Tag Archives: Kristy Bowen

Poetry Crush: Everyday is Valentine’s (Vol II)

11 Feb


From Picnic at Hanging Rock “To Saint Valentine!”
An honor to valentine with heartbreakers:  Joe Hall, Cheryl Quimba, Joanna Penn Cooper, Leah Umansky, Larry Sawyer, Peter Kline, Brittany Perham, Sara Lefsyk, Gregory Crosby, Kristy Bowen, Maria Teutsch, not_I (Ana Bozicevic & Sophia Le Fraga), Sasha Fletcher, Lauren Hunter, DJ Dolack, Stephanie Berger, Justin Petropoulos, Erika Anderson & J. Hope Stein (me).   



Moving ever slower
just as square brackets
hug a sentence my
unfortunate nature is
to buckle as you bend.
Hailstorm our guardian so
expansive. Where to spend
all the soft paper. Just as
the only road leads
away from here, we
will not ever recover.

Joe Hall & Cheryl Quimba




Don’t hesitate to serve your boss.
Sit quietly and he will come to you.
The blessing of an employee
is in the corners of her mouth.
The blessing of a plot
is in its time of being worked.

When a great boss says “I kill you”
lay your head across his laptop.
Throw your documents in the river.
This is how we measure time.
The blessing of a plot
is in its time of being worked.

Do not despise small documents.
Do good for your body, but
there is no one who does not die—
Do not delay in your office.
The blessing of a plot
is in its time of being worked.

Be a cat in your boss’s presence.
Do not give a wary look
towards the elevator door—
You do not know the length of your life.
The blessing of a plot
is in its time of being worked.

Do not hesitate to serve your boss.
Do let linger without enquiry.
Put myrrh on your head, dress in fine linen.
Sit quietly and he will come to you.
The blessing of a plot
is in its time of being worked.

J. Hope Stein




American Horror Story

The Axeman says, “never assume anything about me,”
but Fiona says, “I don’t believe in ghosts.”

He is still-at-heart man
with a do-not-forget-me tongue.

He is in tune and soulful
and she, she  is going by ear.

There is a cadence to their love
and a faith in their fear


He says, “I’ve been watching you
since you were eight years old
… and then I started to love you as a man.”

She is his pull of daylight
He is her remembered quiet,
and her fray.

When he says, “I love you more than jazz, babydoll”

She hears  more than
more than I needed.

For, Love has a delicate swash
and she, she swishes.

Even the dead want love,
but the dead at heart love nothing.

 Leah Umansky




A small man looked at me. He said “you are the Fritz Perls look alike
in the apartment complex of my life and I want to make a tincture
out of your saline eye drops and ride away with you into the desert
in a cadillac full of very small and miniature ponies.”

I told this small man ;oolong at me, if I had a mule, a parachute and long flowing locks
I would jump out of this plane, put you in my shopping cart and push you
clean to Brazil where we would change our names, cut our hair
and join the local militia. After that, we would lead a small army of chickens
to the sea and, after many days of floating, I would catch a small fish
and name it Pavlov. Then, we would all jump into the sea and swim
until we reached the large island of Europe, where we would start
a mariachi band with my birth family and yours and the sun would set
and we would all drink sugar water and go to sleep
beneath a large curtain of black air.

Sara Lefsyk



Gently, let us sleep my love
our hearts entwined as one.
Forever you’ll be my Catherine Deneuve
uh, and I’m your Fifth Avenue John Donne.
Come, let us prove it, while we may
knowing ‘tis no sin love’s fruit to steal.
You’re hotter than anything off eBay.
Our banter’s straight off Key & Peele.
Use me for your street-side fashion show; take
refuge in these sculpted arms.
Sweet, I’ll get with child the mandrake,
even if this shit was a false alarm.
Look, I sought fit words, so now you know.
Forsooth, your boyfriend sold you oregano.

Larry Sawyer




In January my grandmother says she is anxious for the little fellow to get here and join the troupe.

In January a dapper man who looks like Buck Henry gives me a very kind look on 60th Street as I leave my third ultrasound that month.  “Advanced maternal age.”

In February, after being in labor for 12 hours, I text my mom on the 13th that you will be a Valentine’s Day baby.

In February the doula comes over on the 14th and tucks me into the attic bed to see if I can sleep, despite the two days of contractions.  C lies there with me.  The doula tucks him in, too.

On the morning of the 15th, we head to the hospital.  The doula heats rice-filled socks in the microwave and ties them to me.  We call the car service.  I wear the rice socks to the hospital.

In the early morning of the 16th, I am lying in a darkened room with a catheter in my back.  A nurse named Ashley comes in and out to make notations.  She is young and pleasant and doesn’t talk too much.  She is from a southern state.  I ask her which one, but I’ve forgotten what she said.

In the early morning of the 16th, the doula says in a quiet voice, I think it’s snowing.  My thought is something like, I’ve been waiting for some beautiful thing.  A while after that they tell me it’s time for the pushing, which is less a beautiful thing than a necessity thing.  C holds one leg and a nurse named Eve holds the other.  Eve is my favorite, and I remember that she’s from Oklahoma, but I’m not thinking about that during the pushing.  At one point, the doctor lifts her hands back up, and they are bright red.

On the morning of the 16th, you join the troupe.

I study your hands for a month.  Their esoteric gestures.

I skipped some parts.

We are mammals with the fluid world within and between us.

I sing you the hymn “Farther Along,” which I heard in a movie years ago.  I know very few of the words. You are listening then and interested.  When I look up the lyrics online, the sidebar says, Main subject: Encouragement.

Joanna Penn Cooper

*originally published in South Dakota Review




not_I  (Ana Bozicevic and Sophia Le Fraga)




So what if one day you will need to be named,

need to have signal laid upon you.

So what.

The instruments polish themselves.

Some gods already laud you
with cheap satins

plastic jewels that click
when they collide

but do not chime.

And you don’t chime.
You bow

and your hair reaches great lengths to the earth.

Evening when you bow
your hair climbs across itself
and reaches great

lengths to the earth.

The moon almost fellates its own magic,

tosses back
a little yellow number and


I only want
a bit of trouble.

I only want to be codified,

the signal laid upon me.

So what if the instruments are named;

so what if they are only here to polish.

DJ Dolack




For You, I’d strip down bare,
but won’t You lay me cover?
Dallying with forever
is a high-risk affair.

I’ve tried new underwear
to tempt a tempted lover,
made my whole wardrobe over.
For You I’d strip down bare.

Peter Kline




The bed we shared is kelp is kelp is kelp
on a foot of rock.

Your stomach
my spine in the year of water.

At night we rippled beneath the year of a tide
pulling us apart.

All the clarity
a marine layer gives you. Clarity

is your stomach
my spine in the bed of salt.

Maria Teutsch




A quiver full of arrows for the river,
it wants to fall in love—
pulling itself from the spring, mirrors
the small boy in rouge. Memory sent him
to the water, far below
the python’s spewing apartment
meublé. When he left, he spat,
on the wall, basalt, down the hole,
venom, impressed
upon the wax tablet of my head.
In bed by eleven. In the morning,
applied my visage with a desert
palette. There wasn’t
ever any muse or music for makeup,
but Clio would remedy that
remedy for pallor, if she could, rewrite
with a rattle of thunder from
her father. I bared my face to him.

Stephanie Berger



house made of ghosts and small animals

For every love song, there is a broken dove skeleton
rotting in the eaves. A leaving, that requires
nothing but the door opening and closing just once.
A heaviness of suitcases and floor lamps and
record albums piled awkwardly in the trunk.
You see, my motives are mud dark, made of larkspur
and longing.   Soon you will find me replacing each dish
and hairbrush in someone else’s house,  replacing
p with q and mucking up the quick exit.  Will find me
ravenous and bleeding beneath the weedy undergrowth.
For every broken promise, I give you a ring of roses.
A prolific number of tiny mice inhabiting the baseboards.
Animal, vegetable, mineral.
The terrible goblin heart of my goodbye.

