A Visit from Michael Stipe
was that really you
looking for your religion
there, in the corner?
irritable vowel syndrome
pain in the assonance
inflammation of the lower case
fear of sonnets
the irrational fear that someone in the room is going to recite a Robert Service poem.
I was reading Trish Hopkinson’s excellent blog last weekend and I came across a post titled “20 Paying Lit Mags”. This intrigued me, there are so many Lit Mags to submit to and it’s difficult to know where to start, so I thought: why not try submitting to the ones that pay. I started to examine the list.
I will use the phrase “don’t get me wrong” twice in this post. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is no money in poetry and that most people that run Lit Mags are doing it for the love of it.
What did I find? Well, on the whole, Paying Lit Mags don’t pay much. The lowest payment was $10, a lot of payments were in the $15 to $25 range for a poem or a short story. My favourite was this one:
PAYMENT: For original commentary, fiction, and poetry, Contrary Magazine pays $20 per author per issue, regardless of the number of works or nature of the submission. Reviews and Contrary Blog posts are usually unpaid. Author must email us an invoice within six months of acceptance for the payment to be processed. If no invoice is received within six months of acceptance, author forfeits payment, but all rights remain in force. Upon receipt of invoice, payments will be made through Paypal.
You have to chase down $20 and no matter what “all rights remain in force”. There should at least be a “no thank you but I insist” stage to the process. Then again, it is called “Contrary Magazine”.
But one magazine, “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, stood out. They pay $200 for a short story or poem. Could this be the magazine for me? I clicked on their website where I found a list of categories for which they needed submissions. For example:
Stories about My Mom
We are collecting stories and poems written by sons and daughters of all ages about their moms, step-moms, grandmoms or someone that is “like a mom” to you. Tell us what this special person has done for you. Is she always right? Do you still turn to her for advice? Does she annoy you with her advice? Have you become your mom even though you swore you never would? How has your relationship changed as you’ve gotten older? Share your best stories – ones that will make us laugh, cry, or nod our heads in recognition. We are not looking for general tributes (we know your mom is terrific) nor are we looking for biographies. We are looking for specific anecdotes about you and your mom or stepmom or grandmom. The deadline date for story and poem submissions is SEPTEMBER 30, 2018 for release in March 2019 in time for Mother’s Day.
I began to get the feeling that I might have trouble mustering the requisite wholesomeness for “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure they are good people who are providing a valuable and popular service…hell, they are paying $200….but…you know. Also, I don’t think my mom would fit the “Chicken Soup” model, she had a somewhat colourful turn of phrase and an unerring ear for bullshit or pretentiousness.
She had this expression “plus fours and no breakfast” which always made me think of landed Irish gentry from a JP Donleavy novel; their fortunes dwindling, living in a damp, draughty, decaying castle in rural Ireland tended to by a skeleton staff of loyal eccentric servants supervised by an ancient butler – a bead of rheumy moisture permanently suspended from the end of his nose. She had many other expressions a bit more profane than this one but I don’t think she would appreciate having them repeated here. So maybe I’ll try Contrary Magazine and if I get accepted I’ll invoice them for half the amount just to be contrary.
Following the Sound on Monday Morning
Brexit at Tiffany’s
I ask Slim for his response to a recent report that Nigel Farage thinks it would be a good idea to re-do the Brexit referendum. We arrange to meet for a few pints in ‘The Post-Coital Beetle” to discuss his response and catch up. Slim is late, so I get a booth, and order a pitcher of Blue Buck. On the television screen suspended from the ceiling, two ex-soccer players – Matt Holland and Phil Neville – are discussing possession stats for the English premier league; apparently, the team that keeps possession of the ball usually wins. Not rocket science, but then Matt and Phil are not rocket scientists. They both look trim and fit in their English sportscaster casual wear. Phil is wearing a beige V-necked sweater, a white button down shirt, tight black pants and fashion sneakers. Matt is wearing a black crew neck, tight black pants and, yes, fashion sneakers. They look like their mothers dressed them.
