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sixteen hundred dol-
lar tune-up timing belt one
grand driving night streets
1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?
Let’s replace his whole boring cabinet with poets of vision and energy:
1. Replace token old white guy VP Joe Biden with the visionary energy of Anne Waldman.
2. Replace Secretary of State Hillary C. with Amiri Baraka, real poet laureate of New Jersey.
3. Replace Defense Secretary Gates with Buddhist Sam Hamill, Attorney General Holder with lawyer Martin Espada, Interior Secretary Salazar with naturalist Gary Snyder, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack with farmer Wendell Berry, Commerce Secretary Gregg with publisher and bookseller Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis with activist Luis Rodriguez, Health & Human Services whoever it may be with Doctor Rafael Campo, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Donovan with compassionate Fanny Howe, Transportation Secretary LaHood with me (VP of Sales for the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines), Energy Secretary Chu replaced with the energy of Jayne Cortez (and her band the Firespitters), Education Secretary Duncan with the instructive Eleni Sikelianos, Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki with veteran Yusef Komunyakaa, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano with Paiute Adrian C. Louis. I won’t say who should be drug tsar.
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
I’d send him The Fall of America by Allen Ginsberg—in particular the poem, “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” Come on politicians—so fatally serious about greed and money and so casually flippant about arts and culture (that’s the basic materialistic spiritual flaw of the nation); even at this date, it’s not too late for them to catch up to mid-20th century American poetry. That’s a start.
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
See Burro of Information & Culture by poet Lisa Chen (author of Mouth), http://burroofinformationandculture.blogspot.com/
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
Noah Eli Gordon.
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
The funniest poems were in Peeping Tom Tom Girl, poignant pieces about riding buses through downtown Los Angeles, by Marisela Norte. The poems that made me weep with frustration and sorrow were in Poets Against War edited by Sally Anderson and Sam Hamill; I don’t know if it was the poems or just decades and lifetimes of pent up sorrow and frustrations at neverending American injustice and imperialism.
6. William or Dorothy? Robert or Elizabeth Barrett? Moore or Bishop? Dunbar or Cullen? “Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully” or “No ideas but in things”? Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Tender Buttons?
Imaginations and Collected Stories and Paterson and Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems and Selected Essays.
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
I reread everything at bedtime. It all puts me to sleep.
8. Even for poetry books, the contract has a provision for movie rights. What poetry book should they make into a movie? Who should direct it, and why? Who should star in it?
Garcia Lorca’s Poet in New York should be directed by Danny Boyle (Transpotting, Slumdog Millionaire), because he could do it and should accept the challenge. I don’t know who should star in it. Javier Bardem? Gael Garcia Bernal? Little Antony and the Johnsons?
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
Williams’ “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
Those lines come to me now and then, always striking me as reminders of the usefulness of poetry, of the purpose of poetics, of the vocation of the poet. Poetry fulfills larger purpose than Scrabble or crossword puzzles or journal entries, and those who say it doesn’t do not get it, and those poets in denial of a broader view are being churlish.
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
We love all those poems in translation but we don’t understand the originals. What about “The Mental Traveller” by William Blake? What’s that about? “She nails him down upon the Rock,” etc.?
11. If the official organ of the AWP were not the Chronicle but were the Enquirer, what would some of the headlines be?
DICK CHENEY SECRET EDITOR-IN-CHIEF POETRY MAGAZINE
POETS HATE GARRISON KEILLOR—SHOCKING REASONS WHY
AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW: FOR YEARS WE’VE ONLY BEEN SOFTWARE
SECRETS OF ASTOUNDING LOVE POEMS BY WEASELS!
12. If you were making a scandal rag for poetry in the grocery store checkout stands, what fictitious poetry love triangle would you make up to outsell that tired Hollywood story of Angelina and Brad and Jen?
Helen Vendler + Saul Williams + figures of speech still alive in the poetry of Cesar Vallejo
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
Another Spring, Darkness: Selected Poems of Anuradha Mahapatra, translated from the Bengali by Carolyne Wright.
14. We read poems in journals and books, we hear them in readings and on audio files. Sometimes we get them in unusual ways: on buses or in subway cars. How would you like to encounter your next poem?
In a fortune cookie. Someone once posted billboards around L.A. featuring lines by Bukowski and others, which is fine and dandy to see as you drive by, but the fortune cookie is more personal.
15. What poem would you like to hear the main character bust out singing in a Bollywood film? What would be the name of the movie? What would be the scene in which it was sung?
