Sunday, October 30, 2011

You'd Be Damned Lucky



You'd Be Damned Lucky

A sandwich board kid practices cajolery on an empty street.

School is an empty bottle around the bend.

I once saw a statue of Jesus weep blood.
The guy showing the movie put his heart into fraud.
The girl I was with took pictures... tried not to laugh.
Sorrow is a field of fractured dream-bones.

Maybe emptied high desert towns are private journeys.

Torn realtor shoes decay at the pink bottom of an empty pool.



Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kostas Karyotakis



Happy Birthday, Kostas Karyotakis
(October 30, 1896 - July 20, 1928)

They placed no flowers on your dead man's bed.
The other poets of your time laughed at your
azure solitude, too stone-eared to know
your poems were the pain of the absolute-new.
Syphilitic, five-hour failure at drowning yourself,
you spent your last money on a rust-pocked pistol.
Your final poems were landlord-crumpled,
tossed into a maggoty garbage bin.
You sang for skinny window-children
doubled-up in sorrow, for waste-away brides
waiting for war-maddened husbands,
for mothers bearing graveyard lilies.
You scribbled orange-moon sad poems by night,
you desire-stunted, pathetic, servile clerk,
you angel of rosy-marble cemetery aspiration.
From the corners of your glassy eyes,
you caught the half-hidden diamond-sparkle
in a farewell-scatter of oblivion-bound dirt.

Norman H. Russell

 Norman H. Russell
March 1981
Fairbury, Nebraska


Norman H. Russell

No poet saw more of his poems appear in literary journals between 1970 and 1985 than Norman H. Russell.

News was carried to me recently that Russell died on May 14th of this year at age 89.

An internationally respected botanist, Russell began his poetry career relatively late... in his late forties... after taking a teaching post at Central State University in Edmond, Oklahoma.  He had made his name as an expert in the violet.  Although Russell had been a devoted reader of poetry, he only felt the impulse to write his own poems after  becoming a regular patron of the public zoo in Oklahoma City.  The first poems were about those zoo animals.  But soon Russell was writing out of his Cherokee ancestry.


 Night Dog and Other Poems
by Norman H. Russell
(Cottonwood Review, 1971)

Norman H. Russell's poems appeared in, literally, hundreds of magazines.  Some of them were dreadful.  Russell didn't seem to care.  He wrote a batch of poems... he sent out a batch of poems.  New journals appeared every month.  There were dozens of new journals launched every month in the early seventies.  Anybody within a few miles of a Xerox machine could start a magazine.  Most of those magazines died early. Some were good, a few were great, most were packed with mediocre-at-best poetry.  Russell did not appear to care about a magazine's reputation.

Frequently Russell published poems in most of the distinguished magazines of that period, including Ann Arbor Review, Crazy Horse, Dakotah Territory, Denver Quarterly, The Georgia Review, Ironwood, Kansas Quarterly, Laurel Review, Massachusetts Review, Nimrod, The Ohio Review, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Poetry Texas, Prairie Schooner, Roanoke Review, South Dakota Review, Southern Humanities Review, Texas Portfolio, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Wisconsin Review. 


 The Longest March
by Norman H. Russell
(Nebraska Review Chapbook, 1980)

Norman H. Russell, writing out of his sense of himself as Cherokee and  humanist, wrote jewel-like poems... incantations toward reconciliation of man with nature.  Many young poets of the seventies admired Russell... he was a hero of poetry.  The Literati, though, were not quite prepared to adore, much less offer respect and homage, to Russell or his poems.  Perhaps Russell was too prolific, made writing great poems seem too easy, for the literary establishment.  The bastards of the Literati never fully embraced Norman H. Russell... no more than they embraced, for instance, Charles Bukowski.  Russell did not seem to care.  He sent his poems out... magazines published most of them. More than a dozen Norman H. Russell chapbooks and books appeared 

Luckily I came to know Russell's work and eventually became friends with him.  

In the early eighties, he got me a poetry reading at Central State University, where he was vice president for academic affairs.  I stayed with Russell and his wife, Arline, and we had a grand time.  Russell saw that I carried, as was my habit in those days, a sack of baseballs and a couple of gloves and two or three Louisville Slugger bats in the trunk of my car.  I was in my thirties.  Russell was decades older than me, but he insisted on playing catch.  So there we were on Thrush Circle in Edmond, Oklahoma, tossing a baseball back and forth for half an hour, talking poetry.  Russell had a fine arm, even at age 59, and moved fluidly and received the ball with soft hands.  We played catch... not fetch.  

