Names I Almost Recognize: Montreal, Plateau Mont Royal

One of the errors espoused by contemporary Americans includes the idea that age is just a number, as if time were a psychological, even a spiritual, rather than a physical reality.  But our bodies do age, and time is in our flesh.  The earth revolves around the sun.  Our hair leaps away from our heads.  Our skin sags where before it was drum-tight.  We were once more elastic not only of mind but of body and spirit.  The organ anatomists call the heart and the spiritual organ the rest of us call the heart aren’t composed of two separate substances.  They are one.  One’s pulse quickens the other’s.
from a discarded post called “On Turning Forty” started and abandoned 12/22/2012

*

Like that I was no poet
But what a poet says,
His images: forgetting
The still calm voice
For creation with all
Its faults and flaws

The dark, the light, & in between—
It’s all the soul:
My daughter’s head,
The dirty lot,
Strangers with their strange perfumes,
Names I almost recognize.

*

*

Rue Boyer, Plateau Mont Royale, Monteral, by Max Stablein

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From a Discarded Post II

“So what is the divine?  First, it is in us and not outside of us.  All searching for the divine out there leads to dead ends, unless that searching corresponds to some inner searching.  There are many, many scapes and motions, which correspond perfectly to the appropriate inner conditions from which the divine springs.  However, one might come to find equal success and never step over the threshold of his house into the outer world.  Second, it comes into being and, when we go, it goes.  The divine, to be divine, must be rare and fragile.  Its strength isn’t bodily strength.  Its weakness isn’t bodily weakness.  The most decrepit hermit might be the most spiritually fit, and so may be the child, who dies of some mysterious illness.  Third, it only comes into being by being courted or because of sudden or prolonged trauma.  It is more likely that this divinity comes into being as the result of a combination of circumstance, both inner and outer, and that is why it is so difficult to identify.”
–from a discarded post called “What Is Divinity?” started 11/19/2010

“A Visit,” by Max Stablein

*

That Our Homes Are Images of Our Souls

It’s not true the soul can’t see herself.
On my walks, I count her magnificences:
New siding on the Brodys’ place,
their new pool, and the other neighbors, too,
like Greg, hospitalized but recovering, hopefully,
and his flagpole whose tock tock tock
we can hear two houses down on windy nights.

Mine isn’t a cabin in the woods, the way
I’d wish, but there’s a small garden out front
I barely have the time to tend, not with four children,
six cats, a dog and an ex-wife.  But then,
there’s Shannon.  She makes me forget
the cedar shakes torn away by weather and that dumb
dog.  When she stands out in the side-yard
hanging laundry, the wind bullies her skirt.
And it kills me when, making love, either of us
calls out to the only god we still believe in.

*

This poem is a response to something I read a few weeks ago.  I think it was a line in a John Koethe poem, which I liked very much, but the idea about the soul not finding her image in the world anymore stuck in my throat.  I guess my discomfort relates back to the paragraph above which comes from a years-old post about the divine.  My new book, Small Fires, Little Flames, I understand now, is an attempt to reconcile myself with what might be called the “still small voice.”  It’s a good book, I’m proud of it, and I hope those who read it find something of value in it, but what good is a divinity like that, who advises only?  I reject such a limited capacity for the soul.  Of course, what I’m saying here is difficult to say, to tease out, to define, so forgive me.  But what I’ve been thinking lately is that the soul isn’t so rare a thing only a poet or a prophet can find her.  She is everywhere and everything–even that which we’d disavow.  So while the soul is the sumac an hour before dusk, so, too, is she even the ugliest of Trump’s muggings.  If these things aren’t the soul, they are at least her reflections.  We read her messages or ignore them at our peril.

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From a Discarded Post

“A poet’s first preoccupation has to be with love.  Where ordinary men and women–I don’t mean ordinary in any pejorative sense, but rather in its Latin sense–can afford to submit their lives to chance and do, mostly, fairly well as far as these things go; poets on the other hand, probably from some temperamental urge to meddle, must attempt to draw up to consciousness love’s subtleties.  Yeats’ poem ‘Adam’s Curse’ addresses what the noisy set, those whom the martyrs call the world, think of a poet’s curiosity, and still, he says, when things get difficult, for whom do they reach?  If poetry seems irrelevant to many people, it is because either 1) it asks questions no one wants the answers to, or 2) it doesn’t provide the answers ordinary people need, when they need.  My fear is that more often than not, the latter is the truer of these two causes.”
–from a discarded post called “On Love,” created 08/17/2013

*

Shannon and I are rereading Love in a Time of Cholera.  The only time we have for doing this is when we take trips in the car, running here or there: to the grocery store, to the fair, home from the fair in the dark, when the children are asleep in their car-seats.  She does the reading, and I like hearing her voice articulate the lives and loves of these characters, especially because, we think, that could’ve been us.  We don’t think this in any overly romantic sense.  We just know that not all loves are equal, and that our fates can get confused, thwarted, and so luck plays a greater part in our coming together than we like to admit.  We are lucky, incredibly lucky, and every day is a chance to be reminded of that fact.

