Crisis Chronicles Cyber Litmag

B-List (by Mark Sebastian Jordan)



B-List 

Another young actor has died,
tired litany of our times.
I grew up watching his
crooked-sweet smile
in gawkward comedies
hammered out
onerightafteranother.

In time I grew to distrust
youth and eternal summer,
the cheap charm, sugar-buzz
blare of B-list flicks, but he stayed there.
Is still there, as if the cameras
stole his soul, discarding the body
to fall off the Hollywood sign
and roll down the Sunset Strip
to join the rivers of trash
rolling out to the sea.

I almost said Movie Star,
but those days flew in a flurry of snow,
for fame gorges on the gorgeous,
like Goya's tabloid Saturn.
We drive by, craning
our rubber necks at
E News Daily, waiting
for the next commercial
to sate us with distraction.

Once, you were loved.
You were a generation's erotic toy
sucked dry by the same beasts
who now beat their breasts
and talk about innocence lost
and protecting our children.

As far as I can tell,
little has changed since the Mayans.
We don't need a pyramid temple
and a knife-wielding priest today.
We lay him out on the big screen
and take the boy's living heart
into our hands and squeeze.

The crowd roars.
Life tastes so fine.

Roll
the
credits. 



* * * * *

Mark Sebastian Jordan has been an active presence on the Ohio arts scene for thirty years as an actor, director, playwright, and improv comedian. His Mansfield Trilogy of historical dramas was featured in sell-out performances for a decade at Malabar Farm State Park. As a living history performer, Jordan has portrayed Orson Welles, George Frideric Handel, Dan De Quille, and Clement Vallandigham. He has also been featured in television programs such as Ghost Hunters, My Ghost Story, and House of the Unknown, and appeared as an extra in the classic film The Shawshank Redemption.

Jordan is also a poet with numerous publication credits. He was awarded 2nd place in the 2013 Jesse Stuart Memorial Award by the National Association of State Poetry Societies, and has also received awards from the Ohio Poetry Association, the Ohio Arts Council, The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, The Associated Press, The Rupp Foundation, The Ohio Theater Alliance, the Ohio Community Theatre Association, the Ohio Eta Chapter of the Theta Alpha Phi drama honor fraternity, and the Mansfield/Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jordan has worked as a freelance journalist for publications all over Ohio as well as ones based in New York City and London, England. He currently reviews concerts of the Cleveland Orchestra for Seen & Heard International.

He lives at Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas, where he runs the Hostelling International hostel, which provides affordable accomodations to travelers of all ages.

I've got an arrow here (by Emily Dickinson)

emily-dickinson.gif Emily Dickinson image by alessepif
Emily Dickinson 


[1859]

I've got an arrow here.
Loving the hand that sent it
I the dart revere.

Fell, they will say, in "skirmish"!
Vanquished, my soul will know
By but a simple arrow
Sped by an archer's bow.

*

bridge avenue perfumery (by Jeffrey Bowen)


Jeffrey Bowen - photo by Kim Yanoshik

bridge avenue perfumery 


he sniffs the air like his canine brothers,


detects artist’s paint and sweet roses

on the summer breeze,


cigarettes and herb

from the neighbor’s open window,


sulfur from the most recent barrage

of fourth of july firecrackers,


red wine and black coffee

walking hand in hand

toward the gathering sounds

of ohio city restaurants.

he’s missing the party,
again,


stayed home alone

to do the laundry,

read,

keep close company with old records,

and words wrapped tightly

like hand rolled

cuban cigars.


he savors the solitude

but longs for

feminine contact,


the top note of anticipation

wafting like jasmine

across the citrus

of intelligent conversation.

he savors the caress

of this cool summer day’s slowly

passing,


recalls the warm sands of proximity,

the euphoria of bright eyes across the table,


and fingers barely touching
electric.



* * * * *

Jeffrey Bowen’s poetry has been published by ArtCrimes, Cicada, Cool Cleveland, Crisis Chronicles, CSU Poetry Center, Dimensions, Doan Brook Watershed, Excursions, Green Panda Press, Hessler Street Fair, Procrastination Press, Poet’s League of Greater Cleveland, The City, The Cleveland Reader, and Whiskey Island Magazine.  He is one of six poets profiled in the 1995 documentary, “Off the Page”.  Four of his poems are featured on Cleveland Tumbadors, an album of Traditional Afro Cuban Music and Latin Jazz on Fame City Records.  Jeffrey is the resident poet & conga player with the band, Cats On Holiday, and his poetry appears on their CD, Holiday in a Box from COHTONE Records.  In addition to his poetic work, Jeffrey’s writing has appeared in Call & Post, City News, Cool Cleveland, EcoWatch, Elephant Journal, Girl Scout News, GreenCityBlueLake, Live Cleveland, Neighborhood News, Nonprofit Notes, Sun News and various Habitat for Humanity publications.

A Working Party (by Siegfried Sassoon)

 

A Working Party
by Siegfried Sassoon
[from The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, 1918]

Three hours ago he blundered up the trench,
Sliding and poising, groping with his boots;
Sometimes he tripped and lurched against the walls
With hands that pawed the sodden bags of chalk.
He couldn't see the man who walked in front;
Only he heard the drum and rattle of feet
Stepping along barred trench boards, often splashing
Wretchedly where the sludge was ankle-deep.

