Thursday, January 5, 2012

28: Bruce MacDonald

Out of Heine

What can brain’s smoke do with a banjo
the moon-like brain
winded from climbing up tendrils


the old wretch from the geezer's throat is unreeled
subletting violence from crime for awhile
shutting the door on eyes mouth and heart             
holding the regretful memory of the banjo
the fool she cried over

the poem closes

the lights in another language


Thanks very much to Bruce who stumbled on this site, sent me this poem, and has inspired me to reawaken the Heine-beast within and re-vivify this blog. If you'd like to participate, please drop me an email. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

27: Steve Venright

Only used once, as metaphor in poem.
Slight smoke damage.
(Serious intellectual offers only)

What can you do with a banjo? You can play, you can smash it, you can sell
it. I had to get rid of that banjo. I wrote this while vacationing at a
little lake in the Quebec countryside during a full moon. I got back to town
a couple weeks ago and was about to post it but saw that it had too much in
common with Slim Volume's entry. So I waited, and now it doesn't seem
remotely like that piece.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

26: Ralph Kolewe

Sorry this took so long. You know how it is, well, first I went and read the Heine poem. Mistake. Then I sat on this for a week.

So I decided never mind Heine, what have we got here? I rearranged.

‘I have a foolish heart?’
what does that mean
sweet, forgetful midnight words?

I never regret moonlight in my bed
a banjo, a memory, a regret
another cloying poem-thing

doors where my eyes, ears, mouth, nose
should be
never fully closed

Decided the other lines didn't fit anymore. Then I thought, Tercets! I like those! Rewrote a little:

‘I have a foolish heart?’
What does that mean
sweet, forgetful midnight words?

Never regret moonlight in my bed
a banjo, a memory, a violet or
another cloying poem-thing

Tendrils of thought smoke-like
as the violet and all the other flowers
burn where my eyes, ears, mouth, nose

should be. The door never fully closed.
The banjo out of tune. Maybe I'm lazy
but not too proud to sing it all again.

Next, need a title. I hate titles. "The poet, awakening from a nightmare of German romanticism, reaches for his banjo." Maybe not. Actually the banjo makes me think of Leonard Cohen. Schubert never wrote for banjo. "The Old Banjo." That's it. Let's steal a few lines as well. From Heine too.

The Old Banjo

‘I have a foolish heart?’
What does that mean
O sweet, forgetful midnight words?

A sip of wine, a cigarette. Again.
Never regretting moonlight in my bed
a banjo, a memory, a violet

or another cloying poem-thing smoke-like
as all the other flowers burn
where my eyes, ears, mouth, nose

should have been. That old door never fully closed.
The banjo out of tune. Maybe I'm lazy
but not too proud to look up the words:

with the sweet oblivion of night
in love we disappear

Oooo look, it turned into a sonnet, too! (Well, sort of.)


Friday, June 25, 2010

25: Slim Volumes


Following last month’s fire the Strenuous Administrations Committee has been reconvened, resolving to add the following prohibitions to Sub-section III of the Health & Security Segment of the Dormitory Regulations Code:

i)                    Cloying poetry, moonlighting banjos and/or burning violets are not permitted in bed, and

ii)                   Smoking brains is allowed only in area(s) designated for this purpose.

In an ongoing and earnest effort to scrub wanton disregard for residents’ mutual welfare (evidenced by overheating bedsides with moonlit brain smoking) from the halls of The Institution your Floor Representatives have unanimously ratified Prohibition ii. Regrettably prohibition i has been sent back to Committee for further research into causal links between poetry cloying, banjolit mooning, violing burnlets and smoking brains.
Effective forgetfully, spaces in the rear parking lot outside where doors eye, ear, nose and mouth should be, have been designated for the midnight smoking of brains. These spaces are never fully closed and well away from combustibles real or imagined. Residents may apply at the Strenuous Administrations Office for Special Brain-smoking Permits applicable during the term of their residence or/and to obtain Brain-smoking Day Passes while their applications for Special Brain-smoking Permits are under consideration by a Sub-committee of The Committee especially plucked for this purpose.

The Code does not require direct resident consultation for emergency amendments to the Health & Security Segment of The Code. Residents caught smoking brains in the designated brain-smoking area with neither a Brain-smoking Day Pass nor a Special Brain-smoking Permit will be subject to wretched lying.

Additional News - Tendrill practice tonight in the rear parking lot at 10:00, followed by a BBQ.



My first thought was to look up Heine and the original poem. Knowing nothing of the man and being unable to read or speak German, I felt challenged and insecure as I so often do when confronted by superior intellect, which is to say damned near always, but I quickly realized that Gary hadn’t asked me to revise or comment on the original poem. Gary didn’t care what I thought of Heine or his poetry, but rather what I would do with what Gary thought of Heine’s poem. Gary had asked me to enter into his, Gary’s, mind and to finish his thoughts, not to relate my thoughts about Hiene’s (“Heine’s” – I must remember to place the “e” before the “i”, though it appears that Spell Check will catch both this and the subsequent linking of “Spell Check” into one word) thoughts. Or so I thought.
My second thought was that Gary should be doing his taxes. For several weeks prior to sending me the above e-mail, Gary had begged off performing work essential to bumPHead, another poetry project on which we were collaborating, claiming that he had to complete his taxes before a looming deadline. Knowing how insistent the taxman can be about such matters, I accepted this explanation but with the arrival of the above e-mail new insecurities were raised regarding Gary’s commitment to the original project. In bumPHead we occasionally, casually and tentatively engage in something similar to this proposed new project, gently editing each other’s poetic ideas but admittedly in something closer to song lyrics (though not actually song lyrics) so what was the meaning of this formal invitation to do the same thing in this Heine context? With further inspection came enlightenment: the e-mail was sent to a list of names. Gary was soliciting collaboration on his Heine project from an anonymous group, probably including me only because he felt guilty about his limited engagement in the bumPHead project. He was being polite.

Still, could I afford to resist this invitation and risk being entirely left out of another intellectual exchange, however improbable my inclusion in Gary’s blog? Well hell, I was pretty much in Gary’s bumPHead already, wandering the halls and opening doors to see what perceptions lay within. For me, Gary’s e-mail was more like an invitation to come down to the kitchen and discuss what I’d found.

But it’s not that easy. Not even if Gary offered to put on a pot of tea and Beth, Gary’s wife, had something fragrant warming in the oven. Gary connects words to images and images to emotions in ways that, frankly, I do not. They make sense, you see, but not in the sense you see. At least not straight away. And I don’t think it’s just me. I seldom find evidence of Gary’s logic anywhere but on the walls of Gary’s writing. Out in the broader fields of culture it’s maybe okay to like Gary’s poetry as long as you isolate it, wrap it in mental parenthesis, label it “amusing” and lock in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet in your home office.
This particular poem, for instance, has a “stop and smell the roses” quality, a sentiment understood and accepted to the point of cliché but it’s an obvious threat to the logic of mounting hub-caps on shiny new automobiles, or getting kids to soccer practice. How can anything get done if people have their noses stuck up the petals of roses all day? And things must get done! Plus, there are ears in the walls. It’s dangerous enough to think about taking a banjo to bed, let alone be caught musing aloud about what might be done with one there.

The steaks are high, and well they might be. When I say culture, as I just did in the preceding paragraph, I mean more than poetry, opera, Hollywood and yogurt. Culture is those things too, but at the same time it is collective thought, the communication both among individuals and between individuals and their collective(s), the thoughts that circulate through all manner of media, going around and around making connections with the fragility of a minute electric spark leaping across a tiny synaptic gap in an individual human brain, until general agreements are forged about ideas like the ideal shape of a vessel for the serving and appreciation of tea, when to serve tea in the kitchen or in the rehearsal hall and when the logic of such an accumulation of decisions is sufficiently violated as to threaten the cultural security of the entire collective so as to invite violet response.

Lately it appears that western culture cannot rely, as it has these past millennia, on violets being hard-wired into the human brain. How a body responds to a flood of adrenalin is in point of fact culturally determined, probably, it turns out, most likely. And this discovery arrives just as the wiring for an extra-organic human identity proceeds apace, with agreement of thought, a common goal and a single uniting idea necessarily more important than ever. It is as if the body has abandoned us while the mind spins off on its own like a growing b-movie blob, threatening to engulf the cultural certainty of violets and fear, or perhaps it’s the fear of cultural uncertainty and inviolates that are threatened but irregardless, the culture must fight the new brain’s leapin’ logic. To survive as we know it, culture must remember to forget and sometimes forget to remember, but appropriately, and not necessarily in that order.

