Accelerate softly my blood: Saenz on Berrigan

Note: Each year RHINO has a four month “down” period (from January to April) during which we do not read submissions, focusing instead on getting the issue to press, as well as various administrative and business matters.   In order to stay more closely connected to poetry during the “down time”, this year we are using part of each meeting to hone our skills as an editorial board, as well as to make ourselves more conscious of the assumptions and criteria we apply in assessing poems.   One aspect of this was to compile a list of “most frequently made comments” at the editorial board table.  More significantly, each editor was asked to choose a poet/poem from “Groundbreaking Books” listed on the American Academy of Poets’ website, and to present that poem for discussion as if it had been submitted.  Editors were encouraged to choose work with which they were not familiar. This post includes remarks by Jacob Saenz on his discussion of Ted Berrigan.

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When I first came across Ted Berrigan’s Sonnet XXXIV, I was immediately captivated by it. I feel it’s filled with great lines that speak to me on a personal level but also, simply, on a human level.  The poem deals with projections; how we, as human beings, project certain images of ourselves to each other.  And the speaker in the poem states how tired he/she is of constantly shifting projections of his/herself: “…I find my hand grows stale at the throttle / Of my many faceted and fake appearance”.

Beyond on the opening line and the image of the “great whale” (which I love!), I was more drawn to lines 3 and 4 because I can related to the idea of “fake appearance”; I think we all can. In certain situations in life, we have to project an image of ourselves that may or may not be our true self.  For example, at work I have to present myself in a certain manner/way that I don’t at, say, RHINO meetings.  I suppose I have to be a bit more “professional” at my job than at an editors meeting (which requires a different sort of professionalism).  Either way, I am presenting myself in manner that contain elements of my true self while still, on some level, “fake.”  I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a chameleon or anything like that… In comparison to other sonnets in the book “The Sonnets,” sonnet XXXIV is one of the more straightforward poems, more traditional to the sonnet form.

If you read Sonnet XV straight through, for example, it makes little sense, at least from a narrative standpoint.  The lines read as if they don’t match up well and that is on purpose.

In Joe Brainard’s collage its white arrow
he is not in it, the hungry dead doctor.
Or Marilyn Monroe, her white teeth white–
I am truly horribly upset because Marilyn
and ate King Korn popcorn,” he wrote in his
of glass in Joe Brainard’s collage
Doctor, but they say “I LOVE YOU”
and the sonnet is not dead.
takes the eyes away from the gray words,
Diary. The black heart beside the fifteen pieces
Monroe died, so I went to a matinee B-movie
washed by Joe’s throbbing hands. “Today
What is in it is sixteen ripped pictures
does not point to William Carlos Williams.

Sonnet XV, like other sonnets in the book, is composed using old material, if you will.  Sonnet XV is actually Sonnet LIX (which I don’t have a link for) just with the lines rearranged. So, if you read sonnet XV in this line sequence (1, 14, 2, 13, 3, 12, etc) you will actually read it the way Sonnet LIX is laid out.

In Joe Brainard’s collage its white arrow
does not point to William Carlos Williams.
He is not in it, the hungry dead doctor.
What is in it is sixteen ripped pictures
Or Marilyn Monroe, her white teeth white–
washed by Joe’s throbbing hands. “Today
I am truly horribly upset because Marilyn
Monroe died, so I went to a matinee B-movie
and ate King Korn popcorn,” he wrote in his
Diary. The black heart beside the fifteen pieces
of glass in Joe Brainard’s collage
takes the eyes away from the gray words,
Doctor, but they say “I LOVE YOU”
and the sonnet is not dead.

Sonnet XV is not the only example of Berrigan using old or previously used material in a different context but it is, perhaps, one of the more famous examples.

But in keeping with the traditional manner of the sonnet, if we go back to Sonnet XXX!V, we see a deliberate turn in line 9: “But blood is still blood and tall as a mountain blood.”

I read this line to mean that beyond whatever projections we convey, there is a level of truth/realness that connects us, in this case “blood.”   But still, the speaker comes back to the theme of projections and how we, as people, rely on how others perceive us: “Padre, Father, or fat old man, as you will / I am afraid to succeed, afraid to fail / Tell me now, again, who I am”.

These last three lines are what really grabbed me about this poem.  It speaks to the contradictory nature we have as humans that, on the one hand, we tire of presenting ourselves as “fake” but, yet, rely on how others perceive us in order to make us who we are.

The speaker ends the poem with a plea asking God or some patriarchal figure to tell him who he/she is, perhaps because of his/her “many faceted and fake appearance” he/she somehow lost a true sense of who they are. And in this case, I can relate; I think we all can as human beings.

~Jacob Saenz, Associate Editor

RHINO Reads! Open Mic and Featured Poets Ann Hudson, Deb Ryel, Cassie Sparkman, Laura Van Prooyen, and Angela N. Torres 4-29-11

Ann Hudson
Deborah E. Ryel
Cassie Sparkman
Laura Van Prooyen
Angela Narciso Torres

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Open Mike        6:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Featured Poets       6:45 pm – 7:30 pm

Brothers K

500 Main St.

Evanston, IL

Directions

Ann Hudson grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including Crab Orchard Review, Iris, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Seattle Review.She is the author of The Armillary Sphere, Winner of the 2005 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize.