Voices would grunt 'Keep to your right — make way!'
When squeezing past some men from the front-line:
White faces peered, puffing a point of red;
Candles and braziers glinted through the chinks
And curtain-flaps of dug-outs; then the gloom
Swallowed his sense of sight; he stooped and swore
Because a sagging wire had caught his neck.

A flare went up; the shining whiteness spread
And flickered upward, showing nimble rats
And mounds of glimmering sand-bags, bleached with rain;
Then the slow silver moment died in dark.

The wind came posting by with chilly gusts
And buffeting at the corners, piping thin.
And dreary through the crannies; rifle-shots
Would split and crack and sing along the night,
And shells came calmly through the drizzling air
To burst with hollow bang below the hill.



Three hours ago, he stumbled up the trench;
Now he will never walk that road again:
He must be carried back, a jolting lump
Beyond all needs of tenderness and care.



He was a young man with a meagre wife
And two small children in a Midland town,
He showed their photographs to all his mates,
And they considered him a decent chap
Who did his work and hadn't much to say,
And always laughed at other people's jokes
Because he hadn't any of his own.



That night when he was busy at his job
Of piling bags along the parapet,
He thought how slow time went, stamping his feet
And blowing on his fingers, pinched with cold.
He thought of getting back by half-past twelve,
And tot of rum to send him warm to sleep
In draughty dug-out frowsty with the fumes
Of coke, and full of snoring weary men.



He pushed another bag along the top,
Craning his body outward; then a flare
Gave one white glimpse of
No Man's Land and wire;
And as he dropped his head the instant split
His startled life with lead, and all went out.

*

Lord, It Is Easter Time (by Séamas Carraher)


Lord, It Is Easter Time

Lord, it is Easter time
and Niamh’s hair is dressed in braids
the broken down trees are budding
and the broken walls
and the unswept streets
washed in sunlight.
Lord of light,
when the children are
dressed in suits
and marched to church
and the seasons turn
and the earth’s hard skin cracks.
Lord of broken promises,
when this life like a prison sentence
is absolved,
when this place like a disease
goes into remission
and hope is kick started at dawn
like a broken engine.
Lord in the desperate silence of
time passing
year after year like an excess of
lifetimes
as if one life was not
enough,
when this hurt woman
lifts her life from her hands
and asks what does it mean?
Lord of loss and lives
unlived
in the early hours
when time falls soft
on the ground
when the wind is stilled
and this grim procession of ghosts
descends the stairs
in Ballyogan or another town.
Lord of altars and priests
when words lie empty and wounded
in laneway and cul-de-sac
like old beer cans.
Lord of the ritual,
our own birth and death
and the unspoken hours
of sickness,
this prayer like smoke from a fire
like heads and hands lifted from kitchen tables
of cold tea and half smoked cigarettes
when the children dressed like angels
still sleep
and her hair is uncombed
when the barking dogs dream
when the busstops are empty
and all the doors closed,
this prayer at Easter time
rising like an unwashed plea
over alarm clocks and rooftops
over the landfill and the deserted roads
like life itself
in a howl of rage
lifted on its wings like a bird

the strength to go on
the unanswered questions asked
the questions answered
in the living.




"Lord, It Is Easter Time" comes from Séamas Carraher’s unpublished manuscript The Song of Poverty.

Séamas Carraher’s poetry has appeared in a number of print and online journals and anthologies, including Dead Beats: CANTOS, Pemmican, The SHOp (Ireland), Full of Crow, Word Riot & Poetry Ireland. He has recently been published in The Camel Saloon, Red Poets 19 (Wales) and The Poetry Bus 5 (Ireland). At the moment he lives in Ballyogan, South County Dublin, Ireland.

Find him at 
www.seamascarraher.blogspot.ie/.

Americans Are Not on the Whole Well Informed on World Matters (by Ally Malinenko)


Ally Malinenko


Americans Are Not on the Whole Well Informed on World Matters

She has many questions about our culture, but she is shy and nervous.
It takes a few beers before she turns to my husband in Plaza Santa Ana
and says,
Why do the poor people support Republicans?
I mean, she says, in Spain, we protest when our government fails us.
But in America, poor people like to have less.

My husband smiles,
they don’t like it, he says, but
they don’t want to admit that they have less
and they want to believe that they too
can become millionaires one day.

Why? she asks.

Because they’re ashamed that they’re poor, I say.

But that is not something to be ashamed of, she says.
That is something to be angry about. Something to cause change.

Not in America, he says. There, there is nothing worse than failure.

She frowns. Europe is not like this, she says.
We do not want to be unhappy but we are not afraid to say that we are.

Well, my husband says, Americans aren’t as smart as Europeans.

She eyes him one more time,
takes a sip of her beer
and says,

You two, you are not Americans. You are really Europeans.




Ally Malinenko is the author of poetry book The Wanting Bone (Six Gallery Press) and the children's book Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb (Antenna Books). She lives in the part of Brooklyn voted to have the best halal truck.

Author's note: "[This poem is] from the How to Be An American series that I have been working on. The titles are variations on sentences from Culture Shock: USA a book by Esther Wanning written to acclimate new Americans to our culture. It is a collection of sweeping generalizations about this country that ring so true it's both hilarious and frightening."

