-- Richard Linker, retired bookseller and voracious, discerning poetry reader
"Your poems are like beautiful crystals of language, sharp, multifaceted and poignant." -- Michael Rectenwald, NYU Professor Emeritus
"I love Selene, the whole damn, painful bloody nose of it. What a book."
-- Richard Linker, retired bookseller and voracious, discerning poetry reader
"Your poems are like beautiful crystals of language, sharp, multifaceted and poignant." -- Michael Rectenwald, NYU Professor Emeritus
Like most Americans, I am more or less American. The gene counters would throw up their hands and label me a mongrel. Mongrel? What heritage is that? Over-Hyphenated-American...
More a minus sign than a hyphen at any rate...
My only clue to my identity is who I am. I’m mongrel in all ways and there is no academic department called Mongrel Studies to advocate for me. My ancestors were slaves. Probably. Somewhere at some time. If driving a crappy car today is caused by slavery in centuries past, then some ancestor of mine was tied to a tree and given a 1998 Mitsubishi-level beating.
Irish Peasant is big in my DNA. Some brilliant economist noted that Irish peasants in the early 19th Century were poorer blacks in the American South. I am currently petitioning for reparations, but I’m in line after American-African people (who, if taken alone, would be one of the richest nations in the world) and Native Americans (to whom the African-ish-ers will have to pass on their reparations; the property black people feel should be theirs was taken from the Indians, right?) and we’ll all be behind the world’s slaves who now make so many of the goods African-Americans would purchase with their reparations.
I am anti-fascist which makes me Anti-Anti-Fascist. Also, anti-Islamist/Marxist/Nazi… fascist. Call them all fascist. Close enough for government work. Nobody cares what a firing squad thinks about politics.
I am a libertarian. I am the type of libertarian who understands there is no liberty without government; a government that’s bigger than the criminals, criminal gangs, global corporate criminals & criminal states who would take our liberty. Rands of all sorts believe I am not a libertarian. But I am a free speech absolutist and that’s libertarian and that’s why I have some censorious words at the ready should I ever encounter any Rand: Corporation, Ayn, Paul…
But all that is dull politics which is only appropriate in poems by brown people who hate their gonads.
I am a virgin. I was married, yes, and have a son, yes, but I’ve since relapsed. When I was diagnosed with virginal relapse, I asked the doctor how long I had to live. He said he didn’t know but it would feel like centuries. And it has.
I have never been a womanizer, but I have been the object of some vicious manizers. Cougars trigger my PTSD. I know men are excluded from victim-privilege but if you’d seen the things I’ve seen….
I am no Genghis Khan of sexual conquest by most counts, but there are feminist theorists who would say I’ve raped thousands of women. Most of my victims were oblivious as they came nowhere near me. The ones who consented also came nowhere near me (insert rim shot here).
I have a pun problem. I was born that way. Closely related is my S&M/B&D grammar fetish. I have a semicolon all in latex in a box under my bed.
I am not gay. I don’t believe in homosexuality. I think they’re kidding. Ever see a Pride parade? What cowboy doesn’t know to wear jeans under their chaps?
I used to think “Homosexuality” was a plot thought up by the religious right to counter the sexual revolution and the Sixties hippies with their weird drugs, weird music, and weird orgies. All of the sudden, in the early 70’s, there was a new group called “Gays” with cocaine, disco, and bath houses. Hippies, right? Then, just when we’re all plotting to get past the bouncer, the “Gays” turn to the news cameras to demand “Oh, please, America, let us marry and have kids and sit home Saturday nights watching TV like you.” I see what you did there, Pat Robertson.
Or else, they are mocking us and that’s just cruel. We should not only let them have kids. We should MAKE them have kids. We should make them have OUR kids. Mandatory babysitting on Saturday nights for “Gays”!
And I don’t believe in lesbians. They just don’t want to date me. It soothes my ego to say they can’t help it. They were born not wanting to date me. I try to believe. Maybe it’s not a lie. Maybe they were socially constructed to not date me and a summer at Jesus Camp would make them prissy and phallocentric (centric for my phallus?!) But, no, I don’t believe it.
That said, a lesbian I dated once (confused me too) explained to me as she insisted on paying for the movie, “the one who invites, pays”. She had asked me out. If she thought I would pay, she would have been inviting me to buy her a movie ticket. That rule made so much sense I’ve found it impossible to turn MGTOW. Now when I’m broke and want to see a movie, I smile at lesbians on the street.
I have a degree in philosophy but got out before the bottom fell out of that market. It seems to me now poetry is due. It’s been out of the money for a long time and the market is cyclical, right? I pride myself on being a contrarian investor.
But I prefer to keep the business end of life pointed away from my face.
