Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Sunday," by Nikki Giovanni

"September 1, 1939," by W.H. Auden

On the precipice of another September 1, I thought of W.H. Auden's famous poem--one he later disavowed, in a way, by choosing not to include it in collections over which he had editorial control. His argument was that the line "we must love each other or die" was illogical insofar as we will die whether we love each other or not, but of course, few if any readers read the line that literally, and I doubt if Auden meant it that way. He was also a notorious reviser of poems after they had been published (as was Wordsworth): the sort of thing that causes arguments amongst scholars and critics.

One of the best recorded readings of the poem is by "Tom O'Bedlam" on Youtube. It really is terrific:

September 1, 1939

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Inferno, Canto I: 1-21," Dante

Concerning Failure


Concerning Failure

All right, if it makes you feel
worse or, somehow, honest,
say it. Say, "I've failed."
There. Surprised by how you feel?
Liberating, isn't it? You may
even go further, go all operatic,
and say, "I'm a failure." Woe
is you, etc. Splendid. Now

you may enter the zone
that transcends success and
failure. It lies beyond
soccer fields, board-rooms,
high-school football stadiums,
televised awards-shows, and
academic journals with a
circulation of 15 and
a readership of 0. Not
that we're keeping score,
or anything.

Guess who else lives in
that zone? Everyone who
ever mattered. In that place,
fame's considered a rash,
and there's even an
ointment available.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

This and That

My friend Charles Whitley, Jr., (sometimes known as Carter Monroe, the name under which he publishes), legendary poet and editor and the sage of North Carolina (and beyond) sent me two excellent links, the first to an essay about 19th century American writers, the second to a wonderful resource for online literary publishing:


Another poet friend of mine, Kevin Clark, recently had lunch at Pacific Lutheran University, where each summer Kevin teaches in the low-residency M.F.A. there: the Rainier Writers Workshop. Kevin regularly teaches at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and has a new book out: Self Portrait With Expletives.

We chatted about L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry, some of which I like more than he, perhaps. His notion is that L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets share a fundamental epistemology/ontology--namely, a materialist one, where no transcendent meaning exists. I wonder if in fact all such poets embrace a materialist philosophy.

To the extent they do, there might be a slight problem, not insofar as they are presenting their language, their poetry, as a material artifact but insofar as they are implicitly presenting themselves as arrangers if not interpreters of the material thing, language, for if language is merely a flow--one creek--of material, why do we, why does culture, need any particular poet to present it to us. If there's no transcendent meaning, then do we require any particular trans-lator?

Nonetheless, one great thing about poetry is that it's . . . poetry and may misbehave in relation to its creator's philosophy. I mean, if you judged Yeats strictly by his gyre-theory, you wouldn't be much interested in reading the poetry, but when you go to the poetry, there's some good stuff here and there.

But I must consult with Charles about this. I'm in need of a sage--at least!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"The Giantess," by Charles Baudelaire



1. Scramble the letters of your name; include a middle name if think you'd like those letters.

2. Make words out of the scrambled letters.

3. Using only these words, write the first line and the last line of a ten-line poem. The lines might well be short ones.

4. Optional. Make it a rhyming poem of some kind. I repeat: optional.

5. Optional. Now take the 10th line, make it the first line of a new poem and make the 9th line the second line, and so on. You may of course make adjustments in syntax, etc., to make the poem flow in reverse, so to speak.

6. Don't take too long. Have fun. Drink lots of water.

Sticky Words


Stuck With Words

Touch a word, your finger
might stick to it, as if
the word is saying you.
Jack Spicer advised wearing
gloves. Or did he? He advised
a lot. Those blasted words,
they want you working for them,
not the other way around. They'll
find you on a street in Istanbul
where you stopped to rest
and drink some tea. They'll
show up in North Carolina just
when you went out on the porch
to get away from chatter.

You want them working for you.
What if you stopped wanting that?
But how would that? Let it. Photo
of a toe. Toe photo, tofu, o future
once and present perfect queen
of Fubaro. Plant corn flakes.

Unless otherwise specified, this
is it. What's the context? I'd
have to know the contest. Hear
the filibuster in a country
church. If the preacher talks
long enough, God can't bring
a piece of legislation to the floor.
But he can knock down the door,
and that's for starters. "For
starters": see, see how those
two words stuck like something
from grass on your socks, after
you sought something in a meadow?

Copyright 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time Squall


Time Squall

A cloud of time came over
and rained minutes. I
watched them come down,
generate rivulets, create
puddles. Wonderful to see.
I went out into it
and stood beside an hour-sized
puddle, observing its
ad hoc intricacies. The cloud
moved on, the downpour
of minutes stopped, and
the sun went to work.

Copyright Hans Ostrom 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010




Have you ever been trying
to fix something when you
realize you've made it worse
and pushed it past the point
of reparation? I took a pair

of spectacles to an optometrist's
shop. They looked like a Cubist's
sculpture of a bird--glue-smeared,
bits of tape hanging, sad bandages.

The woman behind the desk said,
"I see you tried to fix them."
She said it warmly, without
irony, like an aunt sipping
a gin-and-tonic who has no
interest in parenting you.

