Wednesday, March 30, 2005

POEM - Beltane Burlesque

Spring bares her breasts
In that careless,
gradual way
In which young women
Who love pleasure, tend to;
Pulling back her
Snowy dressy top
With shy movement;
Hiking up her skirt
Of grass so green
As to suggest
A swaying, musky,
redolent motion;
Just a few inches
Above those luscious knees,
Just enough to be awkward;
Enough to make strangers blush
But still try to peak –

She plays a game
Of seek and hide
With sunlight’s strong,
Gentle fingers;
She plays a game
Of wanting and having;
Undressing brown thighs
That is a patch of earth
And is itself the
object of its own lust.

She is beautiful
When she hides in the
Cesura of the season -
This one day of Spring –
This dis-rememberance
Of a Winter
That took so much.

M C Biegner
This poem was originally published as "Spring 2005". It has been
Reassembled as "Beltane Burlesque"

First, you will note the title change. I wanted something a bit more fun, alliterative and well, not so bland. I kept thinking how this would be a great Beltane poem to be read at some pagan feast somewhere.

Then i kept on the "sexy" theme vs. the "sexual" transition. I toned down the "overallness" of the original piece which i admit was trite and pompous. I felt the poem was originally moving from something "sexy" to something "sexual" if you catch my drift and i didn't like how it ended.

You'll note that i futher likened spring to one of those types of "women who love pleasure"... you know how THEY can be... ;-)

i bring in the sense of smell though i suspect "a musky redolent motion" might be a bit hackneyed. i am looking for something else there. The idea of a motion carrying a fragrant musky smell is what i was after combining sense of smell and touch in one.

i bring in the patch of earth as "brown thighs", but really it is a metaphor for something lustful. Earth puts me in mind of the masculine aspect of desire and lust, so even though i am talking about Spring, the female, i am referencing masculine lust in the form of terra firma - so now i have opposites and the attraction is more palpable i think. Don't you?

instead of launching into the existence of god (what was i thinking?) i go further discussing the teasing nature of spring, hide and seek (though i change the phrasing to "seek and hide" to make it more unusual.) The play between having and wanting, which is the wait between seasons, that cesura, that pause, is teasing, tantalizing... keeping with the "sexy" theme. i guess - though i am no PhD. in "sexy"... the tension. we love the tension.

i make up the word "Dis-rememberance" - different than forgetting. forgetting implies sort of passive action i think, of something just being let go. Disremembering implies a willful act of forcing out of memory. This is a winter i really want to dis-remember, i don't know about you.

You will note the change in the line breaks too. i purposefully shortened the lines to 4-6 or 7 syllables per line to make it easier to read, and i think it gives a more breathless read, if you were to read it out loud, again reinforcing the "sexiness" of the piece.

Finally i bring in winter as the one who "took so much" - namely my lust for things of nature, or my lust for this beautiful undressing woman.

I left the old poem still up for comparison. I like this one much more though. It's sensual and a bit more cohesive and not as full of itself.

But that is just me.

M C Biegner

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Why Shakespeare Matters

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say outright that I am no Shakespeare scholar. In fact, of the approximately six billion humans inhabiting this planet, roughly five and one half billion know more about the Bard and his works than I do. But like every other kid extruded through the mill of the American education system, I was first exposed to Shakespeare in junior high school. We read Romeo and Juliet but we also went on a field trip to the Shakespeare theater in Stratford Connecticut where I saw my first play: a performance of Julius Caesar. The stage was slanted, raised in the rear and lowered in the front ostensibly to make it easier to see and hear those performers who were down stage.

In college I took a course in Shakespeare – English 37A – so titled, bluffed the professor who taught the course, because it was the same number of plays that Shakespeare wrote. (There is some argument as to exactly how many he wrote, due to authentication issues of some plays, but for us in that class the correct answer to the question, “How many plays did Shakespeare write?” was, of course, thirty-seven.)

I can still recall the midterm exam in which I compared Shakespeare to Coors beer. I got away with it too though I can’t for the life of me remember now how I made the connection. It is important to note that this was the mid-seventies and Coors beer was still a small town, local brew and enjoyed a mythical quality about it to those living east of the Rockies.

