Friday, October 31, 2014

Revising Titles of Poems

Today I'll be working with the poets on the titles of the poems they've written this term. Here are some of the options I'll offer:

1. If the tile of your poem is long, try a title that is one word. Shapiro: "Nebraska." Langston Hughes: "Harlem."
2. Start with a participle or gerund--an "ing" word. James Wright: "Lying in a Hammock . . ."
3. Make the title a complete sentence: "Jack Eats Plastic"
4. Theme: so old-fashioned! "Of the Unfairness of Stomach Aches."
5. Allusion. "A Bird Eats my Liver"--allusion to Prometheus. "Something's Gaining On Me"--allusion to a statement by Satchel Paige.
6. Adjective plus noun: so simple! "Red Shoes." "White Folks."
7. A word or phrase from a language other than English: might sound pretentious, might not.
8. A title that springs from a word or phrase in the last 3 lines. This works uncannily well.

hans ostrom 2014

"Deader than hell . . ." Everyday Speech #2

"[It] killed him deader than hell." I heard my uncle say this when I was about 15 and changing tires on a dump trunk. He was talking about a fellow who had crawled under a dump truck to remove the jack when the jack failed, and the dump-truck crushed the man. "It killed him deader than hell," my uncle said, finishing the cautionary tale.

So: degrees of death, as if you could be just slightly dead or all the way up to deader than hell. Great vernacular touch there.

I heard it said by many men of my parents' generation. I never heard a woman say it.

I've corresponded with a poet- and publisher-friend in North Carolina who remembers hearing the same phrase, so it's apparently not regional. (My uncle was a native of Indiana, where he drove a car for a boot-legger, among other things, before moving to California to run heavy equipment, etc.)

Probably, it's not a phrase that will survive the Boomer generation, a few of whom might still say it.

A similar but more widespread phrase was, of course, "deader than door-nail," which I never liked because door nails are inanimate. I did, however, like the rhythm and alliteration.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Everyday Speech #1

So this begins, I hope, a series in which I simply record things/sentences/phrases/words that a) I used to hear people say a lot and b) I hear people say a lot. Sometimes its "say" and "write" both, but mostly say. I got the idea when I was reading Philip Whalen's collected poems. He has a series of poems titled "Native Speech," and he records what he was hearing in the 1950s and 1960s and thereabouts.

Of course, this project (that's grandiose) will and should not be confused with something systematic or orderly.


"Well, whaddya know?" I heard this one a lot growing up, less in my 20s, and so on. You can hear a lot in 1940s movies. A version is "Well, whaddya know about that?" The latter has a rhythmic lilt to it. And of course whaddya = what do you


"She's a fox." It means, she's sexy/she's beautiful/she's both. Virtually ubiquitous in late 1970s California. Heard much less after 1985, in my opinion. Gendered, I think; that is, it was said of woman by men and women, but not so much of men by anyone. I don't remember hearing gay acquaintances saying it of man, for example.


"I know, right?" Seemingly ubiquitous now, at least in my world. I haven't investigated the origin, if there is one. An older version would be, "You bet!" Or "Damn right!" Or "Right on!" Except I think "I know, right?" is more laconic, even slightly ironic, and not usually excited or overly sympathetic. I quite like it, for some reason. I believe a still-current African American version or counterpart is "All right? Mmm-Hmmn!" Heard more from Black women than Black men? I don't know.

Well, that's three or four. If you want to suggest any, go for it. I wonder if "go for it" is going out of fashion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Inspector," by Hans Ostrom

I don't think you're doing it the way
you're supposed to do it
(according to the specifications)
but who am I to say? And

if you're getting it done,
in this way of yours you use--
well, it's still getting done.
There is a right way and a

wrong way but at the same time
there are many ways. It isn't
logical I suppose as I have
phrased things. Anyway, consider

a mild objection almost to have
been raised. By me.
This is my job.
Sincerely, The Inspector.

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Hinge Collection," by Hans Ostrom

Of course, this is just part
of my collection of hinges.

But it may give you some idea
of the variety and kinds of
of their ubiquity, of the
range of their design.

Also, you will likely note that,
unattached to anything
and without box, door, or shutter,
hinges become absurd.

Sometimes I think they
look like awful jewelry
or modestly successful
instruments of annoyance.
I hate them so, my hinges.

hans ostrom 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Planet to People," by Hans Ostrom

"Well," said the planet
to the people living on it,
"apparently you will do what
you will do. But there is
this: remember that you
are not required for me
to survive, whereas
to persist, you need me.
Consider this a statement
of practicality, not one
of theory or art, politics,
religion, or science."

hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"To the Moon," Charlotte Smith

"Art for Something's Sake," by Hans Ostrom

Pater (Walt) wrote that all art
constantly aspires to the condition of music.

Some art, I think, aspires
to the condition of a sandwich
and a cup of coffee; some,

to the condition of
a large home in Bel Aire, California,
and you have to like that second e.

You know, some music
is not in great condition.
The same can be said of some artists.

