Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hairy Otter

Lest anyone think my title is original, it's not. I don't know how many places sell the t-shirts, so far I've heard the Monterey Bay Aquarium and someplace in Alaska. They may sell them right here in Louisville for all I know. Of course, there are few actual sea otters in the Bay of Louisville---
In other news I went to see the movie about penguins today. There was a five-year-old in the seat next to me who kept climbing out of her seat and saying "Mommy I'm bored." She became happier when the baby penguins cracked their way out of their shells. I feel very dumb because after seeing the movie I'm not sure if penguins are made of feathers or fur.

Yeah, I know they're birds.

As I knew in advance a new Harry Potter book was due out in the middle of the semester, I probably should have put it on my reading list. Then I would have felt industrious rather than indulgent during the 48 hours in which free moments were spent glued to the misadventures of wizards and witches. What does a poet stand to gain from reading a book which sold 6.9 million copies in the first 24 hours on the shelf??? Wouldn't it be weird if a poetry book sold 500 copies in the first 24 hours? It's strange that I'm a Harry Potter fan, I used to enjoy avoiding fads and mainstream enthusiasms. While I was reading this number six of seven, I kept wondering if I was binging on literary junk food. At the same time I was having thoughts like: "Well, I'll take the trash out in a minute, right now I've got to find out if Snape is really a Death Eater."

For those of you who might have kept up with my blog and are aware of my intellectual/spiritual crisis --- I don't know the difference between good and evil --- I will let you know that my allegiances are clear when it comes to Harry and his gang. What I'm less certain about is whether the black cat walking on the keyboard as I try to type this is in league with the Wicked Witch of the West.Probably not, because this particular cat doesn't mind getting soaked when it rains .

So as you can see I'm still running alongside the poetry bus trying to wave down the driver. Either that or I'm passing the poetry bus in my
black Jaguar, with a patronizing wave at the driver. Neither of these scenarios are appropriate because today my mentor sent back her comments on the rough draft of my ECE, meaning I had better board the poetry bus gratefully, put my token in the box, and take a seat.

My next blog entry will be on the use of the definite article in Wordsworth's "Prelude."

--- Harriet

Thursday, July 21, 2005

my cat asserts himself

I read a portion of my last blog entry, the one about darkness, to a friend, and she said: "Oh, I'm so sorry you're so confused." Confused? I asked her what she meant. "You don't know the difference between good and evil," my friend said in a pitying tone of voice.

In a way I could say to my friend, in an indignant third-grader voice, "I do SO know the difference between good and evil." And to discuss the sense in which I don't, I'd have to pretty much get into politics. Or theology.

Another option is I could just pretty much shut up. Write my ECE. If I must blog, I could blog
about the finer points of prosody.

Thank you, blog-readers, for your kind comments. I must now brush my tomcat, who has arrived on my desk.

--- Harriet.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

what color is dark???

What are some similarities between pop-psychologist of the soul Thomas Moore and the young Darth Vader? How can I possibly concentrate enough to answer my own question with a big old buzzy fly on the curtain above my head and an craving for a Heine Bros. Chai-berg which has gone unsatisfied for three nights?

After resisting the second Star Wars trilogy through the first two movies, I finally broke down and saw "Revenge of the Sith" with my mom a month or so ago. I was captivated as Anakin (sp?) who was a great hero among the Jedi was lured over to the "Dark Side of the Force" --- he can't bear his prophetic dreams about his wife dying in childbirth, so the possibility of possessing the power to override death excites him to the core. The virtuous Jedi are presented by Anakin's mentor the prime
minister (who turns out to be a Sith lord) as lacking depth, as ultimately less powerful.

Thomas Moore's book "Dark Nights of the Soul" is just out in paperback.
Since I felt a little dark, engaged as I am in such existential struggles as quitting smoking and writing my ECE, I purchased the book, and I've been stealing time from critical writing and arranging sessions in the La-z-boy chair on the front porch to give Mr. Moore opportunities to educate me. Of course everybody knows dark nights of the soul are times of depression, illness or other difficulty; Moore suggests that "the dark night calls for a spiritual response." He almost ridicules anyone who would want to have their dark night over with quickly, or who would seek a merely therapeutic answer. The dark night of the soul can be a deep character-building experience.

