A Spirit of Love is How I See God: Dorothea Lasky, Emails

[Over several months Dorothea Lasky and I have been slowly exchanging notes to one another. We touched on a few subjects. We wrote with various expression and urgency. Lasky's new book, Black Life, is out from Wave.]

WOLF: Rabbi Avraham Kook wrote, "Wisdom increased through the envy of writers is destined to lead to corruption, precisely because it was born of envy." Would you, please, reflect on the role (or the terrible weight) envy plays in the life of a poet, and in the community of poets?

And also, does the "spirit of love" have something to do being a poet?

LASKY: Let me first ask you: What do you mean by the life of a poet and especially the community of poets? I, for one, feel like I might be able to answer in terms of the life of a poet, but I might get hung up in the community part. Mostly because as a poet I don't know that I feel like I belong to a community. At least a living one. I think poets live in communities of language and language that is divorced from communities of people, even so much so as the two are so intimately intertwined. But tell me what you mean.

I like what Rabbi Avraham Kook is writing here, although I'd love to have some more context to his quotation. I think envy plays a large role in the life of a poet, but maybe as much so as it does everyone. I am envious of many things that others' have and I know that this feeling can lead to corruption. Corruption of myself and also the whole world. But envy is natural, no? And do you think envy is part of the path of a poet or a writer? And if so, how? And if so, how is this envy related to knowledge and language creation? And if so, why?

Questions always make me think of questions I have.

I like this spirit of love question the best. Yes, I do think that the spirit of love has something to do with being a poet. I think that poets create love in the world by making language new and beautiful, which in turn, keeps language alive and beautiful for all people. If this is not the spirit of love, then I do not know what love is.

What do you think?

WOLF: When I refer to the "community of poets" I very much mean the human company that many poets keep. The poets they drink with, and read with, and live with, and are published with--and also the poets they see from afar, never meet, though perhaps read. This is a "living" community of poets.

Of course, I appreciate your notion of living within of a "community of language." Certainly this is also true. In my experience though, the community of language *can* be a much more forgiving community, a community ridden with a lot less anxiety for poets, than the community built of other breathing artists.

Is that a fair assessment?

The Spirit of Love, in my mind, contrasts the force of envy. The community of poets might witness itself as a single project. When a poem is published within this community, it is victory for all. But the fact is there is often great enmity and envy between poets within a single community. Yes, this envy can encourage poets to sit down and get working. But it can also be debilitating.

Are you more likely encouraged or debilitated by envy? And what is the subtle relationship between those two pieces?

Here is the full Kook quote:

"Wisdom increased through the envy of writers is destined to lead to corruption, precisely because it was born of envy. And all corruption gives off a stench, and this is the wisdom of writers, which will stink with the coming of the Messiah. By means of this stench its previous aspect will be erased, and the light of the soul of wisdom that is above all envy, above the wisdom of writers, will start to shine. This is a wisdom that will shine forth from a new song and a new name which the Lord will grant us. 'And his beauty shall be like the olive tree's and fragrance like that of Lebanon.' [Hos. 14:7]"

LASKY: It makes sense to me that you think a community of language is much less anxiety-ridden than a community of poets, who are living. This is why I prefer a community of language!! I guess the flip side could be too--that a living community of poets could be more nourishing than a community of language. Has this ever occurred for you? I feel like this loosely happened for me at UMass, where there was a group of poets I was around most days who nurtured my creativity and were inspiring. But I hesitate to call them a community, particularly because it feels too tight a bound on the idea. Have you ever felt inspired and nourished by a group of poets or a living poetry community? I would hope that we both have. I think this is the hope of MFA programs and I do think it is possible. How do you feel about it? And how do you differentiate between poetry communities and communities of other kinds of artists?

I am seeing now what you mean by a Spirit of Love and how it might drive a community and the creativiity of its members. I completely, completely believe in this possibility. A Spirit of Love is how I see God. A Spirit of Love is possible, I think, in a community of artists, but like anything great, it is a fleeting spirit and can be hard to control. But I wish it were that the world had more of it. As a poet, I've gotten a bit cynical that there is any way for it to be in full force, long term. What do you think?