I have never met Slim’s mother, but I doubt if she would have dressed him in the outfit he is wearing as he bursts through the pub door like an overweight, balding Kramer – faded baggy jeans, a MEC Gore-Tex anorak whose wicking days are long over and a white T shirt, one size too small, with the message “Fragile” on the front. He slaps a sheet of white paper on the table and says:
“Here you go!”
On the paper lies the following poem:
will be remembered forever
as the man who made
the word, ‘wanker’,
Very good, I say, “disparage”, “Farage”. What do you want to call the post?
‘Brexit at Tiffany’s’.
Ha! Or how about : ‘Guess who’s coming to Brexit’!
Slim looks like he has just swallowed a cup of Drano.
I think you’re missing the fucking point. It has to be a movie or book with ‘Breakfast’ in the title, like, say, ‘Brexit of Champions’ or ‘The Brexit Club’.
Well, anyway…… so it’s not a homonym, it’s not a synonym, it’s not really a pun, what is it?
It’s a malapropism.
Who took Sidney Poitier to dinner?
How did you know, no one ever gets that right.
I know because every time you have a few drinks, you ask the same fucking question.
Why not? Life’s short.
It’ll be even fucking shorter if we keep eating Poutine.
We both lean back and laugh. On the screen above our heads, Manchester United score a goal and the colour commentator says:
“See, what just happened is that United have put the ball in the net and it’s been proven time and time again that if you want to score goals you have to put the ball in the net”
A Brexit poem from Slim’s locker:
Come what? May?
Breggsit over easy?
Not on the menu.
7: 30 in the morning,
at the corner of Main and King Edward
a butcher in a white coat
behind the empty meat trays
in the window
of the Windsor Packing Company.
A sign says:
Order your holiday turkey and ham early,
a cold January wind blows.
Back in the fridge,
blood red sirloin
and thick pink pork chops
(each with a trim icing of fat)
for their return to the public eye.
Why Ireland Failed to Qualify for World Cup 2018
On the day my brother and I
organized a soccer game
on the playing fields
of Oatlands College,
Mount Merrion, Dublin,
an assault of Christian Brothers
descended from the big house
like a murder of crows
their black soutanes flapping
in the wet winter breeze
descended with one aim
and one aim only –
to remove the scourge
of this foreign game
from the green Catholic fields
The sun with rare generosity
beats down on the solar panels
on the roof of Vincent’s log cabin.
The first sentence of his organic novel
–The abattoir, for once, was silent –
sits alone on his laptop screen.
This is the seed from which will spring
plot, character, content.
He gets up, walks out through the kitchen door
through the tortured arch of his driftwood arbor
and into the vegetable garden
where he urinates in a jagged arc
sprinkling life-giving nutrients
on the unsuspecting butter lettuce.
Returning to his desk
he taps out another sentence:
With his mother’s mop, he wipes
the blood from the kitchen floor.
Why so morbid?
It’s warm, he’s feeling drowsy,
he detects a faint signal from a long-dormant source
like the distant ping from a submarine
at the bottom of the ocean.
He should invite someone for dinner,
the lady who sells jam at the Saturday market, perhaps,
or the angry sculptress – she of the tangled hair,
the scrap metal raptors, the acetylene scent.
The jam lady it is.
Bottle of wine from the retired lawyer’s vineyard,
salmon from the gnarled fishermen down at the dock,
try a little humor,
ask her if raspberry jam is a male preserve,
make a nice salad. What’s the worst that could happen?
This poem first appeared a little while back in “The Basil O’Flaherty”.
too much of a good thing
gorge, and your gorge may rise
not a canyon – a narrow valley,
nearly an anagram of George.
Gorgeous George inspired Muhammad Ali
who went on to beat George Chuvalo,
a blow to the face may cause swelling
not such a good thing.
