Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kostas Karyotakis

Happy Birthday, Kostas Karyotakis
(October 30, 1896 - July 20, 1928)

They placed no flowers on your dead man's bed.
The other poets of your time laughed at your
azure solitude, too stone-eared to know
your poems were the pain of the absolute-new.
Syphilitic, five-hour failure at drowning yourself,
you spent your last money on a rust-pocked pistol.
Your final poems were landlord-crumpled,
tossed into a maggoty garbage bin.
You sang for skinny window-children
doubled-up in sorrow, for waste-away brides
waiting for war-maddened husbands,
for mothers bearing graveyard lilies.
You scribbled orange-moon sad poems by night,
you desire-stunted, pathetic, servile clerk,
you angel of rosy-marble cemetery aspiration.
From the corners of your glassy eyes,
you caught the half-hidden diamond-sparkle
in a farewell-scatter of oblivion-bound dirt.

Norman H. Russell

 Norman H. Russell
March 1981
Fairbury, Nebraska

Norman H. Russell

No poet saw more of his poems appear in literary journals between 1970 and 1985 than Norman H. Russell.

News was carried to me recently that Russell died on May 14th of this year at age 89.

An internationally respected botanist, Russell began his poetry career relatively late... in his late forties... after taking a teaching post at Central State University in Edmond, Oklahoma.  He had made his name as an expert in the violet.  Although Russell had been a devoted reader of poetry, he only felt the impulse to write his own poems after  becoming a regular patron of the public zoo in Oklahoma City.  The first poems were about those zoo animals.  But soon Russell was writing out of his Cherokee ancestry.

 Night Dog and Other Poems
by Norman H. Russell
(Cottonwood Review, 1971)

Norman H. Russell's poems appeared in, literally, hundreds of magazines.  Some of them were dreadful.  Russell didn't seem to care.  He wrote a batch of poems... he sent out a batch of poems.  New journals appeared every month.  There were dozens of new journals launched every month in the early seventies.  Anybody within a few miles of a Xerox machine could start a magazine.  Most of those magazines died early. Some were good, a few were great, most were packed with mediocre-at-best poetry.  Russell did not appear to care about a magazine's reputation.

Frequently Russell published poems in most of the distinguished magazines of that period, including Ann Arbor Review, Crazy Horse, Dakotah Territory, Denver Quarterly, The Georgia Review, Ironwood, Kansas Quarterly, Laurel Review, Massachusetts Review, Nimrod, The Ohio Review, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Poetry Texas, Prairie Schooner, Roanoke Review, South Dakota Review, Southern Humanities Review, Texas Portfolio, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Wisconsin Review. 

 The Longest March
by Norman H. Russell
(Nebraska Review Chapbook, 1980)

Norman H. Russell, writing out of his sense of himself as Cherokee and  humanist, wrote jewel-like poems... incantations toward reconciliation of man with nature.  Many young poets of the seventies admired Russell... he was a hero of poetry.  The Literati, though, were not quite prepared to adore, much less offer respect and homage, to Russell or his poems.  Perhaps Russell was too prolific, made writing great poems seem too easy, for the literary establishment.  The bastards of the Literati never fully embraced Norman H. Russell... no more than they embraced, for instance, Charles Bukowski.  Russell did not seem to care.  He sent his poems out... magazines published most of them. More than a dozen Norman H. Russell chapbooks and books appeared 

Luckily I came to know Russell's work and eventually became friends with him.  

In the early eighties, he got me a poetry reading at Central State University, where he was vice president for academic affairs.  I stayed with Russell and his wife, Arline, and we had a grand time.  Russell saw that I carried, as was my habit in those days, a sack of baseballs and a couple of gloves and two or three Louisville Slugger bats in the trunk of my car.  I was in my thirties.  Russell was decades older than me, but he insisted on playing catch.  So there we were on Thrush Circle in Edmond, Oklahoma, tossing a baseball back and forth for half an hour, talking poetry.  Russell had a fine arm, even at age 59, and moved fluidly and received the ball with soft hands.  We played catch... not fetch.  

His Edmond neighbors were not so happy that Russell had turned against mowing his property... had restored it to its natural state, encouraging local rattlers and coyotes and deer to live beside him... and near his nervous neighbors.  

Norman H. Russell bushwhacked a trail for many Native American poets.  He was the first Indian to publish poetry widely.  He supported the growth of many poets, Indian and non-Indian, and helped more than a few gain publication.  Norman H. Russell was extraordinary in his generosity toward young poets... including me.

One can only hope, with the passing of Russell, an appropriate university press will take on the assembling and publication of a large collection of Norman H. Russell's best poems.

