Hello all

It seems I have a corneal ulcer.

I thought it was just a little irritation, but Gary’s ex-wife had this same thing happen, and he said it can have dire consequences. A number of web sites told me it was a medical emergency, so I made a trip to a circle-of-hell like emergency room so late Wednesday night that it was Thursday morning already — got home at 430 a.m. after a night of exposure to the poor and suffering of Brooklyn: the man who had just had spinal surgery and was afflicted with a constant gasping hiccup — he could keep down neither food nor water; the pregnant woman with chicken pox; the lady who got beat up at a party; the young woman whose cat had scratched her just below her eye; the ailing lady who moaned ohmigod ohmigod and soiled herself; her enraged adult son who demanded more care for her and was threatened with expulsion for unruly behavior; the woman who cried and sobbed, “I just want to die, I want to dieeeee…”

I felt silly going there with just a little irritated eye, but it turns out it’s a good thing I did. The emergency room doc told me it was probably just a corneal abrasion, but told me to follow up with an opthamolagist. Yesterday I saw an opthamologist who said it was probably an abrasion but wanted me to see his partner. I went to consult with his partner today and he told me within two seconds of looking at my eye that it was an ulcer, and that it was good I came in in because such ulcers can, he said, be “devastating” and can result in permanent *impaired vision or permanent vision loss.* AAAAAGGH! Big scariness.

So now I’m using some miraculous new eyedrops and the prognosis is good. My eye is achey and I feel tired, though. Wearing my glasses feels odd. Worst of all… no eyeliner until I’m safely through this.

Anyway, I caught it in time. Filled with that shaky residue of a nearly missed disaster.

OK, no blogging for a little while until this gets better.


Rodney, I’ve always thought of you as a KER-ne-kuh. And you know what, I think you need a blog. Your own blog, to call your own.

p.s. I have one poem with a line, “the rest of this poem will leave you dizzy” — and when I read it aloud I always say, “and here I always want the line to end with ‘Michael Gizzi’– and then I read the real line, which doesn’t have a rhyme in it at all. But the Gizzi bit has become part of the poem for me. Agreed, MG has a splendid name.

A thoughtful post from Josh Corey on Jewishness and his reflections on the Penn Sound video of the panel on Secular Jewish culture (which I also just finished watching last night — perfect for hemming a dress to). Like Josh, I’m down with vaudeville and justice, in that order, but I am down with justice to the extent that what Josh calls the “self-entitlement” — in many cases I’d call it outright bigotry – of certain Jews fills me with rage. More on this further down in this post in a bit, but first a few notes on the Penn Sound panel:

One is delighted by the ethnic characteristics and mannerisms of most of the participants, their New York-y ever-so-slightly-Yiddish-inflected accents which perhaps were enabled to bloom (a nice Jewish name, after all) in each other’s company and in that context. Jewishness is very much “of the voice” — as well as “of the word.” One instance of magnificently curly hair. Terrific noses and those beautiful heavy-lidded eyes so much like those of our Arab co-tribe. Wit — somehow more moist than dry. And, as Perloff, the least “Jewish” in mannerism and appearance on the panel, pointed out, humorous self-deprecation — the aspect that most resonates with my own stance and survival strategy. I actually remember remarking to Charles B., whose poem Perloff used as a model for such a quality, talking of my own poem/intvw. on Penn Sound, that it was “a little self-deprecatory” and I think I even went so far as to call it a “Jew thing.” That quality is truly, for me, a dividing line. I cannot imagine my goyim poetess sistren, for example Lee Ann “I glow among poets” Brown, or Jennifer “Poster Child for Lyric Poetry [although, OK, that is pretty funny]” Moxley, or Ange Mlinko, in her quest for The Beautiful, being interested in indulging in the kind of self-deprecation that comes naturally to me and that I quite simply find hilarious. Would every Jewess poetess (sorry!) pass that shibboleth? Probably not. But I do see it a little in Joanna Fuhrman’s work, and in Adeena Karasick’s even, to some extent, if not, say Rachel Levitsky’s or Karen Weiser’s.

…Some other interesting moments on the panel, before I forget: Stephen Paul-Miller’s theory, via his elderly mom, on poetic rhythms and davinning; Paul Auster’s inimitable bookish hunkiness; Perloff’s snap (a little harsh) at James Sherry (who asked why the panel did not address the issue of Israel more directly) when she insisted that poetry is about struggle rather than righteousness…

I can’t imagine how it is that Jewishness informs my sensibility (save a disturbing familial proclivity for puns), given that I was raised around ashrams instead of synagogues, and my mother took me Sufi dancing instead of teaching me the hora. Even so many generations away from the shtetl, how is it that I can so easily slip into a Jewish mode, even more easily than into, say, an Ebonics accent although I lived in a couple of black neighborhoods and never a Jewish one? Incidentally, the only other ethnic impression that I can do with as much ease is Japanese. I anyhow love the feeling of “playing Jewish” — it feels earthy and emotional and evokes an inner soundtrack of fiddles and klezmer, and it really makes me wonder what kind of information is stashed in our DNA, anyway.

