Sunday, September 27, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Heather Schubert on Aleister Crowley

“The reception of a poem, being a ritual Magical initiation, suffers no interruption. The music must be perfect; hard, maybe, to appreciate, as is Beethoven, but unmistakably sublime when fully understood. “ The Confessions of Aleister Crowley

     One of the reasons I love poetry is because it involves aspects of language that appeal directly to, and communicate by, sound and sight. Poetry relies on the sound of the spoken language and on figurative language. It has the ability to transport the reader into an entirely different reality in an extremely short time. When I read many of Aleister Crowley’s poems I find myself submerged into decadent tales full of rich scents, sounds and tastes so descriptive they brutally assault my senses. "The Eyes of The Pharaoh" takes me deep into an ancient pyramid. I go from standing in a tomb, to a temple and back again. I can smell the acrid scent of death wafting through the musty halls and taste dry dust in my mouth. Crowley’s ability to inspire the reader’s imagination is notable. When it comes to being disgustingly descriptive in some of his more vile pieces he certainly possesses a unique gift.
Whatever the substance of the remarks and the ultimate message, poetry is characterized by linguistic elements that go beyond standard sentence structure. 
     From a literary standpoint Crowley was an unoriginal poet in the sense that he mimicked other great writers primarily in form. There is a great deal more value in Crowley’s poetry than what we can gain from it purely on a literary or analytical basis. He wrote poetry from a young age until close to his death, pouring himself into this artistic form of expression his entire life. When you consider the magical and spiritual experiences and transformations he underwent during his lifetime; the secrets he learned, guarded and taught; the prophetic visions he had; and the sheer amount of knowledge he possessed, it would be naïve to think that none of that came through in his poetry.
     Spiritual art of this type has the power to transmit realizations directly to us, as if we share in the artist’s journey. Some spiritual experiences aren’t easily translated into words and poetry provided Crowley with the perfect artistic medium. Some of his poems attempt to describe intense moments of union in which division falls away and the unity of reality and individual awareness is experienced as one fluid stream. Others describe ecstatic experiences of a different kind, while some depict the subtleties of our inner life and of the spiritual journey itself. The language of other genres of writing is expressed as being "poetic" when it draws heavily on either indirect expression of ideas through imagery, symbolism, or figurative language or when it draws heavily on the sound of words. Much of his other writings are poetical in nature because they draw on these expressions of ideas and because he was truly a poet at heart. If he hadn’t been, I do not think that his ideas and philosophies would have survived as long as they have. The work of Aleister Crowley speaks to my soul and has inspired me to discover and describe my individual spirituality through my own poetry and other writings.
     Aleister Crowley is best known for being an occultist and the scribe of the Book of the Law, which introduced Thelema to the world. He was a prolific writer and I find that many people are not aware of the intense volume of poetry he published during his lifetime. The fact is that he published it on a fairly consistent basis starting in 1898 and ending in December of 1946, shortly before his death. He published more poetry than anything else. When you take on Crowley’s poetry you must cast aside your preconceived notions of the man himself and of his literary handicaps. You have to be impartially open to it. I encourage you to approach it with new eyes and believe me, you will see new things.

© 2015 Heather Schubert

Bio: Heather Schubert’s education and involvement in Thelema and the philosophies of Aleister Crowley has been rich, broad, deep and exciting. Her burning passion currently lies in further propagating the Law of Thelema and in expanding the areas in which these philosophies apply to all aspects of modern day life. She joined Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O., in 1994 and has been an ordained Priestess in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica since 1999. She teaches classes on the poetry of Aleister Crowley, as well as on his other writings and rituals. Heather has studied classic literature, poetry, philosophy, psychology, religion, anthropology and early childhood education. Her interests and talents lie specifically in applying the Waldorf and Montessori teachings of the therapeutic aspects of creative play across many scientific disciplines and philosophies including research in positive child psychology, sociology, philosophy and other sciences as they relate to what cultivates thriving childhood experiences. She was the editor of the Crowned and Conquering Child for three years. Her poems have been published in a local journal called The Blue Fur as well as in a variety of coffee table books, newsletters and magazines for years. She is currently working on a collaboration of collected poems by Aleister Crowley, a book on thelemic parenting styles and another book that delves into the spiritual aspects of orgasmic birth from a thelemic viewpoint.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Patrick Grizzell on William Stafford


