Ode to a Fake Nightingale


MY reason aches, and a drowsy horror pains
My sense, as though of a billionaire’s roofies I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull quaaludes to my brains
One minute past, and Trump-wards we have sunk:
‘Tis not through pity for thy sorry lot,                     5
But being too crappy in thine crappiness,
That thou, plastic-wingèd mascot of the apocalypse,
In some discordant plot
Of backroom smoke, and shadows numberless,
shrieks of bummer and full-blown dictatorships.            10

O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
stewed a long age on the warming earth,
Tasting of Monica and the country-green,
Dancing the macarena like some partial birth!
O for a cleansing of the racist South!            15
Full of the fake, the ignorant hypocrites,
With beaded slogans twinkling at caps’ brims,
And their slur-stainèd mouths;
I want to slink, and leave the world unseen,
And fade away, misanthropic, into the future dim:            20

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the evil hast never known,
The pussy-grabs, the emails, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other boast;
Where drone-bombs shake a few, sad, last kids,            25
Where Jill Stein grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
From all the radiation on her phone.
Oh, leaden eyes and eyelids!
Melania cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
She’s sold her soul and there is no to-morrow.            30

Away! away! or I will fly from thee,
Not charioted by Mike Pence and his tards,
But on the gormless wings of Poesy,
Though my dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,            35
And haply Queen Hill will take her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry-eyed cronies.
Here there are no rights,
Save what our old constitution has with its amendments abused
by gun-toting goons and religious phonies.            40

I cannot see Paul Ryan and his giant ears,
Nor what soft scrota hang inside his pants,
There, in embalmèd darkness, musky sweet
Wherewith unreasonable endless cant
The cretins, the crackers, and the macho go wild;            45
Whitely supreme (would be), grand and elephantine;
Teen miss universes cover’d up in fear;
Of a superannuated child,
Campaigning in gross prose, full of juicy lies,
He haunts the stage like Lurch on autumn eves.            50

Darkly I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Said to him, oh baby, in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it wise to die,            55
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such idiocy!
Still wouldst thou squawk, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high per diem become a sod.            60

Thou wast born for this crap, jingoist Bird!
No hungry Sarah Palins tread thee down;
The screech I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path            65
Through the sad heart of Hillary, when, sick for power,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that ofttimes hath
Charm’d magic pipelines, opening on the tower
That Trump built, in gentrified cities forlorn.            70

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to Bernie Sanders!
Adieu! the fancy always cheat so well
As Trump is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! his tiny orange hands            75
Roving near pudendas, over the frozen teen,
And up her little hill-sides; and now they’re buried deep
In the national psyche:
Was it a nightmare, or a waking dream?
Soon is the election:—do I wake or sleep?            80

Lies and Dreams: a Workshop with Myanmar poets

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photo by Antima Moe

Thinking gratefully and continually about my amazing experience with the Myanmar poets in late May in Yangon, where I facilitated a poetics workshop called “Lies and Dreams,” and of how many wishes and visions for poetry we share despite our quite different contexts.

It was in a hot (but then, everything was hot, so hot that I described the weather as feeling like one had been wrapped in a wool blanket that had just been boiled) narrow room painted aquamarine in downtown Yangon,up several flights of stairs,  at the PEN center.  Just outside was the constant chaos of traffic, the almost uncrossable street filled with the candy colors of fruit and vegetable stalls and longyi (sarongs), the streets lined with majestically decaying colonial buildings.

Here is the workshop in a nutshell: we began by brainstorming things that others have told us that poetry should or has to be but that we disagree with (lies). I then gave them the task of writing something that followed those criteria. This elicited laughter, naturally. Since it was an anti-colonialist workshop, I welcomed them to write in their own language. Some chose English anyway.

We then took rather a longer time writing our own desirous visions for poetry (wishes), and the rest of the workshop consisted of going around the table, reading our wish lists, and discussing in some detail.

The younger poets (Flarf fans) who define themselves as “online poets” seemed to share a common vision in that they seemed most to value two things in poems: amusement and what they called “shock.”

One poet expressed desires for poems to wed with other art forms such as images or video, and said that for him poetry is everywhere, if not so much in poems.

