Thursday, December 10, 2015

Not the What but the Here; not the Here so much as You


Poetry Poetry

Poem Poem Poetry

Poetry Poem Poem


No concern that one will be misinterpreted or used for evil purposes, poetry is the feeling that is called poetry, as a beauty pageant queen is the feeling of the contest that made her queen.

The feeling can be put into words, which is always encouraging for a writer.

The written word is to poetry what the bouquet of roses is to the beauty queen.


Like Kant (that Kant) I work best in public, either writing or talking, in a cafe setting, which in this time is represented not by the fussy life-style spaces coffee shops have become, but by the dive bar, where humanity circulates in an unvarnished state. I write best with background movement and noise. I think better, and speak more intelligently, when in company I cannot account for. I like people as they are, without filters or preconditions, because when I write I hope to put on paper unfiltered feelings, ideas, images, and such constructions or works as we call poetry.

Poetry. What is it? I am sorry to say, it is what gets done today and what, once accomplished, prompts refusals and good mistakes.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Of Poetry and Others

I love poetry. This statement is incomplete. I have loved poetry for many years.

Poetry was was my first real friend and my first love. My first confessor. Poetry was my unfailing bartender. My son and my father.

Poetry is what happens when nothing else matters.

Even for the religious, poetry claims and saves. The poetic calls one to faith, anchored. Poetry puts one into a state of debt and we turn name it. In that place and time, the limit of one's soul, the ideal for worship and address.

All acts and works, gestures, and effects, publications and performances, that calls themselves poetry participate in essence in the central fact of this aspect of being that cuts across time, place, culture, gender, politics, and purpose.

I maintain this belief or position regardless of what anyone writes. I do not read a lot of poetry. This statement too is incomplete. I read almost no poetry. I read enough of one or another person's poetry to recognize that the work of that person in opening their hearts to others is accomplished, and then I put that book down. I, for one, cannot be informed on the topic of opening my heart. That a person opens their heart in a way that is novel, or unexpected, or entertaining, does not interest me. That is their concern. I wish them well.

Much of the effort that goes into the writing of poems in this time seems to me to have been, in other times and places, devoted to either religious worship or labor union organization. Or marriage. It is difficult and unrewarding to figure this sort of thing out. As is right, poetry in this time (as any other)  is principled upon yearning. That is the good. That good is justified as the words connect with persons similarly composed and concerned.

But I am not concerned, or composed to listed to poets for what matters. Far from it.

Rather, I believe that poetry is music the mind composes, on the spot, to reflect the urging of the heart. In this, I trust. I love poetry, and I love poets.

This statement is incomplete. I married a poet, Endi Bogue Hartigan, whom I love more than anything I have written or will write. This, I promise.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Form that is the Point

One can live forever, but today you pick up a brush loaded with pigment, or

  • select a rubber stamp
  • grab some scissors and a magazine
  • open up the computer
  • pick up a pencil

What is life forever if you do not now live? Rather, can one live forever unless one choose, now, to live?

And you choose, by habit and talent and urge, friends. Live now, or forfeit forever for a forever that denies what must be done now.

What is form?

Form is everything that is not giving up and others. Always others, and always oneself.

Surrendering vacates the point, and the point is the building block of form.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

This Guy Likes the Visual Arts

The day is just long enough to contain the typical narratives of a man's life without boring him to death. And that is why I like the visual arts.

On a day like this Saturday, the first fall rain having touched us, the quiet, it is apparent how much time I spend getting from Point A to Point B. And, as much as I appreciate Point B and everything it has given me, I know there is more going on, things which naturally escape or are not a part of my typical day's travel.

I would never put aside my life, my travels, but along the way I am prompted by some interior need, perhaps conscience, to look sideways out at the landscape passing by. At poetry and art, at the lives of people whose names I will never know.

I like the visual arts - paintings, visual poetry - the way I like people. Without knowing their name, I am affected. I do not look to profit by anyone or anything I have not committed to with my own time. But I can appreciate, and perhaps that is the purest, richest reward.

Stop to consider the implications. Are you appreciated by someone who does not know you, or in ways of which you are unaware? This is a strong point of religion, Christianity in particular, that God knows and loves you. But the point I want to make is more socially grounded - but, again, without making too strong a point.

We are fond of arranging our influences, but I am convinced that no one can be sure of how or why they turned out as they have. A teacher, a parent or family member, a religious instructor, a favorite athlete or musician, a loved pet, a president, etc. All these persons have a bearing, they emerge from the landscape bidden and unbidden to exercise influence and control. Then there are the books, paintings, movies, musical albums, travels, etc.