     The last time I saw William Staffordwe were standing near a table at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival where Muhammad Ali, surrounded by a pressing crowd, was signing copies of his autobiography. We were both a little star-struck. Stafford had been signing at a table too. His crowd had been much smaller - “an occasional gathering of the faithful” is how he put it. A few years later, when he died, I thought (and wrote) about that day, about him, about how he sees it, and how he writes it.
    I thought about him a lot today, too. All day, big tanker planes flew back and forth over my house en route to fighting the fires in the Sierra foothills. I thought of his time fighting fires as part of his conscientious objector work during WW2. I thought of his integrity, his practical way of seeing the world, of being true to it and willing to pay for that truth, and the little miracles he makes when he writes it down. He is down in MY heart, a frequent visitor who always offers clarity and a persistent gnawing to get to the meat of it.

     Here is a favorite little poem of his:


They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.

Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing

Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
places where the scars will be.

(from An Oregon Message, Perennial, 1987)

article (c) 2015 Patrick Grizzell, poem (c) 2015 Estate of William Stafford

Bio: Patrick Grizzell is a poet, songwriter and visual artist. His books include Dark Music, Chicken Months (about which Robert Bly wrote, "... the poems have a sweet spontaneity and tenderness."), Minotaure Into Night (with sumi paintings by Jimi Suzuki), and the recently published chapbooks, 13 Poems, and It's Like That. He has a full length collection, Writing in Place, under way. He was a founding member and previous director of, as well as an editor for, the Sacramento Poetry Center. He has performed poetry and music with, among others, Allen Ginsberg, Leon Redbone, Gary Snyder, Jim Ringer and Mary McCaslin, Edward Sanders, Taj Mahal, Shizumi Shigeto, William Stafford, Robert Creeley and Anne Waldman. Grizzell studied art and literature at CSUS with Maya Angelou, Dennis Schmitz, Eugene Redmond, Kathryn Hohlwein, John Fitzgibbon, Jimi Suzuki and others.
  Grizzell's  band, Proxy Moon, will release a CD later this summer. John Lee Hooker once said he "sound pretty good" on the dobro.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Lynne Thompson on Pablo Neruda

And it was at that agepoetry arrived in search of me

Like many poets, I began scribbling verse at a young age.  (With any luck, my sister-in-law will never feel compelled to share the poem I wrote when she married my brother.)  Post-college, my desire to write poems dissipated as other priorities took hold.  That is, until I walked into Los Angelesmuch-lamented Duttons bookstore and plucked a copy of Pablo Nerudas Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair from  the shelf.  I didnt know then about the scope of Nerudas oeuvre or his Nobel Prize or his political and diplomatic careers.  What I knew was that when I read and you are like the word Melancholy./I like for you to be still and you seem far away and I no longer love her, thats certain, but maybe I love her./Love is so short, forgetting so long, I was hookedand not merely hooked by the romantic notions these words conveyed but by the musicality that made them unforgettable.  These poems would teach me that the music of the line is what makes poetry.

What I didnt know was that I would be enchanted by other facets of Nerudas poetry, as well.  His curiosity, for example, as reflected in The Book of Questions:  how do the oranges divide up/sunlight in the orange tree? or and what is the name of the month /that falls between December and January? or in the sea of nothing happens/are there clothes to die in?  These whimsical, philosophical mediations are eternally delightful meals for any writers consumption.

