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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Problems of Underdevelopment by Nicolas Guillen

Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989)
Problems Of Underdevelopment

Monsieur Dupont calls you uncultured
because you cannot say who was
Victor Hugo’s favorite grandson.

Herr Müller has started to scream
because you do not know (exactly)
the day that Bismarck died.
Mr. Smith,
and Englishman or Yankee, I cannot tell, 
exploded when you write Shell.  
(It seems that you eliminate an l
 and, what is more, pronounce it chel.)

Who is that?
When your turn comes,
tell them to say Huancavelica,
and where the Aconcagua’s found,
and who was Sucre,
and in what spot on the planet
Martí died.

(And Please: have them always speak to you in Spanish.)

   Nicolás Guillén

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Audre Lorde reading in 1979

Audre Lorde reading her poem "Between Ourselves" in October 1979 at the Third World Conference at Howard University the day before the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Audio courtesy of Rainbow History Project archives.

Between Ourselves      Audre Lorde

Once when I walked into a room
my eyes would seek out the one or two black faces
for contact or reassurance or a sign
I was not alone
now walking into rooms full of black faces
that would destroy me for any difference
where shall my eyes look?
Once it was easy to know
who were my people.

If we were stripped of all pretense
to our strength
and our flesh was cut away
the sun would bleach all our bones
as white
as the face of my black mother
was bleached white by gold
or Orishala
and how
does not measure me?
I do not believe
our wants have made all our lies
Under the sun on the shores of Elimina
a black man sold the woman who carried
my grandmother in her belly
he was paid with bright yellow coins
that shone in the evening sun
and in the faces of her sons and daughters.
When I see that brother behind my eyes
his irises are bloodless and without colour
his tongue clicks like yellow coins
tossed up on this shore
where we share the same corner
of an alien and corrupted heaven
and whenever I try to eat
the words
of easy blackness as salvation
I taste the colour
of my grandmother’s first betrayal.

I do not believe
our wants
have made our lies

Monday, February 16, 2015

Philip Levine in Conversation with Grace Cavalieri

Phil Levine by David Shankbone
"It required daily decisions. 
This is what I am going to do."

Philip Levine on The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress from 2011:
Listen to the AUDIO PODCAST (56:33 minutes) Transcript. 
Philip Levine was the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was born in Detroit in 1928, and educated at Wayne State, the University of Iowa, and Stanford University. He is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry, and his honors include the Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Awards, and two National Book Critic Circle Awards. Levine's first book of poems, On the Edge (1963), won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award. Levine's other prizes include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Frank O’Hara Prize and the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, an award of merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award, and the Golden Rose from the New England Poetry Society. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1997, elected as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000, and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.  He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Levine taught Literature and Creative Writing at California State University, Fresno from 1958-1992. In 1970, Levine was chosen Outstanding Professor at the University, and the following year he was chosen Outstanding Professor for the California State University System. He also taught or served as a writer-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley; Vassar College; Vanderbilt University; Princeton University; Tufts University; Columbia University; the University of Houston; New York University; and elsewhere. He divided his time between Fresno, California, and Brooklyn, New York.

Thursday, February 21, 2013



My friend and brother in art, Dan Vera, tagged me for The Next Big Thing project that’s currently making the rounds on writers’ blogs, websites and other posting places.  I tried to trace back who tagged who but only got as far back as last August. Does anyone know where this all started, or how many people have participated? In any case, my thanks goes out to, most especially, Mr. Dan Vera, but also to Maggie Smith, Catherin Pierce, Katherine Reigl, Adriana Paramo, Sonya Huber, Laura Valeri, Emma Bolden, Luisa Igloria, Marianne Villanueva, Seni Seneviratne , Maya Chowdhry, Michelle Green, Maria Roberts, Michele Gorman, Clodagh Murphy, Keris Stainton, Rowan Coleman, Debbie Viggiano, Wendy Loveday, Anneli Purchase, Sheryl Browne, and Mandy Baggot.  I would not be here without you. 

What is The Next Big Thing? It’s a rolling project where writers interview themselves about an upcoming project and then tag other writers who have work coming out soon then interview themselves a week later (my tags are at the bottom).

Q: What is the working title of your manuscript/book?

A: The working and final title of the book is Pachinko Mouth.

Q: What genre does it fall under?

A: It’s a book of poetry.

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?

