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Norbert Blei | August 23, 1935 – April 23, 2013
Stories at birth, before birth, every moment of our lives to the end. We breathe telling tales. And then what happened? The story ends? The story never ends. We are immortal. We are myth. We remember. — Norbert Blei
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NOTES from the UNDERGROUND # 216 (& Poetry Dispatch) | August 18 , 2012
Catching Up: Death Notices & Last Words
“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.” –Gore Vidal
I’ve sung this song before: I’m having a hard time keeping up with everything. But I sing it again. The too many websites I maintain; writing my own books and other works; publishing the books of others I have every intention and desire to publish by my own small press, Cross+Roads Press; promoting neglected writers and publishers I promise myself (sometimes them) to bring to light—bur too often disappointing us both when I fail to do so for any number of the usual reasons; falling behind on preparations to teach, do readings and/or talks; maintaining communications (e-mail, snail mail, phone, texting, personal meetings) among a network of writers, family, friends…not trying to mention maintain some kind of private and social life beyond the written word—though I may be kidding myself since my life, for more than fifty years of it at least, one way or another, has been associated with the word and getting it out there.
So, yes, I’m behind. Again. Yes, I’m tired. More so than usual. But yes I’m enthused and renewed by all that I do and the many lives I try to reach… so it seems I must continue because this is who I am or seem to have become. Given all that’s on my plate, and no matter how frustrated I become every day, the writing is also on the wall: I’m going to leave a hell of a lot of unfinished business when the light goes out. And I’m just going to have to live with it. Saddest of all, the number of my own minimally noted and planned, partially written, almost finished, totally unwritten books–except for their daily life in my head, where I am an accomplished writer beyond belief, writing two or three books a week in thin air! How I wish there were more time. Or I had done it differently. Or I was different. But as Gore Vidal suggests in that opening quote: “Style is knowing who you are…” It takes time enough to just arrive there.
Which brings me back to the beginning of today’s commentary, which has been on my mind for sometime.
I wanted to say a few words about Vidal’s death…as well as a number of others, recently and not so recently…Christopher Hitchens, Ray Bradbury, Harry Crews…not to mention small press writers, Leonard Cirino, Todd Moore. etc. but I never got around to it. What a loss, all of them, Vidal especially. We can’t replace the likes of him, such truthsayers, on the American landscape. I guess ‘acerbic’ is the right word when it comes to him: “I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say, but a great deal to add.” said Gore Vidal on writing.
He had much worth noting about the arts. Things many of us in practice need to be reminded of: “This is not at all bad, except as prose.” Or, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Vidal’s line: Though I could take him or leave him when it came to Warhol’s art, Vidal’s critique always makes me smile: “Andy Warhol is the only genius I’ve ever known with an I.Q. of 60.”
When it comes to politics in this country…how we will miss him in the upcoming election.
“Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.”
Better yet, weaving a writer’s words into the American political fabric: “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”
I’m especially mindful of authors and artists who refuse titles and honors by one interest or another: “I don’t want anything,” said Gore Vidal. “I don’t want a job. I don’t want to be respectable. I don’t want prizes. I turned down the National Institute of Arts and Letters when I was elected to it in 1976 on the grounds that I already belonged to the Diners Club.”
He IS missed.
Speaking of last words. I remain a huge lover of the works of James Joyce and have given up trying to defend him–especially ULYSSES. You either love him or hate him. Though you may hate him at one point in your life…give him time. We read him, are ‘taught’ him too early.
He needs to be aged. Don’t read or revisit ULYSSES until at least the age of 40.
I love this recent rebuke that appeared in the NYTimes. I have read only a little of Paul Coelho, but it did my heart good to read how Guardian critic Stuart Kelly responded to Coelho’s remarks:
Since its publication in 1922, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” has been put on trial for obscenity and subjected to reckless over-correction of its punctuation. But now the novel, widely considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century, has suffered perhaps its gravest indignity: being insulted by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, Mr. Coelho…whose mystical novels, including “The Alchemist,” have sold a reported 140 million copies worldwide, declared that Joyce, right, had damaged the 20th-century novel by reducing it to “pure style.” “There is nothing there,” Mr. Coelho said. “If you dissect ‘Ulysses,’ it gives you a tweet.” Mr. Coelho, described in the article as being online “almost 24 hours a day,” also boasted of his social media prowess, declaring: “Twitter is my bar. I sit at the counter and listen to the conversations, starting others, feeling the atmosphere.” But within hours some corners of the bar had turned distinctly against him. “Coelho is, of course, entitled to his dumb opinion,” the critic Stuart Kelly wrote in a much retweeted post on The Guardian of London’s books blog, “just as I am entitled to think Coelho’s work is a nauseous broth of egomania and snake-oil mysticism with slightly less intellect, empathy and verbal dexterity than the week-old Camembert I threw out yesterday.” — jennifer schuessler NEW YORK TIMES 8.10.12
I leave you with this:
“Writers, since they have so many words, often have the last one.” –Gore Vidal.
