The Hudson Pier Poets
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Introduction:
Ten Years by the River
by Stephanie Dickinson

Key West: Discussing Beckett
Lawrence Mallory

The Night John Candy Died
Seventh Inning Stretch
Mark Larsen

Visible Remains
Ellen C. Goldberg

All Angels
Madeline Artenberg

Black Irishman
Stephanie Dickinson

Facts of Life
Nicholas Johnson

Discouraginí Words
Paul Espel

Vigil
Karl Gluck

Frozen Valley
Tony Vlachos

Weird Vegetation
(Madre de Dios Jungle, Peru)
Andrew Kaufman

Someone is Waiting
Sharon Silber

this'll be the one
Eileen Brilliant

I Was a Closet Woman
Chocolate Waters
 

Introduction:
Ten Years by the River
by Stephanie Dickinson

In 1991, Ellen Goldberg and Lawrence Mallory met for coffee, strangers brought together by a posting at Poets House. Soon joined by Madeline Artenberg and Stephanie Dickinson, the four began meeting in Larryís loft on Lafayette in the East Village. There, poetry was followed by his elaborate dinners, a portent for the future.

Though initially nameless, the character of the sessions was clearly defined. Ours was not going to be the business-as-usual workshop where participants read, got their dose of criticism, and went home. A salon-style atmosphere prevailed in which the earthly pleasures of conversation and cuisine co-resided with the spirituality of poetry. When the meetings moved to Midtown, a block away from the river, the name, "Hudson Pier Poets," took hold. An ad in The Poetry Calendar brought in the next tide: Chocolate Waters, Mark Larsen, Nicholas Johnson, and Paul Espel, then another: Karl Gluck, Sharon Silber, Eileen Brilliant, and Tony Vlachos. Poets drifted in from other workshops. Andy Kaufman joined.

The number of members fluctuated. Only in New York City, with its vast resources of talent, could the group have reconstituted over and over. The age of participants has ranged from 20 to 86, attendance from three to thirteen. Poets have driven from upstate New York and flown in from Texas to be present.

The Hudson Pier Poets have never had a leader, a poet-guru whose opinion counted more than that of other members. We pass the wine, we laugh, let the one-liners fly. We argue, we start too late, we go on too long, we critique our process, but thereís always a seriousness, a sense of the sacred, when discussion focuses on a particular poem. Even more than its longevity, the groupís most astonishing feature has been the high quality of the criticism offered. We have sought to give the best word-by-word, line-by-line edit possible, the kind of critique that a working writer can use, not the negative, ego-driven critique that turns the taste of writing sour.

The groupís longevity is certainly remarkable. For nearly ten years, we met in the loom and redolence of the river. Our upcoming anthology previewed here, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Hudson Pier Poets, celebrates that decade during which each member panned his own tributary of the poetic river, experimenting, sometimes converging in a new and stronger flow.

"Diversity" is the buzzword of our time and this collection speaks it. Geographic diversity: Not everyone who gathered at the Pier was a New York original, though Larry and Paul (W.Va.), Nick (CT), Chocolate (PA), and Stephanie (IA), are as die-hard as any. Aesthetic diversity: Formal, rhymed verse co-exists with chopped, free verse; the autobiographical poem dances with the persona poem; language floats in its own space. The post-modernist textures complement rather than compete with one another.

Represented are the quirky eroticism of Chocolate Waters, whose four collections include Charting New Waters and Take Me Like A Photograph, and the clear-eyed, mystical work of Sharon Silber (Canadian Geese Consider Their Situation, Linear Arts). Here is the lyrical lucidity of Ellen Goldberg (Maryland Poetry Review, etc.), the graceful language of Eileen Brilliant (three published collections), and the tongue-in-cheek languor of Paul Espel (Yankee, The Green Fuse, etc.). Karl Gluck, former curator of the long-standing Cornelia Street Café series, flexes his idiosyncratic poetic muscle alongside the elegant, yet gritty narratives of Madeline Artenberg, one of which, "Encounter at the Butterfly Conservatory," won semifinalist honors in April at Lyric Recovery Festival™ at Carnegie Hall (Caprice, Medicinal Purposes, Skidrow Penthouse, etc.).

