10 Dead Poets (I would fuck)

30 Oct

 Welcome to Poetry Crush’s 3rd annual  10 Dead Poets (I would fuck).  Thanks to my deranged contributors– you guys are so messed up:  Miracle Jones,  Janaka StuckyJennifer L. KnoxTodd ColbyJoanna Penn Cooper,  Lauren Hunter, Gregory CrosbyLisa Marie Basile and Gabriel Don— together we make up the clandestine members of the Dead Poets (I Would Fuck) Society (along with past participants:  2011, 2012).  Stay spooky! – j. hope stein 

1)  Shakespeare by J. Hope Stein



In a press conference held in front of Romeo & Juliet for Peace headquarters in downtown Philadelphia, artist / activist / entrepreneur / provocateur Juliet Capulet confirmed there were two deaths in the most recent Romeo & Juliet for Peace demonstrations, when violence erupted after a group of activists, wearing nothing but paint from head to toe of the colors of the Israeli and Palestinian flags conducted orgies throughout Jerusalem and the Gaza strip.  “We are still trying to understand what happened. We think there was a personal dispute which led to a fight.   What is certain is that we have lost two individuals.  A Romeo and Juliet.”  Capulet said the names of the deceased will be released once the families have been notified.

Capulet appeared to be holding back tears when she explained, “The point of demonstration ‘SMEAR’ was to show that when we love each other the colors of our flags smear together and war disappears.”  Many accuse Capulet of romanticizing the deaths, including one member of the media who shouted as Capulet read her statement– “This isn’t a fairytale, honey.  Two young people are dead.”

Capulet said there were 600 activists in total:  300 Palestinians and 300 Israelis, who were positioned at “epicenters of conflict” throughout the region where they were reciting the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet while engaging in group sex.

Romeo & Juliet for Peace began 7 years ago as an international dating website connecting young5248f903afba4.preview-620 progressive singles romantically in warring nations in protest of their government and older generations who they viewed as “impotent against the problems of war.”  Romeo & Juliet for Peace is free to its members and Capulet, who has cited John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s peace campaigns of the late 1960s, including “War is Over (If you Want it)” as her biggest inspiration, takes no advertisers, only elite sponsors who partner in grassroots campaigns like ‘SMEAR,’ designed to spread her anti-war message.

Within the first year Romeo & Juliet for Peace made a big international splash with its t-shirt line, available in over 50 languages, quoting poignant passages from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  But it’s the best-selling t-shirt with the Romeo & Juliet for Peace tagline that made Capulet a multi-millionaire overnight, saying:  “We’re going to fuck and fuck and fuck until nobody knows where to point their guns.”

When asked by a member of local media if Capulet will rethink her tactics, in light of the deaths of the two activists,  Capulet said the recent violence only strengthens the purpose of her work and that the incident has increased registration to the website in the past 24 hours by over 4000%.  “This is the fastest growing website in the world.”

One of the main attractions of The Romeo & Juliet for Peace website is a live tally of the number of registrants, as well as the number of active relationships and babies resulting from the service.  There were worldwide celebrations last June when the number of babies surpassed a million.  In addition, offshoots: Romeo & Romeo for Peace and Juliet & Juliet for Peace, have both become the go-to dating sites of choice for the international gay community.

When a member of CNN asked – what is your goal?  Capulet responded, “Our goal has always been clear:  To fuck and fuck and fuck until no one knows where to point their guns and eventually they will point it at their own hatred.”

“I have deployed 60,000 ‘troops’ in dozens of countries targeting high-conflict epicenters worldwide who are ready to put their lives on the line.   And they aren’t going to blow themselves up or drop bombs on anyone.  They are going to recite Shakespeare and touch until their flag paint smears into the color of one earth.”

Capulet also confirmed that she has received several death threats on herself and her family, adding,  “My family is already dead.  And if I were killed, another Juliet would take my place.  We’ve planned for that scenario.”  Very little is known about Capulet herself, including her real name.

Capulet then recited the final lines from Romeo and Juliet and took no more questions:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

2) Emma Lazarus & Julia Ward Howe by Miracle Jones


“I did not actually invite the two of you here to this bar beneath an extremely cheap boarding house with available rooms to talk about starting up a new reading series in Brooklyn, dearest Julia Ward Howe and most honorable Emma Lazarus.”


“Your duplicity remains the stuff of legend, Mr. Jones!”

“Allow me to introduce the two of you to each other. Actually, both of you need to have a little more O Be Joyful. Here.”

“I never turn down more O Be Joyful.”

“Topping me off is the least you can do, thank you. And I WILL have another tea sandwich.”

“This is Emma Lazarus. She is most famous for writing America’s “Casual Encounters” advertisement, a distinction which both edifies and debases us all in a particularly permanent way. This advertisement sits on the base of the Statue of Liberty and is called “The New Colossus.” It is a sonnet, which is not exactly experimental, but there is something extremely passionate about the entreaties the poem contains. There is, if I may be so bold, a yearning that I find most remarkable, not the least of which because the poem is so quotable. You have really captured something crude and spirited about our young Republic, something which would take a truly labyrinthine — and wicked! — mind to apprehend.”


