Shaking Hands (TFH 19) By Christopher Luna and Josh Medsker
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Christopher Luna—Found poems from Mailer’s THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG Josh Medsker—Found poems from Sinclair’s DRAGON’S TEETH “How I Did It”—by Christopher Luna “Remixing Dragon’s Teeth”—by Josh Medsker
April 4: Little Wonders Grew Like Flowers 1. The taxi driver heard what had happened. A kind of brutal, final embrace. A very brutal, cruel kind of a thing. The Lord was really going to use him. Break him into a dozen pieces. Something had altered his perception of color. Presence, and what you could call a certain authority Flaming all over his desk like a butterfly. The sun shining. The intricacies. Muscles in a spasm. A fading of the heart. A final confirmation of some kind seemed to lift off him like smoke, just like in the movies. Didnâ€™t give away anything that mattered, save the eyes. 2. One more unhappiness at the bottom of things. Arranged to transfer his operation to Vancouver, WA. Made no move to go back. Not a quiver. Didnâ€™t know these things had a reverse. Almost fell off the couch. Somewhat intoxicated. His voice came out in a roar. Karate yells. Pretty strong for an old bastard. Must have racked up real bad karma on that one.
A tattoo on her ankle. Heart flaming up and down. Seemed to be pretty clean. Saw tenderness. The curve of her calf. The meat of her thigh. Something salvageable. Put their backs into it. Night was different. Thatâ€™s just the way it was.
April 5: Some Alone Time Behind the Groovy Old Apple Tree 1. Felt so dirty. Felt so good. Erect, determined, oblivious. Soon it was over. Freedom, his paramount concern, flew like a white bird through the window. Never expected it to happen that fast. Must have been holding it all this while. Looked to be made out of cheap webbing. Severe, depleted, thin, with very bright eyes. A large weight of responsibility dropped in an iron chamber to the bottom of the sea. Bindings loosened and fell. The procedure finished smoothly. Repentance stayed in the back with the discarded machinery. Soon a lot of people began to converse. Highly unusual. Unlikely, but possible. A new day. A new way. 2. A beautiful heart carved around the names on the apple tree.
Groovy old apple tree doesn’t get any attention and doesn’t care. Acted as if he looked really cool all the time. He liked the sound of saying it. Straight hard work made her mad. Sunk her right into the swamp of misery. It was two in the morning. It wasn’t bad. The feeling of something beautiful next to you. In love from time to time. It went on all night. Soothed everything. They got to speaking of karma. That was his idea. Wanted to do it right so she wouldn’t have to make another trip.
April 6: There are sins that the blood of a lamb, or a calf, or a turtle dove, or a fuselage, cannot remit. 1. Just an ex-anthropology student traveling West. Didn’t mind spending her night on the back seat of a Volkswagen. One tragedy after another. Like a gang rape. Like going home, to some degree. Irritated profoundly this night. Pushed to her utmost limits. Attuned to his indignation—no standing whatsoever! Didn’t want to die. Might have to meet him on the other side. The old agonizing coming back. Stared back in equal fury. No time to ponder it. Another lamb in the mold of gung ho, insides all fucked up. Surrealistic procedural posture, bright as the lights in a dream. 2. She was hot stuff. Had seen a little masturbating. One night late at night she even took off her clothes. Suddenly, she blossomed. Became a slut. Got a little wasted and ended up fucking every guy in the house. Might as well give it a good try. They couldn’t handle her. A sweet and kindred soul, sore and burning. Breasts tender from mauling. They really made it. Does that feel good. Yes. Gave her love—said not to come. The party didn’t let up. There came beautiful black moments. Lions and tigers in a cluster of roses. All she wanted was more hours.
April 9: The Man in Black Saunters out of the Cemetery 1. The real Johnny Cash was on the phone, but it was a real bad connection: “It’s a long way from morning. Five hidden pistols walked in the footsteps of your mind. I killed those men, and they’re dead. I can’t bring them back, or I would. You’re so many people to me tonight. Wish I could have seen her one more time.” Something killed the electrical system. God’s voice came out of a dark cloud to say: “Grotesque. Stupid. Idiotic. Asinine. Not acceptable.” Johnny Cash took it all in with sorrow and fatigue and considerable churning at the core of his stomach. After this episode, he stayed in that sense of glow. Of course, it was no big incident. Johnny Cash was taken over to visit the Maximum Security Prison. It got dark, it got cold, but they conducted a religious service. Put his arms around them. Didn’t think he’d ever let go. Became the center of a swarm, intoxicated. Bullet-proof, magical, banging. Satisfied. 2. Felt like he had two souls that breathed together. After they finished laughing, he liked to get off. The type to snap his fingers at the waitress. Always high, half-erect, ears sensitive. Had to make love six or seven times a night. That’s how it’s normally done: find a honey for $ 29.95, swell up those cut-off Levis of hers. Pleased to go down. Go down. Make love. Boil away. Fuck her with all the light of love in his eyes.
