• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Although My Eyes Were Open They Might Just As Well Been Closed

Why are poets such a-holes, you might ask. Is it their power with language, is it their widow’s peak streaked with white, is it their penetrating gaze or the way they pronounce poem  pome? HOw about the way they read their own work? It’s like watching someone masturbate in slow motion. God, it’s gross. I used to love poetry readings, soaking up the beret life, drinking the warm Chardonnay. I fucking hate Chardonnay. And for some damn reason when I tell a waiter that I would like white wine, they always ask if I’d like Chardonnay. Is there something about me that screams Chardonnay? Why can’t  they ask if I’d like a Pinot? A Sancerre? Another thing, poets think they’re better than other people.

WHen I was little, maybe eight, my mother and I were driving by a corn field, newly covered in snow. The dried stalks were sticking up through the snow. I said the field looked liked a man’s stubbly beard. My mother said that I had made a simile. Then she explained what a simile was.

Maybe it’s because of the white space, or the pressure not to rhyme, or the fear of anonymity, of reaching for something that isn’t there like a branch or a stalk or dying on the Spanish Steps or near the Spanish steps, your body covered in boils, your lips cracked. Or dying under a dream of morphine and regret, a hospice nurse as nice as pie, generous with ample hips. If you can read this, you are my love. My line break.

59 Responses

  1. I don’t always get you, but it doesn’t matter…I get you on a subconscious level and todays writing is poetry and perfect…maybe it is the guertzmeiner but no matter…i read all you write and yes i bought the book…Forest/Trees and am absorbing it happily…merci…

  2. I love poetry but I don’t get poetry. Or to be more accurate the stuff I get is so obvious and horrible a child could understand it.

    The poems I don’t get, are so beautiful, the choice of word, the spaces, that I want to get inside of them, but I don’t have the key.

    My husband is one of those people who get poetry. I know this not because he tells me but because of the calm, the focus, the something, that he is able to read the poems (well that and the amount of poetry subscriptions we get each month). We went to see W.S. Merwin read when he was in Chicago. Seeing him read was the only time I got it. At least as much as I get anything.

  3. Ha! For you, dahlink!

  4. Somebody had to say it. If you’re not Seamus Heaney, nobody wants to listen to your poetry. Masochists want to listen to poetry. I think it’s because a lot of poetry is embarrassingly awful. I can’t drag my spouse to a poetry reading because he knows in advance it will be awful. I have heard Jim Tate in good health and that was entertaining. Now that he’s in poor health it’s a bit less entertaining. So a lot depends on the poet’s physical condition.

  5. If literature could be likened to one of those handmade snowflakes: a complicatedly folded up square of paper snipped into amazing shapes, poetry would be the negative spaces.

  6. I wouldn’t say that I am enlightened. And I certainly don’t think I’m any more sensitive than most other people.

    But I can sincerely say, that when it comes to poetry, I honestly do try to keep an open mind.

    If a woman I’m hoping to sleep with likes it, then, god damn it, so do I!

    • My husband was explaining the deep, pensive, overwrought university boy carrying Neruda to me the other night.

      I looked and sure enough two of his poetry books on the shelves. I brought them over to him and said, “So, mysterious poetry boy, did it work?”

      “Alas, not for me.”


      • Lyra,

        Thank you for sharing your husband’s tragic, but sadly, all-too-common, collegiate experience.

        What he endured is a perfect illustration of how, for far too long, America’s college administrators have been been seemingly hellbent on crushing the confidence of our nation’s young people.

        Through their obsessive and singular focus on stimulating young minds, these college administrators have utterly abandoned their students’ bodies.

        Yes! Johnny can read!

        But can he get laid?

        Lyra, I know for a fact that had your husband’s college made the effort to employ even a solitary “Physical Needs and Urge Exploration” counselor, his university experience wouldn’t have been nearly so tragic.

        A PNUE advisor could have told him that Rimbaud was the route to go if his goals was merely to participate in the occasional separation ceremony of a sorority girl from her panties.

        Your future husband would have been further advised to carry the Neruda in his backpack, but to only pull it out during an MFA emergency.

        Depending on the decade he attended college, your husband could have avoided the hassle of lugging around all those extra books, and increased his chances at getting lucky, had he just carried my generation’s version of the Kindle — a half gram or so of coke stored in an airtight vial.

        Anyway, Lyra. Thanks for sharing the story. I think I’ll softly chuckle, shake my head, and twinkle my eyes every time I stop and think of him trying to use Neruda on undergrads.

        It’s audacious!

        But senseless, too…. An PNUE advisor would have spared him many a frustrating night spent reacquainting himself with himself.

  7. Fuck poetry. I like soccer.

  8. Almost all poetry sucks. It is unbearable. But the poetry you like is so face-slappingly moving that you keep looking for it, like your next favorite song, or a kabob cooked so perfectly that you have to weep just a little.

