Thursday, April 28, 2011

Unfinished Sampler

Last night I went to bed after watching about an hour or so of Avatar, after declaring it Pocahontas with tall, blue aliens. The bio-luminescent landscape was the most interesting part, and as my daughter said, it made me wish it existed. (The element that the humans wanted from the alien landscape was called "Unobtainium." Who wrote this?) None of it made me want to stay awake, so I went to bed and read a chapter of a book where a man has his suitcase riffled through while he's sleeping on a train. This is unsettling, but he finds no answers. All of the sentences were short and it reminded me of some writing advice for beginning writers -- write in short sentences.

The short sentences, the recovered suitcase without a culprit, the computer generated blue people battling it out on the television downstairs, it all put me to sleep. It was humid in the bedroom. At 4 a.m. lightning broiled the sky, and rain shot through the window and into the laundry basket on the floor. I felt it against the exposed part of my back, the rejected lump of covers at the foot of the bed. Outside was angry, and it invited itself inside.

I fell asleep and had dreams of of crying and yelling, "This is not the shit house!" This morning from my writing desk, the Q-tip of pear tree sways back and forth. The lilac nods in the breeze. All the furious rain that pelted the house is captured in the needlepoint grid of the screen like an unfinished sampler.

This is not the shit house.

The rain worked with a spiderweb stretched over the seat of a chair on the patio to knit a sequined chair cover. The tensile strength of the web is impressive. As the wind pushes through the open weave of the seat, the web waves and each captured drop glitters.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Eskmo and Beats Antique

Philadelphia evening. Oh glow sky dandelion bloom, brick building dryer scent exhalation, fried peppers and onions, concrete dusk stoop song!

"I love new experiences," Susan said. I agreed. We parked on the sidewalk near a fenced lot with "No Dumping" signs, the sidewalk sprayed with constellations of broken glass. The bar was a block away. Young women with feathers in their ears and black lace stockings waited near the entrance. The bouncer checked our IDs, stamped the inside of our arms with the word "Important." We found a table in the back room of the North Star bar, ordered some dinner, and talked as our food was prepared in what the menu stated was "a very small kitchen." The menu pleaded for patience. The servers looked exhausted but kept their humor as people ordered drinks and dinners.

A woman seated next to us leaned in to ask, "Are you here for Beats Antique? How did you hear of them?"

"Hooping!" I shouted over the din of one of the opening acts already going on in the stage area in the neighboring room.

"What?" she asked.

"Hooping! Hula hooping! We hoop to Beats Antique sometimes!"

"Ooooh!" and she told us about her three workshops at Burning Man where she laughed and laughed while re-learning to hoop. Would we be interested in doing something with the Sustainable Living Roadshow? She gave us a card. She told us about the origins of the band, and that she is the mother of one of the members. A man who I imagined was her husband offered us some of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream that he brought into the bar. "They don't have dessert here!" He had extra spoons to share.

The opening act was Brendan Angelides, a DJ known as Eskmo. The floor throbbed with people. We nudged our way to the middle. Scent of sweat and beer, sweet fading perfumes. Dreadlocked hair, feathers, Tristan Tzara faces. I felt like I was waiting for a train with my purse in my hand.

Eskmo crinkled plastic water bottles, shook strings of shells, banged rhythmically on pot lids, and looped it all over a bone humming bass. Fractalled images of feathers, water, and a double helix flashed on a screen behind his tabletop set-up of electronic equipment. Images were sometimes joined by phrases like "you have invisible friends watching, guiding," and "little sister, little brother, big sister, big brother." The Brave New World-ian text made me wish for more poetry. Brendan swayed, cracked open a beer into the mic to capture the "pop" of the tab, then leaned forward and bobbed a bit with his mouth open in a semi-hypnotized state. He looked like a technological Linus in his striped shirt and maroon short pants, weaving the sound of torn up paper into a melody with the twist of a knob. There is a joy from watching someone do what they love when they do it well. Virtuosity.

The crowd didn't dance so much as sway in a trance. A hand popped up here and there to limply wave. Bubbles floated. It wasn't the mosh pit of my youth. When Eskmo packed up his gear and Beats Antique took the stage, the space was packed and I tried to hold my ground close to the front. Instead of being shoved out of the way, I was shoved out of the way with a phony "Hi!" from a short woman with curly hair adorned with a peacock feather. I prefer just being shoved. Is it now concert etiquette to pretend we know each other? If we're going to be polite, say "Excuse me," but don't be fake. Just shove or nudge your way past me.

