“Tuesday” by George Seferis

translated by Edmund Keeley

“I went down to the St. James Infirmary.”

I got lost in the town.
The gardens are hidden by the hospital of Don Juan Tavera.
Advertisements wrapping up the streets.
Each man walks without knowing
whether he’s at a beginning or an end,
whether he’s going to his mother, his daughter, or his mistress
whether he’ll judge or be judged
whether he’ll escape, whether he’s escaped already;
he doesn’t know.
At every corner a gramophone shop
in every shop a hundred gramophones
for each gramophone a hundred records
on every record
someone living plays with someone dead.
Take the steel needle and separate them
if you can.

Now what poet? Do you remember what poet
tried out the steel needle
on the seams of man’s skull?

Do you remember his song that night?
I remember that he asked us for an asprin
his eyes moved inside black rings
he was pale, and two deep wrinkles
bound his forehead. Or was it you
maybe? Or me? Or was it maybe
silent Antigone with those shoulders
rounded over her breasts?
I kept her with me ten nights
and each dawn she would weep for her child.
I remember I was looking for a pharmacy. For whom, I don’t know.
they were all closed.

I got lost in the town
no one is going to remove the hospital
full of crippled children gesturing
at me or at others following me.
odors of medicine in the air
turn heavy, fall in love and mesh
with vapors from cars going off
to the country with pre-Raphaelite couples
thoroughly blond if somehow a bit evaporated.

In the spring of 1923, Livia Rimini,
the film star, died in her bath;
they found her dead amidst her perfume
and the water was not yet cold.
yet in the movies yesterday
she gazed at me with her useless eyes.

de Espíritu Santo

From Tampa, a town ineptly conquered by Hernando de Soto in 1539 and currently staffed by the world’s best EMTs, comes one of my two favorite reviews of Under the Small Lights so far. I can’t express how happy I am when someone seems to really get what I was going for in the book. Other reviewers with other ideas are welcome and of course they’re fascinating to me, but there’s a satisfaction I feel when somebody shares my own take, reads through all the variants to arrive at what I was aiming for with my eyes closed …

What makes Under the Small Lights work is what Cotter doesn’t do. There are no heart-broken soliloquies, no painful pages of self-analysis by hyper-self-aware characters. Rather than trying to describe the tension, Cotter creates it, builds it up out of little things. Corinna snuggling Jack in bed while visiting him alone, biting his ear in bed and kissing him quickly in hallways, Paul’s mounting hostility, drinking, and the revelation that he is a failure at his new job as lawn mower salesman. Hovering in the background of Jack’s life is Star, who wants him, who he can’t help teasing and leading-on just as Corinna is doing to him. Cotter lets these things stand as they are, mostly without comment, and weave themselves into a web of meanings that don’t need to be explained.

All I can say is thank you Jason Cook. Everyone go and buy one of the books he publishes at Ampersand (his new anthology, for example, Re:Telling, seems a choice pick).

Fiction I

I’m teaching Fiction I at Grub Street this season, after a short tricky stint in Fiction II over the winter. Maybe it was just the winter that was tricky. I met some truly fine people, though, and I’m happy still to know them after the class is through.

I’ve taught Fiction I before & Grub Street wants the same basics covered each time (character, dialog, plot — I’d cover them anyway), but I’ve picked a few different stories for this go round. I’m a little pleased with my picks, I have to say. The’d make a nice pocket-sized anthology for anytime, anymind.

1: Fiction Basics
reading: “Twenty-Two Stories” by Paul Theroux
(I was never a Paul Theroux fan until I started reading him closely, then I realized there was nothing, nothing he didn’t know about craft)

2: Characters
reading: “The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge” by Evan S. Connell
reading the first half “The Old Order” by Katherine Anne Porter
(of course this could just as easily been any number of stories by either writer: “He” or “Magic” or “The Fisherman from Chihuahua”)

3: More Characters
reading: “1917” by Mary Swan
reading: “The Bees, Part 1” by Alexander Hemon
(after reading “1917” in Harpers I was so excited to read The Deep, then I realized with some disappointment that “1917” was the best thing in it. I recently read a story that ripped it off, as a matter of fact, though now I can’t remember where.)

