I have two new sonnets up at the excellent new journal Pulsebeat. The first, “Devil’s Blues”, is an appreciation of Cleveland musician Peter Laughner. Peter was a central figure in the Cleveland underground scene of the 1970s, and was a founding member of both Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu. He died in 1977 from complications related to drugs and alcohol. He was 24. The poem is set on the last night of Peter’s life. He was alone in his bedroom, drinking and recording songs he loved. (So I have understood the scene to be.) The song which took the top of my head off when I first heard it is his version of Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues”. I first learned of Peter from Clinton Heylin’s 1994 book From the Velvets to the Voidoids, his history of the evolution of punk music. Peter’s music was very hard to find until 1994’s Take the Guitar Player for a Ride double album (Tim/Kerr). In 2019, Smog Veil unveiled a long-awaited box set of Peter’s recordings, finally giving him his due. I have been listening to Peter’s music since I was in college; this sonnet is my small contribution to his legend.
The other poem, “Mirror Mirror”, is a mirror sonnet. As Borges wrote in his story “Tlön, Uqbar and Orbis Tertius”, there is something monstrous about mirrors. I’ll leave it at that.
Thanks to editor David Stephenson at Pulsebeat for publishing these!
I’m happy to share that my poem “Her Vanity” was selected for the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge for March 2022! The poem was inspired by this painting by Natascha Graham, which made me think about my mother as a young woman and a story she told me umpteen times about the time she met Eddie Fisher, her dream boat. “He could have been your father!” she would say, raising a severe eyebrow at me. (Apparently, genetics wasn’t on her mind.) You can read more poems about my mother in my collection Unburial.
My mother used to sit like this before
her vanity, her shoulders bathed
in blue and pink light, her powdered skin
dredged in a cloud of talc, breathing it in.
[Read more at Rattle]
Yesterday I got word that one of my sonnets has been shortlisted for the Better Than Starbucks Sonnet Contest 2021. I don’t enter many contests, and have only once received an honorable mention – back in 2000 – for another sonnet contest (I write a lot of sonnets). That contest was judged by Alfred Dorn, who created the ‘Dornian’ sonnet with the rhyme scheme ABCABC DD EFGEFG. I’ve written a number of Dornian sonnets, including my seven-sonnet sequence “Homage to the Italian Language” which will be in Still Life with City. The poem was published in Raintown Review last year, which is a print-only journal. As a teaser, here is one of the middle sonnets, in the Dornian style:
Romans adore the expletive ammazza.
It means so many things, like Oh my god
or harsh…Regina taught us to use it
in place of harsher-sounding words or as a
default four-letter word which, intoned loud,
would startle skeletons locked in the closet.
But what was I to do with Abigail—
bipolar, alcoholic—but derail
my train to smoother tracks? I found a place
across the bridge in Queens: Astoria.
The signs in Greek were comforting to me,
murmurs of Mediterranean solace
along the East River; la storia,
I told myself, fingering my new key.
Anyway, the shortlisted sonnet is not a Dornian sonnet! It's actually a (mostly) unrhymed sonnet, another pet form. In January they release the results. Fingers crossed!
I’ve done a bit of math for 2021, and here are some stats:
I’ve published twenty-three new poems and nine translations, and had eight of my poems translated into Italian. I have roughly ten new poems coming out in the next few months, plus another batch of around ten translations of poets Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, Crescenzo del Monte and Italian epigrammatists from the Enlightenment. I’m also very close to finalizing my second book, Still Life with City, which has been in the works for two years with Pski’s Porch (the pandemic slowed things down) and have a finished manuscript for the first English-language translation of the poems of Mario dell’Arco. Whew! I also have a full-time job, a family and lots of other things going on.
All that writing has brought in around $100, a few contributor’s copies and a whole lotta glory. Not that I’m complaining. That’s already a fair batting average for a poet.
If you are reading this and would like to support my poetry, I’ve started a Patreon page. For as little as €3 ($4) a month, you can make a difference and support the arts directly. I will write no matter what because I love to write and I love to read. Support from readers, however, is always welcome. In the meantime, have another poem with your latkes. Happy Hanukkah!
“Nana’s Last Hanukkah”
She blesses each long thin candle one by one twisting their shy little necks into the hollow brass fingers, thumb and index brittle as bone. All evening, a pale light lingers— our living room alive with shadow play the curtain a stage, a Chinese theater. Nana’s voice is the voice of the dead gathering in her, swelling in her throat like a column of smoke, her tiny prayer book lit fire in her hands.
I’m pleased to write that my poem “Gouache: November” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the journal Italian Americana. I first published with them back in 2011, a poem called “Samuel Menashe Reads at the Harvard Club”. Many thanks to poetry editor Maria Terrone and the staff at IA for this bit of good news. You can read the poem here (print only):
Take shelter in this dim gold of blown kisses, near misses. You are the dancer, the gesture, erasure eked out of delicately falling atoms. Σῶμα, a body breathing. Lash your limbs to this brief, transfigured landscape, escape the sentence of sentience we’re all co-doomed to: the finite infinitives, subject-verb-object, antecedent, predicated patterns life relaxes into like water filling a bathtub. Needle and thread can weave a robe, a flag, a web. Caution duende not to troll you, control you. The splendid motion of stars stirs in us silent, terrible echoes of our birth.
* Σῶμα, /soma/ is Greek for “body”
*This poem was written as part of the TELEPHONE global arts project. It was inspired by this piece. Read my note on the poem and check out the full exhibit!
I have three new translations of Eugenio Montale’s poetry at On the Seawall*. Along with Dante, Montale was one of the first poets I read in lingua when I was studying Italian in New York City. I remember my first-ever class at Parliamo Italiano, on 65th St. My teacher was Regina, a brazen Florentine. She walked into class – it must have been early September – fanning herself with a hand. “Fa caldo!” she said, emphatically. One student asked, a mild expression of shock on his face, “Who’s Aldo?” (Fa caldo! means It’s hot! He had heard, with his American ears, Fuck Aldo!) Regina paused for a moment, then burst out laughing. It was the best introduction to a foreign-language course – and I’ve conducted many myself – I could ever have imagined.
My first attempts at translating Montale were made when I was an elementary-level student of Italian. I cribbed a lot from existing versions, which is part of the process. Then I gave up. Now, years later, I offer these versions of a great poet’s work to the world. May they encourage the reader to seek out more of his work. It’s worth it.
After nearly three years of trying, I’ve finally managed to land another poem in Rattle’s ‘Poets Respond’ series. I love this series; the poems chosen are often excellent (and always interesting), poetic responses to the weekly news cycle. “Still” was my response to the deadlock of the 2020 election: exhausted, burned out and anxious for them to “call it”, the nine lines wrote themselves largely unconsciously – as so often happens with poetry – as I looked out the window and noticed birds still chirping away in the trees.
(I read the poem on Rattle’s Open Mic for Sunday November 8, 2020.)
There are still birds, still things coming to life in unexpected ways. Still nights and days. Nocturnal, diurnal. Circadian rhythms scratching an itch at the back of the throat. Still family, still friends. Still love slapping you silly with its rubber tongue, salt that makes your stomach sing a psalm, palettes of rusted foliage, stray bees in November, still buzzing in the lavender.