Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

17 September 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about exposition or, more accurately, about its lack. Interpretation is a kind of exposure, like the time I peered down from a cliff at a rocky pool and saw naked men and women sunning on the rocks. There was also the sad parrot that destroyed his perch by pecking at it. The sound interrupted our lunch, because nakedness requires an obstacle to interpret its lack of cover. Fashion statements are cover stories that we read over lunch, though I can't imagine hovering like a drone over any of my recent meals. A drone flew over us at the walk out of darkness, but drones don't kill themselves so the point was lost on me. Drone operators do, for reasons of alienation even from the killing that they do. Death in the age of Dilbert, cubicle after cubicle inhabited by office chair soldiers; I read that sitting kills us, so why not kill others while seated? Where do you find a cover story, when you never left your chair? John says I should add question marks to my exposition on exposition, but that would render too obvious the nakedness of my punctuation. After a bag blew up in the Tube, dear leader wrote about “terrorist losers.” I'm surprised he didn't spell it “loosers,” as losers seems to be loosening over time, adding another vowel to its slack elastic. John Lennon was a looser, but at least we could sing along as if not to think about ourselves but about him. My student who suffers from selective mutism says she likes to sing, but not in public. That would be too much exposition, self- or otherwise. I told my students that despite my hardened shell, seeing them write over and over that haoles “lack breath” and are “foreigners” started to hurt. The dull ache of being set apart. It's been a hard year, Radhika writes on Instagram, but there aren't enough words to explain. Her photograph seems divorced from any of that, exposure of a different kind, an orange sun rising over surfers, because—as she'd say—it's in the east. They seem to sit in the ocean, as if divorced from gravity or balance, watching everything that's coming up in its hunky glory.

--16 September 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

John Ashbery was a hunk

I was tickled to be interviewed for this short New York Times piece by Thomas Vinciguerra about two of John Ashbery's book covers from the 1970s. The piece will be in the "Men's Fashion" section on Friday, September 15.

12 September 2017

I want to write an honest sentence, one without judgment. When young, we're reaction machines—like the student who leaped in the air when I called his name—but then a long slow distancing begins. We acquire a moat, or see-through border wall, between us and our emotions. My response to the death of a poet is to imitate his sentences like Matt Morris throwing Darryl Kile's curve two days after Kile died. Style's a form of grieving, one that threads out like a shawl over bent shoulders. We see weight in the absence of uplift. Or in a back's bony protrusions. Occasionally, I see an old Asian woman doubled over at the waist, walking intently across a street. We interpret that angle as hard work or as hard emotion or as osteoperosis. I asked my students to define “haole” and to use the word in a sentence, which they did with utmost accuracy. Even within the context of bad history, it stung to read their answers about how those who are pale as ghosts lack breath, are foreign, outside. The man explains to his child self why another boy hit him on the head with a 2' by 4' as if he were half a metronome. One student described this as an embarrassing moment, not for the bully but for the bullied. Perhaps his skull didn't keep good time. To revise is to take private thoughts and work them into public shape. The guys at the gym do this in front of mirrors that are at once for them and for us. The distortion is all in my seeing you seeing yourself (muscle bound) in a wall length piece of glass. The woman who asked me to deliver her divorce papers trusted a stranger to do the work of making public her private grief. “Don't ask how I got involved,” I said as I turned back toward the gate, away from the yapping dogs and the smiling man. She was haole, he Hawaiian. “You live on an island” has so many meanings, not all of them geographical. But check your metaphors at the door; this is an age of literal fact and lie. His biographers, he says, have no access. That makes all of it fake news, as if “fake” were such a bad thing.

--12 September 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Facebook stories

I need to gather these together and do something with them. These are the most recent two stories, written to fit the "how are you feeling?" box facebook provides. I should probablybe scared to leave the house!

I took Lilith on her late afternoon constitutional. She had just pooped for the fourth time today, and I had just scooped it up into one of those green bags that management provides so we don't leave pet poop around when a woman in an old blue van pulled into guest parking and asked if I live here. Yes. Down at the end? she asked. No, in the middle. She said she'd give me $10 to take an envelope to someone at the end of the parking lot. Her husband had been living with his girlfriend for a couple years down there. "He's nice to other people," she said. I asked if it would help if I walked her to the door, and she said no. So, again waving off the $10 and signing a paper to the effect that I would deliver the divorce papers, Lilith and I headed off. We entered through a gate into a small courtyard and were greeted by a bounding dog and lots of yapping. It's where the strange woman with lots of chihuahuas lives; she always talks to them loudly as if they're difficult people. Mr. P. got up (fortunately, it was he) and came to the door, smiling quizzically at me and Lilith. "Don't ask me how I got involved in this," I said, then handed him the manila envelope, turned and walked out the gate.

