) And then there’s P.J. O’Rourke’s NY Times review of Starbucked, A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine. O’Rourke writes, “I now possess the knowledge, of which I will never be rid, that Janet Jackson treated her chronic depression with a coffee enema.”
C) Or, the family dog offering comfort and reassurance,
“I can out-think, out-work, out-fight any dog
in that world or in this.
Woof fuckin’ woof. I told you before, I’m here
To look after your father...”
(from "Dog Door to Heaven," God is in the Cracks)
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Photo of family dog by Lynn Lundstrum Swanger (Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog)
& Munch/Mirror image courtesy Douglas McClellan
Fifty years later.
The preceding post, Uncle Dog, was 1957. Now, it is not a child, but an animal who speaks, a Catahoula Leopard Dog (rare breed), known to be very intelligent, independent, territorial.
The father has died and the young man mourns. And it is "Dog" who, having accompanied his master to the "other side," eases the son's grief.
Dogs and people who can't be without them occupy a particular portion of heaven.
DOG, WITH FATHER, AT THEIR EASE IN HEAVEN
“BOW WOW, BOW WOW. You know what heaven is?
Dogs, dogs and people,
dogs, everywhere, dogs—and people
who can’t be without them.
“Listen to me. You put a dog in this place
and you think he’s gonna stop being a dog?
Or people? The dead don’t change.
Whatever they were in life, they are now.
Look at your father over there, smoking;
you think because a person’s dead, he’s done?
Done? Done what?
“And God? Sonny, He’s not going to help you.
“Anyway, everything oscillates
between is and is not.
On, off. On, off.
Yes, no. Yes, no.
Aristotle said it.
and there’s howling necessity.
There’s the way things are
and the way they really are.
“So, the dead don’t want to hear you carrying on.
Mourn, if you want to, but mourn with your mouth shut.
The dead don’t want to hear it.
Forgive the dead for their mortality.
Forgive your father, Sonny, forgive him
for being dead.”
From God is in the Cracks, Black Moss Press, 2006.
Photo of Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog by Lynn Lundstrum Swanger.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
My first role model was a dog, the garbage man’s "sharp, high fox-eared, cur-Ford truck-faced" mutt, a mongrel, a Heinz—a 57 breed dog.
As a kid I was morose, a loner, an outsider from Day 1. Adults struck me as unpredictable, arrogant, full of themselves with little or no interest in children. We lived in Chicago and I mostly hung out with the family dog, Fluffy, a cocker spaniel with low self-esteem. From the back porch of our two-flat apartment building, we could see into the alley. There we’d observe the garbage man lifting and heaving trash into the back of his truck. His canine companion, a junk yard mutt with class, kept his head up, eyes forward, ignoring the filth and stink.
The dog had a natural dignity. He wouldn’t deign to run about sniffing for scraps. If he was hungry or thirsty, he gave no sign... the dog had poise... he appeared to be calm, self-assured, more stable, more graceful than my parents or Peterson Elementary School teachers.
Uncle Dog: The Poet at 9 appeared in The Chicago Review in 1957, my first publication. Carolyn Kizer picked up on it, bless her and, later, it started appearing in anthologies, A Controversy of Poets; The Voice That Is Great Within Us; The Contemporary American Poets, American Poetry Since 1940, and others.
Listen to Uncle Dog.
UNCLE DOG: THE POET AT 9
I did not want to be old Mr.
Garbage man, but uncle dog
who rode sitting beside him.
Uncle dog had always looked
to me to be truck-strong
wise-eyed, a cur-like Ford
Of a dog. I did not want
to be Mr. Garbage man because
all he had was cans to do.
Uncle dog sat there me-beside-him
emptying nothing. Barely even
looking from garbage side to side:
Like rich people in the backseats
of chauffeur-cars, only shaggy
in an unwagging tall-scrawny way.
Uncle dog belonged any just where
he sat, but old Mr. Garbage man
had to stop at everysingle can.
I thought. I did not want to be Mr.
Everybody calls them that first.
A dog is said, Dog! Or by name.
I would rather be called Rover
than Mr. And sit like a tough
smart mongrel beside a garbage man.
Uncle dog always went to places
unconcerned, without no hurry.
Independent like some leashless
Toot. Honorable among scavenger
can-picking dogs. And with a bitch
at every other can. And meat:
His for the barking. Oh, I wanted
to be uncle dog--sharp, high fox-
eared, cur-Ford truck-faced
With his pick of the bones.
A doing, truckman's dog
and not a simple child-dog
Nor friend to man, but an uncle
traveling, and to himself--
and a bitch at every second can.
--Robert Sward © Copyright, 1957, 2003, 2007
Recording by David Alpaugh, Nov. 12, 2007.
Uncle Dog: The Poet at 9, Putnam & Co., Ltd., London, 1962
Half A Life's History, Aya Press, Toronto, 1983
Four Incarnations: New & Selected Poems, Coffee House Press, 1991
The Collected Poems, Black Moss Press, 2003
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Podiatrist Father - A word from the doctor
The preceding "post" stands as something of an Intro to "God Is A Pedestrian." BTW, it was dad who, one way and another, led me to William Blake, though, to the best of my knowledge, he was unfamiliar with Blake's poems. However, he would, on occasion, refer to "the poet," quote or mis-quote some lines, and I'd ask, "What poet, dad?" and he'd turn red in the face and yell, "Goddammit, the poet!"
As for the reference to Palm Springs, dad moved from Chicago to Palm Springs in his 70s, passed the state exam, and started a new practice. Lots of people there with foot problems.
GOD IS A PEDESTRIAN
Palm Springs, CA
“Trust water, son, you can’t go wrong with water.
See, and it’s got dual arm rests,
pneumatic air switch,
a four-horsepower motor
“So, hold here, hold the grab bar—
get in, son. Take a ride on the plumbing express!
“Good for the feet,
good for the back.
they go together!”
I’m swept away.
“Schlimazel! Hydrotherapy is your friend. Hold the grab bar,”
“You want to know a secret?”
Please, dad, no philosophy.
“God is a pedestrian. God who is in heaven
is also a man, just like you and me.”
And what about angels?
“I’m telling you, if they looked after their feet
they wouldn’t need to fly.”
Dad, you’re nuts.
