Archive for April, 2009

Poem #16: To Rage; Prompt #2: Koch’s Address

Posted in Best of TPP, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2009 by czarnickolas

To Rage

I found you inside me and tried to kick you out, but each time we fought you brought an accomplice: cars, bigotry, eyeliner, the body of Christ, and heat that would not let me be.

You are too pure to fake.

You ripped a taco from my hand. How could you? That was my lunch. Can’t we talk this out?

Where are you going? I can’t defend myself without you.

Is this a holy lesson, rage?

You can’t trick me into sex, I’m on to you.

Get a goddamned rebound, man.

Don’t crowd me, please – I live here. This is my home and I won’t sleep with earplugs in.

How did that whole “dying of the light” thing work out?

Rage – you rhyme with cage. Did you plan that?

I can’t help laughing at you, I’m sorry.

How can I be a polar bear now?

Your arms are too short to slap-box with God.

I wish I understood you better. Maybe we can work this out.

@NBF 4.29.2009


Venice Beach, 2008



This poem’s form is inspired by Kenneth Koch and his collection New Addresses, in which he addresses, directly, many subjects that don’t often get the second-person treatment. I’m going to call this form “Koch’s Address” and invite people to give it a shot.

Allen Ginsberg’s address to America from Howl is phenomenal, especially layered onto Tom Waits’ “Closing Time”:

Allen Ginsberg – “America (Closing Time)”


Poet #4: Kenneth Koch

Posted in Poets with tags , , , , , , on April 29, 2009 by czarnickolas

Kenneth Koch

“When you finish a poem, it clicks shut like the top of a jewel box, but prose is endless. I haven’t experienced an awful lot of clicking shut!”
Kenneth Koch

(© unknown)

Kenneth Koch, whose work spans over fifty years, is often grouped with the likes of Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery as part of the famed New York School of poetry. My good friend and fellow poet Alex Carnevale gave me Koch’s final book of poetry, New Addresses, as a graduation gift in 2003. The book collects poems written directly to a variety of subjects, including marijuana, insults, and orgasms. These poems remind me of Alex and his own style: direct, enthusiastic, and humorous. Koch’s work proves, once and for all, that one need not be dreary and depressed to be a great poet.

“I simply was ignoring the fact that The Waste Land indeed made it seem to many poets that one had to be depressed-not that The Waste Land is a bad poem, it’s a wonderful poem-that one had to feel despair, that one had to think that the modern world was terrible.”

It took a while for Koch’s work to gain acceptance. His early writing struck critics as obscure, such as the epic Ko, or A Season on Earth (1959). He and his fellow New York School poets avoided the soul-baring styles of the Confessional poets in favor of a more cosmopolitan approach that adapted the art of action painting to a poetic medium. Over time, Koch developed a clear voice, renown for its lyricism, and he helped grow a style akin to French Surrealism, buoyed by unusual juxtapositions and underlying philosophical assertions.

(photo © Dodie Bellamy)

“As I understand the surrealist program, it was programmatically in favor of the unconscious as opposed to the conscious; programmatically in favor of chance, even programmatically in favor of a certain kind of violence and all that dream stuff.”

Even in his seventies, Koch produced work that was driven by the frenetic energy of The City:

To Various Persons Talked To All At Once

You have helped hold me together.
I’d like you to be still.
Stop talking or doing anything else for a minute.
No. Please. For three minutes, maybe five minutes.
Tell me which walk to take over the hill.
Is there a bridge there? Will I want company?
Tell me about the old people who built the bridge.
What is “the Japanese economy”?
Where did you hide the doctor’s bills?
How much I admire you!
Can you help me to take this off?
May I help you to take that off?
Are you finished with this item?
Who is the car salesman?
The canopy we had made for the dog.
I need some endless embracing.
The ocean’s not really very far.
Did you come west in this weather?
I’ve been sitting at home with my shoes off.
You’re wearing a cross!
That bench, look! Under it are some puppies!
Could I have just one little shot of Scotch?
I suppose I wanted to impress you.
It’s snowing.
The Revlon Man has come from across the sea.
This racket is annoying.
We didn’t want the baby to come here because of the hawk.
What are you reading?
In what style would you like the humidity to explain?
I care, but not much. You can smoke a cigar.
Genuineness isn’t a word I’d ever use.
Say, what a short skirt! Do you have a camera?
The moon is a shellfish.
I can’t talk to most people. They eat me alive.
Who are you, anyway?
I want to look at you all day long, because you are mine.
Might you crave a little visit to the Pizza Hut?
Thank you for telling me your sign.
I’m filled with joy by this sun!
The turtle is advancing but the lobster stays behind. Silence has won the game!
Well, just damn you and the thermometer!
I don’t want to ask the doctor.
I didn’t know what you meant when you said that to me.
It’s getting cold, but I am feeling awfully lazy.
If you want to we can go over there
Where there’s a little more light.

— from New Addresses

(© Colpitts Poetry)

It is the comedic character of Koch’s poetry that engages me the most. “There was a certain amount of humor in all our work,” Koch remarked about the New York School. “Maybe you can almost characterize [our] poetry… as having as one of its main subjects the fullness and richness of life and the richness of possibility and excitement and happiness.” Koch’s sense of humor comes across well in his amusing poetic manipulations of William Carlos Williams’ poem, “This is Just to Say“:

Variations On A Theme By William Carlos Williams

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

Kenneth Koch was a poet, professor, and playwright. He died of leukemia in 2002. Take a moment to listen to him read his poem One Train May Hide Another.

(photo © Larry Rivers)

Poem #15: The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away and It Doesn’t Matter

Posted in Love Poems, Poems with tags , , , , on April 28, 2009 by czarnickolas

The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away and It Doesn’t Matter

the sound of severance, an agony

the sound of regret and these forgetful escapes

the sound of symmetrical incongruence

the sound of taut tautologies

the sound of shivering strings, instinct picked

the sound of swinging doors, grids and arrogance

the sound of the point, the point, the line, the lying

the sound of liturgical dances, hot baths and tile

the sound of seeming, seams, and the concrete separation

the sound of feet a foot apart

the sound of knowing too much

the sound of not knowing anything, anyway

the sound of no

the sound of settling, unsettling, settling

the sound of de-lay

the sound of the sound of the sound of the sound

the sound of not now, not ever, never

the sound of someone you love who’s going away and it doesn’t matter

@NBF 10.18.2004, rev. 4.28.2009


Sydney, 2004



This poem takes its title from the name of a Penguin Cafe Orchestra song. I wrote the original draft in 2004 and elected to revise it today. I’m not usually drawn to poems with heavy repetition, but I enjoy the sound of “the sound of.”

In class, Mark Tardi once told us about a performance artist who sat on stage and repeated the word “pineapple” for twenty minutes. When I was in elementary school, I used to repeat the word “water” until it no longer made sense to me.

Poem #14: Untitled #2

Posted in Poems with tags , , on April 27, 2009 by czarnickolas

Untitled #2

When I built you from
marble I fooled myself.
(But the wind
knew better.)

We break, mind’s loose gravel
spilled upon our feet.

A compound crisis is
the leather dragon,
dogwood feathers, and
a murderous incline. (We won’t.)

Hollow steel drums bounce
above in mid-century containers,
the royal blue rust, an omen
from our new god.

The orb spins. (That
is its definition.) Recursive identities
make facial flash cards, but who am I,
lost in another alligator allegory.

Excess truths tie borders,
this ship, that ship.

The last photograph ever.

Rooms around us
house other stories that
may have fit before but
won’t again. (Don’t call me dour,
I just live here.)

Turbulent laundry, the fifth
of July, and a wheel
we can’t unload.

Horse breadth occurs in hands.

Repeat, but
the word you want is
mistake. Tell me the Nile.