and a few days earlier:

When you're driving up University Ave. and you spot a vehicle to the right of you with an old Obama hope sticker on the gas tank. You wonder what the driver is thinking these days and pull up beside a haggard handsome long-haired shirtless man. The light is red. It's Pres. Obama's brother-in-law. So you lower your right window and call out his name. You talk about exhaustion (heads in hands) and how long ago it all was and how he loves Hawai'i, having just been at the beach, and then the light changes and off you go. You tell your daughter and she says, "now _that's_ a Hawai'i story."

Monday, September 4, 2017

Remembering John Ashbery

The end of life as we know it happened yesterday. There will be no more new Ashbery poems, once the as-yet-unpublished ones emerge. His work was one of those things that made life worth living, as Aaron Belz noted.

There's a video on this page of an Ashbery reading at the Creeley 70th birthday celebration in Buffalo, October 1997. I had the privilege of introducing him.

And here's an anecdote I put on my facebook page. David Kellogg was kind enough to call it the "most Susan Schultz of all Susan Schultz stories" for combining poetry with baseball. As I recall, I hijacked Creeley's TV after that Ashbery reading to watch the Cardinals in the playoffs!

Early in my career at UHM I taught 20th century poetry in English, a course that no longer exists (!). I had a student, a baseball player, who wore a sublimely bored face to class week after week. When we started Ashbery, I offered the throw-away line that his poetry is often about the experience of being unable to concentrate, and this kid instantly perked up. For the rest of the semester, he wrote Ashbery imitations, Ashbery essay . . . Then he pitched one pre-season game for the Rainbows, and I went. It was a Rick Ankiel-like performance--there were no strikes, and the balls missed not just the zone, but also the catcher. Craig Howes told him I'd been there (I was hoping he'd never know). So he looked at me and said he'd been telling friends he felt he "slipped on the cake of soap of the air and drowned in the bathtub of the world."

Here's the poem my student quoted so aptly:

One of my favorite of my own essays on Ashbery shows the influence of Hawai'i on the younger critic:

And there was this book. Thanks for helping me get tenure, JA--

And I had a wonderful time writing this essay on Ashbery writing about Harold Bloom, which also appeared in my The Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (Alabama, 2005).

While writing about Ashbery is never easy, it is also a lot of fun. One of myriad reasons I so love his work. There are more blurts about him on this blog, here: (this somehow doesn't show up for me, so put "John Ashbery" into the blog's search engine, vroom vroom).

4 September 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about the effect of distraction on the long poem. Confusion was depression's door man, his gloved hands and silk hat waving across our line of sight like roads in old movies, so clearly spliced in. His wall eyes had everything to do with what we could not see. Neck tilted, he gazed at the rafters, then read a poem about a dashboard, or were they windshield wipers? Over time, the discursive stain deepened into word-image. Catch echoes like geckos until they die. When out of the late night's silence a chorus of roosters and a dog, a siren and spitting rain. Type cast, like paragraphs. I cast my fate with Fate Yanagi, because someone loved her. There are words that mean something other than themselves, like leche, like faggot. When you write them on the board they last as image only. Once upon a time, the fossil poem got lost in amber and was never found. Once upon a time, we lost the meaning of such words as made our lives possible, words like “fragility” and “forgiveness.” Or pathos, which no one leaves alone. Is piano hammers on the chest, damper to the throat. Is the odd violence of music during depression. Now that his meds have kicked in, he likes piano music. There's less to take in, but it's better received. You cannot wall out sound. When there's concrete to be poured, bury Harvey's drowned pianos in it like Jimmy Hoffa at the Meadowlands. For music is an immigrant, legal or not, that crosses deserts at night and beds down beside the cactus. Or sleeps to die in containers. He was acknowledged, but cannot legislate our escape. Nor can we, ears to the tracks, praying for the distant clacking of those keys. Remember that borders became boarders (footnote, John Shoptaw), that the wall was a giant well we threw our pennies in. They're living on our dime, she said of the homeless, and we can't even afford the house we live in. They take our dollars for drugs. You might need them, too, Bryant responded, if you were sick and on the street. Her husband stopped the conversation. You cannot persuade each other, he said. And so we turned our attention to Portuguese water dogs, who leapt in the pool after orange rubber balls. Their joy salved something.

--4 September 2017