I think I am debilitated by envy, especially creatively. But I think this debilitation can produce a kind of twisting life and art that is still worth pursuing, but is kind of awful nonetheless. I don't mean awful, like bad, like bad art. I mean awful, like scary and kind of not productive. I am not sure if envy is ever encouraging. How do you feel? What do you think? Why does envy interest you?

Another question, where you are living now, do you feel like there is a community of poets around you?

WOLF: You say: "But I think this debilitation can produce a kind of twisting life and art that is still worth pursuing, but is kind of awful nonetheless. I don't mean awful, like bad, like bad art. I mean awful, like scary and kind of not productive. I am not sure if envy is ever encouraging. How do you feel? What do you think? Why does envy interest you?"

That's really the question, isn't it. What am I wheeling off a litany of questions about envy?

But you're really on to something, seeing how these "twisting" formations of our lives help paint an inner-landscape that is complicated and "worth pursuing." Many poets are very good lingering in those gnarly places of human (self)relation: envy, fear, (but also) awe, etc. These poets send back remarkable reports, visions, accounts, poems.

And yet I want to ignite in my heart a fire of love that burns so intensely and with such ferocious heat that all those small stones of envy and anger explode and vaporize around me.

And you hold these two places in your two hands, and you go back and forth. And, certainly, there is some merit in doing that.

LASKY: I think there is merit is going back and forth, yes. It is the most human thing to do. A fire and heat of love that we could imagine that might ignite the small stones of envy and anger might be too an exalted place for us to be in every second of every day, as we are just human. And being human, I think, is the place where poetry can exist best. Human poetry, flirting with a burning eternity, is the poetry that can create communities, both living and dead. This is what I like to assume. This is why poets, who are creators of new language, are special people in the world.

I think a lot about how language itself is a series of objects that mediates all sorts of scales of human communities (individual, familial, social, world). I think often of the Jabes quotation: "The letters of the alphabet are stages of death turned into signs." I think everyday about Vygotsky's discussion of language in Mind in Society, in which language is a tool of the social. In the end, language always becomes the social, the human. Language everyday, everday language, is just as ephemeral and as lasting in the minds of others as our own bodies. Or maybe so, only so much in what they both do. If one lives a life in which they give off human power by really connecting with people (on whatever scale that this occurs), then there is something eternal there. If one writes poetry that connects with people, that sticks, on whatever scale that it can occur, then there is something eternal there. Envy among writers is stopping before the connection and thus, resisting the eternity. And I think you and I might agree that this is a bad thing for the world. I hope others might agree with us, too. I am pretty sure a lot of people do.

A Fist-Sized Hairy Spider That Squeezed Out of My Left Nostril: Tom Burke

[Very new work by my old friend, Tom Burke. As I remarked to him, these excerpts from a developing novel, Everett and the Cosmos, remind me of my own strange exploits and adventures which ended up sealed in journals. How interesting it is to go back and spy quick glances of those times. Amongst other great pieces, Tom wrote a poignant essay about his relationship with his memorable downstairs neighbor, Bonnie Ascher, may her memory be for a blessing. I'll see if I can dig up a link to that.]

from Everett and the Cosmos

I loved the motorcycle taxis in Pingnan—even now, thinking about it
makes me want to own a motorcycle, but I never will, too much of a
pussy. Sometimes when I was out drinking with my Chinese friends, at
the end of the night I’d get myself back to the school gates, then I’d
flag down a motorcycle taxi for a ride—it made sense to me that if I
started at home, I could explain that I wanted to end up back at the
same place. In any event, that’s all my Chinese could accommodate. At
first, these motorcycle taxi drivers couldn’t understand what I was
asking them to do—“get out of the lights of the city and drive fast”
wasn’t in my vocabulary. But, after about a half dozen drunken rides,
I think rumors spread about me within the drivers, and it got easier.
You could see stars on some nights, once you got away from the lights.
And in the dark, I imagined the land on either side of the road was
primeval. It was actually drained swampland and razed villages.

