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Bianca Stone

Reading Goat In The Snow

emilypetit

Emily Pettit’s lush lines unfold and unfold and unfold. She’s a master of the short line, gorgeously complex in her use of dark themes (strongest being a version of intense human anxiety) and poignantly reveals these themes in an unselfconscious, direct voice. The distinctive “leaping” I find in so much great poetry of our generation (the feeling of non-sequitur logic and negative space between lines), is conquered by Pettit. But what’s so powerful about her poems is that she never loses the initial thread which allows each poem to remain entirely distinctive and unique, rather then forgoing sense. Each individual poem, like a planet in a solar system, orbits; sometimes harkening back to others nearby. Her poems are introverted planets, with extroverted survival skills, in a chaotic universe.

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No one, I think, is quite as masterful at titles as Emily Pettit. In her book Goat in the Snow (Birds, LLC 2012) they’re like poems above poems. Thus, the relationship between the poem and the title on the page is powerful. Take the poem “HOW TO APPEAR NORMAL IN FRONT OF YOUR ENEMY OR COMPETITOR.” The first line is “Damn icebox and my fist, I didn’t hit it.” The humor and seriousness of the juxtaposing lines are brilliant. It’s dramatic irony at its best in poetry. There’s so much authority and wisdom in the voice, mixed with a kind of vulnerability that resists the didactic. Similarly, the clerical precision—or Pettit’s statements—resist any hint of melodrama. But she’s not afraid of beauty:

All over town footprints are flying. When walking
on tiptoes we ignite suspicious minds. Hovering,
hanging out nowhere near the ground.
I’m on my way to the end of the world again.

(from HOW TO HIDE AN ELEPHANT)

Within the controlled leaping are these moments of lyrical explosions.  “When I blow everything up / I promise I won’t put everything back / together in the old comfortable ways.” Pettit wants the sentiments, the conceits, to be precise. But she also knows that precision is absolute, fixed. So we’re shown one problem and how to fix it, and then why it shouldn’t be fixed but celebrated. Goat in the Snow is, in a sense, is a celebration of art and expression. It invites the reader to embrace a kind of chaos. Emily Pettit is one of the most promising, gifted poets of our generation because she can ask questions without an answer. Because she can fluctuate in humor, as well as complex, important themes. What I find most clandestine about the book is that the speaker is deceptively coy. When she tells us to put an elephant in our pocket so “it can be the elephant in the room / that no one ever talks about” it’s not simply endearing: she’s calling us out. She wants us to pay attention. And that’s just what I’m going to do. Something intense is happening. And Emily Pettit knows it.

Emily Card

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Things Warren loves:

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Warren Craghead III lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA with his wife and two daughters. See more at www.craghead.com.

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Alina Gregorian‘s poems have been published in Sink Review, Boston Review, GlitterPony, and other journals. She curates a video poetry reading series at the Huffington Post, co-curates Triptych Readings, and co-edits the collaboration journal Bridge. She teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is here.

Related Linkage

Waking Up
Tea Time
Before Bed
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Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton, 2012), winner the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010), winner of the Crab Orchard Series First Book Award. A former Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, she’s currently a doctoral candidate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow at Western Michigan University.

Eryn Cruft lives in Bloomington, IN but will soon be leaving for London to study for a Master’s degree in Language and Cognition at King’s College. Previous collaborations with Traci Brimhall have appeared in Guernica and Nashville Review. Eryn has also contributed work to the Undergraduate Journal of Cognitive Science.

(an excerpt from ‘Comics Poetry: Beyond Sequential Boundaries’)

Can one see, indeed, that a painter or a poet never starts a painting or a poem before they have been carried to see it more or less by their spirit, in its simultaneity of principle elements…? ~ Rodolphe Töpffer, Réflexions et menus propos d’un peintre genevois

Finding connections between comics and poetry has been my focus for a few years now. It’s an interest shared with a field of talented creators including Matt Madden, Warren Craghead, Bianca Stone, Paul K. Tunis, Alexander Rothman, Derik Badman, Summer Browning, Michael Farrell, Eryon Franklin, Franklin Einspruch and Julie Delporte, to name too few. Given this growing commitment to comics and poetry, (evident in recent articles, exhibitions, and symposiums), this article discusses comics theory, its relevance to experimental forms and possibilities for the future of comics poetry.

