Friday, August 17, 2012

How it Happens

A poetry workshop taught by a friend sounded interesting so I signed up. There were writing exercises that were really hard, but it was a class where you could actually learn how to write a poem, rather than just work on the stuff you were already doing. In the last exercise we were to take from at least three different other artistic media (painting, song, sculpture, story, dance, film, etc.) and incorporate them into a poem that we would write. So I took these:

I sit here thinking I should write in dread of stepping outside the room to find nothing exists.

--David Ignatow

"Dance me to the end of love....."

--Leonard Cohen, "I'm Your Man"

"No names! names!"

---"Last Tango in Paris"

"The crib notes we sneak through time are written in disappearing ink."
--Andre Aciman, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere

We were about to do our final dance.
It involved leaning down, and taking a mouthful of dirt.

I looked at you. You had already begun.

And you were crying.

--Bruce Bennett, "The Final Dance", from Straw into Gold

In the meantime I was doing one of the previous exercises (in which we describe in NON-POETIC prose a thing or two, and then from that take words and make them into a poem. And then the teacher collects a copy of each poem and, anonymously, each student revises it to be given back to the original writer at the next session) with a friend via e.mail. Well, I had spent so much time on the exercise with the friend that I took the revised-by-me poem, which by that time was pretty much all mine, and used it for the exercise in taking from other artists, and turned out a poem called "Dancing for Sleep". And if you would like to see it, I'll send it to you.

"If you can play it, it ain't stealin' " (Dizzy Gillespie)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New chapbook

You can get Itching, itching by clicking here:

Click on "Bookstore" at the top, then fill in "Gilman" in the search box, and enter.


Monday, December 13, 2010

today's list

bliss blouse

eyes twirly

finger saliva

bing cherry

la di da day

dark house

you dumb boxer

swooning bassoon

jampacked arm

solo flight bag

no sugar pants

glimmer pole

ice box bingo

manic movie

fiddle brain

bungled kiss

ripped-out wall

blank eyes

no exit here

mine to keep

slender thread

berry blond

fawning ruffles

driving nude

bells on toes

marzipan swan

clam shack pack

winning loser

dopehead wrinkles

falling over

notime boyfriend

camisole mud

eating plywood

wet blanket makeout

finding the mens room

don't know jack

big ones

apple fool

brink of heaven

no salt window

funny bunny

ground bread

spraycan blue

candy horse

whisper train

pollen sieve

buckram bound

rainy plink

towhead sun

Thanks, Lucy!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

When your letter came

I reached for a knife, my apartment so muggy I had to struggle for space in the air. Moisture bickering with skin and cloth all night had kept me awake, and now my legs were stuck to the chair, the soles of my feet to the tacky wood floor. Perspiration's insatiable quest for purchase in armpits, back of my knees, all down inside my shirt was ongoing. I'd woken to its sense of humor which included a sheen the entire length of my body, the sheets underneath a swamp, twisted and damp from my efforts to woo elusive Morpheus all night in a moon-filled room.

Slitting open the envelope, I read that your lemon trees had been plucked by thieves in the night. Alas, I knew how much you looked forward to those lemons each summer, the tartness just sweet enough to be eaten right off the tree. I was glad to hear you were fine with the theft of lemons just at their peak, but the sun garden view of life portrayed in lines squiggled across the pages, my vision blurred with sleeplessness. On my way to the desk to write back I stumbled in the murk of residual tiredness. Already daybreak's gradual light brought with it a breath-sucking humidity, my flip-flops clacked stickily against bare soles, and outside the cicadas had set up a hissy rhythm with their tiny backleg maracas.

Struggling into an already dank tank top and shorts, awash in sweat like a murderer lying to cops, I went out hoping no one else in the neighborhood was up, and walked the streets until breakfast despite rivulets zigzagging my skin and sogging my clothes. And as I walked I planned a response to you there on the west coast laid out in your hammock and hat with nothing but hands grasping breeze. I wanted to say how much I missed you in this heat, how the days seemed to fold up into pockets of lethargy followed by bursts of cleaning. How your handwriting's a lot like his.

