Orgasms are Cries for Help, a review of Sesshu Foster’s City of the Future

Orgasms are Cries for Help, a review of Sesshu Foster’s City of the Future

 

 

The ticket of the cockroaches and the ticket of the rats

—-

The avant-garde poets, those academic experimentalist poets, most of them white, would

Rather you not use the word motherfucker…

Sadly, this use of repetition shall not be construed as poetic by those well-fed motherfuckers

The reddened subjunctive is a ball-peen hammer on the tin of peppercorns unnoticed by the sheriff’s dept. SWAT team.

Accessorize your Buddha

1.beach umbrella & cooler

2.cell phone

3.shotgun

4.cap

5.porcelain commode ashtray

6.Marlboros & pistol lighter

7.motorcycle jacket

8.tats (yakuza)

  1. Ray Bans

10.iPhone

In the movie version, the cold beer was played by country music nasal twang, and Jeffrey Hunter was played by slight nausea and nostril flare. His headache was played by the 20th century.

 

Sesshu Foster’s new book of poetry, City of the Future, is dada returning in giant crab fitted out Humvee come to flatten you out, you and your vegetables and sauna, your socket wrenches and Terrain Hauteur, your indifference and your feigned difference, your acceptance and your diddler, your frank and your explank, and believe me, you don’t read this kind of book in a day—it’s the kind of book you put next to your bed and dip into like a chip into brains of guacamole. I should know, because I got mine around noon today and between this and that finished it around 7 tonight.  Don’t do as I do, and definitely not what I say, which is doo doo. And thank Sesshu for dada.

Which is not to say the book is a mess of fernacular sintaxing jackanapes, bounding cross the deserts of L.A., for that is just a part of this montage, this aged man’s mount of his own bones—he kills himself many times in the book, at many different ages—arroyos fill with bones, of Mexicans, manifold arroyos and many festas, even two stark plain manifests, for dada does not shrink from the direct:

 

ghost prayer

 

shoot Dick Cheney through the eye if I am tortured to death in a corner of bagram air force base, in abu ghraib, in a black site tonight

 

so says the ghost flickering off an on like a midnight street lamp over a Mexicali school yard

 

shoot Henry Kissinger through the right eye if I am to die with my children in a field, with my children in the desert, with my children in a ditch

 

so says the ghost flickering off and on like a parking lot light at a midnight sunset boulevard motel

 

shoot Donald Rumsfeld and donald trump through the teeth of i am to die in the worst possible way, bones dissolved in a barrel of acid, ashes swirling away at the dump

 

so says the ghost flickering off and on like the little lights in the heels of the toddler’s sneakers skipping down the sidewalk

 

Nor the fun of it all, like the fun of seeing folk, as he sees them in the hearty Another Portrait of Dad, in which he sees his dad and his brother (both now dead), Harry Gamboa, Mario Ybarra, Lawrence Felinghetti, Ernesto Cardenal, Karen Yamashita, Carlo Pedace, a blue whale, Willie Herron and:

I saw Rick Harsch sitting on my balcony, smoking and drinking a beer. He emitted anxious smoke like my brother. (He means Paul, the one who was around my age and died a couple years back.)

 

Foster’s poems don’t flinch from the intrusion of beauty, like the branch bending in the wind, nor does he fear to exclaim Whitmanly that he is happy like a little bird in a high wind you may find dead on the ground like the stone among the stones in the gravel wash—no, he does not shrink aback from the happiness emitted as a stench of carbon monoxide particulate fumes and engine coolant.

And he asks pertinent questions, as in Walking East Manifesto:

 

4.Brain damage hurt your feelings?

 

If so, burn ahead a few dozen pages and hair sheen taken in hand or ends flicked back, call it thudding of the earth or several short pencils, but that’s just my homeopathology of his book of wonders, post cards, book reviews of neverbeforeskinned precision: YOU’LL THINK YOU READ THE WHOLE BOOK!, more post cards, advice to the writer, and diagnostic after diagnostic:

The city cooked the night. The ocean breathed. Little fish died like eyelids. They swam through your dreams, fishes and eyelids, desiccated, hanging in salty bags all the way from the South Pacific to Ranch 99 Market…

And the sausage factory security guard on his tricycle.

