Conrad Aiken and the struggle of consciousness

even one’s newness is old
—Conrad Aiken


One of the first things that comes up in a google search of the name “Conrad Aiken” (right next to we found Conrad Aiken) is a review of his Selected Poems in the Guardian from 2004. However, a recent article in the LA Times with its nod to an upcoming issue on the writer in The Scofield, along with a couple of nice articles in the Wuthering Expectations blog indicate that Conrad Aiken has not been forgotten after all. Continue reading

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In the Chemo Room

We who are turned away from the star

There’s no one here like the girl in Tarkovsky’s Stalker,
left awake in the clear morning after night’s watch.
Here, today, everyone is old, floating on feeble cheerfulness,
the relief or reprieve from their own watch,
in the hands now of nurses watched over by doctors,
nothing to do but sit back in the drip drip drip.
The young RN seems out of place here, cherubic, unreal.
She loves her job, she says, inserting a tube.
To which the reply: Job security. She reaches for,
Hopefully one day that will not be the case,
as if she wished to lose the job so loved.
But age is not really the determining factor.
It’s the impossibility of imagining anyone here moving a glass.
Whatever reserves exist remain hidden.
The visible world rules here: the dull look in the eye,
the sagging skin, row upon row of recliners.
It’s a waiting room for Hell
with a soundtrack of beeps
signaling air bubbles or completion
on repeat in the antiseptic room
locked out from that sound
long gone from the station.

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All Roads at Once with Alfred Corn

I usually seek out the books I want, primarily through online shopping. Those books, along with articles and social media connections, suggest other books. But every once in a while a book finds me. Alfred Corn’s first book of poems, All Roads at Once, published in 1976, is a peculiar instance of this. Continue reading

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Yahia Lababidi’s Balancing Acts

The poems of Yahia Lababidi recall some great names: Borges, Pessoa, and Baudelaire. The spirit of Baudelaire looms large in the poems of Balancing Acts. But I think of visual artists too. Striking, novel images are conjured, mysterious and dreamlike, of a quality that bring to my mind the images of Francesco Clemente. The “Faces turned heavenward/pitiful little satellites/transmitting intolerable Longing” of Hard Days seems Blakean to me in its iconic beauty. Six names, six languages, six countries. Add the fact Lababidi, from Cairo, resides in the United States and writes in English and we have a seventh. Even without the title, we would know that Anatomy Lesson describes the great painting by Rembrandt—an eighth. Add Columbia, Ramadan and Open Letter to Israel, and no doubt different readers will find accents from other names and flavors from other places. Lababidi is a world poet. Rather, he is a poet of the world in the sense that someone like Kurt Scwhitters, once proud citizen of Hannover, became an artist and a citizen of the world.

The Two Worlds of Yahia Lababidi, sketch by Mark Kerstetter

Lababidi straddles the world, as it were, one foot in Egypt, his homeland, the other in the United States, his current place of residence. Continue reading

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Reaching for Roses

James Rosenquist, Flower Garden, 1972 (source: 1stdibs)

Like kissing yourself after fingering a thorn,
no need to preach to the choir.
Lessons learned and forgotten
can be learned again.

Like new eyeglasses held up to the flames,
scorched timbers can be used
to build reminders, to frame
a way out of the race.

Confronting a great red wall of oozing eyes,
stop and smell the rose-kissed dawn
before silver shards shiver down
a single shot echo.

Watch your marks, see checkered flags flutter
as the new ones hurry past
and a single drop of dew
makes the petal tremble.

James Rosenquist, Professional Courtesy, 1996 (source: Christie’s)

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If There Were a Heaven, It Would Stink with Life

maledicta Paradisus in qua tantum cacatur!
William of Auvergne

Blanchot wrote that Nietzsche was the first to teach us that, “if you begin to think, then you can hope for no rest.” [The Writing of the Disaster, p 123] And yet it’s a fact, lucidity cannot be maintained perpetually. It’s also a fact that the human brain cannot conceive its own nonbeing. Continue reading

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Read, Pig!

Once I saw the title, Think, Pig! I had to have Jean-Michel Rabaté’s book, published last year by Fordham University Press. Continue reading

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