Existing comics research often borrows concepts from narrative theory, film and cultural studies as well as visual communication. But such comparisons have been criticised by various comics creators, like Gregory Gallant (a.k.a Seth), as increasingly inadequate. Seth argues

Comics are often referred to in reference to film and prose — neither seems that appropriate to me. The poetry connection is more appropriate because of both the condensing of words and the emphasis on rhythm. Film and prose use these methods as well, but not in such a condensed and controlled manner. Comic book artists have for a long time connected themselves to film, but in doing so have reduced their art to being merely a ‘storyboard’ approach (Seth, 2006, 19).

Storyboard approaches can be useful but they don’t reflect the potential for comics to communicate beyond sequential narrative boundaries. Scott McCloud, arguably the most influential comics scholar to date, tells us that possibilities for comics are seemingly endless, so too are attempts to define them (1993, 23). Yet by focusing on the notion of ‘closure’ and image interactions within closed grid structures, McCloud, like many comics critics, hasn’t encouraged comics concepts to expand very far past linear panel sequencing and narrative assumptions. Beyond McCloud’s definition of ‘images in deliberate sequence’ it’s possible to think of comics in terms of presenting simultaneous image-texts or web comics that feature hyperlinked content which takes readers in multiple directions rather than straight lines, or as a series of moments not bound by sequential panels and linear time constraints.

Interested in alternatives to linear, narrative analysis, (and wanting to talk to comics poets about their process), I started studying the ways poetry could be integrated in the creation and critique of comics. Speaking with several comics poetry creators, Matt Madden, Warren Craghead, Bianca Stone, Paul K. Tunis, Alexander Rothman, Derik Badman, Summer Browning, Michael Farrell, Eryon Franklin, Franklin Einspruch and Julie Delporte, it became apparent that the works they wanted to produce were those combining visual and verbal elements in ways that experimented with linear and narrative definitions of comics. Despite these attempts, and the growing field of alternative comics, the vocabulary of comics creation and criticism was largely limited to sequential definitions, narrative assumptions and linear modes of analysis. Comics critics like McCloud, Charles Hatfield, David Kunzle, David Beronä and Douglas Wolk, among others, view comics as narrative constructs, preferencing images in sequence over all other elements in the visual-verbal comics vocabulary. This narrative assumption is evidenced in Wolk’s review of Abstract Comics: The Anthology (ed. Molotiu, Andrei, 2009) in which he states, ‘anyone who’s used to reading more conventional sorts of comics is likely to reflexively impose narrative on these abstractions, to figure out just what each panel has to do with the next’. This statement is symptomatic of the narrative assumptions that limit aspects of comics criticism and creation.

While narrative assumptions have formulated useful ways of creating and understanding comics in sequential linear order, they give little insight into non-linear, non-narrative works. There are gaps in existing narrative approaches when it comes to discussing the spatial arrangement and simultaneity of works like Warren Craghead’s HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE, Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA, Michael Farrell’s BREAK ME OUCH or many comics collected in Kramer’s Ergot editions or Andrei Molotiu’s Abstract Comics. Thinking sequentially can limit ways of interacting with comics like those by Kenneth Koch or Chris Ware in which text and image are presented simultaneously, or comics poetry by Alexander Rothman, Bianca Stone and Richard Hahn that linger in liminal spaces, or comics poems created entirely without panels. Instead, it is possible to understand how comics can be created and read in multiple directions, to enter the poetic experience instead of imposing narrative on it, to examine the liminal spaces and new associations between non-sequential components rather than skimming panels for linear associations.