Tony Vlachosís active-duty soldier vernacular parallels the lush, disturbing Third World of Andrew Kaufman (Pivot, Beloit Poetry Journal, Riversedge, etc.).Mark Larsen, notorious as a poet/comedian on the New York performance circuit, throws his dead-on punches with a velvet glove. Larry Mallory (Ned, the Monster, Linear Arts, 1997) has a new collection appearing this year, Some City of Their Desire, which lifts the second quizzical eyebrow at the world. A master of technical control, his poems offer a vision where understated irony consistently explodes into heartbreak (New York Quarterly, Potomac Review, Salonika).

Nicholas Johnson won first prize at Lyric Recovery Festival™ with his piece, "When Gravity Fails," and is here with his distinctive combination of formalist sensibility and gentle, black humor (The Journal, The Ledge, American Letters and Commentary, Pivot, Rattapallax, etc.). [Stephanie Dickinson taps the tawdry for the sublime (Chelsea, The Seattle Review, Green Mountain Review, Mid-American Poetry Review, Quarter After Eight, etc.) Ed.]

Itís a new century and the Hudson Pier Poets are still meeting every other Wednesday, now at a Lower East Side venue.
 
 

Key West: Discussing Beckett
Lawrence Mallory

We've been to see "Krapp's Last Tape."
Director: a friend from Zimbabwe,
which used to be called Rhodesia.
We have brought drinks to the swimming pool.
My wife and I sit at the edge of the pool,
dangling our feet in the water.

My mother-in-law wants to know
what it means,
Krapp's "last tape."
Is Krapp going to die?
Is there a disease?
Is he getting ready
to kill himself?
I suggest the meaning is
there is no meaning.
After Krapp slips on the banana peel,
and the soliloquies begin on the tape recorder,
there is no plot.

My wife and her mother insist
that bearded men from India,
who own collections of Rolls Royces,
know that there are truths hidden
in every microscopic breath of air.
The details aren't clear yet,
but progress is being made.

It is quiet by the pool.
The palmetto bugs
like the cut limes and quinine water,
but let the humans have the gin.
Not far away, there exist
the sounds of the semi-tropic night.
Drunken tourists exit the closing bars;
tomorrow, a sick breakfast and then the beach.
The moaners squat in alleyways
against the sides of buildings,
and know without being told
that Key West, Caya Hueso,
means "island of bones."

(The scene changes for no reason.)

We are living on Long Island.
It is winter and the days are gray and short.
We are trying to be domestic,
with two new children.
The director calls from Key West.
He has tested positive.
The director,
Caucasian blond,
born in what used to be Rhodesia,
living on the edge of America
in Key West,
once said he was thinking of
changing his own name to "Zimbabwe."
Dead in four months.
 

The Night John Candy Died
Mark Larsen

The night John Candy died,
three friends of mine called
and asked, "Did you hear? John Candy died."
"I heard," I said, to Friend #1,
between bites of a pizza.
"I heard," I said, to Friend #2,
wiping ice cream from my lips.
"I heard," I said, to Friend #3,
downing a 2-liter Pepsi.
The night John Candy died,
I started my 63rd diet of the year:
March 4th, 1994.

The night I took my father
to a movie about Charlie Parker,
he peed his pants,
came out of the lobby bathroom,
memories dribbling down his leg,
stood there, unaware,
numb and drunk,
happy we had finally shared something.
Something about Charlie Parker.

The night I took my father
to a movie about Charlie Parker,
I told him for the first time
I wanted to be a comedian,
just like John Candy.
 
 

Seventh Inning Stretch
Mark Larsen

Youíre not gone yet, but when you are, I will sprinkle
your ashes over the softball fields in Central Park.
Do you remember telling me thatís what you wanted?
We sat on a bench, father and son
keeping score on a Saturday afternoon.
Someone hit a shot so far over the left fielderís head
that it rolled to a stop at your feet.
You picked it up and threw it back into the game.
I realized then you did not throw a ball that well.
I could probably throw a ball farther, and harder, than you.

An inning later you turned to me and said,
"When I die, I want them to sprinkle my ashes over these fields."
The Ďthemí you referred to will be me.
Iíve never had to sprinkle ashes before.
I wonder how you do it.
Perhaps itís a bit like adding salt to soup
or barbecue sauce to ribs -- no recipes.
Iíll bend down,
pick up some infield dirt, taste it,
and know I have just enough of you in the ground.
 
