Friday, October 30, 2009

Bird Organ

Bird Organ

A small barrel-orgqan used in teaching
birds to sing---John Ogilve 1865

Ah, canary, you chronic mimic,
do you find any joy in the cover song?
Of course, you must. You're an echo addict
who can't stop himself from singing along

With the bird-organ. It's an odd machine,
rather arrogant, in fact. What asshole
believes a wooden box's melody
is more beautiful and original

Than the canary's indigenous croon?
What kind of blasphemous, hell-bound dickwad
thinks a man's hands are more clever than God's?
Well, I'm a sinner in love with iTunes

And that lovely man-made box, the iPod.
And if that gets me in trouble with God,

Then may God's lightning fingers choke me dead,
because I think the Flaming Lips' cover
of "I Can't Get You Out of My Head"
is filled with far more fear, lust, and wonder

Than Kylie Minogue's worldwide dance hit.
Okay, now, maybe you don't give a shit,
but my theory ( and it's a betrayal
of my tribe) is that art is colonial

And that the best art is imperialistic.
I know it's wildly masochistic
for an Indian to advance this belief,
but I'm also a Picassoesque thief,

A carnivorous and scavenging bird
who'll echo, borrow, and steal your words

If given the chance. There is no treaty
I will not bend, bust, ignore, or screw.
But, no, wait, that's not exactly true.
I don't write about sacred ceremonies,

And I rarely speak the names of the dead--
though I'm going to violate those taboos
right now in this poem. I suspect you knew
that I break promises with each breath,

But trust me when I tell you this story:
years ago, a white archeologist
recorded a tribal ceremony
on my rez. The tape crackles and hisses

But one can clearly hear my grandmother
singing. O, her voice comes from some other,

Alien place in her body. That song
died with my grandmother, or so you'd think,
but whenever I want to hear sing,
I just press play on my boom box. It's wrong,

I suppose, to worship a duplicate,
but I think, "Screw you, it's decades too late
to save the original. "I'll worship
my grandmother's voice and the Flaming Lips,

Live or recorded. I guess, near the end,
I am arguing against nostalgia.

I will not believe "It was better then."
After all, each of us is a replica,

And I think God gave us these music toys
so we can create and hoard glorious noise.

Sherman Alexie

from his book FACE.

Naked and Damp, with a Towel around My Head, I Noticed Movement on the Basement Carpet

Naked and Damp, with a Towel on My Head, I Noticed Movement on the Basement Carpet

Ants invaded our home, our walls, ceilings,
and floors. I killed the little red bastards
by the dozens, but they would not retreat
or surrender. They warred

Like Phil Sheridan and his illiterate corps
of cavalry grunts. And though it's been a
dozen years since I left the rez, its walls,
ceilings, and floors

Thick as a prison's, I recall how to be poor,
that you must punch your siblings and kick
your cousins, and then share the wormy
government food. My war

With the ants was blasphemous. What kind of
profane boor wants to genocide his sacred little
cousins? Shouldn't I share my home's walls,
ceilings, and floors

With any hungry souls? Fuck the ants! I felt
poor again, like a rez urchin, as if a dozen
years of peace and joy had been destroyed
by the war

With these terrorists. Tell me, what's worth
fighting for? I killed and killed my ant
cousins. I protected my home, my walls, ceilings,
and floors, because the rich must always
make war on the poor.

Sherman Alexie

from his book FACE.

Nudity Clause

Nudity Clause

They're real. And they're spectacular.
--Teri Hatcher, SEINFELD, Episode 59

I have a beautiful friend, an actress
who appeared in a few films before she retired
to pursue another career. Her last role
was her biggest (she was third-billed).
And I went to the Hollywood premiere.
The movie was immediately bad, but
I endured and waited for my friend to enter
the story, and when she did, I sat back
and gasped--because she was naked
and naked and naked

And naked. Of course, I'd always been aware
of my friend's extraordinary beauty,
and I'd entertained a fantasy or two
about her, but I'd never pursued her.
I'm married; so is she. Watching my friend,
naked and twenty feet tall, I felt terrible
because I was aroused. Was I betraying
my wife, my friend, and her husband
by so publicly lusting? Of course not!