The bouncing floor disco, where the dance floor—on risers, and made of
flexible metal sheets—actually bounced. Every Saturday night at
midnight, the dance floor was cleared and there was a performance by a
troop of six midgets. Three would run onto the stage in traditional
Chinese military uniforms; they’d do a quick karaoke number to a
Communist marching ballad—accompanied by acrobatics—and then the other
three midgets would come out, interrupting the show, toting rifles and
waving a Japanese flag. They battled, the Japanese soldiers died
dramatic, limb-twitching deaths, and Chinese national anthem played.
This bar also had men who massaged your back while you stood at the
urinal. Dino danced with a female Japanese midget soldier there one
night—that same night, he fell off the dance floor and knocked over a
waitress who was carrying four pitchers of beer. He looked pathetic
splayed on the floor. We were the only non-Chinese in the place.

I dreamed that I died the night before I left for China; in the dream
I was a grunt—rucksack and fatigues—roughing it knee deep in a bog
surrounded by dense rainforest when three dark figures high in the
canopy used automatic weapons to make mincemeat of my torso. Gasping
in a puddle, I didn’t just feel death coming, but I existed for a
moment after my death where everything went black, was not just absent
of light but devoid of everything. My life seems marked by these
intense dreams, like the morning after the first time I had sex with a
relative stranger without a condom. I woke up in the morning, still
very drunk, to a nightmare featuring a fist-sized hairy spider that
squeezed out of my left nostril and scampered over and around my body
at a speed twice that of my reflexes. Or camping at high altitude when
I experienced my only wet dream: a nonsexual and strange off road
racing adventure in a dune buggy with my brother’s high school
girlfriend whose motion sickness manifested in my lap.

I had a crush on one of the English teachers at my school, Cherry. I
really dug her, thought maybe I had a chance, but then I got an invite
to her wedding. I was glad to experience a traditional wedding, but
got severely drunk; everyone did, but I got drunker. I was one of the
last people at the party. Cherry’s relatives and William were trying
to teach me how to play Mahjong, but I was too drunk. I had to throw
up at one point, but when I ran to the bathroom, the toilette was
broken so I threw up some rice and pigeon that stunk of bijou into my
hand, and tossed it out the window, which I had to step on an upturned
bucket to do because the window was so high up. I swallowed the rest
back down, then said my goodnights. I took an awesome motorcycle ride
that night. It was damp and cool out, and my driver took us whizzing
past a half mile row of neon lights shaped like palm trees that I’d
never seen before.

Awww-Man Cops: More Anna Vitale

[I don't know about the rest of you, but for months I've been walking around saying, "My tits break a cuke." Here she is again, that rough master from Detroit, Anna Vitale.]

both thugs

99 nickels and dimes
ten chrome flips
I hit the bone
mission/ monat
thugs’ drive
rolled/ showed
nine quad flesh

lovin his
I’m done
catch sleep
stand down
your feet
won’t stand
up, the grind
creepin up
then doom/ natural
lovely/ funny

awww-man cops
my ass behind a tree
game is easy/
grip stacks
99 ways

hood red grip pump blood
nothin to lose, goin down instead of pumping
running things I take into the dark

creepin back up
the day/ son cash/ partner
was hungry/ stolen
temple/ simple bang/ run
dealin/ chillin/ stealin


People admit they’re scared of punks
in a hydroshell they’re about to live in.
The bass has a boom in it and it also
has a boyfriend or a man. The honey
is hard to stop. Spring. It’s a mood in a shell.
Faithful good loving in spring, you know
reality because a decent girl is living out
justice and harmony. It’s hard to make
the honey stop. Play-

hitting through winter sometimes feels
inferior. People raise money, I raise
hell. Sitting on the rag-top, bitch saw
a blinker as inferior to really wanting. The world-
shank, high and low, Dr. Dre has been around
the world and I’ll never know what
it feels like! Snoop Doggy Dogg around
the world and, still, it seems they’re not around!
Here: a kiss with dazzy dukes. Get loose.
Smack me. I’ll smack you exactly,
but ‘gainst the wall. Everybody, sliding
the open door, whipped
down the hall.


