Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hay(na)ku for Haiti

Eileen Tabios sent me a packet of little books called Hay(na)ku for Haiti. She offered them as payment for contributing to Galatea Resurrects. I already feel more than recompensed by the review copies (which you can get yourself, if you are willing to provide engagement. Check out the website.). But I’ll take them.

Hay(na)ku for Haiti is, if you bothered not to follow the wonderful link that I provided at no little effort, a charitable project: proceeds go to Haitian relief efforts. So you have that reason to pay attention. Literary interest also exists. Upon that shall I write a few words.

Sheets of pink 8x11 paper form the books (I have 16 of them). Folded, the sheet becomes a book with 6 internal pages, roughly 3 1/2x2. Book art! This is a diy project. Such are always to be supported. You can do it, too! If you have access to Microsoft Publisher, you can print a text in the appropriate format so that it all works out in nice book form. If you haven’t such access, wing it. Don’t wait for the gatekeeper’s approval.

Anyway, if you would please just follow the link above (don’t be a dick!), you will see the list of authors. Some I have met before, some are new to me. They took a challenge.

Each writer fit their effort into three constraints.

  1. The hay(na)ku format. You probably already know, but if not, this format simply consists of 3-line stanzas. First line, one word; second line, 2 words; third line, 3 words. Oh look, I used the semi colon!
  2. Page count. The first page provides a note about the project, so five pages remain for the text. Four stanzas fit a page, so 20 stanzas at most marks the limit for text.
  3. Relevance to the situation in Haiti. The project compels one to relate the work to that human crisis, because it would be tacky not to.

That last point presents the real fandango. The mastering idea, I think, consists in engaging that human situation in Haiti. Engagement is the province of poetry. Anyone and everyone understands that the destruction from the earthquake is bad, and that something must be done. We don’t need poetry to say that: we have prose in orderly logic to commit that testament. No, the poetry to be written in this earnest position is much more personal than that. It is also more far-reaching.

In these books, we have numerous approaches to the very problem, the one problem. How do we find language for the things we see, hear, feel, touch, and smell? Poets twirl around the problem continually. Just randomly picking one book: Nicole Mauro personifies the quake (Mrs Quake). Eileen finds a poetics. I will quote in full. Nota bene: Imagine one stanza per pink page. Also imagine that stupidhead Live Writer didn’t put extra space between lines.

On a Pyre: An Ars Poetica


eating my

body hotter than



for the

poetry in burning



ravage more

than a drought-stricken



revenge for

the creation of



so flimsy

against non-metaphysical needs--


I love the dash at the end, which I choose to believe nods towards my friend Emily Dickinson. Such is one approach. Tom Beckett’s pared repetition is another. And so on, the spectrum of 16 (so far) little books. Many things to think of here. You can buy the books individually, but I think you want to maintain the sense of that spectrum. Plus the tactile handful: reminds me of Grenier’s Sentences.


Friday, December 31, 2010

More Past is Proloque

I don’t mean to dwell in the past, but certain timely landmarks occur, or recur, and…

I remembered last night that 10 years before, we were at Boston Children’s Hospital waiting for Erin to have surgery. At some point after he was settled, a nurse informed us that only one parent could remain in the room. I was shuffled to the game room, where a sofa sufficed. The hospital’s heating system blew steam all night long, which sounded like rain in a tropical forest. It was in fact snowy outside. Sleeping thru that, and the day’s events, was hallucinogenic.

Around 4 or 5 am, I was roused because Erin was off to surgery. However long that took, he emerged in cranky confusion from the anesthetic. I recall sitting in Erin’s dark room after, with the tv going, alternately watching Hilary Duff and other Disney Channel hijinx (living to tell the tale), and dozing while he slept.

That night Beth and I watched the fireworks of First Night over Boston Harbour from the hospital window (sorry for the string of prepositional phrases). I was again kicked out, only this time my sleeping arrangement was already in use. I tried dozing in chairs in the hallway, and the floor. Finally, I found an unused gurney. Luckily I was not whisked away.

Erin was given morphine intravenously. At one point he had us laughing as he discovered how to cross his eyes. At another he startled us by declaring, This morphine’s fun. Time to remove the tube.

There was a lot of downtime during our stay. Hospitals = downtime. I periodically ran up and down the ten stories of stairs for exercise. Woo hoo. The lobby held one of those perpetual motion machines with balls timelessly moving along tracks and thru tubes. I added to Days Poem every day. I read Princess Casamassima (say, does that name mean Big House?).

The worst day was when Erin was supposed to go home. An ambulance awaited but the surgeon took a last look at the pins holding Erin’s femur together and decided one was infected. Soupy was the scientific term that he used (aptly). Surgery was called for, and two more pins replaced the infected one. It was a devastating rebuff at the time.

That surgery left Erin with a a hole the width of a quarter in his thigh, right down to the bone. It was initially packed with gauze. One day a doctor on rounds came to examine the wound. Before removing the gauze the said that it might feel a little odd. He pulled seemingly yards of gauze from the wound, all the while Erin screamed in pain. Beth and I had to hold him as he screamed.

That was the second time we had to hold him while he screamed. The first time was when he was transported from Emerson Hospital. Erin’s leg had to be stabilized. The EMTs said it would hurt. Erin said, promise to stop if it hurts too bad, and the EMT said, I cannot promise that. Of course he could not.

These events are unique in the sense that they happened in such a way, in such an order, etc, but life proffers such unities to all. By unities I mean points of integration with others. We become one as we tell our stories. I guess I will resist positing further import than that. It is enough.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Charles Olson at 100

It behooves me to note the 100th anniversary of Charles Olson’s birth today. He has meant much to me as a writer.

I cannot easily say what my debt to Olson consists of. I think thru him I came to understand how our knowledge inhabits our language.

He insisted in his poetry on embracing aspects of the world that poetry had not largely been allowed to embrace. Science, history, philosophy, politics, and philology were intrinsic in his work. I will not declare his primacy in doing this, only that I gained the insight thru his work.

Whereas I was resistant when confronted by the work of other modern and post-modern writers (I dislike those terms, and only use them to mark the generalities of which I speak), Olson’s held an invitation for me. For differing reasons, Stein and Pound were hard nuts for me to crack. Olson baffled me, but I somehow felt comfortable within that confusion. Possibly his localness helped, not that Gloucester is is really my local.

A further plus, Olson left a paper trail that, for me, provided a curriculum. I sought out the writers that he studied. I also found it compelling to follow the work of those who were within his sphere of influence. I am sure that the influence on me shows in my turning from the idea of poems as inviolate pretty things. Instead, I see poems as evidence of active engagement in the human enterprise.

I’ve always been iffy about the term poet. It conjures dilettantism. Olson was a poet of active interest in the world. Writing, to be a fair tool, must partake of such interest.  All writing, I mean: the letters and notes, the advertisements, the reports, the everything we place into written language. I believe I learned that lesson, or was encouraged in that idea, by Charles Olson.

I confound Olson somewhat with my father. They were born 3 months apart (I look with amaze at the centenary to come in March). They were both scions of Massachusetts (Cambridge for my father, not Worcester). I managed to break the fascinated hold of Olson, and look critically. Not to eschew, but to make use of what I learned. Just as I was able to get closer to my father (the engineer!), in his later years. That simultaneous act of drawing to and pulling away by which we learn and grow.

So this note, written sans eloquence, is offered in testament of what I have gained.