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Take Possession

In a recent article in The Sun magazine, poet Kim Rosen said, “For most of my life I was afraid of poetry.”  This fascinating comment was just one of many contained in the interview by Alison Luterman.  Rosen mentions numerous encounters with people who truly believe that poetry “makes me feel dumb, like it’s some puzzle I can’t figure out.”  She further states that lots of people think of poetry as some “elitist club” they can’t join.

Rosen’s response to that was to write Saved by a Poem, for the express purpose of ameliorating that condition.  Her purpose, aside from a wake up call, was to heal and enrich.  She likes to think of poetry as having the power of personal transformation, but she is quick to acknowledge, “you don’t have to love all poetry? Do you love all music?”

I cite Rosen’s remarks because I recall how alienating some group members felt when we first dealt with poetry.  There were all manner of explanations.  A few folks felt the need to preface their remarks with the revelation that they just don’t “do poetry.”  Fortunately, in our group, that has changed.  I’m not sure what accounts for the new outlook, but I suspect it has to do with the quality of discussion we often have.  Part of that liberating force includes inviting the readers to bring their own lives and experiences to the poems and disregard anything approaching a “correct interpretation.”

When we forget about the information that might be needed to understand a poem, we allow ourselves to bring our own emotions to the text.   In poetry there is much potential.  Possibilities include cultural understanding, personal growth, and my favorite, an appreciation for the rhythm of the language that surrounds us in writing, media, and music.

I love hearing poetry read aloud.  Sometimes I think that it should always be heard, but I get that it’s not possible.  Still, as Kim Rosen reminds us, we can carry poetry within and benefit from its power in times of need.  Students were once asked to possess poetry; that is, take ownership of a poem.  I’m sure you’ve got one or two rattling around in your brain.  They are particularly useful these days for coping with the spirit of these times.  And if you go to the well in there and it’s dry, then you can tap the spring of your own sensibilities and create something new.  Just remember, you can make the rules for your own poetry.  You own the process, it doesn’t own you.

Stop Staring at Me: A Case for the Male Gaze

Male GazeRecently I was scolded for my poetry; for my description of circumstances which involved a certain action. An action everyone does. It is our first way of communicating. Our first and most instinctual way of indicating. The most often used way to show interest. A look. Being so instinctual it is hard to put your finger on it. There are kinds of looks: the evil eye, the hairy eyeball, the funny vibe, the come hither. One can gawk, gander, glance, and this is the one that got me in trouble … gaze. In particular the one with a penis attached, the Male Gaze.

The poems were admittedly about the Male Gaze in that they described a man looking. From Heavy Hands Ink Vol. III the poem “Napkin Ring” describing Portland with the lines …a city that reeks /of family where young women /speak to me with a pronounced /accent of their own /perhaps I listen /to them more carefully/ shows the special kind of care men take when in the presence of young women. However, this is a wholly different gaze from the next poem I read “The Unsaid” with the lines …A look in her /eyes means to her he does, a look away whispers that he’d like to. He looks her in the mouth /and says,  “No.”

“The Unsaid” in being about a man stuck within a seduction clearly got under the skin of the reading’s hostess. She expressed her disapproval of poetry about the Male Gaze and then continued to elaborate that there is no such thing as gender. My first inclination was to write it off as an academic rant like those practiced in small liberal colleges after taking Introduction to Gender and Equality 101. But she was right on both counts and she was also wrong on both counts.

She was right in classifying the poems as about the Male Gaze; a way of looking that objectifies or at least sets the woman up as other. She was also correct in stating that there is no gender. For if you switched the genders of the characters or jumbled them in the four obvious ways (or even the myriad of subtle ways gender is expressed) the “gaze” still exists. Although it is difficult to call it “male” gaze if it is occurring between lesbians.

What Mulvey describes with the term Male Gaze is a power dynamic rooted in gender. It is not confined by gender, however. It is about power and “The Unsaid” describes not an object or even just an other it describes an opponent. The man as he tries to decide where it is safe to rest his eyes surrenders even after saying no. Looks are more powerful than words. Looking is primal, and primary and without the Male Gaze generations of children would not have been born. It is central to bridging the distance between sexual partners. It acts as an assertion of desire and dominance. For those that don’t want to be desired or dominated or are sick and tired of it happening all the time in every venue keep up the good fight. Call it out when it is inappropriate. Wear your turtlenecks and long pants. Put your hair up or wear a hijab. Just don’t cover your eyes or no one will know what you want.

Imagine there’s no

“My work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried, and I hope it’s a long, long time,” John Lennon says to an interviewer.

Five hours and four bullets later, his work is finished.

Exactly 30 years later, the loss is still painful to me. An act of a single distorted individual – and a perfect metaphor for how crudely dysfunctional the humankind really is. A brilliant, contradictory, outspoken voice – extinguished.

But there is more to this than the crudeness and the loss.

The music remains. The story remains.

We’ve learned something.

What’s the lesson? The old and true “live your life as if every day is your last”? Is it really possible?

Perhaps another way to put it is: live your life so you make enough of a difference. Just enough so some distorted individual might want to kill you.

I don’t want anyone to be killed. But may we learn how to take more risks for the good cause, in our work and in our life.

And may John Lennon sing and think and talk and imagine in peace, because I don’t think he’s ready to rest.

I Remember Everything

As a writer currently immersed in the genre of memoir, I took an interest in Nora Ephron’s latest offering called I Remember Nothing. Given the few reviews I’ve read, the title is accurate.  Ephron likes to celebrate the personal and her current gala is about how she’s handling aging.  Sure it ain’t pretty, but do we really need another set of bad quips and feeble attempts at humor to remind us.  Yet this lightweight volume gets all the press and attention a publicist can offer.

