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Man or Mouse


I got to tell a story, one I don't think I've told before, and one I eventually turned into a poem. Story telling is my way of getting my senses back. Or maybe just decompressing. And this one is a douzy. (How do you spell that word?)

I am in my mid-twenties living in Providence R.I. and managing a small restaurant on Thayer street. Thayer street is the commercial district that serves both Brown U. and RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). The time and place is pretty decadent. (RISD especially.) Most of my employees are students. Most of my customers are collegiately occupied. The events in the story transpired over the course of a week. In the poem action gets compressed into a single night. And trust me. My imagination is not rich enough to make this stuff up.

I had an employee who was a real beauty. Italian I think from New Jersey and an art student. Lordy, I sure wanted to make time with her. Long brown hair, oval face, a body to make a Southern boy shy or braver than he really is. Damn smart too. And I had a pair of customers. He was an English professor on sabbatical. His live-in friend was a paralegal secretary very easy on the eyes. With a computer he was looking to tally up all the incidents in Dickens's novels to prove the author's heightened sense of humor. (Talk about a worthwhile thesis deserving of a grant, huh?)

One off-work night I am sitting with the student in a bar across the street. I've bought her a drink. Conversation is progressing nicely and she has done that thing women do. Without one word she has shown the attention paid her is favorably taken, could lead to a denouement. I am in heaven. I am talking the art stuff with her. I had recently read that classic study of Renaissance painters, Vasari's "Lives of the Artists." So I know I can reach her on her own ground. And I say something about DaVinci, something I am sure will get me some time. I say how masterfully he could get to the mystical in his painted women. Girl turns to me sharply at the bar. Scornfully she says: "You're just a god damn Classicist, aren't you?" As sharply she turns the other way, steps down, and walks out the bar. So that night I am off to my rented rooms singularly.

In the poem I call the professor a tilty titled Don. Still pleased I am with the phrasing. He and his lady would come into the restaurant, I would sit with them, we would chat the literary stuff. For professionals like that I've always been a bit of an exotic pet, or I used to be. They were amused by the idea of a working-class stiff who can talk lit and such. So we get to be friends. One night the couple asks me over to their house for dinner. I am single, more or less, being married but out the door, and so I accept. On the day of the engagement another love interest, a woman from hell, hardest woman I've ever tried to please, comes into the restaurant, pulls me aside, and tells me the professor is a voyeur. And that, as the poem says, his lady the sport. Forewarned, I walk to their home that night.

Scene is classic and again I just can't make this stuff up. Dinner and wine and still the lit chit chat. After dinner liquers. The prof then wanting to show me the prints on his walls leading down the hall. Lots of French Fin de Siecle stuff, mostly Symbolist as I recall. Lots of nudes and a whole lot of libido charge going on. We make it to the prints in the bedroom. And I am finally sitting on the edge of their bed.

The ancient Irish say that once in a lifetime a hero has the strength for what they call the heroic salmon leap. A leap, a turn, a movement that enables him to vanquish all his enemies on the field of battle. I think I had mine that night. Atmosphere is heavy in that room. Prof leaning into the space. Girlfriend knowing what is to come and maybe a little uncomfortable. I remember James Joyce. I turn to the prof and say something like: 'You know that famous Joyce sentence, right?' He looks at me quizically or like a deer looking into the headlamps of an oncoming car. I repeat the sentence verbatim. "The supreme question of a work of art is: from how deep a life does it spring." The don goes ballistic, damn near frothing at the mouth and screams: "You are a Romantic. A !@#$ Romantic." The moment is lost. Girlfriend removes herself to clean up in the kitchen. I am excused.

The story should end here. It's got good symmetry. But true stories are rarely symmetrical. And this one, chanced upon in a novel, would go down as artificial and contrived.