 

Visible Remains
Ellen C. Goldberg

I fold my arms in death cross,
slide into the magnetic imaging machine
like a body in a mortuary drawer.
Eyes closed, I try to sleep,
think about death,
no breath, no smell.

But it is you who were buried long ago,
enough time for live tissue to dissolve,
skeletal bones exposed,
shreds of the Mexican wedding dress
you lie in.
Maybe you look like the petrified mummies
at the museum without skin.
Seventy-seven billion bodies on this planet so far,
more than half burned to ash,
the others left to rot
beneath our feet.
In Greece, families share one plot;
bodies piled atop skeletons of relative
bones commingle generations
to the center of the earth.

I hear the machineís stop-and-start bursts,
imagine being shot at.
Thereís a shortage of space for living on earth;
the dead continue to expand.
They slide me out,
my spine permanently etched on film.
I can now be cremated,
leave my bones,
just in case
they need to be found.
 
 

All Angels
Madeline Artenberg

Itís come my turn at the soup kitchen
to make me a sleepiní bag.
Good thing my aunt taught me the three Rís
and sewiní and cookiní too, though
these days Iím rootless, runniní
and do live rent-free. Lord,
sometimes I feel like one of them thrown
-away Christmas trees, cut off at the knees,
blowiní from corner to park.

Sureís a long needle the Ďminístrator
ladyís handiní me, alreadyís got cord in it.
Gets them cloth scraps from some good souls somewhere.
Iím plunginí the needle in:
itís pulliní outta my hand and startiní
to put down a long straight stitch.
Iíll try to grab it, doiní a half circle at the top,
like the letter "p."
Whatís that for, "poor"?
I beg a little; Iím no thief, no tramp,
Iím the gospel-singiní book lady.
"Buy a few soís I can eat," I tell my fans.
I hit the notes.

Iím rememberiní my son with a duffel bag of money,
back from ĎNam, telliní me, what I could scoop
up with them two fists of mine, I keep.
The rest went up his arm;
stole everything out from under me, that boy did.

Iíll tell my story to the lady. Sheís remindiní me
keep the stitches clean, the rows even.
Sheís sayiní, do it "diligent." Guess that means
finish before the snow come.

Iím tryiní again. Feels good to go deep
down into layers of cloth,
like the needleís sproutiní roots.
Wherever I lay me down to sleep
gonna be bound to the ground.

The ladyís stitches cominí to meet mine.
How large I want the side openiní?
Better try it out; Iím a big woman.
Iím feeliní wings graze my face,
Iím sayiní, "Let me in."
Theyíre flutteriní aside.
Iíll climb in,
one foot
at a time.
 
 

Black Irishman
Stephanie Dickinson

He was either a little death or a long jump. Like the dragline of a spider, he haunted her apartment for weeks. Tall in ragged cutoffs, he sat where the magnoliaís branches reached into the heat, petals like gutted fish lungs, his pale skin, ravaged and handsome. "Do you have it?" she said. He answered, "Iíve been watching you get into Terminal cabs. Youíre too pretty to live here."

Houston of the boom, of six thousand cars a day adding themselves to the interstates. He laid his product on the table, a yellow chunk nestled in innocent rice. Crack: drug of the universe, the Nebula, Mars. Gamma rays: everything operates on increased velocity. It was an extra lifetime.

He turned the lock. Black Irish grin, black hair, blue eyes, a matinee idol, except he was missing a tooth. The cold lady did that. Took his tooth. He unpacked his needle and spoon.

"Do you want me to hit you up?" Nada. She wanted a taste, not a knowing. He sank the silver splinter into his hand where he still had veins, and trembled like a dying hummingbird, a Charismatic Tiger who needed four shots a day, his father three. He brought it home like groceries. He ran his head. A year since his last erection. His eyes were flying when he rubbed her gums with it. Bitter. High noon and midnight are the same in ice cube space. The air conditioning gurgled.

Her brain was playing ĎTiger Rag.í He picked his skin as if chicken. Her glow kept growing. His toe vibrated in the sponge of his flipflops. "Who are you?" His eyes bulged. He fell back on her bed, panting.