I came to learn, too, of Nerudas passionate political commitments in reading A Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for the Chilean Revolution where he begins by invoking Walt Whitman, relying on his  gray hands,/so that, with your special help/line by line, we will tear out by the roots/and destroy this bloodthirsty President Nixon and continuing, in praise of his homeland for Chile, for her blue sovereignty,/for the ocean of fisherman,/for the copper and the struggles in the office,/for the bread of nightingale children,/for the sea, the rose and ear of grain,/for our forgotten countrymen…  Of course, were still living in a country that clings to the types of political stances Neruda reviled and we would do well to follow his lead in calling out those who promote them, whether in Washington, D.C., Texas, or anywhere else in the country.

I also learned that, despite his concerns with political issues in his homeland, Neruda maintained a deep concern and keen observation for ordinary things.  One only has to read his odes (among my favorites:  Ode to a Pair of Socks, my feet were/two woolen/fish/in those outrageous socks/two gangly/navy-blue sharks/impaled/on a golden thread and Ode to Clouds, giant feathers/ of light, nests/of water/and now a single/filament/of flame or rage.  I re-read the odes as a constant reminder to look and look again to make sure Ive looked as closely as possible.

The references above dont begin to do justice to the breadth of the work of Pablo Neruda.  The Poetry of Pablo Neruda published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2003 is almost 1000 pages and Copper Canyon Press has recently announced the upcoming publication of his lost poems.  These are all poems to be read and re-read; that send me running to my pens and papers in the hope that a little of Nerudas magical genius will rub off so I can write the first, faint line/faint, without substance pure/nonsense,/pure wisdom/of someone who knows nothing

Note: All italicized lines of poetry are written by Pablo Neruda

Bio: Lynne Thompson’s first collection, Beg No Pardon, won the Perugia Press Book Award and the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award.  Start With A Small Guitar is her second full-length manuscript and follows the publication of two chapbooks: We Arrive By Accumulation and Through a Window.  A Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and the Summer Literary Seminars, her poems have been widely published includng Ploughshares, Sou’Wester, and Crab Orchard Review and are forthcoming in the African American Review and Prairie Schooner.  Thompson is Reviews & Essays Editor of the California journal, Spillway.

Lynne Thompson's author page is here.

copyright 2015 Lynne Thompson

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Marina Tsvetaeva by Vesna Goldsworthy

     If anyone were to trace my footfall in the poetry library in order to mark out my poetic “city state”, the map would show repeated visits to the collections of Akhmatova, Brodsky, Cavafy, Eliot, Rilke, Seferis, Tsvetaeva and Yeats. Poetry in my native Serbian remains a secret spot on the map. The names of my favourite Serbian poets – Crnjanski, Lalic, Dis – mean so little to the Anglophone reader that I hesitate even to mention them here. Theirs is the poetry I don’t need to revisit between the covers of a book because it lives inside my head. Instead, their lines arrive in unbidden snatches – when I am walking, taking a shower or making lunch – like palimpsest echoes of an earlier life.
     Russian poetry occupies a substantial quarter of this “city state”, a home from home. Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva are its chatelaines. If I were forced to choose one, it would probably be Akhmatova, but I reread Tsvetaeva’s Novogodnee (“New Year’s Greeting: An Elegy for Rilke”) at least once a year.
     Rainer Maria Rilke and Marina Tsvetaeva never met. They corresponded between May and December 1926. Rilke’s “Elegy for Marina” was written in June 1926, to accompany his gift to her, a copy of Duino Elegies, one of my favourite collections. In return, Marina’s elegy for Rilke, written in her Parisian exile on receiving the news of his death (he died of leukaemia on 29 December, having never told her that he was seriously ill) is a lament, an extended ululation which never fails to shake me to the core. It follows few poetic rules, but it defines a metaphysics of mourning.
     Tsvetaeva’s contemplation of the meaning of life, language, loss and love is too profound to do it justice in a blog. Joseph Brodsky only partly succeeded in analysing Novogodnee  in his glorious seventy-page essay “Footnote to a Poem”. Such is the complexity of Tsvetaeva’s verse that you can only ever succeed in part. Like the epiphanies that grow out of a painful life -- and few have known as much pain as Marina Tsvetaeva -- the poem is both staggeringly simple and resistant to periphrasis. It is also probably untranslatable from Russian, though its English translations are solid enough.
     The international translator who succeeded most fully, I believe, is the novelist Danilo Kis. His Serbian rendition of Novogodnee is one of the most beautiful poems of my mother tongue. I hear Tsvetaeva, even when I read her in Russian, through a gravelly, cigarette smoke stained gauze of Danilo Kis’s voice.
     Kis haunts my memories of my native Belgrade, propping up the bar of the Writers’ Club, or arguing something in one of the editorial offices of the many literary magazines which flourished on a shoe string in the dog-days of socialism. He was a symbol, an encapsulation of a writing life I had wanted to lead, a life now imbued with all the melancholy of a “future in the past”, a future which never happened.