We didn’t read every play in this course but we did read a good sampling of the histories, the tragedies and the comedies. It’s interesting to note that Shakespeare wrote nearly twice as many comedies as tragedies. One would like to suggest this reflected Shakespeare’s hopeful nature, but I think it had more to do with what people of the time wanted to see. After all, he was an artist who wrote for the people – all of the people – of his time. It was not unusual for the poor and working man and woman would go see one of his works just as readily as royalty. The working stiffs could not afford the penny for the seat cushion, so they generally stood in front of the stage, sort of like a modern day mosh pit. (This gives rise to images of Hamlet body surfing or a Ramstein show only without the pyrotechnics!)

This course was important to me because while I had read Shakespeare before this, it was here that I learned the secret to understanding him. The trick was not to read the play, but at the very least listen to it, or better yet, go and see it performed. I would sit for hours in the school library pulling out LP after LP reading along while I listened. (Today movies and DVD’s would work the same way, except that movies often tend to be edited for artistic or commercial purposes. The LP’s were equivalent to unabridged books on tape of today.)

This made the plays so much more enjoyable and I was able to understand just how much for the common man Shakespeare really was. In Shakespeare's treatment of Henry V, he extols the monarch's love of the common English man. I swear that Henry’s St. Crispian's Day speech at Agincourt could get me to wear women’s clothing in public. I am still trying to convince the CEO of my company that he needs to use an excerpt of this speech to rouse the sales force during times of extreme sales torpor in the company where I work.

“Into the breech,” I could hear him say. “The fewer the men, the greater the share of glory,” and “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother”.

I can hear the sales rising already.

It was Ben Jonson who wrote that Shakespeare was not “of an age but for all ages”. This is as true today as it was in Jonson’s time.

Today, there are some who want to equate Shakespeare with high learning, elevated social status and an upper crust sort of taste. The fact is, sometimes his work is so silly, crude and farcical that I believe he has more in common with Benny Hill than Elizabethan poets of his time. Remember in Midsummer Night’s Dream when Bottom plays a wall in a rehearsal of Pyramus and Thisby? He uses his hand as a knot-hole through which the lovers spy each other. Can you just visualize the scene? I remember actually laughing when I was listening to this play.

Treating Shakespeare’s work with too much reverence takes the playwright out of his original context and intentions He engaged in word puns (think of Mercutio’s words as he lay dying “ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man”). I don't know about you, but in my house that sort of thing usually earns me long stares and lots of head shaking. Back then it was in vogue I guess.

Titus Andronicus has the dubious honor of being considered one of Shakespeare’s worst plays. The last scene involves all the characters in a blood bath, consuming each other in a Hannibal-esque orgy of cannibalism and horror. What was Shakespeare thinking? I could just hear Joe-Elizabethan drama goer after that play, looking for a place to eat after that one. But what I love most about that play that it shows Shakespeare as an artist in development. Too often we assume that great artists were always great. We forget the evolutionary nature of talent and one’s art especially when latter, more mature works, tend to overshadow the failures.

It’s nice to know Shakespeare had Titus Andronicus kind of days. Even some of his works sucked pond water. (The fact that they someone actually produced that play and that they have even made a Hollywood movie of it with Anthony Hopkins prefiguring his “Hannibal” role in this classic stinker makes me wonder just how much crack cocaine really is floating around in Hollywood.)

There have been other attempts to modernize Shakespeare as well, all with varying degrees of success, but Shakespeare does not just draw us in because of the story lines. It has been said that he never used more than four basic plot lines. This helps explain why modernizing his plays miss the point. It is not just his stories that we love so much. It is something much, much more. It is something deeper. It is the language.

I began to think that perhaps we could begin to integrate some of that language into modern culture, in an attempt to revitalize the sound and beauty of it. Imagine, for example, a D.J. critiquing a certain Icelandic megastar’s latest avant garde techno hit on the radio: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious by these songs of Bjork.”

Or how about a new Tide detergent commercial that shows a bedraggled thirty-something loooking up from heaps of laundry only to exclaim, “Oh that this too, too soiled stain should melt.” Think it would catch on?

Okay, okay, I’ll stop. I think I hear my kids packing my bags right now.