You’ll never read another book like this, but you ought to try, like Foster’s World Ball Notebook. And for you baseball fans out there, guess what? Dodger dogs are made from pigs! As Sesshu Foster would say: I’ve awoken in gentrified white hipster America and I can’t find my pants

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Sestina for the Sorrow of the Apes

downloadape

 

 

400px-Sestina_system_alt.svg

The year was probably 1993, maybe 1994. I was at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and about to go out with poet Pat and literatto Larry, two people who lived in the same house. Generally nice fellas, they had a twinning brainwarp before my very eyes, a situation so odd as to be beyond my powers of description, as I lack the psychological background to consider it anything but a very temporary cousin of folie a deux. The set up is quite simple: Pat and I, while waiting for Larry, somehow got on the subject of the poetic form called the Sestina, which I had never heard of. Pat began explaining it, then dashed up to his place to get a famoust one to show me. By then Larry had arrived. I was curious enough to want to understand the form before we set off, but rather felt rather hurried and got to making the mistake of speaking what I was thinking, which was on the order of, Let’s see, so the first line of the second stanza has to end with the same word as the last word of the last line of the first…That’s not so hard…To which they bleated in unison as if Swiss guardians of the form for life: Oh yeah! You try it! It was truly bizarre, for I had no desire whatsoever to be a poet, to be known as a poet, to be thought of as capable or incapable of poetizing…I asked that they calm themselves, I was only saying…And then again I noticed some technical necessity and reacted more or less the same way (a limerick is technically simple, of course, but YOU TRY IT!!!), as did they yet with greater taunt and disdain. So I asked Pat, the more legitimately poet of the two, whether the author of the Sestina chose the key sentence ending words before the poem or after the first stanza was finished. First stanza, he said. So I said Ape, Crap, Swine, Divine, Desquamate, and Pat, in about the time it took me to type that, just to have a little fun, and quickly dashed off the first two stanzas below, minus a couple corrections for, rather than laughing at my simian antics and hustling out for beer, they sneered and jeered–the first line wasn’t even in iambic pentameter! So I prevailed upon them to teach me what iambic pentameter is and set about re-writing. That was too much for them. Disgusted they left for the bar, having made clear that I was mired in bad taste and no longer welcome in their new order. Whence the triumphant “Oh planet come revolve around the swine!”, marking my decision to finish the fucking thing.

To wit:

Arnaut_Daniel_-_BN_MS_fr_12473

(this guy may have invented the form)

Aping the Crap of Swine Divine, Desquamations for Pat

Whenever I must stop to take a crap
to signify my canon of divine
beliefs, I swipe and wipe before the swine
and bow deliberately before the apes.
If for no other reason than for Pat,
whose can or cant or canons desquamate

the same way apes’ and monkeys’ desquamate.
But see, the chimps when they must take a crap
would like, but cannot place their faith in Pat,
a man of whom it said there’s less divine
except on filthy planets mad with apes
and tepid, turgid, febrile troughs of swine.

Oh planet come revolve around the swine!
It’s not too late to stop and desquamate!
(Or defecate a season for the apes.)
Oh planet come devolve and take a crap
on those mad preeners pruning thoughts divine:
create a world that’s somewhat safe for Pat,

or simulacrum of safety for Pat–
so dangerously cast with priests of swine
so feverishly drunk with pigs divine
inordinately steeped with desquamat-
ing beasts and fowl whose foul beaks eat the crap
of all the low and lowliest of apes.

Or can a planet stop, remove the apes,
in hopes the swine will bow before their Pat,
and still survive without the monkeys crap?
Or will the tinny whining of the swine
bring down with squall a pall or desquamate
a fate more evil even than the most divine?

Considerations of the said divine
remove the burden from the foresaid apes;
they drip and dry and drop–they desquamate–
and slip and slide off umbrage-covered Pat
(who knows salvation breeds along with swine
who slaver in the troughs of monkey crap).

