"Friend to objects, saints and dead celebrities alike, Elaine Equi is the real McCoy: a keeper of the sacred flame of language-joy. Her work re-alerts us to our earliest love of words as toys, jewels, confections. In doing so she juices up our thinking. What’s better than writing that delights as it sharpens the mind? You’ve heard of ‘smart drinks’ or ‘smart drugs,’ said to chemically boost intellect? These are truly smart poems."—Amy Gerstler, L.A. Weekly
Elaine Equi is the author of many books, including Voice-Over , which won the San Francisco State Poetry Award. Widely anthologized, her poems appear in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology and The Best American Poetry for the years 1989, 1995, and 2002. She lives in New York City.
|Publisher:||Coffee House Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Equi's succinct, witty, and innovative work has been widely published, appearing in the The New Yorker, Norton's Postmodern American Poetry, and four recent volumes of The Best American Poetry. A central figure in Chicago's poetics scene during the 70s and 80s, she now lives in New York where she teaches at City College, New School and NYU.
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THE CLOUD OF KNOWABLE THINGSPOEMS
By ELAINE EQUI
COFFEE HOUSE PRESSCopyright © 2003 Elaine Equi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNATIONAL POETRY MONTH When a poem speaks by itself, it has a spark and can be considered part of a divine conversation. Sometimes the poem weaves like a basket around two loaves of yellow bread. "Break off a piece of this April with its raisin nipples," it says. "And chew them slowly under your pillow. You belong in bed with me." On the other hand, when a poem speaks in the voice of a celebrity it is called television or a movie. "There is nothing to see," says Robert De Niro, though his poem bleeds all along the edges like a puddle crudely outlined with yellow tape at the crime scene of spring "It is an old poem," he adds. "And besides, I was very young when I made it." AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POEM The story of my skin is long and involved. While the story of my hair is quite short. In the story of my mouth kisses linger over poppyseeds and crumbs of lemon-scented cake. There is a character who always builds in the story of my bones and a woman who refuses to leave her gondola in the story of my blood. But it is the heart's story I most want to share with you who also know this pleasure of being shut inside a vast dark place, alone- as if at a small table scribbling lies. THE BANAL Even with its shitload of artifacts, theeveryday is radiant, while the banal is opaque and often obscure. I prefer the latter, with its murky agate, mushroom, ocher background music- its corridor of lurk. One hardly knows where one stands with/in the banal. Walls come together without a seam. Wherever we are, we feel we have always been. Poe, for all his special effects, is rather banal in his approach to the supernatural, i.e. overly familiar. Against the inarticulate velvet of this mood, one grasps at the everyday for relief. Thus any object can bring us back with the fast-acting power of aspirin. Any object shines. THE SEVEN VEILS OF SPRING 1. ice water 2. egg yolk 3. pollen 4. cotton candy 5. fog 6. chablis 7. snot NEGATIVE CAPABILITIES I'm not a landscape but if I were I'd be a prairie with wildflowers embroidered on the yoke of my rippling. I'm not a child but if I were I'd want to be a teaspoon, an eyedropper, or a chandelier when I grow up. I'm not a novel but if I were I'd be by Kawabata or Tanizaki. No one can match the elegance of their melancholy. ASKING FOR A RAISE Perhaps there is a color I can sleep in like a spare room. Some uncharted green. Some state I gladly travel to in the center of a loud noise where all is calm. Snug in my cupcake hut the difference between sleeping with pills and sleeping without them is the difference between talking into a telephone and talking into a jewel. Depression is an economic state. Green is also the color of cash. "All right, but what would you do with more money if you had it?" asks the businessman who greets me with a lei of orchids. "Shop for clothes," I answer. "And treat my husband like a whore." I INTERVIEW ELAINE EQUI ON THE FOUR ELEMENTS Q: What is your favorite element? A: Definitely air. It's the medium of thought. Ethereal. Invisible. And even better than air, I love heights. I'm the opposite of someone with acrophobia. Space travel sounds appealing. Q: Which element do you like least? A: Water. It makes me nervous. You can't walk on it. Both my parents are Pisces so perhaps that explains ... I'm a terrible swimmer. Q: Being a Leo, do you feel at home with fire? A: I like light, but not heat. I don't even like hot sauce. I could never see myself as a pyromaniac. Q: Which brings us to earth, what associations do you have with it? A: The earth has always supported me in all my endeavors. I trust it. OPAQUE SAINTS We cannot see the fire within that causes them to leap out of themselves at inopportune moments or stretch out on a bed of nails with the blissful look of one nursing on a lily. So often, we too consider irrational acts but wait holding our breath until the moment passes. Our boredom makes us happy then, and Hell is the neat, well-organized place from which we contemplate the disruptive lives of saints who break even natural laws. Their faces are always luminous and dry even when wet. Their halos intrigue like jewelry that can never be removed. A QUIET POEM My father screamed whenever the phone rang. My aunt often screamed when she opened the door. Out back, the willows caterwauled. In the kitchen, the faucet screamed a drop at a time. At school, they called screaming "recess" or sometimes "music." Our neighbors' daughter had a scream more melodious than my own. At first, Col. Parker had to pay girls to get them to scream for Elvis. I didn't want to scream when I saw The Beetles, but I did. After that, I screamed for even mediocre bands. Late in his career, John Lennon got into Primal Scream. Many people find it relaxing to scream. Just as crawling precedes walking, so screaming precedes speech. The roller coaster is just one of many scream-inducing devices. The ambulance tries, in its clumsy way, to emulate the human scream, which in turn tries to emulate nature. Wind is often said to shriek, but Sylvia Plath also speaks of "the parched scream of the sun." Jim Morrison wanted to hear the scream of the butterfly. With ultra-sensitive equipment, scientists measure the screams of plants they've tortured. It's proven that if you scream at a person for years, then suddenly stop, he will hear even the tenderest words of love as violent curses. And to anyone who speaks above a whisper, he will say: "Don't you dare. Don't you dare raise your voice to me." CAROL FEARED HER NARCISSISM She looked hard into the void, its maze without walls, and spoke seven words into it. Mercantile, narcolepsy, snow-blind, logjam, jawbone-of-an-ass (which she counted as one), tutti-frutti, and iota. Briefly she toyed with the idea of adding an eighth word, echo, if for nothing else but special effect. Yet something held her back as if from throwing her very self into the pitch-dark air. She'd always suspected. Once out of her mouth, that echo would never return. BARELY CONTAINED I'm not sure I want to. My body wants to see itself- soft and shapeless, plain as day in the million mirrors that pass like thoughts breathing what is body in and out, its limits not so obvious as one thinks. INVOKING MOTION Monsieur Lartigue- Whether it was a wave or a runner, or someone looking over their shoulder, or even just a stripe, turning away, you gave them momentum. "Don't pause-move," you said to your subjects and were able to see whatever it was that carried them. You, whose name rhymes with fatigue. Give me that same jumpy elixir. Action-hero: put me in your antigravity garden. Rising, leaning, balancing, haunting (even your dead are animated). Thoughts are kites. Muybridge broke it down, showed us the parts, but you with a whoosh push everything out of its frame. Honk! Honk! Get out of the way. Nothing is still or separate. THE SENSUOUS READER 1. In autumn take all the red and blue out of a book. Make wine for winter's sharp profile. Then trace the profile of other objects with a knife the way wind does. 2. Open any book and look to see if the author is inside the words your eyes caress. Read backwards and up and down. Skim diagonally or just glance at some parts and not others.
Excerpted from THE CLOUD OF KNOWABLE THINGS by ELAINE EQUI Copyright © 2003 by Elaine Equi
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.