“Two Versions of the Same Creature,” Max Stablein

*

I cannot disavow what I don’t understand
Even if it slips right through my hands
A fish I caught in grade school quickens and
Is gone, is going still, is everything
I’ve loved and lost and paraphrased

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This Is Just a Place

for Steve, in memoriam

After you divorced, ten years passed before
We saw each other and,
By that time, ruin found me too
I can’t begin to tell the story

It doesn’t matter now.  Let it suffice
That we were friends
And no one makes friends, thinking:
Someday I’ll watch him go

You left me one last message
Which I haven’t listened to
Save it, some quiet voice tells me,
The one I used to confuse for God’s

“Hows Your Meal,” A Max Stablein Joint

*

After publishing the last post a few days ago, Shannon and I talked about the appropriateness of this particular revision.  Stevens, after the publication of Harmonium and the birth of his daughter, Holly, took a ten-year long hiatus before returning to poetry.  That ten years of silence was as necessary as any writing that had preceded it.  I’ve said on many occasions that I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I believe in the writing process, and a necessary step in that process is silence.  Not all silences are the same.  There is the one after a sudden shock or blow.  There is the pause that comes between thoughts.  There is the silence of having emptied a thing, a room, a house, a neighborhood, a life.  Can you imagine Stevens fretting about writer’s block?  No, if there is something to say, then say it.  If there isn’t, then shut up.  And if your life is taken up with the joys and despairs of living, then, well, what is there to say about that?

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Commonplaces & Other Miracles

Periodically, I revise the direction of this blog.  Given my point of view about revision, and what its aims and objects are, this is a good thing.  And given the magnitude of the changes I’ve experienced in my life these last few years, it’d be impossible to return to a former iteration of this blog.  I couldn’t, for instance, imagine writing one more reflection about poetry’s aim.  At least, not in the way I use to.  Still, I hope the title of the site makes sense, and when people who read these pages return to read these newer posts, they’ll find similar, if not superior, satisfactions.

I can’t quite say what these new posts will look like.  The plan, as of last night, is to include a few lines of new poems-in-progress, a drawing or comic (more on this in a second), and reflections on whatever might be floating around in my heart, my soul, my body, my mind.  I suppose this will lead to a more fragmented reading experience, but that makes sense to me, since I’ve always been interested in the kinds of connections you can discover through fragmentation, but also because the other aspects of my life require so much concentration, attention, etc, that if I’m going to continue writing in any way on a daily basis, the product is going to have to resemble the process much more closely than it has ever before.

Bernadette, Resist

The poems, like I said, will be in-progress.  I’ve committed myself to writing at least three lines a day.  I won’t vouch for the quality of these lines, and I don’t mean to polish or publish them beyond what you’ll see here.  I think of these poems as a return to the beginning, to apprenticeship, or as Bly might say, to the kitchen.  Whatever readings and reflections that accompany these poems will, likewise, be an attempt to return to the beginning.  If you’re asking why, I don’t know what to say beyond a paraphrase of the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  I’m not talking about a mid-life crisis here.  I’m talking about poetic origins.

The comics and drawings will come from the pen and the mind of my son, Max Stablein.  He is one of those big changes I mention above.  When I began this project, that is, this blog, I was childless.  Now I am the father of four children.  Two stepkids, and two infant twins.  Obviously, this fact changes everything.  Fatherhood is the kind of event which doesn’t only change your present and your future, but inevitably changes the past.

“Who can’t spare…”

1
Who can’t spare three lines,
4 or 5 mins, at most,
before the world consumes and fines?

2
That’s what poetry looks like
in Trump’s America:
it’s angry, bloated, forgotten about and white.

3
It loads (and reloads) an assault
rifle in the parking lot,
and dreams of fighting off

4
Democracy’s assailants, i.e.,
a free press, congressmen and congressional aids,
islamists, democrats, republicans, and their lobbyists.