From Star to Leaf:
Selected Poems of Norman H. Russell
(Mr. Cogito Press - Pacific University, 1995)

Norman H. Russell books and chapbooks (an incomplete bibliography):

At the Zoo, JRD Publishing company, 1969

Night Dog and Other Poems, Cottonwood Review, 1971

Indian Thoughts, Blue Cloud Quarterly, 1972

Russell: The Man, The Teacher, The Indian, Northwoods Press, 1974

Open the Flower, The Perishable Press, 1974

Indian Thoughts: A Great Chief, BkMk Press, 1975

Indian Thoughts: The Children of God, University of California - Los Angeles, 1975

Indian Thoughts: My Journey, Blue Cloud Quarterly, 1980

The Longest March, Nebraska Review (chapbook #3), 1980

From Star to Leaf: Selected Poems of Norman H. Russell, Mr. Cogito Press - Pacific University, 1995

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jarbidge, Nevada

Jarbidge, Nevada

The last stagecoach hold-up went down
here... a quarter mile up the dirt road.
The Shoshone called this Bad Spirit Canyon.

The Red Dog Saloon's closed.
So's the school.
Bev takes me to the Open Air
for grilled rawhide,
a slice of cheese, on a bun.

The blonde barmaid's got a dozen tattoos.
She's a worn-from-patching-drywall twenty-five.
She's wearing a grease-stained
buff wife-beater, oil-splotched jeans.

The barmaid carries local blood:
iron-rich, yellowish basalt spires look down
on scraggy junipers, aspens, single-wides,
double-wides, collapsing log cabins,
a dozen grannies and grandpas
stirring Main Street on 4-wheelers.

This is where a rattler wrapped itself
around the leg of a weed-whacking grandson,
then let go after a half-hearted,
no-venom-through-the-toenail bite.

* This poem is included in Red Shuttleworth's 2011 chapbook, We Drove All Night, published by Finishing Line Press.  The chapbook is available through the publisher or from Amazon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mikhail Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov
(October 15, 1814 - July 27, 1841)

Today's poets do not enter pistol duels.
They suck cigarettes, sip wine, pontificate
beneath lush maple trees in university towns.
Today's poets marry their chalk-face kind.
Brother, your shade laughs at so-called men
as they sponge dishes and change toddler diapers
while their fatty princesses gibber at each other.
The knuckles of their fleshy hands are scarless.

Fire ran, no compromise, in your arteries,
Lermontov.  Women's faces turned rosy
as you passed by, scarcely acknowledging
the probability of warm nights they'd give you.
Horseman-warrior, you sang of honor for the sturdy.

No bitter tears for you tonight.
Yes... the absurdity of depression,
that surprising sadness without reason.
More battle, more whiskey, more poetry!
So much is the confusion of melodrama.
None of that!  Bring on the court jesters,
the false poets... bring out the dueling pistols! 

Lermontov Memorial
Pyatigorsk, Russia

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Eugenio Montale

Happy Birthday, Eugenio Montale
(October 12, 1896 - September 12, 1981)

Loud quarrels, shoppers, gripers:
Milan with a red billboard
in blue evening rain...
a street of squared grey stone,
luminous rail tracks,
a web of overhead wires.
Yes, couples in love... and the lonely.

Perhaps God listens to gossip.
Perhaps the premise for the divine
is thin barley soup, no meat.
Every paradise I entered was crowded.
Sugary kisses in Aspen,
blueberry scones in Sun Valley,
but the brittle flow of walkers
gave off the sound of ice
splitting basalt.  Like you,
I tried to locate the Good.
Knowing the final result is carbon.

Let us drink, gloom-poet,
poet with golden lines
at raw solitude-hours.
Let us sing invisible songs
of storm-dream...
majestic confections of eternity.
What gain from collapse-pensive
or doubt?  It is no time to envy the dead.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wolf Shuttleworth: Interview

Wolf Shuttleworth
with Red Shuttleworth

Wolf Shuttleworth: Interview

Q:  You're a dog.

Wolf:  Irish Wolfhound.  Long literary tradition.  My kind is known for war and hunting down wolves, but we kept civilization literate during the Dark Ages.

Q:  Wolfhound are the largest breed of dog, right?  How big are you?

Wolf:  I'm pretty breed-specific... 36 1/2 inches at the shoulder, weigh around 150-pounds.  As the saying goes, "Gentle when stroked.  Fierce when provoked."  All in all, I'm a pretty nice guy.  The tellers at bank drive-up windows really enjoy handing me dog biscuits.  Kids come up to me all the time.  They love me.  Now... if someone is wary of me, then it's sometimes a signal that they're evil bastards up to no good.  Sometimes, if they're wary, it's because they've had a bad dog experience.  I can tell the difference right away.