Rolling the Dice One More Time at the Last Chance Ego Death (by Paul Corman-Roberts)


Paul Corman-Roberts

Rolling the Dice One More Time at the Last Chance Ego Death

You aren’t really

taking the time

to enjoy being

away from home.

& even if you danced

it would still

be less frenetic

than your quietude


& if we groped

ardent & fumbling

it would be

more serene still

than your imperious meditations


& if we reach

that vista where

our convergence ends,

will you take

but one moment

 

to look in my eyes

to look in my scars

to look in my thorns


and how far

will you run


when you see

the mesh nest

I made for you

there?




Paul Corman-Roberts is co-founder of the Beast Crawl Literary Festival in Oakland, California.  He is a compulsive organizer and writer of frequently subversive words.  His out of print collections of poems and flash are 19th Street Station from Full of Crow Chapbooks, 2011; Neocom(muter) from Tainted Coffee, 2009; and Coming WorldGone World (The Abomunauts Are Coming to Piss on Your Lawn) from Howling Dog Press, 2006.

Night Comes to the Versailles of the Mind (by Mark Sebastian Jordan)



Night Comes to the Versailles of the Mind

Dreamrise beckons
come away away
surrender the shine
of a sun-sharped mind,
slip into eyeless sleep
where a brooding
garden breathes.

A thousand falling fountains
are wells of infinite curve.
Sleep seeps to bleed
the listless flags
of a far-off world.
Chiselled lines are abandoned—
no dreaming brow is straight—
each furrow is a mob of liberty
overthrowing absolutes.

But what says the voice of the dead?
Will not dreamtide’s rosy gore
pearl across the dawn lawn
when all princes and palaces are gone?

The sun king sweats
in the hall of mirrors,
watching his selves
slip away away
across the wide misery
between seem and dream.

They call you to come,
come away—
frost flowers kiss
the deep leaves of the mind,
silent eyes start,
as if to speak—
but no prince
shall mark
this time. 



* * * * *

Mark Sebastian Jordan has been an active presence on the Ohio arts scene for thirty years as an actor, director, playwright, and improv comedian. His Mansfield Trilogy of historical dramas was featured in sell-out performances for a decade at Malabar Farm State Park. As a living history performer, Jordan has portrayed Orson Welles, George Frideric Handel, Dan De Quille, and Clement Vallandigham. He has also been featured in television programs such as Ghost Hunters, My Ghost Story, and House of the Unknown, and appeared as an extra in the classic film The Shawshank Redemption.

Jordan is also a poet with numerous publication credits. He was awarded 2nd place in the 2013 Jesse Stuart Memorial Award by the National Association of State Poetry Societies, and has also received awards from the Ohio Poetry Association, the Ohio Arts Council, The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, The Associated Press, The Rupp Foundation, The Ohio Theater Alliance, the Ohio Community Theatre Association, the Ohio Eta Chapter of the Theta Alpha Phi drama honor fraternity, and the Mansfield/Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jordan has worked as a freelance journalist for publications all over Ohio as well as ones based in New York City and London, England. He currently reviews concerts of the Cleveland Orchestra for Seen & Heard International.

He lives at Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas, where he runs the Hostelling International hostel, which provides affordable accomodations to travelers of all ages.

A Servant to Servants (by Robert Frost)

Robert_Frost_NYWTS.jpg picture by insightoutside

A Servant to Servants
by Robert Frost
[from North of Boston (1914)]

