Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Polonius and Hamlet

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Polonius and Hamlet

Polonius survives. Hamlet's still
the annoying star, dithering his way
to a fifth act, finally taking action
when everyone else is either dead
or exhausted. For heaven's sake,
he talks to a skull!

Polonius means well and thus
is despised. He does wormy things
to adapt, can't choose the best
advice and so gives it all like
most dads, gets stabbed through
a curtain while trying for advancement
in the company.

Hamlets are indulged, petted,
and finally enshrined. They fret
out loud and grab attention--
you know the type. They can
make you forget they're royalty.

Polonius persists in millions if not
billions--necessary but mocked, not
of the inner circle, perched on
the circumference of power, shafted
by the radius. Oh, well: they both

end up dead in the play and living
in Yorickville, borrowing for a
mortgage, lending advice and
forcing soliloquies on their friends,
stabber and stabbee. Nobody wants
to spend a lot of time with either
one of these guys. They're a lot of
work, these two, Hamlet and Polonius.


Copyright 2010

The 3:30 a.m. Non-Blues

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The 3:30 a.m. Non-Blues


When you wake up
at 3:30 a.m., you wish you
had the blues because
then you could be
conventionally sad.

When you wake up
that early in the morning
it's not
really morning but
it's not really bad.

It's way past midnight
but way before dawn.
If you say anything at all
to no one, you say it
with a yawn.

You don't have the blues,
and it turns out you can be satisfied.
You don't have the blues,
and by golly, you can be satisfied.
If you were to say you had the blues,
well, you would have just lied.



Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

"Northern Liberal," by Langston Hughes

"On 'View From the Golden Rooms,'"by Tammy Robacker

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Great American Poet Lottery

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The Great American Poet Lottery

Everybody--okay, about 12 people--
is upset about the state of American poetry.
There was even something about it
on the Puffington Host. What a thing
to get upset about!

None of the upsettees has read a fraction
of what's being written, so they can't really
know the state of American poetry. No one
can read more than a fraction. Spooky, I know.

They're just upset about the poetry they
have read, I guess, and they're entitled.
But they may have missed (wait for it)

the Paradigm Shift. Poetry everywhere lives
in the electronic clouds now, its relationship
to nations and literary management tenuous.

It also refuses to stop propagating, and
that bugs the shit out of some people. Less
is more. Economy of false scarcity.

The upsettees miss the old days. (Randall
Jarrell once wrote that in the Golden Age,
people probably went around complaining

about how yellow everything was.) I don't
agree with the upsettees, but I sympathize.
I'm a sympathizer. They miss those certain days

when anthologies and certain critics and
certain presses told us all who was great.
Anyway, I have a solution. The Great American

Poet Lottery. You enter it by sending in
a poem of yours, see. Drawings held--what?--
weekly? If your poem's picked, you become

a Great American Poet, lounging with Walt,
snoring with Tse Tse, giggling at Emily's
wicked jokes, laughing with Langston.

Okay, sure, a small cash-prize, paid in
Swedish kronor, don't ask me why. If you
become a Great American Poet, you get to

show up drunk and late to every reading
you give and have people still love you.
You're automatically in the running

to become Poet Lariat. (I kind of like
that joke.) You win, and the ones worried
about the state of American poetry win

because they'll have one more reason
to worry about the state of American poetry.
American poetry wins by retaining its

sense of absurdity, its crassness,
and its careening barbaric yawp. And nobody
gets hurt--something that is worth worrying about.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

The Work of the Writer

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The Work of the Writer


I'm a writer.
My job's to fill up notebooks.
I usually work the swing-shift.

The words are kept
in wheeled bins, which I roll
over to my station.