His Edmond neighbors were not so happy that Russell had turned against mowing his property... had restored it to its natural state, encouraging local rattlers and coyotes and deer to live beside him... and near his nervous neighbors.  

Norman H. Russell bushwhacked a trail for many Native American poets.  He was the first Indian to publish poetry widely.  He supported the growth of many poets, Indian and non-Indian, and helped more than a few gain publication.  Norman H. Russell was extraordinary in his generosity toward young poets... including me.

One can only hope, with the passing of Russell, an appropriate university press will take on the assembling and publication of a large collection of Norman H. Russell's best poems.

From Star to Leaf:
Selected Poems of Norman H. Russell
(Mr. Cogito Press - Pacific University, 1995)


Norman H. Russell books and chapbooks (an incomplete bibliography):

At the Zoo, JRD Publishing company, 1969

Night Dog and Other Poems, Cottonwood Review, 1971

Indian Thoughts, Blue Cloud Quarterly, 1972

Russell: The Man, The Teacher, The Indian, Northwoods Press, 1974

Open the Flower, The Perishable Press, 1974

Indian Thoughts: A Great Chief, BkMk Press, 1975

Indian Thoughts: The Children of God, University of California - Los Angeles, 1975

Indian Thoughts: My Journey, Blue Cloud Quarterly, 1980

The Longest March, Nebraska Review (chapbook #3), 1980

From Star to Leaf: Selected Poems of Norman H. Russell, Mr. Cogito Press - Pacific University, 1995

Friday, October 28, 2011

Purple Dying-Town Shadows



Purple Dying-Town-Shadows

Old time electric chair on sale.

Speedy Sunday picture shows
whir in the tight back storage room
of an abandoned filling station.

Airport memory: the surgical procedure
to remove tulips from poets' lungs.

Cemetery stone inscription: Bootmaker.

Beyond the local bar,
a mile of highway
patched with lipstick-stained paper napkins.

Yes, I found painful inspiration
in a cut-glass volume of Turgenev's First Love.

Baby, I like how you walk around the house,
kids grown and gone,
with only a tattered, shrunken turtleneck sweater on.

A cow-calf pair grazes a small corn stubble field on Main Street.

I ain't never gonna be anything but love-hungry.

No cafe.  But old, crumbling photographs of a cafe.

Afternoon whiskey in a jelly jar,
a woman shouts,
The sun seem louder than normal today?

After the discovery of fire,
school administrators organized
the burial of fire.

Them big ol' cardboard boxes
of astro-lawn squares...
the ones they got stored
in the old hotel...
they got some kind a weird
glow-in-the-dark fungus.

Running without lights on,
a county sheriff's cruiser
drifts up dark Main Street
to surprise any graffiti-maniacal
kid with a spray paint.

Three-thousand people lived here
'bout the time of the last
public hanging.

Over a dozen cans of Eagle brand peaches acquire
dust in a locked cabinet at the old funeral parlor.

Wanderin' poet? 
Ought to be 'shamed a yourself
for that silliness.

At the back end of the graveyard,
a rusty shovel in sagebrush.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Notes Toward a Country Song



Notes Toward a Country Song

          ... Sometimes...
               - Holly Williams

The town has a scatter bomb factory
at its fringe.  Baby says, We all go delinquent
sooner or later.  Her peasant blouse
is off cream-brown shoulders,
at her narrow waist, draped over a tartan
pleated skirt.  Oh, shining hours of thunder,
horses, and orange candle flame.
There's a Janis Joplin poster,
hard-bound poetry books from the seventies,
and baby loves the steel guitar.
There's a slice of blueberry pie
on a Styrofoam plate... and a county
sheriff's siren screams from the honky tonk
edge of town.  Baby's surgically perfect
breasts, firm and uplifted, are firmer
than any genetic luck could've built them.
Baby adds, No matter what we do,
we're always speeding toward
days we're unrehearsed for.


This poem first appeared in Concho River Review (Jerry Bradley, poetry editor).  This poem subsquently was included in Red Shuttleworth's 2011 chapbook, We Drove All Night, published by Finishing Line Press.  The chapbook may be ordered from the Finishing Line Press... or obtained from Amazon.

Jarbidge, Nevada



Jarbidge, Nevada

The last stagecoach hold-up went down
here... a quarter mile up the dirt road.
The Shoshone called this Bad Spirit Canyon.

