“It takes courage to be afraid.” –Montaigne, Essays, III, 6 (1588)
Nothing scares the sun anymore. Not even sinking into the black sea. Not even the black sea and its power over sunsets. Not even the scars or parked cars on Sunday or the squirrels that dream of big things from the tops of enormous trees. Not even the sky and its embedded madness stands a chance against its nuclear dance.
Sometimes when the blue clutters the sky, the sun rawrs and tilts its ear toward the sea.
Sometimes the sky is a dark paradise. Sometimes the sun hears paradise calling from the abyss in a funny voice, can you hear the light?
1. I had my money on him like I have money like I’m sick of him trying to get to me like Jesus.
2. He walks through my red living room to the other red room wearing a jockstrap and high-heel boots.
3. He carries white roses in case it’s Christmas.
4. He is not a jock or Christ-like, but his chin is sanctified.
5. The strap pulls strangely around his cheeks looking like the jowl of a skinny pitbull.
6. He sits on the sofa and the sofa is surrounded by candles that are lit and not lit and he is lit and I’m unaware that he is.
7. He is positive yoga will solve history. And dance. And cartography.
8. Life is interesting, I say, when you become interested in life.
9. He is in the corner of the room kicking at the demons and blames me for leaving the mattress alone.
10. He shaves his or her hair and Lakshmi doesn’t want anymore children because Shiva has turned blue and cold even though he is dancing.
11. Always dancing.
12. He reads the illustrated Holy Bible in my red red room and the red room reads with him. The red velvet curtains seal the red room as the incense from New Mexico burns on the fireplace lined with paper dolls—
13. of Jesus & Mary, of all the saints & all the apostles, of the one true God–as the archangels swoop down and set fire to them.
14. An effigy of the burning boy burns in the red room of paper dolls.
“The poet is a monarch of the clouds…” (Robert Hass)
Clouds rule at high altitudes, seducing us with their dew points and their outpourings. (Like poets.) They glow, grow noses, morph into steeds, give good sky, move a mile or so to the East, give it again. They’ve been a major poetic accessory since way B.C.—if you consider Genesis and, certainly, Virgil. They’re omnipresent, enigmatic, drop-dead gorgeous, and they seem to charm the metaphors right out of us.
“A cloud made of dust and memos and skin muscled across Manhattan.” (Bob Hicok, “Full Flight”)
“Clouds file through the dark like prisoners through an endless yard.”(Susan Stewart, from “Four Questions Regarding the Dreams of Animals”)
Poets love clouds, yes they do. And readers love those cloud-loving poets. (See Wordsworth, who wandered lonely as one in 1804, with over 3,450,000 Google hits.) You might say clouds belong to poets. And vice versa. Orbed clouds, eddying clouds, dusky clouds, uptossed clouds, dark clouds, black clouds, white clouds, pink clouds, gray clouds, creeping clouds, rainless clouds, disagreeable clouds, mythological clouds, monumental clouds, anatomical clouds, creature–filled clouds, and that old puff-ball “puzzle of fish-rib clouds…” (Albert Goldbarth, from “Stonehenge”)
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper… -Thich Nhat Hanh
That’s the famous epigraph from Sandra Cisneros’ famous poem, “Cloud,” and this is its first stanza:
Before you became a cloud, you were an ocean, roiled and
murmuring like a mouth. You were the shadows of a cloud cross-
ing over a field of tulips. You were the tears of a man who cried
into a plaid handkerchief. You were the sky without a hat. Your
heart puffed and flowered like sheets drying on a line.
(Sandra Cisneros, from Loose Woman, Vintage, 1995)
Thousands of poets over thousands of years have insistently inserted a cloud, nube, 云, nuage, nuvem, nuvola, into the titles of their collections and poems.
Others have chosen to sneak a lone cloud into a situation full of images.
ANIMA NERA sonnenizio on a line from Jean Cassou
If I drink at your sky it is because
I fold into a paper doll. Thirst is second
nature to me. Items, like xeroxed copies
of Apollinaire’s secret poems and an eyeliner
I’ve fished from the lake, replace
the ivory keys missing on the piano.
