November 28, 2010

The Shackles of Meat

Day four of waking up and going to sleep in the same bed, for the first time in over six weeks: home sweet home. I am slowly weaning myself off the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers. One lone slice of turkey waits in my fridge, with its bed of quinoa and a handful of spicy salad greens; one peanut-butter cookie is left, wrapped in tinfoil. Then it's back to the off-the-road diet.

A trio of poets came over last night, including one we needed to toast for his recent NEA fellowship, and a few loved ones. Given the perpetual email/phone-tag associated with getting together in DC, it was nothing short of a miracle to have a half-dozen people gather around a table with no fuss. I used to live in a dramatic two-story apartment in Dupont Circle, and one of the hard things about leaving was feeling like I was giving up the ability to host. But with enough candles lit, a few extra folding chairs, and a pot of apple cider on the stove warming with cinnamon and spiced rum, this place has the potential for its own (little) parties. It's sappy, but it's true: what matters is the intimacy and good nature of the people at hand. And hey, my headboard makes an excellent coat rack.

Being in one place has given me back the luxury of reading, and so I wolfed down the July/August, October, and December issues of POETRY. Though the July/August issue includes some good poems (I was pleasantly riled up by this one by Arthur Vogelsang), anytime your "Letters to the Editor" are from Stephen Burt, Terrance Hayes, and Daisy Fried, the prose is where it's at. There's a potent "The View From Here" portfolio in which people from fields outside literary academia reflect on the power of poetry within their lives. The standouts are by cartoonist Lynda Barry ("Poetry Is a Dumb-Ass Spider")  and Burundi Parliamentarian Etienne Ndayishimiye ("Dust and Stones," translated by David Shook); plus, there is probably someone in your life who loves sports, is trying to love poetry for your sake, and would welcome seeing the contribution from basketball coach John Wooden ("The Great Scorer"). Michael Dirda's long review of Michael Donaghy's Collected Poems and The Shape of the Dance: Essays, Interviews and Digressions was a truly thoughtful look at Donaghy's legacy, and illuminated his appeal in a way I had never fully understood before. I hope Dirda, whose work usually turns up in places like The Washington Post and The American Scholar, visits these pages again.

Also in the July/August issue, Robert Pinsky's "Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant" was...well, it wasn't my favorite. This futuristic robot-themed libretto was written in conjunction with composer Tod Machover, who is at MIT's Media Lab; I gave up when Simon proclaimed "Yes come to the light from the meat!" It was as if Ray Bradbury had dropped acid. I did appreciate the revelation, in the follow-up Q&A, that Robert Pinsky wrote for Broderbund Software in the mid-'80s. I suspect his work was limited to Mindwheel, but I'd love to think the former Poet Laureate gave us those ACME-Detective-Acency dialogues in Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Or that he's the mastermind behind Myst. (Admittedly, storylines were less extensive for Lode Runner and Mavis Bacon Teaches Typing.)

Anyway, Pinsky says he's drafting an adaptation/translation project in blank verse for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, here in DC. I'd be interested to see that, when the time comes. I do admire his work, but this piece--a strange mix of satire and melodrama, in which the literal trade of flesh for machinery symbolizes our larger surrender of humanity, with Greek-chorus cameos by the United Way and the Untied Nations--just wasn't doing it for me.

The editors consistently do a great job with their Q&As; the questions are usually insightful, and do not pander. The brand-new December issue is entirely devoted to them, an annual feature, and I really got into the dialogues with Michael Robbins, Jane Hirshfield, and Sine Queryas. That has nothing to so with which poems I liked best--I think my favorite was Charles Baxter's "Please Marry Me," which is exciting since Baxter's usually a fiction writer. And in the case of Robbins, it's not as if we're simpatico in worldview: his tone and politics can veer toward the grating. ("Whole Foods, that union-busting paragon of "new age" liberalism, is a metonym for an entire parascientific culture that makes light of transcendent experience." Oh. Good to know!) But so often poem-specific Q&As feel like nothing more than a defense or decoding of the text at hand, and all three authors escape that. Queryas makes some lovely points about the nature of elegy and asking questions in poems.

All right all right all right, back to work. Getting dressed would be a good first step.


Murk Plectrum said...

I meant that Whole Foods is such a metonym in my poem, of course. I do find it odd that you'd think it grating for me to call Whole Foods on its anti-union policies.


Sandra said...

Oh, yes, Mark--I understood the context. And overall I thought your Q&A was quite interesting. But I think you're misreading my comment a bit. Of that of that whole sentence, the modifier "anti-union" was the part I had no issue with. The tangential potshot at "'new age' liberalism," was what turned me off.

But just because I disagree doesn't mean I can't enjoy the read. That's why I like Christopher Hitchens! It's a great overall dialogue, especially your image of your ideal reader (re the Pink/New Yorker exchange). Thank you for being willing to take part in it for POETRY.

Murk Plectrum said...

Well, I'd say that bit was hardly tangential given the context (I had been discussing liberalism at some length, after all). But I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Who's Mark?

Sandra said...

Oh, that was stupid of me--I was going to type "Murk," per your alias Blogger name, but the typo only muddies it further. Apologies!