Kristy Bowen




Today my heart said you 
I want to be with you above all others
though not very long
ago my heart said her
I want to be with her more 
than I’ll ever want to be with anyone else
& because I couldn’t
go on living without her
not for another minute
I began living with her & all this
time I was happy I was happy
to be happy I believed
things would continue
this way every day always
but today all day 
& on & on through
the night & all night my head
on her chest my heart said
though I said no no my heart
said & would not stop saying
you yes you yes you 

Brittany Perham



the gospel according to tough love

i thought the world would revolve without us

flinging your hands into a darkness you can grab hold of, hold on little baby, how’d you get so goddamn strong? shall i speak to the spit flinging from my lips, the spark from your fingertip, (y’all seen that before), the corners rounded without guidance, watch her go zero to 180 without blinking, leather and spare skin cells underneath chipped nails

“hey, putting my DNA on things IS art”

the devil on your earlobe baby. the devil in my eardrum, demanding nothings. even during my first burglary, i wanted to touch things i had no business. i’m gonna leave some of myself here. i’m the absolute pinkest thing in this dark room. like a newborn before its first breath, let’s inspire empathy. hold it in; i’m asking you to not breathe with me, and we’ll keep them on those toes until we’re sure my superpower applies.

(i infuse myself, whole and unworried, into each and every cell i carry.  i’m a factory of my smallest selves, tags perfect and unaware. these i leave casually anywhere.)

that darkness is always getting velvet, soft on my skin and eyes. those times a seatbelt is a hug. those times you don’t regret a too-long embrace. you exhale yourself to the edge of this room, then inhale until the walls split on your precious face. the world collapses. i thought i could be the wildness, but find myself in every room i’m in. why i like to see my breath like smoke. why i like to be the last body in a room. i’m gonna touch everything, someday.

but nothing i know could slow us down

Lauren Hunter



Today the air conditioner exploded
in a scene of silent and totally imaginable futility.
Here I go again, starting to talk about the sunset
as though you couldn’t imagine it yourself.
A tree grew in the yard last night and we hung lanterns from it
like it was any other night
or any other dream. Dear Eloise
you are the albino alligator lurking in my heart
at unknown intervals and I
I am the top 40 station you conveniently forgot
and together we are a documentary that will be spoken of for years to come.
In the yard were the neighbors calling out
BUT ALWAYS YOU as though we weren’t all thinking this
every day of our lives. The lanterns from earlier
hung low and beat with every sharp breath
as we pulled each other closer and loosed the fabric
of our lives slicked with sweat and piled
in the corner. Someone got excited
and set off some fireworks
and the neighborhood committee got together
and shot them in the head. They said no one
is to celebrate on a school night but me
I could not disagree more. What better thing to celebrate
than a school night? Dear Eloise
I hear tonight it is supposed to storm
like nobodies business and the heat will finally break
open as wide as the sky.
Dear Eloise you can find me on the roof,
building a boat from the chairs,
waiting for something larger than everything
to sweep me away and pull me under and fill my lungs
with something heavier and more potent than air
and I can see that alligator surfacing again,
I can feel myself choking up as its red right eye rolls over me
and blinks once for yes, twice for no, three times
for I forget what. Dear dreamboat goes the alligator
If this is you trying to say I am a wild animal
good job. You did it. Tonight I will take you by the hand
and lead you adrift. If you make it back to shore
we can get married and I’ll let you put a baby in me
and we can eat spaghetti in the tub and give her three or four names
and teach her to grow up into a boat that will sail
in all kinds of weather and then I’ll let you put another in me
and another and another and their names will be like mountains
because they will be magnificent to behold
and one day one of them will fall down a well and you’ll dive in after him
and break every bone in your body
and use those bones to build a ladder
and our son will climb to safety
and in the morning there you’ll be, naked, in bed,
preparing to construct for us a porch, and just in time for summer!
and every night you’ll realize
that there is not enough money to take care of things
or to put away for the future because the future
died years ago and all we have is this, right here, and it’s terrifying,
and you’ll stand there watching the children sleep
and I’ll sneak up beside you like a knife in the dark
with my hand in your pocket stealing the last bits of love
you secreted away, because they’re mine now, because you’re mine now,
and as we stand there, waiting for our children to grow old enough
to resent the burden we’ve become to them, it strikes us
that it is a real mystery to us all how we’ve made it this far.
Then we turn slightly, and speak our vows to each other,
and they go something like this:
I will put up with you until we kill each other
because I will love you from now until we kill each other
and I will build you a home inside of me
and we will cook each other dinner when we’re hungry
and knife each other in a soft place when we’re angry
and I will hold your hand until it breaks
because I will never let go of your hand
and I won’t mind your problems because they’re a part of you and I love you
I love you even though that is a decision I deeply regret
and if you ever need a presence to keep things from getting too quiet
give me a call. I will be there with you when the lights are out.
If you want to know if that is a knife at your throat
the answer is that I will love you for as long as we both shall live.

Sasha Fletcher


[selections from because we go to the same places to hide]

//these maps because so casual fill the gaps reasoned for flowers
she eats stems
he paces
bed systems       holds her here

associative bearings
of bodies               all that disorder

fled through a rind of eclipse

contractual motion         she pears
instances             heels the limits of
to have held

tympana or this hemisphere
rests on nothing but cause
and effect

ants distanced
in proportion to intervals
between musical notes

combed with sun

she is all
cataracts and shifting clouds

Justin Petropoulos



Impermanence from permanence,
sound from plastic. A scarf, a shawl,
a shroud of static.

A sundial in the dark of a school night
told me this about love:

that there would be dancing
in the dark, walking in the park,
& reminiscing;

that piña coladas were the key
to all mythologies;

that even in the depths
of a so damned depression
you could set your sights
on Monday

& get yourself undressed…

A voice from the future
said sad songs say so much less

than you will come to know.

Turning, turning, AM amidst a.m.,
round & round… the child’s hand

is farther than the man’s. The Seventies
are over, man. The Seventies

are eternal. The voice said,

Everything that’s lost 
will be restored,
& then lost again.

The radar understands
what the grid cannot imagine.

The shadows cast themselves, while
tomorrow daydreams tonight.

Everything that’s lost
will be restored,
& then lost again.

Someone found a letter you wrote me.

They read it on the radio,
in the voice of the Future,

& I heard it just today.

The DJ translated it as

Separated by a million songs,
but not the speed of light…

& you gazed up at me,
& the answer was plainly seen,


before it could be understood.

Every measurement agrees
that we
spin counterclockwise.

You & I, observed, by… …

Mystery, static. It does,
& does not, matter. Everything

restored last chance
will be lost last dance

& restored tonight

Gregory Crosby



The army of lovers movement will give out handmade valentines to strangers this Friday.

Robot valentine

Erika Anderson

12 Dead Poets (I Would Fuck)

23 Oct

Sometimes you want to fuck a poet but can’t because the poet is dead.  — Boo!  — Last year we did “10 Dead Poets” and this year we did “12”!  Why??  Because it’s 2012.  Also because I meant to do 10 but I miscounted.

Thanks so much to my kinked-up & spooky-awesome contributors for sharing their innermost & wide-ranging necrophiliac tendencies.

Happy halloween & take care.

