Friday, February 20, 2009

pages 26-35

Here are pages 26-35 (as of now) of Old News.



why won’t frankie talk to me?

when i say hello i get barely

a nod back. i bet it’s because

when his wife was

preaching jesus to me i laughed

and cracked a joke and she got

pissed: oh, i get it ,she said,

you’ve had enough, huh?

and she went ahead and told

frankie i was a godless asshole

or something. what was that joke

i cracked? i don’t remember

except all i meant was what was

god but doubt in solid form

you pick up a stone and throw it

and that’s the missionary position: pitcher

we wanna pitcher

we wanna get stoned

have the cake eat the cake

be the cake

let cake cake finale of be

but yeah, i’d lend you my car, too

if i had one and you didn’t


Know Your America Program: Philadelphia (1951)


when i first met frankie he asked where i was from

we stood in the middle of the block, facing my

new rowhome

well we moved from 10th and spruce, i said

they used to call that the tenderloin, he said

i actually grew up in northeast philly, i said

that’s where i’m from originally, way up in bustleton

i remember when that was just woods, he said

i remember when they built that all up

i said yeah, my grandfather built his house up there

still plenty of woods, though, if you think about pennypack park

he said pennypack park, no, i don’t think about pennypack park

i laughed a little, said oh yeah, what do you think about?

he looked at me, unsmiling, then looked at my house

The Evening Bulletin, June 8, 1923


Man Knocks Poison from Her Hand—She Suffers Burns

a suicide attempt of Mrs.

Sadie Mesner, 35, 4520

Tackawanna st., was frustrated

last night

by her father-in-law

he stepped into

the room as she was raising

a bottle of poison

to her lips

with a blow he dashed it

from her hands

the liquid spilled over her

face and chest, severely

burning her

she was taken

to the Frankford


death of the author, or, the good book

pick up the paper and read


and a car goes by and it doesn’t explode.

could you make out the make of that one?

i could make out the scrape of tailpipe on asphalt.

what it says to all these dead people. to any one

of them. i want from you what you are not. loose

change from your pockets. old pennies, maybe,

wheatbacks i can stretch into souvenirs. remember

the time you were a souvenir? remember the time

i was oprah and you were south africa and i

visited you? or vice-versa? there was a figure again,

standing against darkened woods, motion grown

through weathered clothes, a real city--large sycamore

guarding the years, a father at last, an angel whoever,

the question again of where are we going. the

recurrence of the question that urges me to question

it. i’m going to a book, to being in the book, to being

the book. i want to be the good book so to be opened

and read and for that to be love, which is impossible.

The Evening Bulletin, Thursday, May 3, 1923



Workers Tearing Down Mansion in Jersey

Stumble Upon Old Tunnel Like

Captain Kidd’s

two centuries ago this spot was by

tradition the rendezvous of smugglers

and freebooters and now accident has

led to the unearthing of a hidden

underground passageway, lined

with bricks brought two centuries ago

from Holland, the loot of wrecked ships,

of pirates’ captures and the ill-gotten

cargoes of the smugglers’ crafts. wild

interest permeates this village as they

await the result of the probers below

ground on the old Jeffe Braddock property.

but needs must be a whiff of the past

before we can delve into this pirate tale.

established records tell how smugglers

haunted this coast and here cached their

gains. here, too, land pirates had their trap

and upon the shores built false beacon fires

which led ships at sea, misled, to seek to

enter the passage between the present Longport

and Ocean City, and so wreck themselves

on the coast, where the point pirates could

set out upon them in small boats and loot

the cargo. digging of a post hole has un-

covered the passage. strangely enough,

the hole was being dug to take the place

of an old post put in thirty years ago, and

had this first post been a foot to one side,

the tale would have been told a generation

ago. but it was not, and it was only a few

days ago that the post hole digger’s spade,

about five feet down, struck an iron bound

covering of wood. the wood, decayed, fell

apart beneath the workman’s touch. the

passageway bored straight toward the present

house. and for the time, the house holds

the answer to what lies at the end of the

passage. for the residence, built years ago,

has no cellar, and its foundations lay flat

upon the ground. but it will be necessary to

cut away some of this foundation work before

the excavators can go further. so far, they

have thrust an iron bar as far as it will reach

into the unexplored part of the passage. the

bar does not touch the end. the passage from

the square chamber of the house wall is about

nine feet long, and three high, so a man can

crawl in it, but not stand.