Grass in my hair identifies with the cat pawing
its face before the moon. I cut out
irises from your clouds and pin them
to sleep beside the ibis tablecloth.
A contrail’s itinerary lances my mouth like licorice.
I skin the elms, a drought of sorts, to read
the ice crystals on your stars. Wind, strumming
the clothesline, lifts the hem of my idle skirt.
…Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. (from Peace Is Every Step, Bantam, 1991)
Thich Nhat Hanh made this lovely claim for interconnectedness in the early 1990s. I got my first computer around the same time. Now it’s 2012. Many poets are still peaceniks. And some of them have been using screens instead of trees since they were 4 years old. “Paper?” You can hear my computer laughing as it purrs in my lap. “What’s that, darling, what’s paper?”
Furthermore,” my computer may someday query, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not, “what’s cumulonimbus?”
I asked a bevy of poets recently how they make use of “cloud computing,” that brilliant store-your-big-data idea some of us have embraced and some are trying to ignore, along with polar ice, hormonal shifts, and December 21. “If you’ve ever used a cloud or if you’ve got an opinion on clouds,” I asked them, “would you mind passing it along to me?” Here’s what they said, which, as you can see, was swiftly turned into a cloud:
In reality, most of the poets I queried joyfully sidestepped or embraced the cloud issue, giving it their own poetic spin. Two told of losing entire pieces of their lives to the cursed cloud (funnel?). One already has a whopping case of “nephotechnophobia” (fear of cloud technology).And one adapted a chunk of information on privacy (piracy?) from Wikipedia.
companies hosting the cloud services control communication and data stored between the secret NSA with AT&T and Verizon 10 million phone calls between American citizens powers to telecommunication complicate privacy of data customer or tenant data may not remain on the same system legal concerns over jurisdiction provide such as Amazon deploying local infrastructure and allowing customers to select “availability zones” [the service provider at any point in time may access accidentally or deliberately alter or even delete some the service provider at any point in time may access accidentally or deliberately alter or even delete
Here’s my favorite scene with a cautionary line from “How It All Works,” which was the cutest and shortest instructive video I could find for poets and others who are not and never plan to be big businesses:
There are plenty of reasons to be scared of the cloud too, but for now you decide to trust the cloud as backup… (2009)
I can hear something laughing. My computer again? That cumulonimbus floating by my window in the shape of a clown nose and glasses?
“I would dive from it—a horse at the fair, the pool below looming larger with every passing second.” (Holly Iglesias)
“…a cloud, full of poems, that is mine all mine.” (cin salach)
“The poem I used to write, mean to write, simply have to back up, surely need to back off, the poem I woke up on the laptop but needs to get dressed on my desktop…the words like a kite, the string in my clattering keyboard hands.” (Alice George)
Poets are natural skeptics, it’s true, but also, often, so preternaturally absorbed in the elegances and peculiarities of life—the sundry and minutiae—we might miss the immense storage facilities popping up like the crops that used to grow around the globe. As our wise spokespoet, Mia Leonin, has stated: “I was introduced to the cloud as an expansive zone that can ‘hold all of my stuff.’ I was immediately enchanted and suspicious.”
I’d have to be really quick
to describe clouds—
a split second’s enough
for them to start being something else.
they don’t repeat a single
shape, shade, pose, arrangement.
Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.
What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.
Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.
Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.
Let people exist if they want,
and then die, one after another:
clouds simply don’t care
what they’re up to
And so their haughty fleet
cruises smoothly over your whole life
and mine, still incomplete.
They aren’t obliged to vanish when we’re gone.
They don’t have to be seen while sailing on.
WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA (1923-2012)
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.)
Thanks to my cloud associates in this Glit Lit piece: Samuel Ace, Neil de la Flor, Alice George, Holly Iglesias, Mia Leonin, cin salach, & Terese Svoboda. Thanks also to my original cloud collaborators, Suzanne Cohan-Lange and Niki Nolin, without whom I’d still have my head in one. (And bless the poets who had little or no idea what I was talking about.)
