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Allison Power

The last installment of this month’s Poem of the Week is a special one: three poems by Paul Violi—poems originally published in his first full-length collection In Baltic Circles by Kulchur Foundation in 1973 and now reissued by H_NGM_N Books.

When choosing poems these last three weeks, I had Paul in mind, and it wasn’t hard to cull from the multitudes of former Paul Violi students whose work (and lives) have been influenced by him. I could fill a whole year of Poem[s] of the Week with Violi-inspired verse. Which isn’t to say Paul encouraged his students to imitate his style (you can’t ape wit, charm, and unrelenting curiosity) nor that he had a heavy hand when editing his students’ poems (on the contrary, he knew just how to nudge you in the right direction—your direction).

Before Paul passed away suddenly in April 2011 of pancreatic cancer, he was working on the reissue of In Baltic Circles with H_NGM_N. Recently released, the new volume includes an introduction by Nate Pritts and an afterword by Matt Hart, with the original 1973 cover portrait by Paula North.

“It is my hope,” says Pritts in his introduction to the reissued 192-page-volume, “that by making this book available again, new and return readers can joyously remember that the antidote to indifference is zany generosity, to counter detachment with a limitless range of feeling.” It is that “limitless range” that makes reading Paul Violi so exhilarating, perhaps most inspiring—and for which I’m most thankful.

–Allison Power, November 2011

(Special thanks to Ann Violi, Charles and Paula North, Tony Towle, Matt Hart, and H_NGM_N Books.)

***Paul Violi Memorial Reading: Friday, December 2, 6:30 PM, The New School

Theresa Lang Community and Student Center,
Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor.

***In Baltic Circles can be purchased here and here.

 

ON THE RISE

__East on 7th Street
like portraits, dusty oils, an old immigrant
sitting behind each window

White monster garbage truck
grinds up yesterday

____grim tramp in the alley
____rummaging through cans
_____drops a scrap into his burlap bag
_______and totters away

____________Sway-back Pegasus
moseying over toward the park
_________and a few spades
bopping locomotive
motherfucker-motherfucker-motherfucker

But the street a stream
_____________Mira! Mira!
kids dragging their girlfriends
into the open priapic hydrants

__Fast clouds over the hot day
smell of moisture in the air
and suddenly trees
anxious and lively
__________below the imminent rain

include girls dancing
and a muffled rock beat

_____long hair tossing

___________saying climb on me

___________saying
_____________welcome to the sky


EXCERPTS FROM THE CHRONICLES

My tooth aches and a drowsy numbness pains
__my head; the gas the dentist gave me
sent me soaring through a pinhole in the sky
__It was, to my estimation, Zero Hour

___________________****

Throwing books out of high windows
________only to see them descend again
later, as I sit under the lamp
____and the wasted moths fall into my lap

It’s a difficult habit to break

___________________****

Planes lost in the fog, monotonous lullabies,
They’ll drone on for a while, they’ll sputter
and crash and briefly disturb the crickets

but then, my white hour, we will finally sleep

___________________****

A housing development continues its glacial
movement through the hills
Impossibilities flounder on the opposite horizon

. . . yank the paper out of the typewriter, crumple
it up, toss it on the floor
The cat pounces, struts away triumphantly holding
the paper in its mouth like a bird

___________________****

In a large, unfurnished sunlit room
a man nails an extraordinary book to the floor

___________________****

I went to my favorite restaurant
and ordered a typewriter
While I typed I watched this typewriter
eat corn off the cob

___________________****

O hollow autumn skies rusty madness
fumes of red voyages down wooden streets

Your clowns bore me
The exhausted women in the willow trees
have thrown their costumes under the setting sun
I don’t believe in the benefits of an eight hour sleep
I will prolong this fatigue as long as possible
Chaos will wear my composure like a wound
The wind will polish my nose

___________________****

There is a fly in the room
with a reward on its head
Heinrich Himmler looked like a fly
No, Joseph Goebbels looked like a fly
Heinrich Himmler looked like a bookworm

___________________****

You klutz, you can’t scribble without drawing a pile of rope

___________________****

The radio announcer finished playing his selection
and addressed the panel.
___Dr. Sandler was convinced the music was an early
___concerto by Haydn.
___Dr. Salmaggio doubted this very much but tended
___to agree.
___Dr. Winetz scoffed at these speculations: “All
of what you say is mere words, he protested, I have
no respect for them whatsoever, they are much
too subservient to your thoughts!”
___I, myself, found the discussion worthwhile
but couldn’t give it the attention it undoubtedly
deserved and continued shuffling through the house,
pants down around my ankles, searching for toilet paper.