The fact is, Shakespeare is not important because the New York State Board of Regents says he is. He is not important because he is required learning for the MCAS exams. He is not important because it is a sign of good breeding. He is not important because know his work is a babe magnet, or because it will be the basis of the next reality TV show (“Shakespeare Fear Factor” where men dressed as women are forced to eat English delicacies of the day, things like blood pudding. Yech.)

Shakespeare is important because language is important. Not the subject-verb-object kind of language; not the kind of language you were graded on in grammar school; not the kind of language in which you never ever understood what the hell a “modifier” was; not the tense-agreeing, verb-agreeing, split infinitive type of language. Shakespeare is important because of how we love its sound; this language that flows off tongues, this language that creates whole new cultures (think hip-hop). This language makes music to embolden us when we are discouraged; it carries us forward with the spirit of generations yet to come; it turns the basic "howl" of pre-civilized man into a cry of common union with one another.

In a book I read recently by John McWhorter entitled, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care (try looking that one up in the card catalog of your basic home town library or your favorite Google Search!) McWhorter includes a chapter entitled: Got Marjoram or Why I Don’t Have Any Poetry he relates a funny Seinfeld episode where George is asked by his fiancé’s snobby family who his favorite poet is. George, not even able to name a single poet, simply mumbles, “Flavman”. McWorter suggests that “Flavman” would be on the top of many people’s lists of favorite poets today in America.

McWhorter suggest that people have poetry on their shelves the way we have marjoram in our spice racks. It comes with the spice rack, most likely, but does anyone really ever cook with it?

The book was interesting but I responded viscerally to the charge that poetry was becoming a non sequitur in today’s culture. I mean, you're looking at a guy who has all his poetry books in order on the shelf, has the pages dog-eared and highlighted. I dive into them repeatedly just to get through the day. (One of my favorite books is still my Medieval Poetry collection that is held together with rubber bands.) Sometimes, when I am alone, I like to pull one out and read the poetry aloud, the way it was meant to be read, just like those Shakespeare plays years ago. These are the sounds of an unseen universe.

If the success of the hip hop culture among mainstream music and especially among the kids of today tells us anything, it tells us that there is an aesthetic in the sound of language, regardless of learning, regardless of traditional content. I mean, “Fashizzle my Shizzle” is as far removed from most adults today as any of Shakespeare’s most eloquent soliloquies. That doesn’t keep even adults (much to the chagrin of my kids) from using the term in its correct context, whatever that context might be.

The sense of hearing, they say, is the last one we lose before we die. This might help explain why the “clicks” of the tongue, the various vocal placeholders, the “ums” and “likes” and “you knows”, why the lilt and staccato and melody of language will always attract the human ear.

Shakespeare is about this need in all of us to find beauty in sound. He is about the desire to treat language as music, with rhythm, with rhyme. This soaring and swooping of tone inflates and deflates our spirit more than just with the content of what we write. It is why we can listen to Dr. Seuss as adults. It explains why we can listen to Lewis Caroll's "Jabberwocky" even though it is comprised of nonsense words. It explains Ginsberg's "Howl", and the rabid following of Jack Keruoac (to an extent) and even Joyce's "Ulysses". It even explains, God help me, people's vast passion for opera and musicals.

So pop a beer and kick back and listen to a play some evening or better yet, go find one of his plays somewhere. There is a plethora of performing troops everywhere. You don’t need to dress up. You don’t need to rent a tux. Just bathe in the language, as my high school english teacher used to tell us, and witness the love of common living, the love of the human tongue.

Next time you want that raise they have been denying you at work, try going into your boss and reciting something in iambic pentameter, but then finish it with a melodramatic couplet that will leave him or her stunned. ("Never has there been a tale of more woe/ Than that which explains why my salary is so low!") Try it and see what happens!

Shakespeare reminds us that how you say it is as important as what you say. Go see a play and know that our language will never be decorated prettier than this.

M C Biegner

POEM - The Microscope of Sex

Last night I dreamed
that I had other concerns;
That I was asexual
As in the way some protozoa
Reproduce by fission
Under the microscope of sex;

Inspired by some sort of willfulness
Rather than by inclination
Or by need
Or by desire
Or even by the transubstantiation
Of copulating matter becoming God.