My soul can't be blamed for my body's reflexes.
And yet, I wanted to skip the after-party
because I didn't want to face my friend.
But I didn't want to disappoint her
just because of my timidity. So I went to
the party and greeted my friend and her
husband. "Sherman," she said. "Thank you
for coming! What did you think of the movie?"
I wanted to say, "Horrible flick, wonderful

But who says a thing like that aloud (except
in a poem)? Instead I said, "The movie was
okay, but you were great." And she was, better
than she'd ever been. She was ethereal and
tough. I wanted to ask her why she hadn't
warned me that she be so damned naked, but
then I realized that her nudity was necessary
and natural for her part in this period film.
Of course, she was naked. Why wouldn't
she be naked?

It would have been anachronistic if she were
clothed. And so mollified and satisfied by my
logic, I hugged my friend and predicted great
things for her (if not for the film) and then
left the party (I hate parties) and went back
to my hotel. Once there, I took off my clothes
and called my wife. "I'm naked and horny,"
I said. My wife laughed and asked,
"What kind of a movie did you just see?"
Honey, it was a farce about colonial discovery.

Sherman Alexie

from is book FACE.

The Oral Tradition

The Oral Tradition

Years ago, in Eugene, Oregon, a woman introduced
me to a small audience with this:

"After fucking my married lover twice, as we
dozed in each other's sweat, he suddenly
jumped out of bed, and said,
"You have to hear this guy's poems."

So he runs to his shelf, pulls down this
little book of poems called
reading aloud. Reads the whold damn thing,
and it's wonderful.

My naked lover, great poems, and the smell
of sex lingering. Can you imagine a better day?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the first
time I ever heard of Sherman Alexie."

I laughed, of course. It was a hilarious
ode to the poetic and adulterous,

But it's also when I first realized
(and please forgive my naive surprise)

That poets will give you affection
as they steal the audience's attention.

Of course, I'm no better than the rest.
I turn each reading into a test

Of my humor and masculinity.
It's cheap, but I want strangers to want me

Naked on their shelves if not in their beds.
Who doesn't know that reading is like sex?

Well, after that introduction, I spoke
about my father and my father's ghost,

Like I always do, and though I was bored
with myself, I was still keeping score

And counted the women, whose eyes betrayed
carnal ambition: "Ah, that one would play

with me, and so would that one and that one.
That blonde in the back would be the most fun."

And yes, you might think this poem is callow,
but there are poets--wise on paper, hollow

In person--who are famous for sleeping
with their groupies. Who doesn't know reading

Is like sex? Who doesn't know that lovely
and lonely women seek the company

Of homely poets? Me, I like to go back
to my hotel room and lustily attack

Myself. I'm the Mayor of Masturbation
City (and yes, for your information,

I know this poem is pleasuring itself),
but, please, I do need your patience and help.

I am trying to feel my way to the reason
why this poem exists: Think of a season,

Your favorite one, and allow its weather
to become your weather. This poem gets better

If you let yourself feel summer heat
or autumn melancholy or winter freeze,

Or even the non-ironic hope of spring,
because, and now I'm getting to the thing

I want you to know that the naked guy
who read my poems aloud eventually died

Of lung cancer. I learned this from his wife,
who introduced herself to me one night,

Years later, just after I retold this story.
"That was my husband," she said, so weary,

It seemed, of loving adulterous ghosts.
I'd just turned her into an anecdote,

But she was forgiving and somehow amused,
while I felt stupid, silly, and cruel.

She said, "I always knew he'd return to me,
and he did. He left that woman. A week

Later, he coughed up a handful of blood.
One month after that, my husband was gone."

What could I say? "Shit," I said. "Shit, shit."
I'd lost my talent for words, warmth, and wit.

But with a grace so pristine and wicked,
the woman said, "He always looked good naked,

Especially when he was reading in bed."
Who doesn't know poetry is just like sex?

Sherman Alexie

from his book FACE



The sun only illuminates the eye of the man,
but shines into the eye and heart of the child.
----Ralph Waldo Emerson "Nature"

My wife wanted to give my sons the chance
to see my tribe's powwow with transparent eyes,
and maybe fall in love with the chicken dance,

But I stayed home. They wouldn't hear my
crazy rants about the powwow bullies who made
me cry. My wife wanted to give my sons
the chance

To enjoy themselves. "Listen, I just can't
go with you," I said to my wife, who was
unsurprised by my need to spin a different
chicken dance.

"But they can hang with their uncles and
aunts," I said. "And my mother she'll be
surprised that my sons have been given
the chance

To powwow." And so my wife and sons drove,
"sans Father", to my rez on a Saturday night
and spent hours watching the chicken dance.

And, yes, I remember pissing my pants
when I saw the reds of my bullies' eyes,
but my wife gave my sons an aboriginal

"Your boys saw joy in their uncles and aunts,"
my wife said, "And the pride in your
mother's eyes. so be thankful I gave your
sons this chance, because they
fell in love with the chicken dance."