What does it mean to have a foolish heart? Gary asks. Alas, unless we are careful, we may learn this answer too soon, too soon.

Slim Volumes


Thanks for this, but aren’t you confusing violets and violents? Would you care to revise?
Up to you,



Oh. Sure. Typical.


Monday, June 21, 2010

24: Stephen Nelson


Pu oot yer banjo, boy, n strum
at yon fu moon

till ye nip the prood violet's
wheezy reek

fae teeth n nose n mooth.


Pu oot yer banjo, boy, n pluck
the fucker

till ma hert strings snap n whip
the raw rank erse ae the wirld

wi memory like the putrid seas ae Jupiter.


Pu oot yer banjo, boy -
lazy bam in yer lazy bed wi yer
sweetened songs n yer honey dream rhymes.

Ah wull dance, dammit! - n let the roilin waves
spill oan the frozen shore,
till midnight wurds
ir whisperin tendrils ae shiverin
ecstasy nae mair.


The note: The poem demanded to be written in Scots for some reason. It demanded romanticism, it demanded attitude. Don't know why. I had one eye on the original text while writing it. I wanted to write it quickly, while my dander was up. I now see hazy whisps of smoke clouding my vision but somehow my head feels rainbow clear.

(Image by Stephen Nelson)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

23: Mike Cannell

“loud humming lazarus”: 
a sequence of 4 small poems
based on
“Gedichte 1853 Und 1854: 
Zum Lazarus: ‘Einst sah ich viele’”


earnestness, acute prickle shroud. witch without. be to deceive. don’t can’t if you are putrid. watch our moron. full prod snaffle of the. mark scum ire. still tennis of the. thought (or… the tide see balm. stub muff – weep hebraic set the. (lubrication fitting on to the material). (or… the stump – like brandy sets the smog side view to the tape reel). i am deceptively melancholic. , and, how an old ballad born infrequently violent. head like a surfeiting hymn. never completely closed.


aperture, were more optic, rabbit ears, opening. knows should be regret never on light in my bad. a banjo, a mammary, a regret. another surfeiting poem thing has a stupid heart. what this means. does sweet, forgetful midnight s-words. veiled that you made in tore safe can. if you are putrefied and the membrane is. proud snaffle of the type like tennis of the thought. (or… tomes eye like herbier). places the point of greasing at truth). (or… the section - as does brandy of wine place the side view of smog at the reel.)


is full melange choleric in a misleading way, and, as an old poem frequently burns. fill heed in my head like reams. completely supersaturating in blocks. never doors where. my ire , ores, the moot, wood net oh not. me men on light egrets. in my bed a banjo, a meme orgy, a rug red ago them poem supersaturating. forever a stupid heart. what this average corner, forgetful words of soft midnight. wet cane yoda. white aim ban she.


wed your lacy and migraine into a full band prod snaffle. the smudge-like tennis of thought. (here …the banshee’s snag-like hebrew puts the smudge to the real). (or…the snag -like brandy puts the smog leer to the reel). i’m me, anchovy. and be guiding, like an hold puma. (often a void burns inside my head). like a toying hymen. never fully clothed. doors where my ears should be. river regress on night. no more bed. a banjo, a memo orb, a rug yet ago. there clod eying poe thing. i hate a food ash art. who at that moan. sweat, forge full mid innate words.


with this sequence of poems i ran the given text through the process of various homolinguistic techniques from the oulipo technique of n7 ( looking each noun up in the dictionary, counting down to the seventh word after it and replacing it with that.) to the strange garbling of language afforded by feeding it through babel fish ( i chose to translate it into german and then back to english) and by looking through a thesaurus and replacing words, word by word with synonyms amongst many others. You will see the occasional repetition and re-wording but the variety is in some ways surprising.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

22: Jennifer Hill

A violet burns inside my head

full moon
the brain’s proud smoulder


My revision process was this: I took out what felt like the poet speaking on the poem and the thought process, rearranged, and reduced it to the ember.