The need for alternatives to narrative analysis is also noted by Jan Baetens in the article ‘Abstraction in Comics’ (2011) where he argues ‘[t]his a priori approach to narrative in comics as a mere instantiation of narrative in general is now under pressure’ (2011, 94). According to Baetens, the ‘phenomenon of abstraction in comics’ is cause for critical rethinking of narrative assumptions and more formal, medium specific approaches, especially in analysis of non-narrative comics (2011). Baetens suggests

[a]bstraction seems to be what resists narrativization, and conversely narrativization seems to be what dissolves abstraction. Abstract comics melt in the air when narrative walks in—and vice versa. That said, the imposition of narrative, as Wolk calls it, is far from being a simple or self-evident affair: much of the material gathered under the flag of abstract comics does resist in a very active way any attempt at immediate recognition and narrative translation (2011, 95-96).

Despite the narrative resistance of many comics, narrative ‘upgrades’ are continually imposed by sequential modes of analysis (Baetens, 2011, 106). Baetens contends, however, that ‘it is no less possible to gradually “downgrade” the narrative strength of apparently very narrative panels, pages, or sequences by becoming sensitive to the power of abstractive mechanisms’ (2011, 106). By re-focusing attention on individual segments, abstraction can be apprehended, narrative collapses, giving way to other modes of reading and seeing within the work.

Besides Baetens, Brian McHale is another to illustrate that ‘the illusion that prose is a continuous medium, unsegmented, is a powerful one, with almost ideological force; nevertheless, it is demonstrably untrue’ (2009:23). Not only are there identifiable gaps between words, lines and pages, segmentation also occurs through seriality. This can be seen in comic series, where strips and episodes are released over months or years and characters passed from one creator to another. To address these gaps in narrative assumptions and the neglect of non-linear comics possibilities, ‘segmentivity’ presented a means to analysing both sequential and non-sequential comics. The concept of ‘segmentivity’ stems from Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ attempt to distinguish the components of poetry. According to DuPlessis, the underlying characteristic of poetry as a genre is its ‘ability to articulate and make meaning by selecting, deploying, and combining segments’(DuPlessis, 2006, 199). Segmentivity involves identifying and implementing ‘bounded units’ such as words, sentences, stanzas and spaces. Poetry, like all literary forms, is constructed of segments. Applied within comics, segmentivity can be used to examine the mechanics of panels, captions, speech balloons, gutters, typography, page layouts, countermeasure and the ways in which these elements can be used in both narrative and non-narrative, linear and non-linear contexts. Assessing where and how each visual or verbal segment is used can enable a richer understanding of spatial and syntactical experimentation.

Prior to captions and panels being placed in sequence, they are first ‘segmented’ as letters, words and images. These visual and verbal segments can then be accumulated and arranged in multiple ways. Not all of these components are inherently narrative, especially in the case of comics poetry and abstract comics. Accordingly, it can be argued that segmentation, not sequence, is the primary characteristic of comics. Sequence is a secondary element with narrative following behind. Narrative disclosure is dependent on the cognition and negotiation of gutters by the audience. This navigational process is what McCloud terms ‘closure’, where readers fill in gaps between panels, unifying visible and invisible moments to create ‘meaning’. Yet this process is not without issue as Dylan Horrocks and Neil Cohn contend. The practice of closure is also heavily reliant on panel structures and the narrative premise that gutters and spaces are to be leapt over, instead of explored as encouraged by many examples of comics poetry.

Traditionally, comics feature rectangular frames and nine-panel page grid structures with linear plot progressions. In poetry, meter and rhyme were once staple elements too, but modern techniques and technologies in both these forms have expanded possibilities through experimental spatial, syntactical and sound arrangements. Using segmentivity, creators and critics can understand that comics can present different perspectives of the same moment or image or idea, and that these moments can be equal to each other rather than sequential. Multi-linear and hyper-textual associations can also provide profitable alternatives that ‘overrun’ traditional image-text meanings. When one remains open to the ‘gaps’ and possibilities of both linear and non-linear readings in comics, as in poetry, profitable directions for navigating and creating new works appear.

