Tom Jacobs  © 2006 All Rights Reserved

Featured Poet

Amy Gerstler


New Year’s Eve, 2005
(25 linked haiku)

Today I received
this email: “hot blonde licks cocks
like sweet lollipops.”

Also got one with
the subject line: “Witness cute
vixens get loads poured

down their throats.” Blondes must
be intensely sexual
for they are often

cited in these mass
e-mailings I get more than
50 a day of.

Misbehaving too
are “older ladies, “asians,”
“lesbians,” “horny

teens,” “farm girls,” “celebs”
“underage cuties,” “hot house-
fraus,” “policewomen”—

all purposely mis-
spelled because senders try to
slip through filters (set

to deflect junk mail)
that use lists of naughty words
as criteria.

What have I ever
done for good or ill to be
thus barraged by these

dripping invites in
a language not quite English?
Might this garble be

indicative of
a breed of pure sex-speak, urge
as language solvent,

words distorted by
arousal howls? I used to
find these endless e-

mails amusing, proof
humans are ruled by their groins,
evidence that for

all our lofty goals
for speech (our own dear birdsong)
it’s really only

constant desperate
mating calls. But tonight these
babblings that keep

filling my mailbox
(as I try to write something
I can stand, perhaps

about living right
now, in “the naked throb of
the instant moment”

as DH Lawrence
so breathlessly put it) don’t
seem funny any

more. They make me tired.
Though I guess I’m grateful too.
Lawrence wrote that free

verse is “the very
jetting source of all will-be
and has-been . . . like a

spasm.” So it seems
my fellow creatures deluge
me daily with free

verse, sharing fits of
irrepressible desire.
Lawrence says “the quick

of the universe
is the pulsating carnal
self, mysterious

and palpable.” I
must thank my brethren for their
panting missives from

the molten core of
being. I wish them peace, (and
writhing climaxes.)

* * *

Luncheon with the Etruscans

The youngest Etruscan proposed a toast
as reedbirds with mustard were served.
“You who drink wine by the bowlful,”
he began, “you who loll and sprawl
on soft couches: even your minds
are not beyond decipherment.” We
all raised our glasses and laughed.
Turns out citizens in this florid but
short-lived civilization believed all is
alive, everything’s sacred, sentient, breathing
hard, trembling all over, just like us. Next
course: broiled plover on toast. Talk
drifted to the archeological record,
“beyond this world” contexts, and how
many words our languages had for being
drunk. We exchanged gifts and bribes.
Breast of partridge larded and fried
came next. One of the loveliest gifts
we received was an ornate fired-clay
drinking vessel. The figures on it seem
to be dancing, though they might be
peering into a cauldron of fresh entrails
trying to divine the future, or making
primitive custard. Etruscan cemeteries
were much larger and more elaborate
than their villages for the living. That
shocked some members of our party
a bit. “But our sphinxes had wings,”
the Etruscan host bragged, as his
countrymen looked away. “Same for
our horses. Our satyrs had long dirty
fingernails, out to here—”and he
measured one hand a good ten inches
in front of the other. Just then the room
went pungent with wild oregano and fennel.
“The smell of all our back yards,” one said,
and the young one wept. When the cover
was raised from its dish, we gave their
braised quail with bacon a standing ovation.

* * *

Elegy with Peonies

Peonies may indeed be the sluttiest
flowers. Sunk in their ruffles, high on
their own old rose perfume, they’re

all voluptuous appetite. Heavy headed
billowy blooms in botanical drag,
they make showy hibiscus and

thick pistiled lilies look like wallpaper
motifs from a more uptight era.
Peonies’ lives are exceedingly brief.

The tawdry blossoms babble drunkenly
to passing bees in midsummer till they lose
their splendid crowns, which lie

shattered on wet, trampled grass. Queen
Anne’s Lace stands by smug, correct,
the picture of decorum. Dear Ed, intemperate

old friend, a phone call this morning
brings me news of your suicide. Angry note
stuffed in your pocket after you’d gulped

your over-prescribed meds all at once, you
collapsed wending your way up to the roof.
I wept, remembering how you sometimes liked

to wear skirts, and how handsome you looked
in them— Braveheart meets Catholic schoolgirl.
Could your brilliance and beauty ever be prised

from the fact that you were always agonized,
always drowning? I hope the heaven you’re in
is replete with heavy metal riffs, science quizzes,

bisexual angels, endless wildness of mind,
and fields of eternally peaking peonies.   

