“Writing Class” by Howard Levy

Mark the clouds as they settle in,
as they fall asleep over the city.
Mark that the city’s hum
does not rouse them
and note that the gray escaping light
is bent by prisms made from their dreams.

Poll the passersby about those dreams.
A young woman says choreography,
clouds dreaming arabesques.
A man says academia, dreams
that decipher the glyphs of water,
and the oddest person you ask
says snakes
because everything dreams of snakes.

That answer stands you still,
unearths you, separates you
from any cherished sense of progress.
You feel a clinging vine of horror
grow and wrap around your legs,
the very snake of it.

But be larky, challenge those snakes.
Gad about the streets with pens
smoking like six guns.
The world picks up speed
with poets out on the streets.

A poet can make the world spin so fast
that the shallow and the trite
will fly right off of it.

for Ellen B.

LevyFrom Spooky Action at a Distance
By Howard Levy

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News and Events: Week of July 21st

Events

Jack Ridl, Ox-Bow Art School of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Saugatuck, Michigan)
July 25, 10am-5pm
Jack will be teaching a workshop: What Can I Do with the Personal Besides Be Personal

News

Karen Chase’s lastest collection, Polio Boulevard, was reviewed by Library Journal

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Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog reviews “My Mother’s Funeral”

My Mother's FuneralPáramo shares her shock and grief with such honesty and originality that one can’t help but read on.

 

Read the full review at Brevity

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News and Events: Week of July 14th

Events

Howard Levy, The Frost Place (Franconia, NH)
Monday, July 14th at 7pm
Howard will be reading from his latest collection, Spooky Action at a Distance
For more info visit The Frost Place

 

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Nin Andrews Interviews David Keller

David Keller

David Keller

 

NIN ANDREWS
This book, The Bar of the Flattened Heartis like a perfectly spiced wine with its mix of sorrow, magic, heartache, bitterness, and a dash of humor thrown in to lighten the experience.   I don’t think there’s a poem in it that I don’t like, but I particularly admire the opening poem and the poem, “Making Up a New Bed.”

In “Making Up a New Bed,” I love the lines: “At the end of the evening,/ we are, each of us, the heroes/ of our own adventures,/revising the stories to make a happy ending.”  I wanted to start the interview with that poem.

Making Up a New Bed

I went back to pick up the last
of the books shoved in a closet.
Emptied of old clothes and arguments
the place seemed different.
I avoided passing the bedroom
with its thousands of stories,
an entire Arabian Nights
I could not bear someone else hearing.

By the telephone I found a note
she’d left herself on an envelope:
Only a rat would run out on you
when you need him.
It wasn’t how I’d tell the story.
Now, clumsily, I will begin to take back my
name, and she hers, not quite sure
whom they mean. No one will telephone,
and begin with “it’s me.”

At the end of the evening,
we are, each of us, the heroes
of our own adventures,
revising the stories to make a happy ending.
With material this thin, who
but a rat would take on such work?

NA  
I so admire your subtle wit—it’s almost like an observational wit at times.  In the poem “Silences” for example, you write: “He wondered if she really wanted to kiss him; it could have/ been just habit, that perfunctory kiss grownups practiced,/ nothing more than hello.”  Do you use humor consciously in your poems?  Or is it just in your nature—a way of seeing the world?

DAVID KELLER
I don’t use humor, or maybe I should say, I don’t try to use it.  But if it shows up, I don’t cut it out, either.  It’s probably just engrained in me. I like your term “observational wit.”

Certainly, it keeps off anger or hurt, the humor, even if it’s not always intended to. Sometimes I’m not even aware that lines in the poems are funny until someone points this out. Then, of course, I’m inclined to go with them.

NA  
I also love the poem, “Taking on the Past,” for its wit and honesty.  In the poem, a telephone rings, and you keep writing, philosophizing, and not answering, only to end with: “Oh, go ahead, see what the phone wants.”

DK
I remember overhearing someone saying that telephone calls are almost always about the past, though they pretend to be about the future. That seemed an interesting statement, so I just stretched it out a bit.

NA  
Could you tell me a little bit about your life as a poet?  Your sources of inspiration?  Other interests and occupations?