For John D.
fecund, moribund, quincunx
rhizome, rissole, piss-hole in the snow
phenom, pheromone, genome
lissom, blossom, possum.
This poem is all about sound, association and perhaps, memory. The first three lines are an homage to the sound of ‘un’. The phrase -“fecund moribundity, moribund fecundity” – was uttered by my friend, John Damery (John D.) during a discussion about the music of Neil Diamond – his oeuvre, his place in the pantheon. This was some time ago but it has always stuck in my head, it has a brevity and clarity that could only have been brought on by the consumption of 5 or 6 pints and the ingestion of greasy chicken. After a long legal battle (not really) he has recently granted me permission to use it in a poem.
The fourth line is the workhorse of the poem, the engine, the poem’s midfield general. It inverts the ‘mo’ from the first 3 lines to create the ‘om’ that dominates the last two lines. it also introduces ‘iss’ which makes an appearance in the last line. As for “piss-hole in the snow”, I defy anyone to find a finer example of bathos . The fifth line is all about ‘om” but note the clever inversion back to ‘mo’ in ‘pheromone’.
The sixth and last line has a slick softness to it like blancmange. As promised the ‘iss’ from ‘rissole’ and ‘piss-hole’ makes an appearance before morphing into ‘oss’ and in a final stroke of nothing that remotely approaches genius, the transformation of ‘om’ into ‘um’.
quincunx (a word that flirts with obscenity):
an arrangement of five objects with four at the corners of a square or rectangle and the fifth at its centre, used for the five on dice or playing cards, and in planting trees.
a continuously growing horizontal underground stem that puts out lateral shoots and adventitious roots at intervals.
Both words were used in an article in the Irish Times on the poetry of Seamus Heaney, sent to me by John D; ‘Cartesian dualism’ and ‘Binarism’ were also mentioned (and Jesus wept).
a compressed mixture of meat and spices, coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
My mom used to make them, although I remember them as being more like a hamburger patty without the bun…thanks, mom!
Photo: English Bay, Vancouver, A-MAZE-ING LAUGHTER, by Yue Minjun.
wheel well icicles
rear screen wiper on thin ice
seat warmer up high
high, so that
is what that
switch is for.
A haiku and a slimverse together for the first time – 29 syllable madness. A terrible beauty is born.
Now, a poem that died and came back to life.
some said he got what he deserved
he was just another ocean liner
looking for an iceberg
but I had to observe, you know,
not all disasters
are waiting to happen.
Slim came to me with this one, apparently he has taken up bird watching.
The low November sun
hits the silver birches
and the cherry tree
sending the bush tits
and the black-capped
into a flitting frenzy
Who pulled the alarm?
Which one is my nest?
Where did I leave that worm?
Followers of this blog will, of course, remember Slim’s only other attempt at a poem about nature:
you call your
self a tree?
my bank has
tit, warm air
hits cold. Fog.
A return to the frugality of 12 syllable slimverse after the relative extravagance of the haiku.
Note: “arse over tit” is a common phrase in the U.K., I could have been more polite and used “topsy, turvy” but I would have missed out on a rhyme.
The leaves on the trees
bordering the field
that chlorophyll thing
and are leaking
yellows and red
like a paint store catalogue.
I have played around with this poem a few times in previous posts, some poems are never finished, I guess, they are just resting. Perhaps, in the case of this poem, it’s because the subject was pretty much nailed by John Keats in 1819 at the age of 24.
My friend, the poet Slim Volume, once gave me this advice:
Avoid autumn and death,
They’ve been done before;
There’s little more to say
On either score.
Also, waves like marathon runners
Collapsing on the shore,
The inexorable march of time,
Don’t go through that door.