“Of course, everything is imagination. Rosicrucian says.”
“One saw the world in a grain of sand.
So, nu? I see it in a pair of feet.”
No, dad, not feet again.
“Yes, feet. Feet. The sun and the moon and the stars.
Feet, feet are heaven, too, a heaven filled with stars.
Rosicrucian says. The world is a man and the light of the sun
and the stars is his body.”
This is Rosicrucian?
“Goyisheh kop! Think! The two are one:
God exists in man so body is a form of soul.
Heal the soul and you heal the body.
Heal the foot and you heal the soul.
That world is in this world, and this world is in that.”
So what are you saying, dad? Maybe there is no ‘other side.’
“What am I saying? Wake up!
This is the other side. You’re there,” he says,
handing me a towel, “right
here, right now. You’re home.”
[From God is in the Cracks, Black Moss Press, 2006]
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Podiatrist Father - "You can't go wrong with water..."
Water was big for him. Dad compensated for not being a physician by buying X-ray, diathermy and whirlpool machines, $3000. a pop, and this was in the 1940s and 50s. One whirlpool machine went under the name "Electric Fountain," another, "The Plumbing Express," hmm, that's what he called it. They were (also) known as jetted bathtubs, stainless steel heat sinks, Jacuzzis for the feet.
"Trust water, son, you can't go wrong with water."
Six multi-directional massage jets... and dual armrests so people with poor balance, poor everything, wouldn't fall over... Dad specialized in diseases of the circulatory system. He felt everything was connected. This was connected to that and that to this and this and this and this to that and that and that.
Fierce Bubbles & The Plumbing Express. "Good for the feet, good for the back. Foot problems, back problems, they go together." A little Yiddish / German and the whole language of podiatry. If podiatry was my first language, English was my second.
Wikipedia says of podiatry, "The professional care of feet was in existence in ancient Egypt as evidenced by bas-relief carvings at the entrance to Ankmahor's tomb where work on hands and feet is depicted. Many Egyptologists believe tending feet probably spanned the whole of Egyptian civilization. The placement of carvings at the entrance of a tomb typically signified the profession of the buried individual and The Tomb of the Physician dates from 2400 BC.
"Corns and calluses were described by Hippocrates who recognised the need to physically reduce hard skin, followed by removal of the cause. He invented skin scrapers for this purpose and these were the original scalpels. Celsus, a Roman scientist and philosopher was probably responsible for giving corns their name. Later Paul of Aegina (AD 615-690) defined a corn as "a white circular body like the head of a nail, forming in all parts of the body, but more especially on the soles of the feet and the toes. It may be removed in the course of some time by paring away the prominent part of it constantly with a scalpel or rubbing it down with pumice. The same thing can be done with a callus."
"...There are records of the King of France employing a personal podiatrist, as did Napoleon. In the United States, President Abraham Lincoln suffered greatly with his feet and chose a chiropodist named Isachar Zacharie, who not only cared for the president’s feet, but also was sent by President Lincoln on confidential missions to confer with leaders of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.
"The first society of chiropodists was established in New York in 1895 with the first school opening in 1911... The number of chiropodists increased markedly after the Great War then again after World War II. Increased numbers of ex-soldiers needing to be gainfully employed gave chiropody a boost and led to the need for registration in all English speaking countries. The study of the foot (i.e. podology), brought greater knowledge to the practice of foot care or podiatry."
List of disorders of foot and ankle
1 Disorders of the skin
2 Disorders of the joints
3 Disorders of the bones
4 Disorders of the nerves
5 Combined disorders
6 Genetic disorders
7 Specific manifestations of systemic disease
Disorders of the skin
Callus and Corns of the Skin
Onychocryptosis (Ingrown Toenail)
Keratosis palmaris et plantaris
Disorders of the joints
Hallux valgus (bunion)
Diabetic Arthropathy (Charcot Foot)
Disorders of the bones
Dupuytren fracture or Pott's fracture
Disorders of the nerves
Tarsal tunnel syndrome
Pes cavus (Cavus foot)
Specific manifestations of systemic disease
Saturday, December 8, 2007
So tonight I'm re-reading Peter Ackroyd's Blake, A Biography, and, in doing so, feel a kind of healing. Ackroyd writes,
"The especial mystery revealed by the 15th century visionary came in his belief that 'Man is compacted of all bodies and created things.' So 'it is a great truth, which you should seriously consider, that there is nothing in heaven or upon the earth which does not also exist in man, and God who is in heaven exists also in man, and the two are but One... Man is a sun and a moon and a heaven filled with stars; the world is a man and the light of the sun and the stars is his body... The human body is vapour materialized by sunshine mixed with the life of the stars. Four elements are in the world, and man consists out of four, and that which exists visibly in man exists invisibly in the ether pervading the world.'
"The poetic imgination, as Blake now began to understand it through the work of Paracelsus, can discern the spiritual outline of all created things because it contains them; with the spirit reborn, the poet may see with the eyes of eternity into himself and thus into the universe. That is why Blake is able to equate the 'Poetic Genius' with the 'Spirit of Prophecy', and why in the last months of his life he proclaimed 'The Imagination which Liveth for Ever...'"
* * *
Keeping your heart open in hell
So far as I know, Dad never read Blake. Dr. Sward is the subject of Rosicrucian in the Basement; Heavenly Sex; a portion of The Collected Poems; and God is in the Cracks. Father father father. Jesus... and I still hear the voice. And what I hear in the voice is, well, echoes of Blake.
"There's a huge cargo of emotion," someone said of the father poems.
"You need to know how to get through the night. This is what you need to know in life."
He'd say things like that. And 20+ years after he's dead... they come back... so,
I make it through the night and in the morning walk walk walk. Then eat eat eat. Some people get depressed and they eat, they can't stop eating. That's me. Others can't eat at all, lose their taste for food. And the medication, Lexapro... water water water... incessant thirst and, like a dog, sprinkle sprinkle sprinkle... I think of Muktananda and those years in and out of his ashram and how, he said, if you spoke untruthfully or gossiped, you'd wander about, thirsty thirsty thirsty, a ghost, one of the undead. And I never said nothin' bad about him, anyway, well, mention him in a poem or two, but something else set off this melancholia.