The Red Dog Saloon's closed.
So's the school.
Bev takes me to the Open Air
for grilled rawhide,
a slice of cheese, on a bun.

The blonde barmaid's got a dozen tattoos.
She's a worn-from-patching-drywall twenty-five.
She's wearing a grease-stained
buff wife-beater, oil-splotched jeans.

The barmaid carries local blood:
iron-rich, yellowish basalt spires look down
on scraggy junipers, aspens, single-wides,
double-wides, collapsing log cabins,
a dozen grannies and grandpas
stirring Main Street on 4-wheelers.

This is where a rattler wrapped itself
around the leg of a weed-whacking grandson,
then let go after a half-hearted,
no-venom-through-the-toenail bite.


* This poem is included in Red Shuttleworth's 2011 chapbook, We Drove All Night, published by Finishing Line Press.  The chapbook is available through the publisher or from Amazon.

Like a One-Eyed Rockabilly Locksmith



Like a One-Eyed Rockabilly Locksmith

Solid grumbling-drive
'n' take off
your glasses,
baby,
'n' loosen
your hair.
Around
the town square
we'll make
a bid
for love.

You're
sweeter
'n' a dozen
nailed-to-a-wall
sparklin' hubcaps.

I'm desperation
drunk
for your
skin, baby,
like blazin'-gentle
Crickets' songs.

A fence-breakin'
mean ol' bull...
not some
city
roll-of-toilet
paper-throwin'
meth-wobble boy.

What-say,
baby,
we find
our fringes,
like cafe-waltz
in blues-glide.

No...
I ain't
just packed
together
with athletic tape...
not completely.

Later
we can
scrub-off
in a warm
trough
of horse water,
let miseries
splash out.

Around
the town square,
the brickwork
a blur,
we are
coincidence-
fable...
naked,
grinding love:
the entire
cosmic slide
for heaven. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is Said... Later



What is Said... Later

There was a sluggish breeze off the moon.

Ecstasy-lost, they bought expensive cowboy hats to even the score.

Please don't slice grapefruit on the kitchen table.

A glass of burgundy served to remind him
of startled deer running alongside his midnight car.

Analysis: after he fucked the actress on the hood
of her red sports car, her hairy armpits did not matter.
She transitioned to singer... learned to shave.

The plush gift shop coyote with purple eyes was not cute.
So he bought it for his dog to rip apart.

The rental cabins alongside the road had no running water.
But the girl had vintage lingerie and champagne to pop open.

Worst fear?  Ending life as a security guard at an onion soup factory.

I do not hard-boil eggs for you to throw them off
a strike zone painted on a stupid barn.

He eventually learned that marriage is not an old time TV beer commercial.

He awoke each morning like a 9-rounds-weary boxer.

That was his stalled-in-brain sadness
taking a nasty dump between his ear holes.

An actress-singer he once fucked phoned before dawn,
You were right after all... about one thing:
Canadian pineapple pizza is awesome.

He grew to love the smell of graveyard sagebrush.

Your dog does not need lathering-up with fancy
bubblebath shampoo once a summer month.

The longer he was separated from the prairie,
the less he thought dark chocolate was a cure for anything.

Roadside bar fights were redemptive...
even when he was properly thrashed.
















Monday, October 17, 2011

Insomnia-Sparks (Pilgrimage for Little Britches)

Jennie "Little Britches" Metcalf


Insomnia-Sparks  (Pilgrimage for Little Britches)

There are fewer and shallower next times.
Maybe sleep is for pius coin-grubbers.
You load the erratic-alignment green pick-up.

Darlin' offers a bacon & cheddar
biscuit sandwich for the road,
I forgive you... an on-the-surface forgiveness.

It is the sugar of driving near-eighty...
counting telephone poles past midnight...
dark two-lanes south to Pawnee.

Lonesome money in the wallet.
Lightning-crazed bison in the arteries.

Kansas-Oklahoma border roadhouse
at sweep-out time, no breakfast served:
Little Britches has been gone
over a hundred years.
Substitute?  No...
we ain't got a substitute available.

Down-road, no sign of the Doolins or Daltons.
Broke-nosed bartender,
dressed like a woman-hipped
Kansas City shrink at a country club,
This is a place for nice folks to get drunk,
so it pays for me to say out of fireworks.