  9. Fie! Unfair! Using poetry to condemn poets! (Yet another breath-taking post.)

  10. Poets could bring a little something to the party besides themselves. Clam dip, for instance, is always appreciated.

  11. I like poetry. I like limericks and haiku, free verse and sonnets, doggerel and the backfiring scam of Spectrism. Rap, lyrics, jingles, and filk. Langston Hughes, Shel Silverstein, Adrienne Rich. A certain man from Nantucket.

    I just do.

  12. funny funny funny still falling off my chair laughing in slow mo FUNniest line I ‘ve read in a very very very long time …

  13. A death as soft as the sky after a morning rain, gray skies gone to seed, dropping spring into the earth.
    I can’t say that April is the cruelest month, although my father’s 2nd wife killed herself one long ago Easter morning. Now my daughter hunts for colored eggs hidden in all the obvious places. What this all has to do with the resurrection of Christ, I have no idea. It’s the most pagan(and perhaps most accurate) of Christian holidays, celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Is the Easter bunny a goofy imitation of Jesus?
    It’s rare when I miss the rain.

  14. When I’m reading a poem to my middle school students, and a kid – just one, that’s all it takes – feels something, and I can see it in her face, it’s just…sigh. It’s magical. I fall in love with the poem all over again, as if it’s the first time I’m hearing it. It’s like re-experiencing Santa through your kid, it’s all new again. That’s what I love about poetry.

    • Thank you for reading poetry to middle schoolers, Jess. I hope the difference you are making in lives makes up for what is undoubtedly a lack in salary.

      • Thanks, Mary Lynne. You are absolutely right about the salary, but as for the rest of it, I feel as if I am getting away with something, I love it so much, even after 13 years….

  15. I’ve always felt that poets and their offerings must be handled with care for their declarations come directly from the heart. Dismissing them with a wave of your hand is cruel and unusual.

    • It may be cruel, but it’s hardly unusual.

      In fact, I’d say it is closer to the norm. If anything, I’d bet most poets would welcome being dismissed with mere waves of the hand.

      It has to be preferable to the general public’s more typical reaction: savage beatings and impromptu colostomies.

      Look, the people NEED an outlet to let off steam. It helps us redirect our bitterness off of ourselves and the fact that our government is a corporate entity elsewhere, and then transform our resentment into anger which is then refocused on to an easy target.

      Let’s be honest. Poets are the new mimes.

      Hell, most of us would have been happy to keep targeting the mimes, but they just up and disappeared!

      MSB, it would be lovely to think we could just dismiss poets in the gentle way that you’re suggesting, but we can’t.


      For the same reason that no child has ever gotten candy from a pinata with the mere wave of the hand.

      • My use of “unusual” was to imply that it goes against the nature of humanity. Whether you want to believe it or not, every child is born good. It’s the fucked up parent that raises him to go out and kill someone.

        Just ’cause the crowd is throwing stones, doesn’t mean you have to join in. Dismiss poets? Target mimes? How’s that working for you? Whatever happened to different strokes for different folks? It’s called respect. More people should have it.

        You need to let off steam? Go swim some laps. Believe me, you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself.

      • MSB,

        To a certain degree, I agree with you, but it is just that the chlorine in pool water bothers my eyes. I’ve tried goggles, but they fog up too easily.

        Chasing poets is good exercise, too. By the end of National Poetry Month, my butt should be as about as firm and beautiful (depending on the beholder’s vision) as two balls of titanium — the size of fully ripened California honeydew melons — that have been buffed and polished to a charlie-esque sheen.

      • You’re concentrating on the wrong body part, my friend. It’s your brain that’s begging for attention. My parting words on the subject? Forget swimming. Get thee to an ashram.

  16. The main problem with the po-biz is that you have to make a mountain out of a feather. But I’m all for the big white spaces between the words. Say little, but say it well.

  17. I think the question is why are some a-holes poets ? And why, Betsy, can you so comfortably spell out ‘fucking’ and ‘pussy’ in your awesome blogs but not ‘asshole’ ? Is it a secret inhibition (unlikely) or are you just not ready to fully commit to calling them assholes ?

    The Chardonnay thing, like many of the puzzles in life, is all marketing. It just sounds cool. It reminds of the chilean seabass thing. Why you might ask ? Well there is no such thing as the chilean seabass in fish taxonomy. The actual name is a patagonian toothfish. The fish marketing people however determined that this was a tough name to sell – rightfully so. And the chilean seabass was born. Me, I prefer a pinot with my toothfish. But maybe I’m just an a-hole.

  18. It’s the earnestness, the earnest earnestness of it all that we hate.

    • Or the lack of music.

      An agnostic poem about a guy reading a hotel room Bible wouldn’t get much traction, without Chris Cornell to jerk it off for us.

    • What is so wrong with earnestness? Jimi Hendrix was earnest with his guitar. Earnestness is the common denominator of all creative souls. Or are you too busy being cynical and clever to be earnest?

      • That’s exactly my point. We embrace this kind of passion from musicians, actors, filmmakers, but for some reason we’ve decided it’s unacceptable from writers. It’s a pity.

  19. Oh, I do like poetry. I also prefer beer.

    Some readings are a bit Mike Myers in “So I Married an Axe Murderer” -ish (Harriet, sweet Harriet…), but…wait — maybe *all* readings should be like that.