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Presales for Small Fires, Little Flames Coming to an End

June 16th marks Bloomsday AND the end of Presales for Small Fires, Little Flames.  Coincidence?  I think not…

Please, if you’ve considered purchasing a copy of the book, now’s the time to follow through.  Click here, and on August 11th, when the book ships, your delectable copy will ship, too.  Remember all artwork has been provided by Max Stablein.  That’s the Max Stablein. So.  There’s that to consider and reason enough to order multiple copies.

A special book signing, party and extravaganza follows the publication of Small Fires, Little Flames at our place in September.  Interested?  Send me an email, and I’ll make sure you’re on the list.

Here’s another sample poem from Small Fires, Little Flames:

Always the stars are in error,
shining too late and dying before
they can be shaped into truth.

Let my life be like this, too.
And when I die, my children,
the wishing starts. So does the light.

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On Small Fires, Little Flames

Penna_Adam_Small Fires_Little Flames_Coverart

Cover art and author portrait by Max Stablein

I wrote Small Fires, Little Flames while I was writing Talk of Happiness.  In some ways, I see these two books as complementary, so it makes sense that they should come out, more or less, together.  Plus, it suits my sense of, I don’t know, parallelism that Finishing Line, who published my first book, a chapbook called The Love of a Sleeper in 2008, and S4N Books, who published my first full-length collection, the two long sequences, Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji in 2010, should now be repeating that publishing schedule.

The follow-ups to my first two books are different creatures.  And they should be.  When I teach revision, I always end on the essential insight all writers must come to, that is, that ultimately, when we revise, we follow Pound’s dictum, “Make it new,” but what we make new isn’t the text.  What we must make new is ourselves.  This is why Rilke concludes his sonnet on the “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” with the line, “You must change your life,” and Wright ends his “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” with the crucial and happy insight: “I have wasted my life.”

It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t taken literature seriously to know exactly what this means.  Of course, I’d like to think I take literature seriously.  It doesn’t make sense to identify as a poet and not take what you do seriously.  Poetry, as we all know, doesn’t pay except in those intangible and indirect ways, and one of its wages is wisdom.  This is why, the intimation I felt, when I began to write poetry, that poets must be better people, I’ve only amended a little over the years.  Poets aren’t better people than those who don’t write poetry, but a real, true poet must be better than she otherwise would have been without poetry.

The poems in Small Fires, Little Flames are quiet, reflective and, I hope, true.  They are as much of praying as I could then bear.  The thirty poems are meant to be read in a single sitting.  They are meant to suggest a narrative not so much of events but of the development of spiritual principles.  Because of these two characteristics, most of the poems in the collection haven’t been published in magazines or journals.  In fact, I only recall submitting one poem for submission, which then appeared in The Long Islander as “The World at 8 AM.”  That the collection is now being published seems to me an experience akin to miracle.  When I submitted the manuscript to Finishing Line’s chapbook contest, I didn’t expect to win, but I hoped that, seeing the work and recognizing its worthiness, Leah Maines and company might find value in the book and agree to publish it.

What I like about Finishing Line is just this.  They’ll take a chance on a book like Small Fires, Little Flames, that is, they’ll take a chance on a sequence of 30 untitled, very personal and intimate lyrics about God and grief and poetry.  But maybe I underestimate the publishing world.  Maybe there are plenty of other publishers out there, like S4N and Finishing Line, who are so convinced by their poets’ visions that they are prepared to lose money on the deal.  I mean, isn’t that what poets and those who love them are facing?  Poetry, as an art, has the privileged of leading all the other arts into the red, because you can’t serve Mammon and the Lord, as Kit Hathaway used to joke.

Of course, I’d like to sell a few of these books.  I’d like to sell a lot of them.  And already, prepublication sales are coming along nicely.  For those of you who’ve already ordered your copy, I want to thank you for supporting me and my work.  If you haven’t ordered yet, but you want to, you can visit the Finishing Line site here, and place your order.  Then you, too, will get your copy of Small Fires, Little Flames soon after the August 11th, 2017 publication date.   If you’re still on the fence, I offer you this sample poem from the book.  The last image in the poem alludes to Bernini’s famous statue, “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.”

Wish on a shooting star
but to an angel pray.
That prayer is easy.  Say,
I’m here, which means,

I’m ready, and readiness
prepares a heart
to inch up to the precipice
and dive.  The schemes

of scholars and rabbis
amount to this.
Saint Thomas turned
from Aristotle and learned

what reason fails to teach.
What can we do before
glory but kneel?  Or faint
in ecstasy like Saint Teresa?

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