I unload the bins,
put the words on the conveyor
belt, which then rides the words

into the notebooks. On my breaks,
I go outside, nibble sandwich
corners, smoke cigarettes,

bullshit with the other writers
at the plant.
The shift-manager comes to fetch us,

the rat-bastard. --Back to work
until the horn goes off.
After that, we hit the taverns,

sit with vacant visages ("visages":
I saw that word on the belt today).
We try not to speak unless we have to:

You know how it is--you want to forget
work. A carpenter doesn't go to a tavern
looking to build anything. Once

I was walking home, and I saw the Muse.
She owns the plant. She's absolutely
gorgeous. I asked her for a kiss.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

"The Poet Fears Failure," by Erica Jong

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Show That Man Some Respect

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Show That Man Some Respect

for C.M. in N.C


You need to show that man some respect.
Otherwise, you can expect some
resistance. For instance, listen
well before you disagree, for if you
do, you may well see he's right,
as he's been known to be.

He's very smart and very wise:
there is a difference. Look
at his eyes. Read what he's written.
He keeps things in, and he may not
tell you you've been rude.

So I thought I'd let you know--
for your sake, mine, and his, that is.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

New Dance Craze

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Do the Paradigm Shift!



You put your hands in the air.
You put both feet out. You
fall through space, and
you try to shout--

oh, yeah--can you feel the lift?
Now you're doing the Paradigm Shift!

Oh yeah, do the Paradigm Shift.
Uh-huh, do the Paradigm Shift.
It's the latest craze, and it's
a dubious gift!


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Menu

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Menu

The special today is sunshine soup
topped with a dollop of cloud. It
is accompanied in a minor key
by roasted regrets in a reduction
sauce. A choir of angels may visit
your table, coming after you,
coming for to carry you home.
A gratuity is expected after their song.



Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

We're The Ghosts

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We're the Ghosts



We're the ghosts,
who seem to ourselves
and each other to be alive,
substantial, here, important.

Look closely. Wherever you are
now, imagine how quickly every
body there will vanish, be

in effect replaced, how fast
the place itself will alter,
how other people feeling real

will inhabit the space and not
know they don't know a thing
about you and me and us.

And not know how soon they'll go,
ghosts.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Freight Train

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Freight Train


They say a freight train lets out that blast
to warn those near the tracks to get away
as it rolls heavy through a city.

I say it's a beckoning to hobos in our souls
who tell us we have done about all we're
going to do--not much and not what

anybody wanted anyhow. So why not go,
why not grab steel, ride the freighting
beast down the coast to the last boast

you'll ever make before you shake
oblivion's hand and go back to being
particles commonly found in the universe?

A train's wail is a tune from that
incalcuable space. A train's machine-cry
makes you want to chase the train,

a chain of iron cars, a creature born
of burned out stars. Your life says,
"That train is just blind freight--

stay here, under covers, go to sleep."


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

A Lovely Woman's Nose

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ling to portrait
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A Lovely Woman's Nose


There are many things to say
about a lovely woman's nose,
which always points in the correct
direction and holds its place
amongst the beauty of the face.

We shall not say these many things
today but shall hold them in our
minds just beyond these words--
covert but close by. They will be

like the shapes, angles, and shades
that serve as defining context of
the lovely woman's nose--yes,
the lovely woman's nose: consider it.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

"Freedom of Love," by Andre Breton

Tom O'Bedlam on Intelligence

Here are some interesting words on the topic of intelligence, and on related topics, from Tom O'Bedlam, who operates the marvelous Spoken Verse channel on Youtube--a link to which you'll see just to the right:


"There's no real advantage in intelligence to a man trying to make a conventional living. Like Isaac Newton, I had to invent a use for it. Literature is one possible use and it satisfied me until I found electronics which proved far more profitable.

When I'm asked what intelligence is I sometimes say "The likelihood of being right" and leave it at that if I want to be annoying. Otherwise I soften it by adding, "if there are no other factors involved, such as learning, experience, altruism and discernment". It's obvious that IQ tests measure the ability to give the correct responses to self-contained questions that have only one answer. The problem for the intelligent man is that he can often find reasons why they're not self-contained and have no single clear answer.

Sometimes I say something like "It's the ability to form internal Mental Models of the real world which can be interrogated for predictions, inferences and conclusions which, in turn, can be observed, measured and verified in the real world". In fact it's the ability to do a few parlour tricks that, when demonstrated, leave people no more impressed or envious than they would be by any other kind of incomprehensible magic.

