Charles Harper Webb - SPRING 2006 FEATURE  



The Cortland Review

William Palmer
An interview and reading with William Palmer. Grace Cavalieri hosts this special one-hour program.

Charles Harper Webb
  "The Pleasure of Their Company: Voice and Poetry," an essay on the personal in the poem.

Charles Harper Webb
  5 New poems

Miles A. Coon
  A review of Desire Path, four chapbook-length collections by Myrna Goodman, Maxine Silverman, Meredith Trede and Jennifer Wallace, with a foreword by Thomas Lux.

Tony Hoagland
  "To Tell the Truth: Tony Hoagland Through Three Collections of Poems,"
a review by Ginger Murchison

Charles Harper Webb

Charles Harper Webb is a rock singer turned psychotherapist, specializing in work with creative artists, and Professor of English at CSU, Long Beach. His book of poems Reading the Water (Northeastern University Press), winner of the 1997 Morse Poetry Prize and the 1998 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Liver (University of Wisconsin Press), winner of the 1999 Felix Pollack Prize, are followed by Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies (BOA Editions, 2001), Hot Popsicles (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005) and Amplified Dog, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Prize, published in February of this year by Red Hen Press. Additionally, he is recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, a Whiting Writer's Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and both the Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award and the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award.
Sequel To Three Billy Goats Gruff   Click to hear in real audio

I'm in the shower, letting water blast away
the crust that smog, heat, a twelve-hour workday

plus a two-hour drive home have caked on me,
when black water starts rising at my feet.

I kill the shower and jump out as a dark stench
rolls up from my home's underside: an alien

world of wires and pipes, termites and spiders,
unimaginable forces and horrors. Being male,

I can't scream, "Help!" I'm doomed
to play Inquisitor: force Liquid Plumber down

the drain's throat, then pound it with a plunger
till its secrets spill. "I'll bet Erik flushed a toy,"

my wife declares. But the plumber she calls
(at double overtime) snakes out a pelt-sized

clot of hairy goo. A miracle! I tell myself.    
But I can't positive-think my way out of this.  

I'm a man with a wife and toddler son,
central heat and air, a sprinkler system,

two burglar alarms, elbow joints and p-traps
beyond counting, each one a hostage to fortune.  

I have ten hours of dark to navigate tonight,
and a troll under my house, hungry for me.



Debunker    Click to hear in real audio

I show how the psychic surgeon drags cotton-
     soaked-in-pig-blood out of his patient's side.
          I record the faith healer's gold-wigged wife

whispering divine inspirationMillie McCollough.
     Lives on Lantern Lane. Has stomach cancer—
          through a receiver in her husband's ear.

I break the news to college students thrilled
     by the accuracy of their horoscopes,
          that each of them got the same one.  

"You love to crush the magic out of things,"
     one student cries.  But I believe in the magic
          of DNA; the witchcraft of quarks, hadrons,

neutrinos; the sorcery of matter—sometimes wave,
     sometimes particle—alchemized to energy.
          I believe light flashes through a trillion

prisms of mist that paint rainbows not
      on the sky, but retinas: a pot of gold
          at the end of every optic nerve, each eye.



This Poem Is Called "The Snows Of Kilimanjaro"    Click to hear in real audio

"King Lear" has better name-recognition.  
    "Purple People-Eater" clacks
with novelty. Yet as I sweat
    in bed, and mockingbirds riff

like piccolos on ecstasy, only Kilimanjaro
    evokes the way the mountains
shudder in hot winds outside
    a certain woman's summer home.  

Cedars and pines (which sleep,
    in winter, under thick white
comforters) waggle their arms, trying
    to shake their dusty glaze.  

Sweltering, the woman pops in
    a CD—Miriam Makeba, say—
spins her bath-water to Cold, and fills
    the tub. Without shutting

the bathroom door, she peels away
    her clothes, glides into the bath
(Kilimanjaro implies gliding), then settles
    down with a book by Hemingway

or maybe me. When, finally, she stands
    and August air licks the water
from her skin, she feels it as a light dusting
    of snow.  



Corpse Flower    Click to hear in real audio

We came through tropical rain and polar freeze.  
We came through sandstorms that blasted off
our clothes and skin. We came with gifts: twelve-
packs of toilet tissue; speed-dried jumbo shrimp.  
We overran the park's iron fence, and left for worms

the wimps we crushed between its bars.  
We ignored the fifteenth century Canterbury Tales,
Gainsborough's Blue Boy, and Gutenberg's personal
Bible as we rushed to the Virginia Scott Gallery
where, head-high in a moss-trimmed pot, the flower,

like Bethlehem's come-hither supernova, blazed.  
Eve sniffed herself ecstatic; God held Adam's nose
the first time those burgundy petals flared.  
Outside Eden, Java Man collapsed in tears.  
The flower smelled like Papa Ack, who'd slept all year.

Alas, the would-be Lord of Stench who called us here
looks like a lipstick, and smells less than a dead rat.  
Disappointment's bowling balls rush at our feet.
We try to leap, but slam down on our coccyxes.  
"We are Sumatran beetles," cries a wise man, writhing

in our midst. "Amorphophallus titanium, open wide.
Let your pollen paint us golden as we roll inside
beneath your sticky, stinking moon." "We are Sumatran
beetles," we cry, prostrate on the ground the corpse-
flower sprang from, which we'll all be under soon.



Gurning    Click to hear in real audio

Its goal is humor: make a face, and get a grin.  
Its result is horror: birth defect, mouth-cancer,
some half-wit who's swallowed his own chin.  

Was gurning born on Stone Age nights, firelight
aiding Dad's effects the way a shower-stall aids
Aïda today? Did it start as visual karate: monks

hoping to moue Vikings away? Were its first masters
reacting to the thought of English overlords,
or haggis? Did it rise out of the need to boldly go

where no man has, etc.—the force that pushed
Caesar to Gaul, Newton to calculus, Mark M. Hogg
to eat more nightcrawlers than anyone in history?  

Or does it express the human urge to ruin things:
to find a scientifically-arranged seashell collection,
and sweep it to the floor; a flawless lawn, and dig it up;

a well-ordered government, and drag it down?
To take a marriage perfect as an angel's smile,
throw in a child, and watch the grimaces begin . . .


© 2006 The Cortland Review