J. Hope Stein

1) Edward Taylor by Joe Hall


He’d be in his lab, preparing his sermon, and I’d blast down right in front of him, lens flares cutting across our eyes and waists. “Don’t worry, Edward,” I’d say. “I’m from the future, and I’m here to save you.” He’d take his hand from the book leather and touch his hair:


               His lovely love on his all
Pinked and masked face? Allowing
Not a kiss? Oh! Screw me up
And make my Spirit bed Blesst and blissfull
Flower, first Thou on me. Thy
Sweet print her shaft flies
Soaring up—Make for me mine
                Tender Bowells run Out streams
Of Grace dropt in thy mouth that   
Cries Eate, Eate me, me dub
With Golden Rod, set my knot
With Honeysuckles, a Rich stick in
My breast, my Spiknard in His
Bright Sedan, through all the Silver Stars
                Rocks and rock, Turffe of Clay, Clod
                Darker by far than any coal-pit stone
All Whirlewinde, All God, All Gone

The candles sloughing in convolutions of themselves.  Edward undulating upward like a mermaid to the ceiling of the sea.  I look at the open book on the table.  I guess this is where I live now.


2)  Emily Dickinson by Melissa Broder

I am loathe to fuck the dead. I am over the dead. I want to fuck many a living poetboy (rarely for their words) but this want is an illusion, just as fucking the dead is an illusion, because fucking the living is never how we imagine it will be.

I imagine a living poetboy writes the words RUN AWAY WITH ME on his palm and flashes it to me during a reading. Then he fingers me with that hand in a dark alley. I imagine there is kissing on the mouth, then my pussy, then back to the mouth. Eye contact must be sustained throughout the many hours of rotation from mouth to pussy to mouth. Somehow we are back indoors now.

The poetboy must tell me to take as much time as I need to feel pleasure, the longer the better (sort of the opposite of a poetry reading). He must convey a ravenous hunger for my pussy—an I WILL DIE IF I DO NOT TASTE THIS—and the hairier and dirtier my pussy, the more painful the death if he does not taste it. A woman’s casolette is the essence of the woman herself, so to die for a rank casolette is to die for the whole woman with all of her darkesses. Nothing is hotter than that.

But each of these scenes must be perfectly choreographed if they are to translate from fantasy to reality. This means spontaneity will be lacking. If the poetboyfuck does not live up to my narrative, then it is a destroyer of fantasy. It is no good. If the poetboyfuck turns out to be better than my fantasy, then I want the poetboy’s worship, obsession and “love” (as defined by my own solipsism) to come with it. And you can’t choreograph the feelings of another human being. So I am confined to my room with my computer and my fantasies.

When I was 19 I wrote a poem called “Eating Emily Dickinson.” The poem was about eating out Emily Dickinson. I imagined Emily’s casolette as a hybrid of an emmentaler and a vacherin du Haut-Doubs, a French cheese with a Penicillum mold rind. What made Emily’s casolette so special was not only its smell and taste, but some confidence that I imagined she possessed in its sheer beingness. She knew her pussy could be no other way than the way it was and she embraced that. There was a complete acceptance of selfhood: solitary and fermenting with the rhythm of the seasons.

Now I imagine Emily living in our world. I imagine Emily in the shower, a shower with a glass door and on the door appears three amorphous splotches. Emily identifies the shape of these splotches right away as phalluses with testes. She then perceives this moment as sort of a Rorschach: one that shows her where her mind is at.

I imagine Emily feels some shame in having immediately assigned the splotches a sexual identity. Perhaps they could instead be rocket ships blasting off or switchblades in fisted hands. She then wonders about the reductive nature of her own mind and whether it has been limited by her relationship to internet pornography. Emily wonders if she was in some ways more creative 5-10 years ago, prior to her immersion in internet pornography. She wonders whether this loss of creativity is her fault. She feels the opposite of good.

I imagine Emily then turns her thinking to sexuality in America. Perhaps she does this as a defense mechanism against her bad feelings about herself. She thinks about how sexuality in America is this weird hybrid of Puritan cleanliness and Capitalist exhibitionism, which leaves little room for the nuances of the cassolette. I imagine Emily feels momentarily rebellious and empowered, as it is no longer her own mind she must rebel against but an outside structure.

I imagine Emily then washes her bald pussy anyway with a citrus-scented body wash. I imagine she washes it twice.

3)  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe by J.Hope Stein

I read Faust (Part I) for the first time this month and had a pretty strong reaction to the architecture.  The compound nature of the story-telling – set-up on top of set-up, short quick scenes that move back and forth between each other – a narrative syntax I wrongly thought was first developed in the earliest era of film.  For this reason, and perhaps because I was starving for a friend who has pursued a messy long-form verse, Goethe has quickly become one of my closest friends (I am 4 years into my own mess).  The first translation I read, although I’m looking at a couple other translations now,  was by David Constantine who said this in an interview – “I believe in a sort of coincidence of reading and existential need:  I mean, authors arrive as we need them and help us along the way. The best loved writers arrive, depart and return again differently, according to our own changes and development.”

In terms of interpretations of the text itself, I can’t help but to think that the agreement that binds Mephistopheles and Faust is a simple story of sadomasochistic love.    Their premise of quid pro quo, seems only an excuse for two beings who are joyless & nonplussed in their own lives to exchange something at a deeper more feeling sensory level.  Yes, Faust conjures Mephisto, but Mephisto had already chosen Faust — to me that is one of the central points of the Prologue in Heaven.  And there are 2 scenes in Faust’s study, back-to-back, which I find structurally unnecessary other than to communicate this:   in the first scene in the study, Faust conjures Mephisto and in the second scene in the study, Mephisto comes to Faust (un-conjured)– which he continues to do throughout, including his obsessive instigation of Faust’s deflowering and destroying of Gretchen–  an innocent girl who is only foreplay to the affair between F & M. Which by the way, I think is a decent alternative term for S&M – F&M.

Mephisto says this to Faust in his study:

Your senses will enjoy, my friend
In this one hour far more
than in a humdrum year entire.

In other words– Love.

I think M is in love with F & F
in love with M.   &  this notion
of quid pro quo —

I think they’d do it for free.


4) Federico Garcia Lorca by Sara Lefsyk

It was the hour of sleeping crocodiles.  Federico, you tossed a wilderness of bleeding pigeons into my heart.  I said take me to the friend of dead-smashed butterflies.  Take me to the miniature priests of idiot-brains.  And Federico, you climbed the great mountain of burnt-up flowers in the dark saying “one must wait a thousand years under the cancerous moon to touch the dried-out body of the moth.

And because blood has no sadness one must drown her gods in a sea of infinite kitchens.”

Federico!  Seller of the sky and of gutted-out horses, of the lost landscape of the apple, and the eyes of dogs and skulls and of dug-up roots.  You wore a night-mask of phosphorous and sharp lilies and tore the hems of my gowns.

And I said, Federico of a million granite buildings and of tears, I want a strand that will tremble in the presence of your stillness.  But it was the moment of live fish and broken microscopes and you lifted the black curtains of air.  Your face a bud of light, you smashed the mute fossil of living air and gave to me an earring and handfuls of rope.

But I wanted to sleep the sleep of the infinite crocodile inside your golden chest, so I tied eight ghosts and a thousand sequins to your hair and wore the gloves of one hundred sadnesses under the lemon shadow of your actual dreams.  Federico of torn cloth and murdered grass, of the terrible violence of ants and the nocturnal rooster of madness.  Federico of a thousand tiny birds.