I didn't make you know how glad I was
To have you come and camp here on our land.
I promised myself to get down some day
And see the way you lived, but I don’t know!
With a houseful of hungry men to feed
I guess you’d find. . . . It seems to me
I can’t express my feelings any more
Than I can raise my voice or want to lift
My hand (oh, I can lift it when I have to).
Did ever you feel so? I hope you never.
It’s got so I don’t even know for sure
Whether I am glad, sorry, or anything.
There’s nothing but a voice-like left inside
That seems to tell me how I ought to feel,
And would feel if I wasn’t all gone wrong. 
You take the lake. I look and look at it.
I see it’s a fair, pretty sheet of water.
I stand and make myself repeat out loud
The advantages it has, so long and narrow,
Like a deep piece of some old running river 
Cut short off at both ends. It lies five miles
Straight away through the mountain notch
From the sink window where I wash the plates,
And all our storms come up toward the house,
Drawing the slow waves whiter and whiter and whiter. 
It took my mind off doughnuts and soda biscuit
To step outdoors and take the water dazzle
A sunny morning, or take the rising wind
About my face and body and through my wrapper,
When a storm threatened from the Dragon’s Den, 
And a cold chill shivered across the lake.
I see it’s a fair, pretty sheet of water,
Our Willoughby! How did you hear of it?
I expect, though, everyone’s heard of it.
In a book about ferns? Listen to that! 
You let things more like feathers regulate
Your going and coming. And you like it here?
I can see how you might. But I don’t know!
It would be different if more people came,
For then there would be business. As it is, 
The cottages Len built, sometimes we rent them,
Sometimes we don’t. We’ve a good piece of shore
That ought to be worth something, and may yet.
But I don’t count on it as much as Len.
He looks on the bright side of everything, 
Including me. He thinks I’ll be all right
With doctoring. But it’s not medicine—
Lowe is the only doctor’s dared to say so—
It’s rest I want—there, I have said it out—
From cooking meals for hungry hired men 
And washing dishes after them—from doing
Things over and over that just won’t stay done.
By good rights I ought not to have so much
Put on me, but there seems no other way.
Len says one steady pull more ought to do it. 
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through—
Leastways for me—and then they’ll be convinced.
It’s not that Len don’t want the best for me. 
It was his plan our moving over in
Beside the lake from where that day I showed you
We used to live—ten miles from anywhere.
We didn’t change without some sacrifice,
But Len went at it to make up the loss. 
His work’s a man’s, of course, from sun to sun,
But he works when he works as hard as I do—
Though there’s small profit in comparisons.
(Women and men will make them all the same.)
But work ain’t all. Len undertakes too much. 
He’s into everything in town. This year
It’s highways, and he’s got too many men
Around him to look after that make waste.
They take advantage of him shamefully,
And proud, too, of themselves for doing so. 
We have four here to board, great good-for-nothings,
Sprawling about the kitchen with their talk
While I fry their bacon. Much they care!
No more put out in what they do or say
Than if I wasn’t in the room at all. 
Coming and going all the time, they are:
I don’t learn what their names are, let alone
Their characters, or whether they are safe
To have inside the house with doors unlocked.
I’m not afraid of them, though, if they’re not 
Afraid of me. There’s two can play at that.
I have my fancies: it runs in the family.
My father’s brother wasn’t right. They kept him
Locked up for years back there at the old farm.
I’ve been away once—yes, I’ve been away. 
The State Asylum. I was prejudiced;
I wouldn’t have sent anyone of mine there;
You know the old idea—the only asylum
Was the poorhouse, and those who could afford,
Rather than send their folks to such a place, 
Kept them at home; and it does seem more human.
But it’s not so: the place is the asylum.
There they have every means proper to do with,
And you aren’t darkening other people’s lives—
Worse than no good to them, and they no good 
To you in your condition; you can’t know
Affection or the want of it in that state.
I’ve heard too much of the old-fashioned way.
My father’s brother, he went mad quite young.
Some thought he had been bitten by a dog, 
Because his violence took on the form
Of carrying his pillow in his teeth;
But it’s more likely he was crossed in love,
Or so the story goes. It was some girl.
Anyway all he talked about was love. 
They soon saw he would do someone a mischief
If he wa’n’t kept strict watch of, and it ended
In father’s building him a sort of cage,
Or room within a room, of hickory poles,
Like stanchions in the barn, from floor to ceiling,— 
A narrow passage all the way around.
Anything they put in for furniture
He’d tear to pieces, even a bed to lie on.
So they made the place comfortable with straw,
Like a beast’s stall, to ease their consciences. 
Of course they had to feed him without dishes.
They tried to keep him clothed, but he paraded
With his clothes on his arm—all of his clothes.
Cruel—it sounds. I ’spose they did the best
They knew. And just when he was at the height, 
Father and mother married, and mother came,
A bride, to help take care of such a creature,
And accommodate her young life to his.
That was what marrying father meant to her.
She had to lie and hear love things made dreadful 
By his shouts in the night. He’d shout and shout
Until the strength was shouted out of him,
And his voice died down slowly from exhaustion.
He’d pull his bars apart like bow and bow-string,
And let them go and make them twang until 
His hands had worn them smooth as any ox-bow.
And then he’d crow as if he thought that child’s play—
The only fun he had. I’ve heard them say, though,
They found a way to put a stop to it.
He was before my time—I never saw him; 
But the pen stayed exactly as it was
There in the upper chamber in the ell,
A sort of catch-all full of attic clutter.
I often think of the smooth hickory bars.
It got so I would say—you know, half fooling— 
“It’s time I took my turn upstairs in jail”—
Just as you will till it becomes a habit.
No wonder I was glad to get away.
Mind you, I waited till Len said the word.
I didn’t want the blame if things went wrong. 
I was glad though, no end, when we moved out,
And I looked to be happy, and I was,
As I said, for a while—but I don’t know!
Somehow the change wore out like a prescription.
And there’s more to it than just window-views 
And living by a lake. I’m past such help—
Unless Len took the notion, which he won’t,
And I won’t ask him—it’s not sure enough.
I ’spose I’ve got to go the road I’m going:
Other folks have to, and why shouldn’t I? 
I almost think if I could do like you,
Drop everything and live out on the ground—
But it might be, come night, I shouldn’t like it,
Or a long rain. I should soon get enough,
And be glad of a good roof overhead.
I’ve lain awake thinking of you, I’ll warrant,
More than you have yourself, some of these nights.
The wonder was the tents weren’t snatched away
From over you as you lay in your beds.
I haven’t courage for a risk like that. 
Bless you, of course, you’re keeping me from work,
But the thing of it is, I need to be kept.
There’s work enough to do—there’s always that;
But behind’s behind. The worst that you can do
Is set me back a little more behind. 
I sha’n’t catch up in this world, anyway.
I’d rather you’d not go unless you must. 
 

 

*

To venerate the simple days (by Emily Dickinson)

emily-dickinson.gif Emily Dickinson image by alessepif
Emily Dickinson 


[1859]

To venerate the simple days
Which lead the seasons by—
Needs but to remember
That from you or I,
They may take the trifle
Termed mortality!

To invest existence with a stately air—
Needs but to remember
That the Acorn there
Is the egg of forests
For the upper Air!