Beats Antique started their first set after 11 p.m. Zoe Jakes took center stage in what seems to be her trademark leopard bodysuit. Harnessed to her shoulders was a large high school bass drum. Gold on her cheeks glinted under the lights, and the heavy beats and sub bass swelled into a full-on whirlchurn. Susan and I moved to the back of the room when the bodies made us claustrophobic. Stage presence is a big part of the Beats Antique show, variously parts high school band, performance art, and burlesque bellydance. A woman in the back shook and rattled the coin-beaded scarf wrapped around her hips as Zoe danced around the stage with a Sally Rand fan.

It was midnight. We had a two hour drive home. We are middle-aged. This morning I'm feeling a titch on the puny side. The coffee isn't strong enough.

The Lone Star bar was so close to the zoo. I kept thinking of the animals with their thrumming, caged heartbeats, so near. I love a new experience colored with forever.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Poetry Mines

Why doesn't anyone buy poetry? Geezamarooni! If I knew why, I'd fix it. Maybe it's because poets use words like "geezamarooni."

My husband and I turned our art gallery/poetry studio/theatre into an independent bookstore at the beginning of the year. (Now the money will really come rolling in!) We've published collections of poetry for the past seven years. Poetry titles don't exactly fly off the shelves. We've witnessed the trend, and continue to see it in the teensy checks we chase from distributors (sales there aren't all that brisk either and they like to keep the money for as long as they can), the few times a month we see a sale online, and the once or twice someone stops by to pick up a title. What sells poetry? When poets give readings from their books. I'm pretty sure the audience feels obligated to buy. The poet is right in front of them. Buying a book is their way to get out the door and on to a dirty martini.

The entire left wall of our store is dedicated to poetry. There is a series of four shelves mounted on the wall right when you walk in that feature poetry books, and in the middle of the left wall is a large, wooden shelving unit from a school library with a magazine rack below that holds all of the Paper Kite titles. We are loaded with poetry here. The visual, the lexical, the Ijustdon'tgetitacal. Bern Porter's Found Poems, Improvisations by Vernon Fraser, the tender collection of Kristin Prevallet that appears to be sold upon inspection, but I later find mis-shelved, of course. Kenneth Patchen. Denise Duhamel. I spend my days gazing at spines that stand as straight as capital I's. Maybe that's the problem. Poetry just feels too self-centered, too prone to introspection. Novels transport the reader.

We have a few regular customers in our store. There's a man who always asks about 19th century diaries. Another wants books about world religions. When prompted to check out some poetry, he said, "I don't know what it is about poetry. I just don't like having to read things more than once." He never finishes the hot chocolate he makes for himself either.

Books facing out sell first. Most people don't like to paw through books, squint to read the mouseprint titles of the spines, or disrupt the 64-crayons-in-the-box order of things. However, poetry books facing out don't sell. Their cover designs just plead.

I'm pretty sure you become stupider for not reading poetry. That's right, you become downright dumber if you don't at least pepper your gluttonous meal of autobiographies, fashion magazines, and novels with poems. I owe thanks to many poets not just for the garniture of their writing (I've been wanting to use that word!), but for the empathy that comes from their poems, the delicious word pairings, the sensory delights, the new ways of seeing. For me, long stretches of reading poetry feel like philosophical dumpster dives. I come up breathless, with hands full of treasures no one else wanted. Fools! Remember Hector the Collector by Shel Silverstein? I think Hector was a poet.

Mine, mine, mine!

I mean that as a verb. Read poetry.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Girl Out

of step again, ribald rhythm plays
its tricks from Hell. Right leg kicks, left leg
stays put. Oh, vile muscles, memory's betrayal!
Swallow that pill as you smile. No one likes vague.

The audience can't see your “Oh, shit!” thoughts,
but be expressive. They'll forgive your flubs
if you shake your fringe and wink as you were taught.
Glitter toss! Now count to eight, Beelzebub.

Blow a kiss, shiftslideturn, all the applause
comes from hips and gaze, your electric hands.
You do not ask, you earn. Empress of Awe,
your screw-ups erase with the lift of a fan.

Feathers pillow your skin as you lean,
tassels twirl, light licks silver sequins.

- Jennifer Hill