You nearly run over a billy goat
with an electric no-bark collar.
You deal it a kick in the ass,
consider duct taping it to a fence post.

Women in tight, ironed Wranglers,
silver belt buckles, order rum
in a Tulsa brass 'n' ferns hotel bar.

Eroded red hills toward Arkansas:
a blind woman sits marble-still
on a creaky front porch,
listens to her Bible on cassette tape,
Sinners are frothing in hell.

Back to Pawnee where they caught
Little Britches and Cattle Annie:
quiet streets and morning shadows.
An old man walks past a cafe,
swings a thin chain without a watch.
A security guard, no gun,
comes out of a grocery store
with a bottle of Mountain Dew.

There are too many,
way too damned many street lights
to shoot out in one lifetime.

More Than a Hunch


More Than a Hunch

Bar stool blonde rolls beer-muddled eyes,
I can be packed quick... anybody headed
for Denver... even Lincoln or Omaha?
She grips the bar, raises bare feet onto it.

A homeless, kicked-from-the-nest, unemployed
cabinet maker begs the bartender,
You wouldn't take a man's last loose change,
would ya... hang a man from his own ceiling?

It's the curse of an incoming thunderstorm,
moving north into Holdrege from Kansas.
It's the bar stool blonde with a green apple
belly ache and a boy doing county jail time.

It's thirsty bones poking out of thistle patches.
It's the motel with half-washed black towels.
It's short of midnight and the bartender
says the blonde is a symbol of day care.

The blonde says it's bad water from hog farms,
says, It was limp-dick school teachers
who caused me to lose being Miss Hereford.
She bites her lip, scowls, looks fence-post-hard.

It's stolen-from-the clinic used needles.
It's the local obsession with sub soil moisture.
It's being a bar stool blonde among the dim.
Soon it's going to be a brick through a windshield.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Even If Painful



Even If Painful

What glimpse of self comes from sagebrush?
The brawny hound up ahead swishes his tail,
tosses his head to say, Forward, snap forward.

          ***

Rancher says to me, This country
cracked-out raw and thin back in Genesis.
He takes a pinch of Copenhagen snuff
from my can.  We both stare off
at sagebrush, thin soil, rock, bad fence line.
Jesus was all for bankers in leg irons.

          ***

Pretty baby steps into her overgrown
patch of tomato plants, rolls up her sleeves,
Guess we'll take what we get 'till there's a freeze.
A young rattler races from beneath thick vines.

          ***

Bright metallic-white trail in the sky.
Maybe someone on board with rattler history,
an atrophied hand, a dog blinded,
a snake fried in butter and cornbread batter.
The blue sky quivers, wipes itself clean.

          ***

A quarter mile of sagebrush... like medicine
no one knows how to use.  One spidery
elm tree on the other side of the hill.
The creek on the map is a dry crease.

          ***

Towns ain't nothin' but a padded bra.
The rancher smacks the hood of his pick-up.
Just the anguished cuppin' each other's chins.
Narrow lives in the service of  rackets.
Grandpa came here tied to a saddle.

          ***

Pretty baby wants the county to blacktop
the gravel track right to our front door.
What, old man, is that sagebrush
doing on my kitchen table?
The county wants property taxes paid,
wants everyone but the hound
available for jury duty...
'n' screw the paving.

           ***

Stiff-knees evening.  TV foppery:
a slobbery woman in bright light
confides to millions she's creamed
the pouches and double chin
right off her beauty-robbed face.
The sagebrush has somehow moved
to the hound's kitchen bed.
Might have to give it a proper name.





 

Friday, October 14, 2011

That's Up to You



That's Up to You

You stare at sagebrush long enough
and you're back in Crayon time...
popcorn and a Cisco Kid matinee movie.

Sunlight snaps barb wire back and forth.
You can mistake the sound for twang-guitar.
Not a trace of a ghost in the sky.

Your knife needs new duct tape on the handle.
Two motels ago a battered-to-a-slouch
maid brought you thin church raffle towels.

Back in beans 'n' bacon school, fists and laughter,
good scars to carry, a moist-lipped girl
--cat-clawed thorny sweater-- to fall in love with.

Up north on this dirt road, a long-empty house,
a burn barrel stuffed with off-brand beer cans,
a splintered-boards corral high with dry weeds.

You stare at sagebrush, talk to it long enough,
and the next busty bank teller will appear
tastier than a huge kettle of hot buffalo stew.


