September 8, 2014

Track my path, unfurling


Pocket knives with
their sick slick sheen
blood-rusty and hot.

Fists clench on cue.

I am the life let loose,

rabbit evading the snare.


idol worship
August 23, 2014

Another month, another reading list. The summer is coming to a close, so I’ve been rushing to get through the last of my leisure reading before classes start next week. As much as I love the challenge of reading philosophy, I will certainly miss being able to dedicate a large portion of my waking hours to immersing myself in fiction and poetry. This month, I’ve been obsessed with a few writers in particular. 

Anne Carson:

Men in the Off Hours

Haruki Murakami:

A Wild Sheep Chase
Norwegian Wood

Jeanette Winterson:

The Passion
Written on the Body

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
The PowerBook

I will continue to read these three authors religiously, Winterson for the intensity of emotion that comes through in her writing and for her wonderfully queer characters, Murakami for his strangeness and disregard for the boundary between fantasy and reality, and Carson for her ability to mix academic scholarship with poetry in genre-defying ways. I know that I will have Carson to turn to when I am challenged to do work in philosophy while continuing to be a poet, and I am glad to have her words as a guide in my future writing endeavors.

If it’s pure, raw feeling you want, though, look no further than Winterson’s writing:

“This is where the story starts. Here, in these long lines of laptop DNA. Here we take your chromosomes, twenty-three pairs, and alter your height, eyes, teeth, sex. This is an invented world. You can be free just for one night.

Take off you clothes. Take off your body. Hang them up behind the door. Tonight we can go deeper than disguise.

It’s only a story, you say. So it is, and the rest of life with it – creation story, love story, horror, crime, the strange story of you and I.

The alphabet of my DNA shapes certain words, but the story is not told. I have to tell it myself.

What is it that I have to tell myself again and again?

That there is always a new beginning, a different end.

I can change the story. I am the story.”

(from The PowerBook)

summer canon
July 15, 2014

When it reaches 100ºF in the afternoon and the only activity that is both free and not sweat-inducing is taking the bus to the public library, it makes sense that one would spend most of the summer reading in the safety of air conditioned rooms. This is exactly what I have been doing. Despite my lack of recent posts, I have been writing, too, though I am hoarding away my new poems until I have made it past the usual all-my-writing-is-terrible phase of the revision process. In lieu, then, of posting anything original, I am very lazily offering up a list of the things I have read this summer so far. I would highly recommend all of them. 

by Anne Carson:  

Glass, Irony and God 
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
Autobiography of Red 

by Jeanette Winterson:

Art Objects
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? 

by Virginia Woolf:

A Room of One’s Own
Mrs. Dalloway

On my desk is also Judith Butler’s Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, which I have been reading only a few pages at a time when I’m in the mood for theory, and I also have a daunting stack of Derrida that I checked out last week in a moment of extreme readerly optimism. I will in all likelihood read 20-30 pages of a random chapter of Writing and Difference before losing my scholarly resolve and switching back to fiction. Woolf’s Orlando and To The Lighthouse are piled underneath Derrida’s essay collections, and they look inviting. In the course of writing this post, I have also put two of Winterson’s novels, The Passion and Written on the Body, on hold through the magic that is online cataloging. Give a bibliophile a library card…  

from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?:  

“I picked up my pile of books for shelving. The library was quiet. It was busy but it was quiet and I thought it must be like this in a monastery where you had company and sympathy but your thoughts were your own. I looked up at the enormous stained-glass window and the beautiful oak staircase. I loved that building.

The librarian was explaining the benefits of the Dewey decimal system to her junior – benefits that extended to every area of life. It was orderly, like the universe. It had logic. It was dependable. Using it allowed a kind of moral uplift, as one’s own chaos was also brought under control.

‘Whenever I am troubled,’ said the librarian, ‘I think about the Dewey decimal system.’

‘Then what happens?’ asked the junior, rather overawed.

‘Then I understand that trouble is just something that has been filed in the wrong place.’”

June 25, 2014

The one and only downside of being included in a print publication is that I can’t easily link to my work online. I’ve wanted to share my poems that have been published in Pages for a while, and so here they are, thanks to my realization that camera phones exist. (On that note, I recently started using instagram. So far, this has primarily involved posting pictures of Austin with artsy filters. Follow me so that I feel validated in this endeavor. As always, my handle is hctrees.)

from Belleville Park Pages 21, Late May 2014

from Belleville Park Pages 21, Late May 2014

from Belleville Park Pages 12, Late November 2013

from Belleville Park Pages 12, Late November 2013

an origami trick
June 13, 2014

In a single omnipotent gesture, I would
fold the map of the earth onto itself,
connecting all disparate points,
the state borders lying on each other,
all the geographic limbs –
peninsulas, archipelagos, valleys –
mingling their longitudinal longings,
latitudes drifting across
oceans, wave
by wave, from parallel to
indelible proximity,
evergreens twining roots
with palms, dawn and dusk
loosing themselves into risings,
fallings, winds
collapsing into their opposites, until
in stillness all the world
faces itself and sleeps
as a single speck,
all closeness closed,
hands clasped,
a brilliant winking spot of
and outside of us,

This poem is in part inspired by Sharon Olds’ “Topography,” which includes the brilliant lines, “my Kansas / burning against your Kansas your Kansas / burning against my Kansas.”  If you aren’t familiar with her work, I’d suggest starting with her 1987 collection, The Gold Cell

Pages 21
May 28, 2014

This is just a quick update to let my followers know that one of my poems is being published in the upcoming issue of Belleville Park Pages! You can pick up Pages 21 in a select group of bookstores in the US and Europe (here is the full list), or you can order it online here. As some of you might remember, I had a poem in Pages 12 last November, and I’m so excited to continue to contribute to this wonderful little publication!