OK, we're talking about two very different people, two very different concepts, right? Anakin, who becomes Darth Vader, is EVIL. We all root for the Jedi knights when we watch Star Wars films. There are unsavory qualities to the Sith, and they don't know how to love.

"Imagine that you didn't feel a stranger to your dark night and that you had a key to entering it and leaving it." Thomas Moore suggests that exploring our dark qualities makes us deeper and being deeper means possibly being stronger.

OK so the thing is, Moore isn't suggesting to anyone that they try to take over the universe. He offers no sinister powers, like newfangled ways of killing people, like special skills with the lightsaver, like replacing human body parts with whatever it is Darth Vader always wears after he gets burned up in that weird fiery place.

Moore has the following arguments to anyone who thinks they are exclusively virtuous beings of Light:

"However you present yourself to the world, on some level you are a dark person. You have thoughts you don't usually tell people. You are capable of things that your friends may know nothing about. You are probably more interesting sexually than the world realizes. You probably have some anger and fears that you don't tell people about. You may have secrets from the past that make you more intriguing than your persona would suggest. Certainly your potential for darker thoughts and behavior is rich."

To go along with Moore's argument for a moment. I would suggest that many of those of us who write poetry have explored the darkness even if only under linguistic cloaks of secrecy. Moore actually says that poetry is the perfect genre for such exploration. It is not necessary to be "confessional" --- after all, George Lucas certainly must have been exploring his own darkness with all those big expensive movies, but I don't know one single fact about his life. In the quote unquote real world, the dark side isn't literally populated with all those creatures and different types of space vehicles and weapons. The world of dreams, where most of us probably regularly encounter the dark side, is another story. Moore is certainly not the first in the field of psychology to suggest
that we can ignore the dark side when we're conscious, but it'll git us when we go to sleep.

The possibility of bizarre dreams aside, what would be the problem with avoiding dark nights of the soul, and living a carefully planned life of goodness and light and love??? There are spiritual traditions such as Jewish Kabbalah and Buddhism that suggest negativity, or darkness, can be willed away. We can become such creatures of Light that we don't express anger, that we don't worry or obsess, that we never become depressed. In layman's Kabbalah this is called being "proactive," in Buddhism there are three "afflictions" which are to be conquered, hatred or anger, craving or attachment, and delusion, and in theory a person can aspire to live without these.

Moore suggests instead that we burrow more deeply into negativity.
This is how we become people of character. The Sith do not rule anything out. They believe that power is what is most important and they will acquire it "by any means necessary."

Oh yeah, Darth Vader howls to raise the dead when he finds out that his wife has in fact died in childbirth. This is the heartbreaking fact of this evil one's more human past. So, if keeping his wife alive was the main reason Anakin went over to the dark side, could it be said he did this out of LOVE???

What IS the difference between good and evil anyway??? I don't think I have the answer today. Rae, who is somewhere close to the last page of the new Harry Potter, probably has a better answer than I do.

--- Harriet.

Monday, July 18, 2005

life in a box

Now that I've chased away my readership with yet another WEIRD blog entry, I will pause at the end of Monday night to address the blog spirits or poltergeists or extremely hardy souls who venture to adventure with me one more time. My title is borrowed from a recent blog entry by Gwen. It also reminds me of a song by Alice in Chains called "Man in a Box." Though I'm the wrong gender, I have identified with that song at times, been known to turn it up loud when it comes on my car radio.

SO, the exceptionally hardy reader of this blog entry is wondering, WHEN do we get back to poetry??? Probably not until the ECE joins with the family picnic on the 4th and the grandbaby's first birthday as a Polaroid memory (or is that supposed to be Kodak???) Oh, I suppose I could share heartwarming stories of my progress on the ECE. This morning I woke up to the sounds of an intruder in the kitchen. Not to suggest that I had no clue as to who this intruder might be. Yes, my girlfriend's schizophrenic son, whom I mentioned in my last blog entry, a young man who has been repeatedly politely asked by his mother to PLEASE knock and wait for a response before coming in. He had emptied the refrigerator of everything but a few science experiments, and there were pots boiling on all the burners and there was something in the oven which smelled vaguely like charcoal. I said: "Ian, what the BLEEP are you doing here???"