DK
I used to say I’d grown up in the theaters and orchestra pits of Boston, which is only partly true.  I did not teach in a college writing program. I worked in a nursery school and as an editor, in that way I had the space I needed to develop myself as a writer. It took a long time.  For the last sixteen years I worked as a house carpenter, which was lovely– no committees, no papers to grade, etc.

NA
Could you talk a little bit about the evolution of The Bar of the Flattened Heart?

DK
I don’t know if it evolved. I tend to write poems over a long period of time without any sense of how they will fit together, trusting that whatever interests me is connected just by being in my mind. Then, I get someone like Baron Wormser to see what kind of organization it will take on. I seem unable to do that by myself.

NA
What is the biggest challenge for you as a poet?

DK
Not to get pretentious, but that’s what every writer has to face.  How to keep Making It New, as Ezra Pound warned us. How not to get bland.  I always have poets like the late Jack Wiler in the back of my mind, pushing me to make it more nasty, if you will.

NA
Who are your primary literary influences?

DK
I always hoped it would be James Merrill, when I was his student in Madison, but that would have killed me, he was so elegant and sophisticated.  so I turned helplessly to John Berryman and people like that as models. Later on,  Bill Matthews, certainly, and Alicia Ostriker, as well as non-poets–Krazy Kat, Damon Runyon, those sorts.  I love the way they speak.

NA
Are you working on a new manuscript yet?  And if so, does it have a theme?

DK
I’m kind of just fiddling around, as usual, hoping something will come my way.

NA
People often ask me the question, “What inspired you to become a poet?”  I have never had a good answer to the question, so I thought I’d ask you.

DK
One year,  I took a poetry course at Iowa State University, not Iowa City where I grew up, in order to write better term papers. I fell in love with poetry instead. Ted Kooser was in some of my classes.  He grew up in my hometown, a couple of years ahead of me.  I had to promise myself not to quit until age 30, when I started to be serious about it and the rest is history.

NA
I’d love to close with a poem from The Bar of the Flattened Heart.


The Way of My Education

Hat in the air’s one way to say it,
or, thinking like dancing.
The man with the hat in the Magritte
has no head. It floats above him,
above what he knows of the world.
Here inside the window
flowers shift and shimmer like sounds.

How long is a year
or a 45-foot anaconda? One could measure
but not know. Or is it
to understand without measuring?
The second time you see the painting,
it’s still amusing, but like a concept. There. Now
who wants a story? Thank you.

Every time my parents asked me
to do something with my mind,
I responded with my hands.
I’m sorry the world shrinks.
I can walk upon the surface
of a piece of paper, leaving
sparks that look like stars and more stars.

 It is not “monkey business” when you think
of the experiment where the two men
measured the speed of light
using a surface the size of a ping-pong table.
May pearls come before spring swine,
er, I mean the sunshine. Oh let’s all go down
to the Homer Spit
and spit in the cold, geometric water.

 

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News and Events: Week of July 7th

News

Karen Chase has a new memoir, Polio Boulevard, coming out September 1st.

Marcus Jackson has a poem, “Pardon My Heart”, published in the July/August issue of The American Poetry Review.

 

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Press Release: The Bar of the Flattened Heart

BOTFH_front_cover

 

The Bar of the Flattened Heart

Poems by
David Keller

A poet of everyday wonder, David Keller finds the kernels of larger truths in the small details of the ordinary. In his new collection of poems, THE BAR OF THE FLATTENED HEART, Keller explores past and present, from boyhood aspirations and disappointments to the complexities of marriage and the unavoidable passages of life.  “David Keller’s poems have the freedom of age,” says John Richardson. “They don’t need to impress, they have no case to make, they don’t even insist on being right: their wonderful last words are, ‘What the hell do I know?’ With their genial frankness and amused curiosity they remind us over and over how surprising our ordinary days are, how interesting and touching it is to be alive.”

More disposed to acceptance than regret, Keller writes:

I wanted to be a charm-maker, a magician, wanted
to make spells and such, much more than just
poetry. Things that had true power,
protection. What a child I was;
poetry makes nothing happen, and yet…

And his poetry does cast a spell with a quiet power that belies the ephemeral essence of the word.  “I can walk upon the surface/of a piece of paper, leaving/sparks that look like stars/and more stars,” he writes, marveling rather than bragging. Keller uses his poetry not to settle scores from the past, but to commemorate and honor. He writes poignantly, but without judgment, of his father’s ambiguous guilt over having worked on the atom bomb, or of his mother’s guileless Midwestern trust.  He learns the fates of long forgotten friends with heartfelt regret at the ways in which we grow apart from our past.

