Thursday, March 28, 2024

One islander (from Ireland) reviews another islander (in Hawai`i)

A review by Irish poet, Billy Mills, of my two recent books that are really one book from two angles. Lilith Walks considers COVID and Trump from the outside; Meditations from the inside. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Marjorie Perloff

At the Poetry of the 1930s conference in Orono in 1992 (?) I was seated at breakfast near the head of a long cafeteria table, talking to a group that included Marjorie Perloff. Allen Ginsberg came running through the cafeteria and stopped, saying he had to read the dream he'd had the previous night. He opened his journal and began to read. At some point he got the part where he encountered "the lady critic." (I have some good stories about him, but I'll save them for later.)
I liked some of her essays, including the one about how New Yorker ads and New Yorker poems are essentially saying the same thing. It came with some images of shiny cars in meadows next to trees, and quotes from poems that, yes, kind of did that, too. Another essay showed that Denise Levertov and AR Ammons, who existed in very different poetry worlds, wrote very similar poems. And there was the essay about how John Ashbery, whose work had been out there, had been normalized by critics. And there were books like the one about the Futurists that were chock full of detail.
In later early 1990s, she came to UH to speak to the Phi Beta Kappa people. She gave a talk in the English department on Stein's _Tender Buttons_. Steve Bradbury and probably Rob Sean Wilson were there. She proceeded to explicate a whole series of the prose poems so that they all made perfect, linear sense. In retrospect, it was funny. Stein who tried so hard to evade the tyranny of the sentence and the paragraph, reduced to a series of narratives.
I could sense difficulties of various kinds from her, and kept some distance from her force field, but to me she was quite generous. We'd kept in touch until recent years. If I'd graduated from the U of Virginia without discovering her books, I never would have headed in the direction I did. I doubt that the writing in Tinfish was at all her cup of tea, but she supported the press year after year. As Mark Wallace wrote earlier today, she showed a lot of us the way, whether or not we kept to the straight and narrow path. 
Rest in peace, MP. You've left quite a wake behind you.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The man on the dumpster

The man on the dumpster sits as if grasping a sail in the wind. He turns to push still inflated balloons into the dumpster's green, rusted maw. He gazes out at all he maintains, opines upon it. He hates the jade plum trees, those whose tops were chopped a few weeks ago, better to resemble Dr. Seuss drawings. He disdains the paperbark trees because they create such mess. The monkey pods are the only trees he wouldn't cut down. Look at that one with its trunk bent out of shape to catch some sun. I put in my vote for Eucalyptus, which sits alone amid the others, peeling black and brown bark, as if intervening in his fantasy might protect that tree against destruction. That's a good tree, he says. That that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

A sermon on Lilith Walks by George Harris, Church of Christ Simsbury, CT


Go to minute 28 or so for the sermon. It's one of my favorite reviews of Lilith ever! A very sensitive response to the book and its intentions by an old friend, George Harris.,vid:EIBidOumxV4,st:0

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Lilith talks death and shunning with Uncle John

Lilith and I walked to the entrance to the Temple this morning to see Uncle John. Uncle John is younger than I am, but after he started calling me aunty and then told me he's a grandfather, I called him Uncle and it stuck. He sat inside the booth on the other side of the bridge that leads to the temple. Tourists were to and fro'ing. Surprisingly, my neighbor and her daughter were leaving the grounds. I leaned in to Uncle John and said, "see that woman; she's my neighbor and she hasn't talked to me for five years. I said something she didn't like and that was that." Uncle John commented on how much energy that must take. (It's taken some of mine over the years, too.) I said my son was of two minds about this: he hated that she shuns me, but couldn't help but admire her stick-to-ativeness.
"I came to give you Les's address," I said (to send a condolence card). But I'd left it at home. Uncle John said he'd just run into Les. "He looks so sad." He hadn't said he heard that Les's wife died, but Les told him the story. How they'd gone to Japan and Vegas near the end because they loved to travel. How she'd gotten covid. How she died peacefully. How the grandchildren will provide some consolation. "But when they're gone, they're gone," he said.
Uncle John has a tender heart. I am very fond of Uncle John. Uncle John loves Trump and was an avid covid-denier. More equations that cannot be solved by me.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Climate & Poetics Issue of Chant de la Sirene

Dear friends, colleagues, and country-people--

Laura Hinton has curated a huge issue of her journal on Climate & Poetics. I'm honored to have photographs and word work here, along with so much more by other poets and artists. Plunge in! Kudos to Laura for working so hard on this issue over so many months and for a wide-ranging introduction and her poems.