Not long after that dinner date night I've closed the restaurant down again. Books balanced, doors locked, deposit made. It's early enough and so I decide to go to a disco bar. Ah yes. The decade of disco bars, which I guess still makes me a seventies kind of guy. Ladies and gentlemen I swear on everything I know is holy, including my mother's sandals and her mother's death by poisoning (slight embellighment there) but who should be looking to dance that night under the strobe lights but my Italian beauty. And she smiles when she sees me. And I ask her for a dance. And we dance. Whoa! Just whoa! I am about to enter the hortus conclusus, but not quite there yet. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, I am surrounded by a gaggle of boy-man, RISD students, clearly gay. Seriously, patently, certifiably gay. It seems my Italian beauty was there that night on a date with a gay guy. At the expense of getting charged with PC misdemeanor, in those years there was a phenomenon known as the fag hag. A dynamic I still don't get. Her man had come over with his confederates to take ownership of his property for the night. It was his right after all. She was his date. In Medieval France there was this legal concept called the Droit de Seignur, the lord's right. It meant that any lord of his serfs could exercise a certain right over serfs who married and the first night with the woman was his...by right. Anyway, my Italian beauty walked off with her lord. Rather passively as I recall. And I was too bloody amused by the scene to protest or challenge my lord. So I left, walked the streets home, shaking my head over the course of events of that week.

I kind of end the poem with that old Dobi Gray song line. "Oh just give me the beat boys and free my soul. I want to get lost in your rock n roll and drift away." What I meant to highlight is that a more natural way of proceeding might be a nice change from how unnatural things can be.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Jul/25/2010, 11:14 pm
Jul/25/2010, 5:30 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Man or Mouse


Thinking about the narrative while doing housework. Chris pointed out that my stories tend to implicate the narrator along with his subjects. She is right. I frankly find the narrator more implicated, certainly more compromised, than any of the other characters. If I ever turn back to writing novels and short stories this is how to go. This would be my antidote to the post-modernist desire to kill off the author entirely which, really, is just another way of gaining for the N a priveliged, observer-like position, which is a falsenesss. In life we are all compromised, all implicated in the crimes committed. Stendhal was right. The only antidote to the death of poetry is complete sincerity.

Tere
Jul/25/2010, 6:21 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
mlle Profile
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Re: Man or Mouse


it might be not-helpful-as-you-intended or weird-- or maybe why the hell not?!-- but you have so expertly described the cloud of associations and the flickering bright points in a formed/unformed sense of a full poem to come-- that i feel like i could write this, a draft of this poem. i could write what i'd guess is the-poem-to come from this shared material. i don't know if this would help, to show you where my mind rested, or found "resting points" in the lovely spiral staircase of this night/week of moments, but it's so vivid and it's so rare that other poets share their swirling sense of fodder so expertly that i am totally blown away that i am confident in the exquisite building material you have here.

i haven't commented in this workshop space yet, so apologies if it's not terribly helpful to say so. of course, instead of writing a dummy/mannequin of your-poem i could just write a scaffolding sort of comment on how i'd write it, but where'd the fun be in that? i'm very inspired now, i'm so usually the one interviewing/asking people stories to "ghost write" their love poems, rarely is the others' memories offered by a poetic mind with the future-poem in mind. i really like this board! best, jojo
Aug/1/2010, 11:15 am Link to this post Send Email to mlle   Send PM to mlle
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Man or Mouse


jojo, I hope it is okay to say but you, new friend, are a sheer delight. I am loving how you express yourself and how you think. So much exuberance. You remind me of the women characters of one of my favorite authors, Colette, all of whom I figure reflect the real woman's delight in being alive, even when it is a case of dancing through the gloom.

I would be tickled to see what you could make, in a poem, out of the raw material. It might even be instructive to see what someone else sees in the story. If you want we could make a game of it, one everyone else could play in too. Make your poem(s), then I'll show mine. That could be a fun game, ne's pas?

I like all of the board's fora. But Field Notes, I confess, is my favorite child. It has so much latitude, which is what I figure writers need the most. Just the room in which to stretch. Feel free to play here sometime. The rules are few. The biggest rule is unspoken: have fun.

I am glad you take to the board. She is an easy place, in large measure because of everyone who takes up with her.

Tere
Aug/1/2010, 1:57 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Man or Mouse


Tere,

Man or Mouse, "god damn Classicist" or "!@#$ Romantic." haha! Too funny. As I was reading your piece, I kept thinking about a line from Shakespeare that Sexton used as both a poem and book title: "All My Pretty Ones." It occurs to me that you could write a series of poems/prose pieces about all your pretty ones, the ones you knew, didn't get to know and wanted to know better.