Sometimes I'd swim. [I read this aloud to my wife, a former kindergarten teacher. Something in this writing reminds her of a 5-year-old, she says.]
It's difficult to swim, I find, unless you have an imagination. You need an inner life I find in order to do anything. And some things make clear your emptiness more than others. Swimming. Meditating. Watching television. Making love. Eating eating eating. Drinking water drinking water drinking water. And the inability to read. And the inability to write. And the inability to really be with my daughter, though we walked and talked and dined together.
Truth be told, I was prepared, there were times I thought about drowning. Drown the mind, drown the body. Drown the mind, drown the body. All the time swimming, lap after lap... still, for much it, lap after lap, this that and the other thing after this that and the other thing, I felt I was in hell, but my heart was open... some of the time... you're never entirely in hell, it seems, when your heart is open. Go to hell, go to hell, but keep your heart open. You don't entirely abandon hope.
You can lose your soul, but you still have a heart. Hollowed out, you see, there's still a remnant of 'something.' And the imagination, I discovered, permeates, is everywhere in your body... not just in the head.
"...there is nothing in heaven or upon the earth which does not also exist in man, and God who is in heaven exists also in man, and the two are but One... Man is a sun and a moon and a heaven filled with stars; the world is a man and the light of the sun and the stars is his body..."
Of course it turns out the heart has four chambers, but it's still hollow. And how pleased I was also to learn the heart is a muscle.
Where does poetry lie in the body? Maybe in the feet.
(Originally published in 1996)
Computer-phobic writers, fellow freelancers and fans of olde style
lit-mags ask why I have chosen to publish in e-zines like Web del Sol / Perihelion; Alsop Review; Blue Moon Review; X-Connect; eSCENE; Gruene Street; Realpoetik; Recursive Angel; Transmog; and Zero City, to name a few.
1. I publish on the Net and World Wide Web because it's cheap: email after all is free.
2. It's more efficient: no SASEs, no International Reply Coupons; fewer trips to the office supply store.
3. It saves time: I don't have to wait 18 months to hear back and the rejections, when they come, are less annoying because a) I've invested less in the submission process and b) it's easy enough to send the work somewhere else.
4. It gives me the opportunity to improve on what I write and make changes even after publication. Zen Buddhists say "First thought, best thought." I say, "Think again."
5. It allows for interaction: timely feedback from fellow writers, editors, publishers, agents, and students.
I recently [remember, this is 1996!] sent a poem to Realpoetik ("rpoetik, the little magazine of the Internet, a moderated listserv..."), got an e-mail acceptance message and saw the poem published, all within 24 hours. Editor Robert Salasin claims he has approximately 3,000 subscribers. All I know is that over the next few days I got more responses ("fine work...," "wish you continued success in Cyberspace...," "would like to use excerpts from A Much-Married Man...") from that single appearance than I got from 30 years of publishing in magazines like The Antioch Review, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Transatlantic Review, etc.
Yes, it's a form of instant gratification. Just what the world needs, right? In my opinion, instant gratification has gotten a bad rap. Or maybe I'm late to the game and am just beginning to catch on. Anyway, I write for myself and always have, but I still agree with Whitman: it doesn't hurt to have an audience.
I still use pen and pencil to write and revise and turn to my Olympia portable to type envelopes. I'm still doing what I did in my 20s: writing, revising and sending the best work I have to the editors of the journals I admire.
Writing is re-writing and I spend just as much time revising now as I ever did. To this day I send poems and stories to traditional print journals and, when the publication appears, sometimes long to remove a line or two or correct a typo or printers error. A while back the then London-based Transatlantic Review published "Thousand-Year-Old Fiancee" and destroyed the poem, made it meaningless with a record thirteen typographical errors. They never sent me page proofs and, once the poem was printed, there was nothing I could do except rage at the editor, the inattentive, lackadaisical schmuck.
Now, when I submit work to an e-journal there is no typographer involved because there is no type to set. And if an error occurs or I change my mind, voila! I can email corrections and see the fix made promptly and at no expense. I like that.
Apart from an increasingly large, responsive audience, what's the payoff? Payment used to be in contributor copies. Now with magazines appearing in electronic print, there are no contributor copies to send. Still, a few mainline lit-mags and e-journals do make an effort to pay. In all the years I've been writing, I haven't come close--not one year have I come close--to covering the cost of postage. How much is poetry worth? In 1958, in an effort to determine the dollar value, if any, of my poetry, I engaged in an experiment. A student at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, I sent half a dozen poems to the local phone company as a way of paying my bill. Not only did Ma Bell send them back, but she disconnected my phone. So be it.
I'm doing multi-media stuff now combining poetry, fiction and non-fiction with photographs, paintings, movies and--soon--music and the human voice. I'm collaborating with visual artists, computer scientists and other writers. If you're interested, check out Earthquake Collage and Highway 17 on my home page.
My first computer was an Apple IIe and my first word processing program was Magic Window. Today I use Microsoft Word and Photoshop on a Mac G-4, supercharged by my son. How does it all work? I have no idea. I just switch on my modem, gaze into cyberspace and type away. It's still Magic Window to me.
"So what's the point?" my partner wants to know. "Isn't this just one big ego trip? Who really reads those e-journals? Do you actually think you're going to sell copies of your books on the Net? And what about copyright? How do you know someone isn't going to rip off that new book of poems of yours?"
Of course she's right, but I have all those virtual magazines and editors on the Net waiting for me to check in.
"Gee, honey, I don't know," I say. "I'm just gonna go upstairs for a moment and check my mail."
Copyright (c) 1996, 2001, 2007, Robert Sward
[In response to the above, my friend David Alpaugh writes, "I enjoyed your explanation of why you moved to Internet publishing. I've gravitated in that direction for the reasons you note and also because the sort of person who runs an Internet site tends to be more progressive, less reactionary poetry-wise on the whole than the old school hard copy editors (perhaps because many of the netters are not cloistered in the academy, out and about in the world in various fields). Site editors strike me as more in tune with the kind of reader Dana Gioia would like to recapture for poetry."]
Please see Getting Published 2 - The New Math of Poetry for more on David Alpaugh.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
[Note: David's New Math article is still being researched and does not factor in the many hundreds of "Single Poem" contests.]