“Why are you putting on that stovepipe hat and false beard?”Emma-Lazarus-courtesy-MJH

“And this is Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, wife of the honorable Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. She is also a poet, in addition to being an abolitionist, social activist, women’s rights advocate, and pornographer.”



“Enough with the charade of high-minded indigination! I read your book “Passion Flowers,” Mrs. Howe. I also read “The Hermaphrodite.” I liked them both. They are both books meant to be read with one hand, if you know what I mean. I also know that you have some championship-class pearl sweat going for Abraham Lincoln. We all read the blog post in “The Atlantic Monthly” that you wrote the night you met him. All that stuff about his awesome shining sword and his big fat truth and how you want him to split you like a serpent, and then rage-fuck you like a dude stomping grapes.”



“I see neither of you have run screaming from the room yet. The door is right there. Do I detect a flush from you, Mrs. Howe? Is that a pretty outlandish understatment? What reason do you have to loosen your dress so flagrantly and with such strong movements, Miss Lazarus?”

“I feel that I must not leave or I shall starve for oxygen. Something in your words transfixes me.”

“You are yearning to breathe free, eh?”

“My own lines! They convict me!”

“And you Mrs. Howe?”

“It is difficult to remain anything but…agitated…while you are wearing that horrible stovepipe hat. Quickly! Do you have any of Mr. Graham’s crackers?”


“There are no Graham crackers here, ladies. Just another bottle of rotgut, an extremely large feather bed, some fresh oranges, a stereoscope full of French daguerrotypes and one that I stole from Andrew Jackson himself, heavy black velvet drapes to block out both the sun and the prying eyes of Le Moyenne Bourgeosie, two blister packs of Plan B, a blacklight poster of Walt Whitman, a whole goddamn tube of KY jelly, snacks from the bodega, the Delmonico’s take-out menu, a length of good Yankee rope, and both a Rebel and Union regular army uniform, which we can take turns wearing.”



“Upstairs, ladies! Follow me upstairs! For God and country and poetry and the Golden Door! WE HAVE A UNION TO MAKE, PRESERVE, PERFECT, AND SUSTAIN” 


3) Mina Loy by Todd Colby


I don’t know that I’d actually like to have fucked Mina Loy, but I could see myself cuddling with her after we tried on one of her hats, and danced around the room to the Velvet Underground; throwing our bodies through space and just generally feeling that sense of abandonment that is granted to us with another person, but only a few times in our short lives. I see us walking around the Bowery, picking through junk for her collages, schlepping a red wagon stuffed with detritus, carrying it up to her apartment, and then watching with a joyful admiration as she assembled it into something beautiful. I’d walk over to her and kiss her long neck and whisper that she smelled good, and then we’d tumble onto the floor and whisper poems back and forth to each other, lost in a swirl of time and intimacy. She’d laugh as I read her one of my poems and sigh, reaching over to caress my shoulder and then she’d shuffle through one of her manuscripts and read me something she’d just written. I’d smile and feel a warm glow of recognition that a kindred spirit was sitting in front of me and that perhaps the world wasn’t as dark and obscene as I’d been led to believe; that perhaps there were two people in a room, getting along well enough to dance and read poems to one another without worries about insults or recriminations; that it was possible to be in a room with someone as life swirled around us, and we swirled with it.


4) Walt Whitman by Jennifer L. Knox


Why bang one dead poet when you can bang everyone and everything in the cosmos?

The young men bathing at the river, the washer women on the shore draping wet white sheets over the stone banks to dry, the dogs barking at them, the tall ships sailing by, wind flooding their sails with the breath of God, the breath of God, the breath of the sailors aboard those ships, and the sailors—Land a’ Goshen!—all those sailors in their tight blue pants, the color blue, colors, the letters in the word “color,” all the letters in every language that has ever existed, hieroglyphics, the pyramids, everything triangle shaped thing, novelty foam Cheesehead hats, etc.

After Walt had his stroke, he recuperated in a cabin by a stream where he’d bathe in the icy water, stimulate his skin with the bristle end of a hairbrush, and spank his own flanks with the wooden handle. That kind of freakiness cannot be created nor destroyed, only changed into more freakiness. Hey, it’s science.

Every person who has ever known lust is buoyed in the eternal wake of one of Walt’s explosive orgasms, which are still exploding all around us—like the volcanoes dotting the lush green mountains of Hawaii—destined to smother us all in a scalding beard of lava.

I don’t have to “choose” to make love to Walt. He chose to make love to us, long ago, and is humping us right now—every day and night—all of us—in the mouth, etc.

Sometimes I’m like, “Get off me!” but it’s like standing in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s: you just got to relax, breathe, and give into it. Otherwise, you’re gonna choke somebody out.

Everything in America is full of sex but Americans. So open your fire hose of liberty, big daddy. You almost makes me feel like I’m French, or an ancient Roman, or made of light that penetrates clothes. Especially pants. You were never a breast man, but you looked hot in a pirate blouse.

5) Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, & Jean Toomer by Lauren Hunter


SOME FANTASY If I woke up one morning in the 1920s I’d hightail it to Harlem, Borrowing my mama’s best dress And last week’s wages I’d obviously be the cause for many fistfights; They’d call me “la Muse d’135th”— La la. I’d split my time generously Spending the spring in red dreaming with Langston

A queen from some long-dead Egyptian night Walks once again

Feeling the beat of the blues with our hands And sending them on their way with our mouths

Come with a blast of trumpets,  Jesus!

Come summertime, I’d be Claude’s only, in green We’d burn nights at drink, strolling and watching as Harlem Wrapped us in open arms

Oh, with our love the night is warm and deep!

From the cabaret to the nightclub, to the café to the pool hall

Touching the surface and the depth of things   Instinctively responsive unto both Tasting the sweets of being and the stings…. Like a strong tree against a thousand storms.

The fall I’d play young, fast and free Days and nights at dance with Countee What if his glance is bold and free                                                                         His mouth the lash of whips? Spinning through the careless weather, High on Harlem wine, I’d not mind the coming chill

Its measurement of joy compute With blithe, ecstatic hips.

In the winter, I’d hole myself up in a warm apartment Full of books with Jean. The door locked for the season, We’d read late into the night by lamps

whisper of yellow globes

By day linger in bed, covered in pages

then with your tongue remove the tape and press your lips to mine till they are incandescent


6) Clarice Lispector by Janaka Stucky


The corners of your eyes often return
To me at night when I am working
Spectre of an exorcised dragon
The light and the Light
Catch in the rim where
I could live for centuries amid your black lashes
     Clarice the spectre
     My story is that I am living without you and I am failing
Watch me fall slowly
Away over years
Your subtle smile poisoning
My every effort to forget
This heroic dream
Clarice the spectre
You look at me and only then
Am I in the world
Filled with this happy instinct for destruction
An abyss I make my home each time we meet in our permanent sleep

7)  Joe Brainard by Joanna Penn Cooper


I would like to have a short, funny romance with Joe Brainard after he moved from Tulsa to New York, but before he finished coming out.  Most of our romance would involve lying around in our underwear on a mattress on the floor, looking at magazines and going into a reverie about things we remember.   Then Joe would get up and go to the corner store to get a Pepsi for himself and a Dr. Pepper for me, and we’d stand in the kitchen and eat a cantaloupe I brought over.  After that, we’d collaborate on some drawings with words.

Later, I’d go to Europe for a while, then live in a few other states, maybe ending up upstate. We would have settled into a great lifelong friendship by then, exchanging a large number of postcards that were sort of poems and sort of not, some with drawings.  The postcards would be like a book just for us and for whoever came to my studio later and seemed worth bringing out the shoebox full of postcards for.   There’s one that I particularly like, done in Vermont, with a drawing of one lone shoe.  How is the energy of a person left behind in a lone shoe like that, or in a postcard?

[I’m not too far off here in linking heterosexual romance with Joe Brainard.  In Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard, Ron Padgett writes, “At various times Joe was strongly attracted some of his smart, beautiful, talented women friends.”  In fact, in 1972, Joe wrote, “One thing I want to do before I die is to make it with Anne Waldman, without offending Michael Brownstein [her boyfriend].  The old have your cake and eat it too bit.  The story of my life.  And now that I think about it, making it with Michael Brownstein, without offending Anne Waldman, wouldn’t be bad either.”]

8)  William Blake and Christina Rossetti by Gabriel Don

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 6.34.28 PM

9)  Louise Bogan by Gregory Crosby

Bogan_Louise460 No more pronouncements on lousy verse. No more hidden competition. No more struggling not to be a square. Not square, but severe. They hang the word restrained round your white neck like a choker, but an elegant one, simple, black. Lace-curtain Irish, mother unstable; romantic & preoccupied with sexual betrayal. At midnight tears run into ears. I would like to kiss them away, but I wouldn’t presume. The blue estuary of your skepticism, a fire cold as flame. The satisfaction & trap of minor perfection. The drudgery of book reviewing. No more pronouncements…   When was the last time someone mentioned you? I’d like to take the arm of “Medusa,” “Cassandra,” your “Women,” & promenade down the boulevard of poetry fierce & nearly forgotten. Did Ted Roethke have you in mind when he said I knew a woman, lovely in her bones? I bet your bones glowed. Especially in the dark. I bet you didn’t suffer fools, least of all yourself. I can’t help but think “Epitaph for a Romantic Woman” is your own. I bet your smile was something to behold, a private supernova of surprise, like a kiss bestowed on the undeserved… I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy. 


