HAPPY BIRTHDAY HD (HILDA DOOLITTLE) & WCW (WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS) @ BEYOND BAROQUE! 9/21/2013
Was thrilled to read last night along with notable and esteemed poets Harry Northup, Brendan Constantine & Holly Prado. Here’s the text:
You might be wondering why a fiction writer is reading at this celebration of imagist poets. I originally inquired about participating because one of the characters in my novel is a huge fan of William Carlos Williams. In the book, called Hollywood Buckaroo, Adonis London quotes lines from a Williams poem in every exchange he has, so basically, every moment of his life is attached to a poem, which I thought was interesting for a character who feels terrible guilt for causing the death of his twin brother in a car accident and seeks refuge in poetry.
But then I thought it might seem kind of crass to toot my own book at someone else’s birthday party, so I decided against it.
So first, I’d like to read this poem by H.D.:
O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.
Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air–
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.
Cut the heat–
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.
And this is the story of how I became acquainted with the work of William Carlos Williams.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I signed up for a copywriting class at UCLA. Although I was excited to be back in school, I was ambivalent about the campus itself. It seemed to be missing a lot of the passion I’d experienced at UC Berkeley – murders, riots, SWAT teams and the like. I did however have an inexplicable crush on this weather phenomenon known as Indian Summer. The crackling dryness of the air, the occasional sideways blast of wind like that of a speeding big rig, the soft ovenly heat and crisp shadows.
I was not quite as taken with copywriting. There was a huge pressure to think outside of a box that I was still trying to find. One of our first assignments was to create a Public Service Announcement. I decided I would scream and cry and sob for sixty seconds, then break into sober anchorperson speak to let my confused and relieved listeners know it was a test, and only a test, of the emergency broadcast system. This weird performancy concept was the closest I’d ever get to a Karen Finley and her yams moment, and truth be told, I’d come up with it to get out of having to do any actual copywriting. I practiced holding a high-pitched screamy note a couple times and never lasted longer than ten seconds. I figured it would all work out once I got to class.
The day we were to read our PSAs was one hot bitch. Since moving here, I soon discovered that the only thing I actually liked about LA was the weather. Everything else about my life at the time seemed to be built on sand. My temp job, my disgruntled marriage, my cramped beach house. The earthquakes were different from San Francisco earthquakes. These were slow, rolling, vertigo-inducing tremors, unlike the sharp jolts I was accustomed to up north. I was building up to a quiet panic about my assignment as well. Why did I have to try to break the rules? Why couldn’t I just be smart and write?
By evening, the weather that had been my relief, my joy, had turned on me. The air was dense and heavy. The classroom walls gave off waves of heat. The students were sweating and cranky. The teacher – I don’t remember his name – was late. He staggered in, wearing a corduroy jacket with a wool scarf wrapped around his neck as though he were freezing or somehow unaware of the climate around him. He pulled a desk from the first row, swiveled it around to face the class and slumped down. He stared at a spot on the floor and ignored the twenty or so of us completely. No one said a word. There was the occasional rustle of paper, click of a pen, embarrassed cough, splat of sweat hitting the floor. Some of the students who were sitting near the door slipped out.
After twenty minutes, the teacher uncoiled the scarf from his neck and dropped it to the floor. I remember he wore desert boots. A few minutes later, he took off his jacket. Then he stood up and unbuttoned his denim work shirt, from collar to hem. He took a black marker from the dry erase board and drew an X on his chest, then fell back into the desk as though he hadn’t enough energy to hold himself up.
My heart is gone.
There are so many things I am sorry for and she’ll never know.
And put his fingertips to his mouth.
It was a childlike gesture, pure and unspoiled.)
And her blouse,
(he touched his collarbone)
so white against her skin
(he looked around in a daze)
If I could bleed
I would bleed
Until I am all let out.
He continued to speak at length, citing the verticality of time, previous lives, the afterlife, the custom of preparing and eating afterbirth, clitorectomy and its untoward effects, Venus fly traps, French films, the pressure points of the elbow and knee.
Are there any questions? he asked.
He lit a cigarette and smoked it to the filter.
“I want my money back,” someone, a man, said, and left, with a few more students taking advantage of the interruption to follow him out the door.
The teacher waved goodbye.
Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he made no outward signs of crying.
He held his head in his hands.
Then he buttoned his shirt, put on his jacket, wound the scarf back round his neck, and recited:
A red wheelbarrow
Glazed with rain
Beside the white chickens
He ran his hands through his hair and walked out of the room.
I stayed, sitting alone until the automatic lights shut themselves off, remembering a kiss that lasted the length of a long boulevard, in the back seat of a taxi so far away, so long ago. And the memory of that kiss is always now linked to those chickens, that teacher, the PSA that never was. And that heat.
THANKS TO CARL, HAL, MELISSA, DEB, DAVE & SANDY FOR SHOWING UP!