And I hope this missive finds you all well, or as well as can be in this day and age--

aloha, Susan

Sunday, March 3, 2024

4 March 2024

Not to try to interpret . . . but to look . . . till the light suddenly dawns. To take a photograph that can be guessed at, but not mean, as if image were music, the shadow of a strip of paint on the parking structure deck. Almost bird, but not. Almost slingshot. Almost moon surface. Almost topo map. Stunned by its mis-fit, this queering of decay (see Sara Ahmed). A sunset streams down the grid of parking stalls, but that’s not the good photograph, even as orange sun points toward us on our way to a baseball game. I love pulling back from assigning a name to this shape and its shadow, the way an image moves a viewer, but in what direction she can’t describe. Rothko’s parking structure, sacred rot.

White lines peel upward, the letter G hardly itself any more. There’s a walkway from one to the other side of the structure; there are benches, planters, a formerly green area (before they put in solar paneled roofs). No one wanted to sit there on the concrete, in the high sun, beside the dying grass, but as an architectural feature it made some sense. That’s the problem with sense, isn’t it, that it makes without meaning, and meaning so often makes so little of sense. The ex-president talks about languages that no one speaks crossing our borders. It’s hard to imagine such bodiless sounds drifting over the southern border in the sun, craving water and a blanket, spelling themselves out for audiences of one. Clearly, we’re meant to see them as dangerous in a synesthesia of fear. The floating wall in the Rio Grande can’t stop them, this viral sound that hints at sense but refuses to signify.

The language flees its homeland, broken into noise; somewhere in the caravan we might find its privileged ear, the conch that understands its tones. A conch sounded before the game, though it was piped in. Conches sounded before the movies, as hula dancers filled the suburban screens. A sound of yearning, untuned from the sacred, cow bell used to alert children to dinner. In this country, you can’t have children (by IVF) and you can’t not have children to save your life (by abortion). But we need more children! says the senator to the press.

The forming and the deforming land mirror each other. Lava from a helicopter, parking structure from my iPhone. The land is moving. The image is moving. But to see it, we need to park ourselves. When the fire station was damaged by a tornado, donors sent folding chairs for the firefighters to sit in. It’s a waiting game. If you slow down far enough, there’s nothing to see but what’s there in front of you.

Note: Italicized phrase by Simone Weil.

Friday, March 1, 2024

1 March 2024



The young man stands in front of us, dousing his head with fluid, clicking his lighter once, twice, three times at the cuff of his pants. Flames lick, halo, him--he’s not a body yet--one man points a gun, others bring fire extinguishers. He’s replaced by a gray blob on our screens, a gray blob that screams.

It’s the worst, most awful, photograph he’s ever seen, writes someone on X. He posts it. An elliptical gray blob on the ground in Gaza. We still see a left arm, plastic cable wrapped around its wrist.

The question is no longer how we write after Auschwitz, but how we write during Auschwitz.

Or if writing is what needs to be done.

I look for the photograph of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Vietnam. That’s my google search, more or less. I can buy the photograph for $32.83 from Walmart, already framed to give as a gift or to put on my wall. The finest materials were used. A payment plan is available for the more expensive (larger) version.

Life on an Island


An SUV has stopped just where you first spot the Temple in Valley of the Temples. The driver points out a good photograph, but no one gets out to take it. "It's really beautiful," I say. "I know, I'm from here," the woman says. "I come to the cemetery to visit family members. But I've never come this far." You can go farther up, I suggest, almost to the mountains. "We have to drive around the island," she says, as they wheel off down the hill and out of the cemetery.

Lilith thinks about mortality

At the cemetery, S has his feelers out for news of Renn. He was the most consistent walker; his cancer was in remission, and then it wasn't. S hasn't seen him in a long time. I had just told him about Leona, of Leona and Les, who died three weeks ago of cancer. "My wife died at 45, of ovarian cancer," S said. His father died in his 50s, his sister . . . You get used to it, working here, he told me. There was a beautiful funeral the other day, he says, for a three year old boy. Everyone wore t-shirts with his face on them. So cute. He gets in his hepped up golf cart and starts up the hill, stopping once to say something else to me; as Lilith and I leave 45 minutes later, he opines that Juan Soto is overrated and the Padres should do better this year without him. I'm fond of S, his consideration, his love of baseball.
S. is a rabid Sandy Hook and covid denier. How does this equation even go?