5)  Jean Genet by Janaka Stucky


Jean my love
for you is prison rape
is the vine of moon flowers strangling
the sign post outside the prison
where ex-cons wait with bowed heads
for the bus to return them to the world
Jean my love
for you is a tube of vaseline
tucked tightly in the pocket of my jeans
the cops find when they pick me up
is the hot shame I feel as I grow hard
handcuffed to the cold pipe
waiting to be booked
Jean my love
for you is a porcelain tomb
at the center of a black continent
is rose water is roses is thorns
tearing the tender palms
of my outstretched hands
Jean my love
my fire burning blackly beneath
every breath I exhale upon your neck
I bind my steps with ropes of honeysuckle
and tread sweetly on your naked chest
Jean my fire
my exquisite wound
my stone of blood in a lake of nails
I run my tongue along each vein
and quake and quake and quake
and quake
Jean my quaking wound
my alabaster chainsaw cleaving
the ocean from me
Jean my ocean
my night
I am blacking out
Jean my Genet
my Jean my Jean
I am forever pinned
at the limit of your eyes
Jean my forever
Jean forever

6) Henry Miller by Maria Garcia Teutsch

Henry Miller says about poetry: Write about what’s inside you . . . the great vertiginous verterbration . . . the zoospores and leukocytes . . . the wamroths . . . and the holenlindens . . .  every one’s a poem. The jellyfish is a poem too . . .

The Ocean Rectangles My Thursdays

Your absence tastes like a meteor shower
over the squashed moon of my head
setting in the mail of rust.
On the water, an ampersand carved by blue boats, I remember.
The tide erases the concept of a tide.
And I find you in this erasure,
sometimes a tin fish in a locket.
Around my neck a moat, a pod of tinges swim,
and you, Henry, are sometimes a sea-eagle floating
from out of nowhere. On days when you do not turn up
the sea becomes
the sea.

7) John Donne by Leah Umansky

My Dead Poetry Crush is John Donne(and it’s not just how great he looks in this hat). When you think about dead poets you want to $%&!#, the unforbidden comes to the mind, and so naturally, a priest who had a secret marriage fits the bill.  (Plus, my anglophilia plays a role). I remember reading Donne’s poems in the good ol’ Norton Anthology back in Brit Lit I during my undergrad days at SUNY Binghamton, and feeling connected to his love poems and sonnets.  I remember “The Sun Rising” was one of my favorites because of the intensity in which he talks about his beloved.

(I can’t lie -the priest factor is sexy,right?)  Then again, I could be regressing back to my childhood when I read sweeping romances like Gone with the Wind  and The Thorn Birds  and had my heart broken. At a young age, I remember sobbing over Father Ralph de Bricassart, from Colleen McCullough’s  The Thorn Birds.  Maybe Father Ralph is the reason I fell for Father Donne.

Below is a section of “The Sun Rising” that I especially love.  Especially that first line  … sigh…

She’s all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.

8) Marina Tsvetaeva by Gregory Crosby


A man is invented and a hurricane begins, wrote her cuckolded husband, but it was Marina’s affair with a woman, they say, that drove him in desperation and depression to enlist. There were many men too, each a hurricane to spin and spend itself, leaving her spent.

There was revolution, separation, and a child, too, dead from starvation; the years of White and Red; the stranglehold of Comrade Steel. But that’s all in the future—here, in 1916, she and I, she and eye, across the blank whites and faded reds of time, find a communion:

Where does such tenderness come from?
These aren’t the first curls
I’ve wound around my finger—
I’ve kissed lips darker than yours.
The sky is washed and dark
(Where does such tenderness come from?)
Other eyes have known
and shifted away from my eyes.
But I’ve never heard words like this
in the night
(Where does such tenderness come from?)
with my head on your chest, rest.
Where does this tenderness come from?
And what will I do with it? Young
stranger, poet, wandering through town,
you and your eyelashes—longer than anyone’s.

Marina, have I told you—I address you, I can’t help it, and whenever I read Kenneth Koch’s “To Marina” I think somehow he too is addressing you, even though I know he is/isn’t—about my long eyelashes? From high school onward, so many girls, either close up upon the white of the pillow or across the impenetrable red of their lipstick, have told me I’m so envious, you have such long, beautiful eyelashes, it’s so unfair, you’re a boy, boys shouldn’t have such long eyelashes. I never knew what to say to this. I felt guilty and pleased and odd, since nothing else about me seemed to partake of such gifts.

But Marina, reading your letters, I know what to say. I know where this tenderness comes from now, and I have always known, even before I knew its origins, what to do with it. I have never heard those words in the night, and did not recognize at first my own voice, saying them. In the life of a symbolist everything is symbolic, you write. There is nothing that is not symbolic.

Ah, but symbolic of what, asks the professor, and the possessor, and the young poet, becoming younger by the moment.

I close my eyes, and open them, slowly, lashing out at the world, tenderly, and read you, your open eyes, the words, the page, again, again, again.

9) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Lauren Gordon



Later, when the children were asleep
we snuffed the candle and furled
under the heavy quilt and the ghost
of your last wife floated atop the bed
like a wax stamp and your breath rose
and your breath fell
amongst thread, the night air
the tickle of an American whisker:
I remembered the first time I fell in love with you
and your vigor:
Life is real!  Life is earnest!

Over coffee in a brass urn
with the children bed-headed
but polite, we butter our bread on both sides
and wait for the birds to lift the trees
with the surprise of morning —
Life is real.  Life is earnest.

A century later in pajamas
a leather chair holds us under a soft light
rain patters, the carpet in the basement dampens
and something in the attic is frantic to be heard.

10) T. S. Eliot by Kristy Bowen

Dear Tom.
I’ve thought about it and you’re right, April is the cruelest month. I think of you all afternoon at the bank, the sleeves of your dress shirt rolled just above your wrists, holding the short stub of a pencil bent over the massive wooden desk, wiping your forehead and beginning again to write. Oh Tom, my nerves are bad tonight. What are you thinking? When summer came it wrecked me. I dreamed of clairvoyantes and tiny pearl eyes for weeks. Your voice a yellow fog that licked its way up and down my spine. I wrote poems about coffee spoons and clties crumbling around me.I imagine you the calmness surrounded by tempestuous women and hundreds of unruly cats. I have known the hours, known them all. But really, that is not what I meant. Not at all.
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest –
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

11)  Rainer Maria Rilke by Joanna Penn Cooper

Once in my late 20s, I found myself walking along Lombard Street in Philadelphia listening to the Duino Elegies being read aloud by a tall young man who walked a few paces ahead of me as he read, occasionally half-turning to see what effect your words were having on me.  If I cried out who would hear me up there among the angelic orders?  [pause-turn-glance]  It was, anyway, one of those fall days in that city when the light hits the brick row houses in the late afternoon in a way that creates a feeling both pure and tempestuous, a feeling of being in the first throes of a soulful but short-lived passionate romance.  And this man, as I have mentioned, was very tall.  So, you can imagine.  He kept pausing as he read to say things like, “What does that even mean?  Do you know what that even means?”  He would read your words– Beauty is only the first touch of terror we can bear and it awes us so much because it so coolly disdains to destroy us—   then he would turn to interrogate me about it, and I would be speechless.

Rainer, I am no longer so young, and I have read the Duino Elegies on my own many times since then.  And I do, in fact, have an idea of what it means to me, even if I am, in fact, still speechless.  I will meet you in the afternoon, with the light like that, in a place where we can be together and also alone, as we always are.  You will chide me, Is it easier for lovers?  Ah, they only manage by being together to conceal each other’s fate!  I will choke back my own dark birdcall my sobbing.  Dear Rainer.

12) Edgar Allan Poe by Susan Yount

Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.” –Edgar Allan Poe [with whom I’d happily get drunk and take advantage of.]

Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” was one of the last poems he ever wrote and the first poem to ever move me. It was quite literally the first time I had ever realized there was real love and lamenting in the world. Of course, I was a tween at the time and had more or less already experienced a rotten life of my own. Therefore, I was immediately drawn to the details of Poe’s life and charmed with his struggle, poverty, tragedies and of course, his triumphs too. Many nights I’ve passed with his poems and stories still in my bed, still in my head. His macabre and passion still turn me on today. I’d gladly have been his matron and I’d have begged him to take me. I’d easily have loosened my corset and exposed my wounds. I’d have caressed his head and taken his jingle into my soul. Furthermore, I’d have whipped Whitman for suggesting Poe had no heat, for I would have known. There is indeed lasting heat in the haunting.

I leave you with my dead lover and I banging The Bells; the last poem Poe ever wrote.


Hear the sledges with the bells –
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight! –
From the molten – golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle – dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! – how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells –
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!


Hear the loud alarum bells –
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor
Now – now to sit, or never,
By the side of the pale – faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells –
Of the bells –
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
In the clamor and the clanging of the bells!


Hear the tolling of the bells –
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people – ah, the people –
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone –
They are neither man nor woman –
They are neither brute nor human –
They are Ghouls: –
And their king it is who tolls: –
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells: –
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells –
Of the bells, bells, bells: –
To the sobbing of the bells: –
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells –
Of the bells, bells, bells –
To the tolling of the bells –
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells, –
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Poetry Crush: Music Issue (vol. I)

14 May

If there is going to be a war between man & machine in the future & if man wins, there are sure to be strict regulations on computers & robotics leaving us only with papyrus & stone tablet.  In such a society, what lyrics would stand on their own?  This is one of many upcoming Poetry Crush Music Issues, which will focus on lyricism in music.   Thanks so much to my wonderful contributors!

j. hope stein

p.s. click on song links for each artist to watch mind-blowing live performance video.


by J. Hope Stein

Tracy Chapman emanates a rare beauty, even when talking about the ugliest of situations.  In the song Behind the Wall from her 1988 debut album Tracy Chapman, the speaker is a helpless neighbor who is a witnesses to domestic violence.   This song was clear in my mind many years after I first heard it when the bedroom of my apartment shared a wall with an abused child who lived next door.  Chapman’s Behind the Wall captures the horror – AND  Her song is sung entirely a cappella– just her voice against the silences she creates.  It’s striking how she lets the notes sit there in the air, for what feels like no one to hear except you at that moment– as if she’s singing into a dark night on her fire escape and you, the listener, just happen to overhear—

Last night I heard the screaming/ Loud voices behind the wall/ Another sleepless night for me/ It won’t do no good to call/ The police/ Always come late/ If they come at all

And when they arrive/ They say they can’t interfere/ With domestic affairs/ Between a man and his wife/ And as they walk out the door/ The tears well up in her eyes

Last night I heard the screaming/ Then a silence that chilled my soul/ Prayed that I was dreaming/ When I saw the ambulance in the road

And the policeman said/ ”I’m here to keep the peace./ Will the crowd disperse?/ I think we all could use some sleep.”

Last night I heard the screaming/ Loud voices behind the wall/ Another sleepless night for me/ It won’t do no good to call/ The police/ Always come late/ If they come at all

Here’s her most famous song – Fast Car – a touching symbol, in Chapman’s hands,  for the American dream and a relevant and important song in American folk song history.

Fast Car

You got a fast car
And I got a plan to get us out of here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
We won’t have to drive too far
Just ‘cross the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
And finally see what it means to be living

You see my old man’s got a problem
He live with the bottle that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working
I say his body’s too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody’s got to take care of him
So I quit school and that’s what I did

You got a fast car
But is it fast enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision
We leave tonight or live and die this way

I remember we were driving driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
And I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
And we go cruising to entertain ourselves
You still ain’t got a job
And I work in a market as a checkout girl
I know things will get better
You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted
We’ll move out of the shelter
Buy a big house and live in the suburbs

You got a fast car
And I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I’d always hoped for better
Thought maybe together you and me would find it
I got no plans I ain’t going nowhere
So take your fast car and keep on driving

You got a fast car
But is it fast enough so you can fly away
You gotta make a decision
You leave tonight or live and die this way

And here is another important folk song from that album– Talkin Bout A Revolution.  Chapman’s other albums are equally deep and devastating and gorgeous, but in different ways– For instance, the album –New Beginning – an album about redemption that is so emotionally close, it has the effect of disorienting one for days at a time.

Mark Eitzel

By Jim Harms

By now it’s a truism to describe Mark Eitzel as one of the most talented and tormented singer-songwriters of his generation, or to emphasize the depth of sadness that he often inhabits in his work.  “I’m tired of being a spokesman/For every tired thing,” he sings in one of his early gems, “Blue and Grey Shirt,” and it’s impossible not to believe him.  And yet it’s that palpable exhaustion, replaced at times by out and out anguish, that gives his voice and his music such authority.

Artifice is a requirement for pop music; a song needs to exist within a four-minute bubble of memorable melody in order to resonate with listeners.  But Eitzel tries to keep the mediation of music to a minimum.  There’s no doubt that he writes gorgeous songs, sadly beautiful songs (to paraphrase one of his few peers, Paul Westerberg), but they nearly all feel and sound like desperate acts of communication.  As he himself put it once in a wildly incoherent interview, “It’s about trying to say the most perfect thing, and at the same time being the least perfect thing.”

Mark Eitzel’s best songs tend to be apostrophes, aimed directly at the absent other in his life.  Here are the opening lines to the above-mentioned “Blue and Grey Shirt”:

I sat up all morning and I waited for you

With my blue and grey shirt on

Yeah I thought that’s my lucky one

The “you” in “Blue and Grey Shirt” never arrives, a foregone conclusion based on the self-portrait that begins the song:  the speaker has put on his lucky shirt, vividly aware that he needs luck, and has waited all morning.  We know it’s not going to get any better.  But if this song, or any of Eitzel’s many small masterpieces, was simply about love lost, then he’d be a millionaire by now with a hallway lined with gold records in his Beverly Hills mansion.  Because Eitzel really does write wonderful pop songs, the kind that stick in your head and are easy to sing along with.  And then he sets them on fire.  It’s a quiet fire, a subtle flame that licks at the edges of a gorgeous melody and an extremely approachable voice, but it burns and hurts, and it can hurt the listener as much as it clearly hurts the singer.

Eitzel has a decent-sized cult following of folks who don’t mind feeling bad now and then, who don’t run from their loneliness or explain away their mistakes.  He named his publishing company, I Failed in Life Music, and that’s what he often sings about:  failure.  So these don’t tend to be songs you hear on the radio while stuck in traffic and looking for a reason to slit your wrist; these songs will give you a reason.  But again:  they’re gorgeous.  In nearly every song he’s ever written, Eitzel includes a detail like that blue and gray shirt, something so resonant and true that it makes your heart ache to hear it.  Later in the tune he sings, “Where’s the compassion/To make your tired heart sing,” and the weariness and frustration in his voice are as conversational as they are musical; in other words, the marriage of music and lyrics is almost too perfect; there’s no hiding from what’s being said in these songs, no matter how pretty the melody is.

Eitzel ends “Blue and Grey Shirt” as he ends so many of his songs:  with complete and utter resignation.  Here are the last few lines (notice “lucky” is now “favorite”):

I sat up all morning and I waited for you

With my blue and grey shirt on

Yeah that’s my favorite one

I sat up all morning, so why didn’t you come?

‘Cause now I just sing my songs

For people that are gone

From now on

“From now on” is one of my favorite phrases.  I normally think of it as an expression of renewal, even hope.  Quite clearly that isn’t the case for Eitzel.  But in this song, one of the best tunes on the first great American Music Club album, he established his project for himself as an artist:  He would sing for those who are gone, for the lost and the lonely, for the wrecked and the ruined.  The New Yorker used to refer to Eitzel (in their regular Talk of the Town mentions of American Music Club) as the Poet Laureate of the Tenderloin.  That seems about right.

