samedi 14 mars 2009


I blogged a few days ago about Mystery, So Long, a collection of poems by Stephen Dobyns. I wrote at the beginning of that post that it was a few years ago I discovered I could like poetry.

As I wrote it, I wondered. How did I make that discovery? At first I couldn’t remember how the shift happened, until I looked at my bookshelf and saw the first poetry book I ever bought. From there I was able to go back, memory by memory, to the original spark.

It was a movie that did it. Or rather, the music in that movie. You saw The Piano? The main song theme, the one that goes naa na-naa, NA naa na-naa -- y’all remember now, don’t you?? ;-) About that song: I couldn’t get the melody out of my head, so when my aunt bought the soundtrack, I copied the song (on a cassette – this was 15 years ago, remember) and saw it was titled “The heart asks pleasure first”. I was struck by how beautiful it sounded. I was a teenager back then and was probably regurgitating De Musset and Baudelaire at school, and it did not connect at all that the line was poetic. But it stuck in my mind, and every time I heard the piano piece, I thought the heart asks pleasure first and the sound the words made together thrilled me. That was dot 1.

Dot 2 happened years later, in university. I had a course on American Literature, and one class was about poetry (Walt Whitman, which I didn’t read). In class the teacher quickly went through others American Poets and he mentioned Emily Dickinson. He said how she wrote her whole life but almost never published, and only at her death did they find poems stuffed everywhere in her house. The anecdote was so terminally poet-like, it grabbed my attention.

It was in a used bookstore that dots 1 and 2 connected. It was a very atmospheric book store with books piled everywhere and alleys so narrow you had to circulate sideways between the bookcases; the owner kept a lot of cats too so there was always one disappearing behind piles of books or sleeping in a basket. I was going crab-like in an alley trying not to step on any cat when the name Emily Dickinson caught my eyes. Because I remembered her from my American Lit class I took the book to shuffle through it and there it jumped at me:

The Heart asks Pleasure – first
And then – Excuse from Pain –
And then – those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering –

And thus, I discovered I like poetry.

mercredi 11 mars 2009

Mystery, So Long

Like everyone, I had a few poems shoved down my throat in high school. Personally, I didn’t take to it.

It was some years ago that I discovered I could like poetry. Because a lot of people haven’t made that discovery yet, poetry volumes don’t sell at their regular price of 25$~36$, and there’s a whole section at my bookstore where poetry books come dirt cheap when it’s time to liquidate the stocks. This is where I get most of the poetry I read... I’m too new at it to be comfortable buying them full price because most of the time, when I buy poetry, I’ve no idea what I’m getting into.

My latest dirt cheap pick-up was Mystery, So Long by Stephen Dobyns, and, hum, I’m relieved it was dirt cheap.

Mystery, So Long does not feel like poetry. The words fit, but it’s more like a narrative cut up into three-lined paragraphs, with clunky metaphors and simplistic morals. There’s an avalanche of words and detailed descriptions, but no meat to digest. When I’m done with a poem, there’s nothing to think about.

It would still be okay if not for the unforgivable sin: the poems (short short stories?) are boring. And the fascination with the physical functions – peeing, crapping, sexing – really got on my nerves. It’s like Stephen Dobyns never got over thinking with his bowels. I’m only through half the book but after 36 poems, I’m very ready to move on.

lundi 9 mars 2009

People watching

I love people-watching.

People do feel it when someone is staring at them, every time I get too caught up in watching, always the person would turn and look at me. They don’t just raise their eyes, look around and come across my gaze; no, they look up and bam! they’re on to me straight away. The cliché is true, a stare weights.

...or so I thought, until I noticed myself automatically glancing at persons whose faces were turned my way, and concluded our brains were wired for it: oh, there’s this pale blob at the edge of my vision, may be a face looking my way, let’s look, and the eyes obey and 19 times out of 20 there’s a person and that person’s face is turned your way but s/he is not looking at you. And on the 20th time, there's that embarrased jolt that comes with meeting a stranger's eyes full on.

I like to look at people, but to have them look back at me is another matter entirely, so I developed this technique of quick glances. I figured I was okay as long as I didn’t trigger the face-looking-my-way reflex, so I pretend to look around when all the while I’m staring at what I’m interested in.

But since my glasses broke, I keep crossing glance with everyone. It’s much easier to hide a shifty gaze behind glasses, I discovered when I did not have the glasses anymore. That must be why I feel bolder when I wear contacts ---> it’s a side-effect, a survival adaptation to not having a partition between me and the world.

Now, I have to develop a new technique for people-watching. Squint maybe. Or glances from the corner of my eyes (blergh, I hate that expression). Or wear sunglasses the whole day long.