Been reflecting on this comment since I read it yesterday:

"Thinking about the narrative while doing housework. Chris pointed out that my stories tend to implicate the narrator along with his subjects. She is right. I frankly find the narrator more implicated, certainly more compromised, than any of the other characters. If I ever turn back to writing novels and short stories this is how to go. This would be my antidote to the post-modernist desire to kill off the author entirely which, really, is just another way of gaining for the N a priveliged, observer-like position, which is a falsenesss. In life we are all compromised, all implicated in the crimes committed. Stendhal was right. The only antidote to the death of poetry is complete sincerity."

Came across "Poetry Hot and Cold," a review by Calvin Bedient, this morning that put me in mind of what you said:

http://bostonreview.net/BR35.4/bedient.php

Here's the Poetry Foundations write-up about the review:

Presence and absence in the Boston Review

Calvin Bedient of the Boston Review juxtaposes Myung Mi Kim’s Penury with Hickman edited by Stephen Motika to illustrate how neither the sparse poem nor the excessive one does justice to emotions and images. In a review aptly titled “Hot and Cold” he explains how one poet floods the page, while the other seems to disappear from it.

Bendient compares Myung’s sense of containment and minimalist use of language is “world poverty,” noting that she sketches instead of paints her poems:

Is she protecting herself from emotion? From sentimentality? From vulgarity, certainly—she would hurry by without leaving her interested fingerprints on everything. Penury has remarkable distinction of bearing, plenty of delicate subtlety, and vast sums of covert intelligence. Kim is one of our better poets; this has been recognized for some time. And Penury is ever so much finer than the usual somewhat chatty new book of poems. But it may have too much dignity, too much composure (as opposed to composition) for its own good. Like the subjected peoples it implicates, it lacks force. It has neither emotional persuasion nor analytical bite. Crafted as a sort of kit made of numerous tiny kits that the reader’s imagination can go to work on, it comes across as intellectually, affectively, and politically passive . . .

Hickman, on the other hand, is somewhat of hot mess. His poems are raw and intense, yes, but here Bedient explains why sometimes less is more when it comes to the language of emotion:

What is excessive in Hickman’s Tiresias series (less so in his shorter earlier series, evidently dating back to the ’60s—the collection needs a chronology) is, at bottom, the rage of his erotic fantasies, his dreams and descriptions of ontology-busting ecstatic sex with men, a juggernaut of desire that was rather terrible to experience. Hickman felt his rage as half-tragedy, half sacred privilege. On the page, this founding excess fountains up as verbal excess (repetition, multiple modifications, series of present participles, breathless parataxis, hyperbolic diction) and a self-beating drama of accusation and torment. Here is a passage from “Picasso Deathday Night” (also from “Hay River. September 1973”; many of Hickman’s stanzas appear twice in the volume, but this huge overlap is too much to go into) . . .


http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/08/presence-and-absence-in-the-boston-review/

We are all Goldilockses, are we not: too hot, too cool; too hard, too soft. Ah, just right.

Looking forward to seeing your poem as well as Jojo's, if she decides to write one.

Thanks for posting. Much enjoyed.
Aug/4/2010, 9:02 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
mlle Profile
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Re: Man or Mouse


Katlin, your eagerness makes me realize i really should try this out. i often challenge myself to ghost write poem-projects, but rarely do i give them to the inspiree. i very much admire how Laurie replies with her trimmed down versions of people's poems, or the poem's "hot spots" (is how i read it).

ALSO considering i've been walking around with this idea ringing in my poetic ear:
For professionals like that I've always been a bit of an exotic pet, or I used to be. They were amused by the idea of a working-class stiff who can talk lit and such.

i've been walking around stewing as if this was my own poem-to-be, so it must be! i've been trying to think of a phrasing for this moment, in a way that implicates narrator as pet-participant in a not creepy way, just an anthropological thing that happens, with delight? 3+am poetry comments from me, oh boy.