1) A cursory investigation on the Internet turns up 158 full collection poetry book contests and 172 poetry chapbook contests. That's 330 contests a year--and though just an approximate figure, it's a conservative one.
2) If the figure holds at the current level there will be 3,300 poetry book contest prize awards each decade--33,000 by the end of this century.
3) Everything leads me to believe that the figure will not hold--that the current trend and history of exponential growth will continue and that the figure will double, triple, quadruple, perhaps even ten-tuple as technology proceeds.
4) We could easily be looking at over 100,000 poetry book awards by the end of the century! Each book chosen from hundreds, in some cases thousands, of entries by "distinguished" poet/judges--and published by supposedly selective, credible presses, trying earnestly to bring the best poetry available to the reading public.
5) How could a 22nd century English professor be confident that he had a handle on the best 21st century without carefully reading these 33, 000 to 100,000 "prize-winning" books? And how about the tens of thousands of books that didn't win prizes? How about the tens of thousands of self-published ones? Shakespeare self-published his Sonnets. Blake self-published Songs of Innocence and Experience. Whitman Leaves of Grass. Would scholars have to specialize, say, in the first three days of June, 2042, to make certain that they weren't missing a "great" poet?
6) As for individual poems, we have two popular internet zines that publish a daily poem: Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. And we have Garrison Keillor reading at least one poem daily on The Writer's Almanac. There is little duplication, if any, between these three daily reads. 365 x 3 gives me 1095 poems a year. Let's round it off to 1000. That's ten thousand poems per decade and 100,000 by the end of the century (assuming that someone picks up the ball for Garrison when he leaves us for that great anthology in the sky).
7) Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Writer's Almanac are all highly "selective." They are choosing poems from respected publishers, and literary journals. Each of those collections, journals, anthologies is full of poems presumably just as good that don't make it onto the net or radio. Assuming that the publications they draw from average 60 pages of poetry each and we have 6 MILLION poems to add to our 21st Century "new math" total! Of course that figure is high because although the 3 entities almost never duplicate poems they do draw on many of the same publications, presses, journals, etc. So let's be conservative and cut it in half. (But, remember, there are at least as many fine anthologies, journals, and collections that never get the nod from VD, PD, or GK and would need to be added in).
8) And keep in mind that so far we have only talked about hard-copy publications! For Poetry Daily and Verse Daily only select from print, never from the internet where hundreds of journals are now up and running with more coming on line almost every day!
9) Certainly it is conservative to estimate the number of poems to be published during the 21st century as exceeding 10 million. It will probably be many times that!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
The publishing world is changing rapidly, creating a large amount of uncertainty with publishers and writers, and redefining traditional publishing, distribution, and promotion. We hope to focus on these changes and give writers some creative ideas on how to deal with these changes.
Question 1: What are the major changes going on in publishing today and how does it relate to writers' motivations and ambitions?
RS: I recently re-visited YouTube and Billy Collins’ ANIMATED POETRY, which has attracted over 600,000 viewers. One major change is a) the growing size of the audience for poetry, but also b) the tendency of this audience to go online--rather than to the bookstore--with the expectation that they will be entertained along with whatever else they're wanting or expecting from poetry. As for ambition, well, I've never met a person who hasn't, at some time in his or her life, written a poem and thought, fleetingly, of seeing it in print. And now the technology is such that they too can be published on YouTube and elsewhere and, failing that, they can start their own online literary journal. Samples of where you can go online to see these major changes at play:
BTW, I especially like Collins' poem "Forgetfulness," with animation by Julian Grey of Headgear.
What if we are seeing the start of something new, the oral tradition, storytelling--and BTW lyric poetry, too, tells a story--combining now with everything else the Internet makes possible? Hell, it's been going on for years and the technology will continue to evolve and likely change the nature of what we call "reading" and what it means to be a literate person. I'm hopeful... we'll see poetry and fiction, sound and visuals, in combinations and with effects that will broaden the audience for poetry and, at the same time, encourage writers to work in collaboration with computer scientists, wizards of the keyboard, animators, musicians, actors, illustrators and others, including people in the sciences--those, for example, who are exploring the nature of consciousness. Like neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.
As an illustration of what I'm personally up to:
"Shelby the Dog" - re-defining the nature of the word persona.
I am indebted to my friend, J.J. Webb, creator of Cruzio Café, for the following:
New Literary Magazines
for the latest on new issues & descriptions of traditional hardcopy, literary eZines, News Sites and Blogs,
Mike Neff’s Web del Sol
Coverage of marketing and web-publishing since 1994. Includes 'mini-chaps,' i.e., chapbooks in digital format.
Poets & Writers, primary source of info and guidance for writers, with emphasis on creative writing programs.
Don Selby & Diane Boller's Poetry Daily
2006 Poetry Daily Web Site Statistics:
Total pages viewed: 13.6 million
Total visits: 6 million
Unique hosts: 3 million
Total Hits: 96 million
As for the second part of the question, i.e., "How does it relate to writers' motivations and ambitions?" on a practical level, writers with websites, can easily direct orders to their publisher, to independent bookstores, Amazon.com or, if they prefer, fulfill orders themselves via PayPal. Local examples:
Sunday, December 2, 2007
I’m a fraud unless I can deliver on the promise, A Cure for Melancholia. I’m a fraud unless I can –with the help of the muse—tell a story that will engage the reader, a story that I would have liked to have come across when I was, well, just barely keeping on keeping on. At the same time I’m writing this for myself and maybe one other person. An audience of one, two people... that would make it worthwhile. This Blog, by the way, is going on in the foreground while the “other,” its counterpart, Dr. Sward’s Cure..., is going on somewhere else. But the one complements the other. Truth is, I need the one in order to write the other.
The muse Calliope had two sons, Orpheus and Linus, by Apollo, the god of prophecy, sunlight, music, and healing. Calliope was the oldest and wisest of the Muses. She was also the judge in the argument over Adonis between Aphrodite and Persephone, giving each equal time with him. She was represented by a stylus and wax tablets.
“She is always seen with a writing tablet in her hand. At times she is depicted as carrying a roll of paper or a book or wearing a gold crown.” (Wikipedia).