Segmentivity moves towards an inclusive comics theory. This mosaic approach encompasses many modes of creation and criticism by focusing on the fundamental segments of visual and verbal language employed across all comics forms. Despite inclusive intentions, a question I’m often asked is whether such an approach is anti-narrative or anti-linear. In short, the answer is no. The process of identifying and applying segmentivity doesn’t dismiss narrative or linear forms, rather it enables visual and verbal components to be understood as pieces of a work that can contain both narrative and non-narrative elements depending on cognitive inclinations.

In testing the practical application of a theory of segmentivity I created the comics poetry series, ‘ANEKI’ in collaboration with five visual artists, Jackie Cavallaro, Skye O’Shea, Tamara Elkins, Anastasia McCloghry and Guillermo Batiz. The comics poems are symbolically and structurally based on the 78 cards of the tarot. These works can be read as narrative or non-narrative, in linear directions or in any formation of the cards. Through the lens of segmentivity, comics, like poems, have the potential to be understood in multiple directions. Combinations of visual and verbal segments are malleable and multi-linear. And although left to right reading and sequential ideology still dominate Western comics, there’s no absolute authority that forces readers to follow a set path, as Fawkes’ comic, One Soul, superbly demonstrates. This is one of many works to illustrate the phenomenon of non-linear, abstract and comics poetry that employ simultaneity over set sequence (Baetens, 2011). Examples of this poetic turn can also be found in comics by Koch, Craghead, Ware, Hankiewicz, Jas H. Duke and Rothman who experiment with rhymed images or freeing images from panels all together, circular page constructions and loops of text that reveal a myriad of reading possibility for comics. Overturning predictable sequencing of traditional comics, these works demonstrate the profitable potential of poetic ‘gaps’, silences and deliberate syntactical disjunction to incite meaning. In realising the potential of comics and comics poetry, segmentivity encourages creators and critics to become aware of the myriad of ways in which it is possible to write poetry in the language of comics, and for comics to employ the spectrum of poetic devices from caesura to rhymed couplets.

This is by is by no means an exhaustive account of comics criticism or comics poetry, rather a survey of selected perspectives that exposes some of the gaps and possibilities presented to date. A more comprehensive analysis of criticism and concentrated studies of comics poetry can be found in my research ‘Comics Poetry: Beyond Sequential Boundaries’.

www.tamrynbennett.com

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Tamryn Bennett is an Australian writer and visual artist living in Mexico. Since 2004 she has exhibited artists books, illustrations and comics poetry in Sydney, Melbourne and Mexico. Her projects are created in collaboration with artists, designers, photographers and musicians. Tamryn’s poetry and essays have appeared in Five Bells, Nth Degree, Mascara Literary Review and various academic publications. She has a PhD in Comics Poetry from The University of New South Wales and when in Sydney was Art & Publications Director for The Red Room Company.

 

Selected references

Baetens, Jan. (2011). Abstraction in Comics. Substance # 124, Vol.40, no.1, pp. 94-113.

DuPlessis, Blau Rachel. (2006). Blue studios: Poetry and its cultural work. United States: University of Alabama Press.

Hatfield, Charles. (2005). Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Horrocks, Dylan. (2001). Inventing Comics: Scott McCloud’s Definition of Comics. The Comics Journal #234, (www.hicksville.co.nz/Inventing%20Comics.htm).

McCloud, Scott. (1993). Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Perennial.

McHale, Brian. (2009). Beginning to Think about Narrative in Poetry. Narrative. Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.11-27.

Molotui, Andrei, Ed. (2009). Abstract Comics: The Anthology: 1967-2009. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books.

Wolk, Douglas. (2007). Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge: Da Capo Press.

Resources?:

1. Sharon Lampert: THE SEXIEST CREATIVE GENIUS IN HUMAN HISTORY
2. Internet Archaeology: an academically rigourous archive of curated .gifs&such from the 90s.
3. Prime Time TV: Julia Panek’s TV-poetry-for-an-internet-age.
4. aaaaarg.org: a technically limitless archive of free, rare, university-press-and-such .pdfs.
5. Reanimation Library: an amazing resource for strange high-res scans of “found” images–with a hub in Southern Brooklyn, run by Andrew Beccone+.
6. Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts’s entire run.
7. gmail.com

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Paul Legault is the co-founder of the translation press Telephone Books and the author of three books of poetry: The Madeleine Poems (Omnidawn, 2010), The Other Poems (Fence, 2011), and The Emily Dickinson Reader (McSweeney’s, 2012). He’s here.