___________________****

The nights were as black as carbon paper
and the days
were exact copies of all the rest.

___________________****

_____Notice

This elevator is not working today.
Just consider it an anonymous eulogy.
Please use the 53rd Street entrance.
Thank you for your cooperation—

_______________The Management


APPROACHING URANUS

Will everyone have a front row seat
Do our eyes appear as headlights
Does the glow increase while we think
Explain these nipples on my chest
Where was the Land of Cockaigne
What about the face of Charlemagne
Why warts
Did someone discover the wheel by stepping
_on his fingers at the brink of a hill
Can you appreciate the modulations of a vicious belch
Where are the plays of Menander
Does the Loch Ness Monster ring a bell
Do impure souls lend color to the flames
Do you find these myths entertaining
Or superfluous
Am I a Calvinist
Whither Martin Bormann
Has someone already asked you these questions
Have I already asked you these questions
How will I know you’re not lying
How will you know you’re not lying
Is perfection comforting
What if it isn’t


Photo: Paul Violi and daughter, Helen, ca. 1973. Courtesy of Ann Violi.

_________________________________________________________

Paul Violi wrote eleven books of poetry during his lifetime, including Overnight, Fracas, The Curious Builder, and Likewise, from Hanging Loose Press, and a selection of his longer poems, Breakers, from Coffee House Press. Widely published and anthologized both here and abroad, he received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in poetry, as well as grants from the Ingram Merrrill Foundation, The New York Foundation for the Arts, the Fund for Poetry, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and a John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001 he received The Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Violi was born in New York in 1944. He grew up in Greenlawn, Long Island, and graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Art History. After a stint in the Peace Corps doing map completion and survey work in northern Nigeria, Violi traveled extensively through Africa, Europe and Asia. Upon returning to New York he worked for WCBS-TV, then for various newspapers and magazines. He was managing editor of The Architectural Forum from 1972—1974 and worked on free-lance projects at Universal Limited Art Editions, researching correspondence of poets and artists and assisting Bucky Fuller while he wrote the text to Tetrascroll. As chairman of the Associate Council Poetry Committee, Violi organized a series of readings at the Museum of Modern Art from 1974 to 1983. He also co-founded Swollen Magpie Press, which produced poetry chapbooks, the poets and painters anthology Broadway edited by James Schuyler and Charles North, and a poetry magazine called New York Times.

Waterworks, a short selection of his early poems from Toothpaste Press, appeared in 1972, and Kulchur Press published In Baltic Circles the following year. Bill Zavatsky’s Sun Press published two of Violi’s books, Harmatan, a long poem set in Nigeria, in 1977 and Splurge in 1981. In 1993 he curated an exhibit “Kenneth Koch: Collaborations with Artists” for Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, U.K., and his art book collaborations with Dale Devereux Barker, most recently Envoy; Life is Completely Interesting, have been acquired by many libraries and museums. The expanded text of their first collaboration, Selected Accidents, Pointless Anecdotes, a collection of non-fiction prose, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 2002.

Violi taught at colleges and universities, public and private institutions—New York University, The Dalton School, Sing-Sing, Stevens Institute of Technology, Bloomfield College, State University of New York at Purchase, Scarsdale Teachers Insititute. At the time of his death, he was teaching in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and in the graduate writing program at New School University.

Be Frank, Franco

Do you smell the morning breath
And farts on the MTA as we all
Flutter to work?

Watch baseball on weeknights?
Write poems about kind
Looking homely strangers?

About Boners? Bombs? Do you think
You’re a quarter homo like me?
Do thoughts of Asian’s speaking

French and Italian occupy
Your thoughts?
Do the incredible backs of

Swimmers and legs of runners
Make you want to touch strangers?
Do the feet of babies look like

Chicken nuggets to you?
Do you live off a local train stop?
Did you hear what they did

To the “criminals”? Did you
Loose your appetite for war too?
Do you ever sleep enough?

Do you love mothers as I do?
Do you take back lies you tell
With the truth?