The muses are typically invoked at or near the beginning of a, well, let’s call it a “project.” Mine: Dr. Sward’s Cure for Melancholia. Muses are sometimes represented as the true speaker of the poem, for whom the poet is only a mouthpiece. So, in that sense, I have Calliope—and my prayer she will favor me—and, as well, my father. I invoke Calliope. I invoke Dr. Sward, my father. [I just read this posting aloud to my love who says, “No, your father is not a muse. It doesn’t work.” Hmm. Well,if he's not a muse, can he at least be an inspiration?]
Meanwhile, a publisher has expressed (tentative, cautious...) interest in one or another of my works in progress. However, the work, whatever it is, would not appear in print until 2011 or 2012. Okay, I can live with that. I count myself lucky.
I read the following aloud to my love, who prefers that to the word “wife.” I’ve been married four times and two of the four objected to the word “wife.” “No, I’m not your wife. You don’t own me,” said one. And my love, my partner for 20 years, says she objects because “wife” is mundane, domestic and unromantic. And, too, I suppose because I’ve been married so many times.
Invoking the muse is not merely a literary device. I’m not so sure we’d even have Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost if they had unsuccessfully invoked the muse. No muse, no poem. These, for me, are classic examples of poets invoking...
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.” (Homer, in Book 1 of The Odyssey, Robert Fagles, translation, 1996).
“O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all!” (Dante Alighieri, in Canto II of the Inferno, Anthony Esolen translation, 2002).
“Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse...” (John Milton, Opening of Book 1 of Paradise Lost).
The British poet Robert Graves writes, “No Muse-poet grows conscious of the Muse except by experience of a woman in whom the Goddess is to some degree resident... A Muse-poet falls in love, absolutely, and his true love is for him the embodiment of the Muse...”
I’m not in their league. I’m not even sure why I write. Most of my high school friends became lawyers. They made money. They earned a living. One became hard-living, death-defying adventurer Evel Knievel’s personal lawyer. So I’m told. Do lawyer’s have muses? Do depressed poets have muses? Anyway, I’m not a poet. Not like... “those guys.” Twenty books, twenty-five books, thirty books... scribble scribble scribble. Time I could better have spent with my children. Five children I have. Five grandchildren. Five wives, truth be told. What have I accomplished? Fuck all. Fuck all. Most of my books are out of print. Who reads this shit?
Fuck you. Fuck you!! says Calliope.
Well, not all women object. I invoke my muse, my love, my not wife:
The poem is called 108,000 WAYS OF MAKING LOVE.
“Her lips are full, magenta-red
“Bare-chested, she wears a yellow silk
I cup my right hand
under her blue chin
and bend to kiss her,
encircling her waist with my left arm...” Etc.
Then there’s KISS BITE AND MOO SOFTLY
“—Muse voice is loved woman mumbling.
“Going shopping with the muse
you come away buying the right things:
rare books and cashmere pullovers for him,
silk dresses, a gold and amethyst necklace for her...” Etc.
And one ON HER 60TH BIRTHDAY...
“'Beautiful, splendid, magnificent,
delightful, charming, appealing,’
says the dictionary.
And that’s how I start... But I hear her say,
‘Make it less glorious and more Gloria.” Etc.
And so it is I (also) call upon my father. In some sense I see him as a celestial parent. He’s dead. He’s willing to communicate with me. I may be crazy, it’s true, but he’s an inspiration, in part, because I need him and he wasn’t much present when he was alive. I’m getting more juice from him now. I’m getting more of what I need from him now. The sonofabitch, selfish selfish, we have that in common, for sure. Anyway, he owes me. He owes me lots of poems, good shit that’ll do me some good and him some good. I think he needs me. I think he’s a little lonely, in heaven, no doubt, still something of an outsider. Celestial, he may be, but still an outsider.
So I idealize him, it serves my purpose. He wasn’t much of a father alive, sad to say, but at least he didn’t leave. He didn’t walk. He just wasn’t there. The man was selfish, totally self-involved. Even as a child. So said his sister, the one relative with whom I connected. So he went on his occult trip. Jewish Rosicrucian bullshit. And it suits me fine. So I went to be with Swami Muktananda. From 1973 to 1982 I did that shit. Who’s to say? It may have done me some good.
Bibble babble. Why are you reading this shit? Don’t you have a life of your own? Dear reader, this is how he appears to me. This is what one reader calls an “idealization.” “Okay, Dad,” I’m thinking, “You owe me. Gimme a poem, okay? Gimme a whole bunch of poems and make ‘em good or when I see you again you’re really gonna hear from me. Jesus. Jesus."
“Masked man in the half light,
Starched white jacket and pants...”
(“God’s Podiatrist”, p. 147, The Collected Poems)
“Wears a denim shirt, bola tie,
turquoise and silver tip,
tanned, tennis-playing, macho...”
(“Good News from the Other World”, p. 144)
“Greets me in the waiting room,
father with waxed,
son, too, with spit-shine, five-eyelet shoes.
This is how I was brought up. I do it
to show respect.
Value your feet.”
"Arch Supports--The Fitting", p. 145)
So, what is the cure for melancholia? And if one experiences the “de-materialization” of one’s mind, as I did, no mind, okay? No imagination. No... nothing. Zombie-hood. Fucked to hell empty shell of a poet. A poet? I don’t dare call me that. Fuck. I’m a journalist. A feature writer at best. Scribble Scribble Scribble.
Say, Dr. Sward, say one’s mind de-materializes. Is it possible to get it back again? No imagination. Zilch. Nothing. The best thing that happened to me besides everything else is she stayed with me. That’s “...in sickness and in health.” That’s stayin’ with someone. And she even tells me when to shut up. Enough already!”
Fire lives the death of earth,
And air lives the death of fire;
Water lives the death of air,
Earth that of water.
So these days I invoke the muse, Calliope (the “beautiful of speech”, chief of the muses...)
Find I’m unable to write at this time without at least touching a photo of the Simon Vouet painting, “The Muses Urania and Calliope,” in which Calliope is holding a copy of the Odyssey.
I “call upon a greater power or a spirit for help...”
Like my love, a visual artist (it was she, by the way, who drew the image that appears above) I start with a blank canvas. And it doesn’t get easier... not even after 50 years. I first began writing because in a sense I didn’t know any better. Started, really, when I was 18, an enlisted man, a sailor aboard Landing Ship Tank, LST 914, an amphibious ship so insignificant it didn’t have a name.