Origins are missed truths,
bets, and beads of sweat.

Don’t hire a band. (The you is
symphonic, and the I is still me.)

@NBF 4.27.2009


Providence, 2003



This poem used to be a paragraph.

Last Week in Poetry #3: 4/20-4/26, 2009

Posted in Weekly Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2009 by czarnickolas

Welcome to Last Week in Poetry, brought to you in part by The Poetry Project. Before we begin, a word from our other sponsors:

“Y’see, the kids, they listen to the rap music, which gives them the brain damage. With their hippin’ and their hoppin’, and their bippin’, and their boppin’… so they don’t know what [poetry] is all about! You see, [poetry] is like a Jello Pudding pop — no! Actually, it’s more like Kodak film — no! Actually, [poetry] is like the new Coke; it’ll be around forever! Heh heh heh…”

Oh, Bill Cosby parodies: you are the lost art of the universe. Now for Last Week in Poetry!

1 – Joy Harjo Wants Nothing to Do With Sadomasochist Co-Worker

In a surprising move (that took place in November of last year, but is only now finding widespread publicity), University of New Mexico professor Joy Harjo has resigned after the administration failed to fire another professor:

Harjo, the University’s only Joseph Russo Endowed Professor, said her resignation was a result of the administration’s decision to retain associate professor Lisa Chavez.

Pictures of Chavez posing with one of her students on a sadomasochism Web site were discovered in spring 2007.

“The administration’s mishandling of the very serious matter regarding professor Lisa Chavez and apparent ignoring of at least eight formal student letters reporting mistreatment has created a learning and work environment that is untenable for numerous faculty and students,” Thiel said. “Faculty and students have resigned and left UNM over this and will likely continue to. The recent resignation of Joy Harjo, arguably the most well-known Native American poet in the world, highlights the seriousness of the situation, many details of which have yet to be reported to the media.”

Harjo said Chavez was retained as a University employee because administrators were afraid of a lawsuit and wanted to keep the problem quiet.

2 – Poetweet

Another development that predates last week: people are trying to find artistic uses for Twitter. In this case, our featured poet has added a twist:

I have long been a fan of the short-short, poem or story or play, I like it brief. The stanzas are created out of twitter posts available at the time of composition. Rules? Other than the 140 characters that all Twitter posters have, I make myself use the text that my followers provide, and if I click on, I use what’s there and I use it before it changes, which would be cheating. So no refreshing. Quick and dirty.

I have a feeling it won’t be long until an Oulipo member comes out and publicly endorses the art of Twitter Poetry. Raymond Queneau tweets from his grave: D’où qu’ils puent donc tant?

smlovesunsetSanta Monica, 2009

3 – Poetry and the Art of Recovery

Some writer friends of mine complain that their work is flat or uninspired when their lives are running smoothly and want nothing more than a little misfortune. Kathryn Lavelle suffered through a 10-year abusive relationship and felt quite the opposite: she sensed her creativity was dying. Lavelle is one of many poets whose work is on display at Minnesota’s sixth annual Art of Recovery exhibition, which features “visual and literary artwork by Minnesotans who have been victims of crime and have used art as a means to respond, explore, express or heal.”

“Art of Recovery is a great way for people to start or continue their recovery,” said Lavelle, who wrote poetry during her abusive relationship, but did not journal.

“I was always afraid it would get read,” she said. “Poetry is more obscure.”

“The only way for me to have survived being beaten, raped, assaulted and dragged down for so long was to be able to write, to assemble my pain with pen and paper into words that somehow healed my soul from the inside out,” she wrote at the time.

The Art of Recovery exhibit is on the web here.

4 – W.S. Merwin: The Pete Sampras of Poetry?

Merwin, 82, author of over 20 books of poetry and almost 20 books of translation, won his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry the other day, his second in only 38 years. At this rate, he will eclipse Robert Frost and Eugene O’Neill’s shared record of 4 Pulitzers in 2123 at the sprightly age of 196.