Do you count your push-ups and
Sit-ups? And do you feel your
Body sculpting from the inside

Out? Do you think everyone’s
Knees are different? (I said knees
Not needs)

What have you answered yes to?
All of it? Say yes, James.
Say yes.

_________________________________________________

Ashleigh Allen was born in Toronto, Canada and currently lives in New York City where she teaches and writes poems.

As Far as Height’s Concerned

There really should be more sugar
maples in the valley below. I don’t know
how we know, but we know they’d be perfect
as far as height’s concerned. Show me more

photographs of eccentric strangers
on your camera phone—more earrings,
more baggage, more footwear, more
than I can carry with these arms too short
to be viewed from the street’s perspective.

In the gaudiest museum stairwell, each plate
of glass reveals a doorway to a unit
of music & diction—a personal funhouse.

Patrons snap shots of Manets to capture
the shades, from brown syrup to white ash.

_______________________________________________________________
Kevin Shea is originally from Quincy, MA. He now lives in Brooklyn, NY and currently works at The New School for Social Research. He is also a recent graduate of the MFA program at The New School. His writing has previously appeared in The Alembic, Asinine Poetry, The Equalizer, and is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety.

Terracotta Lawyers

Insofar as the apple never flees
the shadow of its tree,
I need a new image
to sanctify multiplicity.
To make a start, not of particulars
but rather, the incidentals—
outlining the propriety of uncertainty
in syllogistic scree.
I like counting dust bunnies
while still keening from a dream,
reflecting when suggestion
barely holds a charge;
or, embracing the holding patterns
high over American cities—
to not accept but love one’s fate,
that is the genius of the Greek.
We know this from our teacher,
the Pisan from Green Lawn,
who was fond of the Yiddish adage:
in some way we’re all fucked.
Know it now as the imagination, what separates
my house from highway debris—
a flash of incongruity that laminates evening.
But tonight the sky is low not limitless,
projecting a simple myth,
like the show on obedient cats
emanating from the other room.

_______________________________________________________________
Aaron Simon is the author of Carrier (Insurance Editions, 2006), Periodical Days (Green Zone, 2007), and a third book in the oven. His poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Sal Mimeo, Insurance, Shiny, Gerry Mulligan, 12th Street, and Hyperion. He works in the financial services industry and lives in San Francisco with his two cats.

A CORSAGE

Feeling like “a very village of sorrow,”
Just like Franz Schubert, with each sad bourgeois
Dolorously doleful, I only said
When you asked me for my life-story,
“Well, the world is a funny place, un
Pleasant things can happen.”

I chewed
The silence, cryptic and stupidly.
I felt diminished by myself, much like
The passport photographs that make you look
Like an escaped convict or
The victim of circumstances.

I
Am the oyster shell, after the
Succulent seaworm’s been devoured,
With only the pretense of sea in your cupped
Ear.

The next day you wore a
Corsage of pansies.
Exultantly alive, serious scholars
Of melancholy, brave and lionhearted
With thoughtful thoughts.

Now
In this well of eyes before me, icy eyes,
Now in the Broadway 7th Avenue Van Cortlandt
Subway, feeling quite walled in, Henry
David Thoreau breaks the ice, says
“Time is the stream I go a
Fishing in—what about
You?”

I, Henry, will study
These pansies, profoundest
Professors of the world’s woes.

ANOTHER POET CALLED DAVID

I reached a point where there was no
Use going on: my companion said, “Do not waken
The watchman, do not shout, he will die
Of shock if you make the slightest
Sound.” I stood in the utter darkness,
Cold. Without evidence of myself.

The technique of diversion con-
Founds the rival by simulating friendship or
As the Victorians might say, worming
Affections. Then, at the point of trust,
As on this dark stage where on man sleeps
Slumped by the flashlight, to change the
Mode of address, from friend-
Ship to a complete stranger, to shriek-
Ing subtlety, to innuendo, and back to
Friendship. The executive wishes to
Demoralize his employee, perhaps he is slightly
Jealous?

I do not know. At the same time I could not enjoy
The enchanting silly coffee waves, sometimes
Sapphire, which is the fluid stream of our life.
Since then, like William James, I have learned
Ice-skating in my August, after—

At that point I returned;
Since there was no point going on I went back,
I spoke again to the marvelous friends of
My youth: for a short while it was a life.

That you were not willing I am sorry.