I was the ship’s librarian. So I read and read, Shakespeare, Whitman, Herman Melville, Carl Sandburg, a biography of Abraham Lincoln, even an account of the coming to be of the Tennessee Valley Authority. I also read and re-read catalogs of the parts we might need to repair our ship, a relic of World War 2. To this day I read and collect catalogs.
The Navy was my muse. And the books. And being away from home (Chicago) for the first time. Poems, scribblings, like letters from a distant land.
I sometimes look up the meanings of all the words in poem. I look up the meaning of the word “the.” The word “poem.” The word “love.” All those things the definitions of which I need to be reminded.
So it is with the word "Muse." “A source of inspiration for an artist, especially a poet... One of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. (This from Encarta World English Dictionary and, in truth, Encarta, Webster, Oxford, New Century, et al, have served as muses. I am thinking of poems of mine like “The Apteryx (1/35) of Webster’s Dictionary"; “For Gloria On Her 60th Birthday”; and a poem titled, simply, “My Muse” –all from the Collected Poems, 1957-2004, Black Moss Press.).
Thanks and credit to Gloria K. Alford for the black and white muse etching which appears at start of this "post." This is one in an edition of ten.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Our major holiday is Holloween. More than Christmas, more than New Year’s... people dress up, wear what they want year round. I love the place.
It used to be called the PACIFIC GARDEN MALL. Now it's just DOWNTOWN.
White lace undies worn over her jeans.
a carton of Rice Dream Milk and a reefer.
Her boyfriend: “I’ll say anything you want me to say,
buy anything you want me to buy…”
One man dressed as a chicken, another
as a Viking, wears helmet with horns.
Two cops in shorts,
guns, mace and handcuffs. This is the pot of gold, the end of the rainbow.
Forest Primeval in a silent version of the movie Evangeline.
Santa Clara in Joe Schumacher’s The Lost Boys.
San Pablo in Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact,
location for native daughter Zazu Pitts’ movie Thunder Mountain,
location—a crumbling 1940s resort—for Jack Lemmon’s The Entertainer.
Foxy (foxy?) lady in ankle-length granny floral dress,
wide belt / rhinestone buckle /Birkenstocks
another picketing with a sign, “Down with good grooming!”
Thursday, November 29, 2007
...third posting in a sequence on Imagination.
Dad was a “small businessman,” industrious, hardworking, serious about his profession, a mid-western Republican, anything but an alchemist, yet there he was in a suburban Skokie, Illinois, basement with his “liquid-filled crystal flask and yellow glass egg on the altar...” transforming what he felt to be “base” [about himself] into gold. That was his secret. That’s where he went when he wasn’t busy making money.
“There are two worlds,” he says, lighting incense, “the seen
and the unseen, and she doesn’t understand.
This is my treasure,” he says,
lead cooking in an iron pan,
liquid darkness and some gold...”
A teenager I had no idea what it was all about. My sister and stepmother thought he was crazy, but they tolerated his Rosicrucian practice as long as he kept it out of sight—in the basement.
And when I returned from India after spending a month in Ganeshpuri with Swami Muktananda, I felt superior. Callow, the word “callow” comes to mind. What did I know? And then, in the 1990s, I began “hearing” his voice, loud and clear. I began hearing and writing in that voice maybe ten years ago. My little book, Rosicrucian in the Basement, appeared in 2001, published by Marty Gervais' Black Moss Press (Canada).
Imagination. Yeah. Something kicked in. I’m still hearing the voice. The thing takes on a life of its own. The things the kid in the poem sees and comments on. His interactions with his father. This is dad, new and improved in some respects, old and more bizarre than ever in others. But the thing is true. And, dead since 1982, dead and buried, he’s no less a part of my life now than he was. A little more playful these days and, too, helpful in 2003 when I fucking lost my mind.
ROSICRUCIAN IN THE BASEMENT
“What’s to explain?” he asks.
He’s a closet meditator. Rosicrucian in the basement.
In my father’s eyes: dream.
“There are two worlds,” he says,
liquid-filled crystal flask
and yellow glass egg
on the altar.
He’s the “professional man”—
so she calls him, my stepmother.
That, and “the Doctor”:
“The Doctor will see you now,” she says,
working as his receptionist.
He’s a podiatrist—foot surgery a specialty—
on Chicago’s North Side.
Russian-born Orthodox Jew
with zaftig Polish wife, posh silvery white starlet
Hilton Hotel hostess.
This is his secret.
This is where he goes when he’s not making money.
The way to the other world is into the basement
and he can’t live without this other world.
“If he has to, he has to,” my stepmother shrugs.
Keeps door locked when he’s not down there.
Keeps the door locked when he is.
“Two nuts in the mini-bar,” she mutters, banging pots
in the kitchen upstairs.
Anyway, she needs to protect the family.
“Jew overboard,” she yells, banging dishes.
“Peasant!” he yells back.
“There are two worlds,” he says lighting incense, “the seen
and the unseen, and she doesn’t understand.
This is my treasure,” he says,
lead cooking in an iron pan,
liquid darkness and some gold.
“Son, there are three souls: one, the Supernal;
two, the concealed
female soul, soul like glue…
holds it all together…”
“And the third?” I ask.
We stand there, “I can’t recall.”
He begins to chant and wave incense.
No tallis, no yarmulke,
just knotty pine walls and mini-bar
size of a ouija board,
a little schnapps and shot glasses
on the lower shelf,
and I’m no help.
Just back from seven thousand dollar trip,
four weeks with Swami Muktananda,
Now there’s someone who knew how to convert
the soul’s longing into gold.
Father, my father: he has this emerald tablet
with a single word written on it
and an arrow pointing.
“What’s with the cross? You believe in Jesus, dad?”
“Are you still a Jew?”
He turns away.
“Dammit, it’s not a religion, farshtehst?”
Brings fist down on the altar.
“We seek the perfection of metals,” he says,
“salvation by smelting.”
“But what’s the point?” I ask.
“The point? Internal alchemy, shmegegge. Rosa mystica,” he shouts.
Meat into spirit, darkness into light.”
Seated now, seated on bar stools.
Flickering candle in a windowless room.
Visible and invisible. Face of my father
in the other world.