A: Well, I had these small groups of poems, and was trying to figure out how they might fit together. They weren’t conceived as part of a larger whole, but I was looking for a thread through them. Then, after I had written six pieces called Pachinko Mouth [Pachinko is a popular gambling pastime in Japan. A pachinko machine is a cross between a slot machine and a pinball machine], it just seemed sort of obvious that they were a frame for some of these other poems. Each of the pieces seemed related to a particular bunch of other poems. Since the poems play around with words and thoughts and rhythms, the idea for the book came from thinking about games. A group of poems might be like a game, both for the writer and reader.  There are, of course, rules that frame what the game is and how it is played, but it’s axiomatic that you can’t know the exact outcome of any particular game ahead of time or exactly what path will be taken to get there.

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A: Pachinko Mouth is a thing, object, a Galton Box, a beehive, a dowsing stick, a riddle-filled doughnut containing descriptions, explanations, quotations, humor, stories, and last words.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

A: The oldest piece is about 12 years old. Pachinko Mouth wasn’t conceived as a project in and of itself. Parts of it assembled themselves over a long time. I tend to work on poems and groups of poems the way a terrier worries a beef knuckle. It was probably about two years ago that a real first draft came together.  I had been trying for a while to figure out what all these different things I was writing had in common, if anything. Voice is an unstable isotope. 

Who or what inspired you to write it?

I don’t know if you can say “where” inspiration comes from.  Inspiration comes from “out there” like the way air enters your lungs. Poetry is a kind of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  With other projects there was always an immediate, surface connection between all the poems (women from Greek myths, B movies). I’d write a poem or two and say “I like that. Let do more of those, shall we?” This is not the case for Pachinko Mouth which pulled itself together from all corners of the room.

That said I was sparked for Pachinko Mouth by, among others, Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution, John Donne’s A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, Bernd Heinrich, Dean Young. And this anecdote from Barbara Leaming’s biography of Orson Welles:

“The Thorne rooms [miniature European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American rooms and furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s, constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot. They were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.] were a series of illuminated boxes set into the wall. To see inside, you had to look through a picture frame and a piece of glass that separated you from a densely furnished miniature room…
            I brought Orson a surprise from Chicago, a Catalogue of the Thorne Rooms …hardly had he turned the cover and flipped through a few pages, when he tossed the book on the floor.
            “What’s the matter?” I asked, trying to conceal my agitation.
            “This is useless to me.”
            “This isn’t my magic box. Don’t you see what they’ve done? They’ve cut the frames off!”

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

A: I am very happy to report that the book will be published by Plan B Press in April 2013.

Q: What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

A question best answered by others, but I flatter myself by thinking there might be some similarity between Pachinko Mouth and books by Dobby Gibson, Zachary Schomburg, David Berman, or Mary Ruefle. Apologies to them.

Q: What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

A: Billie: Denyce Graves
Boo: Stan Laurel
Farmer Brown: Eddie Albert
Father: Alan Rickman
Galoot:  Michael Clarke Duncan
Robert Graves: Brian Cox
Interrupting Cow: Charlotte Rampling (no slur intended)
Danny Kaye: Matthew Broderick
Mr. Devil You Don’t Know: Donald Sutherland
Mr. Devil You Do Know: Teller
Life: Gary Oldman
Lungfish: Andy Serkis
Mockingbird: Michael Redgrave
Moll: Scarlet Johannson
Marianne Moore: Helen Mirren, or maybe Meryl Streep
Mother: Anthony Perkins
Orange: Bill Murray
Pachinko Mouth: Tatsuya Nakadai
Li Po: Chow Yun Fat
Three Clodhoppers: Terry Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, Jeff Wilson
Valedictorian: Richard Burton
Vincent Van Gogh: Tim Roth
Ludwig Wittgenstein: Christoph Waltz
Dean Young: Adrian Brody
Young Person: River Phoenix
Your Grandfather: Walter Brennan

What else about your manuscript might pique the reader’s interest?

Nothing I’ve said here is—as far as I can tell—anything like reading the actual poems in the actual book. It’s actually a lot of fun to read, with doses of humor, secret messages and—I hope—good looks.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Robert Hayden on American History

Some wisdom from Robert Hayden for the Fourth of July:
Robert Hayden, the first African-American
Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress

"The past is for most Americans, unfortunately, rather meaningless. But some of us are aware of it as a long, tortuous, and often bloody process of becoming, of psychic evolution -- a process continuing today and, as a result of worldwide stress, gaining in momentum. And it has required, in almost every generation, a clarification, a redefinition of the concepts, principles, abtractions, if you will, which we have believed essential to our development as a nation. The concepts of freedom and democracy, the concepts of the individual and individual rights, even the definition of "human" are different now from what they were two hundred years ago. Slaves and Indians in the eighteenth century, for example, were hardly regarded as human. Consider also the status of women then. We, in our times, are obligated to go on with the process of redefinition. We are still struggling with the evils of our past, but we have also inherited ideals which we are obligated to clarify and implement." Robert Hayden (1975)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chicken Scrawlish

