Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thinking about New Year’s Eve Poems….The classic “The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy and the not-so-classic “Ode to Waffle House” by Dave Smith

The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

There’s a lot to admire with this poem written on the last day of the century in 1899, but one aspect that I appreciate is the complexity of nature. Nature is not simply one thing: neither innocent nor directive, neither pure nor spiritual, neither benevolent nor malevolent. The speaker notices natural details that his pessimistic mood assigns to gloomy descriptions such as the “specter-gray” frost and all that follows in the first two stanzas. But that does not mean that nature reflects his feelings or is one with man, not in the Wordsworthian sense. Instead, the speaker only notices the happy bird because it is so loud. It’s not that nature is teaching, but more a backdrop for the poet to teach himself. The poet corrects his own mistake in thinking that nature was reflecting his inner state.

And another poem that I came across in the latest issue of Five Points isn’t really about New Year’s Eve but that is where many of us have ended up on this night. It’s “Ode to Waffle House” by Dave Smith. Great idea for a poem and love the title, here is an excerpt of it:

This is the South, kingdom of interstates,
warehouses, guns, journeys, and the Waffle House,

so we get in our cars and our trucks,
we wave our hands this way,
vigorously as if to someone who is dead.
down here there is always one
fifteen miles or less
either way….

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Mega-List: My Favorite “Best of” Albums, Films, Books, TV, and Lies Lists

If there is a disorder that involves loving to write and read lists, then I have it. And this time of year is a double dose of joy for my lovely neurosis because we have the end-of- the-decade lists AND end-of-the-year lists. Can I girl get much happier? I’ve been reading way too many of these and thought I would write the mega list: my list of my favorite lists. And please feel free to add your thoughts on what’s not here. I'd love more suggestions of good art out there.

My Favorite Poetry Books from the Aughts (a reduction to ten is ridiculous)
The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson
Time and Materials by Robert Hass
The Selected Levis by Larry Levis
My Vocabulary Did This to Me by Jack Spicer
Unmentionables by Beth Ann Fennelly
Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert (Although in all honesty, this book is on here because of how much I loved Gilbert’s Great Fires.)
Tomas Transtromer translated by Robin Fulton
You by Frank Stanford
Steal Away: New and Selected by C.D. Wright
Dark Things by Novica Tadic translated by Charles Simic

Blake Butler’s best 25 poetry books of the decade (It’s a wonderful list.)

The Best Books list from NPR
This one site has many wonderful categories for this year’s best books such as best debut fiction, best foreign books, best indie bookstore books, best book club books, etc.

The Onion’s Best TV Shows of the Decade,35256/1/
The Wire
Arrested Development
Freaks and Geeks
Mad Men
Breaking Bad
The Office (UK)
The Shield

The Onion’s Best Albums of 2009,35918/
Andrew Bird, Noble Beast
Brother Ali, Us
Converge, Ax to Fall
P.O.S., Never Better
Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orea
Sunset Rubdown, Dragonslayer
Animal Collective, Merrweather Post Pavilion
Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
Phonix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Metacritic's 35 Best Reviewed Artists of the Aughts
1 Spoon
2 Sigur Rós
3 Super Furry Animals
4 Sleater-Kinney
5 White Stripes
6 Animal Collective
7 Drive-By Truckers
8 Lightning Bolt
9 Iron & Wine
10 The Hold Steady
11 The New Pornographers
12 Portastatic
13 Elbow
14 Low
15 Bob Dylan
16 OutKast
17 TV On The Radio
18 Sufjan Stevens
19 Tom Waits
20 Four Tet
21 Dizzee Rascal
22 Richard Hawley
23 Okkervil River
24 Sam Phillips
25 Radiohead (A popular pick for band of the decade, but 2001’s Amnesiac is holding them back here)
26 Yeah Yeah Yeahs
27 Kanye West
28 Andrew Bird
29 The National
30 The Go-Betweens
31 Neko Case
32 Blood Brothers
33 The Clientele
34 Modest Mouse
35 Yo La Tengo

Best Movies of the Past Decade from Peter Traver, critic with Rolling Stone
1. There Will Be Blood
2. Children of Men
3. Mulholland Drive
4. A History of Violence
5. No Country for Old Men
6. The Incredibles
7. Brokeback Mountain
8. The Departed
9. Mystic River
10. Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Steve Sparks’s Best Movies of the Past Decade
1. No Country for Old Men
2. Mulholland Drive
3. City of God
4.The Eternal Sunshine...
5. The Incredibles
6. Oldboy
7. Punch-Drunk Love
8. A History of Violence
9.The Descent
10. Brokeback Mountain
Honorable Mention: The Departed, Eastern Promises, Audition, Memento, The Dark Knight and Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

And let’s not forget the Best Political Lies of the Year
Winner is Sarah Palin’s “Death Panels”
And here are the runners-up:

Oh--and the photo here is just one of my favorites from the past year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Modern War

I read this past Saturday at an “art share” hosted by Meredith McCarroll and Jeff Christmas. The idea behind it was for North Knoxville artists—which included dancers, musicians, painters, and writers—to come together, meet each other, and perform our work as a way to see what we do in a broad sense of exchange between all arts. Not only should I thank Meredith and Jeff for such a great night, but they received a grant for this through the Tennessee Humanities. So, thanks goes out to them, too. (And the painting here is by Leslie Grossman who shared her work with us that night.)

Being the week that President Obama announced the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, I decided to read an older poem that I wrote called “Modern War.” The poem does not talk about whether or not I think the choice for more troops is a good one. (After all, I wrote this during Bush’s term.) Instead, the poem discusses how I’m bothered by how these decisions remain intellectual for me. Political. Ideological. I don’t stop any bit of my daily routine. Granted, for those living in the countries where we are stationed and for the soldiers, it’s a different story all together, and that chasm disturbs me.

(Originally published in 2004 by The Seattle Review)

A war begins
and a chickadee cracks
a sunflower seed,
spitting the hull down
to the ground, the same
ground that somewhere trembles
underneath the weight of tanks.
The night glows red, white,
and green with artillery,
and the birds begin to sing
mistaking light for day.
They tug up worms
from the earth,
swallow them whole
with a flex of the throat.
No one around me
stops working
the day a war begins
anymore. Not the gardener
tending to the grounds,
the teacher leading a song
of ABCs. Not the bird,
the worm, and never
the earth, incapable
of memory.