And because I cannot make a post without including poetry suggestions, below is an excerpt from Anne Carson’s Glass, Irony and God. I’m currently staying in LA with a friend who works at Book Soup, a shop in West Hollywood, and because it is a universally acknowledged truth that if you enter a bookshop, you are obligated to buy something, I ended up with this collection of Carson’s poetry.

from “The Glass Essay”

Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is
to watch the year repeat its days.
It is as if I could dip my hand down

into time and scoop up
blue and green lozenges of April heat
a year ago in another country.

I can feel that other day running underneath this one
like an old videotape – here we go fast around the last corner
up the hill to his house, shadows

of limes and roses blowing in the car window
and music spraying from the radio and him
singing and touching my left hand to his lips.

March 24, 2014

I am worried about the children 

who too soon stop believing the lies they are told,

which is to say I am fearful

for my self, alive, limbs still attached,

miraculous unity, symbiosis 

of muscle and mind.

I am stitched together,

threadbare at elbows, knees,

lips and tongue;

pull me and I’ll tear

in all the necessary places.

Cut me loose, watch my self spill

across the altar of virtue and decay.

What a way to live, but tell me,

do you know another means 

of making it from one day to the next?

You, who would live,

memorize the names of the dead

and speak them again into being.

For a moment, feel the privilege

of your heat and terror

while I remind my self 

to breathe, to sleep, to breathe again.

This poem doubles as a party trick
December 30, 2011

Here is a poetry that will fit in palms and purses, back pockets, and cellphone screens here are words that are small enough for busy mouths – you can store them under your tongue and take them out at parties during awkward silent spaces, these practiced bursts of quick profundity – “aren’t the inner workings of my mind magnificent” you are asking without asking, you are saying without saying (you are saying I can be romantic when I need to be, when I need more attention than practicality offers me) because really what is language but communication of unspeakings lying low underneath your whispered syllables (but she believes in the brilliance you borrow from computers, from forgotten book pages and junk journals in dusty libraries) and you gather grains of verbal wonderings and visions that you are blind to though you speak them because you know that if you fold them into the fertile ether of the room, fold the butter into the flour, the world will get fat from you and doors (and legs, and lips, and lives) will spread wide to let you in

Here is a poetry for modern man, pill-sized and palatable, a vitamin with breakfast: 100% Daily Value of Arts and Literature (and try our other products – Political Protein Shakes, Current Events Capsules, Computer Science Supplements) and so you swallow it all and the Great American Novel is stirring in your sleeping form as your subconscious laps up books on tape spewed from speakers shoved under pillows and when you awake you can feel a cancer of characters in your vital organs but you cannot remember their names – the players of the plots that unfurl in the darkness of your blacked-out bedroom – you can feel the novel in your fingers, you know it! youknowit! your hands are holding themselves above the keyboard waiting for the clickclacktap of tomorrow’s bestseller, next year’s doorstop, next century’s reconceived classic brought to the big screen

wait for it…wait for it…

Albert Camus and the lyrical
February 27, 2011

The title of my blog is taken from Albert Camus’ novel, The Fall, published in 1956, the year before he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  The narrator of the piece, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, is at one point describing drifting in a boat around the islands of Greece, and stops himself, saying, “Hold on, I, too, am drifting; I am becoming lyrical!  Stop me, cher, I beg you” (97).  Despite this momentary aversion to lyricism, there are many instances in the novel that struck me as lyrical, even, ironically, the narrator’s astonishment at his own lyricism.  I wanted to share some of those instances with the hope of sparking others’ interest in Camus’ writing.

“It always seemed to me that our fellow citizens had two passions: ideas and fornication.” (6)

“Fortunately there is gin, the sole glimmer of light in this darkness.” (12)

“I have never felt comfortable except in lofty places.” (23)

“I never had to learn how to live.” (27)

“I was made to have a body.” (28)

“Something must happen – and that explains most human commitments.  Something must happen, even loveless slavery, even war or death.  Hurray then for funerals!” (37)

“In a general way, I like all islands.  It is easier to dominate them.” (43)

“Ah, this dear old planet!  All is clear now.  We know ourselves; we know of what we are capable.” (45)

“We are all exceptional cases.” (81)

“…modesty helped me to shine, humility to conquer, and virtue to oppress.”  (84)

“I have never been really able to believe that human affairs were serious matters.” (86)

“We are making progress and yet nothing is changing.  It’s not navigation but dreaming.” (97)

“But the keenest of human torments is to be judged without a law.” (117)

“Truth, like light, blinds.  Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.” (120)

“My great idea is that one must forgive the pope.  To begin with, he needs it more than anyone else.  Secondly, that’s that only way to set oneself above him…” (127)

“False judges are held up to the world’s admiration and I alone know the true ones.” (130)

“…the portrait I hold out to my contemporaries becomes a mirror.” (140)

“What can one do to become another? Impossible.” (144)

“It’s too late now.  It will always be too late.  Fortunately!” (147)

(all quotes from: Camus, Albert. The Fall. trans. Justin O’Brien. Vintage International, 1991.)