I see him, see him in me
my rosy cross
“I’m making no secret of this secret,” he says,
turning to the altar.
“Tell me, tell me how to pray.”
“Burst,” he says, “burst like a star.”
ROSY CROSS FATHER
“Yes, he still believes. Imagine—
when they die,
roll underground for three days
to reach the Holy Land.
He believes that.”
We’re standing at the Rosicrucian mini-bar listening,
(clash of pots in the kitchen upstairs)
with thick, dark-rimmed glasses
bristly white mustache,
“Your stepmother’s on the phone with her sister,” he says.
“He thinks he can look into the invisible,”
she says from above.
“He thinks he can peek into the other world,
like God’s out there waiting for him…
She starts the dishwasher.
“As above, so below,” he says.
“I’m not so sure,” I say.
“Listen, everyone’s got some stink,” he says,
grabbing my arm,
“you think you’re immune?”
I shake my head.
“To look for God is to find Him, “ he says.
“If God lived on earth,” she says, “people would knock out
all His windows.”
“Kibbitzer,” he yells back. “Gottenyu! Shiksa brain!”
Father turns to his “apparatus,”
“visual scriptures,” he calls them,
tinctures and elixirs,
the silvery dark and the silvery white.
“We of the here-and-now, pay our respects
to the invisible.
Your soul is a soul,” he says, turning to me,
“but body is a soul, too. As the poet says,
‘we are the bees of the golden hive of the invisible.’”
“What poet, Dad?”
“The poet! Goddammit, the poet,” he yells.
He’s paler these days, showing more forehead,
“We live in darkness and it looks like light.
Now listen to me: I’m unhooking from the world, understand?
Everything is a covering,
contains its opposite.
The demonic is rooted in the divine.
Son, you’re an Outside,” he says,
“waiting for an Inside.
but I want you to know…”
“Know what, Dad?”
“I’m gonna keep a place for you in the other world.”
Picking up where we left off:
I couldn’t read either. Seems to me there’s a connection between IMAGINATION and the ability to engage and really enjoy reading. I think of Shakespeare and Walt Whitman and William Blake, who wrote, "To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour."
He also said, "IMAGINATION is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow."
Dictionary: IMAGINATION: the ability to form images and ideas in the mind, especially of things never seen or never experienced directly.
So, in one sense, IMAGINATION is an ability to do something, form images and ideas in the mind. A second definition, “the part of the mind where ideas, thoughts, and images are formed,” refers to the mind itself, that “part” of the mind where, in fact, acts of IMAGINATION occur. I wonder where in the mind this happens. And why, taking an antidepressant, SSRI, short circuited my ability to dream, let alone read or write. But, in fairness, some of this loss of IMAGINATION, loss of juice, loss of vitality preceded the antidepressants.
Peter Ackroyd’s BLAKE, A BIOGRAPHY, says it best. Page 148:
“No one who reads Paracelsus [an itinerant scholar and physician born in the late 15th century] can remain unaffected by him and an artist such as Blake, slowly coming to believe in his own prophetic and spiritual mission could only have been exalted and exhilarated by the celebration of the imagination in his writings.
“'I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel,’ Blake later wrote, ‘than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of the Imagination.’ This is the central truth of Paracelsus, who declared that ‘Imagination is like the sun. The sun has a light which is not tangible; but which, nevertheless, may set a house on fire.’
“The great truth of the universe lies within the human imagination; it is the source, the sun, and those who understand its powers are the lords of all created things. The world of Paracelsus is filled by spirit, with the elements of mercury, salt and sulphur as its trinity of dwelling places, and in his extraordinarily successful treatment of disease he considered the body as a form or definition of the soul itself. Of course Blake need not necessarily have learnt this from Paracelsus,” says Peter Ackroyd, “he [Blake] could have found it within his own heart.”
Image of Santa Cruz / sunset thanks to Wikipedia.
When I “lost” my mind I also lost the ability to easily form images and ideas in my mind. “Easily”? It’s never been that easy... but losing my mind meant losing the juice, losing some vital energy, losing, in some sense, the core of my being. Sounds a little pompous, I know. I can’t help it. I am writing now as a passably sane human about a time when, oh, shit! I felt something less than human. At one point my wife called me a zombie, and she was right. I knew it at the time and it didn’t take an act of imagination to know she was right. Another time she called me a “ghost in a white bathrobe,” and again she was right. It didn’t take an act of imagination to know she was right because that’s exactly what I felt. And it’s hard to hide things from her. But she stuck by me at a time when someone else might have said, “You need to be committed.”
I read aloud to her what I’ve just written and she says, “That’s extreme, honey. I knew you’d get past it [i.e., the loss of my imagination] and I’d never have committed you. There’s loss as in ‘lost and found’ and there’s 'irretrievably lost.' That’s called death,” she says.
Anyway, do you commit someone to an institution for losing their imagination? Reason enough if the person’s a writer and the imagination shuts down and the person—even in his own mind—realizes he’s, well, “in trouble.” I’m making light of it, feeling detached enough to gingerly make a joke. Four years. Another life time.
“What was it like?” she asks. She trusts I’ll come up with a description, nothing fancy, just some crude approximation. We seldom talk about “the time,” “the setback,” the “you know...” And when we do we avoid the word “depression,” preferring “melancholia,” which, for me, calls up Robert Burton’s work, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621 (Full title The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Historically, Opened and Cut up). The work through five revised and expanded editions.
Sorry. I’m an ex-English teacher, now retired, and sometimes lapse into lecture mode. Anyway, what was it like: Imagine your color TV going black and white and, then, taking a turn for the worse, everything appearing fuzzy and unreal. It’s not so much that television is a wasteland, but you yourself are an extension, a hollowed out counterpart of the very horror that you are watching. You’re there, but you’re not in the picture, you’re not in your right mind, you’re not in your life. You’re a zombie staring blankly blank blank at the wasteland that is TV. Truly, a stranger in a strange land.
Soul retrieval becomes [in addition] the retrieval of the imagination. Retrieve one and you retrieve the other. And, the inability to sleep tied in with the inability to dream which tied in with the inability to imagine... well, there were exaggerations and misunderstandings, as in the inability to register clearly the "back story," say, or people's intentions in saying what they said. But that's very different from what we mean by the word "imagination," especially when the word is applied to a literary work, a poem, a story, a novel... a work of imagination. I frightened myself.
