Thursday, March 7, 2013


I'm making broadsides of my poems (limited edition of 1). That's right--one poem per person, each poem different. I'll only make 25. First come, first served. It'll be autographed and printed on fancy paper. Five American dollars each. Paypal at antrobin AT gmail DOT com.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Something huge starts up
& says "you're still here"
while the night continues
beneath some bough
& I want to place myself there
an X in the corner of this
expanse: plaintive the natives
sing low & in a new place, here
we plant our spears & begin.


I am a civil engineer on a crumbling bridge
that spans the lake near the house
where you used to live
growing up in a reed waste fine smooth things
to brighten the interior are spidering
away the life


I am a keep in a copse the woods
a reminder of bullets & forks while rattles
clamber outreach in a plastic gallows
forgetfulness does not excuse us rather from
the insides it redeems
giant rhododenron savior of back yards
split fences foment here a resolution
for the scarlet tanager
non-native solutions to overcome
this burgeoning prayerbook
how can we know how to live

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Joseph Ceravolo's "Ho Ho Ho Caribou"

This appreciation was originally published on My Other Blog on August 4, 2005. Republished here because it is a timely time for Joe Ceravolo.

Sunday, August 4, 2005

Welcome to the Church of JC (Joseph Ceravolo). Today’s sermon concerns the first section of Ceravolo’s poem “Ho Ho Ho Caribou.”

Ho Ho Ho Caribou
for Rosemary


Leaped at the caribou.
My son looked at the caribou.
The kangaroo leaped on the
fruit tree. I am a white
man and my children
are hungry
which is like paradise.
The doll is sleeping.
It lay down to creep into
the plate.
It was clean and flying.


The dedication provides context. Though the first-time reader may not know that “Rosemary” refers to Ceravolo’s wife, he or she probably instinctually knows that poets usually dedicate poems to people close to themselves. The absence of a surname also indicates an intimate level of familiarity. “Familiar” is an apt word here—the poem is about Ceravolo’s family. Or the family in general and the father/husband’s role within the family.


And what of the title? Like much in Ceravolo, I would guess that the title was initially a phrase chosen for its aural effects. The long vowels lend a certain languidity to the phrase, slow down the pronunciation, almost force a speaker to linger on the words. Try to say it fast. This “training” of the tongue and eye is instructive, as the whole poem (and Ceravolo’s work in general) deserves a reading that lingers on the small bits, the phrasings, not just the semantic effects, but the aural/oral ones as well. Ceravolo’s playfulness peeks through in the title as well, “Ho ho ho,” probably makes many readers think of gangsta rap, but as this poem predates NWA, Slick Rick, and Ice-T, we must not get anachronistic on its ass. “Ho ho ho” is what Santa Claus says. And what guides Santa’s sleigh? Reindoor, aka caribou.


The poem’s first section sets the scene and reveals its method. The first line is a verb phrase missing a subject. Who leaped at the caribou? The Roman numeral “I” that precedes the first line provides a plausible explanation, though I think no explanation is needed. The important act here is the leaping; the poem begins already in motion. Some Greek or Roman guy, Horace, maybe, or Aristotle, or both recommended beginning poems in the middle of the action. They got this idea from an older blind Greek fellow. More verb phrases follow: “My son looked at the caribou,” “the kangaroo leaped on the / fruit tree.” A lot is going on here. The first person (second, if we count Rosemary) we encounter is the speaker’s son, looking at the caribou that is, ostensibly, the inspiration for the poem. The kangaroo, an aural cousin of the caribou replicates the action in the initial line, with more specificity. We have a subject (the kangaroo) and object (the fruit tree) and an action (leaping). The emphasis on motion, the in medias res (we now return to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress), is important here because Ceravolo, while always lyrical, always concerned with sounds, is very often a narrative poet. He establishes that he is writing a narrative poem by beginning with a quick succession of actions, actions already in motion. While the pure lyric poem meditates (on a dot, rather than in a line, to be Tralfamadorian about it) on a moment, or an emotional situation (looking at London sleeping from Westminster bridge brings a minor epiphany to Will Wordsworth). A narrative poem unfolds over time—motion, physical motion, a journey, is one of the most common ways a narrative unfolds. Maybe the only way. As I Lay Dying is a lyrical narrative.


Having established the narrative, the speaker introduces himself. The poignancy of the phrase “I am a white / man and my children /are hungry” is tempered by socio-economic and racial considerations. How important is it that the speaker is a white man? Why are his children hungry? Before we can fully consider what (if any) social commentary lurks in this phrase, the speaker informs us that this, his situation (being white and poor) “is like paradise.” The family situation. The family stranded figuratively (and maybe literally) in a desert place that is not entirely a desert place (fruit trees). The presence of the “white man” as central figure in the family drama. The confusion of the elements, the leaps in imagery (and the actual “leaping” in the poem), set the scene. A white man with hungry children in a wild, dangerous place that is also paradise. Familial love creates a paradise that transcends the less than idyllic (but more than a little whimsical) landscape in which Ceravolo has placed our family.


The final lines in the stanza:

The doll is sleeping.
It lay down to creep into
the plate.
It was clean and flying.

operate primarily on an aural level. Consonant + “l” sounds prevail: “sleeping,” “plate,” “clean,” “flying.” Rhyme: “sleeping,” & “creep.” Assonance: long “e” sounds. The “pitch” of the language here is turned a notch higher (if my ear is tuned correctly) than what comes before. This is a tonal shift brought about not only by apparently discontinuous imagery, but by the texture of the language itself. Note that I say “apparently.” The sleeping doll replaces the earlier non-image of “my son.” The doll, the son, lay down, and creeps into the plate. Once again, we have a verb phrase, this time a more complex construction. The doll sleeps, lays down, and creeps. Into a plate. Because it’s hungry. “It” in the last line can refer to the doll or the plate. If the plate is clean, it is empty. It may have once contained food (clean your plate!), or not. That it is flying is consistent with the other actions reported so far: looking, leaping, creeping, sleeping. These words also recall a sort of Edenic setting. Paradise, right? Crawling, creeping things. Birds of the air. Beasts of the field. Fruit trees.


It is one thing to say that you don’t like the poetry of Joe Ceravolo. It is quite another to say that you don’t understand it, or don’t “get” it. Emotionally, his tone is very steady, and much of the time he works with narrative that is at least as “understandable” as any Faulkner novel.