You know that old cliche about the 1960s: “If you remember anything about the 60s, you weren’t there.”   I beg to differ.  I remember everything and I was there.  With that in mind, it seems to me it takes a mighty dose of chutzpah to write a memoir with Ms. Ephron’s title.  How does this little volume get published anyway?  I fear I know the answer, and you do too.

Some of the readers of Ephron’s book are demanding their money back.  Some actually paid full hardcover price.  One disgruntled customer suggested that Nora Ephron’s fans get a latte, sit down in your favorite bookstore with chairs and consume both simultaneously.  Apparently that’s the time it takes.

If life isn’t fair, then trying to get a book published is just as big a crapshoot.  But then you knew that.  No sour grapes please.  Just remember to remember and then write it all down.

Random Act of Kindness

An icy rain chills us in Portland tonight. My daughter and I stand on the corner waiting for a light. Rain drips down my hair, into my neck, and I shrug deeper in my coat. My daughter’s hand feels like a puckered fish. All I can concentrate on is that I need the interminably long light to turn so that we can race into her Taekwondo class.

I’m so focused on willing the light to turn, on running into a warm room, that I almost don’t see the elderly man on the other side of the street. He is creeping down the crosswalk, an enormous clear plastic bag floating over his head like a strange astronaut’s helmet, or a jellyfish. I only really notice him after I see a man in a t-shirt racing toward him and catching him by the arm. I wonder why the guy running only has a t-shit on in this weather, and then I notice the old man, notice how weak he looks and I think to myself good, that guy is helping the old man. I would have helped him, but he’s being helped, so . . .

Then the guy in the t-shirt runs off. He runs off and my light turns. I hurry across the street as the elderly man continues his crablike walk down the sidewalk, and I reason with myself. We’re late for my daughter’s class, I don’t have an umbrella, I don’t, I can’t . . .

And then a Pizzicato Pizza minivan pulls up next to the elderly man, the t-shirted guy at the wheel. And I realize that this employee has seen the elderly man from his store window, has left his job, gotten his work van, and offered a stranger a ride home on a night when ice needles spear the ground.

As I open the door to the Taekwondo class, I look back to see the t-shirted guy helping the frail man into the front of the van. I duck into the dry gym and am warmed by the realization that I’ve just witnessed an honest, random act of kindness.  Pushed back, with the memory of the rain, is the guilt that it wasn’t mine.

No Jukebox (Poetry)

A Guttery Great at Tony’s Tavern

Veteran’s Day 2010No Jukebox (Poetry) Adventure at Tony’s Tavern.  Tony’s Tavern pulsed with poetry not song last night when David Cooke stood in as guest MC.  Guttery members featured here all took a turn.

MC Great David Cooke

Jennifer Lesh Fleck's Portland Debut

Kip Silverman's Portland Debut

Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk

To Read A Book Or To Network Screen? Will that be the question?

I bumbled into a gem of a blog tonight. While moderating my own personal blog, I accidentally clicked on the “Next Blog” button. Just like Alice, I fell into a fantastic world, one just right for book lovers: www.bookfutures.com.

The site is a manifesto on the future of books. Affiliated with If:book London, the site’s director, Chris Meade, states that Bookfutures.com is “a think and do tank exploring the future of the book as our culture moves from printed page to networked screen, and the potential of new media for creative readers and writers.”

Though I shudder at the thought of our culture as moving from printed page, the website’s positive energy drew me in. A piece in particular is taken from the introduction of Bob Stein’s Taxonomy of Social Reading. Bob’s predictions the about social potential of collaborative reading are persuasive and intriguing. To him the social aspects of Kindles and Blackberries are just the beginning. He describes experiments with “networked books” as having exciting social potential.

Following this entry is a lyrical, reflective letter written to the Chris Meade from the poet David Hart. The poet’s words reminded me again of why I love books and why they will persevere. I especially liked when he reflects that his house, which has become a small library, will be a curious inheritance for his son because of the story his books will tell.

What is the future of books? If nothing else, Bookfutures.com is a well researched source from which to consider the question.

Facebook Your Way to Publishing Your Book

Now that my novel is so close to completion, I’m starting the search for publishers. It’s only been about four years since I last looked around, yet this is a much more interesting world.  In some ways it’s a paradox in that agents and small presses seem more plentiful and more accessible while the amount of work getting published seems to have shrunk.  I’ve decided that all this change calls for smarter searching and more informed pitches.  This time, I’m augmenting all the traditional methods of looking for agents and presses with Facebook.

Believe it or not, Facebook can be used for better voyeuristic endeavors than looking at the vacation pics from tangential acquaintances.  Here’s an example of what I did on my first night of searching.  I found a Literary Agent who is accepting friends on Facebook.  I liked her and immediately saw a status update about a writers’ conference she was about to attend.

Then I went on a like frenzy. I clicked on all the links in her Favorite Pages, which contains a couple dozen independent presses.  Some of these presses I had never heard of.  When I went on their Facebook pages and clicked on their websites, I not only learned more about them, but I found additional links to further resources. I liked several places that have published work within my genre and learned tidbits about them from their updates and posts.  This knowledge can potentially help me write better, more specific query letters.

It is a whole new world of virtual networking.  Right now, I’m just browsing, but it is a search vehicle with unique potential.  Besides it’s much more interesting to see Facebook Updates about writing opportunities than to read that my former grade school classmate is drinking beer and bowling tonight.