Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Regarding Boxes of Boxes

There's something wrong
about a box of boxes.

It's as if Box World
has suddenly acquired
a food chain and boxes
have started eating boxes.

Open a box of boxes,
and you'll almost hear
the inner boxes moaning,
sobbing cardboard sobs.

Each of them wants
to contain something
independently. They're
fine with intervals

of emptiness, which
are better than the horror
of recycling or
the atrocity of magic.

I'm a zealot on the subject:
a box is mean to be
autonomous, enclosing
material matched to form.

I'm not afraid to declare
I belong to Box Liberators.
Stand--or sit, on a box, your
heft matched to form--with us!

hans ostrom 2019

Over: A Song

Over the bones,
monuments stand.
Over the stones,
dirt, grit, and sand.

Over the stream,
one heron flies.
Over our heads:
banal gray skies.

Now lightning,
now thunder,
now rain.

will bloom
in the lane.

Over the years
the town's grown sad.
Over the good
runs all the bad.

Over my soul,
crows and owls fly.
Over my days
looms the great Why.

Now silence,
Now whispers,
Now crying,

As always
we're selling,
we're buying.

hans ostrom 2019

Self Government

A federation of doubts governs
my days. Fear, the old dictator,
has risen again. It's enough
that you're breathing, proclaims
this moment's fretting mayor.
The mind continues as a manic,
busy legislature.

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, August 19, 2019

Local Residents Are Disturbed

      (found poem based on news headlines)

Disgruntled diner shoots waiter
to death over sandwich delay. Girl
dies after being left in hot car.
"Stand your ground" trial begins
in killing over handicapped
parking spot. Giant hand statue
touches down in New Zealand
and local residents are disturbed.
At least 6 teens are shot at Houston
"instant house party" organized
on Snapchat. A man has been
arrested for allegedly threatening
to shoot up a Jewish center in Ohio.
Lynching reemerges in new rhetoric
of hate. Fracking prompts global
spike in atmospheric methane,
study shows. Climate change
to shrink economies of rich
and poor, hot and cold countries
alike. Hottest month on record
for the planet, scientists say.

hans ostrom 2019

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Contrarian Poets

Not that you asked, but from my earliest days of reading poetry up to now, I've been drawn to the poetry of contrarians who chose not to fit into the popular or popular-literary conventions of the day. Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins are good examples, and I started reading their poetry when I was a teen. True, Dickinson worked in what fit loosely into ballad/hymn traditions, but disrupted most of the conventions with regard to subject matter, meter, rhyme, and world-view. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest who usually had his poems get around to praising God, but I had the sense that wasn't his main emphasis, which was on exploding the iambic line. Like Dickinson, he had an unusual worldview insofar as he was drawn to what was imperfect, improvised, messy. "Pied Beauty" expresses this view best, perhaps.

Then there's Karl Shapiro and Langston Hughes. Shapiro was in some ways part of the literary establishment insofar as he edited Poetry magazine, taught at big universities--as many poets did after World War II--co-wrote a book on English/Irish/Scottish/American prosody, and early on worked in rhyme and regular meter. But as with Dickinson and Hopkins, he disrupted the tradition as much as he worked within it. As to subject matter, he wrote about killing flies, auto wrecks, troop ships, and the like, though he could produce a good love poem here and there. He deliberately cultivated an eccentric image of himself, as a Jew who was far from orthodox, a Jew who thought Pound shouldn't get the Bolingen Award because of his fascism, an "atheist who says his prayers," a "bourgeois poet" in an era when the alleged anti-bourgeois Beats were all the rage, and so on. He belonged but thumbed his nose at belonging. He mocked at will.

Smack in the middle of the Modernist era, Hughes wrote accessible verse about a wide swath of Black experience. He did the latter way before it became a crucial part of African American literature. It was as much a political, existential stance as it was a literary one. Like William Carlos Williams, he occupied the accessible turf of Modernism, contrary to Joyce, Eliot, Pound, and all their deliberately "difficult" imitators. Hughes also went all in on socialist politics in the 1930s--until Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and Hitler started his race war and Stalin conducted his own genocide. Again, based on existential reality, Hughes supported the war against the fascists.