  20. I can live without poetry readings — they always feel contrived. The performance embarrasses me and I find myself looking around to see if anyone else is embarrassed, too.

    I do love to read poetry, but give me the old masters. The modern stuff, not so much… (excepting Robinson Jeffers and James Wright).

  21. I love poetry. It helped me through my adolescence more than bad drugs and sweaty teen sex (not that I didn’t try them too.)

    But I agree that a lot of poetry readings are slow-jerk-off hell.

    On the other hand, I’d love to hear you read that last paragraph out loud. I think it’s a rather good poem.

    • Why is slow jerk-off hell?

      • slowhand, if you’d ever spent a night in an Albuquerque Red Lion, sharing your bed with only the refried remnants of a room-service Mexi-platter, watching soft-core porn on a 19″ zenith with the volume turned down low, I doubt that you’d be asking.

  22. The older I get, the more I find out I don’t know. Sigh. And on that very long list is poetry. Oh I can quote a few lines from the verses we memorized in junior high school (“I wandered lonely as a cloud…”). But I have never really spent time with poetry. I am starting to collect some volumes and am going to remedy that. But honestly, I’ll probably always be more comfortable with “There once was a girl from Racine…”

  23. I once had a handsome Italian insurance salesman, sitting on the red paisley hassock in my living room, wearing his stereotypical Loyola Graduate that lives in Elmhurst and has two kids camel’s hair overcoat, uninvited, hence still wearing coat, reciting to me a very long poem that he had written. I could have dealt better with it had he simply made a run on me, like the handsome Italian car saleman did. This entry of yours is kinda poetic, obviously employing subtle irony. I so want to believe that doesn’t mean you are a subtly ironic asshole.

  24. Oh to earn the collective
    lungsquish and palmslap and
    when I fap fap fap pomes.

    Sheesh. How much is a pint of clam dip?

  25. She said, ‘There is no reason
    And the truth is plain to see.’

    I was waiting for you to use a Procol Harum line.

  26. I’m kind of jealous of the eight-year old you’s simile.

  27. “If you can read this, you are my love. My line break.”

    When will Lerner Quotables launch its lines of coffee cups, dinner plates, T-Shirts and greeting cards? When?

  28. Poetry readings are okay so long as the poet doesn’t do The Poet Thing, which has already been well-described here.

    Reading it can be wonderful, though I don’t like much contemporary poetry.

    Writing it has always been soothing and absorbing. I am not a poet, have never identified as such. But I do write poems quickly and easily–if not always, or even often, well.

    Still, when poetry is musical, meaningful yet elliptical, there is nothing quite like it.

  29. I’m doubling up on my comments here—your post before this, make it real: Ain’t that the rub. How do you make art feel real? Now, there’s a rub. But all in all, there’s the rub. Listening to poetry readings is like watching someone masturbate in slow motion: No one, as far as know, has put it better. Reading poetry, is like watching dead people masturbate in slow motion, if you can even begin to get your mind around that one. Yuk. And what is with the line breaks? Is that so I can catch my breath at the dramatic pause? Is that where it gets interesting? For me, that is where I decide that I am glad I will never be forced to have a conversation with that person. But…I…know..something..impotent. I’m sure they do.

    Hey! Spring is a springin’ yo!

  30. I don’t go looking for it. But when I run across it I sometimes enjoy it. Don’t always understand it. But when I do, it’s pure poetry. Heh.

  31. Poetry voice. Shudder.

  32. So easy to scoff at poetry and poets. But can you imagine a life without it (obviously, some of you can…). Yeah, the readings are usually hell in a blender, but you really want to live a life with cynicism and cleverness as your only means of stimulation? (And now I’m restraining myself, barely, from ending my comment with a Rumi quote).

  33. Wallace Steven’s poem about the giant is great.

  34. I’m with Lyra; I don’t get poetry. The minds of poets are like the minds of those who can compose music or do maths. I believe poets are idiot savants. For one brief manic summer, I too understood poetry. I fell madly in love with an alcoholic, drug addicted, drug dealing, vegetarian, and I spent hours each day reading poetry. I understood every poem ever written. But summers end, meds kick-in, and vegetarians are arrested. God bless poets.

    • I don’t know about ‘idiot savant’ but I did have a poetry professor who was an ass — everytime you saw him he reminded you that he (a) went to the Iowa Writers Workshop, and (b) that he used to get high with Allen Ginsberg in an Iowa park. Like those people who never move on from high school or college, only now he’s 60 and the shine has rubbed off.

  35. Poetry doth not an asshole make.
    John Keats told me so himself.

  36. I don’t see myself as one of those port. fMy main argument is that all kinds of poetry has a right to be used again. Cinqain, haiku, villanelle, pantoum, sonnet, blank verse, free ferse, whatever. So, I write all kinds of poetry. Most of it rhymes (you’re kidding!) and most of it is humorous (say it isn’t so). I don’t understand most of today’s poetry. The New York Times wrote today (Sunday) about a lady poetry who wrote such beaufiful poetry, and then committed suicide. I can see why.

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