Originally published on the old VRZHU Bullets of Love Blog - January 23, 2008

Chicken Scrawlish
Why is Vrzhu blogging a recipe today?  By way of justification we offer:
“Jay Parini, a Frost scholar and professor at Middlebury College, also described the difficulty of reading Frost’s “chicken scrawlish” handwriting.” –from “Editing of Frost Notebooks in Dispute” By Motoko Rich - New York Times, Jan. 22, 2008 
We here at Vrzhu have been puzzling over the reference in the quote above to the traditional Hungarian dish, Chicken Scrawlish.  Perhaps Mr. Parini was giving a tip of the hat to Hungary as one of the great producers of world-class poets, far in excess of larger countries, with a respect for and tradition of poetry comparable to, say, Ireland? Or is he referring to the rumor that, while in England, Frost was able to employ an immigrant Hungarian as a housekeeper for about a month in the fall of 1913, and afterwards Frost would sometimes make a folksy reference to her “chicken scrawlish?.”
This is indeed a riddle inside an enigma wrapped in a flour tortilla. But Vrzhu is in search of a key.
To start, here is an unpublished article from Gourmand Monthly we have obtained which sheds some light on the culinary trompe langue that is Chicken Scrawlish:
Chicken Scrawlish (Chicken Szcralís) – Originally a peasant dish from the Northern Medium Mountain region of northern Hungary, which is part of the Southern Carpathian Mountains of  southwestern Slovakia.  A dense stew that is formed into loaves for the winter, Chicken Scrawlish is undoubtedly the least popular dish in Hungary.  Georgi Mandi, a noted culinary archivist, has said that “if paprikash is considered the royalty of Hungarian cooking, then the concoction known as Chicken Scrawlish must be rated as Hungary’s failed apprentice pig herder. Famed Hungarian chef Egbert Esterhaszy concurs: “To a Hungarian, paprikash, sausage, poppy seed noodles—these all say “mother.” Chicken Scrawlish, on the other hand, says “idiot third cousin kept hidden from company in the root cellar.”

But generally, most Hungarians either deny the existence of a dish called Chicken Scrawlish, or vociferously insist that it is not Hungarian but Slovakian. At the same time Slovak citizens in the Carpathian mountains across the border from Hungary will swear that only a Hungarian would be able to eat a dish like chicken scrawlish. There are local city ordinances still extant stating that “persons found to have a loaf or block of Szcralis on their body or among their belongings will be fined 1,000 korunas.”

Old Hungarian woodcut of traveling
Scrawlish vendor, who plied his
poultry cakes from town to town.
Pictured with his companion Boglarka,
whose melismatic bleating announced
 their arrival to townsfolk.
These laws may have been an attempt to discourage “Scrawlishmen.” Because of the difficulties inherent in preparing Chicken Scrawlish, it became common for unemployed men or men who had fallen off their horses onto their heads to become itinerant Chicken Scrawlish vendors, or Scrawlishmen, going from farm to farm and village to village trying to trick the more slatternly wives into buying a jar of potted Scrawlish.  Often runners from one farm would speed ahead to the next farm to warn of the approaching Scrawlishman, so that an adequate supply of stones of sufficient heft could be gathered to throw at him.

Despite this, dedicated, perhaps foolhardy, foodies, inspired by culinary adventurers (such as Anthony Bordain) who sample puffin jerky, or warthog chitterlings, have been looking for a traditional recipe—or any recipe—for the infamous Chicken Scrawlish.

Recently, American investigatory cooks, Jack and Michelle Gurning, have interviewed several immigrants from the region, and found a recipe for the dish hidden in an old bible written in Hungarian. Curiously the recipe was on previously-used vellum and sandwiched between pages of the Book of Revelation.  The Gurnings, in their book, Into Thick Soup –  A Personal Account of Delight and Disaster Amongst the Wild Dishes of the Carpathians, provide their deciphered and translated rendition of the recipe.  Their only introductory description of Chicken Scrawlish is “a dish only H. P. Lovecraft could love. Or adequately describe.”

Chicken Scrawlish
One unplucked chicken, preferably dead.
16 oz rendered badger fat
4 oz dry-cured chicken liver
18 oz unhulled groats
2 teaspoons rock salt
2 teaspoons chopped baitfish, such as minnow
6 to 8 cups goat broth, or squirrel broth
1 cup chopped celery root
1 cup chopped sun-dried beet
1 cup chopped kohlrabi, root and leaves
1/2 cup onion grass
4 oz juniper berries
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon devil’s parsley
¼ cup hyssop sour wine or hyssop white vinegar.
¼ cup woodruff jam

1. First, the chicken must be “saddled.” After gutting the bird, spatchcock it*, retaining the neck and head. Press it flat, pulling to extend the wings and legs as much as possible.