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Michael Rae’s suggested links
1. A FREAK WEEK music video for the song “Any Little Game.”
2. The website of Michael’s BFF since kindergarten. Michael has served as his tattoo guinea pig for a decade.
3. Andrew Rae’s excellent collage work.
4. Contemporary American folk art: Jesse Malmed.
5. Elvis in his prime rehearsing with an absolute crackshot band.
6. The coolest dancing you are liable to see.
7. Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear.
8. She’s not there!
9. Now My Empty Cup is as Sweet as the Punch

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“People Thoughts” is an ongoing drawing/writing series by Michael Rae that began in 2009 and now features over four hundred pieces. In addition to illustration and writing, Michael produces pop music under the moniker “Freak Week.” He is from New Mexico and lives in Brooklyn. He loves sports. You can find many more of his creations here.

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Jono Tosch is a poet, artist, non-fiction writer and fermentation enthusiast who lives in Northampton, MA. Last summer he took his blog, Oilchanges: the anti food blog food blog, to New Mexico on a reader-supported X-Country road trip. You can find his poems and whatnot by googling his name.

The House Wakes

no big subjects today
the house settles
brunch
two phone calls
the story of an auction
outbid, alas
then grief, still
over the lines
which are no longer lines
but pulses that
go halfway to the moon
and back again
bouncing off
tiny plates
the world won’t
let go of
the dishes
appear here
unwashed
the air could not decide
to warm or chill
no big subjects today
the house wakes
lights turn on inside
and down the street
to the edge of the park
but not in the park
the darkness there

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Elizabeth Clark Wessel’s poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in DIAGRAM, A Public Space, No, Dear, Sixth Finch, Asymptote, Lana Turner Journal, and Fawlt Magazine, among others. She lives in Brooklyn and is an editor at Argos Books.

Utah

Did you fathom the distractions
it takes to wash down grass when rain
becomes solid and wasteful? Here you are
the insistence of an object when that object
takes me to your ocean. I want to know
the 1912 about the way you dress your socks
on winter nights when pigeons dare to roam
the streets. I want to recite the loveboat sermon
with you, wielding through corridors,
finding objects to place in picture frames.
You said, “Let’s defy gravity over there.”
I sailed to Utah that day. Throwing cups
at the circumference of your name.

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Alina Gregorian’s poems have been published in Boston Review, GlitterPony, H_NGM_N, and other journals. She co-edits the collaboration journal Bridge.

from Get Your Slip On

”’

get your slip on
maybe for purpose
maybe for delegation
tonight is my time to swim softly
out at sea
like inside someone’s camera lens
you see yourself swimming
while the action is archived
you are sheltered from the sun
with one of those wide-brimmed papyrus umbrellas
it is a mellow image
like a sterling-silver formation of boats
I gave you the party I was meaning to throw myself
a house full of roses
a bath of celebrity photos
for once there’s no impulse to censor
I have an epistemological relationship with a certain kind of kismet
flare guns at my ice sculptures
belly-dancers at my funeral
everything is Freddie Mac ruined this country
that is a go zone
this is not
it is the reality of the scenario

”’

invisible ballet played out in your chest
fit for it
for romantic tropical light and ease
for a republic of station wagons
and singing sisters
you fell down to the music
pulled out a party streamer
used the coral to quote-end-quote mark your rhythm
will dance for scallops and cherries
visit the restaurant
you’ve been meaning to chaperone your kids on dates to
they are there
without you
giving you the middle finger
an enjambed kind of night
pluck anything you don’t see fit
it’s beginning to blind through
raspberry cake
fuck you earthquake
last night rocked
jungle gym of fever
clandestine enterprise for the young up-and-comers
it’s okay to achieve greatness
with all those lost orgies
baked-young skin cancer
a twister in your thighs
17 and still stuck on the high-beam
can there be a day to celebrate failure?

