Archive for the ‘Mutating the Signature’ Category

A Week of Kindness

April 13, 2009 Comments off

What do you see?
A woman falling into water.
What color is the water?
The color of Monday.

A woman falling into water.
She is naked — stark — her hair
the color of Monday.
She, like Ophelia, needs flowers.

She is naked — stark — her hair
nothing like leaves in spring.
She, like Ophelia, needs flowers.
Buds refusing to open

nothing like leaves in spring
Stems on her seashell hat
with buds refusing to open.
Her Fredricks of Hollywood corset

pokes out from under her seashell vest.
The naked water polo was a bust, she said.
Her Fredricks of Hollywood corset —
too much mercury, unwanted guests.

The naked water polo was a bust, she said.
Drowning on Thursday, she scolds the dogs.
Too much mercury, unwanted guests.
Resigned to headaches, like an angel she dives in.

Drowning on Thursday, she scolds the dogs.
Victoria’s Secret hottie wears a clamshell teddy.
Resigned to headaches, like an angel she dives in.
Goldfish swirl around her day-of-the-week panties.

Victoria’s Secret hottie wears a clamshell teddy.
Lace laps at the shores of her hedge fund.
Goldfish swirl around her day-of-the-week panties.
What color is the water? The color of Monday.

by the Long Table Poets: Helen Brandenburg, Richard Garcia, Barbara Hagerty, Kit Loney, Susan Meyers, Deborah Lawson Scott, Katherine Williams, and Joe Zealberg

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Process notes

Richard Garcia writes:
This pantoum was composed at a class one evening at my house. Each student had a page from a collage novel by Max Ernst, A Week of Kindness. We also wrote the pantoum as a kind of exquisite corpse. The paper was folded so each student could only see the preceding stanza. To keep busy while each student worked on their section they were also writing a separate draft of their poem in any style they wished.

326 Miles North

April 11, 2009 Comments off

Poetry Conversations, Part 4 of 4

He washes dishes downtown
and I can see him drown
the forks and spoons
spraying dinner plates
spinning steam like cocoons.

His 17 year old frame
tight knit sinew speaks to muscle
bears the weight of the world’s hustle
built for highs school hallways
literal lightning of broad shoulders
force summer sun comparisons always
shirtless shinings as he subtlety flexes his
brotherly bravado
testing, chest to chest.

I love him.
I love him.
I love him.

Esau demanding that Jacob
put to rest the grudges of youth
snapping the fraternal yards stick
hands soft but quick
refusing to notch my claim against the wall
of family history.

9 years.
9 years between birth and new birth.
He watched as I two stepped first
waiting like shovel
poised over new earth
mitigated mirth
so he too
could shirk the lazy burden of youth
tucked deep into rural reckonings of
blueberry farms, convenience stores
and suburban family dysfunction.

I took flight
for academic ease at seventeen leaving
the day to day of sibling laughter
my eyes already tired from
the weight and heat of home
but he waited
like a crepe paper balloon
hollowed out as elastic dreams
popped and shriveled
spun and swiveled
boyishly battled with unraveled seams.

He waited.

until adolescent hurt
simmered to righteous anger
at the people, places and things
that had made fraudulent claims
about how sons should be raised.

And now
I wait as he waits
watching as taciturn toes
tap and turn towards the tide
the inevitable gravitational pull
towards the feather strong feel of
light and orbiting inertia
standing on the edge of precipices
so ordinary and so dangerous they
shimmer like electrified copper pennies.

I wait as he waits
for some dark night
when adult agility will knock at his window
calling to war
swift strings of real romance and
hands that are ready to heal.

But now
he leans against a full sink
waits without knowing he’s waiting
co-creating, washing dishes downtown
I can see him drown
the forks and spoons
spraying fate in the face
and spinning steam like cocoons.

by Ryan Hoke
Music by Ryan and Andy Anderson, Wild Goose Creative

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Process notes

Andy was especially involved on “326 Miles North” in creating the entire guitar line underneath. (For additional process notes, see Part 1.)

rounding up the seasons

April 10, 2009 Comments off

I want one of those figs stewed in heavy sweet syrup
my mother used to make for winter. you quickly learn

one is enough. served with a glass of water to wash it down.
who still wants “progress”?

uterine wasp’s nest, Fall harvest feels foreign in the city,
obsessed with large,
: it’s metastatic. not cyclic.

such weak mutagens UV rainbow, espresso
summer is a small pithy room we have plastered
with (blank) images.

heterotrophic memory, lined with new walnuts
my father used to crack between rocks and feed to me

forest floor velvet convert lichen:
their advanced agriculture. I need a language
to be able to digest this singularity.

when DNA can’t spell it becomes GMO, grows
Roundup Ready™ into the small vertebrae of Spring.

by Christina Shah and Daniela Elza

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Process notes

Christina and I used to get together to write regularly before she left Vancouver. We wanted to call ourself Burning the Cheese writing group, partly because the coffee shops we wrote in seemed to be burning the cheese all the time. Still we got together. When I saw this call for submissions I thought it would be a great opportunity to really write together.