The wall tapestry shivered. Deer in red velvet, drinking from long, brackish puddles, skittish, forgiving eyes looked up from the quivering leaf odor, knowing black holes were opening, dwarf stars being born.
 
 

Facts of Life
Nicholas Johnson

It takes thirty-two feet of rope to hang the average man.
In Kansas thatís a fact. Do you believe marriages are
happier and last longer in Orlando? The worst

in Albuquerque? Iím not making this up. Itís true:
When you shoot a bullet through a bubble,
the bubble doesnít break at the point of entry.

It breaks when the bullet leaves. What ability
to maintain integrity! If cohesion goes
in any realm, things get ready to blow: atomic

particles, heads of state. Astronomers look farther
ahead, seeing ruination staring them in the face,
millions of years off. Thank God they found us

somewhere else to go. Too bad we canít get there yet.
Theyíre working on it though. In fact, my IQ rose ten points
just listening to classical music. Itís true.

Coffee drinkers are less likely to commit suicide.
They add up columns of numbers fast and accurate like me.
I know where dust comes from and I know where it goes,

but why does every rainbow have an arc? Things start
piling up: lynchings, broken promises, a sharp blade
in a tube of lipstick, red eclipses, virtual reality.

Stray bullets remind us the worldís turned hard
against us. And if you listen to Country, be careful not to
take your own life or turn on someone else. The blues sure

hold us down. What can you do? Coins on the roll sound
more fateful in the beggarís cup, and you canít help but hear
the storm of harvest corn sliding down an endless chute.

(Prior pub. The Journal, Spring 1998 [This poem was a Pushcart Prize Finalist. MH])
 
 

Discouraginí Words
(For J. Edgar Hoover)
Paul Espel

Been haviní this American dream lately.
Always goes somethiní like this:
The lineís been drawn, like at the Alamo;
itís crooked as they come.
A guy in a white hat says, "Are you with us?"
Always says it the same way, like in
the old cowboy two-reelers, the kind where
if youíre not standiní under a white hat,
youíre pretty sure to wind up
at the bottom of a gulch.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a gang
of well-dressed rustlers busts in,
starts takiní things
for granted. They brand all the cattle,

that look a lot like sheep.
I call the sheriff, but he claims there arenít
no rustlers in the territory, just local punks
and laid-off desperados.

He hangs up on me in my own dream
and the rustlers donít ever leave.
They just put on white hats and sit around
the bunk house Ďtil dawnís early light,

figuriní I wonít recognize Ďem,
that is, if I should happen to wake up.
 
 

Vigil
Karl Gluck

The sound of the desperate, meticulous
bookkeeper in the pale, dusty office
one floor above me cuts well into the night.
Sweaty brow twitching,
flooded by rows and columns,
a fat, blunt pencil is all he's got
to drag through red and black.
The obnoxious chatter of an ancient adding machine
brings up a different total
each time he pulls the lever
that barely fits his hand.

At 4:00 a.m., I think I hear
an illegal alien breathing heavily
on the other side of this wall,
hand on a pistol and the shadows
of window blinds crawling over spiderwebs
on the ceiling, as unblinking
headlights swim by outside.

An hour later I am jolted awake
as a rice farmer collapses
half-way around the world,
somewhere in Myanmar or Laos,
exhausted mid-day with
a baby on her back,
baggy pants gray as mud
in the stinging monsoon
riddled by the sharp green
of new sprouts.

Then towards dawn I swim like a whale,
floating through white clouds
in a sky of quartz that stretches
to the bottom of the ocean.
I see fish die in an anemone's mouth.
Tickled by the balloon trails
of diver's bubbles skimming
over Spanish ruins,
I watch the birth of whales
far beneath me, grateful for a change.
 


Frozen Valley
Tony Vlachos

Near Kimpo, overlooking the Han River,
We came to a valley village between frozen ridges.
Asian winds tunnel down from the North,
Turning sweat to ice inside our boots.

Leaving high ground, we slope into the valley,
Smoldering huts and mongrel dogs circling bodies,
Some very small, hardened blood, frozen, gleamed on icy ground.

The Fifth Marines were through here, like a sickle through high grass.
Nothing left alive but the starving packs, circling;

Through half-closed eyes, my first kill
Is a hungry dog feeding on something soft.
 
