Thursday, September 02, 2004


In Praise of Disorganized Minds

(caveat: all the usual formatting problems, including loss of all italics and spacing (very cavalier use of the tab button in this one...) --but hopefully you get the drift. If you're in Munich on Thursday, come by and watch.)

(Dress: uptighty. Glasses are good, as is button-down, tucked-in shirt. Tie. Poems in pin neat notebook—as flash as you can get. The idea is to dress in an orderly fashion.
…introduction: take your time. Make sure everything on the stage is just-so. Adjust tie. Brush dust off of book, pick imaginary lint from your sleeve. Table: adjust books, glass of beer, anything you happen to have up with you to exact configuration. Take, at the very least, 30 seconds to arrange things as you want them to be. Adjust microphone. Much neurotic busyness.

Then…announce the name of the poem)

In Praise of Disorganized Minds

(Breathe. More adjustment. Let it build. Begin with voice laden with gravitas—and awareness of same. Round the words out, get all the sounds in.)

Let us begin, then, in the beginning,
attribute spin, then, to unspinning,
bright breathing freezing form to this unforming,
breath into sound, sound into name
Chaos or Kali or the primordial sea,
then from names to stillness. Old Frost-Brow,
pale death rumbling in his voice,
blowing over the surface of being
chill fear, shaky thunder crouched in his voice
grows trembling comical, an old fool
whose jests turn sour with knowing,
subject as we to King Decay…

Here is a trick of fools:
that, by fortune graced, and in time placed
at the happy silence between two unconnected events,
they then claim that space as their own.
Those who look on applaud, when they do,
neither those events, nor that silence,
but the measured stealth by which
a practiced hand may intersect the two.
A fool’s greatness lies in waiting,
in quiet watching of the turning seasons,
patient attendance to winter’s approaching,
then, with fumbling flourish punctuating
autumn’s last dark days
with one well-timed blast of breath,
shattering the waters’ singular swell
into a thousand-crystalled shell
and only at that precise moment,
with each particle of this sea grown visible
in shimmering six-sided crystal glory
do fools, in smug-deep silence,
claim winter’s hand as their own.

(Falter. Freeze. Blank look, followed by questioning look aimed at audience. Hand goes to mouth, eyes down first, then up and left, remembering. Another questioning look at audience. Let enough time go by that they think you’ve forgotten the next line.)

I should probably explain.
You see, by now, I should already have invoked the muses.
You know, to be there, as moral support.
Sort of a cheerleading squad for poets, only they don’t wear those little skirts or do
the splits and let us see their knickers for a split second,
and even if they did, they’d probably be an enormous distraction
from the main game…
I mean, who needs it, really?
Because overall, it’s a pretty mousey conception of the muse, isn’t it?
Bit domestic, really. So, okay, she uses big words, because, you know, you can’t just
call her, you have to invoke her. But it’s still you that’s doing the invoking.
So, what I’d really like to know is, am I the only one here who thinks this sounds like
some of the silly games that go on around dating?
Because I keep imagining the muse acting like she’s not listening for her telephone to
ring, and there’s her sisters, and they’re saying, “Come on, Thalia, if you
really feel that way about him, why don’t you just pick up the phone
and call?”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that. He’s supposed to invoke me.”
And you know, there are nine of them. Right? Which sounds good in theory, but
come on…nine women? Excuse me—nine sisters?
Sounds a bit exhausting.
And each of them has her own specialty, right?
So before I invoke, I’m supposed to decide just exactly what kind of words I’d like to
Does anyone actually write like that? Sitting there, thinking, hmm…I wonder if I
should try for epic or lyric today…
And all right, so I decide, and then I invoke the appropriate muse, and maybe she’s a
little bit moody, but when it comes right down to it, if I call, she comes, right?
Especially if I happen to be writing a poem about how gorgeous she is.
So, think about this for a minute, because, you know, if this is the right formula for
writing a poem people will listen to, then it all works something like this:
“Oh, honey? Musey? My favorite? Could you come here for a minute? I’m thinking
about writing something…”
“Really? What about?”
“Umm…well…I was kinda hoping you might help me with that, actually…”
“Oh. Oh. I see. Well. I don’t know. I mean, there are so many things to write
about, really.”
“Well, I did have one idea…”
“Oh really? And what was that?”
“Well, I thought I might try a play, you know. I had this one idea—I thought
“Well, it’s about this prince, you see? The prince of Denmark, actually, and…”
“DENMARK? But it’s so cold there…no…I don’t think anyone would sit still for
something about Denmark.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. So, what should I write about, then?”
“Well…let’s see…I know! You could write about me!”
Well there’s an original idea.
So okay, because if I’m gonna invoke the muse, I probably ought to listen to
her, right? So there I am, trying to write, about her, and she comes in wearing
a cheerleader skirt, and she starts in with these cheers:

Rah! Rah! Rise!
Write about my eyes!

Your eyes are like the deepest ocean, stretched to infinity…

Rah! Rah! Reeze!
Write about my knees!

Your knees are like the pulsing waves, come crashing over me…

Rah! Rah! Ritz!

Oh, come on, now!
I mean, imagine having to shout over that.
Especially in a pub full of horny males on the make…I mean, look at me!
Like anything I’m gonna say is gonna keep your eyes off some girl’s knickers.
If that’s what it’s all about, this isn’t about beauty, it’s about vanity—what’s worse,
it's about the vanity of some girl I can’t even see.
So, you know, if I start there,
if all my power comes from some muse we can’t see,
if my whole aim is to capture her beauty, instead of setting it free,
to cage some abstract notion in physical reality,
then it’s not a poem about beauty,
it’s me bragging about being able to capture beauty.
Bragging about how beautiful my girl is, and how your girl doesn’t stack up.
And what’s so beautiful about being captured, even if it is only in words?
A cage…
is a cage…
is a cage
…and any muse that’d let me drag her into one ain’t the one for me.

(brief pause, lower voice conspiratorally.)

You wanna know who really rocks my boat?
The primordial sea.
Tough girls.
Just try that invoking shit on them and they’ll kick your ass.
The point is, though, you don’t need to invoke them, do you?
Because they’re already there—
in every cloud
thundering the returning of water to river,
in the crooked fires, searing the dying branch,
in the ash of the branch burned liquid, penetrating,
soil to soil, and in the soil,
in the remains of the dead
housing the roots of the living,
in every dying thing
and in every seed
and in each seed life
and the ending of life,
in every trembling shoot,
every progress, each step the last step
through the last minute, never to be relived,
present, horrible glory,
sweet lady entropy,
undividing the indivisible
in which part and all and all in part
apprehend one instant’s apprehension
--not fear, but knowing cast adrift
on the terrible sea of the infinite
in thrall struck dumb to the tumult
of all words wrecked on the rocks of being,
and all the high-minded and bellowing beasts
stupified into stunned silence
by the passing of a single instant
and in that passing the loss of all sound save praise
for now and now again—

praise for that unreachable,
praise for the ice-blue core of the flame,
praise for beauty and praise for its terrible empty eyes,
praise for our own end and our own beginning and
praise for the presence of both, here, now,
in this house
(praise for this house)
at this hour
(praise for this hour)
with this being
(praise for this being).

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