*

alchemy (by Jeffrey Bowen)


Jeffrey Bowen - photo by Kim Yanoshik

alchemy 


from this series of silicon chips, copper wire, quartz relays,

and plastics extruded

from the underground seas of ancient trees

and dinosaur bones,

come electrical impulses,


shamanic magic,


allowing words to bounce from fingers on keys,

to the small blinking antenna in the corner of the living room,

just this side of the river-view window,

through a series of wires


to a cell tower dish,


and then to a satellite circling the earth

beyond the atmosphere,

then back down again

to another dish,


atop a massive data storage facility,

inside a sierra madre

compound,

on the other side of the continent,


or perhaps as close as a basement lab

at the university on the other side of town,


and then, in the blink of an eye,

a nod of the head,


pass from dish to cable to dish

and back again,


until they come to rest on another screen,

become retinal impression,


synapse,


inhalation,


lips just forming a smile.




* * * * *

Jeffrey Bowen’s poetry has been published by ArtCrimes, Cicada, Cool Cleveland, Crisis Chronicles, CSU Poetry Center, Dimensions, Doan Brook Watershed, Excursions, Green Panda Press, Hessler Street Fair, Procrastination Press, Poet’s League of Greater Cleveland, The City, The Cleveland Reader, and Whiskey Island Magazine.  He is one of six poets profiled in the 1995 documentary, “Off the Page”.  Four of his poems are featured on Cleveland Tumbadors, an album of Traditional Afro Cuban Music and Latin Jazz on Fame City Records.  Jeffrey is the resident poet & conga player with the band, Cats On Holiday, and his poetry appears on their CD, Holiday in a Box from COHTONE Records.  In addition to his poetic work, Jeffrey’s writing has appeared in Call & Post, City News, Cool Cleveland, EcoWatch, Elephant Journal, Girl Scout News, GreenCityBlueLake, Live Cleveland, Neighborhood News, Nonprofit Notes, Sun News and various Habitat for Humanity publications.

That Dancing Mood (by Chuck Joy)


Chuck Joy at the Literary Cafe - photo by Chandra Alderman

That Dancing Mood

here comes the weekend
Friday six thirty, we could be anywhere
we choose to be here
Taos New Mexico, west end of town

the yard of a brewpub
swept clean between tables under pinetrees and cottonwoods
we are sitting at a table
visitors from Colorado

the trees are hung with red
and yellow lanterns, the sky
purple, silver stars, one falls

around the bar itself, inside the brewhouse
a log structure with big porches
poets are gathering, we saw the poster
Poetry Open Mic Every Friday Night

he says, Wow this is Taos
she says, Can you imagine?

we watch the poets
pulling up tables, notice a podium behind a railing on a porch
now a nice stage

the host, blue bellbottoms, brown jacket, fringe, wide-brimmed hat
a moustache, looks like Richard Brautigan

these poets are hot
several women, older men
some apparently Native American
their voices trumpets in the darkness
doo-wop prophets, blowing their lines to a chorus of uh huhs and oh yeahs
A very demonstrative audience, she laughed

awkwardly he stands
pushing his bench back, Let’s dance
extending his hand, she grabs it

that’s where we leave them
dancing on the dirt floor 
 



* * * * *

Chuck Joy
authored All Smooth (Destitute Press) and Key West Quartet (Edinboro Book Art Collective).  He has read at every Snoetry, the Confluence, two International Festivals, The Erie Book Store, Poets' Hall, Mac's Backs, Mahall's 20 Lanes and Woodlawn Diner. His new chapbook, Every Tiger Wants To Sing, is now available from Poets' Hall Press.

A Few of the Motives (by Juliet Cook)


Juliet Cook at Snoetry 4 — photo by JC


A Few of the Motives

Perhaps you've had enough
of the spiders & dolls,
of the egg sacs & attics
with their vaguely supernatural
airs.  Whatever are the girls doing there
with their senseless sashays, with their scentless sachets,
with their unfinished hems of lavender dresses drawn out until threadbare.

Are they "not quite right"?

Are they paranormal, abnormal,
abducted, abandoned, trapped
inside their own lolling heads?

Are they the lax debris
of disambiguation gone wrong?

Are they partially gone,
fondled then drained
prey from an old-fashioned vampire movie?

(Black & white swoons into gray snow
as one of them bleeds herself
to relive that sharp kiss,
its fantastical collapse...)

Are they empty contraptions, outer casings, prettily painted shells
for ghosts?  Are they already dead?

(In the corner, two of them have given up
pricking themselves with needles.
Now they are sewing their fingers together.
Attached at the tips and fluttering
like pale moths in a peculiar coupling...)

Sometimes being ugly and living alone are enough
to convince people one is possessed.
Perhapps their lazy eyes and flesh-tone moles
are the culprits in this slow downfall.

(Undercover of ruffled lace,
she saws at her arm with a butter knife...)

Perhaps they are birdbrained
and hibernating.  Perhaps all their idling
in parlor chairs is because they are hiding
a new brood of addled eggs.

Under their skirts, poised upon plush
purple stripes of feather-stuffed cushions,
a soft clucking emerges.

Pink-glossed harelips part.

(She slips something illicit under her tongue;
she forgets something...)