Q: How did you come to collaborate with Red Shuttleworth?

Wolf:  He adopted me when I was a young puppy.  Started reading certain works to me right away: Trakl, Hemingway, Zarzyski, Heaney, Yeats....

Q:  What's the process between you and Red?

Wolf:  We're always together, so, as I come up with something Red can write down, I bring it to his attention.  We walk about a mile and a half a day... that helps.  Good poetry comes from the body.  The body never lies.  Head poetry is no good at all.  The body lives through images and sensations.  If you're senseless, then you're in a coma or you're dead.  The same goes for poetry: no use of the senses means the poem is dead.  Want dead poetry?  Then read Rumi.  Rumi's about as dead as Millard Fillmore.

Q:  You have something of a college background, right?

Wolf:  For my first three years, I went to Big Bend Community College... mostly to hang out in Red's office.  I'd meet students and listen to their life stories.  Pretty grim stuff, really, sometimes.  Around the 9th week of instruction, the students' cars would break down, grannies died, protection orders were broken by criminally insane former lovers and spouses.  Good stuff for material.  But I never went to class.  There were a lot of books in the office to chew through, so I read James Wright, John Berryman....

Q:  Did you hang around with the college's English faculty?

Wolf:  That would've been pointless.  Few college English teachers can write.  A college would never hire an athletic coach if that person couldn't demonstrate skills in his sport.  But colleges hire English teachers who can't or won't write.  Happens all the time.  The English teachers at Big Bend, save Matt Sullivan, are a doltish lot.  They couldn't write a memorable sentence without tracing paper.  Naw... I kept away from them.

Q: Should writers have dogs?  Like is it a big help to them?

Wolf:  Go ask Edward Albee about his Irish Wolfhounds and how they got him a handful of Pulitzer Prizes.  A writer without a dog makes no sense.  Steinbeck and Charlie.  Hemingway and Black Dog.  Zarzyski and Zeke.  A dog is quintessential to the writing process.

Wolf and Red Shuttleworth

Q:  Does being rather obvious, given your size, get in the way of observing what you come across... seeing, feeling, hearing... well, acquiring material for poems?

Wolf:  I am always scouting for poems.  It's my life's work.  Sort of a canine Robert Lowell... if you will.  Or a James Dickey.

Q:  Have you ever visited an MFA program?

Wolf:  One time I went over to look at the Idaho MFA program.  My human sister, Ciara, and my human brother, Luke, were giving a reading.  Somehow I got stuck at the hotel... so I didn't catch it.  But... look, you can't teach writing.  Maybe a few tricks or skills.  But talent can't be taught.  There are over 600 tenured professors of creative writing in America.  There are over 20,000 living recipients of the MFA in creative writing.  Really, how many are worth reading?  These questions tend to make the MFA literati nervous.  Most MFA professors are boring.  Most MFA students are wasting money.

Q:  But Ciara Shuttleworth, who will soon have her MFA from Idaho, has published in The New Yorker.

Wolf:  So what?  What's the New Yorker?  Just another provincial magazine... this one particularly curated-edited for apartment dwellers east of the Hudson River.  That's a pretty narrow sensibility.  As for Ciara, she's got major league talent.  I suppose one could argue that Bob Wrigley has mentored her well.  I wouldn't argue that, but Ciara would.  The hard truth is that most MFA students are customers... not talented student-writers.  How many of the Idaho MFA students will gain significant publication?  A few, yes.  But most will drift off from writing after a few years, heads down in shame at their inability to write for publication... and they'll get, if lucky, academic jobs... and learn to professor-posture.

Q:  At this point, Wolf, you and Red have posted over 500 poems on this blog.  What's the goal?

Wolf:  We like to write, both Red and me.  It's what we do.  It's our life's work.  Sure... it'd be nice to eventually have written 20,000 poems... like the ancient great, Li Po.  Right now we just take it day by day.  Walks and writing poems.  

Q:  Why did you leave facebook recently?

Wolf:  Why not chuck facebook?  It's going way creepy-invasive... tracking people's computer use.  Facebook ought to be regulated like phone companies and TV stations.  The constituency for facebook: advertisers.  Facebook could give a bark about the people who use it.  For me, it became a matter of its banalities.  I narrowed the roster for Red down to 139 people... and that still seemed like too large a number.

Q:  So facebook was useless to you.

Wolf:  Actually, there were some good friends out of it... especially Nuno Santos... a great guy in Portugal who writes poetry and plays and uses facebook to celebrate what's going on, what's truly happening in culture.  Yeah, Nuno Santos.  He came to America to meet me.  We had a heck of a grand time: good food, whiskey, late nights listening to music, driving around the Columbia Basin.  But when my friend poet Paul Zarzyski sort of faded from facebook, then I started talking to the old man about leaving.  We only have so much time and so much energy.  We need to put our hearts and bodies into poetry. 

