Charles North: Everything and Other Poems

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Author, Charles North. Photo courtesy of the author.

Charles North discusses being taught poetry by the influential Kenneth Koch. And Charles North discusses the pleasures of poetry. He describes Everything and Other Poems as “messy poetry” without the formal demands of his earlier work. New poems emerge from a new freedom. The long poem, Everything, is about the nature of poetry, and its ability to speak about everything: everything belongs, and everything can be worded into its own original formulation.

Read an excerpt from the book:

Pain Quotient

for David Watson


How to explain tragedy to a deer. This is the assignment.—Well, it isn’t the assignment it’s in the general category of things assigned, like grow- ing to a mature height of four inches if you happen to be a certain strain of ornamental cactus, or being shamed back to life by any means possible. I like the idea that hope springs eternal especially as the adjective, not adverb suggests that spring is a verb of being rather than action, it doesn’t have to be imagined or looked forward to, or yearned for, or original in any sense of the word. The present which is always with us, regardless. Take the piano music of objects, the black-and-white, the mystical harmonics, bipolarities, etc.


The afternoon smells like rosemary, whereas the morning was on the visual side, jutting among the albums. Someone David knew, an actress, referred to the café Pain Quotidien as Pain Quotient, apparently with a straight face. The Daily Pain (which I seem to remember my father bringing home from work). Or if you happen to be in show business, the pan. Take the extremist willows.


5:30 p.m. The soul goes out for its walk—just be sure you’re back in time for supper. The colors look pasted on, washy blue like a robin’s egg seen through a landlord shade, then just washed away. Where is conceptual art when you need it. Everyone knows that Janus Weathercock and Cornelius Van Vinckboons are too good not to be true, but very few know of their connection to the poet John Clare. Or that “they” were in fact the same person, who not only worked for London Magazine in the early part of the 19th century but was, according to Clare’s biographer Jonathan Bate, “the Oscar Wilde of his day.” I say metaphors have it easy. Brahms surging, receding, churning the already churned foam of Being 

whereas Rachmaninov is like a fist to the heart.


Suppose everyone were a lot less talkative. Or were prohibited from talking to anyone who spoke the same language, not only people but houseplants, raccoons, self-service elevators, winged salesmen from the future, etc. A gem-like solid framed by a ribbon of aluminum light. Begins in speech but is diverted primarily by all the mistakes from the remembered past. Another episode has a word whirling around its phonemes which are also whirling. We were talking about shaming someone back into life, the blood verities; hanging in the air “like a memory lost” but recapturable if you don’t mind the mix of truth and sprawl, fragments of all that can be thought without accompaniment or fixation. Or whatness. Characters get dragged in kicking and screaming from the wings and forget their resonant ties to objects. To be calmer than a rug, a particle from the 1940s, dizzying, I’ll take it. But you can have the stifling dream states, like a perpetual air-raid. Why so many notions settling in the middle of the forehead like a tableau vivant—so much more cause than affect. The summer retired early; was forced out actually like the recorder family from mainstream music. Mixed-use but heartfelt skyline.



I mean, who isn’t heating up for the next life
on the order of Antoine Doinel, or a pot of unsweetened
Beginning with a single window and the sense
that what we know outgrows everything except a headache
or the desk dreaming on its own. It doesn’t matter
if being upright brings living beings closer to
the lives they lead (one’s 26-year-old self smokes a cigar
but isn’t a desperado) nor is beginning a poem with
someone’s wrath a means of stepping outside the self
as though volume equalled flesh tones—any more than the Epic of the Roast Chicken with Lyonnaise potatoes and Buttered Greens takes over the above-ground, colors and smells pushed aside.