A good analogy for this process would be that of Cordyceps sinensis, a medicinal mushroom that grows out of a caterpillar. Hence the name, “winter worm, summer grass.” I felt like my part was that of the worm, and Daniela’s was that of the mycelium.  I provided the initial concept, running with the actual Mutating the Signature idea, and Daniela provided the framework.  But this was most definitely a symbiotic (not a parasitic!) relationship.

Most of our collaborating happened over the phone and intermittent emails. We did not seem to haggle much over things, but we kept mishearing words.

Daniela misheard ‘lost’ for ‘wasp’ (3rd stanza) and we kind of liked how that sounded — and played with and laughed with it.  So it would be ‘uterine lost nest’s’ which Daniela thought sounded quite cozy.

When I read Christina’s work, there is always something I have to look up, so at one point I told her I feel I need to take a language course to work with her. She tries to pack so much. So I spend some time unpacking.

Yes, Daniela compared working with me and my tendencies toward density to stewed figs in heavy syrup.

And the figs, and the language and the lost nest made it into the poem one way or another, on the lexical or idea level.

Beets and Lint

April 9, 2009 Comments off

Not being able to think how
the beets made her feel
was just as good as the
lint question in her back pocket
that fanned out all the multistriped
buttons falling on her shoes
in the slots where pancakes roll
when the lights turn off
and the springs of the young heels
quiver in the dark

by Stacey Allam and John M. Bennett

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For process notes, see “Jaw Plants.”

Visions of Lamb Cooked in Slight Brine

April 8, 2009 5 comments

The orange rings of the heating element should have been comforting: they were not.

There are flies here. And the smell of my hair as it burns.

On the phone, my mother. She’s teaching me to soak the lamb in vinegar for two days to remove all taste of lamb.

This isn’t a dream or a fire drill without a fire escape.

The carrots and potatoes change the meat even as the meat changes the carrots and potatoes.

I put on weight to occupy the kitchen in a wifely manner.

On the fridge, a brown note: Rings were invented to survive the fingers that wore them.

It’s about time to turn on Barry Manilow and crack some walnuts, like an adult.

We were a couple — we had a smoke alarm installed in the kitchen to bring us news of imminent death.

I should have been more careful when I dedicated my entire life to your own image.

Downtown, the sad Satanists convention was letting out and the weekend watercolorists were signing up for rooms and privileges.

It didn’t take me long to know I didn’t fit in.

The short bus trip was a miracle and only ten minutes late.

Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but the folk guitar sounds here are clearly outnumbering soothing biblical phrases.

Consider that tree and that sidewalk and pray for some lightning.

Behold: mustard (after the meat).

Who could have thought after these many years our most mundane remarks would outlast our affections.

We communicated almost solely through T-shirts, reading them out loud to each other, to the tune of My Darling Clementine.

Without unhappiness, how do we know we actually exist?

by Arlene Ang and Valerie Fox

Download the MP3 (reading by Arlene Ang and John Vick)

For process notes, see “In retrospect, 1984 made a fine sausage


April 7, 2009 Comments off

Original composition by Jukka-Pekka KervinenDownload the MP3

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by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Jim Leftwich

There were no process notes, apart from Jim’s three dictums in his collaboration with Andrew Topel:

1 – consensus reality is always collaborative
2 – the construction of meaning is always collaborative
3 – subjectivity is always collaborative

faith on the rocks

April 6, 2009 1 comment

She makes a barter with God:
give me one halcyon moment
a last shred of decency
between peaks of undulant pain.

She is a bird fluttering wildly.
What could I trade — kismet?
She is a feckless creature on the forest floor,
and her God is all illusion anyway.
Hands knitted in prayer, she laughs,
her pose misconstrued as belief.
The lines of her fingers trigger memories
of a childhood spent rapt by Jewish ritual,
of mysteries since unmasked, unfiltered.
Now nothing of religion is stimulating, no
stray meaning can find its home here,
where a speckled starling is most exalted.
She pours another gin and tonic, on the rocks,
finds in the glass as much depth as she can handle.
Here is a faith she can count on—
its promise not a particle more than it delivers.

by Sarah R. Bloom and Leslie F. Miller

Download the MP3 (reading by Sarah)

Leslie’s shot (click on image for a larger version):

faith on the rocks

Sarah’s shot (click on image for a larger version):

faith on the rocks

Process notes

This is the first of two poems that Miller and Bloom composed together; the second will appear later in the issue.

Instructions were for each partner:

  1. Ruminate over nice-sounding words, and pick ten of them.
  2. Swap word lists.
  3. Write a line of poetry with any word from the other person’s list.
  4. Return each line with a line using a word from the other person’s list.

Because you will EACH do this, you will have two poems going at the same time; use your partner’s ten words twice, once for each poem, and you will have two 20-line poems at the end. Or, if you find it too confusing, write just one poem, or write a second when you’ve finished the first.