A friend once said to me “Dogs are my people.” I realized he was right and dropped him as a friend. Dogs are the best people. Cats are animals. Anyone who poops inside and doesn’t flush is an animal. I’ve had women leave me for other men. I’ve had women leave me for women. But the women who left me for cats were the ones who didn’t flush (“Here in the land of sea & sun, we never flush for number 1. Teehee! Here kitty!” Gross.)
I love to travel. Within my budget, of course, which means I’ve been downtown. Before I could budget though, I studied in England. I used to think I should be English. All my Irish relatives thought so. And they were more certain of it than any of the English who all thought I should be Irish.
Both Irish and British prefer I be American. A lot of foreigners feel that way about Americans, but the British seem to like their distance most. It’s possible the Revolutionary War was a face the British put on; like that face parents put on when they tell their kids they can’t get their own apartment or that opposite face on the next flight to the furthest beach where the kids could never afford to follow. It’s possible the British never considered they might need us when they retired from their empire.
Yes, like so many people everyone hates, I’m American. Proudly so. I stand for the anthem. I hate sports, so I’m never around when the anthem plays, but I would, for almost every circumstance or type of ball, stand. It’s possible, if I find myself at an NFL game, I will sit, but only if I’ve had my legs amputated & was wheeled there against my will, which is the only way I’d attend an NFL game.
I have not had my legs amputated. I don’t have to sit for hours in a downpour, watching a game played by people who bash their heads together repeatedly then await further study to see if they have brain damage. At least the people who lock themselves in cages to beat on each other have the good sense to come in out of the rain. And the mixed martial artists have long since abandoned feeling intellectually or morally superior to anyone they haven’t knocked unconscious.
And concussions… I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.
Political & moral lectures are best left to poets. I am a verse supremacist. I believe people who can write meter should rule over people who can’t. Platonic yak-yaks & other prosey-types should be banished from our republic.
An internet self-test tells me I am a left-leaning centrist which, as any recent university graduate knows, makes me a white supremacist. Me and the Jews. We’re all Nazis now.
I have my own degrees. Some. Somewhere. I think one’s in my desk with some papers I’ll never finish writing. I don’t know whether I still count as educated though. The universities have decided the dictionary is an etch-a-sketch they can shake up, get a blank slate, and write whatever definitions work for their politics. All the most emotive words in the English language have been redefined to support the conclusion that I am evil. Can I still count as educated when I was taught racists are, you know, racist, and rapists, you know, rape? I read 1984 in school, so I recognize the double-speak of “you can’t be racist if you were born with the right skin color”. Does that mean I know nothing?
And like so many people with degrees, I am a Democrat. I voted for Sanders, two Clintons, and Obama twice. But I know why so many voted for Trump. They resent it when Democrats call their country a genocidal imperialist white supremacist rape culture. But, America, listen. They mean it in the nicest way.
Democrats advocate hiring & promoting by skin color & gonads as long the skin color & gonads are not like mine. Does that mean they hate me? No. Look it up in the Etch-a-Sketch dictionary: “’Hate’ is what you are doing when you advocate hiring & promoting by skin color & gonads, or when you refuse to advocate hiring & promoting by skin color & gonads. The point being it is hateful to advocate hiring & promoting someone with skin color & gonads like your own if your own are like Michael Odom’s.” As a rule of thumb, I try to remember: pretty much anything someone with skin color & gonads like mine does is hate. That doesn’t mean Democrats hate you.
OK. They might hate me. And you too, if you look even vaguely like me. And you too, if you don’t hate me too. OK. Democrats hate us.
So vote Democrat!
History is on their side. Already they’ve locked down the unpatriotic millionaire football star vote AND the rich, famous, beautiful & oppressed Hollywood starlet vote. The unequally paid corporate executives are falling in with the Dems and other oppressed groups are sure to fall in too. The Republicans have yet to even try to win over people who want the government to force bakers to bake cakes. Democrats are uncontested for the votes of people who don’t want to buy a tall (that means small) coffee but want to use the bathroom & hang around a Starbucks. And it’s no contest at all for the voters who riot, burn police cars, shout down speakers, or seal off campuses to keep the white people out. Just today, I heard a Democrat point out how very loyal black married women are to the party, and if we can’t win elections with that minority of a minority firmly on our side….
The schools are doing a poor job teaching Democrats how elections work.
I’ve worked. I’m a worker. Like so many workers, I’m not working. We workers should be Democrats, even if Democrats advocate discrimination against workers born with Hate-skin & Hate-gonads (those are kinda icky, you’ll admit). Democrats may hate those heteronormative things we do in our bedrooms (ICK! ICK! ICK!). They may hate our children for taking all the money we could give to browner strangers’ children. They may hate our country where a black kid can’t even walk into a convenience store, steal, muscle past the clerk, walk down the middle of the street, cuss at and punch the cop without fear of prison, beatings or being shot. Democrats may wish we were some better country where a black kid could do those things without a word from the police. I’m not sure which country that is but, perhaps, one day, Black Lives Matter will live there. They have a dream. We can dream it.