Later on, I squirmed in my chair at the desk,writing, skirt adhered to varnished wood, and suddenly he was there. Like those whispery sounds heard in closets, the flashes in peripheral vision as I round a corner, faint muttering late at night. His passing leaves a little phumpf on edges and corners, that glows in the dark, that makes me fill up and strangle with grief for nothing. For awhile I used to arrange little tableaux of things left behind, a ring or wisp of scent, his comb with one broken tooth .too good to toss. Then I noticed the times with him I remembered had begun to take on new significance, to take up room, to solidify. I was reluctant to embrace such a loss of broad memory, and so on my knees in that big closet off the front room, I systematically went through boxes, picture frames, packets of letters, old clothes, and whatnot, pulling out every last scrap. I boxed them up for the trash, and carried them into the front hall.

Then tore up the letter to you, and began again. And hoped the reply I wanted would float in through the screen on the air of predawn streets, and that by the time this saline wash now blooming from my every pore, this flushing and frizzing and prickling, subsided the words would've written themselves into a proper reply. Because my insomnia-battered muscles and aching head were just not up to the task of connecting the dots for you, reminiscing over days in the past when we had all the time in the world for distance like this.


Monday, April 19, 2010

The Elusive Potato Salad


Monday, December 21, 2009

To my brother, who left without saying goodbye

What did it sound like when you fell? How loud the thud that reverberated off the gym walls all the rest of that night must have been. When you hit the floor, already dead they said, the force broke your nose, spattered blood across your face and soaked your mustache.

In the hospital, your throat was still warm, but no amount of rubbing could warm your feet again. Your face was burdened with a bunch of stuff they used to try to revive you, but you, winsome imp, flash in the fire, fleet-footed brother of my heart, were gone.

What were you thinking when that stuttering heartbeat took your breath away, and started to take you down? The second they said you might've had to suffer before falling so fast you didn't try to catch yourself. Did you have time to bid your life farewell or even wince? Did you have a second's lucid shock?

When our "baby" brother called, I cursed unblinking death for taking you so outrageously. Then hung up and tore the phone out of the wall, opened the kitchen window and hurled it into the yard.

You were my polestar, my confidant, friend of a lifetime. I never had to speak the love you knew was there. And you always knew without a word the whimsy and the humor in my mind. How interested and wide-eyed as a child you went at life. How passionately you advised, and coached, and taught, and listened. I never got around to sending that poem draft you asked to see. I thought there'd be time at Christmas. I thought there would still be time.

What I wouldn't give now for one more hour of you.


Friday, May 29, 2009


On Sunday, the Gallows Hill Writers presented a reading at a new restaurant in town. One of them was so nervous she didn't notice her own parents in the front row. We all tried to reassure her, but in the end, it was the performance itself that worked.

You get up on that stage and hope there's light on your page (and not in your eyes), and if there's some kind of lectern...all the better. I usually wear glasses too, even though I've printed out the poems in large type. Before I start I spend a few minutes looking out at the people in the room. Once I'm reading, the poems take on a life of their own, pulling the audience along with them.

I move with my voice, speaking at the rate of my heartbeat, and hope that the poems draw enough attention that I slip through the half hour unmarked. I've known musicians all my life, and many have said they play to meet people, to speak without being interrupted.

And for protection. The swirl of lines that permeates the air in the room protects you from small talk's awkwardness. People can start right in asking me what the hell a boletto is, or how I ever thought of licking a horsefly off my arm while clinging to a galloping mare. I'm spared the whattayadoforadayjob and have-you-been-here-long preliminaries. We can get right down to chasing after sound. I thrive on the anonymity of rhythm and riff that sparkles through conversation, the humor that warms it, the undertow of knowing .enriched with syllables of pure joy.

And I'm glad to meet you. I could listen to your juicy iambs all night long.