All Poems Copyright © 2006

Amy Gerstler’s most recent book of poems, Ghost Girl was published by Penguin in April 2004. Her previous books include Medicine (Penguin, 2000), Crown of Weeds (Penguin, 1997), Nerve Storm (Viking Penguin, 1993), and Bitter Angel, (North Point Press, 1990; Carnagie Mellon University Press 1997) which won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Her work has also received a California Book Award and a Durfee Artists award and has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. These include The New Yorker, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, several volumes of Best American Poetry, and The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. She does a variety of kinds of journalism and teaches in the Writing Seminars Program at Bennington College in Vermont and at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.


from Poet’s Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets On Books That Shaped Their Art

poet Amy Gerstler


Ok, here's one possible list out of hundreds I am tempted to draw up:

Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (Ancient Japanese poetic diary of sorts, but that pale description doesn't convey how feisty, witty, observant, discerning, self possessed, endearingly haughty and contemporary the prose is. Stuffed with amazing lists like “Embarrassing Things,” “Things that Give a Clean Feeling,” “Adorable Things,” “Squalid Things,” etc.)

Franz Kafka, The Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka (Fabulous from cover to cover, it contains “The Country Doctor” one of the strangest and most poetic short stories
I've ever encountered.)

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own or any of her collections of essays or her novels or

James Tate, Selected Poems or any of his books of poems.

MFK Fisher, The Art of Eating (Compendium of 5 shorter prose books, memoir-istic in approach, about eating, cooking, being human, love, memory, the senses. Auden once said she was, for his money, the best prose writer in English.)

Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge (Gem of a novel in tiny chapters by a brilliant writer.)

Frank O’Hara, The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara

Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son (Blow mind short stories.)

Elizabeth Bishop, The Collected Poems

Wislawa Szymborska. Any of her books of poems.

Yours truly is a cheater from way back. I will substantiate this claim by immediately flouting the reasonable guidelines provided by the respected editor of this volume. That is to say that I am going to bring up other books in this brief statement, and not limit myself to mentioning only 5-10 as suggested. Please forgive me. I understand I may be booted out of the anthology. But citing only ten books is like having a 10th or 30th or 50th birthday party and being told you can only invite two people, if you are a very social sort and have lots and lots of dear, essential friends. Unfortunately, I'm not an especially social sort but have always been a greedy and obsessed reader and it pains me to acknowledge only ten books as having aided and abetted me in writing and living. It makes me feel like an ingrate. So here's my cheater's list of another 13 volumes:

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Benjamin Weissman, Dear Dead Person and Headless (Two intense, gorgeous, wild books of short stories by a guy who writes like a fusion of Kafka, Melville and David Lynch and to whom I have the good fortune to be married.)

Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems

Tom Clark. Any of his books of poems.

Bert Meyers. Ditto. (Supposedly this sadly out of print author will soon have a collected poems available.)

Putnam's Complete Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words (I'm a fiend for old reference books filled with beautiful quotes that date back to ancient Greece and Rome as well as cryptic folksy sayings from various times and places.)

Charles Simic. Any book of his poems.

Joe Brainard, I Remember (Unique, inspiring, easy to read book length autobiographical poem in short prose entries that you will never regret owning or having read.)

The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. Phillip Lopate. (Indispensable anthology that proves that poetry and essays are sister arts.)

Freud. (Sigmund was a rare, lively mind and writer. Many works are more accessible than you ever dreamed.)

The I Ching, trans. Richard Wilhelm

Joan Didion, The White Album or Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Classic American essays.)

Bernard Cooper, Maps to Anywhere (A unique book in which fiction, nonfiction and poetry somehow perform a three way mating and have lovely offspring.)

Now I feel criminal and a little ill for leaving out Rilke, Russell Edson, Akhmatova, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Sharon Olds, Ai, Mark Twain, Amos Tutola, The Story of the Stone, Moby Dick, Bruno Schulz, Ben Okri, As I Lay Dying, Elaine Equi's poems, Lucia Perillo's poems, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Barthelme's Forty Stories, The Oxford Book of Essays, Ian Stevenson's books about reincarnation....Help! This is a disaster. All the unmentioned books crammed into sagging shelves in this tiny room where I write accuse me of neglect. Dusting them will not get me back in their good graces, I'm afraid. I also fear I have defeated the commendable purpose of this exercise in which we were to narrow our selections down to under a dozen, an amount of books that could be carried to the car by someone with strong biceps in one armload. While I take responsibility for this transgression, I think a little of the blame must be placed on the influence of uncountable essential books I am surrounded by (more being written every day). I hope to spend a good portion of the rest of my life spreading the word about them. If I have spread it a little too thinly or thickly here, I'll try to pretend to act like I'm sorry.


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