Tomorrow, should I detect anything with my schizophrenia detector upon rising and shining, I am cleared to make a pleasant call to the local precinct, letting them know they should sent someone from the CIT team --- cops specially trained to deal with the mentally ill.

So what does all this have to do with progress on my ECE??? After Ian left (neglecting to turn off the burners), I sat down and spent a few amusing moments considering the work of Eleanor Lerman.

The poetry of Eleanor Lerman IS, after all, amusing; I don't know why I sometimes think or say it's not, except that of course I know why, it's because when you eat drink and breathe someone's poetry (I never intended my ECE to be about only one poet) it can start to feel like your own, and I, for one, do not always feel so terrific about my own work.
Lerman is not a well-known poet and I feel self-conscious writing about her --- my ECE may well be the first critical writing of significant length that anyone has done on her work, and that's sort of a lot of responsibility for an actual nut like me to take on.

Yeah, for example Lerman's publisher, Sarabande books, has expressed interest in seeing the finished essay. Gawd, I just want to hide behind the refrigerator. As any reader could tell from reading my blog, I am very shy and slow to reveal my opinions. Would Spalding let me adopt a pen name when I turn in my ECE??? Maybe the nice folks at Sarabande will have forgotten my name by the time this essay is all MLA-ed and approved.
That's if all that good stuff happens; before it does, I'm going to have to
spend some more quality time with Ms. Lerman.

But now before signing off on this cyber-document, I should think back to the title of my blog entry: life in a box. Do I live in a box? Do we all live in invisible boxes? Oh, hey, this is all a little mystical or deep for me. Yeah, we all have our limitations, and we all have limits imposed on us. Big deal. If these things weren't true, each one of us would be the Universe, or God, or something.

I will need a box to hide in. Instead of hiding behind the refrigerator, I should hide inside it. If I can figure out how to do that, I can surely figure out what to say in the homestretch (last ten pages) of my ECE. I want to thank anyone who has born with me through this and other nutty installments of purple prose in the actual nuthouse.

--- Harriet.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

my cartoon vacation

When you don't know if it's stress or MS that's making you shake and then your girlfriend's schizophrenic son walks in the house saying something about East German women drinking gin and building rockets... you know it's time for a tropical island, the kind with the cartoon fish that talk to you and the cartoon guys with dreads who drape coral necklaces on you and can make alcoholic drinks that don't interact with your blood pressure medicine (this paragraph contains fictional details, believe it or not). Or, you sit down to write a blog entry as a way of ignoring the schizophrenic son and the creepy feelings in your head which your girlfriend says are weather-related --- no, you're not about to explode. You wish you hadn't treated your mentor to a play-by-play of your Space-Invaders-type-shoot-em-up-competition with a list of physical symptoms all of which probably were related to anxiety. You wish you hadn't let all the bloggers and blog-readers know the extent of your malaise but now it's too late, not really too late because after all there's a backspace key and a delete key but you throw your hands in the air, this blog is called Actual Nuthouse so you might as well tell the truth (and throw in a few fictional details to keep em guessing).

Enter puppy. Yap yap. Turns out this puppy is part Doberman, even though he's all black. He comes bouncing in, licky licky licky.

What I like about blogging is it doesn't have to be all about poetry, though maybe it should be. Today I wheezed out a few pages of ECE, struggling with the sensation of knives in my head and an urge to smoke. Meanwhile my girlfriend was buried in Harry Potter, purchased at last night's bookstore party which was blessed by a certain red SUV that kept circling the block, its passengers shouting obscenities, finally mooning the Potter-ites --- I recreationally wondered: why do they hate us??? --- a question asked on nine eleven by more than one of my clients at the halfway house (and plenty of Americans who did not suffer from mental illness as well). Today, a friend remarked: "Anyone who doesn't like Harry Potter fans is un-American." I reminded her that it's a British phenomenon. "Selling books is an American phenomenon," she reminded me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

two little poems

Some of you may have read my post on quitting smoking. I know two of you did, because you made kind comments (thank you). I would now like to share my miniature poems, the first signs of life after shocking my brain by cutting off its smoke and nicotine supply.