Whatever it is, it is simply about qualities, and not about any kind of entitlement, negative or positive, I hope — to return to the rage I mentioned in the first paragraph. Living in Brooklyn, I find myself often in Jewish neighborhoods. I am fascinated by nearby Boro Park, and go there sometimes to shop, or even, you know, just to ogle. You know, because given a slightly different set of circumstances, those people… could be me. It’s a little hard to imagine myself in seamed stockings and a wig, but it’s a thought I have to entertain. You know, what if my ancestors, who came over very early — I think I’m like sixth generation — had settled here instead of moving to the midwest and west? Despite these fanciful imaginings, I have to say I don’t feel connected to those “real Jews” at all. In a way I feel farther away from them than from, say, my Japanese students, in whose culture I have participated much more deeply, despite both cultures being essentially “closed.” I don’t even remotely long to feel connected to the “real Jews” either. A mutual repudiation lies behind our different interpretations of American Jewishness. I feel, somehow, an irrational “right” to be more openly disapproving of their culture than of a culture which can not in any way be said to be “mine.” That could stem, in part, from their obvious disapproval of me as someone who has assimilated beyond redemption — or who has self-exiled beyond exile, perhaps? With my bare tattooed arm and crazy loose hair and noisy pagan baubles and Irish atheist husband and Arabic music spilling out of my IPod and total disrespect of tradition. But I don’t care. It’s interesting, sometimes, to move among them and gauge their reactions.

And also to undermine my own stereotyping, sometimes. One of the belly dance classes I take is at a little studio for Jewish women (well, it’s for women, but I’ve only seen Jewish women there) down at Avenue I and MacDonald in the heart of Brooklyn. The teacher is a vivacious Israeli woman, Avivit, whose English makes me giggle: “Poosh! Poosh!” she demands, as we force our hips more energetically to the side. The students run the gamut of Brooklyn Jewishness, with me of course at the farthest left end, but I am especially interested in the example of Zipporah, mother of several, who wears a snood and modest clothing outside of class, but who has recently had her navel pierced. I mean — WOW!

Anyway, I picked up a newsletter for Jewish ladies at the studio, out of curiosity, and was APPALLED by the following Q. and A. I found therein:

Q. Dear Rabbi Moss,
I have long been uncomfortqable with the concept of the “Chosen People.” To suggest that because our ancestors stood at Mt. Sinai we are somehow closer to G-d than all other nations smacks of arrogance, elitism, and racial prejudice. How is that any different than anti-Semitism?


[Of course I was not appalled by the question, which is utterly reasonable, and could have issued from my own pen. It was only the bizarre logic of the answer, which, to be honest, I have heard from my own Orthodox cousin, that enraged me:]

A: Dear Margaret:

That is a fantastic question — a question that could only come from someone who is chosen [!]. Allow me to explain. In the Jewish understanding, chosenness leads not to arrogance [although, you know, tell that to the Palestinians], but rather to humility [as my cousin put it, with a very somber face, “chosenness is a burden”]. If it were some human king that chose us to be his special people then your assumption would be correct — we would become elitists. When a mortal power shows favoritism towards a subject, that subject will become more arrogrant as a result — the cloer you are to the king, the more significant you are, and the more significant yu are the higher respect you feel you deserve. But we were chosen by G-d. And the closer you are to G-d, the more you sense your insignificance….Being close with G-d demands introspection and self-improvement, not smugness. This is the idea of the Chosen People — a nation of individuals who have been given the opportunity to sense G-d’s closeness….All agree that it was the Jews that introduced this world to monotheism and a system of ethics and morals that has shaped the modern view of life [as a struggle against military-industrial terrorism?? What is “the modern view of life, exactly?] and its purpose [to get a big screen TV? I’m not clear on what is being implied here.] ….To say that this [concept] is ehtnocentric is absurd for one simple reason: anyone from any ethnic background can concert to Judaism and become chosen. Jewish chosenness is not a gene, it is a state of the soul. Anyone wishing to take it upon themselves is welcome — as long as they are ready to have their bubble burst. So the arrogant person is not acting chosen. The true test of chosenness is how humble you are. You Margaret, have passed this test with flying colors. Your humility is so deep, it doesn’t allow you to accept that you are chosen. While most other religious groups are quite comfortable claiming that they are the best, we Jews will do anything to say that we are nothing special. Now that’s what I call a Chosen People!

I suppose Rabbi Moss’ twisted answer is an example of a particularly perverse use of the self-deprecation I mentioned earlier. But sorry, Rabbi, this logic, to me, simply does not fly. For one thing, I don’t know any humble Jews, whether they are religious or secular. Every single Jew I know is thrilled to trumpet their achievements and virtues (or have their mother do it for them). Secondly, monotheism is just a religious mimicry of a form of social power. Thirdly, Judaism is primarily an ethnicity, although now and then (I’d be interested to see the statistics on this) you get a shiksa or two converting to marry some cute Jewish guy… Anyway, whatever. I did rage out on this for a couple of days.