-jojo

Aug/5/2010, 2:30 am Link to this post Send Email to mlle   Send PM to mlle
 
Terreson Profile
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Katfriend, you are a nuanced thinker. Sometimes I have to read your thoughts a couple of times to be reasonably certain of intention. Sometimes also when you express what you are thinking you do so by implication, perhaps the most subtle form of communication and one frequently relied upon by mystical thinkers. Vis a vis the Goldilocks thing can we call it the Goldilocks syndrome or the Goldilocks paradox. I can see it both ways. A syndrome points to a distinctive and characteristic pattern of behavior. A paradox indicates a truism, theoretical or evidentiary, logic cannot explain. I lean towards the latter, since, what constitutes a state of 'just the right amount' cannot be generally, universally quantified. Ain't the same for everybody. I like that you picked up on this aspect of the Classicist/Romantic contrast I frankly had not.

But something else comes to mind about the contrast. So our hero(?) gets perceived as a Classicist by one young and hot blooded Italian-American art student. He is then labeled a Romantic by an intellectual who, to say the least, is discinclined to any private investigation into his predilections. Yet he is the same man housing the same bundle of neurons and synapses, driven by the same set of (what?), of biases and sorting system of information. Same guy judged on the same cusp of time by two different interlocutors, and who, by the way, is of an age somewhere in between young Italian beauty and middle-aged don. What are we to make of this? All I can come to is that old cliche: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Said differently, we are all prisoners of our own biases and sorting systems. When you think about it that is a pretty big deal because so damn limiting, pretty much crossing out the chances of communication between individuals. I remember that week, the week of the story. Fall of 1977. Before I found the humor in the story I felt the sadness. I swear we humans are hard wired to misunderstand each other.

Through FB I've recently re-established contact with an old friend from those years. I don't like what she said some weeks ago, but I get her point. She said I've always been a philosopher first, a poet second. I really do hate that, you know, take it as a crit. But I get her point.

Tere
Aug/5/2010, 6:45 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Man or Mouse


jojo. Forget me. If so inclined, go with the raw data and make it your own. My sense is that a nerve has gotten touched. Lit feeds on lit. Shakespeare proves the point. Few, if any, of his story lines he invented. His genius was running with what he had in hand. And don't forget to have fun.

Tere
Aug/5/2010, 6:57 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Through FB I've recently re-established contact with an old friend from those years. I don't like what she said some weeks ago, but I get her point. She said I've always been a philosopher first, a poet second. I really do hate that, you know, take it as a crit. But I get her point.

Tere,

Again with the binary: philosopher or poet. How about philosopher-poet?

Katlin, your eagerness makes me realize i really should try this out. i often challenge myself to ghost write poem-projects, but rarely do i give them to the inspiree.

Jojo,

Can only say again: If you do ghost-write the poem (great idea), I hope you'll post it.

Aug/15/2010, 7:17 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
MsParataxis Profile
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Note to self: memorize more of Joyce.

(OMG: he showed you his 'etchings?' You may be a Romantic but he is Trite. Game, set, match to you.)
Oct/23/2011, 7:16 pm Link to this post Send Email to MsParataxis   Send PM to MsParataxis
 
Zakzzz5 Profile
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Terreson,
The only think I could think of was how difficult this poem would be to write. Well, no, it wouldn't be difficult if you wrote it in the post-post modernest way where you don't use traditional methods of communication. Well, maybe it would be anyway. See what I mean?

There appear to be at least three story lines in the would-be poem. Thom Jones has written some short stories about academics, sex, drugs. He seems to have disappeared, BTW. He had medical problems last I heard; was writing a book. He disappeared? Many of us have not even "appeared" yet. Hah, hah.

I don't understand this about ghost poems.

Speaking of disappearing, what is the renowned MsParataxis doing these days? Surviving like the rest of us? Much more, I'm sure. It just goes to prove we all can lead fruitful, parallel and disconnected lives in different spheres. Occasionally bouncing off each other. Zak
Oct/28/2011, 6:01 pm Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Man or Mouse


For fun, and because I forgot Kat expressed interest in reading the poem that came out of my tale, here it is. Events described occurred in 1977. Poem came in 1991. It is a narrative poem, looks to tell a story. 2 plus pages in MS.


Sentimental Education

Now here's a rich one from years ago,
back when the beat of disco could spiral in
hearts of darkness, and flesh was a form
burning brightly above the dance floor.
It's about a Saturday night, let's say
and I wasn't working or turning back
the vagrant scholar's page, but in a
bar instead, a low life lover's place
when quietly a lady sat down and
ordered a round for her and me.