Another said that poetry is a form of traveling, of going someplace else. One said that she wanted her poems to be able to speak to many different types of readers on different levels simultaneously.

Another, a doctor, said that she had recently delivered a baby, and that that was poetry.

One waxed philosophical and described poetry as a trace of Being, phenomena and noumena. Another said that he wanted poetry to always give him something new. I apologize for not naming names here; I do know the names of most of the attendees but not all, so I thought it fairest to leave them out here/

My brainstorm about my desires for poems:

I want poems to be capacious — not necessarily in volume — to have a richness of surface and language —

even when minimal — the spaces between words in a minimal poems should BREED thoughts/images/hallucinations

so…a kind of sublime drugginess

simultaneously personal — no–motivated — I want to feel the reason for the poem –that reason can just be the reason

and also impersonal — but not…”distanced” — located in the stuff of language, its feel on the eye/ear/tongue

I want it witty — can express “truths: but oughtn’t to settle in them — better, momentary insights

and I want it to resist descriptiveness

I want new chemical combinations in language — not just for the sake of weirdness like surrealism…too obvious, negates its own weirdness

generally I want it to avoid making points that it doesn’t subvert

I want everything to be in question

like being in an unfamiliar city — each corner turned should to something startling —

maybe beautiful, maybe squalid

but anyway unexpected

I want codes

I don’t want identity (or at least not any simple definition of what identity might mean) so much, since going beyond it is a kind of nirvana


at my last comment a kind of ripple of understanding and agreement went thought the room. They come from a Buddhist culture and so they got that…Also, despite the intense governmental oppression they have always known,  some said they didn’t want to always write overtly politically or in any case “as Burmese.” Not all felt that way but some deemed that a kind of pressure and roundly rejected it.

They asked me, “Why don’t you become a Buddhist?””I’m not really one for -isms,” I said, “but Buddhism resonates for me in certain ways – its emphasis on compassion in the midst of the absurd suffering that is existence- and for some reason I am always attracted to Buddhist cultures and spaces”


Reading over my notes now several months later I realize of course that I’m not saying anything in my notes of desires for poetry that I haven’t said a thousand times before, and also that it isn’t a particularly novel set of wishes for poetry. I do think it is important for me now in what are very trying times in the US poetry world (I hope a painful growth period that leads to blossomings; indeed, what else could happen? the dialectic is always swinging, although I think it’s more like one of those pendula that go in whatever direction that “energy” is compelling them to go in) to keep clarifying to myself what it is I seek in poems.

“Collage is nerve art”


I find it bizarre that I hadn’t known about the work of Robert Seydel before I saw an exhibition of his work a couple of weeks ago at the Queens Museum. Almost every ride out on the 7 train yields wonders (the big globe in Flushing Fields is reason enough, on a hot day, with its spewing fountains and gleeful children), but this trip especially did so: Seydel’s delicate, odd collages and exquisitely constructed poems –some of these displayed in his precisely handwritten notebooks – reveal a world shivering with receptiveness.

I never met him.  He died in 2011, at 51 years old, of a heart attack. He was a recluse whose life was entirely devoted to his intertwining text/image artwork. Neither image nor text takes precedence; rather they seem to grow out of each other. What takes precedence is attention, or shall I say, attentiveness. Only a very attuned attentiveness can produce such work, and because of its fineness, it elicits attentiveness too – at least from me and the several others who looked raptly at the exhibit and listened as Monica de la Torré and Peter Gizzi read some selections from his work, including a poem that was displayed high up along the wall of the exhibition room.


He wrote in personae, including the persona of his aunt Ruth Greisman. It seems not at all an improper appropriation how he inhabits the (her) feminine. It seems a way of liberating utterances.

The poetry is extremely beautiful.  Here are some lines from his “Formulas and Flowers” published in The Book of Ruth (2011, siglio press):

Sad men fail art relentlessly.

Schmutz is my sign.

I rearrange time. It’s confused in me.

Imagination is foolish. Mine hops like a rabbit.

A trembling animal at the edge of thought.

The page is operatic.

I see creatures in my urine.