  

Mikhail Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov


Mikhail Lermontov
(October 15, 1814 - July 27, 1841)

Today's poets do not enter pistol duels.
They suck cigarettes, sip wine, pontificate
beneath lush maple trees in university towns.
Today's poets marry their chalk-face kind.
Brother, your shade laughs at so-called men
as they sponge dishes and change toddler diapers
while their fatty princesses gibber at each other.
The knuckles of their fleshy hands are scarless.

Fire ran, no compromise, in your arteries,
Lermontov.  Women's faces turned rosy
as you passed by, scarcely acknowledging
the probability of warm nights they'd give you.
Horseman-warrior, you sang of honor for the sturdy.

No bitter tears for you tonight.
Yes... the absurdity of depression,
that surprising sadness without reason.
More battle, more whiskey, more poetry!
So much is the confusion of melodrama.
None of that!  Bring on the court jesters,
the false poets... bring out the dueling pistols! 



Lermontov Memorial
Pyatigorsk, Russia

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Least Ways



Least Ways

The kid sees the girl
when he takes dinner
at a store front
Christer shelter...
Let 'em be desolate
for shame's reward.

She bitter-fingers
a sweat-sticky
green cotton dress....
muave plastic walls
without-end
for naked memory.

Bearded street
minister: To every one
a crust of bread,
an okay chunk
of food bank
canned meat,
a cup of Kool Aid.

Dead end
desert town
off some barren hills,
like a long
broke-handle
wicker basket...
yesterday's Safeway
florist corner roses.

The girl settles
next to him at supper,
crunches down low,
like a chilled shadow...
startles him...
raises up his
stunted hand
to kiss it slow.

Raised-up to be clutter.
What about you?
She follows him
around the block
and does it again.
The boy's got
a sack of stolen
brass door knobs.

They joke
about the clogged
gas station toilet
at the scar-edge
of town.

Four or six miles
north along the highway
there's a nothin'-much
wood fruit sales
shack...
back door
out in the weeds.

The boy
takes off
a red-on-black
furniture company
thin jacket.
She slips
her arms
into snaggy sleeves.

All night
the small voices
of possession,
the slap-slap
of bad semi
tires on the highway,
the warmth of two
bodies tipped
toward love.






If It's Going to Do Any Good



If It's Going to Do Any Good

Stars are embers of the abyss.

Elko: an old man in an old hotel
sits a crooked wooden chair.
From his corner room window:
drinkers pass to heart-jolts.
Or to cheap rooms like his.
Or to car dealerships, half-polished,
road-battered sixties Cadillacs.

That patch of October moon makes for crazy.

Or it is a farmhouse basement room,
sepia photographs of boxers throwing
scorch-face jabs and lightning hooks,
magazine covers of a lethargic Marilyn,
cigar boxes filled with lacy bridal garters...
a farmhouse with the farm sliced-away.
Upstairs a woman kneels at a bathtub...
lathers an ears-back spaniel.

Stop pretending there's a reward out on you.

Lexington, Nebraska: a one-story run-down
brick motel... a crusty south side window.
It's Halloween.  It's raining a dead-fish river.
Miserable sobbing clouds with a grudge.
A homecoming king and queen speculate-
nervous about the bed and bugs,
switch on the TV, hold hands.




Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Eugenio Montale



Happy Birthday, Eugenio Montale
(October 12, 1896 - September 12, 1981)

Loud quarrels, shoppers, gripers:
Milan with a red billboard
in blue evening rain...
a street of squared grey stone,
luminous rail tracks,
a web of overhead wires.
Yes, couples in love... and the lonely.

Perhaps God listens to gossip.
Perhaps the premise for the divine
is thin barley soup, no meat.
Every paradise I entered was crowded.
Sugary kisses in Aspen,
blueberry scones in Sun Valley,
but the brittle flow of walkers
gave off the sound of ice
splitting basalt.  Like you,
I tried to locate the Good.
Knowing the final result is carbon.

Let us drink, gloom-poet,
poet with golden lines
at raw solitude-hours.
Let us sing invisible songs
of storm-dream...
majestic confections of eternity.
What gain from collapse-pensive
or doubt?  It is no time to envy the dead.

Dog Heart... On the Dodge

Rockabilly
a Ciara Shuttleworth sketch


Dog Heart... On the Dodge

Another one-time night... and morning.
The girl, maybe thirty, probably twenty-five,
swings bare legs off the queen-size motel bed,
wiggles small toes... emerald-green toenails.
Some kind of burn scar on her thigh.
Can't tell in curtains-drawn morning light.