As Alice Ostriker has observed, “Keller’s voice mingles melancholy and wit, the prosaic details of life and sheer wonderment at things.” Yet, while often laced with nostalgia, the poetry is never gloomy, soaring above sadness with it lyricism and musicality. Indeed, music plays a central role in a number of poems, including “Letter to Howard Levy,” in which he says to his fellow poet: “Mostly the rest of us go on playing and re-playing/the same small songs we thought would help, but there’s/hardly any real music in hours of that.”

In “My Blue Heaven,” his elegy to another poet, William Matthews, Keller writes:

With him seemed to go whole jazz recordings.
Nights of music he liked to think of
himself as part of, playing chorus
after chorus on one number or another,
suddenly ceased to exist, vanished
as if he’d only conjured them up, while we
thumb through his books, hoping to find traces of them.

This then becomes the essence of Keller’s poetic voyage—the delving between the melodic lines on the surface to locate the notes that truly come to shape our lives.

Combining a deceptive simplicity with an unabashed puzzlement at all that makes a life out of living, David Keller’s voice becomes like our own. THE BAR OF THE FLATTENED HEART is a tour de force without pretense, as precious as all we have come to take for granted.

~~~

About David Keller

David Keller is the author of five collections of poetry. He has taught poetry workshops in New York and has served as Poetry Coordinator for biennial poetry festivals, on the Board of Governors for the Poetry Society of America, and as a member of the Advisory Board of The Frost Place. He lives in New Jersey.

~~~

THE BAR OF THE FLATTENED HEART by David Keller
Publication Date: May 2014
Price: $16.00; ISBN: 978-1-933880-42-6
Distributed by: University Press of New England (UPNE), 1-800-421-1561 or 603-448-1533, Ext. 255
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“My Blue Heaven” by David Keller

(William Matthews, 1942–1997)

“Ah, all the elves are at the toyshop,” he said,
looking up as he approached the porch,
meaning, I thought then, to refer to the others
as mischief-makers, revelers, fellow weirdoes,
which of course they were, and he was too,
and flashed us a look of expensive laughter
so eloquent only a clown or child could’ve done it.

Like money, he kept us in circulation.
His lines dazzled and we clapped our hands
with delight, full of envy and joy
at what he could do. So much we didn’t know
how to say, or to avoid saying,
he put into words for us like an amused parent
helping the kids with an assignment.

Each poem seemed both new and familiar
as the girl of our dreams, who is, he remarked
once, the worst possible woman to marry,
and we did anyway, and didn’t he
know it, didn’t he ramble, didn’t he?
What could you expect from someone who dealt
in “stand-up tragedy,” as he thought of the art?

With him seemed to go whole jazz recordings.
Nights of music he liked to think of
himself as part of, playing chorus
after chorus on one number or another,
suddenly ceased to exist, vanished,
as if he’d only conjured them up, while we
thumb through his books, hoping to find traces of them.

Now we patrons at the Bar of the Flattened
Heart, each of us left fumbling over old songs,
turning over memories like small change,
we will have to learn to get on without him.
And why not? We have each other, of course,
and our own self, that constant
companion to be true to, if we cared to
or could remember how. Why not? All the elves
are at the toyshop. All but the one.

David Keller

From The Bar of the Flattened Heart
By David Keller

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News and Events: Week of June 30th

Events

Jack Ridl, East Lansing (Michigan)
July 1-2, workshop

News

Adriana Páramo’s memoir, My Mother’s Funeral, was awarded an honorable mention in the Best Biography category by the Latino Book Awards

Susan Jackson had two poems published in the current issue of Lips: “Elk” and “Making Beds” (both from her new collection Never Is Here)

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Salamander reviews “door of thin skins”

door of thin skinsThese lines are a relief, but are also an example of how layout and letters work together in this collection to recreate the experience of the speaker. The layout shows both the writer’s visual aptitude and her awareness of how music makes a world. It is this understanding of the sounds of silence, and the look of it, that elevates this collection from therapy to art.

Read the full review at Salamander 

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