"A Few of the Motives" (c) 2008 by Juliet Cook from Planchette (Blood Pudding Press).  Click here to order it.

Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver and purple explosions.
  Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications, most recently including Arsenic Lobster, Menacing Hedge, Mojave River Review, and Tarpaulin Sky. She is the author of more than thirteen published poetry chapbooks, most recently including FONDANT PIG ANGST (Slash Pine Press), Tongue Like a Stinger (Wheelhouse), POST-STROKE (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 5), Thirteen Designer Vaginas (Hyacinth Girl Press), and POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press). A new collaborative poetry chapbook created by Juliet Cook and Robert Cole, MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. Juliet’s first full-length poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. In addition to her own writing, Juliet is the editor/publisher of Blood Pudding Press (print) and Thirteen Myna Birds (online). You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.

Criticism of Criticism of Criticism (by H.L. Mencken)

Criticism of Criticism of Criticism
by H.L. Mencken
from Prejudices: First Series [1919, Alfred A. Knopf]

Every now and then, a sense of the futility of their daily endeavors falling suddenly upon them, the critics of Christendom turn to a somewhat sour and depressing consideration of the nature and objects of their own craft. That is to say, they turn to criticizing criticism. What is it in plain words? What is its aim, exactly stated in legal terms? How far can it go? What good can it do? What is its normal effect upon the artist and the work of art?

        Such a spell of self-searching has been in progress for several years past, and the critics of various countries have contributed theories of more or less lucidity and plausibility to the discussion. Their views of their own art, it appears, are quite as divergent as their views of the arts they more commonly deal with. One group argues, partly by direct statement and partly by attacking all other groups, that the one defensible purpose of the critic is to encourage the virtuous and oppose the sinful - in brief, to police the fine arts and so hold them in tune with the moral order of the world. Another group, repudiating this constabulary function, argues hotly that the arts have nothing to do with morality whatsoever - that their concern is solely with pure beauty. A third group holds that the chief aspect of a work of art, particularly in the field of literature, is its aspect as psychological document - that if it doesn't help men to know themselves it is nothing. A fourth group reduces the thing to an exact science, and sets up standards that resemble algebraic formulæ - this is the group of metrists, of contrapuntists and of those who gabble of light-waves. And so, in order, follow groups five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, each with its theory and its proofs.

        Against the whole corps, moral and æsthetic, psychological and algebraic, stands Major J. E. Spingarn, U.S.A. Major Spingarn lately served formal notice upon me that he had abandoned the life of the academic grove for that of the armed array, and so I give him his military title, but at the time he wrote his "Creative Criticism" he was a professor in Columbia University, and I still find myself thinking of him, not as a soldier extraordinarily literate, but as a professor in rebellion. For his notions, whatever one may say in opposition to them, are at least magnificently unprofessorial - they fly violently in the face of the principles that distinguish the largest and most influential group of campus critics. As witness: "To say that poetry is moral or immoral is as meaningless as to say that an equilateral triangle is moral and an isosceles triangle immoral." Or, worse: "It is only conceivable in a world in which dinner-table conversation runs after this fashion: 'This cauliflower would be good if it had only been prepared in accordance with international law.'" One imagines, on hearing such atheism flying about, the amazed indignation of Prof. Dr. William Lyon Phelps, with his discovery that Joseph Conrad preaches "the axiom of the moral law"; the "Hey, what's that!" of Prof. Dr. W. C. Brownell, the Amherst Aristotle, with his eloquent plea for standards as iron-clad as the Westminster Confession; the loud, patriotic alarm of the gifted Prof. Dr. Stuart P. Sherman, of Iowa, with his maxim that Puritanism is the official philosophy of America, and that all who dispute it are enemy aliens and should be deported. Major Spingarn, in truth, here performs a treason most horrible upon the reverend order he once adorned, and having achieved it, he straightway performs another and then another. That is to say, he tackles all the antagonistic groups of orthodox critics seriatim, and knocks them about unanimously - first the aforesaid agents of the sweet and pious; then the advocates of unities, meters, all rigid formulæ; then the experts in imaginary psychology; then the historical comparers, pigeonholers and makers of categories; finally, the professors of pure æsthetic. One and all, they take their places upon his operating table, and one and all they are stripped and anatomized.

        But what is the anarchistic ex-professor's own theory? - for a professor must have a theory, as a dog must have fleas. In brief, what he offers is a doctrine borrowed from the Italian, Benedetto Croce, and by Croce filched from Goethe - a doctrine anything but new in the world, even in Goethe's time, but nevertheless long buried in forgetfulness - to wit, the doctrine that it is the critic's first and only duty, as Carlyle once put it, to find out "what the poet's aim really and truly was, how the task he had to do stood before his eye, and how far, with such materials as were afforded him, he has fulfilled it." For poet, read artist, or, if literature is in question, substitute the Germanic word Dichter - that is, the artist in words, the creator of beautiful letters, whether in verse or in prose. Ibsen always called himself a Digter, not a Dramatiker or Skuespiller. So, I daresay, did Shakespeare.... Well, what is this generalized poet trying to do? asks Major Spingarn, and how has he done it? That, and no more, is the critic's quest. The morality of the work does not concern him. It is not his business to determine whether it heeds Aristotle or flouts Aristotle. He passes no judgment on its rhyme scheme, its length and breadth, its iambics, its politics, its patriotism, its piety, its psychological exactness, its good taste. He may note these things, but he may not protest about them - he may not complain if the thing criticized fails to fit into a pigeonhole. Every sonnet, every drama, every novel is sui generis; it must stand on its own bottom; it must be judged by its own inherent intentions. "Poets," says Major Spingarn, "do not really write epics, pastorals, lyrics, however much they may be deceived by these false abstractions; they express themselves, and this expression is their only form. There are not, therefore, only three or ten or a hundred literary kinds; there are as many kinds as there are individual poets." Nor is there any valid appeal ad hominem. The character and background of the poet are beside the mark; the poem itself is the thing. Oscar Wilde, weak and swine-like, yet wrote beautiful prose. To reject that prose on the ground that Wilde had filthy habits is as absurd as to reject "What Is Man?" on the ground that its theology is beyond the intelligence of the editor of the New York Times.

