Sunday, May 15, 2011

After Glow

Have you ever read a book so good that you read it slowly, to stave off the end? I used to work at a bookstore in Denver and one of my co-workers was reading through Patrick O'Brian's seafaring novels and he slowed it down around book seventeen or something just so he wouldn't finish reading the set during his lifetime. My friend was really let down the day Patrick O'Brian died. (By the way, these books make a nice gift for Father's Day. There are about twenty-one in the set, so your dad will be pretty taken care of for a long time, unless you double-up the books).

I recently slowed down while reading Radioactive by Lauren Redniss. The book is part biography of Marie Curie, the story of radioactivity, and art book. Did you know Curie was from Poland? Her real name was Marya.

You can smell the ink as you turn the pages. You know how it will all end, that Marie Curie changed science forever, that it killed her, that it continues to be dangerous. To tell the story Redniss created a delightful typeface, which gives the book the appearance of being written by hand, a re-telling in a very physical sense. She named the typeface after Eusapia Palladino, who held seances Marie and Pierre Curie attended. The story of someone's life is never a simple one and Redniss elegantly balances many components of Marie Curie's professional and personal history. The one of scientific discovery. Marie Curie: "It was obvious that a new science was in the course of development." The one of love. The one of triumph. (Marie Curie was named the first female professor to teach at the Sorbonne). The one of atomic properties. How they glowed at night. Their poisonous effects.

Throughout the book I was very attached to the idea of a blurred line between science and magic. Because Radium glowed, Marie Curie was awed by it. In the lab, it was something special. Curie wrote, "If a radioactive substance is placed in the dark in the vicinity of the closed eye or of the temple, a sensation of light fills the eye." In this context, seeking atomic energy and creating it, at least for the Curies, was spiritual. Mystical fusion was the thing that sort of kept them going. In Radioactive, Radium has nearly three sides: the mystical glowy side, the toxic side, and the healing one. It's still used as a cure for cancer. Even though exposure to it is so incredibly harmful. Pierre Curie died so young. Marie Curie followed. Her daughter and grandchildren also died of complications related to radiation exposure.

So are we supposed to celebrate the discovery of Radium or not? Are we supposed to answer? Redniss's book delicately and pointedly addresses the art of art, of pursuit, how earthly things seem so unearthly. Non-fiction doesn't have to be boring or terrible and Redniss's unique and investigative technique of conveying biography makes this book sit well with writers such as Dava Sobel, Rick Pearlstein, Lawrence Weschler, and Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I recommend reading this one slowly.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Could Possibly Happen Next

According to the BBC and TPM, president Obama has said that, due to the death of Osama Bin Laden, the world is now a safer and better place. How does he come by way of this knowledge? For fear of retaliation, I don't feel safe. For wrongfully invading Iraq, I don't feel safe. For the cruel and harsh treatment of detainees, I don't feel safe. For the pillaging of the environment, the world is not a better place. I don't feel safe from toxic waste and harmful chemicals. A for-profit healthcare system does not make me feel I'm receiving better care. As local police budgets are being slashed, I don't feel safer on the streets. As our infrastructure such as bridges and highways are not being properly cared for, I don't feel safe traveling on them. The continuation of drilling for oil and for natural gas via hydraulic fracturing does not lead me to believe that my tap water is always safe to drink. The proliferation of GMO food does not make me feel my food is always safe to eat.

I am deeply troubled by Hillary Clinton's statement to al-Qaeda members: you can make the choice to abandon al-Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process. Which one is she talking about? The one where the government invests in its people over business interests? Where government diplomats talk to and reconcile with enemies? Is a peaceful political process devoid of secrets?

When I worked on a farm one summer, the farmers said they don't shoot the coyotes at first glance because bigger ones move in and fight for the territory. To the White House complex: job well done. You perpetuate that which former president Bush started. Secrets, blame, torture, hunting people in the night. This is what our government is now. There is no question that I grieve for those who suffered in the attacks on September 11, 2001. I have also lost a family member at the hands of another, but even though I grieve every day of my life, I know that irrational actions will never repair the loss.

Obama says, "Today we are reminded that as a nation there is nothing we can't do." It's true. We sure do know how to kill. It is sad that Obama's patriotism is not generated by having the best education system, by having the cleanest subway cars, by supporting the arts. Do our political leaders know how to invest in energy resources safe for the environment? Do we know how to rehabilitate people who break the law? These things seem to be a bit of a mystery.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Poetry Book Club's Response to The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley

I'll tell ya it's 1986 New York City subways.

Responding to the Vietnam War.

Question of responsibility: killing, having to kill. Fairness. Having never given birth. What do you understand.

Subway v. Metro. AIDS era. Angels in America.

THE QUOTATIONS. Speech weakened. Perpetual overturning of thoughts. Breaks. Makes you pay attention. Storyish, narrative driven but not building. Seeing in dreams and images. Descent of Inanna. To build this book? Cave or Subway? Writing consciousness, a story "told." Unfolding in the process. Space to fill in.

Poems as poems. Descend down them. Each poem is its own unit. Lyric poetry accumulative. Snakelike in form, going forward, looking back. Track those threads: light, birds, form, darkness. Inferno closure is important.

We realize our own strength when we're powerless.

Visuals driving the action. Action v. image. Each encounter, action.

Each subway car is a new world. Levels of consciousness. Feminist revelations.

Chronological or not.

Allegory of the cave.

Catholic/Christian Paradise. Adamless Paradise. Snakes. Enticed by serpents and drugs. Adamless = female snake. DNA helix.

p. 19--embracing the darkness. Darkness as shedding the body, womb, blood, earthiness.