Blue and Grey Shirt

I sat up all morning and I waited for you
With my blue and grey shirt on
Yeah I thought that’s my lucky one
I’ll sit and face the road now
I don’t have a heavy load now
I got nothing to keep me hanging around here
From now on
Where’s the compassion
To make your tired heart sing
I’m tired of being a spokesman
For every tired thing

There’s nothing in the world outside
Just some things that I see from the side
I’m just a shy boy sitting in a house
When everyone is gone from now on
I sat up all morning and I waited for you
With my blue and grey shirt on
Yeah that’s my favorite one
I sat up all morning so why didn’t you come?
‘Cause now I just sing my songs
For people that are gone from now on


by Maria Garcia Teutsch

Many people whose opinion I admire say that Radiohead’s lyrics are weak. Not so, mon frère. Radiohead is composed of mad genius poets. Their lyrics do stand up on the page, though admittedly an entirely new form of language is created when joined with their music and Thom’s warbling. I chose “Idioteque” at random knowing I wanted something off of Kid A. There is an homage to the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara on this album, and the band has admitted to using his method of cutting up lyrics and arranging the songs by drawing words out of a hat. As a poet and editor, I find this immensely satisfying. There is even a made up word in “Idioteque:” skwrking, at least in the lyrics I’ve found.

“Idioteque” is a timeless piece that encompasses the destructive force of wars, both past and present, and looks toward a future desolate landscape wrought by our need to consume unabated. The repetition of “women and children first” reminds me of piling into lifeboats, like on the Titanic.  For me, “Idioteque” embodies the breakdown of reason inherent in any war, or in anyone who holds a gun and shoots it at another living being.


Who’s in bunker, who’s in bunker?
Women and children first
Women and children first
Women and children
I’ll laugh until my head comes off
I swallow till I burst
Until I burst
Until I..

Who’s in bunker, who’s in bunker
I’ve seen too much
I haven’t seen enough
You haven’t seen enough
I’ll laugh until my head comes off
Women and children first
And children first
And children..

Here I’m allowed, everything all of the time
Here I’m allowed, everything all of the time
Ice age coming, ice age coming
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both..

Ice age coming, ice age coming
Throw me in the fire
Throw me in the fire
Throw me in the..

We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening, happening
We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening, happening

Mobiles working
Mobiles chirping
Take the money and run
Take the money and run
Take the money..

Here I’m allowed, everything all of the time
Background:  (The first of the children)


Joni Mitchell’s songs are inextricably woven together, and, in my opinion, un-coverable (apologies to the many, many Joni Mitchell cover makers). I mean this in a positive way, because there are two parts to the idea of the great lyric. The first is the lyric itself, the paper unit, the poem; the second is its placement within the body of the song. In music, you absolutely must listen to the words together with their melodies; that is what they are built for. One word can be a great lyric if it takes up its duty to fight for the entire song. Joni Mitchell is a lyricist who writes for her songs. Consider this, the intro to “A Case of You”:

Just before our love got lost you said
I am as constant as the Northern Star
“Constantly in the darkness,” I said, “Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar.”

This summary of a personal conversation gives us everything we need to identify the situation: a crumbling relationship, possibly unsalvageable, and one which has the narrator feeling dark. But the song is a love song: its inimitable refrain, “I could drink a case of you and still I’d be on my feet,” sung in the bell-clear soprano that lived in Mitchell’s throat through the seventies. “A case of you” implies that the lover is a boozy and toxifying substance; that the narrator could still stand after is an admission that she is beyond the influence of the deadly thing; she will always be in this.  The song begins in a dark place, and ends somewhere transcendent. The greatness of these lyrics is in their specific placement.


by Ryan Mihaly

When I got a hold of Cass McCombs’ 2011 LP WIT’S END, I promised myself I would sit down and listen to the whole album while reading the lyrics, like the good old days. I did this much more often with the CDs I bought in the early 2000s, when time moved slower. Me, my CD player, the lyric sheet, my bed, the door shut. Nowadays a busier life has made finding that time more difficult for me, but I knew WIT’S END would absolutely require that treatment. My girlfriend and I set aside an hour, put the record on, lit a candle, and read the lyrics together. First of all – it’s incredible how this experience gets the music under your skin instantly. Secondly – reading and listening to McCombs, you are engaged in a wise, pensive, and often introspective narrative; the songs stretch over many verses and each offers another dash of complexity. On WIT’S END, each song is a tale, usually quite haunting (and no wonder: in a handwritten letter to Stereogum in February, McCombs named Edgar Allen Poe at the top of his recent reading list). This Poe influence and the layers of complexity can be found on the last song on the album, “A Knock Upon the Door.” The song is a tale of a minstrel losing his Muse, over 8 verses that cover about 9 and a half minutes, wrought with creepy bass clarinet and sparse, barely-there banjo. When singing, McCombs stretches the jagged lines every which way, cleverly (and skillfully) shifting accents when needed. The song warns against the façade an artist might don, and advises that we respect the invaluable and only rarely visiting Muse, who brings the artist real inspiration. Sit, read, and listen to this one.

The tired minstrel, leaving town, heard the Muse’s weeping
He turned up the Elvis tape in his grey car, creeping
“Sex and Death! Was I not the breadth among the two?”
she poured
“Were you sincere, I bet you’d hear
my knock upon your door!”


by Joanna Penn Cooper

Will Oldham: My Best Unbeaten Brother

A key moment in the development of my musical tastes was when my friend Dennis introduced me to Will Oldham.  Oldham—a.k.a. Palace Music, a.k.a. Palace Brothers, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy—is from Kentucky and has a huge mustache, and in the words of another friend, he is “weirdly charismatic.”  It’s true: Weird charisma.  According to my mother, who was once subjected to his music while riding in my car, “He just sounds like if your friend got drunk and started singing off key.”  Also true.

Consider the lyrics of “I Send My Love to You.”  The beginning of the song is a lovely, slightly goofy and heartsick take on the idea of sending one’s love.

I send my love to you.
I send my hands to you.
I send my clothes to you.
I send my nose to you.
I send my trees to you.
I send my pleas to you.
Won’t you send some back to me?

Send your ways to me.
Send your call to me.
Send you days to me.
Send it all to me.
And when I’m high and square,
When I would have you there,
You will be . . .

These opening lyrics get at something essential about the hope and desire and silly vulnerability of love itself.  They also start to get at the darkness underneath the desire, the narcissism of it all, the way love is, after all, largely a story we are telling ourselves about our own feelings, feelings that can become demands we make of another person.  But the song’s opening, despite this subtle tug of darkness, remains light and good-humored.

Then we reach these lines:

The moon is falling.
My wounds are calling.
My head is bleeding.
And I’m a duck.
The lake is cracking.
It hears me quacking.
Fuck the land, and two if by me.

Violence and calamity and confusion creep in here, but even in the midst of that, there’s a delight in absurdity.  And I’m a duck.  And then follows delight in transmutations of thought and sound and figure of speech:  The lake is cracking./ It hears me quacking./ Fuck the land, and two if by me.  I remember that last line confusing me and giving me the feeling of having forgotten something, until Dennis remarked that it was a play on “One if by land, and two if by sea,” at which point it made both more sense and less sense.  Which is delightful.

Oldham is the kind of artist who can help you understand what you’re feeling, even if his lyrics don’t match the exact details of your experience.  He allows for those kinds of slippages.  These are lyrics that have helped me understand, for example, the feeling of having roots in the Southeast and Midwest, and driving back and forth between cities in the Northeast and Southeast and Midwest, listening to the same songs with different people and wondering what all this journeying is about.


by J. Hope Stein

The Pixies’ Frank Black takes a sledge hammer to English language and love song and distills to its essence the urgency of sexual impulse–

I was talking to peachy-peach about kissy-kiss
You bought me a soda
You bought me a soda
You bought me a soda and tried to molest me in the parking lot

…You’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me.
You’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me.

