Thursday, August 8, 2013

And The Spell Widens Even More . . .

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop at Reed College in Portland Oregon! I had been looking for a new direction for my work, and I found it under the guidance of my workshop leader, Dorianne Laux, our fantastic class of poets, and the inspiration provided by the entire staff of Tin House--especially the example set by Matthew Dickman of being both an artist in community with all of his "brothers and sisters" and a terrific poet. In the next few weeks, I will share salient features of my experience, but for right now, let me get the ball rolling by mentioning two books you have to read, if you have not yet read them: Awake by Dorianne Laux and Mayakovsky's Revolver by Matthew Dickman.

Awake is a reissue of Dorianne's first book, originally published in 1990 (selected and blurbed by Philip Levine), and now reissued by Carnegie Mellon Press. It ranks as an essential document in the history of 20th century American poetry, and if you haven't read it you must! In his introduction, Levine writes of Laux that "she has a stunning eye for the way the world actually looks, and when it is looking good, she is there to record it:"

I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.

This passage, from "On the Back Porch," is true sample of the many joyful poems in the collection. You will want to return to Awake again and again. Thank you to Carnegie Mellon that we can.

No less lyrical, although at times more dark, are the poems of Matthew Dickman, a former student of Laux, in Mayakovsky's Revolver. Section II is a lengthy elegy to his older brother, dead at his own hand at a young age. It is, however, surrounded by the joy of living and loving, as evidenced in these lines from "Getting It Right," one of my favorites:

Your ankles make me want to party,
want to sit and beg and roll over
under a pair of riding boots with your ankles
hidden inside, sweating beneath the black-tooled leather,
they make me wish it was my birthday
so I could blow out their candles, have them hung
over my shoulders like two bags
full of money. Your ankles are two monster-truck engines
but smaller and lighter and sexier
than a saucer with warm milk licking the outside edge.
They make me want to sing, make me
want to take them home and feed them pasta,
I want to punish them for being bad
and then hold them all night and say I'm sorry, sugar, darling,
it will never happen again, not
in a million years.

Matthew Dickman's poetry does the same thing for me.

Two small examples of the power and tenderness I experienced in Portland.

And if you didn't know, you can hear Dorianne Laux and her husband, Joseph Millar, read this Saturday night, 6:30 PM, in San Francisco at The Emerald Tablet, 30 Fresno St.

I'll definitely be there to "widen the spell . . . "