Can art aspire?

I wonder if anyone called Pater "Walt."
I hope so. Because "Walt"

is musical, in its own way.
It's a beat. All art can
use another beat.

hans ostrom 2014

"People Are Terrible, No Exceptions," by Hans Ostrom

There are days when you'd settle
for running into just one person
who is at least less annoying
than you have become to yourself;
--and when even that is apparently
too much to ask.

So you go home loathing everyone.

Grudgingly, you think well enough
of yourself to get through the evening.
You observe your own quirky, tiresome,
reclusive behaviors.

You have no clue who
you really are or what
"really are" even means.
You have no interest
in finding a clue.

With disgust, then, you go to bed.
Sleep gives you desperately needed
respite from thinking of people
and your ego--that Self who's
just like everybody else.

hans ostrom 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Have You About Had It?" by Hans Ostrom

You may have thought you were somebody.
Somebody like a joiner of wood or of metal pipes;
Like a CEO or a president;
A tribal elder; a teacher; a preacher; a shop steward.
Pillar of the community!
Maybe you thought you were a performer,
An artist; a critic—setter of tastes;
Or a citizen, oh yes—the authorities
Definitely want to know what you think.

Fool, you have been little more than an ox.
Ox, you have been little more than a fool.
You have been in harness, hauling the loads
Of shit that needs doing. You’ve been
Having your body and spirit broken,
Is what you’ve been up to. Boulders
Receive more respect than you. You’re
Worn out. You’ve been had. You’ve
About had it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Early One Morning,: by Edward Thomas

"Surreal Cat," by Hans Ostrom

Once upon a whatever,
as aluminum homes and nature
flew by where my windows
used to be, what with the tornado
and all,

there was a surreal cat.
Yep, that's what I have to report.

The color of her coat
depended greatly on
the nature of the magazine
one's eyeballs were reading to one.

"I think surrealism is bullshit,"
Margo said. "I think it is life
itself," replied Joe. Neither
one of them existed.

Things fall apart. That's
not necessarily terrible. Things
stay together--not necessarily
good. As to the falcon, the falconer,
and the goddamned gyres, who knows?
Seriously, Yeats can be
a real pain in the ass sometimes.

We at the Surreal Cat Corporation
appreciate your refraining
from talk of apocalypse.

"The Shame-Drain," by Hans Ostrom

Damn it, more than few people
among our seven or is it eight billion
need something like one of those drains
they put in patients after surgery,
except that in this case
the thing would be attached to the psyche--
a shame drain.

Hell, no wonder so many people
drown in and under the sheer tidal volume
of shame laid on them in their lives.
They slog through heavy shame
on their way to getting shamed again.
They breathe in particulate shame.
And yelled shaming hammers at their ears.

Drain that shame. It belongs to someone else.
Siphon that swamp, get out that bad water,
hateful slop, and wet air
that's got you slumped over, mumbling
things, loathing yourself.

hans ostrom 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Youth Isn't Wasted on the Youth," by Hans Ostrom

Youth's not wasted on the youth. They
seem to know just what to do with it.

Autumn, which they call Fall, generates
fine light that shines on the longest
hair most college women will have in
their lives; or the shortest. College men

have more friends now than they will
later, after work, ambition, and lore
deliver betrayal and failure.

Youth is interested in itself. Sure, it's
part echo, part narcissism. But it's also
bursting with sympathy and verve.
Eyes bright, smiles broad.

Young people know they know they're young
and would laugh big to be asked to think
otherwise. Old people over-think.

They whittle dry adages, and their shirts
look weird untucked: young, you can make
that look work. Young people

don't waste any time. Or they waste
a lot of time because of that luscious
youthful languor, which I kind of recall.
Anyway, it's early October, which is a country
for old men and every kind of people. Youth
is a team to cheer for; that's all.

hans ostrom

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"After You Speak," by Edward Thomas

"Quietude of Minnows," by Hans Ostrom

Minnows, floating like flexible
galvanized nails, bunch their crowd
tightly in shadow, then disband
and dart. Clouds of starlings come
to mind. Quietude, sure, if only
I knew what that meant. I take it
to mean the opposite of noisetude,
so you can see I don't take it seriously.

For thoughts are imperialists and may
invade one another at any time. No reason,
then, to go out of your way to confuse
yourself and others. Or is there?

We need less reflection:
difficult to argue that. Of course
the sound of fighter-jets will intrude
noisetudinally (coordinates, please) and seem
to shake the surface of the lake
(to ask if there's been a goddamned mistake)
because we are at war again always, and the
joint-base is just down the road, right? In

other news, the Greed Opera is coming to town,
colleges have become pimps for loan-sharks,
Black folks remain under siege in some cities, decades
of that shit. And now somebody walks out from
the back of this poem carrying a gun,
a flashlight. I want to move but I can't. I

can sing, though, sort of, so I croakingly
melodize something about poets and minnows in their
schools, and I keep an eye on that gun,
and the Son of God is nowhere in sight.

hans ostrom 2014