Thursday 31 December 2009

Goodbye, 2009

My parents, Henry and Bernadine Etter, in 2006

It was the year my first book of poetry was published and the year my father died tragically, in a horrific episode of malpractice. It was a year of terrible grief and loneliness, a year of kind friends and small pleasures. I am relieved to see it past.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Christmas 2009 in Normal, Illinois

My nephew Matt, 15 on the winter solstice

Brother-in-law Scott Cummings, showing his new Smoothie King gift card

My sister Sandra in her new motorcycle cap (not that she rides a motorcycle, mind you)

My niece Sara, 6, in a flurry of unwrapping

Thursday 17 December 2009

Elsa Cross's Selected Poems, third selection

NB: Some of the spacing is incorrect as it could not be replicated.

Intact, we rose to love one another
while death sang at our side.

last lines of "Tenayuca" (tr. John Oliver Simon)

Now, in this time,
as unlucky days return
I break my dreams like clay jars....

from "Malinalco" (tr. John Oliver Simon)

her shackled tongue sleeps
feigns that it sleeps
stretches into its fullness
savours its own darkness

from "Cantharides" (tr. Ruth Fainlight)

With its blackened heraldry,
its relentless downpours,
the city is dying.

Around the fountain
young people shoot up,
sleep on paving slabs
with runes drawn
on their shoulders.

* * *

only on sweaty faces,
twitching hands.
The perfect illusion shifts elsewhere,

A foreign dialect
with no wish to express
quite simply brings
its clean edge.

opening and closing lines of "Tattoos" (tr. Anamaria Crowe Serrano)

Night accumulated on the walls.

* * *

Oh long kisses,
hand that travels a thigh
like a beach,

the curl in the groin--
(oh summer body).
And thoughts pause
in that flowering

like insects.

from "Reflection in a Sphere" (tr. Anamaria Crowe Serrano)

The touch of day
and the cloud of dreaming

skirt each other.
And deep down
like a cloyed fish
lies consciousness.

Its intimate calm
unbuckles into arborescent light....

* * *

The heat holds up a taut arch mid-way through the day.

* * *

The heat draws its pincers closer, like a crab.

* * *

A transversal cut through meaning.
We look at the oracle, none the wiser.

Everything begins where we close our eyes.

* * *

You can hear the east wind,
the metal of cowbells,
the incipient polyphony of summer.

* * *

And at night, where will clarity suggest itself?
A wave in the sea
where the moon instils its desire?

* * *

Under the shade of the palm tree,
on the banks of the dry lagoon
as much sediment gets superimposed
on stones

as on the mind--
creatures of thought
or desire,
--who engenders them?
which all-fertile god germinates the tiniest impulse,
the most trivial fantasy,
as he goes by,

and turns them
into dark or radiant beings,
whose beauty overwhelms?

* * *

Desires become bright stones,
seeds devoured by birds,
or in the dark they spread their emptiness.

The moon flutters like an insect,
in spirals over the water
and flush with visible things,
in the fissure,
it grows toward a more confined
recess of consciousness.

from "Stones" (tr. Anamaria Crowe Serrano)

Elsa Cross's Selected Poems were published by Shearsman and can be purchased delivery-free from The Book Depository.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Sunday 13 December 2009

Divining for Starters, or How It Began and Begins and Begins

"Divining for Starters (65)" is now up at Intercapillary Space. Edmund Hardy, one of the editors, asked me where the phrase came from, and here's an attempt at an answer.

My series of poems "Divining for Starters" began with the first two written in late 1999. I was in my third year of the Ph.D. program in English at the University of California, Irvine, and was completing my graduate coursework, which included an emphasis in critical theory. The emphasis involved a 3-course, year-long survey, and a required number of optional courses, which for me included Marxist Literary Theory with Rey Chow and Pardon and Perjury with Jacques Derrida. Anyway, in 1997 or '98 I read Derrida's seminal essay, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," and related writings, and began thinking about this Western compulsion to create/assert origins, and the way this compulsion is embedded in our thinking--it's a new day, new project, new year, new beginning, and so on, always suggesting we can decide such an origin simply by stating it (I know I'm getting away from the Derrida now; this is the direction my thoughts took me in when I thought of the work more abstractly later). That was the idea when I wrote the first, and hence unnumbered, "Divining for Starters," and I explored the idea more explicitly in "Divining for Starters (2)" a few months later. For me, the phrase divining for starters means trying to find a way to create a beginning, to originate while acknowledging one is always
in medias res. I think many people, consciously or unconsciously, live by divining for starters, and each poem in the series considers the possibility of a particular new origin or the possibility/problem of deciding an origin more generally.

I'd be glad for questions that may help me clarify this answer further.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Matt Bryden's "Miso"

My reading of Matt Bryden's poem "Miso" has now aired on WGLT Poetry Radio and can be heard in this podcast.

Sunday 6 December 2009

"Cycle on the Pavement" by Nicholas Whitehead

Following my and Vuyelwa Carlin's readings on the First Thursday series this past week at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, there was an open mic, in which the following poem was read. Thanks to the author for allowing me to share it. Americans might want to keep in mind that in the UK pavement is the equivalent of sidewalk.

Cycle on the Pavement

You want to get from A to B,

Don’t want to drive or pay.

Don’t want to cycle on the road

Yet still, there is a way.

Cycle on the pavement!

No cars, no traffic lights.

No one-way signs, no dotted lines,

A cyclist’s delight!

But even on the pavement,

Cycling’s not without its cares.

Your route involves pedestrians

Who think the pavement’s theirs!

They’re living in society

They really should get real.

Faster is the master here,

And foot gives way to wheel.

You’ve got a flashing headlight

And a helmet for your head.

Yellow, hi-viz cycle clips,

And back light flashing red.

If they can’t see you coming,

They must be bloody blind.

There’s someone with a white stick there.

[SMACK], Well, never mind.

It’s actually illegal,

It’s in the Highway Code.

It spells out very clearly

You should cycle on the road.

But human laws don’t matter,

You can break them with impunity.

Environmental friendliness

Gives you complete immunity.

So cycle on the pavement,

With a smirk across your face.

Cycle on the pavement,

And fuck the human race.

Nicholas Whitehead

Friday 4 December 2009

Elsa Cross's Selected Poems, second selection

Translations by Michael Smith and Luis Ingelmo

You answer through silence.
You reduce thought
to the void,
and there where you razed all image
your name is renewed.

last stanza of "Name"

Where can I fall where you are not?

last line of "A Tightrope Act"

The ends of the earth
at the tips of your tangled hair.

last stanza of "Dancing Shiva"

My senses dissolve in this wordless sea,
words become quiet,
and one step further on the mind opens up
to the shock of its own annulment.


Present in everything
thus you also disappear.


Where are you leading me
stripped of my own body?


And what of Death?
Small butterflies flying among the ruins.


Froth leaves necklaces around the throat of rocks.
Islands of black rock.
Terns nest in the porous walls.
A necklace of froth--and I see my own wreck.
Night comes and shuts off the shine on the water.
Come, you tell me.
With closed eyes, just the tumble of the sea.
Still very close
those beaches to which I will never return.
Very far away now.


Black light devouring our bodies.


And on the water,
where rays freeze in their own light,
I see you like a seed of fire.
Every wave leaves trails of silk against the sun.

from "Malabar Canto"

Elsa Cross's Selected Poems is published by Shearsman Books and can be purchased online here at The Book Depository, which offers free worldwide delivery on all their books.