More recently, the target of my rage was in a newsprint advertising circular I picked up in Boro Park the other day with a headline reading “Help Stop The [sic] Evil Decree of the Wicked Sharon” — which is not to say that I don’t think Sharon is wicked, just that the decree is one of the first sensible things I’ve heard issuing out of Israel in a long time. Inside the circular is “A Plea for Your Help from Gush Katif,” written by a settler named Rachel Saperstein. She piously describes how the rules have “become stricter, the decrees more draconian, the police more brutal.” And while I am hardly in favor of brutal police, I would truly like to shake Rachel by her snood and say, “SO GET THE FUCK OUT! IT’S TIME TO LEAVE ALREADY.” These people are not “victims” — they are government pawns , and I have no sympathy with their shortsighted narrowminded dogmatic cause whatsoever…

as I have no sympathy with any sort of religious extremism, at all. When I wrote the line, “Jews as elective infants: are you autistic, or are you just davinning?” I was expressing my horror that people can so willingly give up their own capacity to make decisions about their lives and behavior in favor of arcane rituals and codes that often condone outrageous injustice.

As for me, I’ll always be a Jewess — but that doesn’t preclude my being a PANTHEIST/ANIMIST/AGNOSTIC/VAUDEVILLIAN. So there.


Of course I meant “unabashed delight” or “abandoned delight” — not “unabandoned delight.”

Did no one else notice it? Were you all just too tactful to say anything about it?

A revelation: I don’t care at all for “tenderness” in poetry, although, as in the aforementioned case of “ethics” it is essential in life. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever written a truly “tender” poem — not even in Swoon, not even way way back when when I was pre-avant. That is, anything that might make an audience go “awwww” might, if I were reading it on a page, make me want to tear out the cloying item, ball it up, and aim it somewhere far from me.

Some of the poems in the recent Poker are very tender. It’s just too hot and humid as it is for all that tenderness.

There’s a lot of talk of Creeley in the Poker. Of course I love his poetry, but not the later tender/ melancholy stuff. I like the wiseass Herbert-influenced stuff and then the slightly later wiseass Herbert-influenced druggy stuff.

OK, let me try to write a tender poem. Let’s see if I can do it.

You curl up on my head, push through my hair.
The pollen comes through the air conditioner,
I feel your body vibrate as my glands swell up.
I cannot say I own you
tho you’ve never left the apartment.
Little gargoyle,
eyes like creepy marbles… rubbing your saliva
on all the nearby objects…

No, that’s not really tender, is it.

I do feel especially tender towards these cats right now, though, I must say. They evince the most amazing loyalty, following us even out of the one airconditioned room — lying there for hours with glazed expressions and spread limbs, their fur a little matted, as Gary watches a creepy Amitabh movie and I sew costumes I’ll probably never have occasion to wear. The cats are tiny time robots. Breakfast is at… gasp… 5:30, according to them. Dante, at “bedtime” (now past) every night sits on the bed and when he sees me cries expectantly. IT’S TIME, he’s telling me, to FORM THE KITTEN HEAP.

The costumes are, among other things, a wish for a vanished past to (forgive this:) rematerialize, along with personal innocence/personal wisdom (this does disappear, just like all the books warn) and a relative kind of societal innocence, although there has never been any lasting societal wisdom, just a struggle and a slide, a struggle and a slide, a struggle and a struggle and a slide.

It’s so hot and humid there’s a swirling. A film over the retinas. Spooky soundtrack music. Ever since I took my class to the Museum of the Moving Image I can’t see a movie without imagining someone at the computer punching in all the sounds on the computer: “let’s have a howl here” “now we need a breath sound” “sloshing” “eerie choral voices, yup, that’s it” — and all the actors standing in the sound studio in headphones making grunting sounds of conflict and rolling around — struggle and slide, struggle and struggle and slide.

Doing a nostalgia-google the other day, I came across a post from a woman who is writing a book about Will Shatter (R.I.P.) the former bassist of Flipper. I wrote to her and she gave me an email address for Bruce Loose, Flipper’s inimitable vocalist, who was a good pal in the early punk days in San Francisco. Bruce and I started up a correspondence full of reminiscences, and he told me my picture is in a book by Jim Jocoy called “We’re Desperate” — and today Bruce emailed me the picture. I share it with all of you for your amusement. It’s from 1978 or ’79. My initial reaction: OH my GAWD! Well…my hair’s still red…

Jordan writes: “You know that when contempt comes through in a poem, that’s the poet’s contempt for his or her selves, right?”

No Jordan, that’s way too pop-psych of a generalization. Even with the qualifier “usually” I think It’s too much. Sometimes contempt is just contempt, and not bounced off of auto-contempt.

the coiner of the word “contempt-o rama”!