I can’t punctuate each breath with smoke
or walk on smoke, mentally,
a trick I learned too young.
My voice feels like a yo-yo self-
motivated, leaving my grip,
visiting Japan or maybe
Senegal. I can’t make thoughts
by pouring strong coffee
on my frontal lobes; I can’t
write poems.

The other poem was inspired by a fellow blogger.


When I am asked
how I began writing poems
I say I did it in my head
midwinter, Texas,
last ride through the neighborhood
on my big green bike; I stopped
and stood beholding prickly pear
in a vacant lot which the hillside
formed into a gentle L-shape;
the clubs of the cactus
were proud against turquoise;
I photographed them mentally then
when I was ten.

I welcome any feedback. I would like to know if there's any future for me as a poet without the omnipresent cylinders of tobacco. If not, I would still hope to have the sense to avoid the nasty weed. So please be honest.

--- Harriet.

notes from a dark room

By dark room I don't mean a darkroom. I don't mean a figurative dark room, as one might represent a grief or a depression. I mean precisely what I say, a room in which there is little light. There various reasons why this room lacks light, one is that the puppy unplugged --- more than unplugged, somehow messed up (chewed?) the only light source other than the dim bulb on the ceiling. Another is that today is a gloomy wet treat of a day bestowed on us by Dennis.

I was drawn away from my ECE just now for various reasons. Perhaps you have noticed that I tend to assign several reasons to everything that happens in my world. My mom, when I was growing up, had a habit of
prefacing her statements about unusual or uncomfortable events by saying "For some reason." So for example she would say: "For some reason my foot has turned green and fallen off." Or: "For some reason
there is a brontosaurus in the back yard and it has eaten our dog Skippy."
I think that particular kind of dinosaur is supposed to be vegetarian, so there's a whole other set of reasons to contemplate.

I was drawn away from my ECE because of reasons too boring to contemplate. I have just been reading Camille Paglia on Emily Dickinson.
According to Paglia, Dickinson is and always will be "the greatest of women poets." I am normally quite bored by such worship of a poet whom I never bothered to read unless a poem of hers was quoted
somewhere as was frequently the case. I always thought of Dickinson as "prim." I'd picture her demurely seated in the parlor doing God knows what --- whatever is done in parlors, I always assumed just sitting. I did see Julie Harris performing the one-woman-show "The Belle of Amherst" when I was about thirteen, but what I remember more than anything specific pertaining to the poet is the recipe for brown bread that came in the Dickinson biography that I think my mom purchased after the show.
My mom tried the recipe and it was a notable disaster.

I was always bothered by the rhyme and meter in the Dickinson poems I encountered. I didn't always find her diction praiseworthy, I thought she chose words for the sake of the rhyme and meter so she could not be trusted (I tend to feel that poets who do this cannot be trusted).

Camille Paglia (whom I basically loathe) has an interesting take on Dickinson. I don't know how original it is, as I am not familiar with Dickinson scholarship. Paglia calls her "Amherst's Madame de Sade." ("Sexual Personae --- Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson") She focuses on those poems which say grisly things about body parts, and makes comments like: "The brutality of this belle of Amherst would stop a truck. She is a virtuoso of sadomasochistic surrealism."

So now I have this new take on Miss Emily in her parlor. This poet who according to most biographers suffered through a great deal of unrequited love is not meditating on the beautiful and the pure all the time, but she's picturing things like: "If ever the lid gets off my head/
and lets the brain away," or, "The Brain is just the weight of God/for Heft them Pound for Pound." Paglia comments: "The poet hefts the brain like
a shopper picking through cabbages at the market."

Paglia happens to be a great admirer of the Marquis de Sade, or so she says. I suspect this is an affectation which is related to Paglia's sensational style of scholarship. To me, "sensational" scholarship is a bit of an oxymoron. Paglia is approved of by the great Harold Bloom;
what he says about "Sexual Personae" is "[it's] an enormous sensation of a book." I wouldn't disagree, but he goes on to say "in all the better senses of 'sensation.'"

Paglia is a self-proclaimed enemy of nature, which, she says, can only seem beautiful to the shallow. Throughout the two chapters of the 700-page book I was able to get through, she repeats the adjective "cthonian."
Nature is actually not comprised of beautiful sunsets and daffodils,
but is a threatening noxious soup of destruction. And sex, which is "the natural in man," is "daemonic."