M C Biegner

POEM - Spring 2005

Spring bares her breasts in a careless and gradual way
Pulling back her snowy dressy top
With the shyest movement;
Hiking up her skirt of grass so green as to convey motion,
Just a few inches above those luscious knees,
Just enough to be awkward,
Just enough to make me do a double take in disbelief –

Playing this game of hide and seek
With sunlight’s strong and gentle fingers,
Lime green oozing everywhere
Slapping together a patch of earth that is my lust –

She is beautiful when she
Hides in the cesura of the season -
This one day in Spring –
In this dis-remembering of a winter that egged us on.

Just like the moment between breaths
Just like the stillness that happens between heartbeats –
Life infused with new hope
Of things not revealed.

Proving the existence of God
Confirming that I really don’t matter at all –
Basking in that joyful confirmation that I don’t matter at all!

M C Biegner

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Confessions of a Closet Fiction Writer

Today something dreadful happened. Today, without so much as an inkling, I very nearly wrote fiction! I don’t know how it happened. I really don’t! I wasn’t paying attention. I normally don’t do things like this.

It happened one evening after dinner when I settled down to that quiet place – you know – that place inside where it gets real still and you can hear everything inside you that is going on; the place where all my poetry comes from. Then it happened. I can’t imagine how! I was writing when suddenly I noticed what looked like two eyes and a prominent nose pressed up against the clear plastic of my BIC plastic ballpoint. I was surprised. I mean, I was not accustomed to people in my pen where ink was supposed to be.

As I wrote an even stranger thing happened. This person or whatever it was that was trapped inside the barrel of my pen, squeezed himself out through the tip of the pen and before I could say, “Great Walt Whitman preserve us”, there before me was a character: a real honest to goodness fictional character. It was a middle-aged man with balding head who wore the look of desperation like a wrinkled and ill-fitted suit. He smelled of cigarettes with just a trace scent of some morning shot – drambuie or kalhua – something that in the shadowy lamplight of my room smelled like last night.

This character just sat there on the snowy white page, blinking, first left, then right as if he did not know where he was. There was an awkward silence. I couldn’t say a word I was so stunned! I knew I was miles away from that place where I grew my poetry, but where was I?

I started to write some more hoping though not really believing, that this was just an anomaly. I held this deep fear that this portended some sort of gravitational pull toward the absurd and that I was powerless to stop it.

Then just as before, my eye was caught by another set of eyes looking at me from the barrel of the pen. I panicked this time. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “Let us go then you and / Underneath the spreading sky”. I opened one eye, but the eyes in the pen just glared up at me. I quickly snapped my one eye closed and continued: “Like a patient etherized on a table…” Surely if there was anyone who could bring me back to someplace devoid of personality, it would be Eliot, I thought. But it was no use.

I opened my eyes and there they were: frantic eyes, bloodshot eyes, eyes that spoke to a different part of my artistic brain. Why I could almost hear the other neurons snapping the way a heater that has not been used for a long time clicks when it is turned on for the very first time of the heating season.

I took the pen in both hands and rolled it fiercely back and forth hoping it would shake free whatever demons possessed it. It was no use though The eyes were still there only now they were dizzy and crossed from all the spinning.

I wrote again anyway. I would not let this dementia prevent my sweet, gentle poetry from bubbling up. Where had my poetry gone I wondered? Had someone absconded with it? Or maybe I just misplaced it, being as I am so busy lately. Perhaps my poetry just got fed up and left. Maybe, I thought, I was simply engaging in some sort of shared consciousness flashback of experiences I never had? I mean, I never did hallucinogens but people I know have. LSD, I’ve learned, is actually trapped in the human spinal chord for many years after the person stops taking it. Maybe, if this idea of a shared collective consciousness is true, maybe I am experiencing someone else’s flashback. The thought though amusing, didn’t really comfort me much.

As I continued writing, another character slid out on to the page. This time it was a woman. She had frizzy, stringy hair and large overblown blotchy red face. She wore much more lipstick than she should have ever been allowed to. Her eyes were angry and while she didn’t say a word, I could tell she was reproaching me. But something about her was familiar. I could not put my finger on it, but there was a quality, something I could not articulate that made me feel this woman and I knew each other.