Golan Heights, 2009

5 – Poetry Joeys: Using Assonance to Attract Children to the Art

Faced with competition ranging from Spongebob to Zac Efron (Who is Zac Efron, and Why Isn’t He Black?), poetry needs help reaching the young folk. Thankfully, University of Arizona Museum of Art volunteers have been running a monthly poetry fun session for children aged four to ten since fall 2007. Drawing a dozen or so kids per session, the workshop has been a reasonable success. The volunteers offer “a series of activities ranging from discussion to improvisational dance,” helping the children “draw connections between poetry and the visual arts.”

Colleen Burns, a volunteer for the Poetry Center whose granddaughter attended the event, said programs like Poetry Joeys build a positive foundation for children to develop a lifelong love of language.

“People tend to ruin poetry for kids,” Burns said. “Billy Collins has a poem about how people want to tie a poem to a chair and beat it until it tells you what it really means. But I think if you can catch kids at this age, they have no idea that it’s supposed to be a tortuous process. If you can instill in a kid a love of language, then they’ve got it all.”

Saturday was the first time 6-year-old first grader Eli Protas had been to Poetry Joeys, but he said he loved being able get up and move around while learning about poetry.

“I like the way (poetry) sounds ’cause it’s not just words. It’s – I don’t really know how to explain it, it’s pretty cool,” Protas said.

Pretty cool, indeed. Let’s hear it for poetry!

Poem #13: This Dog

Posted in Best of TPP, Poems with tags , , , , on April 25, 2009 by czarnickolas

This Dog

My mother told me dogs
have no sense of time.

When I asked her how
she knew, she told me

Dogs can’t read clocks
on walls like you and I

Can. Have you shown
a dog a watch? No, but

Come on now – be real.
The dog would only

Eat it. Dogs don’t dine
on time. Not if you for-

Get to feed them. (I
watched Gambit lick his

Paws for many days.
His slurping kept me

Up all night.) My dad
said some dogs sing

Along with songs, but
none in minor keys.

We found this dog on
seventh street, with-

Out a collar or a tag.
Dad put up signs, but

No one’s claimed him.
He’s been with us for

weeks now, but I’m
sure he thinks he’s

Only just arrived. (He
has no sense of time.)

@NBF 4.25.2009


Tzfat, 2009



My family has one dog, an Australian Shepherd mutt named Daisy. She follows my father around. When he’s not home, she follows my mother. When they’re both away, I become her leader. She lives for walks, suffers many allergies, and snores frequently. She has an excellent grasp of time and is my dog-sized alarm clock.

Poem #12: The Big Wheel

Posted in Best of TPP, Love Poems, Poems with tags , , , , on April 24, 2009 by czarnickolas

The Big Wheel


At such heights our affair
is safe, where
birds are fatigued, and

Our hands hide beneath
the red lip rail, knowing
discretely what we
know above all.

The top takes ten
minutes to reach –
we arrive and
recognize nothing.

Our descent is
rapid, like the spread
of secrets stolen from
boardwalk strangers.

Back on Earth, the thrill
is gone – besides,
you say, it’s far too late
for lunch.

Osaka, 2004


One-hundred dreams
in orbit – rocket backs
sprinkle time about
the bay.

Rays of red and
gold glide down
the wheel’s edge,
and we belong.

You watch the spokes
spin while steel skies
stir your legs, a young
man’s fancy.

Tickets clutched, children
shift in line, the music
behind us lost in
a joyous haze:

“I say a young man
ain’t nothin’
in this world
these days.”

@NBF 4.24.2009


Osaka, 2004



The biggest Ferris wheel I ever rode was the Tempozan Harbor Village Ferris wheel, which I affectionately called “The Big Wheel.” These inventions have always intrigued me with their limitless possibilities, both literal and metaphorical.

The lyrics quoted in part two belong to Mose Allison, from his song Young Man’s Blues.