     I met Brodsky once, in London, quarter of a century ago. Although our conversation was brief, I managed to eulogise Tsvetaeva’s poem, praise Danilo Kis’ translation most effusively, and not even refer to his “Footnote”. I no longer remember how we arrived at the topic. I suspect that I was no good at small talk with a poet whose verse had meant so much to me, yet I was also too self-conscious to flatter him. But this memory too is somehow in keeping with Novogodnee... it embarrasses me no more. 

Bio: Vesna Goldsworthy (née Bjelogrlić) is a Serbian writer and poet who lives in England. Her books include Chernobyl StrawberriesInventing RuritaniaThe Angel of Salonika (2011), a collection of her poems.[1] Her novel Gorsky was published in 2015. In 2010, she presented a BBC radio 4 programme on finding one's voice in a foreign land. She won the Crashaw Prize in 2011 and is from Belgrade. She is a Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University. Previously she worked for the BBC Serbian Service as a journalist.

Note: you can pre-order Vesna Goldsworthy's excellent new novel, Gorsky, from

© 2015 Vesna Goldsworthy

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: "Returning to Canterbury" by Frank Mundo


   Back in school, my teachers swore that Chaucer and Shakespeare and Milton (each of whom had entire courses devoted to studying his works) were probably the greatest poets who ever lived. My Chaucer teacher even went a step further, dropping the “probably,” and calling Chaucer the Father of English poetry and the greatest poet of all time.
     And, after taking this class, and another two courses all about The Canterbury Tales, I agreed. I enthusiastically agreed! Chaucer was amazing, and I was hooked. Why hadn’t I heard about him before? Why didn’t anyone write like this anymore? I wanted to write like this. I wanted to write something epic, too – not the shapeless, rhyme-less, craft-less, whining, coded, confusing and inconsequential stuff I believed everyone else to be writing at that time.

Geoffrey Chaucer 

     There was just one problem.
     I was one of them. In fact, I still considered myself mainly a whiny and inconsequential fiction writer, not really a poet at all, let alone a poet of any merit. I was a dabbler at best whose main poetic ambition was simply “to get girls,” so this connection was a true life-changer for me. Nothing, before or since, has had the same effect on me that reading The Canterbury Tales had – not after hundreds or maybe even a thousand or more books later.
     And it wasn’t just the sheer size and scope of the work. I actually related to Chaucer for some reason – unlike Shakespeare or Milton or seemingly anyone else, not to mention any of the modern poets either, who, in my mind wrote nothing like these greats. Truly unique, The Canterbury Tales was highly structured and formal and yet so easy and enjoyable to read and to understand. It was musical and funny and clever. The decasyllabic couplets and mostly iambic rhythm seemed perfect for this kind of storytelling.
     A couple more years of studying Chaucer and almost a decade later, I’d written what I considered my first “real” poem, The Brubury Tales, an homage to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – a 65,000 word “epic” rhyming poem. Finally, I felt like I was a poet/storyteller, too. And while I’m no Chaucer and never will be, and no teachers care about my work enough to teach it to the future poets of the world, I still feel that strong connection to Chaucer and his work through my work. In fact, whenever I feel doubt about my ability (which is all of the time) or whenever my work gets rejected from journals or gets a bad review (which is all of the time), I can and do (and will continue to) return to Chaucer’s world for a little while to forget about the problems in mine.