REFLECTIONS ON VIOLENCE

I dislike going with a woman
Into a restaurant. There is
A plot of mirrors
All designed to make me self-conscious.

“—Will you
Please top looking at yourself
In your exquisite Cloisonné compact.
Your lips, your hair is
Very nice. Everybody’s eyes say
So.”

O voyeurs! intruding
On my domestic date, do you see
Any glory in this ancient
Ritual?

Hunters of
The unshuttered nudes of accidental windows.

PROSPECT PARK

I would like to ask that dumb ox, Thomas
Aquinas, why it is, that when you have said
Something — you said it — then they ask you
A month later if it is true? Of course it is!
It is something about them I think. They think
It is something about me. It adds up
To my thinking I must be what I don’t
Know . . .

— The park is certainly
Tranquil tonight: lovers, like ants
Are scurrying into any old darkness,
Covert for kisses. It makes me feel
Old and lonely. I wish that I were
All of them, not with any one,
Would I exchange my lot, but the entire
Scene has a certain Breughel quality
I would participate in. —

Do I have to repeat
Myself. I really mean it.
I am not saying it again to convince myself
But to convince the repressed conviction
Of yourself. I think. I think. I think it.

In honor of the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio’s death, the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome is hosting the most major exhibition of his work in, well,—ever.

Caravaggio settled in Rome at the age of 21. There he soon earned a notorious reputation, constantly brawling and womanizing. In 1606 he stabbed and killed his opponent in a game of royal tennis and fled Rome a wanted man. He escaped to Malta then back to Italy—to Sicily and Naples—where his troubles continued. In July of 1610, still in exile, he died in Porto Ercole, a peninsula on the Tuscan coast.

The exhibition (open until June 13th) has brought Caravaggio’s most important works that have been scattered about the world back to Rome, including Bacchus from the Uffizi, the Musicians from the MET, the Lute Player from the Hermitage, Amor Vincit Omnia from the Staatliche Museum, Supper at Emmaus from the National Gallery in London, and The Taking of Christ (“The Lost Painting”) from The National Gallery of Ireland.

Some of Caravaggio’s paintings cannot be exhibited, as they are permanently placed in various churches, but if you’re in Rome you can visit them easily. The Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo (in Piazza del Popolo) houses The Crucifixion of Saint Peter. And The Calling of Saint Matthew is tucked away in the Contarelli Chapel at the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi (also there: The Inspiration of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew).

In short, if you can make it to Rome before June 13th, do it. (I just found cheap tickets on bing.com). And in preparation for the trip The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr is recommended.

The Calling of Saint Matthew

In 1977, Bill Berkson and Bernadette Mayer began a kind of interview correspondence where with they exchanged questions and answers on a variety of topics. This mutual interview continued well into the mid-80s (and still continues intermittently between Berkson and Mayer today). A book on their letters, questions, and answers titled: What’s Your Idea of a Good Time? was published a few years ago (you can find it on amazon and Alibris).

I recommend it for Bill and Bernadette’s incendiary answers, of course, but also for the questions posed (great material for cocktail parties, I might add). Often the questions one asks can be more revealing than their answers.

Here are some questions posed in the collection. I invite people to respond and pose questions of their own.

What’s your idea of a good time?

What does distance mean, in poetry?

Are poets “normal”?

What is luck or blessedness? Is it related to the sublime?

Are you the same person you were 10 years ago?

How do you decide what to wear (regardless of the weather)?

What do you think of Rousseau’s paintings?

Is poetry a residue? And of what?

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

What is your secret inner life?

Are you interested in the Mafia?

What poems do you know by heart?

How often do you think about death?

How do you feel about children watching television?

Do you like J. Pollock’s paintings?

What are your rules for your own behavior?

Tell me something you don’t understand.

CHAPTER 10 (from Tracking the Marvelous by John Bernard Myers)

“Did Grace Hartigan really look like the photograph Cecil Beaton took of her?” I was asked recently. Yes, she did. I was cross the day I first climbed the stairs to her studio on Essex Street. Oh God, I was saying to myself, another female painter whose talent will belie her appearance. There Grace was at the top of the stairs, waiting for me: tall, as “fresh as the month of May,” with what people used to call clean-cut American good looks. She smiled and put out her hand to pull me up the last step. The studio occupied the top floor of a three-storied building. On the ground floor was a shop that sold pickles and other delicatessen foods; there were barrels of pickles both outside and inside the store and the smell of vinegar, dill and spices permeated the building pleasantly. It was the heart of the lower east side; Orchard Street ran parallel two blocks to the west. The streets below the studio were full of pushcarts, trucks, hucksters, merchants of every sort shouting their myriad wares.