The images are beautiful, too, and can’t be faulted for relying too much on the surrealist technique of putting a new head on an old body, for that is a trick of which one never tires. There is a little of Schwitters in them in that one can feel the recuperation of things that would have otherwise been discarded. Especially intriguing to me were the altered daguerrotypes (or maybe just very old sepia photos) since it seemed a way of both destroying and embellishing historical imagery.


The show is on view through September 27th and is well worth the train ride. Besides, you can go to Flushing Mall afterward for Szechuan food and have a simply perfect day.




To dance around in the kitchen to a song sung in harmony by two men in the 1950s while two cats look at you, after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To pick up a cat while you are sitting on the toilet and peeing after Auschwitz is barbaric.
To hold your hair over your closed mouth in such a way as to cause your index and middle finger to press on your nose while you are thinking after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To overthink pronouns such as the “accusative you” as you are composing a work of “literature” after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To reach back to scratch an itchy spot just under your bra strap after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To notice that it is too hot in the apartment after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To fantasize about getting a puppy that is a mix of Pomeranian and Husky, a breed called a Pomsky, and then naming it Gnome, after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To spray ginger citron aromatherapy spray on mufflers that have languished in the basement over the warm months in a cheap suitcase that had an awful plasticky smell after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To go to sleep after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To think about what you are going to put in the wild rice pilaf – apples or cranberries – after Burundi is barbaric.

To think about when you are going to make your next trip out to Queens to visit spa castle after the massacres of Mayan peoples is barbaric.

To buy hair barrettes made of cunning crystal beads and to eat this amazing rice bowl wth slivered takuwan, maguro, and ikura  in Shinjuku after the Holodomor is barbaric.

To endlessly permutate Adorno’s probably tossed-off aphorism in a repetitive literary piece when you are averse to obvious repetition in writing after Auschwitz is barbaric.

To try to rouse the rabble, preach to the choir, and otherwise use poetry rhetorically after the Nanking massacre is barbaric.

To think about how you should put the floating candles in the fishbowl for a centerpiece  after the Armenian gencocide is barbaric.

To write conceptual “engaged” works that won’t make any significant difference in the world although it might make you feel better, after the persecution of Falun Gong, is barbaric.

To ignore street people who need things like socks and sandwiches and beds, after the Assyrian genocide, is barbaric.

To deliberate over the sort of cocktail you might order, if you actually drank cocktails, after the unrest in Ferguson is barbaric.
To get up and brush one’s teeth with special anise toothpaste from the health food store after the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities is barbaric.

It is barbaric and vulgar.

To fondle the cheap necklaces at Forever 21 hoping that one doesn’t look too cheap and will give you the sense of decoration you are desperate for in a hideous world that has experienced the  Ustashe genocides of Serbs, Jews,Roma and Croats is primitive and contemptible.
To stay in a zen temple overnight and eat with the monks in the morning as they chant their sutras and serve their food into three little bowls while bowing to accept food has the veneer of civilization but in fact after the Japanese War crimes of world war II is savage.
To write poems against type, to abandon grace and decoration and a wandering imagination is a lomd of betrayal is therefore positively atavistic.
To neglect the home keys and type lomd when you mean kind after any sort of genocide or massacre is idiotic and therefore barbaric.


The cops come in on twinkletoe,
in dickies and bad hats, their sidecars
limply idling. They slink sidewise with lowly
simpers, the cops and their bagel foreheads
and snowy disasters, plump in starchy
regalia and loosely waddling. There are
all breeds of cops: shaggy and muffy cops,
bright sleek mean cops, cops with weasels
down below, and cops of normal squalor.
The only cops I like are wrinkly cops, all
done up in tight panties. Then there are
the hulky burrito cops, the filigree mango
cops, the cops that love the words “sin” and
”sin.” They police a city with needles, say
rawwr and grr and cannot keep things
down. These are the cops who finger
nozzles muttering “rue” and “rue” and
“rue.” They are real lulus in wiry tutus.
Green bald cops. Murky annihilation cops.
Liminal space cops in the gap between
the jeweled dust and the other jeweled
dust. There are striped and spotted cops,
idly scribbling marginalia on the snow.
Overcome by a wave cops, the cops struggle
through the cops and find more cops
inside their pyramidal beards.