10)  Marosa di Giorgio by Lisa Marie Basile 

Letter to Marosa

136_wi250_he250_cr1-1.1352820540Marosa, have you thought of me since we last met? Have you thought of the time I wore my hair like yours? I doubt it. I wore my hair like yours to say, “here, take this as transcendence.” I became a growth, an orchid, a nightshade. A woman. In the end I closed my eyes and plunged my hands into the bucket of the garden and pulled something out; you; sweet and angelic and instant as the sky. I knew it was too late to chase you, you had gone, and I was left at the vanity mirror with my legs open hoping the city would understand: I don’t mean to sexualize you or our world. I mean to let you crawl inside me. So I can give birth to you, or through you, so I can make things like you-like a woman-lantern, a mâché of the self, an in-loveness with the world as it isn’t and is. I fondled the night. I let loose my hair from it’s kindly bun, spoke in a frazzled Spanish and watched the rain fall. Someone told me a monster walked past me, right behind, like a door opening, intentions and all. And I believed them, because you would. Because the ivy growing up the side of the yard house wouldn’t have done that if it didn’t want to own something. I’m owned by something, someone. I’m owned by the world around me like a garden glove. It helps to imagine my own seedlings sprinkled, it helps to imagine us kissing. You’re old and I’m young and it can be very beautiful. Tell me to keep seeing the world this way, because everything else is alone, and my tongue falls nicely into your tongue, because I was born wayward and green. As a letter Unsent. I mythologized you because I saw the spirit carrying her tray of floral candies, and when everyone said, “sleep” I needed someone to say, “it’s ok, this forsaken town is just broken.” We will make love in the centro. We won’t mind the Catholics. They say they see the angels but we know we do.

Simon Armitage & flowers

18 Dec


I can’t help but to think of the poem Killing Time by Simon Armitage– A poem about the Columbine shootings which creates a beautiful metaphor by substituting the word “guns”  with “flowers.”  I began to rewrite this piece substituting the word “flowers” with everything from  “beach balls” to “butter knives” to “hand gun” to  “anthrax” to see how it changes the outcome and the metaphor.  Whatever your views, this exercise in language was clarifying, at least for me, in distinguishing the difference between the right to bear arms and weapons of mass destruction.


Killing Time by Simon Armitage

Meanwhile, somewhere in the state of Colorado, armed to the teeth with thousands of flowers, two boys entered the front door of their own high school and for almost four hours gave floral tributes to fellow students and members of the staff beginning with red roses strewn among unsuspecting pupils during their lunch hour, followed by posies of peace lilies and wild orchids. Most thought the whole show was one elaborate hoax using silk replicas of the real thing, plastic imitations, exquisite practical jokes, but the flowers were no more fake than you or I, and were handed out as compliments returned, favors repaid, in good faith, straight from the heart. No would not be taken for an answer. Therefore a daffodil was tucked behind the ear of a boy in a baseball hat, and marigolds and peonies threaded through the hair of those caught on the stairs or spotted along corridors until every pupil who looked up from behind a desk could expect to be met with at least a petal or a dusting of pollen, if not an entire daisy chain, or the color-burst of a dozen foxgloves, flowering for all their worth, or a buttonhole to the breast. Upstairs in the school library, individuals were singled out for special attention: some were showered with blossom, others wore their blooms like brooches or medallions; even those who turned their backs or refused point-blank to accept such honors were decorated with buds, unseasonable fruits and rosettes the same as the others.
By which time a crowd had gathered outside the school, drawn through suburbia by the rumor of flowers in full bloom, drawn through the air like butterflies to buddleia, like honey bees to honeysuckle, like hummingbirds dipping their tongues in, some to soak up such over-exuberance of thought, others to savor the goings-on. Finally, overcome by their own munificence or hay fever, the flower-boys pinned the last blooms on themselves, somewhat selfishly perhaps, but had also planned further surprises for those who swept through the aftermath of bloom and buttercup: garlands and bouquets, planted in lockers and cupboards, timed to erupt either by fate or chance, had somehow been overlooked and missed out. Experts are now trying to say how two apparently quiet kids from an apple-pie town could get their hands on a veritable rain-forest of plants and bring down a whole botanical digest of one species or another onto the heads of classmates and teachers, and where such fascination began, and why it should lead to an outpouring of this nature. And even though many believe that flowers should be kept in expert hands only, or left to specialists in the field such as florists, the law of the land dictates that God, guts and gardening made the country what it is today and for as long as the flower industry can see to it things are staying that way. What they reckon is this: deny a person the right to carry flowers of his own and he’s liable to wind up on the business end of a flower somebody else had grown. As for the two boys, it’s back to the same old debate: is it something in the mind that grows from birth, like a seed, or is it society that makes a person that kind?

NaPoWriMo 2015

2 Apr

NaPoWriMo is the write-a poem-everyday-thingy (invented by Maureen Thorson) that poets do in the month of April to celebrate National Poetry Month. There are so many reasons why I have never done this and am a terrible candidate for such a challenge:  1) It is not aligned with my writing process in any way.  2)  I am uncomfortable making a piece public until I do quite a bit of editing which usually involves dozens & months-worth of drafts.  3) I am due this month with my first child. For all of these reasons & more I’ve decided on complete impulse to participate in NaPoWriMo 2015 and to publish my entries here on Poetry Crush-  to keep with the original intent of Poetry Crush– which is there is no intent, only impulse. And I’ve impulsively invited a few friends to join me. Just click on the link below to follow their daily entires: Joanna Penn Cooper Lauren Hunter Bridget Talone Lina Vitkauskas Christine Kanownik J. Hope Stein (me)

May Swenson

28 Nov



I had a dream in which I had a
and in my dream I told you,
“Listen, I will tell you my
dream.” And I began to tell you. And
you told me, “I haven’t time to listen while you tell your

Then in my dream I
dreamed I began to
forget my
And forgot my
And I began to tell you, “Listen, I have
forgot my
And now I tell you: “Listen while I tell you my
dream, a
in which I dreamed
I forgot my dream,”
and I begin to tell you “In my dream you told me, ‘I haven’t time to

And you tell me” “You dreamed I wouldn’t
listen to a
dream that you
I haven’t time to listen to

“But I haven’t forgot I
dreamed,” I tell you,
“a dream in which I told you,
‘Listen, I have
forgot,’ and you told me, ‘I haven’t time.’”
“I haven’t time,” you tell me.