 

Weird Vegetation
(Madre de Dios Jungle, Peru)
Andrew Kaufman

One tree has a dick, a thick root
pointing to the earth, a plump bead of dew
hanging from the tip,
the shaft covered with thorns

to rip your hand apart. That mushroom
nearby will stop your bleeding. The one
beside it: youíll bleed to death
through your ears. Swallow this plantís stem,
you hallucinate, they say, until you see

an animal that is your soul. The tree canopy
is so dense only lace-sky appears. "Loves
to laugh," say personal ads,
obituaries, and features about nude
centerfolds. With the chirps of insects,
patter of drizzle, and the riverís swiftness,
laughter could be the music
of this jungle. And Kara and Karma,

here from California (their real names)
from "near L.A.," matching stringy
hair and braless flounce,
see themselves as Orpheus. Their muses: snakes
hissing all night from their showerhead,
scorpions crawling at dawn
from their toilet. The spaceship

outside their window,
one long blast of a night,
flew off like spittle,
as their bursts of terror

turned again to laughter. Does laughter
bring Karma and her friend the right karma,
or the karma that is right
for Kara and Karma? Or how about that
of this whole jungle,
its living-in-the-moment greenness and sap,
blossoming, multiplying, and flush
with untold species of larvae and nits?
 
 

Someone is Waiting
Sharon Silber

Someone is waiting
At the end of the street,
Winding street, cobblestones, dark.
Hereís the butcher. He doesnít kill the flesh,
He cuts it.
Day after day he cuts meat,
Hanging it in his cold room.
It doesnít bother him.
Itís a blessing to cut meat as much as to eat it.

Hereís the bakery, yeast rising like prayer
Above the glaze and pastry, above the twisted rolls,
Above loaves of bread, white, tan, brownish-black.
In every bakery I see Grandfather smile,
Offer me sweetened cream and sponge cake.
In every bakery I look for Grandmotherís apple cake.

Hereís the fish store. Grandmotherís here too,
Among the fish streaming with water and the glitter of water.
The eyes of the fish wait for me to poke them.
My grandmother grinds the fish herself,
Like God grinds down the souls of the dead,

Picking the best parts for us to eat.
Vegetables next with my grandfather
Arrayed in their various disguises,
Levites and Shimonites,
Canaanites and Moabites,
Shebas of eggplant, beanpod soldiers.
Donít finger them all! Machí schnell!
Someone is waiting at the end of the street.
 
 

thisíll be the one
Eileen Brilliant

thisíll be
the one the one
that gets the blood
rolling that lets
the forgotten
out of the bag
of secrets so shaming
to tame we forget

this is it
the one thatíll startle
thatíll shake loose
from the tree
of early fruit
a plum ripe
a deep purple prize

this is the one
as open as air
as needed
thatíll free the hold
and name i
the first word
this one

this is the round plum
from the ready tree
such labor
to make the fruit
much too
to make the tree
 
 

I Was a Closet Woman
Chocolate Waters

I chopped off my hair and wore it in a crewcut,
like a truck driver,
like a Marine,
like an adolescent boy.
I didn't want anyone to find out
that I was a closet woman.

What if they found out I was a woman?
They might make me act like Tipper Gore,
like Zsa Zsa Gabor,
like Mary, Mother of God. Oh God,
I might have to bake cherry pies
with smiley faces on them.
I might have to work for 59 cents on the dollar.
I might have to bleed.

Yes, I was a closet woman.
I wore baggy jeans to hide my legs
and Army boots to hide my feet.
What if they found out I had sexy legs?
They might make me cover them with leg-warmers,
with nylon stockings, with Nair.
What if they found out I had women's feet?
Some nellie queen might try to put spike heels on them.

I was a closet woman.
I wore a black leather jacket to cover up my tits.
What if they found out I had tits?
Some weird baby might try to suck on one.
Some strange doctor might want to cut one off.
Teenage boys might yell at me on the streets:
"Hey you! Youíve got . . . tits!"

I got fat so they wouldn't know I was a woman.
I got skinny so they wouldn't know.
I became a man. I became a dyke
so I could be as powerful as a man.
I became gay so I could march in a parade.
I became outraged because I kept letting ĎTheyí define me.
I became . . . a woman. I became a woman.
I became . . . myself.