In the morning there was a conversation. Had to saunter out of the cemetery. It just wasnâ€™t worth the risk.
Oration I. She was powerful took. Powerful took—with the workers… she was thrilled with the propaganda… he wanted to drop it into the first vacant lot he could find… but she was from those… industrial suburbs and it frenzied her… she stood on the platform and orated: “Bread and roses for my countrymen!” --bringing them to shouting. II. “Bread for my guests, and roses for my account” Yes, indeed, twenty three million countrymen shouting in her head. Take charge for the sake of self-discipline. She was going to London on account of the strangest, dearest friend here, all the way to London on account of a present that had seized her. Take charge for the sake of beauty. She wanted beauty’s dear frenzy to be in her home to close her eyes and take charge of her funeral—a thing of joy.
Pass Hands You can read? Read it. Search it— the body. Search her blood and brains. I’m not going to shoot you. I’m being shot. Pass hands over her to see blood underneath her throat. Hard hitting hard blows on the platform— dearest friend… here, all in the head. You can put me in the newspapers—I’m not going.
Creation The machine cannot meet our demands. We gorge ourselves on images of the pink volcano, and the curly black hair, an obscene cartoon in the clutches of industry, the die cast before we were conceived.
Resignation She is close in proximity to what she pretends to be, and I enjoy imagining what she could have been. There was good there, like a revolution past, spoiled, spoken of, but too exhausted for a future.
Eyes A dark-eyed man cries into his lap. The dead-eyed man turns his gaze away.
Her Life in Marble Great lion ladies and pink, awed lackeys... This is their life. Quite stunning, really. Social hostages-gracious, fat, exceptional, sipping brandy, and laughing, idle. Her life was floating on air, yet mapped out like a prisoner, or a statue in marble.
How I Did It: Notes on Remixing Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song First of all, thanks to Jenni Baker and the Found Poetry Review for the opportunity to be a part of this fun and exciting project. Although it was quite challenging, it was rewarding as well. I have been creating poems from found material since at least 1999. Typically I arrange lines, recontextualizing overheard conversation, sentences from newspapers and magazines, and lines from other people’s poems. I first gained permission to do this without guilt from Ted Berrigan, who borrowed liberally from his friends’ poems. One of the most fruitful sources has been the nervous chatter that poets engage in before and after they read their work to an audience. I find the comments that they make while vamping quite fascinating and often poetic. Here is an example of one of the poems I created almost entirely from this type of material: Reality is a filthy tyrant in tight pants For my friends at Paper Tiger Coffee Flirted with the paleontologist. He invited me to his penthouse. It’s weird the sacrifices you make for beauty. Eyes see crazy fast. Nothing here occurs in a vacuum. William Berg saw eternity in an hour. Kind of a meandering thoughtful something. Kicks in all genres. I pleasured 23 vaginas. Jenney bitch slapped azure. My sister and I planted thought forms down the hall. “Oh shit,” she mused. This image is hardened. A tool to possibly make changes. It’s very abstract and complicated, I promise. Everything else is free and for your mouth. Here are my footnotes: Reality is a filthy tyrant in tight pants. Dennis McBride Flirted with the paleontologist. He invited me to his penthouse. Darlene Costello It’s weird the sacrifices you make for beauty. Sunshine Eyes see crazy fast. Rhonda Grace Nothing here occurs in a vacuum. Dan Nelson William Berg saw eternity in an hour. Gordon Kind of a meandering thoughtful something. Rhonda Grace I pleasured 23 vaginas. Mike G. “Oh shit,” she mused. Herb Stokes This image is hardened. Julene Tripp Weaver It’s very abstract and complicated, I promise. Alex Birkett In order to create the poems for the Pulitzer Remix, I devised the following formula: Divide the 1,050 pages of the novel into 30. This meant that each poem would have 35 lines. I decided to begin at each end of the book, take one line per page for 17 pages, and continue until the pages met in the middle. For example, the first poem (April 1) is in two parts. Part one consists of lines taken from pages 1,050-1,034. Part two consists of lines from pages 1-17. As fun as gathering the lines was, I noticed right away that simply presenting them in the order that I had found them did not allow me the control that I enjoyed in my previous found poems. My feeling is that what is most fun about found poetry is the opportunity to use someone else’s words to say what I want to say. Therefore, the arrangement of the found material must be precise. So as soon as I began my poem for April 2, I allowed myself the freedom to move the lines around so that I could begin to create interesting juxtapositions and, in some cases, build a narrative from the found material. I began gathering the lines in February. By the time April rolled around, I had gathered the lines for approximately half the days of the month.