And now I begin to forget that I
forgot what I began to tell you in my
And I tell you, “Listen,
listen, I begin to

(the real poem lines up the words “dream,” “listen” and “forgot” of every line, throughout the entire piece, which is why some of the line breaks look like this. But wordpress formatting, as usual, will not cooperate. The only line that is supposed to break structure is “I haven’t time you, tell me”)

Charlie Kaufman

21 Oct
What can I say about Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays that hasn’t already been said?  
See Synecdoche, New York if you haven’t!
It’s his best one and to me rivals the greatest films and novels of all time. It is terrifyingly honest, complex and true. It obsessively peels back the layers of the human condition until there is only a skeleton and it contains everything in it while making fun of an artist who tries to create a piece that contains everything.


From Charlie Kaufman’s 2012 BAFTA Screenwriters Lecture:

Thank you very much. I’m actually really happy to be here; at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I’ve never delivered a speech before, which is why I decided to do this tonight. I wanted to do something that I don’t know how to do, and offer you the experience of watching someone fumble, because I think maybe that’s what art should offer. An opportunity to recognise our common humanity and vulnerability.

So rather than being up here pretending I’m an expert in anything, or presenting myself in a way that will reinforce the odd, ritualised lecturer-lecturee model, I’m just telling you off the bat that I don’t know anything. And if there’s one thing that characterises my writing it’s that I always start from that realisation and I do what I can to keep reminding myself of that during the process. I think we try to be experts because we’re scared; we don’t want to feel foolish or worthless; we want power because power is a great disguise.

I’m a person who does this and I struggle with it. I think it was Thomas Mann who said, ‘A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people,’ which I thought was pretty cool. I think that’s sort of it; if you take it seriously it’s a struggle.

Here’s a recent quote that I found: ‘We do not talk, we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests.’ That was actually written in 1945 by Henry Miller and I think it’s timely. I think what it says is that the world has been on its present course for a long time. People all over the world spend countless hours of their lives every week being fed entertainment in the form of movies, TV shows, newspapers, YouTube videos and the internet. And it’s ludicrous to believe that this stuff doesn’t alter our brains.

It’s also equally ludicrous to believe that – at the very least – this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’

And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now. Politics and government are built on this, corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this. And we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.

What can be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be that. But more importantly, if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me and I have to keep rediscovering it. It has profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.

This is from E. E. Cummings: ‘To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.’ The world needs you. It doesn’t need you at a party having read a book about how to appear smart at parties – these books exist, and they’re tempting – but resist falling into that trap. The world needs you at the party starting real conversations, saying, ‘I don’t know,’ and being kind.

So you are here, and I am here, spending our time as we must, it must be spent. I am trying not to spend this time, as I spend most of my time, trying to get you to like me; trying to control your thoughts, to use my voodoo at the speed of light, the speed of sound, the speed of thought, trying to convince you that your two hours with me are not going to be resented afterwards.

It is an ancient pattern of time usage for me, and I’m trying to move deeper, hoping to be helpful. This pattern of time usage paints over an ancient wound, and paints it with bright colours. It’s a sleight of hand, a distraction, so to attempt to change the pattern let me expose the wound. I now step into this area blindly, I do not know what the wound is, I do know that it is old. I do know that it is a hole in my being. I do know it is tender. I do believe that it is unknowable, or at least unable to be articulable.

I do believe you have a wound too. I do believe it is both specific to you and common to everyone. I do believe it is the thing about you that must be hidden and protected, it is the thing that must be tap danced over five shows a day, it is the thing that won’t be interesting to other people if revealed. It is the thing that makes you weak and pathetic. It is the thing that truly, truly, truly makes loving you impossible. It is your secret, even from yourself. But it is the thing that wants to live.

It is the thing from which your art, your painting, your dance, your composition, your philosophical treatise, your screenplay is born. If you don’t acknowledge this you will come up here when it is your time and you will give your speech and you will talk about the business of screenwriting. You will say that as a screenwriter you are a cog in a business machine, you will say it is not an art form. You will say, ‘Here, this is what a screenplay looks like.’ You will discuss character arcs, how to make likeable characters. You will talk about box office. This is what you will do, this is who you will be and after you are done I will feel lonely and empty and hopeless. And I will ask you for my two hours back. I will do this to indicate my lack of love for you.

I will do this to communicate that you are a waste of time as a human being. It will be an ugly thing for me to say. It will be intended to hurt you. It will be wrong for me to say. It will lack compassion. And it will hurt you. And you will either dismiss it or take it in, but in either case you will hear it and it will affect you. And you will think about what you can do next time so you can be more lovable, and with that your wound will be buried further. Or you will think about how hateful people are and how your armour needs to be thicker so that you can proceed as planned with your ideas. With that, your wound will be buried further.