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POETRY DISPATCH No. 371 | May 5, 2012
THE WHITE BICYCLE, Part II
The Best Prose Piece plus Selections from the Second Wave of Poems
EDITOR’S NOTE: I neglected to include the best “White Bicycle” prose piece in Friday’s posting which featured the three poems which best captured the image.
Part II leads off with the story by Jean Casey, followed by an at random selection of good poems which fell into a category the other judge and I saw as ‘the second wave.’ None of these selections are in any kind of order, they’re just good poems—which didn’t quite make the final three for reasons I previously mentioned. (And there are more, which I may or may not get around to featuring sometime.)
I would add one thing to the poetry finalists who were chosen and the prose writer. The other judge is an excellent reader, writer, editor who resides some distance from Wisconsin and would not have known any of the writers had I included their names—which I did not. I certainly expected there would be some disagreement over our choices, and we would have to work this out.
Once the noon deadline was reached, I made my final choices, in no particular order, just three poems and the one story I liked best, then awaited an e-mail from the other judge. There were no phone calls, no e-mail discussion between us. When the e-mail from the other judge arrived later in the day, I was beyond astounded to discover we both picked the exact same works! This almost never happens. –Norbert Bleib
The White Bicycle
He had never won anything before, not a single thing, and now he had this amazing jackknife with all sorts of important attachments which made an important and heavy weight in his pocket. And all because of the Old Ellison Days parade. Oh, he knew it wasn’t a grand thing, but it was a yearly event with fire engines, some folks on horseback, an honor guard of veterans, a few simple floats, and a bunch of kids on decorated bikes and some politicians in shiny cars. This year they announced prizes to include the bikes. He didn’t give it much thought, because he was never a part of anything like that. Fat and slow with a hampering stammer, he hung around the edges of life. His 6th grade teacher tried, because she knew he was bright inside, but he avoided her help.
But this year, before the parade, he felt an urge to enter, especially knowing about the grand prize for bikes, that knife! It came to him one moonlit night when he lay in his bed before sleep that he could avoid somehow being seen as his lumpy self if he…yes! If he went covered up…yes, indeed! As a ghost! Everything must be white! His old bike was a dark maroon, rusty, tired. But, if he painted it…!
No way could he get by with this unless he consulted his mother. In the morning he found her with her mouth filled with clothes pins hanging a wash on the outside lines. She listened, fastening some socks with the stored pins. “The only white we got around here is flat wall paint left over from the living room, but you can use it, and you’ll need an old sheet to wear. I have one. We’ll have to cut eye holes in it, but that’s okay. I’ve got a chain link belt, come to think of it, that ought to help you cinch it in.”
He said, excited, “I think I’ll ask dad for his old straw hat! If he let me, I could paint it white too! I think a ghost should have a hat!” He didn’t stammer, she noticed.
Parade day, he said not a word to anyone, played his part, accepted his prize from the puzzled judge who asked for and didn’t get his name, because this ghost never talked. And now, the bike was propped up in back of the barn, and he would redo it bright red. His dad gave him money for the paint. The prize would stay in his pocket, unless he was at home whittling.
…remember the rides
all the bikes in my life
now white as ghost shadows.
