What dreams may come

the picture

Tumbling down the narrow
stone steps, the wet taxi streets,
I know nothing of your dreams,
your mood, your dark mystery nights.

Great things, little things,
rye and stout,

my hand on your waist
for the picture.

the sun

we danced around the room
we stood on the roof
we playacted
hamlet, macbeth, anything
to unsee the clouds heavy on the basilica
clouds now on the balcony,
tomorrow, your journey east
                       to die, to sleep, perchance
into the eye of the sun
                       to dream

the end

I remember the Rilke poem,
dark mystery as you turned your head,
the taxi ride, I stood on the roof and watched,
sweetest sadness of the lone wanderer,
the sound of a name, a wintry
season ahead

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Damien Donnelly’s “Stickleback” chapbook

The five poems (or “considerations,” as Donnelly calls them) in this short chapbook focus on five paintings (by Dali, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, O’Keeffe, and Chagall, respectively). Opening on Dali’s “Young Woman in the Window,” Donnelly makes it clear that the operative principle in this collection is a fusion of imagery and reflection. Dali’s painting shows a woman at a window “looking out from shadow to sea.” Outside the window is “distance … space … water.” It is the quintessential image to use as an objective marker of the subjective state of reflection.

There is something holographic about these poems, each like an index to the whole, or each like a pebble dropped whose waves ripple through the other four. I’ll take as my pebble just the first stanza of the second poem (keyed to Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”):

Sometimes
I stopped by, to sit and wonder how you didn’t change
while I clung to the edge of the seat to keep myself
within the skin I was shedding like those petals hanging
onto your brush strokes, though they never met the finality
of their fate.

Note how quickly Donnelly gets to the meat of things. “Consideration” of art and artist absorbs the poet into its own ambiguity in a way that puts this poem in relief against the others. Take for example the second-person pronoun. “You” in the first poem variously references the painting or the figure within the painting, but not the painter himself (Dali). In the third poem (Kandinsky) it references the painting only, and it does not appear in poems 4 and 5. Here, though, in #2 (Van Gogh), the antecedent of “you” is ambiguous. Is it Van Gogh who didn’t change or the sunflowers? Do the petals hang from Van Gogh’s brush strokes or from the brush strokes of the painting itself?

The ambiguity is not just a curiosity. It opens a tension between the ephemeral and the eternal that operates at the core of the poem and perhaps less directly at the core of the collection. On the one hand, the image of a drop of paint hanging, awaiting the finality of the next moment, is as ephemeral an image as we can get. On the other hand, the image fixes the hand of the artist eternally on the canvas. Anyone who has seen Van Gogh’s paintings live will note the visceral presence of the artist in the topography of the paint, where you can see, for example, grooves where he pushed the paint around with the handle of the brush. To see the hand of the artist here, over a century later, to see that ephemeral movement of his hand frozen in time, conjures a sense, or a hope, that art can freeze the ephemeral into something eternal.

The tension between the ephemeral and the eternal is the same tension that animates Keats’s more famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The young lovers depicted on the marble urn will remain “forever young,” and therein lies their beauty. But the truth is that they will never feel the warmth of the kiss, their lips forever an inch apart. Thus, in the final lines, Keats’s poem translates that tension between the ephemeral and the eternal into an ambivalence about the relation of truth to beauty.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Note that the quotation marks are Keats’s, not mine. The lines are attributed within the poem not to the poet but to the urn itself, and they express the urn’s point of view. But the poem is haunted by a sense that maybe beauty is NOT truth. The figures are beautiful but the truth is they will never kiss. Moreover, a kind of melancholy hangs over the poem, as the immortality of the figures contrasts with the mortality of the poet, and Keats may have already felt at the writing of the poem the tuberculosis that would kill him barely a year later. The urn’s beauty lasts forever, but the truth the poet must face is death – and very soon, in Keats’s case.

Turning back to Donnelly’s poem, ekphrastic in the same way as Keats’s, “those petals hanging onto your brush strokes” give us at once an eternal marker of the hand of the artist and reminder that he (Van Gogh), like Keats, was already suffering at the time of “Sunflowers” and that he too would die in a year’s time.