“Why I Don’t Trust the Cloud,” By Kenneth Goldsmith
Paula Kolek is complex like the rest of us. This, of course, makes her interesting and fun to talk to. (Full disclosure: sometimes I doze off when she speaks just to make her mad. But, she doesn’t get mad. She is humane and full of patience and wisdom.) What you need to know about Paula Kolek is that she is a dedicated, hard-working adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and Barry University, a comic (I almost wrote communist) enthusiast, an excellent cook, a semi-expert hula hooper, a writer and a visual artist. She is also an astronaut who has traveled to Pluto and several unmanned moons orbiting the cosmos. I tied Paula up and interviewed her over chicken kabobs and (gross) plum wine at her lovely new home in Hollywood, FL, where I tried to steal two comfy patio chairs. We spoke about her latest art work, a humorous art book, which is on exhibit at Humatorium, an exhibition of humorous art curated by Lisa Rockford at the 1310 Gallery in Fort Lauderdale. FYI: there’s a nude pic of Paula in the book. I swear.Welcome to Paula Kolek. She’s way better than Paula Abdul.
Almost Dorothy: Hi Paula, I hear you’re an artist and a poet. Explain the difference?
Paula Kolek: Who told you that? No really. I want a name, number, address, social security #, pets’ names, favorite breakfast cereal…The Works!
I don’t accede to being either, but from what I’ve observed, artists generally run around wielding oils, chalks, charcoal, newsprint, Exacto knives, old photos, urinals, fake teeth, rubber chickens, and poop (I swear I’ve seen all of the above!). They generally make a mess of any space they occupy. Poets, on the other hand, kill trees.
AD: Murderers! So, tell the United States about your upcoming art exhibition or the one that just passed. It all depends on how fast we get this interview up.
PK: Well, the opening was last week, but the closing is October 15th. The title of the exhibit is Humatorium and it’s curated by Lisa Rockford who based the show on art for art’s sake, whimsy, silliness, and of course controversy! My piece is an artist’s book created for the show, booklets for the audience, and a chance to participate in an art installation. There’s also a giant, blue, well-hung blow-up horse at the gallery. Who doesn’t want to see that?!
PK: The closing is part of a larger art festival called Art Fallout where the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale and local galleries are open for free. That night there’s a shuttle bus so people can go from one gallery to another without worrying about parking or the price of gas! It should be pretty cool, so come out if you’re in the area.
AD: Are you a true artist? If yes, prove it. If not, prove that too.
PK: You prove it! What kind of interview is this anyway?
AD: It’s a potty mouth interview, so you should use potty mouth language when answering these questions, ok? How does your writing influence your art or vice versa or are the two mediums inseparable?
PK: What does inseparable mean? Indivisible, Indissoluble, Undividable. Nothing’s forever. Except Twinkies and cockroaches.
AD: In life, we have two choices, left and right. Which did you chose and why?
PK: It’s quite obvious that I chose South; this meant I had to use a precise number of lefts and rights in an exact order. Although I won’t cop to being an artist, I will state that I’m an excellent map reader. When the internet and all the satellites fail (and they will) I’ll be one of a handful of people left who can still read maps. And then I’ll be rich because people won’t know where they’re going and they’ll have to come to me for directions! My time is almost here.
AD: As a poet, you deconstruct memory and turn them into rememberings. Do you remember when and why you started to write this way? Or, am I totally wrong?
PK: Well, it’s your blog, so you’re never wrong.
I learned recently-ish that I don’t have to use personal experience or memories to create (of course you can argue that even our imagination must come from our experiences). Last week I listened to back to back NPR segments – don’t judge me, there were FIVE accidents within a one-mile stretch of 95 and I’d played Tool more times than I could handle. The first segment was an interview with John Lithgow who’s publishing a memoir. The following segment was a conversation about Twitter, Facebook, and blogs and how these mediums are making our world more and more autobiographical. Although I do participate in these mediums (not Twitter, though, I hate Twitter.) and admire writers and artists who put themselves out there, the push to “spill” can be incredibly overwhelming for me.
