The Painted Room by Howard Altmann

BOMBlog’s Word Choice features original works of poetry, fiction, and art. This edition of Word Choice, selected by Peter Moysaenko, features poetry by Howard Altmann and art by Kry Bastian.

Howard Altmann 01

Kry Bastian, Standing Water Series #8, oil pastel on paper, 11 × 8.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Pierogi Flat Files.

Peter Moysaenko In the preface to your first book of poems, Who Collects the Days, you quote Stanley Kunitz as proposing “that the most poignant of all lyric tensions stems from the awareness that we are living and dying at once.” How might you say that repetition functions within your verse? Do you suppose that lyrical reiteration serves as an incantatory and liberating measure—transforming meaning, transcending the quotidian routine—or does the gesture of return, of refrain, rather hammer home a sense of exasperation with, and futility within, the world?

Howard Altmann With the disclaimer that I am a deficient and reluctant interpreter of my poems, I’d say the refrain serves as an echo to our subconscious yearnings and our conscious realignments—the soul wants, the days do. If there is any reverberating note to Stanley Kunitz’s “we are living and dying at once” it might be “we are hoping and despairing at once.” Though there is an elegiac tone in the poem that cannot be denied, the lyric repetition is less about the futility in the world, than it is about the human spirit’s desire to trump it—to live, to live, to live. To paint our rooms, if we must.



The Painted Room


And you wait. And you wait.

And you say you’re not waiting.

It is living that you’re living.

Candles light a room. Two shadows darken one.

The bread is warm and the moon drinks from your cup.

You travel in and out of books.

The plants are green.

And you wait. And you wait.

And you say you’re not waiting.

It is new experiences that you’re experiencing.

A sky takes your jump. An ocean floor takes your gaze.

Substances are passed and matters pass away.

You move in and out of awareness.

The language is foreign.

And you wait. And you wait.

And you say you’re not waiting.

It is the seed that you’re seeding.

Children are schooled. The dead are mourned.

The foundation hardens and the voices recede.

You wander in and out of helplessness.

The interior has a face.

And you wait. And you wait.

And you say you’re not waiting.

It is the emptiness that is emptying.

The catatonic stand at the bus stop. The lonely sit at the night cafe.

The other is homeless and the other is without.

You do not wander in and out of the rain.

You do not wait for spring.

Howard Altmann’s second collection of poems, In This House, will be published by Turtle Point Press in the spring of 2010. His poems have appeared in assorted journals, including Poetry and Ploughshares. He is also the author of the play The Johnsons & The Thompsons (Playscripts, 2008). A native Montrealer, he lives in New York City.


For more by Kry Bastian, visit her page at Pierogi Flat Files.

David Bowes by Anney Bonney
Bowes 01 Body

“I’m not really trying to make a hermetic painting. I’d like to make a painting that engages the attention and imagination of the viewer, not one that will refuse to give up its meaning. Maybe one that will release its meaning in time.”

Jonathan Lasker by Shirley Kaneda
Lasker 01 Body

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“Parody has become so real, we’re gonna stop doin’ parody.”