Early on, I decided that Gary Gilmore and his girlfriend, Nicole, the two protagonists of the novel, would not appear in any of my poems. However, because sex and death pervade the story, much of what I found fit into one of these two categories. Because the novel is so dark, I found it difficult to write “happy” poems. In any case, writing nasty, dark poems was more fun. As I reached the end of the month, however, I attempted to find some light and redemption, but the true events depicted in the book still steered things in a certain direction. The final poem does not have a happy ending. Many real people are mentioned in the novel. This allowed me to include icons such as Johnny Cash, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce, and Dennis Hopper as characters in the poems. I also found enough mentions of my current place of residence, Vancouver, WA and nearby Portland, Oregon to make some fun references to my reality. For example, “Ghost Town” is my nickname for Vancouver because you can walk around town in the middle of the day and not see a single person on the street. Therefore, I titled April 28’s poem “A Very Special Ghost Town Exclusive (with Geraldo Rivera).” In some cases, I used lines verbatim. However, in keeping with the guidelines, I took license with the verb tenses, pronouns, and proper names. I sometimes created lines by combining two or three phrases. I also cobbled together surreal phrases by combining words from throughout the page. You might have noticed that my math was a bit off. When I got to the last day, I had about 30 spare lines. I decided to use them to create a Big Finish. I hope that you enjoy my Pulitzer Remix Poems. Rules are for the meek, Christopher Luna *** Christopher Luna is the Poet Laureate of Clark County, WA and a graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, CO. He is the co-founder, with Toni Partington, of Printed Matter Vancouver, whose publications include Ghost Town Poetry, an anthology of poems from the popular Vancouver, WA open mic reading he founded in 2004. Luna’s books include GHOST TOWN, USA and The Flame Is Ours: The Letters of Stan Brakhage and Michael McClure 1961-1978. Recent publications include the anthologies It’s Animal But Merciful and gape-seed, Pulitzer Remix, Chiron Review, and Soundings Review.
Remixing Dragon’s Teeth When I began remixing Dragon’s Teeth, I didn’t set myself any rules, aside from writing a poem every day, per the guidelines. When I first began experimenting with found poetry, many years ago, I took advertisements and other non-poetic texts and re-purposed them—that is, put them in a poetic context by fashioning lines and enjambments where there were none, and so on. It’s one thing to re-purpose advertising, which is anonymous, and it’s a wildly different thing to repurpose Upton Sinclair. I should say again that this is the novel he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for. So, I let the words be my guide, but I didn’t slavishly stick to their original context. I took the words where they wanted me to take them. If I have done my job right, Sinclair will be a faint echo in my work—like a mentor, several generations dead come back to life briefly, to guide a fellow writer. I used all manner of randomization, to pick my words. I made lists of all the words in the margins, going down, to see if there was anything of interest. I dog-eared pages to see what the triangles showed… I fed the text through cut-up machine… and I even closed my eyes and pointed to words blindly. I want to point out something though, while we are here. The act of randomization does not in any way let the writer off the hook with having to craft a strong poem. Unless pure randomization in composition is the poet’s goal. I did a few of those as well, but not many were worth showing… At the end of the month, I had well over 30 poems, and I just kept going. The paperback I ordered of Dragon’s Teeth had fallen apart, so I ordered a hardcover antiquarian edition of the book. That was the text I used to create these poems in Shaking Hands. I feel a special kinship with Sinclair and his desire to explore societal problems through art. I hope these poems (and the other 30 plus Pulitzer Remix poems) are enjoyable and thought-provoking, and hope I did him proud. *** Josh Medsker is a writer and educator from New Jersey (via Alaska). For a full bio, please visit the TFH website.
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