Saturday, December 31, 2011

"You quiver like a sea-fish"

Are you alive?
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you—banded one?

"The Pool" by H.D. (1915)

Zwei auf dem Rücken liegende Akte, Gustave Klimt, c.1906

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Sky full of laurels and arrows"

And I love you,
Sky full of laurels and arrows,
White shadow of cities where the scars
Of forgotten swans
Waken into feathers
And new leaves.

From "Moon" by James Wright. The complete poem is here.

Moonlit Night on the Dniepr, Archip Iwanowitsch Kuindshi, 1882

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Be Drunk

Be Drunk
Charles Baudelaire

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."

Translated by Louis Simpson, text via

For more on the uses of drunkenness, read "Aristotle -- The Wisdom of Silenus." (Worth clicking over just for the clip of Nureyev dancing The Afternoon of a Faun.)

The lineage of Silenus can be found at

The Misfortunes of Silenus, Piero di Cosimo, 1505-1510

Monday, December 26, 2011

Introductions, introduced

One of the things I love about this blog is that it gives me an opportunity to share the work of writers and artists I admire, including some you might not have heard about. Since I've spent a fair amount of time at workshops and writers'conferences over the past year, I've met a LOT of really talented people whose fine stories and poems have not yet found a big audience. I'd like to do my bit to remedy that, so I've decided to start regularly posting links to their work. If you like the stories you find below, do come back and post a comment so I can pass it along to the author. Happy reading.

Brandy Wilson teaches at the University of Memphis and she is currently at work on a novel. You can read one of her stories, "The Paris Times,"  at PANK Magazine.

Richard Alley is a freelance writer and journalist in Memphis. His story "Sea Change" appeared in Memphis Magazine last year, and you can read "Hav-A-Tampa," an excerpt from another story, at Glass Cases.

A.K. Benninghofen is a Mississippi native who now lives in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. She and I met at the Sewanee Writers' Conference last year. You'll find a couple of her great stories at Evergreen Review and Necessary Fiction.

Reading the Story of Oenone, Frank Millett, 1882

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"nothing can slake my thirst"

Making love with you
Is like drinking sea water.
The more I drink
The thirstier I become,
Until nothing can slake my thirst
But to drink the entire sea.

From The Love Poems of Marichiko by Kenneth RexRoth

Bather, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, 1913

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"teeth broken from winter's harsh bite"

The night a comet
with its silver tail
tucked between its legs
fell through darkness
to rest in the Wades'
dead field
Papa stood
on the back stoop
unmoving, wolf
starved in metal trap
teeth broken from winter's
harsh bite.

In the back of the shotgun
the crooked step jutting
out like a lip, he could see
the sky neck, feel the stars
shake they heads

That night he threw
the fallen stone
back to sky
the stars watched
it all come down
to ruined earth again.

Sky would not take back
what she had done
the fields spent,

From "Fallen" by Sheree Renée Thomas. See the rest at Strange Horizons.

"The Great Comet of 1861", illus. from Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt, E. Weiss, 1888

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Winter Sun"

How valuable it is in these short days,
threading through empty maple branches,
the lacy-needled sugar pines...

From "Winter Sun" by Molly Fisk

The Magpie, Claude Monet, 1869

Wishing you all a beautiful solstice

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"We have roped swallows together into legions"

We have roped swallows together
into legions.
Now we can't see the sun.
Everywhere nature twitters as it moves.
In the deepening twilight the earth swims into the nets
and the sun can't be seen.

But what can we lose if we try one
groaning, wide, ungainly sweep of the rudder?
The earth swims. Courage,
brothers, as the cleft sea falls back from our plow.
Even as we freeze in Lethe we'll remember
the ten heavens the earth cost us.

From "The Twilight of Freedom" by Osip Mandelstam, 1918. The complete poem is here.

Ad Marginem, Paul Klee 1930

Monday, December 19, 2011

"but why not dream a little"

When I’m running across the city
on the crowded streets
to home, when, in a blur,
the grass turns brown
beneath my feet, the asphalt
steams under every step
and the maple leaves sway
on the branches in my wake,
and the people look,
look in that bewildered way,
in my direction, I imagine
walking slowly into my past
among them at a pace
at which we can look one another in the eye
and begin to make changes in the future
from our memories of the past—
the bottom of a bottomless well,
you may think, but why not dream a little ...(more)

From "The Flash Reverses Time" by A. Van Jordan. (You'll find a 2007 post featuring Jordan here.)