Democrats may hate your whole uneducated, low-class, worker personages generally but, be honest, you don’t like yourselves all that much either, so vote Democrat. They’re the only ones who truly understand workers deep down in the muck of our deplorable souls.
Like me. Like me on Twitter. Like me on Facebook. Like me on anything! I’m a liberal.
I’m a liberal. People with my beliefs beat the Great Depression, won WWII, won the Cold War (I know, we’re still losing to the Eastern Block of academia, but in our defense, we thought the Cold War was over so we stopped fighting), sent federal troops to desegregate the south, sent federal marshals to escort black children past screaming racists, and sent the FBI to break the power of the Ku Klux Klan once and for all and in our spare time put a man on the moon (Don’t worry. We let him come back.) Those people FOX News calls liberals are racist, sexist bigots with their Marxist handlers.
Marxists are the Flat Earth Society of political science. They carry forward the only ideology Nazis can look down on. Marxists murdered more & Marxist totalitarianism is more total than Nazism. And Marxists shoot liberals. When liberals were smarter, liberals would shoot Marxists.
I’m not a Marxist, but I do know, unlike so many Marxists now, what a Marxist is. ‘Social Justice’ is a Marxist concept that places group power & social conditions over all individual considerations. Social Justice is, incidentally, the Marxist tenet that justifies all the brutality & carnage of communism. If justice is social, not individual, what Marxists do to individuals is not unjust, especially if it works to shave away, bury, or reeducate (“retrain” as Human Resources calls it) the “oppressor” billions of planet Earth.
I know. Author bios are usually the place to list past publications and, if the name & author photo don’t, to make clear light skin or dark, innie or outie genitals, born-with or sewn-on genitals, top/bottom/which hole sex, birth or better-adopt children or… or….
That is, poets are supposed to tell editors & publishers (the “gatekeepers”) & readers (the gated) what color and gender the poems are because, without that information, how will they sort the good from the bad. Sorting out amateurs & straight white males by taking the time to read would slow everything down and let many wrong types through. Well, I can assure all gatekeepers, I have a long list of publications that would impress you and I am a proud-fat brown trans-lesbian hopping on my one leg through many differently-challenged challenges and lots of other oppressions apply too.
Or I’ll self-publish.
OK, I’ll self-publish.
from Quora, my answer to "How can I understand a deeper meaning to a poem if the author is anonymous?"
I love this question so much! We live in a time when academics sort poetry according to the melanin in their skin and/or what type of genitals they have, whether they like those genitals, and what they like to do with those genitals. Every once in awhile, some author sends them into a tizzy by writing under a pen name. The poor academics praise it to the gods only to discover it’s terrible because the author looks different than they thought.
This should be obvious but I’ll say it: if the meaning is not in the poem, it is not the meaning of the poem.
The poet may have created the poem, but they did not create the English language (assuming English here). That is, the meanings the word convey are no more the author’s sole work than the dictionary or your mind. AND, from the time of Freud on, we have not assumed the author is aware of all the meaning their own work might show. The author might be the one reader who can’t see what the poem means; that is, the poem might tell more than the author intended.
So, step one, read aloud and slowly, paying close attention to what the words are doing in you. Words are enormous and bleed into each other’s spaces to create new and greater meanings in the minds of readers. In your mind. Words are sounds and as such make music. Music has its own effects on mind & emotion. To be a sensitive reader is to be aware of those effects inside you. The first read, the first several reads, you are reading your interaction with the poem as fully and wakefully as possible.
After, dictionaries, reference works, if necessary...
After that, the fun and most important part: discussion with others (memorization often helps here) in person or by reading their writings about the poem.
Most important answer to this question though: if the meaning is not in the poem, it is not the meaning of the poem. Biography is tertiary at best.
What is the difference between poetry and prose?
This question is more straightforward than it seems. The confusion comes in using the term “poetry” as separate from “prose”. The opposite of prose, however, is verse, not poetry.
Once, in teaching an introduction to poetry class, I started with 70 definitions of poetry I’d taken from different websites. I then gave the one definition of verse every source agrees on: metered language. Verse, as an art of organizing meaningful sound, has as much in common with music as it does with prose or common speech; and music is metered into bars & time signatures, etc. So verse is metered in iambs, trochees, etc.
An easy, quick way to state it: the basic unit of prose is the sentence, a unit of meaning (as organizing phrases into sentences into paragraphs into chapters into volumes… is done mostly to organize the meaning the author is trying to convey).
The basic unit of verse is the line: a unit of sound. The organizing principles are accent, tone, number of syllables (like beats per measure in music) or repetition ((like coda or chorus or theme in music).