THE WHITE BICYCLE
by Sharon Auberle
when everything is falling apart
my friend, when you’re stuck
in the horse latitudes
mired in a dark
night of the soul
when you’re no longer sleek
sexy and smooth
find the white bicycle
climb on that
fat-tired slow beast
pedal and huff and
laugh like you mean it
whistle sing shout
and cuss use words
your mama told you never to
push that bike up a mountain
when you get to the top
when you’re near
to over the hill
when night is falling fast
jump on whoop and holler
ride that old bicycle down
no brakes allowed
fireflies and stars
your only light
and when you wipe out
(and yes, honey, you will)
darkness like a big pillowy woman
will come along and wrap you up
whisper everything’s gonna be allright…
no worries, baby,
she’ll carry all
your broken pieces home…
A WHITE BICYCLE
by Chris Halla
Parked here by an old man
shaped like a question mark
Hoping a young girl in a yellow dress
would eventually steal
his white bicycle away
on a green, spring afternoon
The White Bicycle
by Alice D’Alessio
I dreamt I saw it standing all alone
beside the blue barn wall.
Ghost, what are you doing here?
I asked, recognizing every
feature – the torn seat, the gash
in the front tire from the time
we hit the tree; the dented fenders,
handlebars minus their grips
minus the bell that Mickey Loman stole;
and best of all, the fancy chain guard –
to keep my pants from catching on the chain
and getting greasy. My first bike,
bright and shiny blue it was
and trimmed in red.
It meant the war was over.
The shadowy background
made the bike seem luminous.
You’re lookin’ pretty good, I said,
for an old guy. And then I thought
I heard it whisper, You too.
Let’s go race down Kaiser Hill,
shall we? There’s still time.
The White Bicycle
By Don Fraker
Nearly an albino,
But for her leathery dark barnacle of a seat,
Tattered, betraying her age –
Paint no cure for that condition.
Mobya was my vessel,
Her now-departed basket ferrying books
From their orderly, patient moorings at the library
To the needy harbor of their offloading.
Got her in junior high,
Whitened her in unspoken tribute to the first teacher who credited me with adult capacities,
His brine-soaked incantations of albatross, and mutiny, and whale,
Setting me a-sail on new-seen old adventures.
Though now my daughter’s ark,
No more the carrier of tomes
Of late evanesced, ether-borne,
Her bleached carapace transports me still.
THE WHITE BICYCLE
by Ralph Murre
the way she rode it
as much on clouds
as on concrete
as much from as toward
on a pavement of dream
the way I saw or didn’t see
the way it didn’t seem
she any longer needed me
to run along beside
the way the ride then
circled back in setting sun
the thing about a cycle
is the way it’ll repeat
her white bike may come back
may lean up
again against my shack
who knows when a cycle
or circle is complete?
by Paula Kosin
Even though it is not Easter
My mother hauled her old bike,
Tired, rusty but full
Of fond memories,
Out of the depths of the garage
And in the cool shade
Painted it white
The color of the Risen Lord
Of new life
And once she started
She just spray painted the whole damn
Tires, spokes, chain, pedals, handlebars
Every nook and cranny
Figuring that if a little paint made it look better
Then a lot would make it look wonderful
And the dirt and scratches and rust disappeared
Before our eyes
Like a miracle
And now it stands outside
Starkly propped against the blue sky garage
Drying and poised perhaps
For her ascension into Heaven
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Categories : alice d'alessio, bonnie hartmann, chris halla, don fraker, jean casey, norbert blei, paula kosin, ralph murre, sharon auberle
POETRY DISPATCH No. 361 | December 14, 2011
Three Native American Prayers
Editor’s Note: Though my working environment in the coop is saturated with ‘spirit’…the pine walls, glow with sacred memorabilia of all sorts, from hand-made wooden crucifixes to paintings, photographs, holy cards, carvings…windowsills of glass, pottery, sculpture…much of it reflecting the Southwest and the old country…much of it appealing to myth, mystery, meditation…there’s a particular place above my desk, to my right, where at least thirty years ago I posted a copy of “A Prayer of the Navaho Night Chant” which I found during one of my New Mexico sojourns, and which I have never removed since.
Though I don’t read it every day, or pray every day, I consider it a kind of blessing of words which hover around me, good days and bad days. Words that make a difference. Which is all any writer is ever after. His sole reason for being.
Along with the artwork on the coop walls done by many of my friends, here and there a warm, comforting and perfect piece of pottery by Chris Spanovich, a woman I truly loved, makes its presence felt. I smile. I walk over to it. I touch it. Her pottery begs to be held in both hands, like an offering—received. More spirit. More reverence. More prayer. I did a long story on her once, “Chris Spanovich, The Potter of Chimayo” which appears in DOOR TO DOOR, Ellis Press, 1985.
