Saturday, January 30, 2010


Within fifteen minutes of awakening this morning (or should I say rising from bed? I prolong my mornings by resisting the upright position), I wept for nothing. Just a melancholic seizure. Afterwards I realized I need not trash the day because of it. I can still write this blog. I can do the dishes. I can do the wash. (I hope my wife doesn't see this, but she rarely reads my blog).

Here's a quote from "The Radical":

"He walked on and on, his hands clasped behind his back,
his shoulders stooped, his large head inclined forward
slightly, a woe-begone expression on his dark face as if all the
misery of the world were weighing on his shoulders, as if
the wail of the winds on the lake were the voices of the hungry
and the poor, calling out to him to right their wrongs."

I was looking for a quote from Lincoln, when he said something like "If all the misery of the world were gathered in one sack and put upon one man's shoulders, I am that man."

If anyone knows the true quote please send it along.

I had three poems accepted by Tryst, one by The Pedestal, one by Blue Fifth Review and four published in the anthology, "Heart's Content." When links are available I'll alert you here or on Facebook.

Facebook has in so many ways supplanted e-mail and blogging, as has Twitter. Do you Tweet? Can your life be squeezed into 150 characters? Are you really that important and busy?

I've tweeted a few times, I have about twenty followers, but I don't know who they are or if they read what I write. It seems like pissing blind into the ether.

As part of my discipline in depression, I wrote a formal poem:

Once More for Sanity

To not think about oneself, to not
think thoughts at all, not to name
absent objects like a green hat,
a silver cane, a tub of margarine,
not to think how thought winds upon
itself as in a golf ball’s center
or a plantar wart to limp on--
See? Thought pains itself. Why remember?
Remember what? Self-loss, of course,
that your derivation supersedes
your contrivance, that what sacred force
you assign identity concedes
to all the barkers’ monologues extant
in carnivals where you were resident.

Always the question of identity, how much is construct and how much imitation? And why ask such questions unless a psychologist or depressed?

4 Kilorats,

Dr. Chaffin

Thursday, January 28, 2010

3 Kilorats

I need to blog to straighten my head if nothing else.

My honey of over ten years in is NY with her mother for the matriarch's 95th birthday. Wish I could be there but was just there in October. She's such a wonderful lady, ambulatory, sharp and independent at 95. I don't want to live that long unless I can be as healthy as she. But as an overweight ex-smoker with borderline diabetes and high blood pressure, not to mention being a male, the odds are slim. Nevertheless happily married men live longer; then taller men don't live as long, which goes against me. Still, the average lifespan of a bipolar I is under fifty years, and I have that beat, not to mention my dad's 62 years, which I must outlive to be more successful in the same genetic field.

As those of you who have read my poetry know, he committed suicide. Here's one of my better poems on the subject:


Dad owned an Eskimo mask
carved of brown whalebone porous as lava,
whose Mongol lips curved in a knowing smile
above the fireplace—aloof, I thought,
to the Russian novel we lived.
Icon or eyesore, it marked his territory.

After our home was re-decorated
the mask’s pitted face was hidden
between prints of red-hued harlequins
meant to marry the lemony walls
to the crimson shag
of the newly cheerful family room.
The living room, with its wall-length mirrors
of smoked glass marbled with gold,
its crushed velvet sofa and floral chairs,
had been reserved for cocktails.

In his last home the mask was mounted
under Plexiglas next to the wet bar
facing Mom's candle snuffer collection.
We didn't know Dad was running out of territory
until the whiskey quit working
and he sealed himself in his Lincoln
and I got to compare fixed smiles.

(Published in now-defunct but formerly respectable journal--this happens a lot in the poetry world--credits must be listed and re-listed according to survival.)

I'm at about 3 Kilorats today, but only because I know I'm suffering bad chemicals. I repeat to myself: "Christ has healed my manic-depression! Christ has healed my manic-depression!" through tears, full well knowing that in real time it is not so; still, I believe philosophically that in Christ all are healed.

I'm thankful for the Apostle Paul, who mentions an illness in II Timothy that God will not heal. I'm not the only Christian for whom God thinks enduring illness is superior to its healing, though recall when Christ walked the earth he regarded all illness as evil and from the other side.

It is irrational. But it is not. If God became a man and suffered with us and for us, why can't I claim ultimate healing in the name of that? Surely there is no other history or philosophy on earth as open to the healing and redemption of humankind.

I've had four poems recently accepted by two magazines, as well as four published in an anthology. I'll post the links later.

Want to hear about a strange mercy? Walking the dog on the headland today there was a plague of ticks--and slapping them off me and later, combing them off J. stopped my weeping. I know people around here who've had Lyme disease and it's no laughing matter. Another example of how real fear trumps bad chemicals; a tiger would have gotten my mind off myself as well. Or a broken leg. What my chronic back pain sometimes does, take my mind off of the emotional darkness. And here's a poem on that:

Failed Back Syndrome

It's when I'm feeling best
my back hurts most
because the usual drama
has been interrupted.

Because only my back hurts
I can ignore the fluttering
of the porch light’s pulse
full of suicidal talk.

Just to notice my pain
means silence in the zoo
where sorrow’s monkeys chatter.
What relief to have that noise

recede into my umbilicus.
God bless the body’s suffering,
so mild when compared
to the heart’s ravishment.

At least in my poems I have a record of struggles. Art should enlarge one's emotional and imaginative experience while extending compassion in the bargain. Hard to do in a poem. I keep trying. (Then one should never say, "Art should this or that.")

Never give up.

I try hard.

Manic-Depression is a bitch, but it's just bad luck, period. Faulty DNA. Chalk it up to evolution's stuttering strides.