Oh help my friend, help Pat to take a crap.
To desquamate itself may be divine,
but one must dine with swine, not only apes

{file this under studies in artistic motivation}

 

Insect Arms, My First Two Critics, parts I and II

 

2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D3Y2LLK

 

 

unnamed

the appearance of death to a hindu woman….2.99 at amazon.com

INSECT ARMS:  My First Critics

After events unfolded during the 1990 in India that inspired the novel The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman, I found myself adrift in the United States, seeking work to support my writing. I became a taxi driver, a job that did not allow space and time for writing. Seeking a solution, I found that friend was willing to support me with $3,ooo so that I could go to Mexico, where I would settle on the coast north of Merida and get down to writing my novel. In the mean time, a different friend told me about the bizarre phenomenon of writing workshops, places attached to universities where writers could go to learn how to write. Naturally I balked at the thought, hearing him out while trying to get the attention of the bartender…but eventually he got through to me that the elite writing school, the Iowa Writers Workshop, was just four hours away from where we were and that if I went there with financial aid I would have two years to earn a master’s degree in fine arts, or, as I thought of it, two years to write my India novel. Weighing the two options, I decided I would indeed apply to writing schools, and I did so, to five of them, including the University of Southern Mississippi, which is where I wanted to go, entirely in consideration of the climate. And the did accept me, but with limited financial aid. So I couldn’t afford it. As it turned out, it was the Iowa workshop that offered me enough money to live and write for two years, an odd bit of luck I did not recognize at the time. I had sent them 100 pages of a novel called Taxi Cabaret, the Adventures of a Fat Nihilist, and apparently it attracted much attention. The university contacted me as I was driving the cab, and when I put the caporegime of the workshop on hold—something I later found out one generally dare not do—and she understood I was in a taxi as we spoke and she found it exhillarating in the way royalty quaintly does a peasant juggling five cats, good for a few minutes amusement.

I quit the taxi driving as soon as I  could afford to and began intensive reading in preparation to writing the novel. I had written paragraphs here and there that are still in the novel, but had been unable to sustain the writing, just to think it through. As a consequence a guide to the unwritten book was laid like railroad track in my subconscious, awaiting the preparatory work of deepening the necessary knowledge if Indian myth and philosophy.

I arrived in Iowa City, to live on Iowa Avenue, to attend the State of Iowa’s university and its Iowa Writers Workshop—I arrived as a rube. I never thought of myself as a rube, being suburban raised, but I had an old-fashioned view of literature, how it was written, what it was, where I fit in its schemata. And I expected great things of the workshop; not of the actual teaching/learning, rather assuming that I would meet terrific writers and spend two years among them, all of us inspiring each other toward greater writings. I had no idea what the process was really like.

To a degree, my highest expectations were met in that more than a few people were indeed excellent writers and generous artistic souls. Not that it matters, but they were in the minority. The majority fit in many ways between those folk and the two I will describe, my first two critics of the India novel, which I first submitted about thirty pages of, though it was after I had already learned that a workshop was a seminar held in a garden of pettiness, jealousy, and itinerant spite.

These two were quite remarkable:

I think I referred to the guy as the bloat-headed midget with insect arms. [Homonculus!That’s what it was–ever since I wrote that I had this feeling something wasn’t quite right, yes, the bloatheaded homunculus with insect arms! what a relief!]His real name was J.C. Luxton. He was indeed short, had a pretty big head, and with his elbows drilled into their pivots on the table his arms from the elbow down (up, actually) seemed all he had to swivel about; so yes, the short arms may well have been an optical illusion. None of this would have disturbed me enough to bundle it into some laughs had he not been such a shit. His outstanding characteristic as a seminar conversant was the inability to reform his persona in the face of overwhelming evidence that the jokes he was laughing had been but partially uttered and were not funny to anyone else, so that he was a self-alienating little arm-waver whom others treated politely by, as with ephemeroptera, allowing him to go about his privacy in our presence as long as he desired. More painful was the fate of his mate, another shorty, Amy Charles, who was equally condescending, though less comic a presence, sitting like dark contagion in her seat, who when speaking rapidly dimmed to a hushed tone that only once lured ears closer, for the success of such manipulation must be earned by interesting content and those at the table were instead quickly trained when she opened her mouth to lean further back, stretch their legs, and make noises no one actually heard that were yet louder than her commanding, emptied auditorium voice.