Sherman Alexie

from his book FACE

Tuxedo With Eagle Feathers

Tuxedo With Eagle Feathers

Six years ago, or maybe it was eight or ten,
I went to a powwow at Riverfront Park
in Spokane, Washington. I ate fry bread,
watched the dancers--especially the
beautiful young women shaking their jingles--
and listened to my mother and aunts tell
dozens of highly sacred dirty jokes.
Later that night, after the dance,
as I walked back to my car,

The man who, as a boy, had bullied me--
who screamed, "You ain't no fucking better
than the rest of us Skins!" --drunkenly
approached me with an eagle feather

Hand fan and said, "Hey, cousin, can I pawn
this to you?" If I had wanted revenge
then, I could have bent him like a damn hinge
and left his body to be found at dawn

By some early rising powwow dancer.
But violence is never the answer
(Until it is), so I thought,
"What the fuck?" and gave my enemy
ten bucks.

Don't sing honor songs for my mercy.
I bought those feathers because of pity,

because I realized I had defeated my
childhood bully. I was the rich and famous
writer and he was a drunk.
No, I need to qualify that. There have
been plenty fo rich and famous drunk writers;
it's my sobreity that separates me from my
drunken childhood and my drunken profession.
Of course, being sober doesn't prevent me
from being a raging, incoherent, vindictive,
self-loathing, and needy asshole. But
my sobreity does give me sovereignty.
Most Indians use "sovereignty" to refer to
the collective and tribal desire for
political, cultural, and economic independence.
But I am using it here to mean, "The Individual
Indian artist's basic right to be an eccentric
bastard." I am using it here to attach
Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, the Sioux Indian writer
and scholar, who

Has written, with venomous wit,
that Skins shouldn't write autobiography.
She believes that "tribal sovereignty"
should be our ethos. But I call bullshit!

My tribe tried to murder me--and I don't
mean that metaphorically. I have been
to dozens of funerals and wakes;
I've poured dirt into one hundred graves;

And if you study what separates me,
the survivor, from the dead and car-wrecked,
then you'll learn that my literacy
saved my ass. It was all those goddamned texts

by those damn dead white male and female
writers that first taught me how to be
a fighter,

So let me slap Cook-Lynn upside her head
with the right hand of John Kennedy
and the left hand of Emily Dickinson.
Let me kick her in the shins with the
left toe of Marianne Moore, and the right toe
of John Donne. I wasn't saved by the
separation of cultures; I was "reborn"
inside the collision of cultures. So
fuck Cook-Lynn and her swarm of professional
locusts. But wait, literary pretensions
aside, here I am dry-drunking my way down
the page. Instead of insulting Cook-Lynn's
ugly fundamentalism, why don't I celebrate
beauty? Why don't I celebrate Dorothy Grant,
the Haida fashion designer and artist?
O, Dorothy Grant, who blends traditional
Haida symbol and imagery with twenty-
first century fashion. O, Dorothy Grant,
who makes tuxedos with gorgeous eagle ravens
flying up on the lapels. O, let me tell you

A June day in a Target parking lot
where I waited to meet Ms. Dorothy Grant.
On the phone, we'd agreed it was an odd
place to try on a formal coat and pants,

But I needed a tux within a week,
and she happened to have a 44
regular that she thought might fit me.
I had never met Dorothy Grant before

But I recognized her when she drove up
in her hybrid car. She pulled the black
tux out of her trunk and handed it to me.
Unafraid of some partial nudity,

I pulled on the pants and coat. But, shit, shit,
Dorothy Grant's gorgeous clothes did not fit,

and I howled with pain and shame.
"Looks like you've had a little too much
commodity cheese," Dorothy said and laughed.
I laughed too. I am a big-shouldered man
with a belly and thin legs.
"I'm just like every other Indian guy,"
I said to Dorothy. "I'm built like a chicken.
Do you have a tuxedo sized for a giant human
chicken?" "All my tuxedos are made for Indian
guys," she said, "So they're all sized for giant
human chickens." We laughed. "Well," I said,
"I can't buy this one but maybe you can make
me a custom one in the future?" "Anytime
you want," she said. I was happy to meet her and,
as I stood there in the Target parking lot in
Albuquerque, I studied the careful stitching in
Dorothy's garment. Ah, it was hand sewn!
Ah, it was so formally constructed! "Hey,"
I said. "Let me hug you goodbye while I'm
wearing your design." And so we hugged.
As I changed back into my street clothes,
I told Dorothy that I was going to write a
poem about her. "What kind of poem?"
she asked. "A hybrid sonnet sequence," I said.
"An indigenous celebration of colonialsim or
mayhbe a colonial celebration of the indigenous.
O, Dorothy, it's going to be a hand-sewn sonnet!
You'll be able to count the stitches!
and so, here it is, but

