I haven’t been posting this month because I was traveling. I attended the excellent Moss Wood Retreat, a generative writing retreat that was just an amazing experience. Again. I’ll tell you more about that later, when I’m not frantically editing the novel I’m going to pitch this coming weekend at DFWCon!
In the meantime, have an earworm. This song embedded itself in my brain while I was driving between Boston and Cape Rosier on my trip. I was entranced by this video back in the day, when the Sid and Marty Krofft puppets were The It Thing. They even had their own political satire show every weekend that aired after Saturday Night Live. Good stuff.
So if you’ve been around here for long, you know that I am occasionally a guest on the LivingArt show on KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica radio station. Two weeks ago my cousin Justin and I were interviewed about our poetry, and tonight I had the chance to be a co-host on the show. I interviewed Anthony Suber, who is a visual artist and art teacher here in Houston; he has also been showing his paintings and sculptures for a long time — including internationally. He does fantastic work, sometimes multi-media, and engages really thoughtfully with culture and current social issues through his art. It’s excellent stuff, and he’s excellent, too.
If you’d like to hear the broadcasts, it will be up in the archives for a few more weeks. Click on April 25th to hear Justin and me, and click on May 9th for the interview with Anthony.
And watch this space: I just might start co-hosting there now and then. It’s fun and — surprisingly — not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I’m grateful to Bucky Rea and Mike McGuire and Mike Woodson for the opportunity to be a part of it!
So we come to the end of another National Poetry Month, and I’ve loved sharing these thirty poems with you, and I realize I haven’t included enough prose-poems, a form I rather like.
Here is one by Fady Joudah, a poet who is also my friend who also lives in the same city I do (more or less) whom I also don’t see very often for long stretches at a time and then we find ourselves in the same place over and over again for a few weeks or a few months. I love that.
He and I were both coincidentally featured at a reading in February. Then both coincidentally featured on a radio program last week. Who knows what will be next or when?
Here is his poem “Palestine, Texas” from his latest collection Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance — which, by the way, is absolutely wonderful, if not his best thus far.
“I’ve never been,” I said to my friend who’d just come back from there. “Oh you should definitely go,” she said. “The original Palestine is in Illinois.” She went on, “A pastor was driven out by Palestine’s people and it hurt him so badly he had to rename somewhere else after it. Or maybe it goes back to a 17th century Frenchman who traveled with his vision of milk and honey, or the nut who believed in dual seeding.” “What’s that?” I asked. “That’s when an egg is fertilized by two sperm,” she said. “Is that even viable?” I asked. “It is,” she said, “on rare occasions, though nothing guarantees the longevity of the resulting twins.” She spoke like a scientist but was a professor of the humanities at heart. “Viability,” she added, “depends on the critical degree of disproportionate defect distribution for a miracle to occur. If there is life, only one twin lives.” That night we went to the movies looking for a good laugh. It was a Coen brothers’ feature whose unheralded opening scene rattled off Palestine this, Palestine that and the other, it did the trick. We were granted the right to exist. It must have been there and then that my wallet slipped out of my jeans’ back pocket and under the seat. The next morning, I went back. With a flashlight that the manager had lent me I found the wallet unmoved. This was the second time in a year that I’d lost and retrieved this modern cause of sciatica in men. Months earlier it was at a lily pond I’d gone hiking to with the same previously mentioned friend. It was around twilight. Another woman, going in with her boyfriend as we were coming out, picked it up, put it in her little backpack, and weeks later texted me the photo of his kneeling and her standing with right hand over her mouth, to thwart the small bird in her throat from bursting. If the bird escapes, the cord is severed, and the heart plummets. She didn’t want the sight of joy caught in her teeth. He sat his phone camera on its pod and set it in lapse mode, she wrote in her text to me. I welled up. She would become a bride and my wallet was part of the proposal. This made me a token of their bliss, though I’m not sure how her fiancé might feel about my intrusion, if he’d care at all. “It’s a special wallet,” I texted back. “It’s been with me for the better part of two decades ever since a good friend got it for me as a present.” “He was from Ohio,” I turned and said to my film mate who was listening to my story. “Ohio?” She seemed surprised. “Yes,” I replied quizzically. “There’s also a Palestine in Ohio,” she said. “Barely anyone lives there anymore. All of them barely towns off country roads.”
Fady Joudah has published four collections of poems, The Earth in the Attic, Alight, Textu, a book-long sequence of short poems whose meter is based on cellphone character count; and, most recently, Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance. He has translated several collections of poetry from the Arabic. He was a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2007 and has received a PEN award, a Banipal/Times Literary Supplement prize from the UK, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in Houston, with his wife and kids, where he practices internal medicine.
If there has been one constant refrain in our most recent history, it’s that we must not lose hope. In the face of outstanding stupidity, intolerable cruelty, and just garden-variety meanness, our endurance is what will allow us to outsmart the extraordinary nonsense and significant peril that has become the waters we swim in. If I had my choice, I would fly above that muddy river. I am growing wings.
Here is one more poem by that unmistakable goddess of poetry, Emily Dickinson, and in the video linked below you can see a child signing it while a celebrity reads it aloud.
You can click here for an official biographical statement about Emily Dickinson. In short, she’s widely considered one of America’s top five historical poets, alongside William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes. Her poetry confounds some, much as her life must have, but as far as I’m concerned she’s awesome and way ahead of the minds who attempted to dismiss her. She is, perhaps, a shining example of a woman who did not conform to what society expected of her.