Ars Poetica Conference, Larry Woiwode

Another Time’s Forgotten Space. Ferro cement, glass. 2009. 350 cm H x 550 W x 100 cm D. Balingup, Duncan Moon


Hosted by Rumination U

The undiscovered, unpublished
Huddle up in clotted pods,
Whelp-whales lashing at invitees
As if they’re the inviters’ gods!

Even the classic Hollywood films
Scheduled all across the week
Inspire distress in upright clods
While a snake-eyed wily sneak

Devises lies to unseat a recent hire
Who passed him over as editor
of an online published screed
Set up by a well-endowed predator

Of the needy young — publishable
Undergrads who likely might like
A night of ease or a whole lot more
After seven hours of open mike —

I won’t use “mic”— dishonoring my
Irish colleague’s guileless talk nearby.

Addictions? I have, as I count, two.”


Say three. You know the followers of the prophet
they call Jesus were named Christians at Antioch.”

“That Bible stuff’ll pile in on you!”

But sure you

know all races bear identical blood, the limit
on their habitations circum —”

“See what I mean?

You keep that up, we’ll see you booed offstage—
a foreigner. That talk’s illegal! This is the USA!”

ONE: open paper to invitees
Night sets edgy dark down on

frothy orange coils flaring south
at horizon level, mid-size rainbows,

a route to creative freedom passing through
(like black coffee) first the Southern Hemisphere
in swift descent past Mexico, Chiapas and Honduras,

“Times earlier, when you hurried off to school —
It is the same hour though a later day —
You walked with Pizarro in a copybook,

And Cortez rode up, reining tautly in —
Firmly as coffee grips the taste, — and away!”1
So you wrote, Hart, in the quavering aspiration

of Aesop’s weedy tambourine,2 with Pizarro
and Cortez and Coffee and Church cheek
by-jowl in every primary history book!

2. International photo-maker’s response:
Bean counters? No, no, that’s hand sort

of coffee. Not many families engage in
that in a family way in Uruguay.

And you? The raspy black aroma mingles
with breakfast delectation, and I’m led
to think, Is energy a form of light?

Or have I that backward? The rapture of
light reveals unlikely wonders detected
in precincts close to semi-perfection —

like a submarine camera inserted in
a barracuda or tuna, trout or bleeding
yellowtail humping over water, hopping rocks,

every detail a provision and entreaty to magnify —
See! As in an academic corridor ten paces off
a newly christened version of Camille Villa,

pseudonym of a conquest about to ignite
flashbulbs, is caught in flagrante
kissing her professor, same

gender, on the mouth — and
we salute it! with a cup
of coffee of course.


A percolator bubbling up jugs
of rondure above
the two of us
bilious black
blooded swig of
how history tastes
seared in artichokes
below tunneling miners
where Cortez halted
as a Barb’s head
shies high at
its bit
and coffee
grips both
high and low
tastes, an art.


you buy
and eat
to birth
by such
as I, ah!
such is lie,
such is bounty
of house of nests
where nestlings rest
in level daily rations of
brother-and-sister-hood .

So. Our broadest agenda is excellence and
the ways in which

excellence broadcasts whatever phrase is original
in conformance to truth—wishful term not many
attempt to define, though on any day see
Chopin supersede every super-refined
musical synthesizer and any theory
of standard or craftsmanship
we carry or can find or
formulate — Short
The Classics.
Drink it up!

All on a morning when I
sense I’m ready to die
in the humdrum of living through
another conference tedium minus you.

But in discontent I’m content to see
your main frame still spinning my DVD.

Now I must meet the classy-sassy
(as advertised) film directress
of Pizarro and Cortez array,

Ver-heenia—who conveys hex-drug
from august Uruguayan eyes
then jiggles my coffee jug,

“Yes, always coffee. And eat.
In a meeting. A car, a street.
Always Americans eat & eat.”

And I know I’m not
worthy to kiss
the callused hot

hand she reaches
to my mug and I
confess, yes,

my need at times to
say, American!
with plenty dimes

for another loaf or
a bar or pound or
cash fill-

ing the till
of food to my

ears and past,
and I confess I’ve
expressed the dispatch

of the privileged for peons
who plow and till soil for eons,
after toiling at that trade myself, aye,

for twenty-eight years, thus far, and
(I retire my mug-jug and take her hand),
“I’m ashamed,” a drip, a drop, my confesión

confirmed in the ease of her slow-absolving
smile. “What do you do?”

“I raise horses. You?”

“Film.  Name one.”
                                         “You like to ride?”
                                                                              “Mostly I —”

A THC bedlamite on a rippling quest

dances with bare-naked breasts across
the gravel roof of a guest motel and knocks
a barely-sipped bottle from a bricked parapet
that five stories later emits a glassy ka-kerfloof.

While two miles west at a dignified bash
another bottle in a purposeful angry splash
is bomb-sited from a balcony by a GTA crash-
er of the party, a fleering superior nature abashed
by a B, so now in sloshed and unadult-terated inebri —

Bri, Bri, Bri, keeps coming up but it’s Ver-heenia, Si,

who swings a leg in black-leather Levis, spike high
heels, shirt-jack of Uruguayan peasant weave,
a cinematic down-and-up look to tease,

a standard for the time it takes to
allow an unvoiced phrase to test
itself and seal its several open

jets; a look reined with
a leg clasp, and I dead
know, know I can bed —

(but choose not to, not I,
a married American guy)

a sheeted clatter of shoed
feet testing the rider’s sashay,
clippety-coffety, coffety-clopping

across a pink scoria road
between cofee-tinted
buttes, — and away!

1“Van Winkle,” from “The Bridge,” The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, New York: Doubleday, 13

2 “Black Tambourine,” The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, “White Buildings,” 67

Larry Woiwode


Review by Laurinda Lind

This long poem with its structural inventiveness made me feel as if were trotting along beside the well-known author trying to take in a ton of input, and barely processing one item before he was sliding another in view. I was a little breathless. It was a good poetic workout, and I wish I were as observant as this. But I think if there had been a quiz afterward, I would have flunked unless it was an open-book exam—which is to say that this is packed enough to require several attentive readings. Wow.


Review by Kurt Luchs

Arguably the greatest funny poem on the occasional horrors of poetry readings and conferences has already been written. That would be “Fresh Air” by Kenneth Koch, an epic outburst that is still hilarious and still right on the money more than 60 years after it was published. So it takes a lot of guts and ambition to try to tackle the subject with something on a similar scale. It turns out Larry Woiwode is up to the task. This incredibly dense (in a good way) poem overflows with bizarre and amusing details about the myriad types of hacks, phonies, freaks and downright criminals who sometimes infest these events, and the cognitive dissonance that comes with contemplating great art among not-always-so-great people. Nor does the author shy from turning his satirical eye on himself — at one level the poem operates as a kind of spiritual inventory, and that helps keep it from turning into an exercise in finger pointing, as if to say, “We’re all in this together, folks!” While I’m not generally a fan of poetry that forms shapes, as several sections of this one do, I think the technique works here. It’s simply like another layer of an onion, except that this onion, when peeled, leaves us laughing instead of crying.

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