Luckily, I was able to take classes from Shapiro, and maybe that reinforced my contrarian nature. I chose not to pursue an MFA and preferred to earn a Ph.D. I was never part of any local, regional, national, or online movement, clique, or club. This wasn't out of a desire to make a point; really, it's just that I didn't enjoy or need that kind of thing, for whatever reasons. It is true that, having grown up in a town of 225 in the High Sierra, I was indeed a hick with a built-in eccentricity feature. I was West Coast, and in spite of all the powerful regional movements in American poetry, the East still rules. I grew up in an era when there were legions of male poets who fashioned themselves hard-drinking tough guys who, when they taught classes, liked to be cruel, or to not show up, and to cultivate some version of a renegade persona. It got so de rigeur that I recoiled from it.

Nowadays, I avoid all the online groups and cliques, although I say, "More power to them." Whatever gets and keeps poets writing is more or less all right with me. I'm still drawn to poetry that goes against the grain in some easily discernible way. I never got the hang of L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry, although I got what they were aiming for. Too often, it just seemed like gibberish or, when not gibberish, excessively taxing on the reader's patience.

I think much African American and otherwise "ethnic" poetry--Latino/a/x, Asian American (many sub-groups), Native American--brings a huge amount of energy and innovation to poetry and is often the best of the Spoken Word stuff.

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ins and Outs

A cat is walking in and
walking out as a tide is going
out and coming in as metro
trains are going out and
coming in as harmonica
buskers suck notes in
and blow notes out,

as workers enter and exit
buildings of their jobs
as your breath is going
out and coming in as
your sense of consciousness
is pulling back, now
pushing forth--in

this moment, as you
observe to yourself
you are alive.

hans ostrom 2019

Unicorn and Dragon

A unicorn asked a dragon,
"Would you like to exist
in material form?" "Hell

no," the dragon answerd.
"My breath would set
my head on fire."

"Prefer the myth,
my mono-spiked friend."
"Thank you," said the unicorn.

hans ostrom 2019

Seeds in My Bed

Dark brown seeds
in my bed. From bread.
(Bed is a place for sleep,
books, and sex. Beyond
these three, life does have
a few other highlights.)

The seeds look like tiniest
canoes. I'm going to sleep
beside them because I
am not moved to tidy up.

I won't have the recurring
dream of lying flat in a canoe
and floating down a river,
night, many others floating
in their canoes beside me.

The river rivers me
toward a sunny place where
people seem okay and help
me ashore. Because the

brown seeds made me want
to dream that dream,
the law of dreams will not
let me dream it. Goodnight.

hans ostrom 2019

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wood Carving

Is this wood
in the mood
for steel? The
shape you see
in there is real.
It's not a distant
form. Your body
warms as you
dig in, asking
grain if it's seen
the spoon you
want. Of course
it has. A basic

sensuality abides
in this old craft,
which predates sin.
Odd, and good,
how body and
attention mold
themselves around
the task. Shavings
and gougings fly
like fat snowflakes.
Wood remaining
repeats a mantra
to you as you carve:
carver, slow down. 

hans ostrom 2019

An Opening

Gamblers and philosophers--Pascal was both--
need a system. Poets with a system wake up
one morning or night and the system is lying
next to them like a suit of armor made entirely
of mollusks. Unsatisfactory. Poets need openings,
not systems. There is life and there is language
and there are openings between the two and poets
look for them. Here's an opening: go through.

hans ostrom 2019

Of Morpheus

Last night Morpheus, dream
distributor, sent a severed head
to my sleep. I couldn't decide
what to do with the head. I carried
it around, stored it, hid it, hid from it.
This took several seconds or a year.

People in the dream, extras,
noticed the head and discussed me
when I was absent, and I heard
everything they said, which is how
waking life should work. They
began to think less and less of me,
and I started to hate myself
more and more. I never asked
who the head belonged to. I

took it with me underground,
cool moist rooms of concrete
and steel. Strange chambers.
I could not just finish the dream
and bury the head. Chest full
of panic. Eyelids fluttering
outside the dream like butterflies

The head rotted on my lap.
I sat and rocked myself awake.
Awake, I told Morpheus to fuck off.

hans ostrom 2019