This sonnet, like my reservation, keeps
its secrets hidden behind boundaries
that are simple and legal at first read
(14 lines that rhyme, two rivers that meet,

Poem and water joined at one confluence),
but colonialism's influence
is fluid and solid, measurable
and mad. If I find it pleasurable

to (imperfectly) mimic white masters,
then what tribal elders have I betrayed?
If I quote Frost from memory faster
than I recall powwow songs, then what blank

or free or formal verse should I call mine?
I claim all of it; Hunger is my crime.

Sherman Alexie

from his book FACE

C.L. Bledsoe's "Anthem": A Review

In Pedestal Magazine , you can read a dynamite review of Cortney's poetry volume,

C.L. Bledsoe
Èervená Barva Press
ISBN Number: 9780615257969

Reviewer: Janelle Adsit

Jaded, forthright, and grisly, C.L. Bledsoe’s debut collection transforms the sublime into the mundane. The 49 in-the-moment poems in this collection have the capacity to consider God (“An eyelash in the eye of god obscuring/ whole countries”) even as they plead, “Sell me a little something to make me whole Do you have/ a student discount on that.” In the world of the book, something as grand as a soul is consumed with picking lint.

Bledsoe’s ruminations are archived chronologically, each month marked with a poem of its own. Bledsoe would have it that even time can be made tangible—in the touchable pages of this book, in hours that can be juggled. Such is the book’s brand of surrealism: concepts become objects. Personal truths can be strung together and stored. In the poem “Something Dies in Your Eyes,” emotions that grow and die—love, for instance—can be saved up like lint.

Morphing into different forms, time is (despite the assertion that “ultimately, time is not to be thought of”) a central preoccupation of the book. Hours are described as “little red balls—/ perfect, static, and ever-rotating.” In "September," time is “a shit cricket a dung beetle,” and it is “mushing seconds into balls of minutes days.” Time drives a Kia too slowly. In “May,” time can be pocketed.

Take time
as long as no one sees you
slip it into your pocket.
Save it for later when you can savor it,
if it hasn’t spoiled in the heat.

It seems that all things—eternal concepts and parts of the human body—are things that can be put into other things. “This is what things are for,” Bledsoe assures. “Things. Shove them in bags. Our ears in bags. Tongues in bags so we speak muffled clichés, licking plastic with no lips to complain of the taste.” This Russian-doll impulse asks readers to reconsider scale and the hierarchies that would hold love as more important than lint.

Concurrent with the book’s surrealism are recognizably American customs and motifs. The poems share the same surroundings, a world crammed with SUVs, videos, cigarettes, porn, beer, fast food from Wendy’s, and westerns on TV. But Bledsoe makes these common props seem otherworldly; he denaturalizes American traditions:

Once, you’d have scooped those eyes right out,
pressed them in a bible or something clever,
like a Lemony Snicket book, taken a grainy
black and white photo, and Xeroxed it in a fanzine.

Close your eyes; seal them off like furniture in the sitting room.
When company comes, you can peel the plastic off
and show everyone how you’ve kept them…

Bledsoe draws on pop culture. Anthem depicts a world of media prominence, with mentions of Bill O’Reilly, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, Arsenio Hall, and Jerry Clower. The characters of Growing Pains can reach through the screen to comfort and betray.

Simple observations placed as poems become profundities. The book is self-conscious of this tendency: “Mouths taste like what they consume. Upon examination// this seems profound.” Poems encourage examination, and Bledsoe capitalizes on that fact, in the minimalist poem “April,” for instance:

A room with a sock. Stained
yellow pillow in the closet.
Smell of life. Skin
piled on shelves. Space
to fill. Afternoon light. Hollow
as a tooth eaten by sugar.

A book is missing. I don’t recall
its title. Wash the blankets.
Put them away. Find shoes
good for walking in, not just
to stand.

As “April” evinces, the book is often subtle. Then it swings to the shocking. “The Woods,” for example, reads like a gross-out comedy:

Then for good measure, I slapped her hard, on the behind, which

was covered with blood. It got on my hand, but I didn’t notice
until I was halfway through a bag of Cheetos and realized that my
fingers were pink, instead of the usual

orange. Blood has a way of doing that.