I think the best way to begin to combat the systemic indoctrination is to look at intention. The aphorism, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions,’ doesn’t ring true to me. I think intention is at the bottom of everything. My intentions are shifting and complex and often at odds with each other. And if I know what they are, and watch them closely as they slip and slide all over the place, I have a better chance of putting something honest into the world and this is my goal. My own Hippocratic Oath – I do not want to harm.

I am painfully conscious of the harm that occurs when participating in the media with unclear intentions. I do not want to be a salesman, I do not want to scream, ‘Buy me!’ or, ‘Watch me!’ And I don’t want to do that tonight. What I’m trying to express – what I’d like to express – is the notion that, by being honest, thoughtful and aware of the existence of other living beings, a change can begin to happen in how we think of ourselves and the world, and ourselves in the world. We are not the passive audience for this big, messed up power play.

We don’t have to be. We can say who we are, we can assert our right to existence, we can say to the bullies and conmen, the people who try to shame us, embarrass us, flatter us, to the people who have no compunction about lying to us to get our money and our allegiance that we are thinking – really thinking – about who we are, and we’ll express ourselves and other people won’t feel so alone.

This is Harold Pinter: ‘A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that, the writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb, you find no shelter, no protection, unless you lie. In which case, of course, you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.’

It’s weird to be a human. We get to think about things, we get to wonder. It seems like quite a privileged position in the universe. And I wouldn’t give it up for certainty because when you’re certain you stop being curious. And here’s the one thing I know about the thing you’re certain about; you’re wrong.

It’s always a mistake to settle on any explanation for anything, because whatever you settle on you will be wrong, even if you’re right. Everything is ephemeral; everything is in a constant state of flux. Thinking past any conclusion you’ve drawn will reward you with a more complex insight and a more compassionate world view. This is something I’m constantly trying to learn and re-learn.

There’s another quote that I like, this one’s a little long, but I think it’s good. It’s by a guy named John Garvey: ‘I am increasingly convinced that the need to be right has nothing whatsoever to do with the love of truth, but to face the implications of this means accepting a painful inner emptiness; I am not now what I sense somehow I am meant to be. I do not know what I feel from the bottom of my heart, I need to know. The beginning of wisdom is not to flee from this condition or distract yourself from it. It is essential not to fill it up with answers that have not been earned. It is important to learn how to wait with that emptiness. It is the desire to fill up that emptiness which leads to political or religious fanaticism.’

I think what might make this form of endeavour exciting for writers is that they find themselves in an environment where they’re encouraged to use their powers to explore the world, their minds and the form itself. Think about the staggering possibilities of the marriage of light, vibration and time. I think craft is a dangerous thing. I saw a trailer for a movie, I don’t want to say what the movie is, but it’s coming out soon. And it was gorgeous, it was… gorgeous. And it made me really depressed, and I was trying to figure out why.

I think there was an amazing amount of craft and skill on the part of the filmmakers in this movie. And yet it was the same shit. I know that this movie is going to do really well, and I know that the people who made it are going to get rewarded for it, and so the cycle continues. So I think the danger of craft is that it needs to be in second position to what it is that you’re doing.

It’s seductive to put it in first position, often because what you’re doing is meaningless or worthless, or just more of the same. So you can distinguish yourself by being very, very good at it. I think you need to be willing to be naked when you do anything creatively in film or any other form, that’s really what you have to do because otherwise it’s very hard to separate it from marketing.

Alice Notley & Ping-Pong

12 Oct


The new issue of Ping-Pong & the cover is pumpkin soup! 
In the new issue of Ping-Pong there is a 20-page conversation between Alice Notley, Maria Garcia Teutsch & I which took place in a cafe in Paris earlier this year. In person I would describe Notley exactly as I experience her on the page: utterly beautiful and in touch with a great otherness. 
Below is a mini-excerpt.
With The Descent of Alette at what point in the process did you figure out the form it would take with the quotations and the breaths? Did that come early or late in the process?
That came early. At the point where I got the form, I could write it.
Did you write the first piece first?
No, I wrote it last. I wrote the first two last. I didn’t have a beginning for two years and then at the end I had a beginning. It sounds a little tiny bit different from the rest of the poem, but not very much.
It contains almost the whole book within it.


Yeah, I think it’s a very epic-like beginning. I give you an entrée that is also kind of a synopsis. But it’s very terse.
It teaches you how you’re going to read the book and also has information in it but at the same time it’s beautifully lyrical. All of those elements are perfectly balanced.
So you always knew you were going to use the quotations?
Yes, because I had already done them in a couple of poems. I had used them before for “A Choral Effect.” Right away I realized The Descent of Alette was going to have a first person singular. And I was going to have a unified voice, not choral. But it suggests choral. But it’s not choral, the way those two poems from “Beginning with a Stain” are. And also “White Phosphorus,” which is a mixture of voices.