3 Kilorats,

Craig Erick

Friday, January 08, 2010

Pink Assholes and Contemporary Poetry

600 posts and I'm still here.

Here's a poem by Langston Hughes I like:

Life Is Fine

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.

But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.

But it was High up there! It was high!

So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love--
But for livin' I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry--
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!

I've been reading contemporary poetry again, having just received the new issues of Ploughshares and Poetry. This issue of Ploughsares was edited by Tony Hoagland and I find it eminently superior to Poetry. Still, the difference between contemporary poetry and this ditty by Hughes is immense.

First, Poetry and Ploughshares would never publish this (unless, of course, they knew it was by Langston Hughes). Here is more typical contemporary fare:

From "Things Are Starting to Look Up Again" by Farrah Field:

"Your beautiful pink asshole breathes when I breathe.

All the words I want to say I want to say later.

Let's cheat on you with you. Is it possible

to completely cover someone's body in semen?

[...]Have you ever tried Greek-style yogurt?

It's normal yogurt strained through cheesecloth."

Incomplete, yes, but enough for a taste. These few lines exemplify some of the trends of contemporary poetry. First the poet insists, because her lines are so powerful, that the whole thing be double-spaced, as it is in Ploughshares. Second, the abrupt juxtapositions abuse the reader by forcing him to construct his own underlying narrative, which in this poem is thankfully clear. Third, the metaphysical associations between pink asshole and semen and Greek yogurt are made without apology; to read millennial verse you really must accustom yourself to strange connections all about you, like cobwebs on the ceiling of your apprehension.

There are two schools: That of simple, straightforward diction (think Kay Ryan) and that of etiolated, expanded diction (think Ashbery). These recapitulate the ancient Dickinson vs. Whitman dichotomy, Eliot vs. Neruda, Williams vs. Wilbur ad nauseaum. This is not new.

To the straightforward narrative style belongs also the working class, everyday experience poetry (think Frank O'Hara) as in "The Madness of King George" by Matthew Dickman:

"It was time for me to go. I drank
a beer and a whiskey and should have been sipping
Italian sodas, should have been home
watching an old movie."

One thing about this style nowadays is a total disrespect for line breaks, as the above is no different in prose:

"It was time for me to go. I drank a beer and a whiskey and should have been sipping Italian sodas, should have been home watching an old movie."

Why do such writers insist on using lines? The most egregious example of this fallacy is certainly Stephen Dobyn's long poem, "Chainsaws."

I don't like prose-poems but I have no idea why Stephen chose to break this into lines; their only commonality is apx. line length.

"When I phone him in Florida, to protest, his wife
tells me: we've got twins, just toddlers and I'm
afraid of bugs."

So disrespect for line breaks is another feature to add to double-spacing, fragmented narrative, and disparate connections between bold images left to the reader to connect.

As for the latter, here's another example from "The Toothache" by Lee Bricetti:

"The toothache drills a hole
to the suitcase-filled with singed clothes

of the woman who died in a crash."

Now a toothache is commonly drilled, but here it drills all the way to a suitcase about which we learn nothing more in the next and final three lines of the poem. It's short poem, so it doesn't ask as much of the reader as some, but it does illustrate what I call "The New Metaphysical Poetry."

Overall, when reading this stuff, it feels as if every poet out there is trying desperately to be original, only to fall back into the general mess of history where all of this has been tried before. It is not hard to write an incomprehensible poem; it is much more difficult to write a lucid one, but this skill has been forgotten by some nowadays. The message is, "It's better to be original than good; it's better to be different than attempt to perfect and encompass the tradition of the past."

Of course, all these splinter schools will become codified by critics and soon belong to a tired category again. But that's beside the point.

I can't tell you how many times I've been rejected by Poetry and Ploughshares, but I think I know why--my poetry is too traditional. I aim for immediate comprehension on first read with more nuanced comprehension on subsequent reads. I like to surprise my readers with connections they also can make, and in my poems there is depth to be discovered but it is not foisted upon the reader violently without excuse. This is what I most resent about contemporary verse: the hubris of the authors throwing everything they can at us as if we were deaf, as if the audience would not listen unless someone fucks a rubber chicken onstage.

Below, an example of a poem recently rejected by Ploughshares. I fear my career as a poet is a lost anachronism. I cannot break the glass ceiling as I am, but fear I am too old to change. But on I go; I have not given up.


What if the fat man
were just a man, not fat,
and the shapeless woman
not the absence of curve
but the presence of her?
What if we were
instead of seemed,
without prejudice,
conscious and pure?

That is beyond me.
I want to control
the distance between us,
have my inner critic hack
any intimate overgrowth
away, plow a fire break
in the chaparral.

We all enjoy a little blood
spilled now and then
provided it's not ours.
Pity and contempt are sticks
we use to poke the drunk
to see if he's dead,
though unconsciously we rub
the same spot on ourselves
where he was bruised.
This gesture confirms
that anything less
than loving another as an equal
is not compassion.

Next time I am discharged
from the hospital for the smug,
I vow to wear
the blue plastic wristband
until it falls off. So long
will I remember
the poor and the stranger.

Though rejected by Ploughshares, this was published in Mannequin Envy and later named "Best Poem of the Week on the Net."

Still, not good enough to break the academic glass ceiling. Bitter? No. The joy of perfecting art through poetry outmuscles all attempts to have it justified only by recognition. Still every writer longs for recognition.

The black dog has been threatening me of late. Two weeping spells, the second purely chemical. My meds have been adjusted, but I fear melancholy, as those familiar with this blog know.

At 2 Kilorats,


Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!