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Paige Taggart is the author of three chapbooks: DIGITAL MACRAMÉ (Poor Claudia), Polaroid Parade (Greying Ghost Press), and The Ice Poems (forthcoming with DoubleCross Press). Additional publications and her jewelry can be found here: mactaggartjewelry.blogspot.com

Words to Oneself

What I have heard here
among endless shifting sights
the air invisibly bright
blinds recognition
words carried silently
by the will of it
caught in colorful petals.
Their scent is a thousand
years, appearing and disappearing
without a present.
I have never really
seen anything.
Eyes bathed
within a massive song,
overtaken, submerged,
deepening away,
less than a dream’s weight.
The body without horizon,
and exhaustion pouring out
into space
deflated of purpose.
You hold the watcher
in your arms
speak the tongue
of patient endings.
Singing, in a way, to your separated
dreaming
brother
here listening in the dark.
Holding his net into the air.

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Walter Stone is a poet and musician. He lives in Portland, OR.

Poetry and images are no strangers. From ancient illuminated texts, to William Blake, to Lewis Carroll (to name a mere few) illustration is a powerful ally beside poetry. I’m excited by the writer who feels compelled to expand his rapport with the poem by creating art. I think it’s the excitement of language that can bring forth the illustrative in such an electrifying way. So for our third installment on Poetry Comics, we have the stunning images of Mahendra Singh alongside his translations of Jean de La Fontaine.

~Bianca Stone

The Stag Upon the Vine
(V; 15)

A hunted Stag concealed in vines,
in this verdant tropic havoc
grown riotous thick by fecund luck
till hounds and men lose heart, resigns
the chase and he’s free again
to devour the vine, all decency defy
till they hear him, hounds and men
they return and set on him to die
a just punishment, he now knows too late
forget me, he cries, yet remember my fate
then falls and the pack falls upon him
stoic he dies while huntsmen join in
forsake gratitude for greed, the egotist’s whim:
betray thy saviour and revel in thy sin

Le Cerf et la Vigne
(V; 15)

Un cerf, à la faveur d’une vigne fort haute,
Et telle qu’on en voit en de certains climats,
S’étant mis à couvert et sauvé du trépas,
Les veneurs, pour ce coup, croyaient leurs chiens en faute;
Ils les rappellent donc. Le cerf, hors de danger,
Broute sa bienfaitrice : ingratitude extrême !
On l’entend, on retourne, on le fait déloger :
Il vient mourir en ce lieu même.
« J’ai mérité, dit-il, ce juste châtiment :
Profitez-en, ingrats. » Il tombe en ce moment.
La meute en fait curée : il lui fut inutile
De pleurer aux veneurs à sa mort arrivés.
Vraie image de ceux qui profanent l’asile
Qui les a conservés.

A Dog Who Took His Prey for Shadow (VI; 17)

There’s only illusion on offer down here:
all the fools chase their shadows till their
swelling numbers soon appear
to make the wise despair.
Aesop’s dog was of that obscurant race
his prey reflected on the water’s face,
left one for the other to give chase
he nearly drowned with little grace
but returned enlightened to river’s shore
and mistook shadow for prey no more

Le Chien qui lâche sa proie pour l’ombre (VI; 17)

Chacun se trompe ici-bas :
On voit courir après l’ombre Tant de fous qu’on n’en sait pas La plupart du temps le nombre.
Au chien dont parle Ésope il faut les renvoyer.
Ce chien, voyant sa proie en l’eau représentée, La quitta pour l’image, et pensa se noyer. La rivière devint tout d’un coup agitée;
A toute peine il regagna les bords,
Et n’eut ni l’ombre ni le corps.