Because when I was writing those I was listening to Monteverdi, who wrote 16th century Italian choral music. I carried that with me for a year or two until I got to the point when I wrote Alette. Then I had the one voice, but I had the quotation marks, but then quotation marks changed into demarcating the measures, more than suggesting the voices or voice.
Read another mini-excerpt from this interview here on Maria Garcia Teutsch’s blog. The full interview is ONLY available in the new Ping-Pong.
Ping-Pong is the the official literary journal of the Henry Miller Library and this is my first issue as an official Poetry Editor. While I can’t help but miss having my poems in Ping-Pong, it has been a fantastic experience being poetry editor and working along with Poetry Editor Joanna Fuhrman, Prose Editor Shelley Marlow and under the magical leadership of Editor-in-Chief Maria Garcia Teutsch. And I got to work with great writers and talk with my hero Alice Notley. The absolute highlight of the issue for me occurred deep in our conversation with Notley, when she shared some details about her vast treasure chest of fascinating yet-to-be-published works– bringing sexy back to the phrase “unpublished manuscript.”
Also in this issue, poems by: Alice Notley, Ilya Kaminsky, Shane McCrae, Timothy Liu, Danielle Pafunda, Melissa Broder, Leigh Stein, Jennifer L. Knox, Kate Greenstreet, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Tyler Gobble &more.  Plus an Ales Steger story translated by Brian Henry & Urska Charney and a micro-anthology of Russian poems translated by Ilya Kaminsky & Katie Farris.


Poetry Crush (Clean Slate) Autumn Writing Playlist

14 Sep


Fuck that summer. Let’s forget it even happened. Here is a Poetry Crush (clean slate) autumn writing playlist.

Gwendolyn Brooks – Beverly Hills, Chicago
Lana Del Rey – Ride
Foxygen – How Can You Really
The Strokes – One Way Trigger
ELEL – 40 Watt
Sun Kil Moon – I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life
Maps – To the Sky
The Strokes – Chances
Lorde – Team
Zola Jesus – Dangerous Days
Cibo Matto – MFN 
Karen O – Ooo
Lana Del Rey – Fucked My Way Up To The Top
The National – Hard To Find
Gwendolyn Brooks – Kitchenette


I’m always struck by the restraint in this poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. Instead of using divisive language about racial and economic injustice, which is easy to do and which most of us do… with messages that will only reach people who think exactly the way we do and box out people who don’t…. Brooks uses supreme clarity, restraint and craft to speak more powerfully and in ways that will never leave you.  She can reach any person of any lack or abundance of privilege in any time period walking down any street in the world.

Beverly Hills, Chicago

The dry brown coughing beneath their feet,
(Only a while, for the handyman is on his way)
These people walk their golden gardens.
We say ourselves fortunate to be driving by today.

That we may look at them, in their gardens where
The summer ripeness rots. But not raggedly.
Even the leaves fall down in lovelier patterns here.
And the refuse, the refuse is a neat brilliancy.

When they flow sweetly into their houses
With softness and slowness touched by that everlasting gold,
We know what they go to. To tea. But that does not mean
They will throw some little black dots into some water and add sugar and the juice of the
cheapest lemons that are sold,

While downstairs that woman’s vague phonograph bleats, “Knock me a kiss.”
And the living all to be made again in the sweatingest physical manner
Tomorrow….Not that anybody is saying that these people have no trouble.
Merely that it is trouble with a gold-flecked beautiful banner.

Nobody is saying that these people do not ultimately cease to be. And
Sometimes their passings are even more painful than ours.
It is just that so often they live till their hair is white.
They make excellent corpses, among the expensive flowers….

Nobody is furious. Nobody hates these people.
At least, nobody driving by in this car.
It is only natural, however, that it should occur to us
How much more fortunate they are than we are.

It is only natural that we should look and look
At their wood and brick and stone
And think, while a breath of pine blows,
How different these are from our own.

We do not want them to have less.
But it is only natural that we should think we have not enough.
We drive on, we drive on.
When we speak to each other our voices are a little gruff.


The lyrics to this Sun Kil Moon song remind me of my long-ago teenage Hungarian summer boyfriend. Marcel, Marcel, where are you now?

I know it’s pathetic but that was the greatest night

It was backstage in Moscow late one night
We shared a cigarette, a kiss goodbye
Her name was Cayenne, so young and soft
Her hands trembled badly, her eyes trailed off
To bottles and objects around the room
My backup guitar, a tray of food

We didn’t have very much to say
She said that she’d come from some other place
A town called Troyskirt, maybe Troysworth
I was pretty distracted packing my stuff
But I did make a point to ask her to stay
But she said she had friends that she had to go see

Later that summer I picked up my mail
She sent me a letter with a touching detail
“I used up my minutes calling hotels
To find you that night but to no avail”
“I know it’s pathetic,” she continued to write,
“But that was the greatest night of my life.”

Fruitvale Station

19 Aug


With the latest senseless police shooting, I can’t help but to think of the film Fruitvale Station.  This is my favorite film from 2013 (along with Her) and I’ve been meaning to write about it for months.

Fruitvale Station is a beautiful and truthful film about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant – a not so perfect guy, trying to be better – who was wrongfully shot and killed by a police officer at the Fruitvale Bart Station in Oakland, CA in front of a car-full of witnesses.   Michael B. Jordan (Vince from Friday Night Lights and the kid on The Wire) is unforgettable as Oscar, wow.  So is Octavia Spenser who plays Oscar’s mother and Melonie Diaz who plays Oscar’s girlfriend.