I don't know why, in light of these sentiments, Dickinson is so appealing to Paglia, except that in those poems she quotes, she seems to have a similar pessimistic view of humankind's relation to nature.It's likely that Dickinson had an unorthodox view of sexuality as well; from what I've read it seems likely she didn't experience much sex.

I would not recommend Paglia's book. A better book on Dickinson is by Paula Bennett: "My Life a Loaded Gun." Paglia is more of a cartoonist than a scholar.

I have had from both these books a crash course in the complexity of the mind and art of Emily Dickinson. It still seems stultifying to say she's "the greatest woman poet;" she's perhaps one of the more conspicuous, and
none of us now can have the historical impact she had --- there are, after
all, so many of us. Paglia thinks MEN are to be thanked for the fact there are so many of us and we have so much freedom. When I'm done with my ECE, I'm going to take "Sexual Personae" out back to the fire pit.

--- Harriet.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

the saga of the smoked

A brief review of the history of this blog: 1) it was started by accident, all I had wanted to do was comment on someone else's blog and I stumbled on a prompt asking me for the title of my blog. 2) it was all downhill from that point on.

I should reassure visitors to this blog that this blogger has not been vacationing in an Actual Nuthouse, just the closest thing: home, where stacks of ECE-related books covered with dust threaten to topple, where an adorable little black puppy chases cats and poops on the floor (always minutes after returning from a walk).

This blogger has been resisting the craving for a cigarette for ten days, and for ten days has not written a poem or a single solitary sentence of her ECE. In the past, frustration has led her back to smoking. Poetry is more important than health, right??? The new answer: NO.

But will this blogger experience the very strange experience she always has predicted when pondering giving up smoking: she will suddenly become so GOOD that not only will there exist a halo over her head that makes it hard to fit through doorways, more than this she will actually levitate, she will be so virtuous that gravity won't be able to hold her to earth.

Yeah, right. I think you can all tell I've become a Saint. Now, just don't go probing around in my thoughts, to see if they're pure, or be the fly on the wall when something makes me mad, so I borrow colorful curses from Arabic because English ones aren't strong enough.

Well, I hardly need to dig deep to uncover numerous flaws. Anyone who knows me well could make a list like the monthly grocery list for a family of five. It's just that smoking was so reassuringly obvious. I could put my best foot forward meeting someone new, speak of my accomplishments and credentials, then, because I couldn't help it, light up a cigarette, and my new acquaintance would take a mental step back: "Oh, how unpleasant, she's a smoker."

I went to my writers' group, Green River Writers, tonight, and when my smoking buddy winked and pointed to the door at break time I accompanied her outside and then broke the news. Smokers are "happy for" their fellow smokers when they quit, at the same time they feel betrayed, a tad resentful, even a little depressed at being left behind in the dingy stinky world of cigarette addiction.

In other news, the little black puppy is quite skilled in the fine art of removing insoles from shoes. He also has rows and rows of tiny razor-sharp teeth. I have shoes with no insoles and rows and rows of tiny red bite-marks.

In theory, I could go back to smoking any minute. Some would-be ex-smokers refuse to say "I've quit." Instead they say "I'm choosing not to smoke right now." What's up with that??? They want to leave their options open. They don't want people to be upset with them should they turn up sucking smoke again. "I'm choosing to smoke now, so what's your problem???"

Just as I didn't plan to create this blog, I didn't plan to stop smoking. I know, this makes it sound like I have little control over the events of my life. If this semester had gone as planned, I'd have no blog, my ECE would be finished down to the last MLA minutiae, and I'd be Puff the Magic Chain-Smoker.

In the past ten days, I've experienced weakness, dizziness, chest and other pain, hot flashes, disorientation, anxiety, anxiety, anxiety. I wasn't going to write about this in my blog, but perhaps an Actual Nuthouse is the place for all this. Anyway metaphorically.

Because really the world is not divided into smokers and non-smokers, but there is a third group: the smoked. I'm not a smoker, I'm not yet a non-smoker, I'm just smoked.

And I'm blogged. And you, my readers, must be about blogged-out by now. Please wish me luck getting my ECE, a battered old Chevy, off the shoulder and back on the highway, as I wish all of you the best in matters pertaining to writing and life.

--- Harriet.