Prayerful, thankful…that’s how I feel today. That the arts speak to us in ways no organized religion can ever understand. All this spirit that surrounds me is all that really matters. ..Norbert Blei
I’m an Indian.
I think about common things like this pot.
The bubbling water comes from the rain cloud.
It represents the sky.
The fire comes from the sun
which warms us all, men, animals, trees.
The meat stands for the four-legged creatures,
our animal brothers,
who gave of themselves so that we should live.
The steam is living breath.
It was water, now it goes up to the sky,
becomes a cloud again.
These things are sacred.
Looking at that pot full of good soup,
I am thinking how, in this simple manner,
The great Spirit takes care of me.
— John Lame Deer
Greeting, Father’s Clansman,
I have just made a robe for you, this is it.
Give me a good way of living.
May I and my people safely reach the next year.
May my children increase; when my sons go to war,
may they bring horses.
When my son goes to war, may he return with black face.
When I move, may the wind come to my face,
may the buffalo gather coward me.
This summer may the plants thrive,
may the cherries be plentiful.
May the winter be good, may illness not reach me.
May I see the new grass of summer,
may I see the full-sized leaves when they come.
May I see the spring.
May I with all my people safely reach it.
— Crow Indian prayer
House made of dawn.
House made of evening light.
House made of the dark cloud.
House made of male rain.
House made of dark mist.
House made of female rain.
House made of pollen.
House made of grasshoppers.
Dark cloud is at the door.
The trail out of it is dark cloud.
The zigzag lightning stands high upon it.
Your offering I make.
I have prepared a smoke for you.
Restore my feet for me.
Restore my legs for me.
Restore my body for me.
Restore my mind for me.
This very day take out your spell for me.
Your spell remove for me.
You have taken it away for me.
Far off it has gone.
Happily I recover.
Happily my interior becomes cool.
Happily I go forth.
My interior feeling cool, may I walk.
No longer sore, may I walk.
Impervious to pain, may I walk.
With lively feeling may I walk.
As it used to be long ago, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Happily, with abundant dark clouds, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant showers, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant plants, may I walk.
Happily, on a trail of pollen, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Being as it used to be long ago, may I walk.
May it be beautiful before me
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
With it be beautiful all around me.
In beauty it is finished.
— A Prayer of the Navaho Night Chant
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Photo by Al DeGenova
POETRY DISPATCH No. 356 | October 17, 2011
THE PROSE POEM:
Alice D’Alessio, Al DeGenova, Ralph Murre, Susan O’Leary
Editor’s Note: I presented a weekend writing workshop, “the poetry of prose” on Washington Island almost two weeks ago. I see prose poetry not so much as a strict form but more as a way to make a clunky prose line breathe, sometimes sing.
It was a good weekend of writing, discussion, reading…with great participants, as always–mostly my tried and true, solid bunch of Clearing advanced writing students, with solid credentials of publishing and/or book credits behind them.
I learn a lot from them, whether it’s my annual Clearing class (beginning and advanced) or this new, autumn-weekend writing workshop we established on the Island a year ago–thanks to Karen Yancey, who handles the registration details, keeps the party going on the Island; Dick and Mary Jo Purinton, who provide the perfect setting for Island living and learning; and Jude Genereaux, who facilitates communications, easing much of the burden from my back, especially last minute glitches. My thanks again to all of them.
Without going into definitions galore of prose poetry or class instructions, assignments etc., I promised the class a lot of work–and a little exposure on “Poetry Dispatch,” if things went well. So I thought I would share with readers three of the prose poems the students themselves selected (by secret ballot) from their reading on Sunday morning, when each writer read a favorite, best ‘polished-to-perfection’ prose poem of his or her own from class assignments just the day before.
Everyone quietly listened to everyone else, then secretly noted on a piece of paper (folded and passed on to me) the three favorites. The three favorites became four because of a tie.
Here they are, presented alphabetically by author. Enjoy, enjoy. –Norbert Blei
The Left Hand Speaks
by Alice D’Alessio
Perfect, save for one flawed knuckle, beautifully seamed and creased, I am content to be what I am, the left hand, the second hand, the neglected hand. For I have a secret.