4: Plot
reading: “Love and Hydrogen” by Jim Shepard
(he does his research) 

5: Dialogue
reading: “Bingo and the Little Woman” by P.G. Wodehouse
(It’s really hard to find someone who writes good dialog. Odd because it feels so easy to write. I’d hardly call Wodehouse ‘accurate’ but I’ve never read any dialog that’s funnier anywhere) 

6: Setting
reading: “The Hermit’s Story” by Rick Bass
(its the snipe that sell this one)

7: POV
reading: “A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga” by Julia Whitty
(eerily, this was another one from Harpers where the story bests the book. Still, it’s a hell of a story. I will go to Tonga)

8: Style
reading: “Big Blonde” By Dorothy Parker
(one of the saddest of all of her sad, pitch-perfect stories. Honestly, who writes better prose than Dorothy Parker? I think its criminal that we’re so familiar with the quips we don’t bother spending time with her best art)

9: Revision
reading: “Toward the Interior” by Joshua Harmon
(why doesn’t this guy write more fiction?)

10: Publishing
reading the conclusion of “The Old Order” by Katherine Anne Porter

of pleasures and poetry

“… I seek many kinds of pleasures in poetry — of story and discourse, of sound and rhythm, of lyric subjectivity and dispersal of lyric subjectivity, of disjunctiveness and discursiveness, familiar and unfamiliar form, heteroglossia and suburban historiography, archival erudition and crude wit, the strangeness of idioms unknown, the commonplace perfectly deployed to re-emerge into value and clarity, the exotic for its own sake, the ephemeral and everyday, the imagination in extremis, all that I don’t know and don’t know I want to, language loping back and forth across the boundaries of sense and nonsense — even sometimes, God forbid, the well-turned phrase.”

— from Keith Tuma’s enlightening & hugely readable Fishing by Obstinate Isles: Modern and Postmodern Poetry and American Readers

Dolly Madison Bvld., Poison Duck, The Rolling Hills of Cincinnati, etc.

Circling down on Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, I was startled to see how the land rolled. The portions of Ohio I’d traveled before — the north parts — were flat as a floor, but the land around Cincinnati was all rilled. Dana, the venerable designer and all-’round Moneypenney at Miami U Press collected me in Kentucky and brought me through five minutes of Indiana and into Oxford where I had a great dinner with some of the folks at the school and woke up in an antique guest house with a sunny porch and unseasonably springlike weather.

The visit followed on like this, one good encounter after another. David Schloss, my editor and benefactor, turned out to be as fun to spend a day with as he was to edit a book with. Ken Tuma, head of the press, was entertainingly salty. Cathy Wagner and her young friend Ambrose delighted. And Margaret Luongo, who I didn’t talk with enough at dinner, turns out to be one of the best short story writers I’ve read in years. I’ll be bugging her.

Out in Washington DC a few days later Open Letters‘ Editor-at-large, J. Eaton took me for a ride in his Harley Sportster down Dolly Madison Blvd. . Coming back to DC he said, “watch how the tops of DC appear to our left — they suddenly come into view, like you’re coming into a European city.” They did. Later, I nearly stumbled into/destroyed Henry VIII’s Christmas-list-under-glass at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I toured surrealist cinima with forthcoming book writer Maureen Thorson. I read outloud in Adams Morgan for Barrellhouse and the gracious Dan Brady. I puffed cigars & ruminated weightily on Paradise Lost on a wrought-iron porch with our Editor-at-large and Adam Golaski.

Home and hungry, I swung by my local Indian place and tried the special, Duck Masala. Nine hours later I woke up sweating, throwing up and, eventually, losing consciousness on the floor. It was the time that I threw up after losing consciousness when both Elisa and I decided a visit to the Emergency Room was in order. They filled me with four (4) bags of fluid to get my heart rate down.

On my birthday, two nights ago, Elisa and I saw a marvelous play: Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid by the Whistler in the Dark theater company. The actors depended from aerial silks and assumed perfect godlike and falling-human-like poses as they chorused some of Ovid’s richest stuff (Procne and Tereus, Myrrha and Cinyras). The silks were sails and threads and beds and air currents and seas and sheets. Unique for Theater in Boston there wasn’t a hint of the amateur. This was a stirring, rolling full-throated and full-bodied production, and I’ll be following Whistler in the Dark.