Well, she was a painting student she said
and a dark Italian beauty I could see,
her layering long hair, her uptilt face,
and the small of her back to arch her
poised in the balancing act.
A little suprised I was, but not inclined
to raise the dangerous question - Why me?
And so soon we turned to talking about
schools of painting, even about
high poetry and higher ecstatic feeling.
Can't remember exactly what then I said,
something about the even darker, the
enigmatic heart of da Vinci
and how tender he was for
touching upon the mystic body.
But someone or some tutorial must have
told the young student differently, since,
suddenly she turned in scorn and derision
to say I must be a Classicist.
So maybe I said form when the time
was clearly right for saying flesh,
or she not hearing the feeling part
in the haunted mystic's longing to
body forth the passionate perfect.
But soon it was she left for searching
to find some other weekend Turk,
with soon the time for me to leave too
as there was a dinner date to make
with a literature professor and his
para-legal lady.
Oh no, she was legal, his friend,
it was only her job confusing the issue.

So off I'm running and just in time
as Tardy Toms could always make
the good professor schizo.
And I was warned before how he
was a tilty titled Don, a voyeur
said the report and his lady the sport.
Dinner soon progressing, we chatting of things
aesthetic. Pre-Raphaelite posters
on the walls and certainly Symbolists;
what led to the after-dinner liqueurs with
then the tour of art work down the halls.
And finally sitting on the edge of bed
with our compliant hostess standing close by,
soon standing closer, and sooner seeing
there the sadness, right there, in her eyes;
while clearly the clang of libido bell ringing
in our pale professor's cathedral throat, and he
still talking through the novel length stuff.
But there that sudden fin flapping in my
middle heart, what made me start,
what made me remind the authority
while looking up to his voluntary friend
of what the expatriate Irishman
said about art. Its closest property being:
"From how deep a life does it spring?"
Well, I must have affronted his
safest philosophy, and maybe so
as soon he was screaming, yelling, cursing:
"You're Romantic, a !@#$ Romantic!"
But already the compliant lady
down in the kitchen moving spoons
and yours truly asked to go.

Still it was an early night whose early feeling
was for dancing, cresting, spiraling,
even for finding a consenting lady
with whom to twine through a tune or two.
And so it's off to a disco club
where the beat could be an excitable spell
carrying between excitable streets.
And who should stand just inside the door
but the twilight beauty, the artist type,
the early evening's Italian girl.
And so soon we were dancing, so soon
out on the floor, the aspiring rising,
the hot notes gliding as we lost all but
the sensual senseless beneath the strobes,
the sky, heaven's eye.

It seems, however, the dark haired dancer
had forgotten about a thing before
entering in on our close conspiracy.
This being her escort for the evening
who was a gay guy upon whom the duty fell
to call me out for a fight, since,
I'd stolen his girl.
But by then I am too amused, more
closely bemused with trying to determine
said predilections.
After all, what was I anyway?
Man or mouse, Classicist or Romantic,
lover of women, freeholder for men?
And oh just "give me the beat boys
and free my soul, I want to get lost
in your rock n roll and drift away,"
so sweetly drift away to where
someplace where a more natural kind
of perceiving eye leads the band.
So then the fellow with confederates
victoriously marching off with
Beauty by the hand. Yes, leading the
lovely Italian lady loosely by the wrists
as she smiled her smile on her way into
the private galleries of tomorrow.

So then deciding on a late night diner
where a highway ballad or two
was sometimes served, sometimes spewed.
Where students, workers and young Turks
were too tired, drunk and hungry to hold
the accessorized conceits in hand
we mostly need through out the day.
And where an older, a wise waitress
would let her customers in to see
the patterning ways in which we had
too seriously pursued these
Saturday night alleyglory things.
She saying so over her coldest shoulder
to silence the stray rowdy strutting by:
"I know what you are. You're always only men."

There it is. Transmission now complete. I had forgotten about the poem's innards. Hell, it's 20 years old. I had also forgotten about the last strophe, which is also not a product of my imagination. I remember that waitress and her words when she got tired of the drunk boy-men strutting, posturing, cock-sure. Those are almost her exact words. She silenced the diner that late night. And I remember another night when a young man also silenced the diner with reciting the F. Noyes poem, The Highwayman.

Tere
Nov/5/2011, 4:25 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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