BASKING IN THE DARK
by Jeff Wright
It’s normal to worry about obscurity.
But it’s good to get out and explore
Even though Elizabeth was a little cool
At her opening. Jane was nice. She’s a-
mazing. Painting poison pills of loneliness
Strewn across the wreckage of dreams.
Yes mam. Meanwhile, don’t you just want to
Howl? Have you been to Howl space yet?
Joanna was reading about ripped jeans
And “penguins in sequins,” (not really
I made that part up, but she inspired it).
Anyway — always carry a beat.
Don’t you just want to go visit Steve Cannon?
What time is it? I thought you’d never ask.

“The Prostitute’s Song” in A Cup of Sin

“The Prostitute’s Song” in A Cup of Sin 
Pass me the rouge,
so I can add some color to my colorlessness.
Pass me the ointment,
so I may revive my face withered from sorrow.
Pass me the perfume,
to give my flowing hair the scent of musk.
Pass me that tight fitting dress,
so people may hold me tighter in their embrace.
Pass me that see-through shawl,
to make my nakedness twice as enticing in its folds,
to add to the allure of my breasts
and legs.
Pass me that cup of wine,
so I may laugh at my misfortunes in my drunkenness,
so I may mask my sorrows
with a gay and appealing face.
How tiresome he was, how repulsive,
my companion last night.
But when he asked me, I told him,
I had never seen a man as handsome.
And that partner of a few nights past,
the one who gave me the disease,
even if he paid me a hundred times more,
it would not pay for the pain he gave me.
I know many people, yet I have no one,
no one to stand by me, share my sorrows.
Many make displays of affection,
but they never last beyond the instant.
I have no husband or mate
to grant me their loyalty and devotion,
nor a child to wipe the rust
of sorrows from my heart.
Oh, who is it knocking at the door?
It is my husband for the night.
O sorrows, let go of my heart.
Now we must make him happy.
Lips, lips, cunning lips,
draw a veil of mystery on my sorrows,
so they will give me a few more coins.
Smile, kiss, enchant!
-Simin Behbahani

HERE BE DRAGONS!

Collaborations by

Bill Kushner, Tom Savage, Susan Maurer and Merry Fortune

Quarter Horse, 2014

Reviewed by George Spencer

 

To bring home a book of poetry written by very good contemporary poets and not to know who wrote what because the poems are a co-operative (ad)venture is one of life’s biggest treats. So it is with this wonderful chapbook collection, Here Be Dragons, containing collaborative poems jointly written by Bill Kushner, Tom Savage, Susan Maurer and Merry Fortune. These poets are widely published and are confident enough of their abilities to run the obvious risks of joint ventures. And all four are proven right. There is not a bad line, overwritten or flat, to be found.

This new direction, with the risks and rewards of partial anonymity, shows them riffing off each other and the resulting jazz is alternatively zany, sad, erudite and out there. This is particularly the case with the longest and last poem, a fugue-like piece, with extended progressions of repetition and alteration until the reader is completely surrounded by ghosts, Burmese snow lions, giants, snow caps and explosions, all suggesting a world in flux, dangerous and disquieting but with the possibility of fulfillment through immersion in the quotidian minutiae of life. All with hints of Gertrude Stein.

So who’s who? Is this Bill Kushner?

Take this poem with you always
& read it fervently, but don’t do what I do: which is
Weep, don’t weep.

Is this Susan Maurer?

A good way To listen to birds is on your stomach, ears close
To the earth.

Tom Savage?

Camelot, galloping Camelot,
Sir Lancelot rushed to keep up.
Make of it what you will
And Queen Guinevere does

Merry Fortune?

I lobby words around the object
Of a Burmese snow lion
Rich with politics of snowcap
Free of words smoking to be called
A volcano to be melting

To aficionados it will be fun to try to assign lines to the various authors. Nevertheless the poems must work as poems and this they do.

The short poems, under 12 lines, STONE, Pennywhistle, Lemony Snickey, Little Epic, Two Line Poem and Canzonetta, are pared down to the absolute essentials. Of necessity, the words and images performing multiple tasks at the same time. To me the best example is Two Line Poem

The knife carves the warm butter into a rose.
The forest eats its young and smiles.

where the knife is both weapon and kitchen utensil and the forest both fecundity and murderer. Of course these are not poems of one interpretation. Readers will find other readings. What is a drippy rose?

There are poems of 14 lines, VERSO, Tom, A Party in Pages, that look suspiciously like the modern sonnet with a faint iambic pentameter and a sometimes turn, or volta somewhere near where it is meant to be. Sir Thomas Wyatt would not be happy, but then he is dead. Postmodern readers will find much to enjoy.

