Friday, November 30, 2007

Lost in the Steam & Chatter

—John Ashbery

The poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.
Look at it talking to you. You look out a window
Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don't have it.
You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.

The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot.
What's a plain level? It is that and other things,
Bringing a system of them into play. Play?
Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be

A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,
As in the division of grace these long August days
Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know
It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters.

It has been played once more. I think you exist only
To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren't there
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.


This weekend in Nor-Cal poetry:

•••Tonight (Friday, 11/30), 8:30 PM: Open mic (3 poems/songs each) plus features: Vocalist Maryann Mason and poets Terry Moore, Taylor Williams, Khiry Malik Moore and more. Isis Bazaar, 122 - I Street (In Old Sacramento, as soon as you enter on the right). $5.00 admission. Info: 916-208-POET or (Before the reading, drop by Underground Books from 6-8 PM for the Terry Moore “Validated” book signing and social event. Address on the website above.)

•••Sat. (12/1), 7 PM: Poetry Flash at Cody’s Books in Berkeley presents Sacramentan/rattlechapper Susan Kelly-DeWitt and Davisite Sandra McPherson at Cody’s Books, 1730 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-559-9500. Info: Poetry Flash: (510) 525-5476,

•••Also Sat. (12/1), 7:30 PM: Julia Levine reads from her new book, Ditchtender,
at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis. Julia's previous collection, Ash, won the 2003 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. Free.

•••Also Sat. (12/1), 7 PM: Poetry by AriA and music by Grapham Vinson and the Zoo Human Project. Butch N Nellie's, 1827 I St., Sacramento. $5 general, free for open mic performers. Info: 916-443-6133.

•••Monday (12/3), 7:30 PM: Sacramento Poetry Center presents Lorna Dee Cervantes and Alfred Arteaga, as part of SPC’s weekly series of readings to be held at The Space Theater, 2509 R St., Sacramento. Lorna Dee Cervantes has authored three books of poetry, two of them award-winning: Emplumada; From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger; and Drive: The First Quartet. Her poetry has appeared in 200 highly-recognized anthologies and too-numerous-to-count e-zines and magazines. She has performed her poetry twice at the Library of Congress and has also presented at the Walker Arts Center, The Dodge Poetry Festival, New York YMCA, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Vassar, Wellesley, and numerous other venues, university & college campuses in the US, Mexico, Spain & Colombia.

Alfred Arteaga, born in East Los Angeles, is author of several books of poetry, creative non-fiction, and cultural studies. His latest book of poems is Frozen Accident (Tia Chucha, 2006). He had been a National Endowment for the Arts and a Rockefeller Fellow. He teaches poetry in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.


—Vassar Miller

I remember my father, slight,
staggering in with his Underwood,
bearing it in his arms like an awkward bouquet

for his spastic child who sits down
on the floor, one knee on the frame
of the typewriter, and holding her left wrist

with her right hand, in that precision known
to the crippled, pecks at the keys
with a sparrow's preoccupation.

Falling by chance on rhyme, novel and curious bubble
blown with a magic pipe, she tries them over and over,
spellbound by life's clashing in accord or against itself,

pretending pretense and playing at playing,
she does her chiildhood backward as children do,
her fun a delaying action against what she knows.

My father must lose her, his runaway on her treadmill,
will lose the terrible favor that life has done him
as she toils at tomorrow, tensed at her makeshift toy.


—Philip Levine

Two old dancing shoes my grandfather
gave the Christian Ladies,
an unpaid water bill, the rear license
of a dog that messed on your lawn,
a tooth I saved for the good fairy
and which is stained with base metals
and plastic filler. With these images
and your black luck and my bad breath
a bright beginner could make a poem
in fourteen rhyming lines about the purity
of first love or the rose's many thorns
or dew that won't wait long enough
to stand my little gray wren a drink.


—Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue. Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear you—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
I guess you learn from me—
although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.



Medusa encourages poets of all ilk and ages to send their POETRY, PHOTOS and ART, as well as announcements of Northern California poetry events, to (or snail ‘em to P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726) for posting on this daily Snake blog. Rights remain with the poets. Previously-published poems are okay for Medusa’s Kitchen, as long as you own the rights. (Please cite publication.) Medusa cannot vouch for the moral fiber of other publications, contests, etc. that she lists, however, so submit to them at your own risk. For more info about the Snake Empire, including guidelines for submitting to or obtaining our publications, click on the link to the right of this column: Rattlesnake Press (

SnakeWatch: Up-to-the-minute Snake news:

Rattlesnake Review: The latest issue of Rattlesnake Review (#15) is available for free at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento, or send $2 to P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726. Issue #16 will be out in mid-December; its deadline of Nov. 15 has passed. Next deadline (for Issue #17, due out in mid-March) is February 15. (Sooner than you think!)

New in November: On November 14, Rattlesnake Press released Among Neighbors, a rattlechap from Taylor Graham; Home is Where You Hang Your Wings, a free littlesnake broadside from frank andrick; and A Poet's Book of Days, a perpetual calendar featuring the poetry and photography of Katy Brown. These are now available at The Book Collector, from, or on, as is October's Conversations, Vol. One of B.L. Kennedy's Rattlesnake Interview Series.

Coming December 12: The Snake is proud to announce the release of Metamorphic Intervals From The Insanity Of Time, a SnakeRings SpiralChap from Patricia D'Alessandro; Notes From An Ivory Tower, a littlesnake broadside from Ann Wehrman; and a brand new issue of Rattlesnake Review (#16). Come celebrate all of these on Wednesday, December 12, 7:30 PM at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento. Refreshments and a read-around will follow; bring your own poems or somebody else's