        This Spingarn-Croce-Carlyle-Goethe theory, of course, throws a heavy burden upon the critic. It presupposes that he is a civilized and tolerant man, hospitable to all intelligible ideas and capable of reading them as he runs. This is a demand that at once rules out nine-tenths of the grown-up sophomores who carry on the business of criticism in America. Their trouble is simply that they lack the intellectual resilience necessary for taking in ideas, and particularly new ideas. The only way they can ingest one is by transforming it into the nearest related formula - usually a harsh and devastating operation. This fact accounts for their chronic inability to understand all that is most personal and original and hence most forceful and significant in the emerging literature of the country. They can get down what has been digested and re-digested, and so brought into forms that they know, and carefully labeled by predecessors of their own sort - but they exhibit alarm immediately they come into the presence of the extraordinary. Here we have an explanation of Brownell's loud appeal for a tightening of standards - i.e., a larger respect for precedents, patterns, rubber-stamps - and here we have an explanation of Phelps's inability to comprehend the colossal phenomenon of Dreiser, and of Boynton's childish nonsense about realism, and of Sherman's effort to apply the Espionage Act to the arts, and of More's querulous enmity to romanticism, and of all the fatuous pigeon-holing that passes for criticism in the more solemn literary periodicals.

        As practiced by all such learned and diligent but essentially ignorant and unimaginative men, criticism is little more than a branch of homiletics. They judge a work of art, not by its clarity and sincerity, not by the force and charm of its ideas, not by the technical virtuosity of the artist, not by his originality and artistic courage, but simply and solely by his orthodoxy. If he is what is called a "right thinker," if he devotes himself to advocating the transient platitudes in a sonorous manner, then he is worthy of respect. But if he lets fall the slightest hint that he is in doubt about any of them, or, worse still, that he is indifferent, then he is a scoundrel, and hence, by their theory, a bad artist. Such pious piffle is horribly familiar among us. I do not exaggerate its terms. You will find it running through the critical writings of practically all the dull fellows who combine criticism with tutoring; in the words of many of them it is stated in the plainest way and defended with much heat, theological and pedagogical. In its baldest form it shows itself in the doctrine that it is scandalous for an artist - say a dramatist or a novelist - to depict vice as attractive. The fact that vice, more often than not, undoubtedly is attractive - else why should it ever gobble any of us? - is disposed of with a lofty gesture. What of it? say these birchmen. The artist is not a reporter, but a Great Teacher. It is not his business to depict the world as it is, but as it ought to be.

        Against this notion American criticism makes but feeble headway. We are, in fact, a nation of evangelists; every third American devotes himself to improving and lifting up his fellow-citizens, usually by force; the messianic delusion is our national disease. Thus the moral Privatdozenten have the crowd on their side, and it is difficult to shake their authority; even the vicious are still in favor of crying vice down. "Here is a novel," says the artist. "Why didn't you write a tract?" roars the professor - and down the chute go novel and novelist. "This girl is pretty," says the painter. "But she has left off her undershirt," protests the head-master - and off goes the poor dauber's head. At its mildest, this balderdash takes the form of the late Hamilton Wright Mabie's "White List of Books", at its worst, it is comstockery, an idiotic and abominable thing. Genuine criticism is as impossible to such inordinately narrow and cocksure men as music is to a man who is tone-deaf. The critic, to interpret his artist, even to understand his artist, must be able to get into the mind of his artist; he must feel and comprehend the vast pressure of the creative passion; as Major Spingarn says, "æsthetic judgment and artistic creation are instinct with the same vital life." This is why all the best criticism of the world has been written by men who have had within them, not only the reflective and analytical faculty of critics, but also the gusto of artists - Goethe, Carlyle, Lessing, Schlegel, Saint-Beuve, and, to drop a story or two, Hazlitt, Hermann Bahr, Georg Brandes and James Huneker. Huneker, tackling " Also sprach Zarathustra," revealed its content in illuminating flashes. But tackled by Paul Elmer More, it became no more than a dull student's exercise, ill-naturedly corrected....