Finding the form The Tyrant doesn't own. The Tyrant isn't a person but a consciousness. Tyrant as history. Masculine ideas of history. Having never given birth. What do you understand. The female Oedipal story.

Fire baby. Vision seeing this happen. Vietnam.

Light Made New. Pound Plug!

Literary Function. Will voice state of affairs. Are we writing answers to questions. Or writing the state of affairs. Is this ending hopeful?!? Triumph over the message. Changing the way we think. Imagination changes the status quo. Works of art v. mapping out the future. Constraints in our existence. Breaking through state of affairs.

Owl: good daddy v. bad daddy.

A Poetry Book Club's Response to Spring and All by William Carlos Williams

In control, out of control. The idea of the thing. The thing itself. Cutting himself off.

What is the experiment. Connection between poetry and prose. Wanting you to connect it to the poetry. Poems and prose working ON you.

Doing nothing. Imagination without emotional connection. Everyday objects. Artist and the farmer. One thing couched in another.

Red Wheelbarrow: shocking "in here." What does depend on it?

What does it mean for poetry to imitate life. Writing a poetry he can't quite write yet. Supreme importance. Nameless spectacle. Moment of cleavage.

Emerson, Nietzstche. Old turning over the new. Romanticism. Something lost. Disorganization principle. Emerson disobedience. Relatedness. Are these the ideas most poets operate.

Personality. Dialectic. In dialogue. Drawing on.

Projects of NOW: v. learning then, pure and puritanism, inclusive, redundancy, completeness. Always now. What is suspense. Dottie Lasky. Marianne Moore.

Excess. Spring... and all!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Underlining, I Was Cringing

Do you write in your books? I underline and write in the margins. When I was in college and grad school and grad school, I took most of my lecture notes in the very books we were talking about! Lately, however, (did you know you're really NOT supposed to begin a sentence with however?) I have begun feeling badly about writing in my books. I used to think that writing in my books would be like a kind of legacy. I don't really have much besides books and books are all I care about really, besides knitting. So to read a book that I've read is to know a little about me, what I underlined and bracketed or checked. (I don't know the difference between those things, but that seems to be my system).

Does this mean I'm growing up? I started thinking about this when the old man and I started a book club with several of our friends. We have to share the same book or buy it twice, which doesn't make much sense. The first book we read, William Carlos Williams's (the Carlos saves the day here) Spring and All and the old man wrote all up in it. I couldn't wade through his notes, which really read like a bunch of jibber jabber. Then I couldn't tell if I was reading Spring and All for the old man's notes. Let us say the old man writes like four people were simultaneously holding one pen and trying to write one thing together while on a train.

I asked him not to take so many notes in our book club books and he now writes in a little journal, which I think is pretty cute. The benefit of writing in my books is that I know directly what to steal without having to waste the time of having to re-read and search an entire book for the quotation I wanted. How else would I know when the butt sex begins in A Sport and A Past Time if it were not for that big-ass star marking the page? Hmm? And what about all the things I need to re-pay-attention to when I reread my books? Also, when I write essay, I practically write the essay in the book.

I do not write in handmade books and chapbooks.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Look at me. I'm a business woman now. I'm going to have a business card. A letter-pressed business card that the old man is making. Please do not worry about my soul. My soul is intact. In fact the old man and I are going on a Yoga retreat in Costa Rica. We are wholesome. We are starting a business together because we love each other. We will be selling poetry. It is kind of an anti-capitalistic act because no one could ever pay what poetry is worth. No one could ever pay what a hand-bound and or letter-press book is worth. I'm sticking it to the man. We are sticking it to the man with our bookstore, Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Shop. If you make books, you should let us sell them. We have created all kinds of fantastic ways to display poetry books. The old man's dad made beautiful curved wooden structures for us to display poetry books. Berl's will rule, but it will not rule the world.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pardon Me While I Throw Up On Myself

During the holidays I developed a strange need to watch a show called Hoarders. I actually watched it on instaNetflix and am quite curious as to what commercials are shown while the show is on. The Container Store? Mr. Clean? What upsets me most about watching the show is how little the show actually accomplishes, how the show is painfully devoid of humanity. Yes, we viewers get to gawk at how dirty these people's houses are, how they have chosen to have stuff like a collection of cats or years-old yogurt cups rather than personal relationships, and we get to watch them squirm and cry as a crew (standing by ready to help the hoarder!) tries to clean out various hoarders' houses.

What I keep hoping is for someone to point out an addiction to bargain shopping. This is the price of capitalism: that someone fills up their house with shit he doesn't need or will never use because it was cheap to buy. And then he feels terrible for having to throw it away. Or he fells terrible about all the shit everyone else throws away so he keeps broken shit. There are extreme issues of poverty, loneliness, and self-esteem that are hardly addressed. What a loss--to have such an interesting topic for a show and to completely make an empty half-hour around it. They should just call the show Police Chase or something. Hoarders become that way after many, many years, and they can't possibly clean their houses in two days. My dad sometimes visits the homes of hoarders because he's a caseworker for the elderly. He says there are clients' houses that are so terrible he has to throw away the clothes he wore during the visit. He says the stink never comes out.

Would hoarders be hoarders if everything they bought was super-expensive? Do you know any hoarders? I know some and after I watch the show, I maniacally clean something. Last time I dusted a lamp, threw away three broken chopsticks, and did a load of laundry. My mom jokingly called me a Paper Hoarder because I keep wrapping paper from various Christmases. Also I like to collect trash such as the packaging from electronics because I like to craft with them. From now on I think I should stick with Buffy reruns.