 © 2015 Frank Mundo

Bio: Frank Mundo is the author of The Brubury Tales (foreword by Carolyn See), a modern version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales set in Los Angeles just after the 1992 riots.

Visit Frank Mundo's Amazon author page.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Guest Blog: Annette Sugden reviews Rick Lupert's "The Gettysburg Undress"

When I was tasked with writing a review of Rick Lupert's latest book of poetry, The Gettysburg Undress, I was excited. Why? I thought it would be easy since Rick is one of my favorite poets, and a wonderful person who has done so much for the poetry community not just of Greater Los Angeles, but also worldwide with his Poetry Super Highway site, and phone in poetry open reading pod casts. Not to mention that he was the generous host of the long standing, but now sadly defunct open reading at the Cobalt Cafe, who made gorgeous broadsides for every featured reader.

Instead it's the opposite experience because how do I do justice to a writer I admire so much? Do I take off my clothes, but here in Phoenix, as I can't afford the plane ticket to Gettysburg? It is in the 90's here already. It could be refreshing. However, my thighs will stick to the chair, so I go hyper literal instead, and opt to write in pants, and a shirt.

It's a good thing I opted for clothes, since The Gettysburg Undress is an anthology of poetry about a family vacation that Rick Lupert took with his wife, Addie, and four year old son to Washington D.C., and other nearby historical sites in the Mid Atlantic states. Nudity just doesn't seem appropriate, even if there is a lot of potty type humor, and a few descriptions of actual bathrooms. In my defense there are a lot of body references, and one wish for nudity in Lupert's delightfully droll observational poetic voice.

Age Test with Rick Lupert

Do you feel your age?
asks one man. So I
take my hands and touch
different parts of my body,
pause to consider, then answer.
No, about ten years younger
which gives me an idea for a
new kind of Guess Your Age booth.

With section headings like "we arrive in Washington D.C. and do things which are documented on the following pages," brilliantly concise, laugh out loud pieces such as:

Children, Don’t Read This

I misread a sign that says Gusty Winds Area
as Guilty Winds Area and think
My God, who did they blow now?

        Lupert captures the associative absurdity of life as an adult, while flawlessly capturing the whimsical honesty of the inner smart ass child that never really dies in those of us who can keep from willingly jamming sticks up back door orifices.

Although most of the poems are short, and a few are only one line, there are longer pieces such as the fourteen stanza, At the Air and Space Museum, itself a microcosm of the experience of the reading of the rest of the book, with each verse a complete short poem in itself.

If you can't already tell, I love the book. Rick Lupert has such a distinct voice, and since I've seen and heard him read his work live, I could hear his voice in my head as I read. As a work of poetry, The Gettysburg Undress is highly successful, and as a piece of humorously honest travel writing, it far surpasses the popular prose author, Bill Bryson.

Somehow I turned very serious. I guess that can happen when one wears pants. Perhaps I should have at least gone braless. But now that this review is done, I can go disrobe. Although I do need to go to the library. Perhaps I should wait until later, so I don't get arrested.

The Gettysburg Undress, poems by Rick Lupert, copyright 2014, Rothco Press (, ISBN-10: 1941519091, ISBN-13: 941519-09-7, 212 pages, $ 19.95

article content © 2015 annette sugden
poetic content © 2015 rick lupert

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Walter Ruhlmann's "Crossing Puddles"