Richard Feynman said something like "There are some people who are unteachable, who accept nothing on authority, who take in no piece of information unless they have verified it by conscious analysis, who tediously construct their own world from raw data and concepts - and it is on these people science depends" That's a wild paraphrase. I like Bernard Shaw's syllogism from The Revolutionist's Handbook "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man attempts to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on unreasonable men".

It takes a long while for technical innovation to make its changes to the world. We're still suffering from the effects of the industrial revolution, particularly on the effect of digging up and reintroducing to the environment all the elements, heavy metals and hydrocarbons, that bacteria and other early lifeforms spend a bilion years burying before human life was even possible. The effect of reintroducing these elements into the environment may, within a century or two, make human life impossible.

We're still adapying to the effect of eating starch, which wasn't possible until the technical innovation of cooking, and the major effects such as obesity and diabetes are still a scourge. However the other side effects, such as increased perception and relief from the perpetual need for hunting and gathering, made civilisation possible.

How the hive-mind made possible by free worldwide information sharing will affect humanity as a whole is harder to predict. Religion won't submit without a struggle to the death: it has more emotion to drive it than rational atheism. Even Dawkins and Hitchens are h=just as fervent in their belief in atheism - it seems that the propensity for fervent belief is an inherited trait, like the ability to learn a language. I'd go for selling the opposite of Pascal's Wager - that one should live as though there were no recompense in heaven - to stop peple from sacrificing their one-and-only lives.

Perhaps intelligence is coming into its own at last and, as you say, will supercede professionalism. Society has been dominated by professionals who educate their children to become professionals in their place thus maintaining the status quo and opposing change and progress. Another Bernard Shaw quote - "All professions are a conspiracy against the layman".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do We Know?

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Do We Know?


Do we know?
Sure we do.

Then we go
and change our

minds--meaning
our minds refuse

to know what
they once knew,

or pretended to.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

A Classic

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A Classic


I was sitting in a dentist's chair
today, thinking that until everybody
on the planet can get their teeth
cleaned and fixed routinely--
everybody--then civilization's a
failure. Sure, fine, build bombs,
preach holy words, teach Plato,
paint canvases, create symphonies,
pour money into The Endowment, and
write long novels--snore, snore, snore.

All of this and more
doesn't square accounts, and,
goddamnit, you know it. Fix
everybody's teeth, after you
have fed and sheltered them.
These things are the classics
of civilization, to be shared by,
to accessible to, all.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

As If

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As If

As if the buzzing, built-up hive
called the world were a fabricated
facade someone could unfasten and lift
to expose operational guts (the real
engineering), dreams sometimes seem

so right that in the midst of them,
you think, "Yes, it's a dream, and
I'm sleeping, but this is how things
are as they are," and the dream, a
low-budget movie of the highest
quality, has just shown you a thing

or two about how to interpret
a thing or two, but the dream itself
requires no interpretation, any more
than a sharpening stone needs sharpening.



Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Gray Weaver

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Gray Weaver

The gray weaver dated
the grim reaper for a while.
She liked the fabric
of his hooded cloak,
instructed him not
to bring the scythe
with him when they dined
out. The reaper admitted,
"All of this, this life-activity,
bores me. I love death." She

wove him a pale gray cloak. It
softened his image. He looked like
a cloud that held a harvest tool,
nothing to worry about--honest!
But he said he couldn't accept
the gift. They stopped seeing
one another. That was many
a reaping, many a gray rug ago.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

I'm Glad I Never

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I'm Glad I Never . . .


...Built missiles.
Ate whale meat.
Purchased a boat of any kind.
Went to law school (LSAT score: 666).
Shot myself with a nail-gun.
Killed a bear.
Played polo.
Became a dictator.
Climbed Mt. Everest.
Believed Plato.
Joined the Mob.
Skated naked.
Mined coal.
Dodged the draft.
Got drafted (draft number: 007, not kidding).
Mined coal.
Owned a coal mine.
Drank anti-freeze.
Started a riot.
Called anyone the N-word.
Joined the Navy.
Believed Reagan.
Lied about where I was from.
Shot heroin.
Became a pornographer.
Caved in.
Went to Idaho that one time.
Went to Berkeley that one time.