Autumn in Vancouver means it’s time for the Vancouver Writer’s Festival. Last Saturday I went to see the Scottish novelist and journalist, Andrew O’Hagan, talk about his adventures as ghost writer for Julian Assange and his ultimate disenchantment with Assange, whom he now regards as an unprincipled narcissist. He also read from some of his own novels. He talked for close to one and half hours and is an engaging, intelligent, witty speaker who in the course of his readings imitated a range of voices from Marilyn Monroe to a group of Scottish people in an old folk’s home on New Year’s Eve. But it was a question he took at the end that more than anything else stuck with me long after the talk ended.
He was asked by an audience member whether he thought that the internet and the platform it provides for self publishing through blogs, websites etc was a good thing in general for English literature in that more and more people are now writing fiction, poetry etc. He replied that initially he thought that it was a good thing but now he wishes it would stop, primarily because of the poor quality of what is being produced. Writers are not taking the time to edit and re-edit their work, they are in rush to get something out when maybe they should be waiting. Writing, like all art, requires hard work, diligence and talent.
The next day, the sun came out after a week of constant rain, so we headed out for a walk on the beach. As we left the house, this line popped into my head: ” we walked out today to celebrate the absence of rain”. I’ve been writing haiku’s recently as a kind of mind game, a poetic Sudoku, so by the end of the walk, I had this:
we walked out today
to celebrate October,
the absence of rain.
When I got home, I went straight to my laptop and posted the poem. An hour later, I had a look at the poem again and I trashed it immediately. It was flat, wooden and had that self-consciously poetic tone that haiku’s sometimes have. In addition, I had destroyed the rhythm of the original line by trying to adhere to a syllable count. This might have been better:
we walked out today
the absence of rain.
It keeps the assonance of the ‘a’s’ running through each line, plus the half rhyme between ‘today’, ‘celebrate’, and ‘rain’ and it keeps the ‘b’s’ in ‘celebrate’ and ‘absence’ close together. In addition, it’s an internet friendly length, three lines long, just the right length for clicking on and moving on.
On the other hand, I could just tuck the line away until I find a better context for it.
Is it just me, or is Andrew O’Hagan looking over my shoulder
the sheriff is dead
failure to shoot deputies
is not a defence.
And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through….Bob Dylan
Know your gym……Slim Volume
pink and steaming
after a shower
how it is not fixed
how it decreases
with distance from the earth’s core
how, if one was to climb to the top of Everest
since weight is the product of mass and gravity
one would weigh less at the top of Everest
and Slim’s thinking
this is one fucking erudite conversation
and he wants a piece of it
so he points out that
one would regain that weight
on returning to sea level
and one of the geezers replies
yeah but you’d probably burn 10,000 calories
climbing up and down the fucking mountain
and a nearby jock encased in breathable fabric
says shit, I’d burn that in 40 minutes on the rowing machine
and Slim fires back wryly
keep telling yourself that
and the locker room erupts in laughter
and in that moment
basking in the unbearable lightness of banter
Slim defies gravity and levitates
above the bacterial swamp
that is the locker room floor.
Back at the start of the summer. I spent the weekend in Gibson’s landing on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia; a knick knack tidy little town where one is never far from an art exhibition or a market selling jalapeno red pepper dip or a shop selling jokey hand towels; the kind of town where people go to follow their bliss and frequently catch up with it and even if they fail, a freshly baked muffin or a gluten free pie is always available as compensation.
Add to that, some magnificent views of the coastal mountains, Mount Big Thing and Mount Next Big Thing, and some good weather and you have a perfect place to relax, read and enjoy the sun, which I did, bringing with me a Rolling Stone, a New Yorker, the previous weekend’s Sunday New York Times (it takes me a week to read it) and Bruce Springsteen’s excellent autobiography (the Boss can write).