I’ve yet (and probably never will), write a book about my hometown; not the place of my birth, but where I spent my formative years, or those places which have had the greatest influence on me. Very few poets can do without opening the floodgates to melancholia, anger, and disappointment. These feelings are as much a part of ourselves as the earth we occupy, and we, as human beings, prefer to stay in control. Walter Ruhlmann’s newest collection Crossing Puddles (© 2015 Robocup Press), is a wonderful and highly pleasurable example of a poet who’s not afraid to explore this complicated transformation through a poetic medium.
Ruhlmann, an English teacher and publisher of mgv2, gives the reader an intense, parabolic travelogue with Crossing Puddles that begins in Normandy, then moves to Bresse (a region of eastern France that butts up against the Alps), and then into the asymmetrically precise and vast landscape of Ruhlmann’s consciousness. There’s loving (and not so loving), reminiscences in the first section titled “Normandy”, where Ruhlmann adroitly leads the reader through the labyrinth of his childhood and family memories. Nature darkly and deliciously haunts the early years of Ruhlmann’s incarnation on this earth, as in the poem “Another Bleak House”:

The orchard behind the house was even gloomier. Apple trees, pear trees,
quince trees, plum trees, thick grass and rhubarb, dahlias, daffodils,
gladiola, irises, and lilies. Peonies and chrysanthemums.
The fog often filled the garden, anti-Eden, anti-chamber of a past mixed
with industry, agriculture and trade. Trade mostly. Dirty money, stolen
goods, black market income, an inherited greed.

In the second section “Bresse,” Ruhlmann takes the reader through a series of defining crystallized moments, both quotidian (“Meat”), and sexual (“Jerking in the Bus”). This kind of subject matter is always in danger of becoming pedantic, and is anything but in the skillful hands of Ruhlmann’s poetry. Again, nature plays a predominant role in Ruhlmann’s work, and here, we glimpse a more robust and intriguing portrait of Ruhlmann the man, who, while reminiscing over an unforgettable and disturbing experience, finds his peace and pleasure in honest hard work, as in the poem, “The Crusty Dark”:

In the shed showing its inside
I can see two saws -
a spotting that brings new thoughts:
soon these dry twigs and arms and boughs
will be cut off, dismantled, dismembered.

More wood to burn the fire next winter.
More blood will flood and whirl in my heart.

Winter has already started in Maore,
the island where I left my pride, my joy, and pieces of my mental health.
I hate to say this but bats are mad.
Other flying mammals - flying foxes - flowed high above,
wider, fluffy, somehow less disturbing than these fat dragonflies
who circle, twirl, swirl and whirl
chasing mosquitos, flies and gnats.
My late cat used to catch them from the balcony where I used to live.

I love to say this:
I love my worker’s hands
they dig soil and scratch and tear and plough.
Dark fingernails, large red scratches, abrasive palms.
The soreness cannot erase the pleasure throughout the day.

The last section, “Remote Places of the Mind,” reveals the open-ended resolution of where Ruhlmann’s traveled, along with the reader, into this present moment. Questions that were never answered regarding family (“Late Epiphanies”), love (“The Blue Tit’), and the identity (“Genesis Revisited,”), come to the fore in a disturbing and wonderful sequence of abstract poems. Who has Ruhlmann become? Or, more accurately, who is he becoming, as in the poem “I Wish It Would Snow for Christmas (Another Acrostic Poem from a Deranged Soul)”:

Sometimes life is so bitching you wonder why existence matters so much.
No trees, no garlands, no stupid baubles hung anywhere.
Other lands, dreamed and fancied, could give shelter to that deranged soul
of mine.
Why haven’t they sent me tickets to take that ghost train to hell?

Fallacy, false images, fake and fancy dressing for the forlorn.
Omens crash on that wrecked brain of mine,
restless, neurosis and neurasthenia, neuralgia won’t leave me in peace, just
bits and pieces that

clatter and eventually shatter.
Hummus will remain after the fall.
rotten skin,
inane limbs,
stained soil,
torn flesh,
sick and sulfuric ashes blown away by the wind from the snowy eastern

As an artist of any stripe, it remains a constant duty to one’s vocation to keep questioning, researching, and refining one’s identity. Ruhlmann’s Crossing Puddles pays homage to this courageous and ongoing process.

Crossing Puddles, Walter Ruhlmann, © 2015 Robocup Press, 73 pages, ISBN 978-1-32-098137-8, $11.99

poetry content © 2015 Walter Ruhlmann
article content © 2015 marie lecrivain