I want to hear a main character bust out singing Whitman’s “This Compost.”
The name of the movie would be “Epiphytes and Dirigibles Over the Sea.”
The scene would revise weird scary music they have in the Japanese No play, “Sotoba Komachi:
The legend of [Ono no] Komachi is that she had many lovers when she was young, but was cruel and mocked at their pain. Among them was one, Shii no Shōshō, who came a long way to court her. She told him that she would not listen to him till he had come on a hundred nights from his house to hers and cut a hundred notches on the shaft-bench of his chariot. And so he came a hundred nights all but one, through rain, hail, snow, and wind. But on the last night he died.
Once, when she was growing old, the poet Yasuhide asked her to go with him to Mikawa. She answered with the poem:
“I that am lonely,
Like a reed root-cut,
Should a stream entice me,
Would go, I think.”
When she grew quite old, both her friends and her wits forsook her. She wandered about in destitution, a tattered, crazy beggar-woman. She appears out of the fog on Santa Monica beach on chilly winter day, only a few lonely souls wandering by, stumbles over a dead seal or a dead seagull or something and bursts out singing Walt Whitman’s “This Compost.”
16. Do you have a (clean) joke involving poetry you’d like to share?
The joke is that when it all comes down to it, you get paid with two copies. Why aren’t you laughing?
17. Tell the truth: is it a poetry book you keep in the john, or some other genre (john-re)?
Various genres, but at the moment: Poets Against War, to remind me to weep with rage, and Barry Gifford’s Ghosts No Horse Can Carry: Poems 1967 – 1987, because I hadn’t read his work for thirty years.
18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)? No to the first two questions.
19. If you got to choose the next U.S. Poet Laureate, who (excluding of course the obvious candidates, you and me) would it be? Of former U.S. Poet Laureates, who did such a great job that he/she should get a second term? Next election cycle, what poet should run for President? Why her or him?
For U.S. Poet Laureate, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, terrific first U.S.-Tibetan poet!
Of former Poet Laureates, I don’t know, was Philip Levine one? What did they do?
As future presidential candidate, Sam Hamill. Look what he’s done for American citizens, the consciousness of America and American poetry by founding Copper Canyon Press. How did they kick him off his own press?
20. Insert your own question here.
Which is the most apt figure for desire in our time, the whale or the dirigible?
Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon
by R. Gregory Nokes
Hells Canyon Murders Reveal Dark, Racist Past
A Review by Matt Love
Whenever a writer becomes obsessed with a long-lost or wrongly told story from history he usually ends up spending most of his free time (and money) researching it. At some point in the madness, he knows a book will result come hell, high water or divorce. When he writes the book, he must decide how much of his obsession to insert into the story because without it, the lost story would remain lost, or even worse, wrongly told.
R. Gregory Nokes is clearly obsessed with the 1887 murder of more than 30 Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon, one of the blackest episodes in Oregon’s sordid history of race relations. Nokes spent a decade researching it and made two dozen trips to Wallowa County to discover what really happened back then and why some people apparently tried to cover it up years later.
The result of Nokes’ obsession is an informative and exciting account, Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon. What elevates his book above a garden-variety academic treatment of the incident is how Nokes struck the right balance between his personal story of detective work and the need for objective and meticulous scholarship to arrive at the truth.
Never heard of the massacre? Neither had most Pacific Northwesterners until Nokes, a former reporter and editor for The Oregonian, wrote about it for the paper in 1995 after some important trial documents surfaced in an old safe in Joseph.
On May 25, 1887, a gang of rustlers and petty thieves led by Bruce Evans descended upon a group of Chinese mining for gold near Deadline (now Deep) Creek, a small tributary of the Snake River on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon. Although the exact number of murdered Chinese will never be known, Nokes suggests a final tally of 34, making the massacre “the worst crime committed by whites against the approximately 300,000 Chinese who immigrated to the United States during the latter half of the 19th century. ”
A lot of people will know about the massacre now, thanks to Nokes. Nevertheless, the book ends on an unsettling note when Nokes describes how some in Wallowa County still want the story downplayed. He comes across as a little more than angry that no memorial to the Chinese Miners has been erected. He doesn’t say it directly, but you can feel on the book’s last page that he wants to scream: “What’s wrong with you people? Get this thing built! ”
ume—cuts, bruises, headache—
gets to us by phone
birdshit on the window with
the San Gabriels