This is a film that brings awareness to the injustice of the police shooting of Oscar Grant, but it does so not by dividing good guys and bad guys.  It bypasses statistics, politics and this country’s history of racism and shows us what is at stake in closeup: a young mother and a young daughter and the young father who is trying to be the man his family needs him to be.  And the film, despite the horrible inevitable outcome of its main character, is delightful, funny and entertaining …  after all, he has no reason to think he is going to die that day.

Fruitvale Station released last year when Trayvon Martin was in the news and theaters were reported to be filled with sobs when the lights turned on at the end of the film.  I’ll spare you from telling you how much I cried, other than to say that when we hear these stories in the news we get angry and frustrated and are in  Phase I of our sadness.  Fruitvale Station begins the very deep mourning process which there is never time for because there is always another news story.  This is a humble and powerful film.  It should be mandatory viewing in schools, police academies and the homes of all humans.

One of the most striking images from Fruitvale Station is this image of Oscar aiming his cell phone camera at the police officer, knowing it is his only weapon.  One of the images of our time.  Still, it wasn’t enough to save his life.


Also, this Michael Che piece on the Daily Show re: the shooting of Michael Brown made me laugh and cry in the same breath.  It’s devastatingly sad and funny and sad.  Awfully sad.


Robin Williams & Good Will Hunting & Use of Repetition & I Heart Huckabees

12 Aug

The deep, hilarious and human Robin Williams.  “It’s not your fault.” — The repetition in this scene is unrelenting. It breaks down Will and it breaks me down and it will break you down too.  That is some effective use of repetition.

(from Good Will Hunting)

Sean: My father was an alcoholic. Mean fuckin’ drunk. He’d come home hammered, looking to whale on somebody. So I’d provoke him, so he wouldn’t go after my mother and little brother. Interesting nights were when he wore his rings.

Will: He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the table. Just say, “Choose.”

Sean: Well I gotta go with the belt there.

Will: I used to go with the wrench.

Sean: Why the wrench?

Will: Cause fuck him, that’s why.

Sean: Your foster father?

Will: Yeah.

Will: So, uh, what is it, like, Will has an attachment disorder? Is it all that stuff?
[Sean nods]

Will: Fear of abandonment? Is that why I broke up with Skylar?

Sean: I didn’t know you had.

Will: Yeah, I did.

Sean: You wanna talk about it?

Will: No.

Sean: Hey, Will? I don’t know a lot. You see this? All this shit?
[Holds up the file, and drops it on his desk]

Sean: It’s not your fault.

Will: [Will shrugs] Yeah, I know that.
[Will averts his eyes to the floor]

Sean: Look at me son.
[Will locks eyes with Sean]

Sean: It’s not your fault.

Will: [Will nods] I know.

Sean: No. It’s not your fault.

Will: I know

Sean: No, no, you don’t. It’s not your fault.
[Sean moves closer to Will]

Sean: Hmm?

Will: I know.
[Will stands up, trying to keep distance]

Sean: It’s not your fault.

Will: Alright.

Sean: It’s not your fault.
[Will closes his eyes, he’s fighting for control]

Sean: It’s not your fault.

Will: Don’t fuck with me.
[Will shoves Sean back]

Will: Don’t fuck with me, Sean, not you!

Sean: It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.
[Will breaks into sobs. They hug]

Sean: Fuck them, ok?

Use of repetition in the I Heart Huckabees screenplay goes from silly to ludicrous to completely destroying the fabric of Brad’s character. As the scene unravels Brad unravels and you almost do too but it’s too funny– so you can’t. You are saved by your sense of humor and Brad who is humorless drowns in the repetition — “how am I not myself”.  Although we are saved by humor, the scene does challenge us by implying that our own use of repetition is a coping device and avoidance strategy. And the writer himself, David O’Russel, says this while also doing it.

(from I Heart Huckabees)

Vivian Jaffe: Why do you think that you tell the mayo story so much?

Brad Stand: I don’t know. Why?

Bernard Jaffe: It’s propaganda.

Brad Stand: [scoffing] For mayonnaise?

Bernard Jaffe: For you.

Vivian Jaffe: Specifically, you’re so impressive because you know Shania. And you’re so strong because you pulled one on her.

Bernard Jaffe: You’re a funny guy, a good guy.

Vivian Jaffe: Keeping everyone laughing, so that maybe, quote, you don’t get depressed.

Brad Stand: [shouting] Well, what’s so great about depression?

Bernard Jaffe: Nothing. Unless it holds the key to something you compulsively avoid, so it will never be examined or felt. Hence your behavior becomes repetitive like the story.

Vivian Jaffe: Like the story.

Bernard Jaffe: Like the story.

Bernard Jaffe: Shut up. Alright, I don’t have to tell stories.

Vivian Jaffe: What do you think would happen if you didn’t tell the stories? Are you being yourself?

Brad Stand: How am I not myself?

Bernard Jaffe: How am I not myself?

Vivian Jaffe: How am I not myself?

Bernard Jaffe: How… am I not… myself?


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