Ignore what most people tell you about free verse. When free verse was first coming into use in the 19th & early 20th centuries, most people still read & knew verse. Everyone knew the term was intentionally oxymoronic. “Free” is not “verse” and “verse” is not “free”. Now, so few people read or think about verse, it is common to think free verse has no rules. No. That’s incompetent verse. “Free verse” is still metered, just more loosely, with more “substitutions” than verse usually has.
Bad prose writers who think they are writing verse also think the line break is just another type of punctuation, a weird way to add a comma. But hacked-up prose is not verse.
As for “poetry”, again, 70 definitions and counting. The word was taken over by people who never did or will never read a book of competent verse in their lives.
My earliest memory of poetry: a small woman with cat-eye glasses, her
hair piled over her ears and hardened-with-hairspray, my mother, alone with
her five kids in near dark on a Salvation Army sofa, 5 children spaced in ages
within 8 years, in an Air Force on-base housing living room, bare walls
tacked-together by G.I.s and plastered white. My father was stationed in
Thailand to maintain the warplanes that were devastating Vietnam. Or
Goosebay Labrador. Or some less memorable place. In my memory, it was
Halloween, but I don’t remember costumes or candy or decorations. We were
poor. I remember bare white walls.
How old was I? Pre-kindergarten? No preschool in those days. But I
must have understood a lot of language. 4? I was the fourth of the five kids.
In the crowd and not the baby of the family, I listened and did not make
much noise. That night, in fact, I remember all five siblings listening and not
making much noise. Perhaps that is what makes the night memorable. Five
children listening to their mother.
Here is what I remember: The Cremation of Sam McGee. My mother read
it aloud to her children on that couch to celebrate Halloween. A story of
desperate prospectors who ran to Alaska during one of the last gold rushes of
the many in American history. How did I have that context? How did I get
it? The poet, Robert Service, gave five children the death’s cold of Alaska as
we sat, squeezing close to see the illustrations. And I remember the couch
vividly: tiny orange balls of polyester, an upholstery some 1960’s designer
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
If I could quote it all by heart, the imagery of greed, the frozen corpse,
the living man happy and warm and consumed in flames. Without the poetry,
snippets of joy and horror remain for the child who lives in this adult’s
Two boys, three girls, a mother, a father, that’s seven. Seven mouths to
feed on an Air Force Sergeant’s paycheck. It did not occur to me how poor
we were because we lived under the protective aegis of what was then the
world’s most efficient socialist government: the United States Military.
Groceries and basic items were within reach in every sense at the commissary
& Base Exchange. The Stars & Stripes bookstore had all the important comic
books. Stars & Stripes radio played the top 40 Rhythm & Blues and later
Disco with the requisite white artists sneaking in, though the leftist political
& social criticism implied in most 60’s & 70’s rock kept them off the
military’s official air.
I was a teenager when I first noticed our poverty in a photograph of
what is, by coincidence, a snapshot of my richest Christmas memory. In the
black & white polaroid, three of us toddlers bouncing with blow-up plastic
Santa Clauses, our only gifts that year. We each got one. Five Santas, each
inflated by mouth, each bigger than the children. An oversized Christmas for
five toddlers. Huge smiles. All joy. Only joy.
As a teen with the reality of a memory staring back in stark black &
white, seeing bare walls and a skeletal fake tree, no furniture, with my teen’s
cognizance of price (a blow-up Santa Claus? At that time, maybe 25 cents
each? Christmas for 5 children, $1.25?) changed my memory. We were poor.
Who would have guessed?
I don’t remember my mother ever reading poetry before or since. Where
was the television? Did we not have one? Why wasn’t she silently smoking
alone at the kitchen table (which is how I remember her mostly)? Poetry was
never an assumed part of growing up a military brat.
Was it? Every base had a library. Every base had a Stars & Stripes
bookstore. I remember them all.
Besides my own poems from my upcoming The Ants at War, this issue
of the New English Review has a great essay by Michael Rectenwald
on Marxism as it played out. Must reads fo 2019!
Ghosts of home-born and unnamed children slow-pace,
Playless and purposeless, twilit
In the landfill. They ask us, love, how is it?
Thought without words, no mouth, no face.
Haunts in nights of a mother, when the thin moon
Shrinks from succor, they watch her, dead,
Sleep in her visions, blind as memory ahead,
Asking are you ready now? Soon?
They wake eternally too soon in the space
Between dirt and trash, rich and poor,
Birth and no more.
Tuppence for a starvin' poet, Guv?
DODGING ICICLES: MICHAEL RECTENWALD ON WHEN SPRINGTIME COMES FOR SNOWFLAKES
by MICHAEL ODOM
I asked @antipcNYUprof Michael Rectenwald about his experience dropping down the academic rabbit hole, from young poet to Lit Crit theorist, and his climb back up, from communist to libertarian.
My hat on the ground at your feet....