Copyright 2010

Places We've Gone

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Places We've Gone After We've Made Love


Nowhere.
Stockholm.
The movies.
Ephesus.
A restaurant.
A cafe.
A bar.
The city dump.
A supermarket.
Outside.
To sleep.
Inside.
The Post Office.
Florence.
Sacramento.
A beach.
A kitchen.
Mobile.
A bathroom.
A museum.
A roof.
A swimming pool.
An ocean.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Lombardy Poplar

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Lombardy Poplar


In a light breeze, the ease
with which branchings and leaves
of a single Lombardy poplar move,
each in a different direction
and way, and how the tree becomes
an infinitely syncopated whole that
later and clumsily we'll call tremble,

naturally defy math and digital
imitation because they won't hold still
for a binary moment or repeat itself,

so poplar fascinates beyond words but also
coaxes words, and there it is, the poplar,
the one poplar, the one, and there it goes,
and now a crow caws. Twice.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

So Much For Experience

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So Much For Experience


Is experience too expensive?
In those days, I knew so little,
and now I know even less.
I feel like a door-to-door
salesman who sells doors,
knocking on locked examples
of what I try to sell.

Life's an elaborate experiment
with no hypothesis and with a
volatile concoction of methods.
Once you get the results, you
move on to Heaven, I gather,
and make your report--angels
roaring with laughter:
apparently this stuff never
gets old. . . .

I passed two women on the street.
The one smoking a cigarette was
saying to the other, "Well, if
it's one thing I've learned from
experience, it's . . .". I'd
walked too far past to hear the rest.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

"Harlem Dancer," by Claude McKay

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Down-Home Boy," by Waring Cuney

Four Women

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Four Women


The young barista applies
eye-makeup with great care
each morning, early, before
the first coffee-drinker awakes.

The older cashier at the food store
has dyed her hair a bright blond.
She takes her cigarette-breaks
outside the cafe. She once said,
"It comes back around, you know,
if you're kind--it comes back
around to you."

From behind the machine,
the barista now watches the older
cashier. The realtor wears
nylons and high heels all day.
She must never appear to be
impatient or weary. There must
never be the smallest flaw
in her clothing. Her eyes
and mouth have hardened.

The blond cashier, smoking,
watches her get into
an expensive car, which
is red and freshly polished.

The high school student
with brown hair that was dyed
black but is now splashed
with green walks past the red
car talking to her phone. Her
clothes don't fit, aren't
meant to, and sunlight shines
on the small of her back
and the dimpled top of the crack
between her buttocks. The realtor
and the blond cashier notice
all of this in one glance.

The cigarette's snuffed out,
the red car's engine starts,
the barista's already preparing
a beverage for the talking girl--
something with a lot of sugar
and cream and chocolate and
caffeine--and the talking girl,
who is a woman, now notices,
maybe for the first time,
the subtlety of the barista's
eye-shade, and with one hand
now tries to pull up the tight,
low-waisted jeans, which slip
back down, and the barista, letting
some steam out of the machine,
says, "Here you go!"


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

"The Ambitionator," by Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oh Ballad, Dear Ballad," by Hans Ostrom

"The Crystal Gazer," by Sara Teasdale

"Irish Wake," by Langston Hughes

More Advice to Poets from Tom O'Bedlam

Here is more advice to poets from Tom O'Bedlam of the Spoken Verse Youtube Channel; this time it's phrased as advice--or "stiff criticism"--to one poet but meant, of course, for poets in general:



"Your main problem is that nobody is going to read your stuff. A poem has about five seconds to arrest the reader, to provide motivation to read the remainder. I read scores of poems almost every day. You wouldn't have stopped me from quitting after the first few lines.

Be intelligible and/or arresting, amusing and/or diverting. There's no point in being abstruse. The reader says - to hell with this, it's gibberish. Provide something that piques curiosity, that makes them read on.

According to Ezra Pound, poetry consists of logopoeia, phanopoeia and melopoeia. You have to learn the trade, read everything that went before. The hallmark of genius is technical innovation - but you have to know what's been done to death before you can depart from it. If you write what you think looks like poetry then you stole it. Many people can sing like Al Jolson.

