norbert blei | the prose poem: alice d’alessio, al degenova, ralph murre, susan o’leary

17 10 2011

Photo by Al DeGenova

POETRY DISPATCH No. 356 | October 17, 2011


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.


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

al degenova | song for my son | charlie rossiter | the ex

21 10 2007




Al DeGenova and Charlie Rossiter


Poetry Dispatch No. 90 | July 13, 2006

Al DeGenova and Charlie Rossiter

I’ve known both Al and Charlie for a quite a few years—even ‘performed’ with them on one or two occasions, both here in Door County and back on their/my old Chicago turf. They are a unique team as performers, while at the same time, very different poets., each bringing his take, his perception of the Beat spirit, still alive and well today all over the world. Thanks to poets like Al (mixing sax and flute sounds at times with words as he reads) and Charlie, a kind of happy shaman on the stage (his beloved Han Shan in the flesh),laughing out lines, beating his bongo drum.

About five years ago I worked with them in putting together a combination memory/poetry book to be published by my small press, Cross+Roads Press, which I did. BACK BEAT (2001) was almost an immediate sellout/hit. And since my policy with the press is not to do a second printing…well, even worse than being a poet out of work, is a poet out of books. But I’m pleased to announce that a few months ago, another press picked up the second printing—some small changes, a few additions, but the same Emmett John’s cover of Kerouac—and readers should please contact either Charlie or Al for copies. Or catch them somewhere in Chicago, the Midwest at a reading. They have a new CD too. Norbert Blei



(excerpt from Song For My Son) #6 by Al DeGenova

Writers’ ghosts walk on Kerouac Street
Beat poems on beat up shelves
City Lights
stands unchanged (and not)
on the border between Little Italy and Chinatown.
Diane di Prima loses her virginity
again and again
as I sip espresso
with her Memoirs of a Beatnik.
I feel their sour breath;
the writers’ ghosts of 1960 San Francisco
are wheezing, laughing, fucking, drinking
while I am here doing my duty
marketing communications
for the corporate god.

A saxophone calls me into Chinatown
(wheezing voice of the poets).
Oh spirits, we are kindred
in this dirty, old, beautiful, alive, dead
city with the bridge
yet I
am a conspicuous, lamenting conventioneer tourist,
part-time poet, part-time saxophonist, who
chose the path
more traveled.

Cole, listen to the poets.
Listen…”to thine own self be true.”
Listen…”Blow, man, blow!”



THE EX by Charlie Rossiter

She’s the worst kind of monster
made up of old parts of yourself
that needed a woman like her
and couldn’t see disaster looming

like a bad dream that keeps coming back
when you let your guard down
you see her in a dark cafe and shiver,
it’s like a visit from the grave

you try to recall good times
but you’re torn–how else
to justify
how else to move on

you’ve switched back to your old brand
of toothpaste, but you still wear
clothes you wore with her
and drive the same car. You wonder

how far you’ll have to go.
You want to blame it all on her
then you want to blame it all on you.
In your better moments you wish her well.