“Isn’t it a heavenly spot to live in!” cried Grace. “Have a dill pickle.” The studio was divided in two—the rear half was the work space of her friend Alfred Leslie, who soon made his appearance. He was six years younger than Grace, about twenty then; they were very fond of each other… I liked them and they liked me and I knew I had two more recruits for my gallery before the visit was over. Their pictures entered my brain so immediately and I felt such enthusiasm for who they were as people that I was certain their art would arouse other people in the same way.

Grace painted large canvases in big, strong patches and swerves of color. The paint strokes were relaxed and swift, wide and narrow, since brushes of varying widths had been utilized. Like others of her generation, Hartigan believed in flat surfaces and “all-over” filling out.

Alfred Leslie had been born Alfred Lipitz in the Bronx. During his high school days he was a body builder, and by the time he was eighteen he was crowned Mr. Bronx… He and two friends decided that they didn’t like their names and should go as a threesome to have them legally changed at City Hall. Alfred was furious when the other two didn’t turn up and defiantly went ahead and changed his without his friends. He had already decided that he would become a Great Artist. Indeed, his drawings done during his adolescence indicated a large natural talent. He could draw like an old master—a fact I would not have believed if Alfred hadn’t shown me his earliest efforts.

Alfred Leslie absorbed what was going on with gleeful enthusiasm. Making it new was attention-getting; Alfred’s narcissism shifted from the muscle-building Mr. Bronx to where the action was: Abstract Expressionism. He was particularly affected by the authority and sweep of de Kooning, and for several years his work reflected the influence of de Kooning’s middle period. Alfred was not alone in doing this—Michael Goldberg, Milton Resnick, Grace Hartigan, Paul Brach and many other young artists were equally dazzled. The new painters were not in revolt against their elders–many of the Second Generation were enchanted by Jackson Pollock and argued continuously as to which, Pollock or de Kooning, was the greatest master. (Bernard Myers, John. Tracking the Marvelous. New York: Random House, 1981. 125-128)

Grace Hartigan and Frank O'Hara

Nix on Nixon, 1960. Alfred Leslie.

I thought I’d share some Mayer sonnets, as Valentine’s day is almost upon us. Love nor the sonnet is standard in Mayer’s world, and she highlights the possibilities/ multiplicities of poetics and of love. After all, desire doesn’t always follow a neat and tidy pattern.

SONNET

So long honey, don’t ever come around again, I’m sick of you
& of your friends, you take up all my time & I don’t write
Poems cause I spend all my time wanting to fuck you & then
You put the apple onto the grilled cheese, I tie you up

Save me from your respective beauties, keep them home
Thanks for all the rock & roll music, if such a
Thing can be said. Who are those guys? The B-52’s?
That’s what Ethie told me. Can I believe her?

You wanna get married? You tie me up with
Garter belts & less than Heidegger & Kierkegaard the fact
That as we know the poem is not the thought so a slap
Might notice that Uranus suspected a comet? Let me know

He kicks her fallen hat & they are not grownup
Any more than a vase of flowers is, painted, so what?

INCIDENTS REPORT SONNET
for Grace

Woke up from dream on
July 9 1965, dream was erotic
(can’t remember what was in it),
I think the woman was attempting
to sit on her chair while
lifting the man’s wallet
but then on the boatride my hand
got caught in the elevator door
by the firecracker tossed in
by a child who was a woman as missing
as the coffee money, anyway I
lost balance and, falling, woke up
jerking off through the chair,
another chair, was still falling
on my foot, sorry.

INCANDESCENT WAR POEM SONNET

Even before I saw the chambered nautilus
I wanted to sail not in the us navy
Tonight I’m waiting for you, your letter
At the same time his letter, the view of you
By him and then by me in the park, no rhymes
I saw you, this is in prose, no it’s not
Sitting with the molluscs & anemones in an
Empty autumn enterprise baby you look pretty
With your long eventual hair, is love king?
What’s this? A sonnet? Love’s a babe we know that
I’m coming up, I’m coming, Shakespeare only stuck
You have to get young Americans some ice cream
In the artificial light in which she woke