The remaining poems in the collection of five are each their own thing, but this spotlight on the Van Gogh poem hopefully illuminates one path toward them. I will just add – don’t overlook the playful imagination (as in #3, the Kandinsky poem, where Donnelly’s irreverent comparison of “La Ludwigskirche in München” to “a burst bag of skittles scurrying along the wall” rings amusingly true for those who have seen the painting – and, as usual in Donnelly, the irreverent humor is recaptured by something more deeply reflective by the end) and sensuality (as in #4, the O’Keeffe image “spread out, like sex, like sweet sugar / dropped into the milk and up comes the wave … white tongue tingles with emerald envy”).

Back to my keynote. These poems are compressions of imagery and reflection. Let yourself linger. Know that there are always more layers to them, like the “eager green stems” in the Van Gogh painting/poem, “holding hundreds of seeds,” like the “strokes of paint / radiating like halos to fill in the hole left after all the lights / went out.”

Disclosure. This book was a gift. I haven’t met Damien live, but he is in my extended circle, we have swapped poems and thoughts about poems, and I have been on his excellent podcast, which you should all link to below.

Damien’s “Eat the Storms” podcast site linked here.

Stickleback is a chapbooks series by Hedgehog Press. Damien’s chapbook (“Considering Canvases with Boys”) is number XX in the series, linked here.

My Amazon review of Damien’s other chapbook (the “Eat the Storms” chapbook) is here.

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In nine days

Another author roundtable chat online, Jan. 27, 7 pm US central time. Please spread the word.

This month’s author chat is with Michael Tusa on his historical novel, “And Trouble Followed” (4.6 stars in 54 Amazon ratings). If you haven’t read the book, no problem, just bring your curiosity. Michael is happy to discuss.

If you want to read about or buy the book, link here.
To join the free book club for prompts per monthly author chats, link here.

The Jan. 27 Zoom info is as follows:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81983291243
Meeting ID: 819 8329 1243

Make sure to get your bookish friends to join the Facebook group for the prompts. It’s free, it’s easy, no spam. Great author chats coming up in the next couple months include Chris Thomas King in February (The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Culture) and Elizabeth Brina in March (Speak, Okinawa).

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Hippies TV

View the Twitch.tv episode (Yes We Cannibal) on Hippies here.

Go ahead. Click the cover below. Release your inner hippie.

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Read it. Share it. Drop a rating on Amazon.

4.1 stars in 82 Amazon ratings.
Featured in radio interviews on KSKQ Oregon and WRBH New Orleans.

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https://www.twitch.tv/yeswecannibal

Maggie is back. Goodbye again.

Here’s a photo from my recent event for Goodbye, Maggie. Be like the iconic don Marcos, who is introducing me in the picture, and show your love by clicking HERE.

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More stores coming in

Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart is coming in all over.

Shortlisted for the Faulkner-Wisdom Poetry Prize
NEW YORK, Quimby’s Brooklyn, 536 Metropolitan Ave (718) 384-1215.
AUSTIN, BookPeople, 603 N Lamar, (512) 472-5050.
BOULDER, Beat Book Shop, 1200 Pearl St #10, (303) 444-7111.
CHICAGO, Quimby’s Wicker Park, 1854 W North Ave, (773) 342-0910.
GUANAJUATO, Escalera Librería, Benito Juárez #59, +52 (473) 103-0564.
Soon to be in NEW ORLEANS and more.

For you poor souls who live without a bookstore cool enough, hit the Amazon link above (or get me a contact to your local store … and to local reviewers 🙂 )

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La vie en rose

Swans and apples, balcony breakfasts,
skin hunger, a touch, no, a word,
not even a word
a sound

far away
past the cathedral
somewhere in the wind
a sound with just a memory

of meaning, of joy, of sadness

la vie en rose

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Schematics in Mexico

Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart now available at Librería Escalera in Guanajuato (Av. Benito Juarez).
Libería Escalera link HERE
Amazon link HERE

white stone, a cathedral of sorts, Medea
roiled a red and golden heat, the fleece gone,
and none left to bury the dead

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