This book embraces a variety of approaches to poetry and speaks in a range of voices. Linus from the Peanuts cartoon series, for one, contemplates his mortality in terms of his famous blanket.

Some of the assorted flavors of Anthem are less appealing than others. The long prose poem “What to Do in Case of Locked Door” stands out as a low point in the book. It attempts humor, but drags on with instructions such as, “Wait. This can often be the hardest part of all. Please refrain from tapping your foot impatiently as you are an emissary in all matters and must present an aura of taste.” At times, the book loses thrust in its loquaciousness. Other poems snap the reader awake.

Bledsoe concludes his collection with a poem that is more hackneyed than the rest. The book’s final and titular poem instructs how to “loosen hate,” how to “find a place or make it in yourself they’ll never touch,” how to protect oneself…

because life
is so much longer than anyone
told us
days so short
and they’ll kill you with traffic
before the fumes even have a chance

The message and rhetoric of this piece feel most familiar, reminiscent of a faceless world-weary soliloquy too-often heard. But perhaps it is an attempt to be raw and unedited that accounts for this final poem. “I just want to say something we all understand,” Bledsoe writes. The statement is an answer for the self-conscious comparison, “Waves flow across the dark waters of this lake like jiggling breasts,” but perhaps it also—this desire to be familiar—overarches the work.

At his best, Bledsoe is not only recognizable, he’s revelatory. Bledsoe demonstrates an ability to name what has been understood only subliminally. He draws out what is embedded in American culture. He makes the overlooked seem vast. He adds depth and expansiveness to a world that can seem one-dimensional.

Flu Shot

Flu Shot

Went and got a flu shot Monday, or Tuesday.
Had some strange reactions.
First of all, I'm running a bit of a fever
and my left arm fell off temporarily.
But the funniest thing was that my eyes
sucked back into my head and switched sides
so now my right eye is hooked up
to the right side of my brain
and my left eye is hooked up
to the left side of my brain.
This sort of thing can give one
a whole new outlook on life.

Doug Palmer October 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saturday Evening Post Covers: 1910-1971

I guess I was feeling sentimental and nostalgic again; got to thinking about America in the 50's, 60's, and 70's, and Norman Rockwell came to mind, and all those SATURDAY EVENING POST covers. He painted 322 of them in his career. J.C. Leyendecker was also a talented and very popular illustrator, his career starting durin WWI. Later Douglas Crockwell did some fine work.

The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. While the publication traces its historical roots to Benjamin Franklin and The Pennsylvania Gazette first published in 1728, The Saturday Evening Post, rechristened under new ownership in 1821 as a four-page newspaper, eventually became the most widely circulated weekly magazine. The magazine gained prominent status under the leadership of its longtime editor George Horace Lorimer (1899–1937).

The Saturday Evening Post published current event articles, editorials, human interest pieces, humor, illustrations, a letter column, poetry (including work written by readers), single-panel cartoons and stories by the leading writers of the time. It was known for commissioning lavish illustrations and original works of fiction. Illustrations were featured on the cover, and embedded in stories and advertising. Some Post illustrations became popular and continue to be reproduced as posters or prints, especially those by Norman Rockwell.

Curtis Publishing Co. stopped publishing the Post in 1969 after the company lost a landmark defamation suit and was ordered to pay over $3 million in damages. The Post was revived in 1971 as a quarterly publication. Today, the Saturday Evening Post magazine is published six times a year by the "Saturday Evening Post Society", which purchased the magazine in 1982.

1916, Saturday Evening Post editor George Lorimer discovered Rockwell, then an unknown 22-year-old New York artist. Lorimer promptly purchased two illustrations from Rockwell, using them as covers, and commissioned three more drawings. Rockwell's illustrations of the American family and rural life of a bygone era became icons. During his 50-year career with the Post, Rockwell painted more than 300 covers.

The Post also employed Nebraska artist John Philip Falter, who became known "as a painter of Americana with an accent of the Middle West," who "brought out some of the homeliness and humor of Middle Western town life and home life." He produced 120 covers for the Post between 1943 and 1968, ceasing only when the magazine began displaying photographs on its covers. Other cover illustrators include the artists N.C. Wyeth, J. C. Leyendecker and John E. Sheridan.

Glance through this couple hundred covers, running from 1910 to 1971, and let America's past wash over you. There are nearly 100 Norman Rockwells in the mix.

Glenn Buttkus