She looked closely at the
stupendous failure of my
project. Her whole young
life, she had already seen
many men pursue the male
dream of fixing it themselves.

"Let's get you a new pair,"
shall we?" she said. When
I signed the form, I couldn't
see. Writing had become like
stabbing the fog with a
pen. I enjoyed it.

I hope Heaven has assistant
angels like the optometrist's
front-desk person--there to
check you in, get you registered
for pre-Judgement events. I
hear one saying, "I see you
tried to fix your life."

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Writing in the Dark in Vancouver, Canada


Writing in the Dark in Vancouver, Canada

the surface of the world,
as sorted by senses,
ripples, stinks, attracts,
abrades, confuses, salts, scorns,
and so off we go.

we live not in the world but
only in its epidermis, our vibrations
and toil adding only infinitesimally
to the shifting product, adding

nothing to underneath. what's
beneath this roiling Heraclitan
surface? Emptiness, chant the
Buddhists--sacred silence.
Particles, sing
the scientists. God, pray
Godly ones. Nothing, say
the confidently righteous--
nothing at all, of course: what
you see is . . . .oh, but

nobody really listens to them
because they're not as interesting
as the others. I mean, what's
less imaginative and more boring
than nihilism? Nothing.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pound It


Pound It

H.D., Pound, and Richard
Aldington wrote:
"To use absolutely no word
that does not contribute
to the presentation." They
could have cut "absolutely,"
as it didn't contribute to
the presentation of the rule,
but I like that word there.

The rule itself is strict--
like Pound, so American, bossy,
anxious, wanting to regulate--
as long as no one regulated him.
His last name suited him. Eerily:
an extra word. As both noun and
verb: a humorless weight, a unit
of measurement; and an obsessive
striking. --Oh, and before I
forget, define "contribute"
and "presentation." And if

you're a poet, and you receive
a rule, what's the first thing
you'll want to do? That's right.
Pound it. 'Til it breaks.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Not Quiet But Spare

A Shorter Distance

(in the midst of the "Quietude" debate)

Not quiet, no, but spare:
there--pithy, tough,
not much more than enough,
as if spoken while working,
or during love, or in hiding.

Utterance reduced--not
primitive or shy, just
taciturn, in that one
kind of American grain.
--Dickinson, whom the Beat
Boys ignored or belittled.
Not Walt, the loud guy
in a bar, and bless his
bearded heart for that.
We needed that as well.

--Thought through, pondered
on, then let go, not heavy
on the rhetorical gravy. That's
how some people talk and
some write. It's a quantity
of language showing up after
thought. Not shy, not quiet.
Just brief, one of those
short jabs no one sees
because they're watching
the guy fall down. A
straighter distance.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Daybreak in Alabama," by Langston Hughes

"Lighting a Candle for W.H. Auden," by James Wright

Editors of Small Magazines

Ever since printing presses got up and running, the editors of small magazines have been crucial to all nations' literature. "Small" refers to the circulation but often also to the format. People who, say, look at the modest poetry shelf at Borders or Barnes and Noble see "culture" from the other end of the telescope, after fame (to the extent poets can be famous) has been established, earned, manufactured, or some combination thereof. You will find Frost, Eliot, Plath, Yeats. The reasons you find them are often more complicated than you would imagine.

Meanwhile, new poetry keeps getting written, and if poets want their poetry read by people other than themselves, their friends, or their local colleagues (in school or in a local poetry "scene"), they will send their poems off to small magazines. That first acceptance from a magazine outside one's circle/region/school is crucial. It brings validation. It gets the poet in a wider game, for better and worse, but mostly for better.

The first such acceptance I had, as far as I can remember, was from the oddly titled but venerable WIND: Literary Journal in Pikeville, Kentucky. It was edited solely by Quentin Howard. I'd used Len Fulton's International Directory of Small Magazines and Little Presses to look for places to send my stuff, and I'd picked Howard's magazine out for reasons I forget. The acceptance came in Winter, scrawled on the margin of a hand-printed flyer, with a guestimate of when the poem might appear. I went on to publish other poems and one story in the magazine over the years, but I never met Mr. Howard. He died, and I think some of his associates tried to keep the magazine going, but it soon folded. Many of these magazines are the product of one or two person's virtually unrewarded dedication to seeing literature into print--tough, grassroots stuff, completely hidden from mass-culture.

Now many magazines have migrated online, or started there, but their purpose is largely the same. So, a tip of the cap to editors of small magazines and little presses, where the real work gets done.

The poem Mr. Howard accepted was "Sea Monster," oddly enough. I can't trust my own memory of how the poem came to be, but I know I was taking a course, as a first-year graduate student, in transformational (or "deep") grammar; and I was most interested in the interior and dramatic monologues of Robert Browning and Randall Jarrell--chiefly for the "move" in which one inhabits a decidedly different persona from one's own; and I was still enthralled with Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry, as I suppose I still am, because of its achievement in the poetic equivalent of jazz.

Hence, I suppose, the mention of grammar, the interior monologue spoken by a sea monster, and the ubiquity of alliteration and words with Anglo-Saxon roots.

Anyway, a link to a reading of the poem, with thanks again to the late Quentin Howard:

sea monster