To start with you should learn to write in clear definitive sentences with some respect to spelling, grammar and syntax. (Okay I have occasional blind spots, but they're usually typos. I can spell most words in the language most days, I just have odd lapses of memory sometimes) You can take liberties once you're proved you know what you're doing. Look at the early work of Picasso for instance. He showed the world be could paint before bringing out the crazy stuff from the back of the closet. You'll gain neither respect nor readership if you appear illiterate. If you can't be bothered to learnt to write properly, then why should you expect people to forgive you? You're up against thousands of writers manquees, prepared to put in all that it takes in sweat-equity.

It's no use offer an explanation or an apology or whatever - nobody will read that either. The poet has only one language and the poem must be self-contained. Either give up or try a lot harder.

That's stiff criticism but it might put you on the right path. "


"It shows an excellence of character that you take it so well. Most of the stuff I'm asked to comment on isn't worth reading - but, then, most published poetry isn't worth reading. Once a poet has gained status then we have to accept whatever he or she turns out. I've read rubbish written by laureates."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Advice To Poets From Tom O'Bedlam

I was fortunate enough to discover the Youtube channel, Spoken Verse, some months ago. At about the same time, I decided to start recording poems (mostly those by others) for my own channel, langstonify, but Spoken Verse is not to be blamed for my foray into recording, which for me has featured a steep learning curve, to say almost the least. My recordings are improving--slowly.

If you haven't visited Spoken Verse's channel, which is operated by a person who goes by the pseudonym Tom O'Bedlam, please do. There is a link just to the right of this post.

It features some of the best readings of some of the best poems. Tom records all the poems at his desk and makes the videos with MovieMaker and other software, but the quality is superb. He has a great voice, but he also has a great sense of poetry--a better sense than that of some very professional recorders, who are certainly polished but may not quite have the feel of the individual poem. The recording-quality is enviably great.

I was also lucky enough to have some of Tom's advice to poets revealed to me, and I received permission to reprint it here. So here it is:

...advice to poets and would-be poets from "Tom O'Bedlam":

"The main fault is that would-be poets have nothing much to say. It is important to have some thing important to say. Why else would anybody want to read it?

Poetry is generally either truthful or uplifting. The two main motivations for writing poetry - or creating any art form for that matter - "to tell you what it's like to be me" or "to put the world to rights". The uplifting stuff makes the best pitch, like Kipling's "If", but it's all lies. Uplifting poetry is advertising for a Belief System - BS for short. BS needs the best advertising pitch there is and poetry fills the bill because it can be so well-crafted with such a catchy jingle and monolithic turn of phrase that it resists all arguments, bypassing the analytical mind and taking root in the subconscious.

Keats said "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty - that is all ye know of earth and all ye need to know" Actually he was afraid that Fanny had been unfaithful: that Truth was Ugly and Beauty was False - which it so often the case. His advertising pitch for believing the opposite worked for him - and it has worked for others ever since and will continue to do so until the end of time. Most people don't want the truth. Happiness depends on believing beautiful lies in a state of unwarranted optimism. Songs, poems and visual arts create an artificial world which is preferable to this one. If it works for the artist then there's a good chance it will work for other people too.

The alternative is to tell the truth. That makes the poem important, too. Philip Larkin was a master at that kind of poetry - but he was also a master of the trade. If you're going to be that sort of poet then you have to learn everything that's gone before and how to use the tools, or nobody will take any notice. The Truth is an even harder sell than BS. Also you'll take a lot of flak for telling it.

Very little memorable poetry is created in any generation. It's possible to learn by heart virtually all the worthwhile poetry that has been created since the dawn of civilisation."

"Stephen Spender," by Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Short Love Poem

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Short Love Poem

What's there to say about
a love poem that insists
on being short, except
"Thank you"? Dearest, I
love you for what you
know, do, feel, and remember.
True, your body's not incidental
to you or to me. It is your
body. Still, love's metaphysical--
no, really; or it's not love.
You know how much praise I can
raise, but here the poem ends.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom