Satisfying Bruises

Ariana Reines Poetry LIt Literature New York

I read “Mercury,” my first book by rebel poet Ariana Reines, while on a recent trip to New York City. Reines is famous for being fearless and even foul mouthed.  Her poetry is haunting and unsettling, but in a beautiful, straightforward way.  Leafless tree beauty, you could call it.

One thing her poetry is not is romantic. So perhaps it wasn’t the ideal travel companion for a trip taken to celebrate my 5-year wedding anniversary. However, the urbanity of “Mercury” (Fence Books, December 6, 2011) was a perfect match for a thawing April in New York.

Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing other photographs of Ariana Reines’s work, set against scenes from NYC.

Here is the text of the passage in the picture above:

On the fortieth anniversary of the assassination

Of Robert Kennedy

I beat you up and you beat me up.

I have bruises, a few, dark and satisfying.


Read New York 2014

How Nietzsche and Freud Invented Fun by Defining Guilt


The entrance to the Freud Museum in Berggasse, Austria is clearly marked.

At the closing of his work Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud confesses to his audience that he has no solution to the problems outlined in the book. Likewise, Friedrich Nietzsche admits in his Genealogy of Morals that he does not know if we will ever be able to escape our fraught values. Neither philosopher attempts to comfort his readers because both thought that consolation was a way of hiding reality. And, according to each, our stark reality is that we live in a civilization constructed to directly antagonize our instinctive desires. In order to live as fully as possible under these dire circumstances, our only real option is to unearth and fulfill our wishes despite the controls created by society. Within this context, art, and by extension fun, are significant because they can help us reach this difficult fulfillment.


Nietzsche’s most famous phrase is “God is dead.” By this he means that ideals, absolute morality, History, and perfect form are all dead, or rather, unborn. Because, for Nietzsche, Philosophy failed mankind since Plato began theorizing about ideals. For the German philosopher, there never was and never will be one single correct way to live or to understand life. What’s more, he considered morality to be a construct created by the weak to ensure that the strong follow the rules. It is through the creation of an impossible and unreachable ideal of what is right, represented most commonly at the time by a Bourgeois God, that society is then able to generate the guilt with which it keeps individuals in check.


Freud also considered that guilt is generated by cultural demands, namely society’s structural renunciation of our two primal desires: Sex and Violence. When our instinct for violence is repressed for much too long by the law of the land, we must seek an outlet for this aggression, and it takes on the form of guilt. So, according to Freud, guilt is nothing more than self-inflicted violence. The Austrian psychologist’s theories posit that if this guilt, this violence aimed at the self, is allowed to build up without a form of release, it can erupt in symptoms as severe as illness and hysteria. Since Freud’s self-appointed mission in life is to “reduce hysterical misery to common unhappiness,” reducing guilt is an important part of his work.



British WWI propaganda makes good use of guilt.


Both Nietzsche and Freud agree that guilt is a very modern problem that operates through the use of memory. In order for us to feel guilty about something, we must remember what it is we are doing wrong. Specifically, Nietzsche believed that Bourgeois values generated guilt in two ways. First, by reminding us of the ever-present suffering of others. Second, by attaching our ideal of perfection to an unattainable and far-removed notion of God, which destines all of us for certain failure. Public punishment of those who fail to adhere to the norms of society is also a useful reminder of what those norms are.


Freud was in complete agreement with Nietzsche’s way of connecting the dots between history and illness.   However, Freud believed that punishment was a manifestation of humanity’s innermost need for aggression and that individuals derived pleasure from seeing others suffer. In this sense, punishment for Freud serves as a release for our aggressive instincts and actually helps assuage the primal forces that generate guilt.


Neither thinker offers a manual for salvation from the guilt that society wreaks on the individual. Instead, Nietzsche invites his readers to follow any philosophy that helps them live with intensity and joy. On a similar note, Freud urges his patients to discover what it is that they really want and act upon these desires.



Fun times with Jackson Pollock.


Because Art can partially satiate our innermost desires and direct us toward a life of intensity, it becomes valuable from both a Nietzschean and Freudian perspective. Art is also important because it is a means through which we can manifest repressed desires. Indeed, Freud even went so far as to consider the creative process as a somatization of our primal urges for sex and violence. Although art and its modern offshoot, fun, are not a grand solution to the problems created by a society built in opposition to individual desire, according to Nietzsche and Freud, they help make life livable.


Even though neither thinker offers a recipe for happiness, they contribute immensely to the possibility of personal self-fulfillment by identifying, defining and disparaging guilt. The first step in breaking free from guilt is no doubt to understand how it functions and to recognize its methods of control as injurious. Indeed, we could even consider them immoral. And it is thanks to the work of Nietzsche and Freud that we took this first step.

Michel Foucault Defines Modernity

For the attitude of modernity, the high value of the present is indissociable from a desperate eagerness to imagine it, to imagine it otherwise than it is, and to transform it not by destroying it but by grasping it in what it is. Baudelairean modernity is an exercise in which extreme attention to what is real is confronted with the practice of a liberty that simultaneously respects this reality and violates it.

Michel Foucault, What is Enlightenment 1984

The Example

Example Wislawa Szymborska Poetry

This will be my third and final post on Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, featuring pictures of her work framed by rural scenes from Colombia’s eastern plains. The poem in the photograph is about examples and is itself a clear example of why Szymborska is a master. Please click here and here to read the first and second posts, respectively.

Simple poetry, when it is done right, is like the swift movement of a very sharp knife. It is elegant, terrifying and makes a cut without leaving a mess.

Below is the text of the poem, as translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak.



A gale

stripped of all the leaves from the trees last night

except for one leaf


to sway solo on a naked branch.


With this example

Violence demonstrates

that yes of course –

it likes its little jokes from time to time.

Read Casanare, Colombia 2014


My Piece “Corcovado” Now Up on Pilgrim’s Poem!

Corcovado Rio de Janeiro

A shot of Rio de Janeiro’s Corcovado mountain by Adam Jones.

My poem about Rio de Janeiro’s emblematic hunchback hill, crowned by a massive white statue of Christ, is up this week on the community writing site “Pilgrims Poem.” Please click here to check it out!

If anyone is interested in sharing their work, I recommend writing to the very kind editor of the site. Instructions on how to submit can be found here.

Below is the text of my poem.





The idea was good,

or nobody would have


3.2 million in dollars today

to claim the works of God



Black whale boulders beached

by Guanabara bay,


Dripping buildings with coastal

window holes,


Polka dot slums that cut

the jungle into picture frames,


A perpetual diorama

if you go to Niteroi.


The blue white yellow gold

of kept sand and moving foam,


Without Christ, the hunchback hill

another splendid rock to draw

behind a neon drink.


But the praying ladies of Rio

got redemption right – the leaning

face, the human arms –


and torched their city with holy light

so we can burn our skin unseen

by the would-be cliff, the unfinished crowd.







The First Ending of the World

Poetry Wislawa Szymborska Divorce


This week I have another photo to share from the off-road rally that my husband and I did in the Colombian plains a few weeks ago. It shows a poem by Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska and a desolate windmill in the background.

The first line of the poem has stayed with me ever since I read it. I have a fourteen-month-old son, and it’s hard to think of when he will experience his “first ending of the world.” It’s harder still to think of when the second or third ending will come. Because, one thing is for sure, they will come. Fortunately, we have poetry to prepare us.

Below is the complete text of the poem:


For the kids the first ending of the world.

For the cat a new master.

For the dog a new mistress.

For the furniture stairs, thuds, my way or the highway.

For the walls bright squares where pictures once hung.

For the neighbors new subjects, a break in the boredom.

For the car better if there were two.

For the novels, the poems — fine, what you want.

Worse with encyclopedias and VCRs,

not to mention the guide to proper usage,

which doubtless holds pointers on two names –

are they still linked with the conjunction “and”

or does a period divide them.


Read Casanare, Colombia 2014