 
Related links from Mendra if you’re interested
1. Mahendra’s blog
2. An English SF writer, Adam Roberts, whose blog is one of the best, and most catholic, literary blogs around … he does it all, SF, verse, very astute criticism … I am planning to illustrate an upcoming SF book of his later on, very tasty stuff indeed.
3. Will Schofield has one of the best illustration blogs around, mostly book stuff … plus, he’s a devotee of Raymond Roussel.
4. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is the book that defined the classical look and format of the western mass-produced book … type, paper and illustrations are completely integrated.
5. Hans Rickheit is one of the best, and one of the few genuinely imaginative people making comix … may be a bit disturbing for some readers though … his recent book, The Squirrel Machine, was 100-proof American Gothic surrealism. Link here and here.

Mahendra ends with some final words…
I hope someone has the common sense to toss a copy of Christopher Marlowe’s plays and verse onto my funeral pyre to keep me company on the journey … with Chapman’s continuation of Hero & Leander, of course … in fact, toss in a copy of Chapman’s Odyssey also. Those are the two poets who I’m in the mood to spend eternity with.

December 22, 2011

Mother was never prepared for Christmas. We would drive around in the old car on Christmas eve looking for a tree. Most of the tree lots would be empty or closed. But finally, beside some gas station, in the dark, a sign would loom, “TREES” and a light would be on. “There’s one! Stop! See? I see a tree…Mother, pull over!” one of my sisters would say. We would all run over to the last straggly tree, pay for it, stuff it in the backseat with me, and head home back to whatever apartment or house we were in that year. Mother would have done all her Christmas shopping earlier that day or maybe the day before, and would stay up all night wrapping and trimming the tree. She never remembered to buy Scotch tape or wrapping paper though, so our presents were often wrapped in newspaper and masking tape. We moved so often that there was never a last years supply of anything. In fact, in ten years we moved twenty-seven times. From one university to another, from one chair to another honorary position, we traveled with the car full of poetry and pets, plants, and daughters. And now it is nearly Christmas, the first without my mother. But she continues to speak. “The eggplant is silent. We put our heads together. You are so smooth and cool and purple, I say. Which of us will it be?”

Mother dearest, don’t slam the door of his rented hacienda in my head today. I suffer too much over you and need a rest. You knew that exhaustion….on your crying jag with Mr. Tempesta or thrown into hell without a trial.

Mother was a lousy Christmas shopper. “Did you shop?” I’d ask as it neared the holiday.
“Oh, I will. Don’t let the cat out…Do you want hear a poem?”
“Yes, but did you buy anything yet?”
On Christmas a person was apt to get an odd selection of gifts from her… It is not to say she was not generous. She would give a person anything and everything, but she just didn’t shop well for holidays. I remember being annoyed at 22 when I opened an old book from her. “It’s The Bat Poet by Randall Jarrell,” she said.
“It was on the shelf in the living room!” I said.
“But it’s still a wonderful book,” she told me.

There was that Christmas when someone tried to burn all the wrapping paper at once in the fireplace, and the chimney caught on fire. All of us women in our pajama’s. The panic. The firemen tromping around among the presents.

We never threw away a single to and from note. Even now, 56 years of Christmas notes float from drawer to drawer through out my house. Mother believed that writing was sacred. Precious.

Mother here it is nearly Christmas and you are 33 days dead. Yet still I hear you teaching a class. I hear you giving a reading. I hear you laughing. How you used to lie in bed in the middle of the night reading and laughing. “I love Thurber,” you’d say when I would come downstairs to find out what was so funny.

Your poetry runs on a tape in my brain when I wake myself crying in my sleep. Fragments repeat themselves over and over.

“There is no choice among the voices of love”.
“and mirrored in the dark, the manikin.”
“In the silence between us, that is despair.”

And when I am not whimpering, I am half torn in two, and pulled like something stubborn from that life and thrust into this bleak freak world where it will have to do…staring out at nothing while you go on reciting in my head…

“Forgotten in a dream of forgetting as pain falls away into no pain.”
“This is the way it is. This is the way it is.”

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Abigail Stone is the youngest daughter of the poet Ruth Stone (1915-2011). She is a novelist and songwriter. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Included in this piece are brief quotes from Ruth Stone’s collections In an Iridescent Time, Topography, and Cheap.