Writers and other artists are often asked to spread their emotions to the pubic, perhaps to atomize them into a consumptive mist that settles into the lungs of the needy. When a work is very personal, autobiographical, the question is often asked, dog tongues dripping drops of droop: how hard was it for you, etc. The answer is: please go look elsewhere for torment. When I was writing about a rather important personal period in my life, my India love and loss, I was working on a novel, not suffering a loss. The worst was over. And I suppose had the worst been all that bad I wouldn’t have been able to work on the novel. All this by way of saying that I was not the least sensitive about the material of the novel, much to the chagrin of the feckless sadists of the workshop.

J.C. and Amy were feckless sadists. How the process worked was copies of our writings were piled up in an office, where class-mates (colleagues! Fellow artists!) would pick them up so they could read and mark them before class, where the author was by rule to sit quietly as the class and at some points an officially stamped writer was to speak of the work before them. Our writer of note, was Marilynne Robinson, and she was in a terrible mood to judge by that semester—during which of approximately 30 review sessions, two student writers per week, she spoke positively three times. She did not speak positively of my first public efforts. Yet that part of the experience was not difficult or even memorable, but for one point she made, which was that we need to be very careful with our words, for at one point in the hallucinogenic flow of my words I had written something that upon a bit of reflection made no sense. She was right; so I remembered that. The rest was abstruse or vague, something like a spell of moderately poor weather is to a busy worker.

The fun part, then, was after the seminar, when we had a pile of our own work that had been marked by 14 other ‘writers’ to take home and sift through. I remember that one of the first things that Luxton wrote was ‘Yoy! Dialogue!’ That, because my excerpt went eight pages without. Already you can see what a demented, nasty little turd he was. The first book to my left that I noticed just now is Middlemarch—seven or eight pages before dialogue. Yoy. The Idiot: I don’t even have to look, dialogue on the second or third page. Green Henry (a Swiss masterwork, less known that one would wish): about fifteen pages. Yoy! and again Yoy! The rest of his remarks escape me but for those that were echoed by the woman he would soon couple with, Amy Charles. She ws more pompous, more condescending, more unconsciously hilarious, than her slightly taller friend: big words. I used big words. Latinate words. She wrote a short essay on my piece, at the end of it, about writers who, and this part was the key to the hilarity of the whole, fall in love with Edgar Allen Poe and thus with big words. I was 34 years old at the time. I recall that Catch-22 had a lot of words I was unfamiliar with in it when I first read it. I suppose Ulysses had a few. Cortazar perhaps. I don’t really know. Catch-22, for some reason, is the only one I recall recalling used ‘big words’ which I defined as those I did not know the meaning of.

So recently I went through The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman, preparing it for e-printing. I hadn’t read it for at least 16 years. I was eager to see what those words were. I knew it had to be somewhere near the beginning of the book. And as it turned out I could not find it. The only words I would guess might give a reader trouble were Indian words—the book may or may not require a glossary if it is ever printed. But Latinate words? Yes, we all use them all the time. Big words? I’ll look again, but I would expect that most of my friends know most of the words in the book, and for every one of those they don’t know, they do know one that I do not know. By now, J.C. Luxton probably has a ruler tattooed to his forearm, for I find it unlikely he has changed, and by now he’ll need proof that a word is too long. And I won’t apologize for that last sentence, which had five words too long in it. As for Amy…I made her cry one day. I’m not proud of that fond memory. It was the second year, by which time my novel had been crowned a success by Marilynne Robinson and James Alan McPherson, while she was rooting about for something better than she was capable and had confirmed her place in literature already as one who would never make it, who had not the calling, who had not even the verve to fake it. She saw me out walking and asked me something about my writing that seemed to invite comment on her comments over the past year and few months. I simply told her that her comments were among the least valuable I had ever received, the least helpful, the most misguided and perhaps spiteful. And genuine tears leapt from somewhere behind into her eyes.