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Deb Ryel started school in Rochester, N.Y. where her great grandfather was a horse trader and her mother was a seamstress.  She spent a college year in Paris and received her Masters degree from the University of Southern California.  She now lives in Warrenville, Illinois.  Her poems have appeared in The Prairie Light Review, The Writer, The Spoon River Quarterly, The River Oak Review, Korone and in three anthologies, The Thing about Love is…, The Thing about Second Chances is…, and The Thing about Hope is….

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Cassie Sparkman is the Poet in Residence at Alexander Graham Bell School. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. Her poetry can be seen most recently in Cimarron Review, 32 Poems, American Poetry Journal, The Laurel Review, Story South, and Pebble Lake Review. Her poems have also appeared on the Verse Daily web site. Her work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. Cassie has also been a featured reader at poetry readings in Seattle, Athens, OH, and in Chicago, and is a trained performance artist. Cassie also teaches with the Evanston Arts Camps and After School Matters.
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Laura Van Prooyen‘s first collection of poetry, Inkblot and Altar, was published by Pecan Grove Press.  Recent work is forthcoming or appears in 32 Poems, Boston Review, The Greensboro Review, and No Tell Motel, among others.  She is a graduate of the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
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Angela N. Torres grew up in Manila, Philippines.  A graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program, her poems appear in many journals, including the Filipina anthology Going Home to a Landscape. Her first book manuscript, “The Photographer’s Daughter,” was named a semi-finalist for the 2010 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry and a  semi-finalist for the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition.

Poetry Forum: Led by Kathleen Rooney – Fourth Sundays Poetry (except this one!) Workshop 4-17-11

(note exception – this is a THIRD Sunday)

COME AND TRY OUT YOUR NEW WORK ON US!

Evanston Public Library

Church & Orrington

1:30-4:30 — Room 108

Past leaders and readers and all poets welcome. Drop in, have poems critiqued, and participate in an ongoing discussion of poetry and poetics. Sessions are free* and no registration is required.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a non-profit dedicated to the publication of literary work in hybrid genres. Her first collection, Oneiromance (an epithalamion) won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from feminist publisher Switchback Books, and her collaborative collection That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (co-written with Elisa Gabbert) was published by Otoliths in 2008. Also with Gabbert, she is the co-author of the chapbooks Something Really Wonderful (Dancing Girl Press, 2007) and Don’t ever stay the same; keep changing (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2009). Her latest chapbook, After Robinson Has Gone, has just been released by Greying Ghost Press. She blogs at www.kathleenrooney.com and teaches at DePaul University.

Topic: The Fantastic Mongrel: Experiments in Prose Poetry

Prose poetry is far more than just verse without line breaks. Borrowing from a variety of forms and genres, including questionnaires, how to books, conver­sations, dream narratives, and art installations like those of Joseph Cornell, these little blocks, patches, scraps, chunks, fragments—whatever you want to call them—are  tiny boxes that can contain big things. We will consider various strategies for composing prose poetry, as well as the ways in which experimentation with the prose poem form can bring innovation to writing of all lengths and genres.

Bring 18 – 20 copies of a poem (2 page limit) you want critiqued.*$5 – $10 donation appreciated.

This project has been partially supported by grants from Poets & Writers and the Illinois Arts Council.

Editors’ News

Raymond Roussel

Raymond Roussel

The new anthology, Solace in So Many Words, includes work by  Managing Editor Jan Bottiglieri.
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Associate Editor Sarah Carson‘s chapbook, “Twenty-Two” is now available from Finishing Line Press.

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Release of the anthology Brute Neighbors, a collection of “the intersection of the urban and the wild” was Monday, March 7 from 6 – 8 pm at DePaul Humanities Center, featuring work by Senior Editors Helen Degen Cohen and Deborah Nodler Rosen, Associate Editor Virginia Bell, and Managing Editor Jan Bottiglieri.
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Editor Ralph Hamilton read at and curated the “First Friday Poetry Classic” January 7 @ St. Paul’s Cultural Center sponsored by W4tB (Waiting 4 the Bus).  He was also featured February 19 at the the Myopic Books Poetry Reading Series curated by Larry Sawyer.

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Senior Editor Deborah Nodler Rosen‘s poem “A Time of One’s Own” was nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.

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Jacob Saenz, Associate Editor, played the part of Gairot the shopkeeper in The Chicago Poetry Project‘s staged reading of the play The Dust of Suns, by Raymond Roussel, Trans. Harry Mathews (March 4-6 2011). Jacob also read at the 2011 season kick-off of Palabra Pura kick-off with the Guild Complex featuring 26 of Chicago’s top Latino writers (March 16, 2011).

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Associate Editor Angela Torres‘ first book manuscript, “The Photographer’s Daughter,” which was named a semi-finalist for the 2010 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry, has been named a  semi-finalist for the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition.

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Associate Editor Valerie Wallace received grants from the Barbara Deming Foundation for Women and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.