It is true that my neatly fitting skin is turning blotchy now, stretching into ridges and crevices. Yet it does its job so well, wrapping tight the underworkings, the critical bone and tendon, the rivers, streams and estuaries of blood and other juices that keep the fingers active and lubricated. It protects from invasion of those enemies that would enter and do great harm.
After seven decades of flexing and gripping, I am capable and strong, my five digits line up like soldiers for review, from short to tall, and back to short, to my sturdy thumb, altered a bit at the base with a lovely triangular scar. How well they stand at attention.
It’s true my partner, the right hand, gets all the glory. It is the one extended to shake the hands it meets, it picks up the pen and writes, brushes teeth, waves, plays a major role in buttoning, tying, stirring. But behold – on keyboards we are equal! And furthermore, there were glory days, now gone, when I was supreme. When we teased that violin into music, the runs and trills, the haunting melodies – it was I and I alone who found the notes, knew exactly where to press the string – never flat nor sharp – to make the purest sound. All the other one did was saw that bow across and back, across and back. I made the music, created the sweetness of tone with my vibrato. I, the genius twin, blessed with the gift of perfect touch. The other one, purely utilitarian. I rest my case.
At the Ancient Pond
by Albert DeGenova
Drunk with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please. But get drunk – Charles Baudelaire
The hanging Spanish moss looks one-hundred years younger today, I’ve drained the ancient pond through a red and white striped straw and licked the salt from the rim, the frog sings plop and I’m tokin’ on his flip flopping feet, on mind altering harmonic resonance, the whole band is in tune – the cool cats, the birds, the wind, the dirty swamp, cars speeding by pulling boat trailers, the hammering on the roof, the knife as it slices the bread, the dentist’s drill, the kid next door practicing guitar. Wake up!… Plop goes the blue-orange sunrise. Plop goes the weasel. What is the sound of stagnant water, water filling the bathtub or poured from a bucket, water as it gulps air swirling down the toilet? What is the sound of Eve’s first orgasm echoing through the universe? Of one hand clapping?
Plop! Plop! Plop!
Stitches in Time
by Ralph Murre
It, too, is called a thimble; this heavy galvanized fitting I splice into three-strand hawser on deck. Outbound tug Maria. My old man at the helm.
But the notion of “thimble” takes me back to that other sort, silvery there on the third finger of her arthritic hand. Grandma Maria. Seems it’s always been there, protecting that fingertip from the little stabs she knew were coming, leaving the rest of her bare to the unforeseen wounds that would come. There was the thimble as she pushed and pulled needle and thread, stitch on stitch, as depression flour sacks became dresses, as a spare blanket became a suit. Stitch on stitch, still, as my christening gown was shaped. White on white, as a tiny row of sailing boats was embroidered upon it. Rising infant to be bestowed beneath crosses of cathedral’s spires on the high hill. And her father before her, sewing stitch on stitch, white on white, patching sails blown out ‘round The Horn, stitch on everlasting stitch, triangle needle and leather palm, from Roaring Forties to Tropic Trades, and more than once, stitching a shroud: a benediction, a blessing. Fallen sailor to be bestowed beneath crosses of brigantine’s rig on the high sea. Aroma of pine tar, beeswax, mutton tallow. A very old man, long at anchor, calls out “Daughter, bring me rum.” She looks up from her sewing and agrees, “A thimbleful, Father,” as an ocean of time slides by, sewn with a meridian of stitches.
The faithful Maria rises to meet the oncoming swell. Settles. Rises again.
HEAD IN HAND
by Susan O’Leary
The hands come to the face to hold, to hold, as a rounded comfort to sustain. And in that comfort, the balm of touch. The hands become the Pieta of self, embracing with such tenderness, such desire to undo crucifixion, to bring solace to the impossible, to physically counsel grief.
With their sure shield, knowledge and reality can be shut out. At least in this moment. At least as, echoing their curve, the shoulders bend forward, the neck bows, and with eyes closed, words unspoken, breath halted, the body forms its own safe cave of retreat.
They have arrived too late. Or like Mary have had to remain and unwillingly witness sorrow. But their paired presence signals we are not alone. The earth spinning, they are the space that holds spinning in its orbit.
Photo by Mary Jo Purinton
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Tags: al degenova, alice d'alessio, norbert blei, ralph murre, susan o'leary, The Prose Poem
Categories : al degenova, alice d'alessio, norbert blei, ralph murre, susan o'leary