likes? niggaz? doggs? types? hands? minutes? khakis? fingernails? bubbles? bitches? bucks? socks? chucks? days? guys? steps? kids? socks? rocks? shoes?

say/ eat/ sing/ go/ party/ cause/ bother/ rock/ rock/ see/ cause/ create/ listen/ say/ woke/ gave/ went/ wash/ threw/ put/ said/ slipped/ used/ got/ am/ put/ can/ threw/ take/ got/ am/ threw/ stepped/ stopped/ forgot/ ran/ bumped/ said/ am/ love/ said/ said/ tried/ said/ broke/ grabbed/ give/ love/ said/ gave/ said/ says/ am/ says/ am/ be

nigga? dick? shit? trouble? mic. mic. mic. health? condition? mission? shit? mornin. stretch. yawn. bathroom? soap? face? cup? mirror. mirror. wall. rubble? mirror? bastard? beef? leaf. oil. skin. file? style? tub? bath? body. hair. underwear. powder? cologne? house? indo? alley. smoker. girl. life? dope? eye? mother? mother. face. eye. belly? feet? child? concrete? bitch. sack. dick. play? love? bitch? mother? hit. bitch. mother. pussy? lover?

The Cabin’s Name is Ben Fama: Two Poems of Ben Fama

[Here's a couple of tremendous poems by the great Ben Fama. Ben is the dreamer behind SUPERMACHINE, the literary magazine and reading series. And I offer all apologies for not getting his poems posted until today.]

Glitter Pills

To live a serious life

that’s a fucked up thing

I would have to rent out a cabin

beneath terrible angels

if I get old wipe the dust off my tits

I should have a serious log cabin

the cabin’s name is Ben Fama.

find directions on the internet

when you want to leave you can

I’ll stay there just me and my heart

bigger than the sun

Joe Brainard's 21st Tan

Opened like the funnies

a picture stuffed into another picture's frame

the sky becomes gray, no candles lit

this reality will not suffice

if it isn't cosmic it isn't anything

I once thought a mind could take hold

of the sea, asked to marry the moon

it's raining and I'm going out

maybe Joe Brainard will show up

maybe a diamond will fall

all the things he talked about

still make the poem a surprise

Katie died surfing

I too know the sorrow of wanting love

refuse to tame my vulgar emotions

Joe Brainard are you lost like me?

and I'd like to go home the long way if I remember

Baberle is Dying: Tomaz Salamun

[Back to the basics of what we are saying, here are three poems from Tomaz Salamun. All three are translated by Michael Thomas Taren.]


A dusk in summer?
Mushrooms in summer.
A chirping in Bohinj, putti mine a dew.              

Where in abundance?
There in abundance.
A bent head, a wheat in a grave.

What story telling?
This story telling.
The sea splashes, in the sleeve the first stalk is drawn.

Where on a stone?
There on a stone.
Baberle is dying, rue St. Jacques.

My command?
Your command.
Horses trot and stop before the night.

When Watteau?
Now Watteau..
We love grapes, brogues on the trails.             

Who is permeable?
He is permeable.
The beads roll, the marinated sex.

A bridge to the sky?
Wheat to the sky.
We play with God’s sun, we surmise wood.



I hear, earthworms and Perun                                  
pens for herds of cattle, bats torn apart                        
I stand on the asphalt, I sleep armed
the time has for us come to divide light, shepherd

to you the south, lusting for fruits
to me the north, taciturnity and passion
to you ascent, horses to flare                     
to me pursuit of the sun, the night blaze

we won't alloy into one, the time is to incise           
let our souls have the frame, not the door
the fire for birth and death, we, two little carpenters
the sword and material, austerity of the craft

let the birds be like tusks of weight
when death comes, after death the lava
let her take off gifts, we'll be light as a shout                        
like black cold quails at the bottom of the pit        