Her name's Caprice.
Black cut-off jeans on a chair,
her glaze-bright silver shirt on the floor.
You roll over, hope she comes back to bed.
She yawns, My neighbor's double-wide
has wiring problems.  Kitchen lights flicker.
You're feeling the sorrow of not being alone.
You're not pumped-up for any squabble.

Dust on the windowsill.  You gaze
between curtains: cop cars at an intersection.
Wrecked Honda and a Sam's Club semi.
Cottonwood leaves on the street.
Likely a cool wind off the Dakota border.
The highway you might drive west
will be ice-thick in two weeks,
like cracked glass... jackknifed rigs.
She puts her arms around you,
hands loose... moving nice.

Up and down the hallway,
motel maids chatter in Spanish,
some still pretty, most fleshy-faced fat.
Not a tall building in the town.
You pretend to yourself
you can see the happy faces of low
distant sparse-grass hills to the north.
A jug of warm orange juice from last night
is on the chest of drawers and TV.
Her vodka's been gone for hours

She turns on the shower, full-bore hot,
turns toward you, The steam'll sexy-up the room.
Fake blue eyelashes next to the white sink.
Book of matches from The Backlot,
where she dances long weekends.
You're relieved when she says,
I don't ever eat breakfast.
There's a crinkled baggie of weak
ditch-weed pot spilling from
her dirty vanilla-white purse.

Caprice.  She has a sweet, throaty
blues-rock voice, Sit on the edge of the bed.
You lean back on your elbows.
Something's languished way too long
behind her gold-flecked asphalt eyes.
You focus on the the pebbled ceiling,
the blinking aqua smoke alarm light,
feel her lips close in for a rouse-glide.
She tugs herself off you, slants to the floor,
laughs, Last time I was out a few nights,
my husband ripped all my panties,
but he's really pretty good with the kids. 
 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wolf Shuttleworth: Interview

Wolf Shuttleworth
with Red Shuttleworth

Wolf Shuttleworth: Interview

Q:  You're a dog.

Wolf:  Irish Wolfhound.  Long literary tradition.  My kind is known for war and hunting down wolves, but we kept civilization literate during the Dark Ages.

Q:  Wolfhound are the largest breed of dog, right?  How big are you?

Wolf:  I'm pretty breed-specific... 36 1/2 inches at the shoulder, weigh around 150-pounds.  As the saying goes, "Gentle when stroked.  Fierce when provoked."  All in all, I'm a pretty nice guy.  The tellers at bank drive-up windows really enjoy handing me dog biscuits.  Kids come up to me all the time.  They love me.  Now... if someone is wary of me, then it's sometimes a signal that they're evil bastards up to no good.  Sometimes, if they're wary, it's because they've had a bad dog experience.  I can tell the difference right away.

Q: How did you come to collaborate with Red Shuttleworth?

Wolf:  He adopted me when I was a young puppy.  Started reading certain works to me right away: Trakl, Hemingway, Zarzyski, Heaney, Yeats....

Q:  What's the process between you and Red?

Wolf:  We're always together, so, as I come up with something Red can write down, I bring it to his attention.  We walk about a mile and a half a day... that helps.  Good poetry comes from the body.  The body never lies.  Head poetry is no good at all.  The body lives through images and sensations.  If you're senseless, then you're in a coma or you're dead.  The same goes for poetry: no use of the senses means the poem is dead.  Want dead poetry?  Then read Rumi.  Rumi's about as dead as Millard Fillmore.

Q:  You have something of a college background, right?

Wolf:  For my first three years, I went to Big Bend Community College... mostly to hang out in Red's office.  I'd meet students and listen to their life stories.  Pretty grim stuff, really, sometimes.  Around the 9th week of instruction, the students' cars would break down, grannies died, protection orders were broken by criminally insane former lovers and spouses.  Good stuff for material.  But I never went to class.  There were a lot of books in the office to chew through, so I read James Wright, John Berryman....

Q:  Did you hang around with the college's English faculty?

Wolf:  That would've been pointless.  Few college English teachers can write.  A college would never hire an athletic coach if that person couldn't demonstrate skills in his sport.  But colleges hire English teachers who can't or won't write.  Happens all the time.  The English teachers at Big Bend, save Matt Sullivan, are a doltish lot.  They couldn't write a memorable sentence without tracing paper.  Naw... I kept away from them.

