Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Top Ten Pittsburgh Poetry Editors: Ed Ochester and Peter Oresick

My hope for this final post in the Pittsburgh Poets series is for it to function as the final line of the first sonnet in a crown of sonnets, a stepping stone from one nexus of writers to another, that also will supply its own path to the unique canon that each of us is building, with each poem, each poet we read. Thus, I point you to The Pittsburgh Book Of Contemporary American Poetry, Ed Ochester, Peter Oresick, editors.

I have listed the poets that comprise this muscular anthology at the end of this post, in order to give the reader the option of tasting small portions of perhaps unfamiliar offerings before paying for the entire meal, and to tempt the more seasoned reader with favorite dishes laid out on this plenteous smorgasbord.

From the 45 poets and 370 pages of poetry, some of whom I have previous written about in this blog (e.g. Larry Levis and Alicia Ostriker), I will underscore one example of a poet indispensable to my own writing life, and one example of a poet new to me, but one who I will continue to read in order to broaden my own poetic diet.

Sharon Olds is no stranger to poets and readers of poetry. Her first book, Satan Says, began what Alicia Ostriker calls "the erotics of family love and pain." Ostriker continues: "In later collections, [Olds] writes of an abusive childhood, in which miserably married parents bully and punish and silence her. She writes, too, of her mother's apology 'after 37 years', a moment when 'The sky seemed to be splintering, like a window/someone is bursting into or out of'"

Here, then, is the title poem from that first collection:

Satan Says

I am locked in a little cedar box
with a picture of shepherd pasted onto
the central panel between carvings.
The box stands on curved legs.
It has a gold, heart-shaped lock
and no key. I am trying to write my
way out of the closed box
redolent of cedar. Satan
comes to me in the locked box
and says, "I'll get you out. Say
My father is a shit." I say
my father is a shit and Satan
laughs and says, "It's opening.
Say your other is a pimp."
My mother is a pimp. Something
opens and breaks when I say that.
My spine uncurls in the cedar box
like the pink back of the ballerina pin
with a ruby eye, resting beside me on
satin in the cedar box.
"Say shit, say death, say fuck the father,"
Satan says, down my ear.
The pain of the locked past buzzes
in the child's box on her bureau, under
the terrible round pond eye
etched around with roses, where
self-loathing gazed at sorrow.
Shit. Death. Fuck the father.
Something opens. Satan says
"Don't you feel a lot better?"
Light seems to break on the delicate
edelweiss pin, carved in two
colors of wood. I love him too,
you know, I say to Satan dark
in the locked box. I love them but
I'm trying to say what happened to us
in the lost past. "Of course," he says
and smiles, "of course. Now say: torture."
I see, through blackness soaked in cedar,
the edge of a large hinge open.
"Say: the father's cock, the mother's
cunt," says Satan, "I'll get you out."
The angle of the hinge widens
until I see the outlines of
the time before I was, when they were
locked in the bed. When I say
the magic words, Cock, Cunt,
Satan softly says, "Come out."
But the air around the opening
is heavy and thick as hot smoke.
"Come in," he says, and I feel his voice
breathing from the opening.
The exit is through Satan's mouth.
"Come in my mouth," he says, "you're there
already," and the huge hinge
begins to close. Oh no, I loved
them, too, I brace
my body tight
in the cedar house.
Satan sucks himself out the keyhold.
I'm left locked in the box, he seals
the heart-shaped lock with the wax of his tongue.
"It's your coffin now," Satan says.
I hardly hear;
I am warming my cold
hands at the dancer's
ruby eye--
the fire, the suddenly discovered knowledge of love.

Perhaps you have, but I had never, heard of Greg Pape before acquiring Ochester & Oresick's anthology. However, I will continue to read his poems that take the back off the case that encloses the machinery of connection ticking inside all that is. The Minotaur Next Door is emblematic of his seven poems included in The Pittsburgh Book Of Contemporary American Poetry. It, like the others, uncovers connections that invite promising investigations into a landscape, although bereft of salvation, seemingly rife with grace. With uncanny echoes of "Satan Says," here is Pape's "The Minotaur Next Door":

They are very small, my neighbors.
Sometimes I imagine them as a single creature
arguing and worrying and tearing itself apart.
That first night I heard her moaning
I imagined the sort of scene this city
is famous for. I didn't know she had a husband.
I hadn't seen him yet. I thought she might be
alone, or worse, a rapist or burglar, some
screwed-up half-man having broken in, having
robbed and beaten and violated her, having just
fled, or was about to flee . . . It was up to me.
I had to do something. I ran out into the night
and stopped. There she was in her bright kitchen,
in the faded flowers of her bathrobe walking
back and forth behind the window making that sound
with each deliberate breath. It was clear
she needed more than what I was willing to be.
Tonight again she moans, a sound I will not try
to put on the page, a constriction of blood
and breath, a complaint and a pain as monotonous
and worn as the words she shouts at her husband
in the afternoon: "My life is a living hell."
I can imagine for her no loveliness, only
the diversion of a meal or the still moments
before the television when, perhaps, without speaking
he brings her a glass of water. I do nothing
but believe her. Just as once there was a man
with the body of a bull, or a bull with the body
of a man, and that creature made of halves turned
on itself or on another, these houses and these
streets and this woman, although they are exhausted,
will not tire, will not sleep.

Pape's "cool glass of water," Olds' "ruby eye," are but two of the delightful divergencies from our own hells, waiting for all who will enter the the world of The Pittsburgh Book Of Contemporary American Poetry and The Pitt Poetry Series beyond it.

Here, then, concludes "My Top Ten Pittsburgh Poets" series: the final line in the second stanza of a crown of posts, that will continue with "My Top Ten New Mexican Poets," in honor of New Mexico's Centennial Celebration (1912-2012). Coming soon!

Poets Included in The Pittsburgh Book Of Contemporary American Poetry:

Claribel Alegria
Debra Allbery
Maggie Anderson
Robin Becker
Siv Cedering
Lorna Dee Cervantes
Nancy Vieira Couto
Kate Daniels
Toi Derricotte
Sharon Doubiago
Stuart Dybek
Jane Flanders
Gary Gildner
Elton Glaser
David Huddle
Lawrence Joseph
Julia Kasdorf
Etheridge Knight
Bill Knott
Ted Kooser
Larry Levis
Irene McKinney
Peter Meinke
Carol Muske
Leonard Nathan
Sharon Olds
Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Greg Pape
Kathleen Peirce
David Rivard
Liz Rosenberg
Maxine Scates
Richard Shelton
Betsy Sholl
Peggy Shumaker
Jeffrey Skinner
Gary Soto
Leslie Ullman
Constance Urdang
Ronald Wallace
Belle Waring
Michael S. Weaver
Robley Wilson
David Wojahn
Paul Zimmer


Bill Knott said...

well of course that's the old defunct anthology, isn't it? In the new improved one

(March 8, 2007 | Pitt Poetry Series: American Poetry Now is a comprehensive collection of the best work from the renowned Pitt Poetry Series. Since its inception in 1967, the series has been a vehicle for America's finest contemporary poets. The series list includes Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Toi Derricotte, Denise Duhamel, Lynn Emanuel, Bob Hicok, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser, Larry Levis, Sharon Olds, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Virgil Suárez, Afaa Michael Weaver, David Wojahn, Dean Young, and many others),

some scumbums (me for one) from the first anthology have been deleted, and rightfully so.


Terry Lucas said...

Good to see you here! Thanks for reading. And I don't think you should have been dropped...