Optional: Shoot photographs to illustrate each poem.

Note: Use the words only once per poem, in any order. Words can be altered for tense, person, and number, if necessary.

Side Note: Sarah started the first poem; Leslie started the second.

Sarah’s Words: speckled   rapt   misconstrued   particle   undulant   stimulating   halcyon   illusion   depth   kismet

Leslie’s Words: trigger   bird   feckless   knitted   barter   shred   tonic   stray   unmasked   faith

Leslie writes:
Sarah and I found this process incredibly daunting, and we challenged some of each other’s lines because they didn’t fit with our vision for the line we’d written. There were serious control issues with both of us. We kept trying to take the reins and steer the poem where we wanted it to go — and it wasn’t where the other wanted to go!

At the end, we tweaked the punctuation and a couple of the articles and small words, added titles, and settled on a final version.

These are poems we could not have written by ourselves. We truly used each other as inspiration.

The Big Angel

April 4, 2009 Comments off


April 3, 2009 1 comment

Eighty-three words leap from their horses. Eighty-three words all lie down, each bearing a sign on their chest. One forgot his hat, one forgot a feather. Not words, but Little Big Horn battle re-enactors at a sushi restaurant. No wonder they were confused — how can a horn be little and big at the same time? A man sitting beside me turned to face me. Can you lower your voice, he said. Surprise, he was my deceased father dressed up as Crazy Horse, that dandy.

There are times a man has to choose between a feather and a bullet. My father told me this. I’ve made a list of all the things he told me that were important, and this is first. Strange as it seems, there are eighty-three things on the list and he died on his eighty-third birthday, eighty-three days after my mother passed. There’s no explanation for this. Yesterday I was dismayed to discover my car is parked eighty-three steps from my front door.

In numerology eighty-three stands for eternity-and-a-half. They say Crazy Horse was late for the battle of Little Big Horn because he kept changing his outfits. Finally he had it right, his cream buckskins with the red and yellow tassels. At the end of each tassel, a crow feather. His braves, who had been waiting impatiently, were relieved to see him come out of his teepee. At that very moment in eternity, my father came out of the bathroom in the sushi restaurant.

When Crazy Horse died, eighty-three braves, in war colors with long headdresses of eagle feathers, danced around his body. The history of eighty-three, written on the back of a sushi menu in downtown Los Angeles is memorized by each sushi chef. That’s what I love about eighty-three, the color, the history. The only other number with a comparable story is one hundred and eleven. Yes, one hundred and eleven. But there is so much heartbreak there it makes me sob to tell.

by Rick Bursky and Richard Garcia

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Process notes

Richard writes:
Rick Bursky and I conceived this in a sushi restaurant. Some of the narrative comes from the local scene and our conversation at the meal. We decided to write alternate prose poem sections containing 83 words each and the word feather. I was intrigued by how seamless the sections were. One of the challenges was sticking to our “rules” but keeping each section fresh. It was fun and we are planning to try it again soon.

Cheap Date

April 2, 2009 Comments off

(Click on image to view at larger size.)

by Dick Freeman and Monica Raymond

Process notes

The drawing proceeds from a new practice I described to Monica, noting, on black paper with white pencil, subjects of interest to me. This becoming an “impromtu,” semiotic document with a supportive, yet fragmented, dialogue leading toward a playful and gratifying result.

We were sitting in the cafe in front of the Harvest Food Coop in Cambridge. Dick told me he had been doing sketches and notes on black paper with a white colored pencil. We were talking about another collaborative project I was involved in, and how that had gotten into a discussion of the relationship between science and poetry. When Dick went to the counter to get us hot chocolate, I wrote E=MC2 on the black page.

He came back and made another move. And so our collaboration continued, taking turns. Dick sometimes erased or blurred his own lines. He told me to feel free to erase his lines as well, but I really didn’t. And I wasn’t so sure I wanted him erasing mine!

The conversation about the relationship between the sciences and the arts and some people’s inferences that these subjects are necessarily in insolvable conflict, impelled me to tell Monica, during pauses from sketching, about my 20-something-year argument with a friend and mentor who had actually passed away quite early in the very respectful discussion. I had imagined most the argument for both of us. My friend’s position had been that “science and technology are destroying the world because, unlike art which puts things together, science takes things apart.” He was in his early 60’s, a highly acclaimed painter and former art reviewer when our discussions began. I was an aesthetically ambitious, 20-something painter with very limited reading experience then. Still, I intuitively inferred that my friend’s belief was inaccurate. After many years of reading and reflection, I concluded that it is neither science nor technology that are destructive, these being only very sophisticated tools. Rather it is arrogance that leads to destruction.

Gradually, we each added words, lines and smudges to the drawings. A happy moment for me was when Dick added little lights to what I thought I had drawn as a claw, turning it into a candelabra. We talked as we drew, about the way the drawing seemed to evoke the feeling of chalk on a blackboard, kids playing around after the professor is gone for the day.

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