Q: Should writers have dogs?  Like is it a big help to them?

Wolf:  Go ask Edward Albee about his Irish Wolfhounds and how they got him a handful of Pulitzer Prizes.  A writer without a dog makes no sense.  Steinbeck and Charlie.  Hemingway and Black Dog.  Zarzyski and Zeke.  A dog is quintessential to the writing process.


Wolf and Red Shuttleworth

Q:  Does being rather obvious, given your size, get in the way of observing what you come across... seeing, feeling, hearing... well, acquiring material for poems?

Wolf:  I am always scouting for poems.  It's my life's work.  Sort of a canine Robert Lowell... if you will.  Or a James Dickey.

Q:  Have you ever visited an MFA program?

Wolf:  One time I went over to look at the Idaho MFA program.  My human sister, Ciara, and my human brother, Luke, were giving a reading.  Somehow I got stuck at the hotel... so I didn't catch it.  But... look, you can't teach writing.  Maybe a few tricks or skills.  But talent can't be taught.  There are over 600 tenured professors of creative writing in America.  There are over 20,000 living recipients of the MFA in creative writing.  Really, how many are worth reading?  These questions tend to make the MFA literati nervous.  Most MFA professors are boring.  Most MFA students are wasting money.

Q:  But Ciara Shuttleworth, who will soon have her MFA from Idaho, has published in The New Yorker.

Wolf:  So what?  What's the New Yorker?  Just another provincial magazine... this one particularly curated-edited for apartment dwellers east of the Hudson River.  That's a pretty narrow sensibility.  As for Ciara, she's got major league talent.  I suppose one could argue that Bob Wrigley has mentored her well.  I wouldn't argue that, but Ciara would.  The hard truth is that most MFA students are customers... not talented student-writers.  How many of the Idaho MFA students will gain significant publication?  A few, yes.  But most will drift off from writing after a few years, heads down in shame at their inability to write for publication... and they'll get, if lucky, academic jobs... and learn to professor-posture.

Q:  At this point, Wolf, you and Red have posted over 500 poems on this blog.  What's the goal?

Wolf:  We like to write, both Red and me.  It's what we do.  It's our life's work.  Sure... it'd be nice to eventually have written 20,000 poems... like the ancient great, Li Po.  Right now we just take it day by day.  Walks and writing poems.  

Q:  Why did you leave facebook recently?

Wolf:  Why not chuck facebook?  It's going way creepy-invasive... tracking people's computer use.  Facebook ought to be regulated like phone companies and TV stations.  The constituency for facebook: advertisers.  Facebook could give a bark about the people who use it.  For me, it became a matter of its banalities.  I narrowed the roster for Red down to 139 people... and that still seemed like too large a number.

Q:  So facebook was useless to you.

Wolf:  Actually, there were some good friends out of it... especially Nuno Santos... a great guy in Portugal who writes poetry and plays and uses facebook to celebrate what's going on, what's truly happening in culture.  Yeah, Nuno Santos.  He came to America to meet me.  We had a heck of a grand time: good food, whiskey, late nights listening to music, driving around the Columbia Basin.  But when my friend poet Paul Zarzyski sort of faded from facebook, then I started talking to the old man about leaving.  We only have so much time and so much energy.  We need to put our hearts and bodies into poetry. 


Note: Wolfie Shuttleworth died at the premature age of five and a half years of age on January 4, 2013 at Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital while being unsuccessfully treated for osteosarcoma (bone cancer).  

 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Stig Dagerman



Happy Birthday, Stig Dagerman
(October 5, 1923 - November 4, 1954)

You did not wish for eternity.
It's raining tonight... unsentimentally.
Bent sunflower stalks bow to you.
Not exactly the outreached hand
that could've kept you with us.

I don't have the statistic handy:
how many sad men
walk each year into garages
and turn ignition switches
with no desert town motel
to drive hard to...
just turn on the engine,
garage door shut,
and suck into their lungs
all of mankind's exhaustion.

Brother of the write-
a-poem-a-day compulsion,
you imagined more from others
than milk-hearted malice...
more from yourself
than confusion
and weeping jags.

It was just a photo-op,
right, that portrait of you,
famed playwright, novelist of the bleak,
within a cluster of beautiful women?
Not the blessedness of love?
Did you wander out later
and embrace marble statues?

Mankind's horror of stars
shining through rain.