Lew Blum Towing Co.

on the side of esposito’s pork & beef

a kid shoots a ball off the wall

practicing his layups

his form

in his oversized red


there’s no basket

no hoop

only his form

his practice

and the big sign at

which he takes


little charlie brown xmas tree

we dumped how much water into that thing its leaves burned up anyway

and gone by the start of fall: bare, crude fork stuck in the sidewalk like

a spade, still there, stupid. metaphor for my marriage, em’s marriage.

continues digging. did you call the citizens alliance for whatever about

it? did you? no, i was busy, i was busy shaving the morning from my face,

and from the answers, which i know from sleep, that big past on stilts

confusing talk with walk, stubble and dry skin flaking down an old

bathroom sink, army green. army green as that one i brushed my teeth

over as a boy. that’s my grandmother’s house, which she’s lived in for

60 some years. she’s long shed her first language. can’t speak a word

of it. ages ago, she says, that was ages ago, who cares. she cares where

my wife is on christmas eve. she’s out with her friends, i say. then her

face lights up: you know what i remember, she says, tapping my hand:

rumbleseating – oh, that was something. we had so much fun going up

and down broad street, making noise, we’d holler at people on the sidewalk,

it didn’t matter the weather. they started making cars faster and faster

at that time, you know, it was so much fun, and that was the depression,

you know, and before you know it no more rumbleseating.

news in brief

The Evening Bulletin, Thursday, May 3, 1923

Push Hunt For Davidson

Missing Man Suffered Loss of Memory, is Belief

the former postmaster remained a mystery today

mr. davidson left his home several days ago

saying he was going for a walk

he wandered off in the direction of a woodland

and has not been seen since

police and friends continued the search

dragging raccoon lake and a lake

near the creek

friends and relatives scout the theory

that he has ended his life

“he was in good spirits and had nothing

to worry him,” said his nephew

* * *

Sioux Sue for $700,000,000

Ask Damages from U.S. for Lands

from Custer’s Time

the sioux indian tribe of the dakotas,

nebraska and montana

seeks to recover damages aggregating

practically three-quarters of a billion dollars

for lands and property taken

by the white man

many years ago

the suit will hark back to the days

of the gold rush

into the black hills

and of custer

* * *

Parrot Laughs at Firemen

Four Fall into Pit While Fighting Blaze;

Chickens Rescued

plunged into a deep pit

the firemen were extricated with difficulty

guffaws at their plight were heard

emanating from a shed

these were from a parrot

the parrot’s rude chatter

was stifled by a douche from the nozzle

of a firehose

if i had a nickel for every time i was a nickel

it feels good to say “president obama”

today, january 23, 2009. small pleasure

of sliding a quarter into the parking meter

hearing it land on the others. convinced,

happy, i walk over the news, jingle my

keys, conviction. on south street no more

parking meters—i wonder where they put

them all. in the basement of walgreen’s,

i imagine, piled up high. tower records,

it used to be. that corner stands out, remembers

nothing. em, whose first language is spanish,

used to confuse remind with remember.

can you remember me to stop at the bank,

she might say. money’s why we broke up,

more or less. she reminded me of my great

grandmother who loved money and gave

me a two-dollar bill one christmas. save this,

she wrote on the card, so that one day it will

be worth more to you than me. that has two

meanings, one for each dollar, and when i

look at the bill now, at the sad face of thomas

jefferson, who ultimately was not as interested

in the type of currency on which we now see

his face every day, thomas jefferson who

warned his powerful friends that banking

institutions are more dangerous to our liberties

than standing armies, i remember myself

to owe something to somebody. some somebody

for some somebody. nobodies notwithstanding.

Friday, February 13, 2009

In the occasion and For the occasion

Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s book party last week for That Gorgeous Feeling was a warm occasion in a warm place, thanks to the warm people and poems some of them read for Juliette, poems written for the event. These poems, in particular Stan Mir’s poem “A Crush of Consonants and Open Vowels for Juliette,” got me to thinking about the possibilities of an occasional poem, what with Elizabeth Alexander’s recent inaugural poem lingering, poets having blogged and blogged about it. I talked to a lot of people about Alexander’s poem, too—writers and nonwriters—and nobody seems to have liked it. People said it was bland, boring. But I doubt it could have been otherwise. What would you write if you were asked to write something for that occasion (as if Obama’s oratory weren’t poetry enough, and the fact of his election)? I think I would write some hopelessly universal thing about hope. So I’m not sure what those who were really disappointed had been expecting (and I appreciated Reb Livingston’s response to the critics).