I pondered this when it shot through my head like a lightning bolt. This was my ex-wife. She did not really look like my ex-wife (well, except for the lipstick: that woman found shades of lipstick that would make hookers blush!) but still, I somehow knew it was her.

“Odd,” I thought to myself. “I didn’t know that I was still carrying around all this anger for her after all these years.” I made a note to bring this up with my therapist at my next session.

Yes, it was my ex-wife all right, couched craftily amid some cosmetic changes of dress and body shape and hair. It was the eyes that gave her away, always the eyes. “My God”, I thought, “I am starting to think like a fiction writer!”

So my “ex” has been in there all this time and I had no idea! I didn’t know what to make of that: first the middle-aged man, then this. What was next? I was afraid to think who else might be in there, thinking it was all coming from the pen but all the while, really knowing better.

Over the course of the next few hours several more characters were extruded through the tip of my pen and onto the page: there was a young girl with skinned knees wearing a party dress, a black blind blues singer with a strong heroin addiction, a sexy movie star who was tired of being type cast as a sex kitten and longed to be a real theater actor. All of these people squeezed themselves out onto the paper and each one had whole histories with which I became intimately familiar. They were born from something in my past and I tried to match the personality up with something in my past, but I could not do it completely.

Before long, I had half a journal written filled with these characters and their traits, their foibles and character flaws, their habits and idiosyncracies: I had captured them all as character studies in writing.

Finally, the character who was my ex-wife broke the silence and spoke. “Well?” she said in that sharp tire screeching sort of voice I remember (I think I even winced in a Pavlovian response).

“Well what?” I said.

“Well, what do we do?”

“Do?” I was sure I was crazy now. In the back of my mind I so wanted my poetry back. Never has a poem so much as spoken to me. Not once.

“You got us here – now what do we do?” she said.

“Well…” I drew the response out hoping to buy some time. “Truth is, see, I don’t write fiction. This is just some sort of mistake.”

My ex-wife’s eyes grew even angrier.

“See, I can’t write plot lines,” I explained in a vain attempt to explain away my fiction writing shortcomings. “I think up these great characters and then, I don’t know what to do with them.”

My ex-wife’s face changed. The contours of her cheeks actually went into a near smile.

“You know, dearie,” she began sweetly. “ That construction worker over there that you dreamed up? The one with no shirt on and really short shorts? You could write a part for him and me if you like. He’s kinda cute.”

I looked over at the Herculean Adonis of a construction worker I had created, with broad shoulders and tight washboard abs, and long flowing hair.

“Yeah,” I said, “ I need to talk to my therapist about him too.”

I explained for an hour how I could not write plots; how I was sorry but maybe I could integrate some of these characters into poems – if only my poetry would come back. She didn’t like that at all. None of them did. They didn’t want to be part of no stinking poem.

They were going to look for a writer with some cojones, a real writer’s writer they said. Not one of these foo-foo, woo-woo, new age, pot-smoking, aging hippy types. "Where was Hemmingway when you need him?" they said, hard drinking, womanizing misogynistic S.O.B that he was.

“Great. Just great. Now I have my own characters questioning my masculinity,” I thought.

They left in a huff, all of them, and I was sitting alone. Over the next few weeks I played with story lines. I even took out some books from the library and attended workshops about how to write fiction. I read once that sometimes a writer had to do something mean to a character even a beloved character, so I did. I did something really mean to a character that I loved most of all. I was in bed for a week with depression.

This fiction thing? I get way too invested emotionally. It’s hard on my body and my soul. I don’t know how people do it. My poetry eventually returned after being on brief hiatus. She told me she was hobnobbing with some musicians in the Bahamas. ( Incidentally, it really is better in the Bahamas, she told me.)

Soon, my poetry and I were making and speaking the language of the universe unseen, just like before. But someday, someday I just might look up one of those characters again and start in earnest to write fiction for real. Someday.

M C Biegner

Saturday, March 19, 2005

POEM - A Graceful Space

When what is shadow seems most real;
Remember light is always near.

When the apple seems out of reach
Remember wanting makes it sweet.