I want a verse as taut as bamboo
buffalos’ anathema, Satan’s hard planks
snails’ anathema, flabbiness of those succumbed in wars                                                                       
worms! I want a carpet of hunger to heaven’s gates

I want fanfare, splendor, genuflection
the service of the priests, blind churning of the crowds
I, the king, want blessing for the slaughter
from Your Hands O Lord, a pillar for the abyss

I want a scepter, a gift for black lips
dry crackling pretzels, silk of Lilliput
I smell mattresses on rusty hooks
brushwood in my arms, I smell wounds in shrieks

bread anathema, lodged wheat of the dead lineage    
ants drowned in bogs, punctured moths
travelers & sailors, juniper, holy sites
I crush the gravel in souls, I drink glory

Introverted Mystical Types: A Message from WIAF

[Dear Reader

The Wolf apologizes for the unannounced hiatus over the past month. 

In the weeks ahead, please look forward to the resumption of poetry and errata. 

When the Maggid of Mezeritch,         at last,

visited the Ba'al Shem Tov, he found the latter

sitting with a small candle atop his head,

dressed in wolf's skin.]

Bacon Ranch Pringle of Death: Steven Zultanski Returns

[Our tremendous friend, Steven Zultanski, is back for another visit.]

Six Poems About Pringles

Touched by a Pringle

Touched by a Sour Cream & Onion Pringle
Touched by a Pizza Pringle
Touched by a Spicy Guacamole Pringle
Touched by a Jalapeño Pringle
Touched by a Barbeque Pringle
Touched by a Loaded Baked Potato Pringle
Touched by a Ranch Pringle
Touched by a Cheddar Cheese Pringle
Touched by a Original Pringle
Touched by a Bacon Ranch Pringle
Touched by a Salt & Vinegar Pringle

Pringles & Demons

Loaded Baked Potato Pringles & Demons
Salt & Vinegar Pringles & & Demons
Bacon Ranch Pringles & Demons
Ranch Pringles & Demons
Cheddar Cheese Pringles & Demons
Pizza Pringles & Demons
Spicy Guacamole Pringles & Demons
Sour Cream & Onion Pringles & Demons
Jalapeño Pringles & Demons
Barbeque Pringles & Demons
Original Pringles & Demons

Earth Pringle

Earth Jalapeño Pringle
Earth Ranch Pringle
Earth Sour Cream & Onion Pringle
Earth Bacon Ranch Pringle
Earth Salt & Vinegar Pringle
Earth Pizza Pringle
Earth Cheddar Cheese Pringle
Earth Loaded Baked Potato Pringle
Earth Spicy Guacamole Pringle
Earth Original Pringle
Earth Barbeque Pringle

Pringleina Jolie

Bacon Ranch Pringleina Jolie
Jalapeño Pringleina Jolie
Pizza Pringleina Jolie
Barbeque Pringleina Jolie
Cheddar Cheese Pringleina Jolie
Original Pringleina Jolie
Ranch Pringleina Jolie
Loaded Baked Potato Pringleina Jolie
Spicy Guacamole Pringleina Jolie
Sour Cream & Onion Pringleina Jolie
Salt & Vinegar Pringleina Jolie

Pringle of Death

Salt & Vinegar Pringle of Death
Barbeque Pringle of Death
Cheddar Cheese Pringle of Death
Spicy Guacamole Pringle of Death
Loaded Baked Potato Pringle of Death
Bacon Ranch Pringle of Death
Pizza Pringle of Death
Sour Cream & Onion Pringle of Death
Ranch Pringle of Death
Original Pringle of Death
Jalapeño Pringle of Death

Every Times a Bell Rings, A Pringle Gets Its Wings.

Every time a bell rings, an Original Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Jalapeño Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Bacon Ranch Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Ranch Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Barbeque Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Loaded Baked Potato Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Salt & Vinegar Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Sour Cream & Onion Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Cheddar Cheese Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Pizza Pringle gets its wings.
Every time a bell rings, a Spicy Guacamole Pringle gets its wings.