Note: Wolfie Shuttleworth died at the premature age of five and a half years of age on January 4, 2013 at Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital while being unsuccessfully treated for osteosarcoma (bone cancer).  


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Stig Dagerman

Happy Birthday, Stig Dagerman
(October 5, 1923 - November 4, 1954)

You did not wish for eternity.
It's raining tonight... unsentimentally.
Bent sunflower stalks bow to you.
Not exactly the outreached hand
that could've kept you with us.

I don't have the statistic handy:
how many sad men
walk each year into garages
and turn ignition switches
with no desert town motel
to drive hard to...
just turn on the engine,
garage door shut,
and suck into their lungs
all of mankind's exhaustion.

Brother of the write-
a-poem-a-day compulsion,
you imagined more from others
than milk-hearted malice...
more from yourself
than confusion
and weeping jags.

It was just a photo-op,
right, that portrait of you,
famed playwright, novelist of the bleak,
within a cluster of beautiful women?
Not the blessedness of love?
Did you wander out later
and embrace marble statues?

Mankind's horror of stars
shining through rain.

Catullus Speaks to Clodia Metelli

Catullus Speaks to Clodia Metelli

Here the pleasure and mud-prowl.
We float.  Lust-thirst... and drink.
Wolf-runs. Your bared breasts.
Bared teeth. Twitchy-thighed you.
Perfume of rumor.  Are you feeling languid?
Is all this a temple to your brassy laughter?

We are the new people we are seeing.
All-nighters when your husband shambles
from town to village... selling spliced wire,
foreclosed villas, blackout candles.
We are star-drugged lovers,
relentless wind and laughter.
It's only pleasure.  You stir morning.

Less sleep.  My warrior-poet body thins.
The sheen of my seed on your inner thighs,
on your belly, on your breasts, on your lips,
inside your womb, your fists frantic upon my back,
your plum-painted fingernails clawing me closer.
You whisper, We are innocent... dear friends...
only desperate friends tending to quirky pain.
Thrust and thrust and thrust again atop thrust
through the folds of your silk nightgown,
a spear into a new woman of Now-Now-Now, baby.
Your granite bed covered with pillows.
You laugh, This is friendship, the secret gift.

You have not soothed me, Clodia-Lesbia-Clodia.
Yes, we are a measure of more than the mortal nothing.
Your husband shakes my hand at the temple,
asks after my verse, back-slaps me jovially.
You, Clodia-Lebia-Clodia, smirk,
lower mirthful eyes, toy with your long hair
gathered up with pins and needles.

Nakedness and wild desire-frolics.
You are the same as many others before  you.
Let me go.  Keep me.  Let me go.
We are strangers when we meet in town.
Radiant beauty of your husband's refusal to see.
Diverted to and from love by your marriage.
The sun-kissed taste of your flesh.

I am leaving you.

But returning right away.

The blue flame in my heart is for you.
I am running alone.  You are running alone.
Azure sky.  Cracked daylight moon.

This poem, and a raft of other bio-sketch poems, are presented in a Red Shuttleworth collection of poems, Ghosts& Birthdays (Humanitas Media Publishing, 2012) available via Amazon.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Alfred Jarry's Toothpick

Alfred Jarry's Toothpick

An iron gate shudders in the wind.
Behind a cottage, the bleating of young goats.
A woman in a black veil passes by.
She languidly chews her fingernails.
The cosmos of Alfred Jarry.

We are taking turns, Jarry and me,
riding his bicycle in the farmyard.
Jarry wants all information on contemporary
uses for simply constructed sawhorses.
He's sweaty from so much exertion,
confesses, The last stranger I kissed
was foaming at the lips... perhaps Tupsy.

On a short video from Jarry's backpack,
a diamond-glittery woman with a dancer's body
and lipsticked-black nipples
hand-mixes tomb ashes with perfume.

We absolutely know, Jarry smiles,
know that office clerks are allowed
to drink a ration of two cups
per day of cow slobber.

Jarry explains Munch, Rubescent clouds
naked women, wild-desire frolics,
and the tardy arrival of texts
on assorted methods for bleeding the infirm.
Nicely marbled, finger-thick paper.

Three skinny coyotes stand mute and still
at a hundred yards range... watch Jarry
pedal in ever-smaller circles.
We also like the gentle opening of flowers,
the ever so slow pulse the dead have achieved,
tomb-ebony river stones curated in tea cups.
Jarry tumbles in a tangle with his bicycle.
Muddy water flows from one of the handlebars,
He shrieks, Merdre!  Merdre! Merdre!

Alfred Jarry