Both Rolling Stone and The New Yorker had articles on Steve Bannon. Matt Taibi’s piece in Rolling Stone was funny, caustic and concise; the New Yorker piece by Connie Bruck rambled on forever, generally adding to the picture I already had of Steve Bannon as a dangerous amoral individual. One quote got my attention, from an anonymous friend: “he never fit in the world of investment banking, – he was this gauche Irish kid”. Over in the New York Times, there’s a piece on Jimmy Fallon, turns out he’s Irish too: “I’m Irish, I need all the luck I can get”; apparently his stage mark is in the shape of a four leaf clover. I would like to point out that the shamrock which is used as a symbol of Ireland is actually a three leaf clover (it was used by early Christians to explain the concept of three gods in one, the Holy Trinity, those 5th century Irish peasants must have been a clever bunch, if they could grasp that one). Never mind, Jimmy Fallon is talented and likeable, so he can be Irish anytime he wants.
Back to the New Yorker where Calvin Trillin writes an article titled “The Irish Constellation” in which he explains that for a long time he thought the Orion Constellation was actually called “The O’Ryan Constellation”. He stretches this extremely lame joke way beyond the point where it is even remotely amusing. At the end of the article he describes being at a talk about The Orion Constellation in which an Irish man who, he says, has an accent like Barry Fitzgerald, gets up and makes a comment that reveals that he too is under the same misapprehension regarding The Orion Constellation. Laugh? I nearly cried. By the way, for those of you under the age of a hundred, who don’t know who Barry Fitzgerald was, he was an Irish character actor who won an Academy Award, for playing an Irish priest (no surprises there). He died in 1961, my mother thought Barry Fitzgerald was old.
My wife interrupts my reading to tell me that Sean Spicer is Irish American and likes to wear green shamrock covered pants on St. Patrick’s Day. This is more than irritating, the only consolation is the sun is out and I’m getting a bit of a tan. Yes, that’s right a tan, I mention that in case by now you are picturing me as some helium-voiced shillelagh swinging, freckled-faced mick. Maybe I’m being a bit sensitive.
I turn to Bruce, one of my heroes. As I said above, Bruce can write and when the subject is New Jersey, Asbury Park or his early life, he writes really well. It turns out Bruce is half Italian, half Irish: his mother is of Italian descent; his father is of Irish descent. His mother is hard working, positive and supportive; his father is miserable, disappointed, drinks too much and is prone to unpredictable rage. Later in life, his father becomes mentally ill. Bruce suggests that this mental illness and perhaps his own depression came over with his Irish ancestors who came to America to flee the famine. C’mon Bruce, throw us a bone, if you have to indulge in facile causation, perhaps you might concede that your gift for language and story-telling, your talent for writing laments (The River, Downbound Train) comes from your Irish heritage. This is all getting too much, I look up and down the beach and wonder if the other people hanging around enjoying the sun know that I’m Irish.
Then rescue comes from an unlikely source, an article in Rolling Stone about Chris Rock. Apparently Chris is a U2 fan. On the day of his father’s wake, he found time to run to the record store and buy a copy of “Rattle and Hum” which had been released that day. “I love Bono”, Rock is quoted as saying. Flash back to North Florida, early eighties and I’m driving along a coast road close to Amelia Island, sand from the adjacent dunes drifts across the road, the sea is doing that blue sparkling thing, I’m listening to “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday” on the radio, hearing it for the first time, and the hair at the back of my neck is standing on end. “How long must we sing this song”, the old politics is being rejected by an Irish band and they are playing my music – rock and roll – not some maudlin shite dispensed by some bearded guy with a banjo and a beer belly. You see back then if you asked anyone two things they associated with Ireland, they would say drinking and terrorism (terrorism that was partially funded, ironically, by Irish Americans). But Bono broke the Irish stereotype and for a while, at least, Ireland was cool. Ireland was where U2 and Bono lived. I have been a fan of Bono ever since.
So, all you republican ersatz Irishmen out there with your shillelaghs and your shamrocks and your antediluvian politics, look for a personality somewhere else, co-opt someone else’s imaginary identity; dress up as Mounties, wear lederhosen, I don’t care, just leave us alone. By the way, the current Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadker, is gay, fiscally conservative and the son of an Indian father and an Irish mother. In other words, he is a complex human being not a cartoon.