When everything is yours in full,
Remember giving it away.

When tomorrows are drained from you,
Remember graceful space is yours.

(This buoyant space that delivers new salvation
like a morning newspaper,
tri-folded, rubber-banded,
plastic-wrapped, unknown and waiting -
Is always accepted through freshest eyes –

Miles from what is safe and certain,
This graceful space is how I grow.)

M C Biegner

POEM - Wine


After Night has had its way;
After all the dismantling;
When I am alone with muffled calm;
When I am done with handling

All of the self inflicted doubt ---
I am wine that sits decanting
Made giddy with the thought of flight
As I face one more replanting

Splash me recklessly on the ground
So I may fill the cracked dry dirt
Drink me full with the hardest lust
I am free of wounds but not the hurt –

Healed at the altar of our art,
Cauterized by this grateful heart.

M C Biegner

Saturday, March 12, 2005

POEM: In the Pressed Sweet Grass

When I looked for you
In the pressed sweet grass,
The outline of your body was all I found;
In a circle that formed on the ground
Where we wrote our history
Using heaping mounds of Faith.

How did I expect this to end?
What did I think would happen?
Can I refute what faith whispers to my heart,
What science inscribes into DNA?
Did I believe that I would be spared,
That God loved me - His most favorite of all -
so much
That I should not drink from this cup?

I always imagined starkness without you,
In the luxury of your touch,
But it was never as bare as the truth.

Now the value of one more moment
With you, rises like breath:

My love,
You are the heat my body produces,
You are the tempo of my beating pulse,
You are my very own desire for what is good.

Gone – before the promise is kept;
Gone – before the map of our world could be explored;
Gone – leaving just pressed sweet grass
To tell me you are not here,
That you have moved on,
Gone ahead, without me –
To someplace we’d always known,
Leaving me with this limp:
Forever friendless,
Forever moonless,
Forever alone.

M C Biegner 3/2005

Friday, March 04, 2005

POEM: The Melting Snow

The expansive white
Wrapped in tender arms
Of angled sunlight
Leaves me uncertain,
Undeterred by want,
Love remains hardened
Like the remains of
The last Winter snow
Sullied by road salt;
Object, like road kill –
This pile of Love –
Exhausted – from which
Nothing more can grow –
Given everything
for a kind of faith.

What is lost has shot skyward and soars;
While I, the Melting Snow, remain yours.

M C Biegner

POEM: From a Portrait

From here, time and space are one thing.
In this room, the confinement of shape, confinement of geometry, are palpable. Through this plane movement is born.
Movement grows, crying and learning the day to day obstacles to growing.
Movement is everywhere and leaves markings in this room.
Movement is energy and energy is living so living is the universe sealed within these four walls and ceiling.

Lives tumble in and lives tumble out of view; from light into darkness and back into light again.

The walls are papered with Self Knowledge, some looking frumpy and worn out; seams have split apart by little probing hands

The Sunlight of One Million Futures glides without sound across braided rugs of Careful Teaching,
illuminating the Wallpaper of Knowledge,
turning the finger shadows of doubt into raw possibility.

Smudges of Laughter mark the bookshelves, fireplace mantle, light switches.
They are marks that cannot be removed
and this Sunlight of One Million Futures shines on these without mercy
like a spotlight.

Sometimes in the dark, the Grandfather Clock of Regret tick-tocks away;
measures what never should have been said,
never even been thought; measures what has been lost.
These are the measures,
the ticking and tocking,
that hold us indentured servants to the Past forever.

A house fly sings her dizzy song,
carries The Secrets of things to and from the room;
These Secrets that cling to her the way she clings to textured ceilings.

A spider’s steely silk web billows in the corner;
it holds Imagination like a sail.
Kissed by the gentle breeze of Youthful Discovery,
a Coriolis Effect of Childhood Dreams and Adult Hopes and Whims.

Love as a Dog lies mop-like with one-eye up;
the tail, the metronome of affection;
her fur in clumps on the floor,
on the chairs,
even floating in the air like the helium balloons at a birthday party.

It is a movement that turns what is inanimate into what is alive.

In time all remains within the confines of this room.
Everything else deserts you.
This room holds all the smallness that life is made of.

M C Biegner