Monday, November 26, 2007
In his 70s, he moved to Palm Springs, where he passed the California board exam and started a second successful practice. In his early 80s, even after heart surgery, he continued to work.
Hyman David Swerloff (1880-1929), father of my father, was an orthodox Jew, and the first Sward. In 1905, in the company of other survivors of government-sponsored pogroms, Hyman and his family journeyed from Poltava, Russia, to New York City. Immigration authorities at Ellis Island changed the Russian "Swerdloff" to the more American "Sward," as in "greensward, turf green with grass." In Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, for example, the poet speaks of "A thick carpet of most delicious greensward." So it was a twenty-five-year-old Russian tailor immigrated to America to have thrust upon him a name with Old English roots dating back to A.D. 900.
An aside: My Dad's sister, my Aunt Leah, described the pogroms, the Czar and his followers on horseback charging into Poltava, beating and killing Jews for no reason. For me, the word "Liberal" has a wonderfully positive connotation because Leah would say, "and then there were Liberals, good Czars who kept the peace, who cared... no men on horseback."
Sunday, November 25, 2007
THE WORLD IS BROKEN
“What? What do you think I am? I’m alive, I’m dead. Same as everyone else. And you? You're the one who's deadened. You got a wife, she wants a divorce. You got another wife. She wants a divorce. Now *Eudaimonia is gone. And you, you want a divorce from—who? Yourself? So. One side of the self is at war with the other? The question is: Which side is which? So divorce yourself and see what happens. You think the world is broken? Of course it’s broken. Enough! Enough! Thoughts have souls. Souls have souls. Everything’s a covering. And you, with that mug of yours, what are you covering? Tell me, What is a human being? What makes a person a person?
“Yes, you’re broken. And yes, you’re only visiting your life. So, fine, fine. Why not live then as if you were still among the living? Don’t start eternity being depressed.”
[reprinted from Ambit #190, The "Dr. Sward's Cure series," Fall, 2007]
* Eudaimonia, virtue, conscience. Eu, it means ‘happy.’ Daimon, ‘spirit.’ Eudaimonia you need, order you need to be happy!
Oh, and by the way...
Dr. Drug Rep
By DANIEL CARLAT
During a year of being paid to give talks to doctors about
an antidepressant, a psychiatrist comes to terms with the
fact that taking pharmaceutical money can cloud your
Yep, drug rep pens now a popular item on eBay!
Friday, November 23, 2007
LIFE IS ITS OWN AFTERLIFE
“Enough already. Mourn,
mourn all you want…
What good will it do?
Truth is, I feel great, son. Never better!
“So what if I’m invisible?
So what if I’m dead?
You don’t need a body to be a mensch,
a man of substance.
Ach, but with a body at least
you’ve got some privacy.
Without a body you can’t conceal anything.
“There’s more, son,
and bad news for you.
This will surprise you—
when you die one of the first questions God asks is,
‘Did you marry?’
Turns out after God created the world, the rest of the time
He spent making marriages.
So a couple, when they meet, it’s bashert,
‘it was meant to be.’
That’s so… that’s how
together they fulfill their destiny.
But divorce, that they don’t allow.
So you won’t be coming.
"But thank God
for what you’ve got.
What are you missing? Not much. There is no afterlife,
That’s right, son.
Life is its own afterlife.”
from God is in the Cracks, Black Moss Press, 2006. See also Poetry Flash, Number 298, Fall 2006.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Some will appear at the beginning of the finished book, others at the head(s) of key sections. They serve, too, as a kind of scaffolding as I move through hundreds of pages of notes, a morass of material, “dark matter...” What is this thing all about anyway? Dr. Sward's Cure... I may even change the title. Soul Retrieval? I don't want to confuse people. I am NOT the Dr. Sward in the title. That's my father. I'm the fucked up melancholic son mourning the loss of a complex and difficult man.
Epigraphs. Because I'm one of those people who goes forward by going sideways, left, right, forward and back, needing guideposts to light the way, I check in each day with my mentors.
“I too have moments of faith, or assurance, or beauty—or maybe just lapses in nihilism. In the morning I’m capable of hearing the music of the spheres—it’s when the stars come out that I first hear the howling of eternal nothingness.”
--Peter De Vries, (letter to J.D. Salinger)
“In the absence of hope, we must still struggle to survive, and so we do—by the skin of our teeth.”
–William Styron, author of Sophie's Choice
“The dark karmas that haven’t been worked out will sneak in any chance they get.”
--Baba Hari Dass
Count on it: there's always a little darkness.
“When you make one wrong turn, the errors tend to compound.”
–Henry Roth. (The New Yorker, Aug 1 ’05)
"The meaning of life is to go back to sleep and hope tomorrow will be a better day."
--Charles Shultz, Peanuts
... the people with the truest understanding of their own abilities, research shows, tend to be depressives. [paraphrase]
--The New Yorker, Aug. 22 '05.
"Late, late yestreen I saw the new moon
with the old moon in her arms;
and I fear, I fear, my master dear!
We shall see a deadly storm."
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dejection: An Ode.
"The soul has a soul and the soul of the soul is God."
"Without the invisible, you're invisible.
Without the invisible, there's no you.
Of course in your case the invisible
has a reason to be invisible.
Truth is, son, God doesn't want to be seen with you."
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
As a graduate of and former teacher at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I wonder why in the years I spent there the subject was so little discussed.
Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that 27 percent of high school students contemplate suicide and 8 percent attempt it.
Iowa, I can imagine the hell it would be... when the mind goes, as in melancholia, the imagination goes too. One ceases to dream, or is that just me? So where does it go? Maybe it doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe it just shuts down. “It,” "it" being the mind, "it" being imagination, "it" being something more than zombie-hood. I know zombie: Anhedonia, lack of energy, the feeling one has somehow been hollowed out. There's nothing like feeling hollowed out, soulless, to make one feel, later, when the melancholia passes--always with the fear it may return--that there's something more there than I had thought. There’s something clumsy in this. I hate my writing.
As someone who writes all the time, I lost all interest in reading, writing, attending movies... coffee was like poison, television was even more stupifying than I had thought possible, and there was the morning... well, that’s for later.