In brief, even as one travels from Point A to Point B, that very effort likely forms a part of any number of other person;s personal landscapes. You may consider yourself a self-determining creature, but to be sure, friends, family, and strangers have only to glance sideways along their own travels to see you in your flight.

And that is why I like the visual arts.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Intersect: Now. Art and Faith

It is interesting to me where the water flows in a life. Or decisions, the manner of viewing and deciding. What form of person individuals become, choosing this or that, or having been chosen by nature/nurture, by a force higher/lower than nature.

I am interested in this pattern where one lives, produces this or that, then dies. Such behavior is not exclusive to anyone. We are judged saviors or fools by those we likewise assess according to aspects of their effect.

My method concerning form is, by this time, something other than a means or end. It is the thing I breathe into. Like my belief in God, I was born for this and in this I will die. It has been paintings and poems. It is now more often prayers and service. I am not one to distinguish without discernment.

It never gets old, does it. Watching people and wondering. Hemingway did this, and Proust. The Lord did this, though with the disarming habit of knowing the person before or in the moment of speaking with them. I recall in particular Matthew (the tax collector) and the Samaritan woman at the well. So, we say God knows us like this. As we are. And loves us as we are. I say this with respect to my life and my work. I often know it as I encounter it, or before. And I am not surprised in light of the injunction to love others as myself. I read "love" as "know."

The task is the goal: pure empathy.

Is this factored by age? I guess. It is certainly factored by living. Hard. And by the belief that naught is for aught. Early on I perceived that end results might serve a purpose not one's own. Thank you, Richard Nixon.

God bless you, Dr. Martin Luther King. God bless you, Robert Kennedy.

I tip my hand. Born in 1959 I was witness to the best and brightest shot down by hate. And I wept, a ten-year old in Atlanta, Georgia. That I grew up in a family that eschewed religion will surprise no one of my generation. That I should eventually come to the Catholic Church should surprise even less.

This posting is about art and God, I guess. If asked, I would say I hope I have not abandoned my youthful belief in Great Things - for poetry, art, life. And religion. I think that my friends must wonder sometimes, for I have accomplished nothing "great" in the arts. My life appears to be very conventional, with family and career and church.

I do not routinely rage against the dying of the light. Not in public anyway. In fact, I rather pity the sentiment.

Rage? Me? Why?

As an artist, I look around and am simply delighted at the activity, and exploring, and inclusiveness, and sheer quality and diversity of work. I do not think poetry and art has ever been better served than it is right now. Add music to that portfolio while we are at it.

And, as a Catholic, I know that when I die I will fall into the arms of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to do with me what He will. And I'm okay with that.

So, what would you think about me if I complained? Fighting for the rights of self-hood is the prerogative of the young (and the under-privileged/under-represented), who need to fight to claim the truth of their time! No one profits by a middle-aged white man complaining, either about art, culture, or religion. May my peers take note!

But maybe I am weak. Perhaps I should rage, as Dylan Thomas suggested. I will take that charge to heaven too, along with all the others, both what I have done and what I failed to do. I make that choice though, ultimately, the water may flow one way rather than the other.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Pause. Look and See

Been a busy boy and not anywhere near enough of the right thing: poetry. Visual, auditory, written. Black and white. Colored/shaded. Cool on fire. Flame under hand. Over the hand, clouds. Beyond the clouds, my friends in foreign lands.

What is poetry? It is the first and last defense and last great attack. It is the first attack, the sounds we make in the womb. It is a blending rubbing, and a strike.

Nothing has changed.

Poetry/art is first and last interwoven with love at last and first of all love as love.

To speak of art is to pause, and meaningfully in that pause. I rest, I gather. I catch up with my friends.

I simple adore the ongoingness of electronic communications. When I wake in the morning I check Facebook and see what friends in Europe and Asia have posted while I slept. The gallery never closes. No landlord demands rent. No creditors require proof. We are each others master and tenant, friend and lover.

I draw no distinctions. My opinions are the weakest part of me. They are a thorn in my side and I move on from opinion. But if I must opine I will say - wow. So much talent, realized, in the asemic and visual poetry I see on the CFP page and the asemic groups. Wow. I think of artists of old seeing this and Kandinsky comes to mind, that mad technician.

I do not lose touch, thinking. I assure contact. But then I am spoiled in marriage to a great poet, Endi. When I wonder, I reach out and touch one who moves with facility where I can only speculate. It is good to fall in love with an artist. It is interesting, and it is good.

I feel on this occasion like my work is located at a particular place waiting for me as having exited through a familiar door, then while I take a somewhat circuitous route to enter back again through another door.

