Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson 1949-2017

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On The Origins Of Things

Everyone knows that the moon started out
as a renegade fragment of the sun, a solar
flare that fled that hellish furnace
and congealed into a flat frozen pond suspended
between the planets. But did you know
that anger began as music, played
too often and too loudly by drunken performers
at weddings and garden parties? Or that turtles
evolved from knuckles, ice from tears, and darkness
from misunderstanding? As for the dominant
thesis regarding the origin of love, I
abstain from comment, nor will I allow
myself to address the idea that dance
began as a kiss, that happiness was
an accidental import from Spain, that the ancient
game of jump-the-fire gave rise
to politics. But I will confess
that I began as an astronomer—a liking
for bright flashes, vast distances, unreachable things,
a hand stretched always toward the furthest limit—
and that my longing for you has not taken me
very far from that original desire
to inscribe a comet's orbit around the walls
of our city, to gently stroke the surface of the stars.

Troy Jollimore

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Lists

I have had, at last count, 44 jobs. Besides writing. Because of my ferocity on the subject of writing, I have refused promotion, insisted on strange hours and manners of employ, skirted any false career that didn’t make room for writing. The first time I noticed that my fanaticism was outwardly evident was when I finished grad school; the NJ and Philadelphia colleges where I taught paid so little that I had to work in a coffee shop, too, to make my rent. I had not been at this coffee shop long, making lattes between grading essays, before people were hanging over the counter asking for prompts, pressing their journals across the counter, telling me about the book they would someday write. My writing ferocity has a big aura, it’s true. I bring my art everywhere I go, in everything I do. Taking inventory in basement bookstores, cleaning cat piss out of attics, serving champagne from silver trays, editing books on foot disease, I bring the river of writing with me everywhere.

This is what I know about the writing life: you must be dogged. Also, you must be flexible.

If you are a writer feeling like you’re not a writer because you have no time, because you have no money, because your faith is lapsing, because your good work is largely unrecognized, remember this: the river of writing is always inside of you. It belongs to you. It is ever present. Sometimes it’s murked green and filled with bloated dead. Sometimes it sparkles and slaps with fat leaping fish. Other times, it is only a watery thread in black muck. Regardless of its incarnation, it is always there. It belongs to you and only you. You are responsible for it.


Actually, I think we worry too much about the writing/product/river itself. If you are going to write, if you will not say no, then the river will always be there. What we should really focus on is our paths to the river. Our methods of returning. Will you not venture down if there are brambles or poison ivy or agendas or hidden beasties? Will you try new paths anytime you have to? Will you do it because you love it?

As a writer, you must write to grow your own innards, your own wisdom, your own sense of self in the world. If you do your writing and share it, you will teach us what you have seen and come to understand it better yourself. This is work so imperative and illuminated that the world must not be allowed to turn without our attempts at it.

So, yeah. “Making time for writing.” This is, to some degree, a fallacy. There is very little time. You can’t make time. I work hard at other things to make money for food and shelter and books. But I maintain, stubbornly, that there is always time to write. It’s already there. If the river is inside of you, then you need not take yourself anywhere, sequester, plan, scheme, schedule, extrapolate time for your writing. You must do it, whenever and wherever and however you can. Thinking counts, too. Living counts, too. Reading counts, too. Writing counts, too. This is your work. Do it however you must.

I have two testimonial lists to the opposing but necessary planets of doggedness and flexibility. Some Things I’ve Written Upon and Some Places Where I’ve Written.

Some Things I’ve Written Upon:

Receipt tape from registers
Folded looseleaf in backpockets
Sheaths of flattened cardboard in an inventory room
The blank page in backs of books
The back flaps of books (when desperate)
Tiny notebooks
Spiral notebooks
Expensive notebooks
Cheap notebooks
recycled, yellowed, fresh, lined and unlined notebooks
Old order forms
Cocktail napkins at the bar between shifts
Paper candy bar wrappers
Once, on a dollar bill, which I then burned to make a point
Receipts from the wallet
Paper ads that fall from magazines
Postcards you meant to send
Old music notation paper
Old library dewey decimal cards
Forming words on a leg, with a finger, for memorization
In acronyms, also for memorization: “The little organ is a dream.” “Dream Organ.” “D. O., D. O.”

Some Places Where I’ve Written:

Under the hedge in Chestnut Hill
In the lunchroom
On their broken chair in the garden
Next to a wheelchair with a woman in it
Beside his easel
Sitting on sand
Sitting on rocks
Sitting on curbs
Sitting on counters
Sitting on benches
Knees up, in bed
Next to 400 suitcases in an attic
In the empty bar before intermission
On the truck
In the hallways
On the edge of the stage
On the sides of mountains
In kayaks
Next to the receiving belt
In the lunchroom
In the lunchroom
In the lunchroom
In the cleaning closet, waiting for the mop bucket to fill
In her borrowed basement
In libraries
In someone else’s kitchen
In the hospital waiting rooms
In my grandfather’s abandoned study
On a box in the closet
Upstairs, with that ghost rushing around
On trains
On porches
On planes
Here, now, where I am making notes on your faces

Be dogged and fierce. Be flexible. Own it.

Elizabeth "Frankie" Rollins

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Give All to Love

Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good-frame,
Plans, credit and the Muse,—
Nothing refuse.

’T is a brave master;
Let it have scope:
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope:
High and more high
It dives into noon,
With wing unspent,
Untold intent:
But it is a god,
Knows its own path
And the outlets of the sky.

It was never for the mean;
It requireth courage stout.
Souls above doubt,
Valor unbending,
It will reward,—
They shall return
More than they were,
And ever ascending.

Leave all for love;
Yet, hear me, yet,
One word more thy heart behoved,
One pulse more of firm endeavor,—
Keep thee to-day,
To-morrow, forever,
Free as an Arab
Of thy beloved.

Cling with life to the maid;
But when the surprise,
First vague shadow of surmise
Flits across her bosom young,
Of a joy apart from thee,
Free be she, fancy-free;
Nor thou detain her vesture’s hem,
Nor the palest rose she flung
From her summer diadem.

Though thou loved her as thyself,
As a self of purer clay,
Though her parting dims the day,
Stealing grace from all alive;
Heartily know,
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive.

Emerson

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pain

The mailman
is drunk.
It is spring. It
is spring
and the mailman is
drunk, I see him
shaking his way
down the wet
street from my
window, which
is pretty. My

pretty window the mailman
is drunk in, out
in his slicker
and bright
boots—did I say
it is raining? Rain
and the mailman
is drunk, and
eight, only eight
homes on this
street, and he
is crashing
into air
in the middle—

I love him
for this, love him
drunk, in rain,
in the green pain
oblivion is—

Is it
sick, or strange
placing myself
here in the
story, his green
princess? I did
say it is
spring, and I
see him, and see
the leaves,
slappy wet, begin
to make for the mailman
a frame, a frame
shaped like a leafy
heart, a heart
as leafy as if
he—

as if we
were, this raining
morning, happy.

Laura Newbern

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier

and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Lawrence Ferlingetti