But I was reminded of how public poetry can be, at least in terms of satire, when I watched Stephen Colbert’s interview with Alexander. The answers to his questions about poetry were more evident for me in Colbert’s form (his irony, his timing) than in what Alexander said. I thought it was hilarious. His questions included “Poems aren’t true, are they?” and “What’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” His final questions bordered on critique. After Alexander explains what an occasional poem is, Colbert asks: if her poem is “marked by the commonality of experience” then “why not soaring rhetoric . . . why not light up the crowd?”

Though Colbert’s show is his show and Alexander had no show to make her own (the inauguration’s tone was predetermined), it’s clear that some element of performance could have helped. That’s what was missing. Five years ago my friend Andrew Bradley recited an epithalamion for my wedding. And it was great because Andrew’s a performer, and he’s witty, and the poem had an intimacy to it. Andrew knew me, and the people at the wedding knew me (and there weren't that many people). Stan Mir knew Juliette. The rest of us there knew her. So there was an intimacy. It’s hard to be intimate with 300 million people (Colbert comes a lot closer than most of us).

But I think intimacy, in writing, can have a universality if it can become its own place, its own occasion – this is why, for example, I can feel Ted Berrigan’s poems with all their references even though I never knew him or any of his friends. Stan’s poems have this quality, too. Not just in that he pulls the news into his poems and includes both public and personal events, but in how he twines them: he creates a seamlessness between items, from line to line, all things made equal but bound by an insistence on the present, which I associate with truth, with what is. And from that perhaps intimacy. Or maybe it’s simply the acknowledgment of the complexity of any moment, any occasion, the “dull moment” in search of the “gorgeous feeling.” Here’s the poem Stan wrote for Juliette:

The crush of consonants

in Tom Daschle & the open

vowels of John Yau have

got me thinking of Mary Ann

Caws who says “Poetry can be

any damn thing it wants”

The treaty of 1868

We are not alone in a room

Being alone is anarchy

I’m certain the mice are

in the ceiling

A bomb instead of a drawing

It snowed last night

The sun today a postscript

If what we remember is

aberration how come I

remember all the dull moments

leading up this gorgeous

feeling of being done

I'm talking about the Williams tradition (poem as reality unto itself), which is a tradition I like because it’s interested in paring down the past that’s our skin, the bullshit that can walk and talk us. The attention to the dull moment implies an open ear and a search for music, the desire to carve from the world a moment never dull, a piece of music one can enter, walk through and exit with hopefully some feeling in tact, some echoing idea. Anything but a lie.

John Drury, in his Poetry Dictionary (a useful undergraduate teaching tool, by the way), suggests that all verse might be occasional. He defines “occasional verse” as “anything that represents a quick sketch of the ephemeral, of time fleeing.” I think of Frank O’Hara’s “Personism” and “The Day Lady Died,” a poem which so many of us love. That poem undercuts my temptation to say “No meaning but in the dull moment” or “No meaning but out of the dull moment.” Because that’s not entirely true. Just as “no ideas but in things” is not entirely true; nor “description does nothing.” I think Alexander tried for something like “no meaning but in the dull moment,” but she was stuck in the big occasion, in the main idea, isolated, which we fall victim to all the time.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Books by Philly Poets

It's turning out to be a big year for books of poetry in Philadelphia.
Here are some books & chapbooks recently published:

Maps & Legends, Jenn McCreary
The Residents, Kim Gek Lin Short
The Book of Frank, CA Conrad
That Gorgeous Feeling, Sueyeun Juliette Lee
Over Here, Frank Sherlock
UNION!, Ish Klein
Toward Eadward Forward, Emily Abendroth
the zen of chainsaws and enormous clippers, Drew Kalbach

and forthcoming:

Table Alphabetical of Hard Words, Pattie McCarthy
The Lacustrine Suite, Stan Mir
The Bugging Watch and Other Exhibits, Kim Gek Lin Short
The City Real and Imagined: Philadelphia Poems, Frank Sherlock & CA Conrad