2. Place the spatchcocked chicken between the saddle and the horse, feathered side down (alternatively the chicken may be pressed between two goats). After a three day ride** remove the chicken and soak in 5 gallons of water mixed with one cup of lye for at least 24 hours, making sure the neck and head of the chicken are draped over the side of the pot to vent properly.

3. Drain, rinse and dry the chicken. At this point the feathers should have formed a fused bed underneath the meat. Carefully peel back the feather bed from the chicken and discard some distance from any habitation. The chicken should be tender and malleable at this point, translucent with a gelatinous consistency.

4. Soak the groats until tender. Soak the dry cured chicken livers until al dente and then grind finely along with the rock salt and chopped baitfish.

5. Drain the groats, put them into a large mixing bowl and add badger fat, celery root, sun-dried beet, kohlrabi, onion grass, juniper berries, hot paprika and devil’s parsley. Stir in the chicken liver mixture. Beat until the mixture is slightly glutinous. Stir in the goat or squirrel broth.

6. Force the chicken through a sieve into the groat mixture, taking care not to put your face or hands directly over the bowl.

7. Cover the bowl with wire mesh and a damp cloth and allow to ferment outside for about 1 hour.

8. Stir and pour into a large dutch oven. Cook in a 325 degree oven for about 3 hours. If the Scrawlish dries out DO NOT add water! Discard immediately. Either start over or lead a Christian life.***

9. At this point the Chicken Scrawlish can be served as a stew, the so-called White Scrawlish. It is customarily served on a bed of boiled nettles as a late supper after the men have returned home drunk. But typically, much larger amounts of Chicken Scrawlish were made and some of the scrawlish was “put up” in loaves.

For Chicken Scrawlish Loaf, or Black Scrawlish

10. Let the Scrawlish settle and then pour off as much of the top fluid as possible.

11. Turn the Scrawlish out onto a floured board and knead for about 20 minutes, alternately adding the Hyssop vinegar and Woodruff jam, until it is elastic and not too lumpy. At this point the Scrawlish dough should be unpleasant to look at and touch. You can’t really get used to it. Form into a roughly loaf-shaped mass and place on a baking sheet you intend to discard afterwards. Bake at 275 degrees for 12 hours in a very well-ventilated room.

12. Remove and allow the loaf to cool completely. The loaf will keep indefinitely. Loaves were often passed down from generation to generation.

Serves all or none.
Nutritional information: unknown.

To conclude, as the dish migrated down from the Carpathians into the plains and cities of Hungary, it was considerably tamed.  However, it retained its air of mystery as a “special” dish, and throughout most the 19th century the eating of it was considered a venal sin.

To spatchcock a fowl: Place the bird breast side down on as clean a surface as you can find. Using a very sharp knife cut from the neck to the tail end along both sides of the backbone to remove. This takes some force. Make a small slit in the cartilage at the bottom end of the breast bone, then with both hands placed on the rib cage, crack open the bird by opening it, like a book, towards the cutting surface.  This will reveal the keel bone. Run you fingers up along wither side of the cartilage in between in between the breasts to loosen it from the flesh, then grab the keel bone and pull it up to remove it, along with the attached cartilage.  Flip over and smooth the skin.  The bird is now spatchcocked.
**Although a three day ride is sufficient for an authentic Chicken Scrawlish, Scrawlishes were often distinguished and rated by the length of time continuously “saddled.” In addition to this recipe of Three Day Scrawlish, there was Five Day Scrawlish, Eight Day Scrawlish, and for special occasions, Campaign Scrawlish, where the chicken was “saddled” for an entire military campaign or until the rider returned home.  This Scrawlish was also called “Funeral Scrawlish” or “Missing Limb Scrawlish.”
*** The exact meaning of this sentence in the original is in dispute. The original recipe continues: “Immediately start a novena for protection against the Unclean One. And spit thrice upon leaving or entering the house for the following week.”


Originally published on the old VRZHU Bullets of Love Blog - January 23, 2008

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kim Roberts on Capitol Hill

Kim Roberts reading from her new book of poems.

We had a wonderful reading last night on Capitol Hill.
The Capitol Hill Reading Series hosts themed readings and visiting writers on the third Tuesday of each month.  Many thanks for all the people who showed up last night to hear Kim Roberts read from her splendid new book Animal Magnetism (Pearl Books).

We had a full house and Kim graced us all with these fantastic poems about medical museums and imaginary husbands.  It was a delightful evening.
Next month we'll have Judith Valente and Cliff Bernier.  More at the reading site.