My work can wait. I have enjoyed the peace of watching and learning from friends.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Work Here for Instants

Looks like I'm into a new thing. Seems like years. It's been months. Seems like forever.

The tip is that I have two pieces, poems, both unwieldy and really I have no idea where this is headed. For a time I concerned myself with solutions, with faith and religion and faith, and the struggle and finding was good. Then I came to a place of solutions, and it was brilliant. But dwelling in solutions is no place for a poet.

So, I have no solutions, and I carry them with me, a light baggage that is no burden, but I do not write from solutions. I tried it, and I was sent an angel of silence for my efforts. The angel sat there staring at me waiting for me to realize I was being stared at. When I prayed for words, I got the stare from God. Fine. I can take a hint.

You go through these things and at 56 you are glad you can go through something. You are relieved if a little shaken that you do not own your solutions, God does. You knew this from a book. Now you are a walking advertisement for it. You do your best, which is never good enough. You hope you do not hurt anyone. You hope you don't blow it.

Then you look back to when you were blowing things left and right like a birthday party clown, and whereas a few months ago you could feel gratitude and not unreasonable pride now you know nothing more than that you need to do the work in front of you. No reward in this life. And you asked for that too.

But I may get out and read some of my stuff for no reward there either, except not to make a special case by not doing that. If I lose my regret, will I lose my appeal to myself? Early returns suggest No, you will not. You are carried in this, what you do, as it is what you are called to do through no credit to yourself.

That is a strange, complicated pill I was not given the opportunity to swallow or spit out. And it feels good. It feels good like a doctor feels good when the baby comes out. The baby is screaming like a house on fire but the doctor feels good because the doctor knows what she has done is good. The baby is good.

I am not a doctor. I am a poet. I am other things beside, but I am a poet.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Concrete Oregon Book Award Formalisms

I attended the Oregon Book Awards last night. It was a lot of fun. Great host and entertainment. Lovely excerpts read. Good speeches. Laughs and interest abounding. I wanted to shake the hand of John Salisbury who seems like a good guy and studied with Robert Lowell, but I missed my chance. And I personally think that my wife Endi (a finalist in poetry) should have won EVERYTHING - but, there is time for that. Hers is the best poetry I know, and I am often right about such things. Ask anyone who knows me.

For myself, I have been mulling over my self-proclaimed retirement as a writer. It's been about 2 months now, and I admit to feeling selfish. Clearly, there is work to do, to "write the book that won't be written until you write it..." as someone said, or words to that effect.

What after all is my book? It is the book of peevish obscurity. I should embrace that. I really should, while recognizing that it is a work in progress. Obscurity and it's sickly twin, futility, are not to be won outright, done forever, but must be pursued. It is an ongoing effort, keeping obscurity alive. The bromide expressed last night, "One team, one dream," is one I should swallow with a song on my pillow lips. Surely the Oregon Book Awards (OBA) are a part of the team I can call on to prompt and promote this dream of mine.

I need not call out or seek support. It is there, always/already, ever present in spurring me on. I really had no idea what the hell last night was about, or what anyone meant by what they said. I am so far from being invited to stand up and say something about "writing" that I simply cannot comprehend the words of those who are called. One should say, Thank you, of course, as a nice thing has just happened (winning the award). But why? What does any of this - publication, reviews, nominations, awards - mean?

Why am I so stupid (or peevish)? Obviously it is a choice. But not really. Like I said, I retired from writing. I saw the writing on the wall years ago with respect to my career and have put up a good fight (I said to myself) but really enough is enough. No one reads me, no one cares. The effort is more than I can justify. Better to devote myself to work, family, and church (more on that later - church, I mean). I was not discouraged as much as determined to be done, to "own" my life again.

It is not a choice, being so perverted in my determination to crank it out, to seek always, ALWAYS, a way NOT to integrate. Meanwhile, in the rest of my life (work, family, and church) I am virtually perfectly integrated. You should see me! 14 years now at the law firm, year in and out with outstanding reviews; my wife and son are happy and productive in themselves and appear to like my company (yes, THAT is the mark of a good provider). As to church - or my Catholic faith - I can say it has utterly refreshed me, giving me something that never disappoints. I am forever rejuvenated in my faith. I serve and volunteer and attend and support and write to the faith.

Well, so perhaps life is just so lovely that I am not required to seek success in writing. But, it is more than that. I inwardly, devotedly, loathe success. I believe deeply in futility, in monk-like service to an ideal - not a cause, because worldly causes are too fractured for me. But ideals - philosophical ideals, and God.

So, my favorite authors have not changed in decades - even while I am crazy about the fact of new writing and all the great work being done for this or that contingent, all of which advances the epistemological ball. So I am brain dead. See, I am willing to live with that and take a hit.