In my book for Humatorium, I drew from photographs I’d taken, drawings, scientific diagrams, children’s games, and online images (Here I have to thank Wikimedia Commons, a compilation of images given freely by contributors without copyright. This allowed me to use these images without feeling as though I’d “taken” from the work of others). I attempted to create the silliest, most disjunctive pairings possible. And I finished this piece without having to think about high school or grief or hospitals or family arguments!
AD: Which planet inspires you the most?
PK: Pluto! Just because he’s no longer a planet doesn’t mean he can’t inspire. And what about all the moons, planetary dust, supernovas, black holes, quasars, or Dr. Who telephone booths? This is a very narrow question. I object to the insinuation that I have to be inspired by big things.
AD: Have you ever run away?
PK: Yes, and despite rumors to the contrary, sometime running away IS the healthy choice. A dignified walk is better, but sometimes life doesn’t allow for that. In the event you want to run away, I’ve found it helpful to have a waterproof tent, flashlight, some MREs, and a stuffed bunny to take with you.
AD: Biggest accomplishment:
PK: In my artist’s book for the Humatorium exhibit, I have a nude (naked) bookmark of myself which appears opposite the first page of the Instructional. I noticed throughout the night that people (mostly old men) were stroking my bookmark chest.. When one of my friends did the same thing before jumping back and saying, “Ummm…I know you!” I realized the instructions on the opposite page began, “Put your hand to my chest and feel around for the furniture you left behind.” I hadn’t thought through this pairing when I created the book because the instructions largely can’t be followed and I didn’t expect viewers to try to complete them.
I tell students that once we put our work out into the world, it’s never really just ours anymore. It’s open to interpretation by readers and viewers. This, however, was the first time that has happened with my work, and It was super exciting.
Please don’t tell my parents about the naked bookmark; I plan on showing them the book without it.
AD: Mom! So, your biggest disappointment:
PK: Not getting an interview earlier with Almost Dorothy.
AD: Sorry. What would you like to be when you grow up?
PK: I would get paid to be a traveling map-maker (I think they call them cartographers). I’d be sent around the world to hike and kayak and bike new locations and then make maps for that handful of people and girl scouts who like that kind of thing. Sadly I’ve found that there isn’t much call for this.
AD: What will it cost?
PK: A million-billion.
AD: Explain love and/or its imposter and how is that thing communicated through your work?
PK: I think that love in all its incarnations (anger, grief, ecstasy…) has to be passionate, even if it’s a slow burning or difficult love. And since anyone who creates must be passionate (few writers/artists ever make enough money to make up for the long hours of hitting your head repeatedly against the wall of I’m not good enough and What’s the point), so love has to be a driving force.
However, love also has the potential to make us fearful of failing or hurting those we love. I have a poem published in Collective Brightness about my brother and I coming out to one another in the food court of a mall that contained the chapel I would take him to to fulfill the promise to my parents to bring him to Sunday mass when he stayed over with me. The poem is harshly blunt about my feelings towards religion and contains quotes from conversations with my parents where they talk about their opinions towards us queer folk. Although they’re often incredibly supportive of me (they’ve never asked how I intend to support myself by writing), some of their stances make me incredibly angry. I don’t think they, or anyone who knows them, will read this poem, and it isn’t damning of them, but it does have the potential to be hurtful. So I had to weigh how important this writing is to me. Every time I put writing or art into the world, I get nervous about what my family will think about it.
Plus, there’s that naked bookmark floating around!
Paula Kolek is a recent transplant from Boston and has already been stopped by the Coral Gables police three times: most notably for sitting on the curb and riding her bike at 2am in the morning. She graduated from Emmanuel College with a BFA in visual arts and from Umass Boston with an MA in literature, after which she taught undergraduate lit. and creative writing at Umass Boston and Framingham State and worked security – since adjunct teaching pays very few bills. Her poems have recently been published in Ditch, Otoliths, and RECONTRUCTION: Studies in Contemporary Culture and have been accepted by New Letters and EOAGH. Her monologue was presented in The Krane’s production of Monologues Lingus and her artwork accepted for publication in Fickle Muses. She thanks her fellow students and professors at Miami for allowing her the space and encouragement to experiment with the visual in conjunction with language.