(From Bone Machine, Surfa Rosa)

In the song hey, from Doolittle, Black’s aching multi-syllabled “chained” – an onomatopoeic device (chained being something that requires more than one unit to exist, i.e. a series of links, a series of joined metal rings, a series of atoms, a series of geographic formations, etc.) reconfigures the language to convey Black’s vision and in doing so,  elevates the precision of the English language in the most primal way.  (I use hyphens below to reflect this.) Meanwhile, Kim Deal echoes “chained” in repeated quick 1- syllable words which run in haunting conflict to Black and at the same time punctuates his words.  It reminds me of what Anne Waldman often does in performance.

hey!/ been trying to meet you/ hey!/ must be a devil between us/ or whores in my head/ whores at my door/ whores in my bed/ but hey! / where/  have you/ been/ if you go i will surely die/ We’re cha-ain-ain- ained. (background: chained!) / We’re chai-ai-ained. (background: chained!)/ We’re chai-ain-ain-ained (background: chained!).  We’re cha-ain-ain- ained. (background: chained!) / We’re chai-ai-ained. (background: chained!)/ We’re chai-ain-ain-ained (background: chained!).  uh! said the man to the lady/ uh! said the lady to the man she adored/ and whores like a choir uh! all night…

Here’s another love song — Cactus, from Surfa Rosa.

I miss your kissin’ and I miss your head/ And a letter in your writing doesn’t mean you’re not dead/ Run outside in the desert heat/ Make your dress all wet and send it to me/

I miss your soup and I miss your bread/ And a letter in your writing doesn’t mean you’re not dead/ So spill your breakfast and drip your wine/ Just wear that dress when you dine

Sitting here wishing on a cement floor/ Just wishing that I had just something you wore/ Bloody your hands on a cactus tree/ Wipe it on your dress and send it to me


by J. Hope Stein

Besides the fact that  Cowboy Junkies’ song Misguided Angel puts me under a spell in which I play it over and over and cry my eyes out for reasons I don’t understand (keep me away from that song!)- Sun Comes up, it’s Tuesday Morning is one of the best written break-up songs (others include Annie Lennox’s, Why and  No More I Love Yous;  Liz Phair’s Divorce Song, Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Ani DiFranco’s Both Hands, Leonard Cohen’s So Long Marianne and almost anything by Sharon Van Etten and Jessica Lea Mayfield, etc).

Cowboy Junkies’ Sun Comes Up It’s Tuesday Morning is a stream-of-conscious snapshot of the first few days after a breakup and the mental weavings and discoveries in it are vivid in capturing how the body and mind adjust from twosome to one-some.

Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning

Sun comes up, it’s Tuesday morning
Hits me straight in the eye
Guess you forgot to close the blind last night
Oh, that’s right, I forgot, it was me
I sure do miss the smell of black coffee in the morning,
The sound of water splashing all over the bathroom,
The kiss that you would give me even though I was sleeping,
But I kind of like the feel of this extra few feet in my bed
Telephone’s ringing, but I don’t answer it
’cause everybody knows that good news always sleeps till noon
Guess it’s tea and toast for breakfast again
Maybe I’ll add a little T.V. too
No milk! God, how I hate that
Guess I’ll go to the corner, get breakfast from Jenny
She’s got a black eye this morning,
`Jen how’d ya get it?’
She says, `Last night, Bobby got a little bit out of hand’
Lunchtime. I start to dial your number
Then I remember so I reach for something to smoke
And anyways I’d rather listen to Coltrane
Than go through all that shit again
There’s something about an afternoon spent doing nothing
Just listening to records and watching the sun falling
Thinking of things that don’t have to add up to something
And this spell won’t be broken
By the sound of keys scraping in the lock
Maybe tonight it’s a movie
With plenty of room for elbows and knees
A bag of popcorn all to myself,
Black and white with a strong female lead
And if I don’t like it, no debate, I’ll leave
Here comes that feeling that I’d forgotten
How strange these streets feel
When you’re alone on them
Each pair of eyes just filled with suggestion
So I lower my head, make a beeline for home
Funny, I’d never noticed
The sound the streetcars make as they pass my window
Which reminds me that I forgot to close the blind again
Yeah, sure I’ll admit there are times when I miss you
Especially like now when I need someone to hold me
But there are some things that can never be forgiven
And I just gotta tell you
That I kinda like this extra few feet in my bed


by Gregory Crosby

“Yeah…” said my friend Alex slowly from behind the counter as I picked up a copy of The Mountain GoatsTallahassee and turned it this way and that in my hand, in that rapidly vanishing gesture that only exists in record stores. “That’s exactly the sort of thing you would like,” Alex continued, as he stroked his beard in that careful, apprising, cool but enthusiastic manner of record store clerks, also rapidly vanishing. Alex was right. From My love is like a black cloud full of rain/It’s always right there up above you, the Mountain Goats—John Darnielle, to give them their proper name—became my favorite band of the Naughts, primarily due to Darnielle’s uncanny songwriting skill. Trying to single out a singular favorite from Darnielle’s masterly repertoire of lyrics is a little daunting, but a song I keep returning to is “Love, Love, Love,” from 2005’s The Sunset Tree:

King Saul fell on his sword when it all went wrong
and Joseph’s brother sold him down the river for a song
and Sonny Liston rubbed some tiger balm into his glove
Some things you do for money
and some you do for love love love 

Raskolnikov felt sick but he couldn’t say why
when he saw his face reflected
in his victim’s twinkling eye
Some things you’ll do for money
And some you’ll do for fun
but the things you do for love
are going to come back to you one by one 

Love love is going to lead you by the hand
into a white and soundless place
Now we see things as in a mirror dimly
then we shall see each other face to face

And way out in Seattle, young Kurt Cobain
snuck out to the greenhouse and put a bullet in his brain
Snakes in the grass beneath our feet
rain in the clouds above
some moments last forever
but some flare out with love love love

What I appreciate most about the song is the way it incorporates, in the way that only poetry can, the seemingly infinite landscape of history: the past in present, the present in the past. The ease with which the song pings between the Biblical and the 20th Century, between the literary and the pop, isn’t simply a matter of allusion, but encapsulates, in succeeding images, the crucial question at the heart of the song: Why am I doing this inexplicable thing? The answer, paradoxically, is love—paradoxically not just because of the nature of the act (betrayal, cheating, murder, suicide), but because love itself is a paradox, a mystery at the heart of the larger mystery of the self, that “white and soundless place” where everything becomes clear, and everything becomes opaque. It might be my favorite love song, because it has no love object but instead focuses on that flaring out, like sparks, like a match, of love itself. It’s an existential love song, really, and oddly affirming even amidst the sorrows and confusion it describes.


by Tony Bonds

The music of Joanna Newsom can be somewhat polarizing: people tend to either love it and obsess over it, or they find it esoteric and inaccessible. It’s not the kind of music that makes top selling radio songs; rather, it echoes in your head, crawls under your skin and lives inside you, sprouting like a mustard seed until one day you wake up and realize you’re a huge fan.

Erik Davis writes of her kinetic live performances, “Her songs are not performed so much as drawn from herself like nets dredged from the sea, heavy with kelp and flotsam and minnows that flash before darting back into the deep.”