But, somehow, the story does not stop there.

Why is that?

I goes back to purity - "YOLO - you only live once" - stated last night by the OBA host. I do not think one can get purity and simply forget it. I think of poetry (my thought) as being, from my perspective, a knife that cuts at things that do not serve truth. Poetry is negation. It is the knife that serves to keep truth whole. I believe in disappearance. I do not see that writing is worthwhile except to throw the reader back upon himself. It should both invite and deny. Ideally, it fails to do anything but this.

I like a poem that makes sense while failing to do anything else.

I also do not think of purity as something one invents or can improve on. One partakes, or buys into it. One is beholden. Can a poem be "pure"? Of course not. But the poet can be beholden to that ideal even if he/she is not always conscious of it.

All the social ideals (that matter), all the helpful notions....there are enough people carrying on with that stuff. I have never wanted to be one of those writers, offering something important. It makes me ill to even imagine doing such a thing. That is not what interests me as a writer.

So, you see the challenge. Getting older, loving the world in so many ways - but where one's writing while, not exactly negative, is certainly rather pointed in terms of cutting, dispelling, vacating. I do all this openly in a form that says PROBLEM. I think I have been challenged over the past year in writing both for my faith and writing poetry, those being very different ventures, even as Christianity embraces personal negation in perfectly beautiful ways.

All this goes the Concrete Formalism, of course. The self-supporting object. The announcement by shape. A block, not to build with, but to empty the surroundings.

Well, let's say this. I took time off (for Lent, mainly) and now am back at it. I love poetry, regardless what people do to support it. Anyone who reads this far is my kind of nut. I love you.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Little Town of Art Okay

Are you new to art? Well, you should be. There's not much point in being old to art. Art wouldn't look at you twice and as to others - human beings, and such - there not much else to look at.

I might be skeptical art, as I am skeptical of artists - what makes them tick - which is largely a function of desire; for I am chock full of desires myself. And they are comfortable desires, so that I lack nothing in the way of wanting and am not in a rush to resolve what I have.

I accept you, life. I have no complaints. You give us all a chance, more or less. You fall like rain, pretty much. My efforts - if you can call them that - are not at getting more rain, or more consistent rain. They are at getting behind the rain, and staying there, so that (in practical terms) I might have something more to share with all of you besides talk of rain, its pros and cons, and what it did to me last week - or was it the week before?

When I say "practical" I do not mean to dismiss practical things as being merely practical. The practical is the fact of God in relation to all. Love is, practically speaking, all that matters.

So we will be practical with art as we are with traffic lights and candy treats. Nothing can stop us forever, not when we make up our minds.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Phantom True, Control (Where Form is Self in Love)

Who's the work here? says the object. An object that may cease when discarded, torn up. Perhaps unread - not unread - the monkish tree in a sensible forest.

There is no point in not allowing a thing when one confesses it in word in deed. A studious look, the unshaven Saturday look. The leather coat for readings.

A poet once said, the only difference between a cynic and a romantic is their immediate proximity to a free meal. A cynic quoted that line, but in the context of public speech, he is a romantic.

A cynic, a romantic, and a realist went into a bar. The bartender asked, What will you have? All three ordered their drink of choice. Tell me who paid.

To be frank, I want and aim to enter back into things public and free-flowing and have. Why? That is not my question. What is my question?

Why ask questions?

I go through my work and my "history" (weak beer) snaps or lodges into a kind of focus. I think of the advice I would have provided students whom I have never by the grace of God been allowed to tutor, Be careful to love great authors, for you inevitably will model yourself after them.

What is a great author? There, I lose me. I lose you, I lose me. We will not fall any further than in posing that question. I ask your forgiveness that things should have gotten even to that point.

But we visit this juncture for the purpose of, quite suddenly, just as one might follow up and ask, What is a great poem, to suggest that you, the inquirer, are the point of the question. You are the very form and purpose after which we inquire, as, by extension, am I.

I call myself a concrete formalist. What this means is that I aim to capture form. I aim to capture the form of being, in particular, via process. As a young man, reading on my own in NYC, bartending at C.B.G.B.'s, I ascertained that contemporary manners would not serve to capture anything other than the will to portray oneself as sympathetic to a time and place and circumstance. I wanted to capture process - to capture the Engine. I wanted being. I understood the classical method as a personal requisite. You may say that all is politics, and I will agree with you. I will go further and say consciousness of the political is political. I seek being, its fact & the face of it.

It has never changed, really, the authors I trust. I trust their sense-making. The clarity of the here and now, including the clear song of language put to the service of a willing, thrilling soul. All that we do is fine, just fine, but I prefer my sources. Homer, Virgil, Hesiod (and so many of the Classical authors), the Bible.