Memory, Elihu Vedder, 1870

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A random list, 2011 ed. (mostly books)

'Tis the time of year to make annual lists -- best of, top ten, etc. -- and you'll find mine below. But first, a disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of these lists, or to put it more accurately, I'm not a big fan of creating them. I enjoy other people’s lists (like these, for instance), but when I try to make my own I find that I don’t relish the linear thought process required. I'm not the kind of person who wants or needs her ducks in a row, as even a brief look around my house will confirm. Also, I don’t like the exclusionary nature of lists: This always implies not that, and I hate to reject things that are essentially worthy. (That’s why I possess several hundred perfumes, even though I only wear about 20.) But if I cast aside all thoughts of organization and ranking, list-making does offer me the simple pleasure of revisiting good things, especially the ones that have taught me something or otherwise rocked my world. And, more importantly, a list is a handy way to share those things with people who might not otherwise know about them. Seen in that light, an annual list is a sort of gift to myself and to you. So, with a little ambivalence and a sincere hope that you'll find something that gives you pleasure, here's a random list of  ten things I loved in 2011:

1. Frederick Busch’s Domestic Particulars: A Family Chronicle
This is a quiet, sad, beautifully constructed novel about parents and children, among other things. I wrote a brief review of it at Goodreads. I would never have read it if a friend had not urged it on me. Let me pay a favor forward and encourage you to get your hands on a copy. You'll be rewarded for the trouble.

2. Rodney Crowell’s memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks
This is absolutely not a book I would ever have picked up on my own, but I enjoyed every page. My review is here.

3. Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life
One of the most interesting and entertaining books I’ve read in a long time, Mrs. Nixon transcends genre. It's an artful blend of fiction, literary criticism, history and memoir, and reading it is a little like being happily lost in a house of mirrors. The book is not really concerned with Pat Nixon, but with “Mrs. Nixon,” a fictional person who is as much the creation of Pat Nixon as of Ann Beattie. The brilliance of Mrs. Nixon was completely lost on David Greenberg, who wrote a simple-minded, lukewarm review for The New York Times, and on Michiko Kakutani, who delivered a review that is so willfully dumb and mean-spirited I won’t even link to it. At least the book is getting some appreciation from smart readers like this one.

4. The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, trans. by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin
 Mandelstam’s poems push me to a place I could never get to on my own, and I can never find my way back without their help.

5. Before the Great Troubling by Corey Mesler
 I featured the title poem on the blog a while back, but the whole collection is wise, playful, and very smart. Go here to see some links to other recent poems by Mesler.

6. Some other good books I read or reread this year, in no particular order and excluding lots of worthy titles that I would list if I wasn’t afraid of trying your patience:

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

A Hole in the Earth by Robert Bausch

Brill Among the Ruins by Vance Bourjaily

The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

Appalachee Red by Raymond Andrews

Rebel Powers by Richard Bausch

7. Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Apart from the way 3D glasses kept falling down my face, watching this film was a magical experience. Herzog, once again, has inspired me to do plenty of wondering about the primal sources of art and about our complex relationship to animals. I won't bore you with my musings, but the film strengthened my long held opinion that our sentimental attachment to our pets is a degraded expression of our deepest, most spiritual selves.

8. Brian Pera's Woman's Picture
Like many of my fellow perfume fanatics, I've been following the production of this film, and I was thrilled to finally see it at the Indie Memphis festival earlier this fall. A beautiful movie in every way, I hope it will be available on DVD soon so that more people can have the chance to see it. And I can't wait to see where Brian Pera takes his considerable talent in the years to come.

9. Susan Bryant's alternative process photography, exhibited this fall at Nashville's Cumberland Gallery
That's one of her images at the top of this post, and you can see more here and here. Wonderful, evocative stuff. Go look.

10. Glasgow in spring
I spent a couple of weeks in Glasgow this year and pretty much fell in love with a city I already liked quite a lot. I have thoughts of making it home someday. To see a few pictures from my visit, go here.

F.A.R., Copyright ©2011 by Susan Bryant. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Even the void has disappeared"

The Void
Eugenio Montale

Even the void has disappeared
where one could once take refuge.
Now we know that even the air
is matter that weighs upon us.
Immaterial matter, the worst
that could have befallen us.
It isn't full enough because
we must people it with facts and actions
to be able to say we belong to it
and will never escape it even when dead.
To cram with objects what is
the sole Object by definition although
it doesn't care for it oh what a vile
comedy. And with what zeal we perform it!

From It Depends, 1980

The Story of the God of Kitano Tenjin Shrine, 13th century