When first encountering Newsom’s ballads, one is likely to be taken aback with the strangeness of it—her adroitness with the harp, the masterful arrangements of her orchestra are to be admired, and there’s something almost supernatural about her voice: in turns smoky, cooing, operatic, and screechingly raw to the bone. Of her own music, Newsom says, “I want the vocal and harp performances to feel central and grounded and close and intimate and still, as though they are taking place in a small space very close to the listener. I want the orchestra to feel hallucinatory and constantly shifting in space and I want it to be mixed in a way that relates to the story being told and the lyrics and the mood very closely.”

From the tender, pentatonic pluckings of her harp to the cacophonous buildups of her syncopated band, her songs tend to swell to the point that the music itself is like a cresting tidal wave, sweeping the listener through the marvelous worlds of folk tales, Celtic myth, and finally to the allegory-soaked depths of her own aching heart. In this way, Joanna Newsom is a powerful storyteller.

Like any raconteur worth her salt, Newsom has an unmistakable voice, sounding at once like a virtuosic little girl and a raspy old woman. Ed Masley of the Arizona Republic describes the pixie-like harpist and songwriter’s pipes as “a quirky instrument that tends to occupy a range somewhere between Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Snow White huffing helium from a Mickey Mouse balloon.”

But perhaps Newsom’s greatest achievements are her lyrics. Before dropping out of college, Newsom studied ethnomusicology and creative writing at Mills College in California. Her style of lyrical phrasing seems to come to her as an afterthought, as if she is hastily recounting a dream and making up the notes as she goes. And yet her off-kilter, syncopated voice adds a refreshing sense of improvisation to her already nuanced sonic landscape.

To illustrate her imagery and storytelling prowess, I’ve selected a few stanzas from her song: Go Long, which is a heartbreaking retelling of the tale of Bluebeard as seen from the feminine perspective.

I was brought in on a palanquin
Made of the many bodies of beautiful women
Brought to this place, to be examined
Swaying on an elephant, a princess of India

We both want the very same thing
We are praying I am the one to save you
But you don’t even own your own violence
Run away from home, your heard is still blue

With the loneliness of you mighty men
With your jaws, and fists, and guitars and pens
And your sugarlip, but I’ve never been to the firepits
With you mighty men

You burn in the Mekong
To prove your worth
Go long, go long
Right over the edge of the earth
You have been wronged
Tore up since birth
You have done harm
Others have done worse

Do you know why my ankles are bound in gauze
A sickly dressage, a princess of Kentucky
In the middle of the woods which were the probable cause
We danced in the lodge like two panting monkeys

I will give you a call, for one last hurrah
And if this tale is tall, forgive my scrambling
But you keep palming along the wall
Moving at a blind crawl, but always rambling

When you leave me alone in this old palace of yours
It starts to get to me, I take to walking
What a woman does is open doors
And it is not a question of locking or unlocking

Well, I have never seen such a terrible room
Gilded with the gold teeth of the women who loved you
Now, though I die, Magpie, this I bequeath
By any other name, a Jay is still blue

With the loneliness of you mighty men
With your mighty kiss that might never never end
While, so far away, in the seat of the West
Burns the fount of the heat of that loneliness


Suzanne written by Leonard Cohen & performed by Nina Simone

My crush is a conglomerate of Leonard Cohen’s writing and Nina Simone’s performance.  A perfect coupling occurs between Nina’s genius on the piano, her voice so rich it melts you and Cohen’s writing.

This song means so many things to me.  Is she (Simone) singing to a friend or about a friend?  Maybe this is advice or maybe just a beautiful poem set to song? Nina’s history of misanthropic songs only adds to this cover.  I am reminded of the desperate energy in Ain’t Got No, I Got Life and Feelings.

Here is an excerpt from Suzanne:

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning, leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever


by Kristy Bowen

My friends always groan when the subject of Tori Amos’ music comes up.  To love her work smacks of the sort of tragically unhip teenage girl angst you are supposed to grow out of (akin to Plath worship, which I am also totally guilty of), and yet, somehow, I feel very much that Amos’ music has been evolving right alongside my own work, my own history, from the hard visceraility of Little Earthquakes which I first came upon during my college years in the early 90’s through her current projects.  Truth be told, I think my favorite  albums happened in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Boys for Pele,  From the Choirgirl Hotel, and Scarlet’s Walk in particular, but I can  appreciate her growth and dimension of her current work. Amos’ albums formed not only my taste in music, but much of my own personal writing aesthetics, right down to subject manner and style.

Baker, Baker

Baker Baker
Baking a cake
Make me a day
Make me whole again
And I wonder
What’s in a day
What’s in you cake this time

I guess you heard
He’s gone to LA
He says that behind my eyes I’m hiding
And he tells me I pushed him away
That my hearts been hard to find

Here there must be something
Here there must be something here here

Baker Baker can you explain
If truly his heart
Was made of icing
And I wonder
How mine could taste
Maybe we could change his mind

I know you’re late
For you next parade
You came to make sure
That I’m not running
Well I ran from him
In all kinds of ways

Guess it was his turn this time

Time thought I’d made friends with time
Thought we’d be flying
Maybe not this time

Baker Baker
Baking a cake
Make me a day
Make me whole again
And I wonder
If he’s ok
If you see him say hi


by J. Hope Stein

Martha Wainwright is a remarkable songwriter.  And an incredible live performer – here she is singing Factory.   And below are the triumphant lyrics of Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole – A song which picks up where Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone and Idiot Wind leave off.

Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

Poetry is no place for a heart that’s a whore
And I’m young & I’m strong
But I feel old & tired

And I’ve been poked & stoked
It’s all smoke, there’s no more fire
Only desire
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are

You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up
And you have no idea

No idea how it feels to be on your own
In your own home
with the fucking phone
And the mother of gloom
In your bedroom
Standing over your head
With her hand in your head
With her hand in your head

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth

Oh I wish I wish I wish I was born a man
So I could learn how to stand up for myself
Like those guys with guitars
I’ve been watching in bars
Who’ve been stamping their feet to a different beat
To a different beat
To a different beat

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth

You bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody…

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are

This issue of PoetryCrush is dedicated to the spirit of MCA & the Beastie Boys–  “Because you can’t you won’t and you don’t stop.”

Hey Kristy Bowen, what are you reading?

3 Feb

Many of us know Kristy Bowen as a publisher who has her finger on the pulse of emerging women’s poetry as well as a talented and incredibly prolific writer and visual artist herself. Kristy Bowen lives in Chicago and runs dancing girl press & studio, an indie press and design studio. Her lovable aesthetic is in all her work, including the marvelous cover art of the chapbooks she publishes.

I asked Kristy what she’s been reading…

“At any given time, I’m usually slowly juggling a handful of poetry books.  Fiction I like to sit down and read straight through without stopping, but with poems, I’ll have a few books scattered around my surroundings, on the nightstand, on my writing table next to my laptop, my desk at the library where I work, the counter in the studio.  I keep one in my bag in case I have a few minutes here and there and on the bus or train.  I’ve been known to leave them in the kitchen, in the linen closet, next to the copier. I almost never read them chronologically, but will flip through and enjoy whatever catches my eye then pick it up again later and read more. I also occasionally pull things off the bookshelf at home and skim through when I’m in search of inspiration. Right now, on my desk here at work, are Anna Journey’s If Birds Gather in Your Hair for Nesting and Rachel Zucker’s The Bad Wife Handbook..  In my bag, Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life and Evan Lavender Smith’s From Old NotebooksNext to my bed, stacked among some trashy mystery novels I also like to read in bed, is Plath’s Ariel.   Next to my computer is a small stack of library acquisitions, Kathryn Pringle’s Right New BiologyKaia Sand’s Remember to WaveBrenda Hillman’s Practical Water.  Sometimes I read them backwards, from the middle and outward, sometimes abandon them wholly if I lose interest. Sometimes, months later I’ll pull them off the shelf again and be all enamored again and continue.” — Kristy Bowen