I prefer Kierkegaard to the news. Why? I mean, why bother even to state such a thing? Because it is true, and for a reason. The news means everything when we are conscious and caring and capable enough to act. But how we act is governed by our language and our ideals and our forms for action-taking.

Go forward a few years into my thirties and I understood my place: to put forward and hold out for the form and process I understood, being faithful, and believing it was right to do so. I maintained this platform and approach through my forties until now.

For all these years I have felt myself at odds with achievement and success. But still I wrote as one who has no choice. I am not alone in this way of handling things. Many poets and artists and musicians work away at the thing they believe in, often without material success or note of achievement. And that is fine. We do so willingly.

But the point here is to say, I am secure, at last, simply being who I am and having written what I have written. I do not see myself as being outside. I do not see poetry world not as a category or as a collective of otherwise-thinking individuals. Instead, I see myself, simply, as one among many ones. Finally, I can allow this. That I exist.

I am already here.

I need only step forward and introduce myself and say, Here is what I do. It is kind of funny. It is a little odd. Would you like me to read?

In truth, I can see how what I do fits in and supplements what's here in Portland, Oregon, as one example. The scene here is dynamic and diverse. The changes over the past 15 years or so are incredible. And I now see myself in light of that context. It is very refreshing. Really, my writing life has been a kind of hell. I have never known where I stood in relation to anything contemporary, including, you know, people.

But to read, now, Caesar's commentaries and know I have not wavered from the message, from the form...that is really all the reward I ever, ever, ever really wanted. Not to be great or write Great Books, but to be true, to be faithful to love. This, I am willing to share, not for any kind of reward, but simply to be happy with others who, I firmly believe, will be able to share in my writerly, strange happiness.

It would be a personal refutation to ask for anything more.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Method Trivention: 2

When one is a certain age and a thing works, you may have the emotional latitude to suspend that operation and see what happens. This is fasting. You can fast or limit with respect to anything. The key is to technically suspend.

A certain age, and likely you do this to get healthy, or to see whether other, circulating ideas might apply in your case. You will do this once, then again. Not on a schedule, because that too would be a thing ripe for the fast.

No, the operation, the method, is a form you have adopted. But you put it to the side. You cleanse your life of this thing. If you can, you will live without it. You are determined to allow exactly this change. To live in the river of cleansing, the water - never pure, you understand, but more pure - rushing through you.

You have done this. You are clear. But neither do you write. This is a problem for no one other than the self that requires you write, for some variety of reasons, I can't say what they are.

There is a marvelous moment in the movie "Speed," where the the character played by Dennis Hopper says, 'If you do not allow a bomb to explode, you deny its being.' (I paraphrase from memory). This line elicits the sense, I think, that the speaker is both intelligent and insane, in the sense of living detached from consideration of the effect of his actions. It is a creepy thing to say. But, it is memorable and brilliant in the sense that it can be used to shed light, at least to someone who can use it in such a manner.

I mean to say that a poet is a kind of bomb, or exploding device. We may shower our surroundings (variety: cognizant) with pith and ellipses rather then metal shards, but explode we do.

The burst can be controlled, or not. That does not matter. What does matter is that one may find, in one's fast, no other way to light the fuse.

So, you return to your method. You light the fuse. For me, or in this case, it means leaving my house, walking three blocks to a neighborhood bar, having a couple beers, a couple cigarettes, and writing an unholy ton for a couple hours.

Life is good, and consists of many movements. Being true to oneself is constituted of multiple movements, each being true in itself.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Method Contention: One

I will be be trading getting older for nothing else anytime soon, so let's not pretend I have a choice. We will observe that the thing is so. We look to beginnings. Being a good student and failing too. Falling apart a bit. Continuing to work. Making a habit of it. Making the habit healthy.

Finding returns in what is there and calling them that. If this is what it is (one thought) then what is there for a return is just as true.

So, despite dispersion theories - or theory aimed at dispersing "logic" as a received particular - there is a kind of logic. What is logic. It is what we arrive at, having lived. to try and explain how.

The logic of clear eye, unimpeded by assumptions, not because one has argued to that point but because you have nothing to lose in recognizing that life plays out.

How marvelous.

The sound, the light, of life playing out without categorical imperatives to govern how one takes it.

Oh, to be a rock or leaf planted in the middle of Any Town square, subject to the abuse/truth of life played out as it is and lacking perfect editorial control.

How you take it. What is tough. Take it and ask for more.

Work, and work, that you say, I have nothing to fear. What would I fear?