Either Susan Maurer and/or Bill Kushner wrote the following at the end of the first poem in this collection.

She hoped he would not become poetry
Divorced from the palace of touch
She wanted the salt spray upon him
She wanted to have it for lunch.

That self-imposed test, writing from inside the palace of touch, was clearly passed by the four poets. In this day of the glorification of selfies and web sites full of instant poems, the ultimate corruption of First Thought, Best Thought, it is with pleasure that we read here writers who know the words they use intimately because they live with them as friends and enemies and know their etymologies, where they come from. And poets who can write about love and tenderness and their opposites without slipping into a sloppy lyricism, a sinkhole poets on occasion like to wallow in.

An End to the Blackmail

In a landmark speech, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announces that a referendum will be held on the Troika bailout deal.

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For six months now the Greek government has been waging a battle in conditions of unprecedentedeconomic suffocation to implement the mandate you gave us on January 25.

The mandate we were negotiating with our partners was to end the austerity and to allow prosperity and social justice to return to our country.

It was a mandate for a sustainable agreement that would respect both democracy and common European rules and lead to the final exit from the crisis.

Throughout this period of negotiations, we were asked to implement the agreements concluded by the previous governments with the Memoranda, although they were categorically condemned by the Greek people in the recent elections.

However, not for a moment did we think of surrendering, that is to betray your trust.

After five months of hard bargaining, our partners, unfortunately, issued at the Eurogroup the day before yesterday an ultimatum to Greek democracy and to the Greek people. An ultimatum that is contrary to the founding principles and values of Europe, the values of our common European project.

They asked the Greek government to accept a proposal that accumulates a new unsustainable burden on the Greek people and undermines the recovery of the Greek economy and society, a proposal that not only perpetuates the state of uncertainty but accentuates social inequalities even more.

The proposal of institutions includes: measures leading to further deregulation of the labor market, pension cuts, further reductions in public sector wages and an increase in VAT on food, dining and tourism, while eliminating tax breaks for the Greek islands.

These proposals directly violate the European social and fundamental rights: they show that concerning work, equality and dignity, the aim of some of the partners and institutions is not a viable and beneficial agreement for all parties but the humiliation the entire Greek people.

These proposals mainly highlight the insistence of the IMF in the harsh and punitive austerity and make more timely than ever the need for the leading European powers to seize the opportunity and take initiatives which will finally bring to a definitive end the Greek sovereign debt crisis, a crisis affecting other European countries and threatening the very future of European integration.

Fellow Greeks, right now weighs on our shoulders the historic responsibility towards the struggles and sacrifices of the Greek people for the consolidation of democracy and national sovereignty. Our responsibility for the future of our country.

And this responsibility requires us to answer the ultimatum on the basis of the sovereign will of the Greek people.

A short while ago at the cabinet meeting I suggested the organization of a referendum, so that the Greek people are able to decide in a sovereign way. The suggestion was unanimously accepted.

Tomorrow the House of Representatives will be urgently convened to ratify the proposal of the cabinet for a referendum next Sunday, July 5 on the question of the acceptance or the rejection of the proposal of institutions.

I have already informed about my decision the president of France and the chancellor of Germany, the president of the ECB, and tomorrow my letter will formally ask the EU leaders and institutions to extend for a few days the current program in order for the Greek people to decide, free from any pressure and blackmail, as required by the constitution of our country and the democratic tradition of Europe.

Fellow Greeks, to the blackmailing of the ultimatum that asks us to accept a severe and degrading austerity without end and without any prospect for a social and economic recovery, I ask you to respond in a sovereign and proud way, as the history of the Greek people commands.

To authoritarianism and harsh austerity, we will respond with democracy, calmly and decisively.

Greece, the birthplace of democracy will send a resounding democratic response to Europe and the world.

I am personally committed to respect the outcome of your democratic choice, whatever that is. And I’m absolutely confident that your choice will honor the history of our country and send a message of dignity to the world.

In these critical moments, we all have to remember that Europe is the common home of peoples. That in Europe there are no owners and guests. Greece is and will remain an integral part of Europe and Europe is an integral part of Greece. But without democracy, Europe will be a Europe without identity and without a compass.

I invite you all to display national unity and calm in order to take the right decisions. For us, for future generations, for the history of the Greeks. For the sovereignty and dignity of our people.

— Athens, June 27, 2015, 1 AM local time.

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