        So much for the theory of Major J. E. Spingarn, U.S.A., late professor of modern languages and literatures in Columbia University. Obviously, it is a far sounder and more stimulating theory than any of those cherished by the other professors. It demands that the critic be a man of intelligence, of toleration, of wide information, of genuine hospitality to ideas, whereas the others only demand that he have learning, and accept anything as learning that has been said before. But once he has stated his doctrine, the ingenious ex-professor, professor-like, immediately begins to corrupt it by claiming too much for it. Having laid and hatched, so to speak, his somewhat stale but still highly nourishing egg, he begins to argue fatuously that the resultant flamingo is the whole mustering of the critical Aves . But the fact is, of course, that criticism, as humanly practiced, must needs fall a good deal short of this intuitive recreation of beauty, and what is more, it must go a good deal further. For one thing, it must be interpretation in terms that are not only exact but are also comprehensible to the reader, else it will leave the original mystery as dark as before - and once interpretation comes in, paraphrase and transliteration come in. What is recondite must be made plainer; the transcendental, to some extent at least, must be done into common modes of thinking. Well, what are morality, trochaics, hexameters, movements, historical principles, psychological maxims, the dramatic unities - what are all these save common modes of thinking, short cuts, rubber stamps, words of one syllable? Moreover, beauty as we know it in this world is by no means the apparition in vacuo that Dr. Spingarn seems to see. It has its social, its political, even its moral implications. The finale of Beethoven's C minor symphony is not only colossal as music, it is also colossal as revolt; it says something against something. Yet more, the springs of beauty are not within itself alone, nor even in genius alone, but often in things without. Brahms wrote his Deutsches Requiem, not only because he was a great artist, but also because he was a good German. And in Nietzsche there are times when the divine afflatus takes a back seat, and the spirochaetae have the floor.

        Major Spingarn himself seems to harbor some sense of this limitation on his doctrine. He gives warning that "the poet's intention must be judged at the moment of the creative act" - which opens the door enough for many an ancient to creep in. But limited or not, he at least clears off a lot of moldy rubbish, and gets further toward the truth than any of his former colleagues. They waste themselves upon theories that only conceal the poet's achievement the more, the more diligently they are applied; he, at all events, grounds himself upon the sound notion that there should be free speech in art, and no protective tariffs, and no a priori assumptions, and no testing of ideas by mere words. The safe ground probably lies between the contestants, but nearer Spingarn. The critic who really illuminates starts off much as he starts off, but with a due regard for the prejudices and imbecilities of the world. I think the best feasible practice is to be found in certain chapters of Huneker, a critic of vastly more solid influence and of infinitely more value to the arts than all the prating pedagogues since Rufus Griswold. Here, as in the case of Poe, a sensitive and intelligent artist recreates the work of other artists, but there also comes to the ceremony a man of the world, and the things he has to say are apposite and instructive too. To denounce moralizing out of hand is to pronounce a moral judgment. To dispute the categories is to set up a new anti-categorical category. And to admire the work of Shakespeare is to be interested in his handling of blank verse, his social aspirations, his shot-gun marriage and his frequent concessions to the bombastic frenzy of his actors, and to have some curiosity about Mr. W. H. The really competent critic must be an empiricist. He must conduct his exploration with whatever means lie within the bounds of his personal limitation. He must produce his effects with whatever tools will work. If pills fail, he gets out his saw. If the saw won't cut, he seizes a club....

        Perhaps, after all, the chief burden that lies upon Major Spingarn's theory is to be found in its label. The word "creative" is a bit too flamboyant; it says what he wants to say, but it probably says a good deal more. In this emergency, I propose getting rid of the misleading label by pasting another over it. That is, I propose the substitution of "catalytic" for "creative," despite the fact that "catalytic" is an unfamiliar word, and suggests the dog-Latin of the seminaries. I borrow it from chemistry, and its meaning is really quite simple. A catalyzer, in chemistry, is a substance that helps two other substances to react. For example, consider the case of ordinary cane sugar and water. Dissolve the sugar in the water and nothing happens. But add a few drops of acid and the sugar changes into glucose and fructose. Meanwhile, the acid itself is absolutely unchanged. All it does is to stir up the reaction between the ureter and the sugar. The process is called catalysis. The acid is a catalyzer.

        Well, this is almost exactly the function of a genuine critic of the arts. It is his business to provoke the reaction between the work of art and the spectator. The spectator, untutored, stands unmoved; he sees the work of art, but it fails to make any intelligible impression on him; if he were spontaneously sensitive to it, there would be no need for criticism. But now comes the critic with his catalysis. He makes the work of art live for the spectator; he makes the spectator live for the work of art. Out of the process comes understanding, appreciation, intelligent enjoyment - and that is precisely what the artist tried to produce.

The Other Direction (by Steve Brightman)


Steve Brightman [photo by T.M. Göttl]

The Other Direction 

There's no way
to watch every side;
you trust yourself to hear it
before you see it.

There's no comfort
when every direction
is the other direction.
There's no sleeping easy.

There's no reflection,
no glint of sun in bed of blue,
no warning lights.

There is rumble,
you think.
You cannot tell.
Your hands shake.
There is interruption,
there is doppler.
There is weather girl
saying "now."




* * * * *

Steve Brightman lives in Kent, Ohio. He firmly believes in two seasons: winter and baseball. 

He is the author of countless chapbooks including, most recently, 13 Ways of Looking at Lou Reed (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press);  
In Brilliant Explosions Alone (2013, NightBallet Press); Like Michelangelo Sorta Said (2013, The Poet's Haven); Absent The (2013, Writing Knights Press); The Logic of Meteors (2011, Writing Knights); and Sometimes, Illinois (2011, NightBallet).