John Berryman is turning 100! And you aren’t. So on Friday, October 24, let’s all go down to Mother Foucault's and drink 100 drinks for Henry.
I drew my friend, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, as part of an ongoing portrait series. JMW is coming to town next weekend and will read with Eleni Sikelianos and Endi Bogue Hartigan at Literary Arts downtown on Sept. 27.
Also, I’d like to start a portrait series of strangers (to me), so if you’d like me to draw a portrait of someone you know, to eventually give to them, I’m now open for paid commissions. Send me an email.
Literary Arts turned 30 last night. I was a 2010 Oregon Book Awards finalist, a 2013 winner; my small local poetry press, Octopus Books, was awarded a fellowship in 2009; I’ve read poems in front of big and brilliant audiences at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and the Gerding Theater at the Armory, among other places; I am finally starting my novel with the help of a novel class that Literary Arts is offering; I’ve led a workshop of my own, and am about to lead another, and all because of Literary Arts. So when they asked me to write them a poem for their 30th anniversary, and read it at the Schnitz, sharing a stage with Elizabeth Gilbert, Calvin Trillin and Colin Meloy, I couldn’t have been more proud. I am so grateful for their support, confidence and attention since I arrived in Portland in 2008. Literary Arts, congratulations on turning 30. And, so sincerely, thank you.
I used one of their phrases that often appears in their newsletters, “Words Matter,” as a bit of a prompt for the poem I wrote them. Here it is:
By the age of 30, we’ve said all
the words we’re ever going to say.
We’ve said buttercup, for example.
We’ve said layercake and horseshit
and flautist. We’ve said willy nilly
for the umpteenth time. We’ve never
met a man from Bora Bora
we didn’t like, which is true.
We haven’t. And just like that,
we’ve said Bora Bora too. We have about
40 words for loneliness more or less—
I can think of about 8 of them
right now—and I’ve said all of them
in my old bed staring at the water
stain that looks like my cousin Mike
in a Hawaiian shirt, or in the kitchen
of that sad studio apartment on Burnside
while on the phone with my mother
who was always alone in the kitchen
I grew up in in Council Bluffs,
or to someone’s dog when its
owner wasn’t looking. Forlorn, I’d say.
Disconnected. Remember before
we had remote controls and I had to sit
so close to the television so I could turn
the channel knob for you, Mom?—
this is how a conversation
with my mom would go—and the volume
knob, how you wanted it just right
and it never seemed just right
for you? You would say, turn it up,
but just a hair, and I would pluck a fine
white hair from the front of my head,
line it up just right with the knob,
and barely turn it, reveling already
in the beautiful way words work.
Also do you remember how you
would get so upset at how close
I was always sitting to the television.
Well, remote is one of those words too.
I once visited the grave of a woman
who choked to death on a hot dog
late one night, alone, on her back porch
under a silver moon. How sad it must
have been to know that it would be
a hot dog that would eventually take us down.
Maybe all I would have been able to think
about would be the words hot and dog,
and maybe that is the saddest of all things,
that in that final moment, such an awful
couple of words like hot dog would haunt
and haunt my last seconds. And how panicked
her face must have looked in those
last seconds before the warm black wave
rolled over it and calmed her eyes.
Did she see the moon? How did it look?
What words could she have said about it
if that hot dog weren’t wedged in her throat
keeping some beautiful string of them
trapped in her heart? Would any of them
have been new, some new word spilling out
like a shiny swift from a chimney in the dark?
And what were her last words? Could they
have been hot dog, the very thing that
took her—how cruel. How much crueler
it would be though, that if on our first day
after turning 30, words would begin to just
go away once we use them once—like just another
super-finite resource to be protected, and to
not use our words is never a kind of protection.
Would the first one to go almost always be I.
And then the second almost always be why.
We’d immediately be made to deal with not
being the center of our own universes,
and not being curious. We’d save love
for when our father dies, and then we’d
stare and blink helplessly
at our mothers as they crumpled up like wads
of paper in front of us. Remote control, mom,
I’d maybe have to say then, if I could even
be so lucky. And I would have to pluck out
another hair, a hair that is just as much hers
as mine. How else can we know if something
is too loud, how something is not loud enough,
and then how to love becomes like dying
through the sounds. I once saw my face
in the silver side of a mylar balloon
half-emptied of helium just hovering there
at face-level. There you are, I thought. Yes,
there I am. Not here, but there. Not
the balloon, but me, my face in the convex mirror,
over there, floating without a body, and so
slowly dying. A much slower
kind of choking, a long life of choking
as happily as I can, the kind where I get
to pick every word I get to think,
and to say out loud, with all of my breath,
as I die. This is what I will think of the moon
above me in my last moments.
And out loud I will get to say
You look like a silver balloon
with my face dying in it,
silver moon, and my words will hold it up
and my words will make it so
and unlike the moon
my words will never die
Octopus Books has finished reading all of our manuscript submissions from April, and after duking it all out, we’ve decided to publish Dan Hoy’s The Deathbed Editions in the summer of 2015.
We chose Dan Hoy’s work from these finalists, every one of which we’d be more than proud to be the publisher of:
2014 April Reading Period Finalists:
Anne’s Heart is a Bomb by Brooke Ellsworth
Popular Music by Kelly Schirmann
Two Suns by Elizabeth Clark Wessel
Dear Warrior Motel by Julia Story
Cow of Sleep by Patrick Culliton
Things that Go by Laura Eve Engel
Oosh Boosh by Shannon Burns
Tomahawks by Bill Carty
I Love You but I Don’t Speak Your Language by Jason Bredle
After reading our manuscript submissions submitted in May for our first annual Octopus Books poetry-in-translation series, we chose to publish Noontimes Won by Tristan Tzara, translated by Heather Green.
So, our catalog for the next two years looks like this:
Fall 2014 - Summer 2015
The Father of the Arrow is the Thought by Christopher DeWeese
Indian by Marisol Limon Martinez
Broadax by Amy Lawless
The Deathbed Editions by Dan Hoy
Noontimes Won by Tristan Tzara, translated by Heather Green
Fall 2015—Summer 2016
How I Became a Hum by Eric Baus
Weirde Sister by James Gendron
Inauguration Day by Emily Kendal Frey
(2015 April Reading Selection)
(Translation Series Selection)
I’ll be on the mic for a special set with Thai Food (can you guess which band this is?) for the AKA music fest at the Burgundy Wildcat this Saturday. Change your own name and go there.
Two of my poems from Fjords vol 1, “Hands” and “The Killing Trees”, have been turned into songs by Kelly Schirmann and posted here.
I have a couple new recordings up at Austin Hayden’s 90’s Meg Ryan project. They are translations of sorts from two of Zachary Schomburg’s poems, Hands and The Killing Trees. There’s also a bunch of other stuff from rad geniuses like Sampson Starkweather, Leora Fridman, Donald Dunbar, Morgan Parker, Dillon J. Welch, & lots of others. I recommend listening to them while brainstorming ways to decolonize our society of its own institutionalized shittiness.
Day 42: Garberville, CA