Saturday, May 10, 2003

 

I’ve been vaguely aware of Joel Bettridge as a Ronald Johnson scholar, a Buffalo grad now working at Cal State San Bernadino, out where all the smog concentrates east of Los Angeles. Yet when I picked up Shores, his Phylum Press chapbook, I stopped thinking of him as a scholar period. Here are the first three stanzas:

 

Up stains hem of sky

Almost a sunrise

Whole lot of water

Heavy with churning

Hope the rain stops soon

 

 

 

Hope the rain stops soon

Just near the sunrise

At this point the birth

Canal curves toward sky

Light seen as a fall

 

 

 

Light seen as a fall

A thread of sunrise

Fetal head from earth

From folds of the plow

Never did find here

 

This, it struck me, is a new formalism that one can get genuinely excited about. Some of the elements are immediately obvious: five line stanza, five syllable line, the last line of one stanza becoming the first of the next. You can guess already what the final line of the poem will be (& you will be right). The form is related perhaps to other modes of linked five-line verse, including tanka, tetractys, cinquain or rondeau, but it’s even more closely tied to strategies Louis Zukofsky developed in “A.”

 

If this were all that was going on here, the poem – it’s 15 stanzas long, so not the thickest of chapbooks – would be a delight & that would be that. But there’s more – & this is what really interests me most in Bettridge’s approach to Shores – because the form here is not static, not an argument for balance or closure in the way that so much of what gets called new formalism is.

 

Note the presence of the word sunrise, repeated each time as the final word in the second line. Note also the rhyme of birth & earth in the final term of the third line in the last two stanzas quoted above, in each instance part of an image not of sea & sand, but of labor & delivery. It’s worth reading Shores just to watch the career to these two features in the evolution of the poem.

 

Sunrise appears again as the final word of the second line in the next two stanzas. In the first case, the line reads “Breath before sunrise,” that first word scrambling the phonemes of birth, the third line now freed of the rhyme but evolving the implicit theme “Its womb in the dust.” In the next stanza, sunrise has an almost Poundian lilt – “Went down like sunrise” – while the third line unites the concepts behind the original birth / earth dyad: “A seed swallowed whole.” In the fourth line – “Come make spring     Queen Death” – we find the antithesis, but one that just happens to rhyme with breath.

 

Sunrise continues onward, becoming the last word of the last line in the sixth stanza & thus also the final word of the first line of the seventh, a sequence it repeats again in the eight & ninth stanzas, at which point the word disappears from the poem altogether. This for me is a key moment in the work, because it’s the point at which the text demonstrates that its commitment is to the logic of the poem, not to an idea of perfect symmetry. In fact, sun rise does occur later in the text, not however as one word, but as two, separated by a line break, in the very last stanza. Further, rise & rising occur three other times in the text, so that it is only in stanzas 12 & 13 – a passage that begins “Off to hell again” – in which some variant does not occur

 

The tale of the poem, as I read it, shares elements both of Aphrodite & Eurydice & could be read as an argument for the underlying unity of these two myths. I’m not especially concerned with that aspect of the poem – it’s hardly ever what drives me when & as I read – whereas Bettridge’s demonstration of method completely captures my attention. I think he had me hooked as early as the first line, “Up stains hem of sky,” one of the single most memorable lines I’ve read in a long time. I’m aware that there are some poets & critics – Jonathan Mayhew & Hank Lazer, to name two whose judgment I generally trust – who cringe at the level of compression that would cause a poet to deliberately follow Ginsberg’s maxim of stripping out articles, thus making “Up stains hem of sky” possible. From my perspective any additional syllable here would only pad the poem in the name of some fake verisimilitude – adding what isn’t necessary in a way that could only detract. Poetry is not, & need not be, speech, although that is a critical source always. Bettridge demonstrates its value here also, immediately after “Queen Death” in the fifth stanza, when the last line of that stanza (& the first line of the sixth) reads “Ain’t much of a gig.” Thus this little chapbook, just 375 syllables end to end, a mere five pages, manages to register what Zukofsky termed both upper & lower limit, music and speech. Joel Bettridge is somebody who really gets the force part of tour de force.



Friday, May 09, 2003

 

Dirty Dingus Magee was a 1970 comedy western starring that least credible of outdoors actors, Frank Sinatra, along with George Kennedy, one of several post-Mitchum supporting stars of that period – unlike Mitchum or Broderick Crawford, Kennedy could smile. The director, Burt Kennedy (no relation), was a second-tier talent at best who specialized in lighter western fair &, as horse operas faded, so did his career. I think I must have flipped the dial – something I do habitually when I see Sinatra in anything other than Manchurian Candidate, one of the half-dozen best American films ever made, & the rarely shown Man with a Golden Arm – dozens of times when Dingus Magee came on. For Sinatra buffs, the film is notable as Blue Eyes’ last hit movie, albeit a minor one. For writers, it has been better known as a film that Joseph Heller, of all people, was brought in on in order to rescue the script.

 

That script was adapted by its author, David Markson, from his novel, The Ballad of Dingus Magee. I note this by way of explanation as to why it has taken me so very long to get around to reading Markson’s books. Given my difficult relation to fiction as it is, I had a hard time imagining why I would want seriously now to read anything by a man whose work led to that film. Now I’m thinking, I may even get around to reading The Ballad of Dingus Magee.

 

I first began to reconsider my position after seeing some extravagant reviews of Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Reader’s Block & This is Not a Novel. Given that I’ve read Wittgenstein’s Door (fascinating if problematic prose poems by Curtis Faville), Wittgenstein’s Ladder & Wittgenstein’s Vienna – I haven’t yet got to Wittgenstein’s Poker or Wittgenstein’s Nephew, let alone Wittgenstein’s Logical Atomism – I suspect I must be the right demographic for just about any book that uses the philosopher’s name in the possessive. Wittgenstein’s Pancreas and Wittgenstein’s Summer Salads, here I come.

 

I hesitated, though. One might use the phrase Wittgenstein’s mistress the way one would Frank O’Hara’s mistress or even Robert Duncan’s wife. The lives of gay men in the 20th century were incredibly complex & women were sometimes involved. Yet to focus on that element struck me as curious & peripheral, not so terribly far from the summer salads idea. When I did pick up the book last winter, I noticed that the Dalkey Archive edition carefully omits just one of Markson’s novels on the back cover – The Ballad of Dingus Magee (they include it in the front matter, albeit misspelling Magee). As it so happen, Wittgenstein himself is barely a presence in this curious, often fascinating book, which is essentially a monolog told by a woman who believes that she is the only living person on the planet. I reviewed that novel on this blog on December 10th. 

 

It led me to try This is Not a Novel this past month – any of the reservations I voiced about Wittgenstein’s Mistress simply drop away from this bravura performance. It’s right up there with Satanic Verses & Underworld in the world of post-Gravity’s Rainbow fiction. Unlike all three of these other works, it’s a relatively slender production, just 190 pages with gobs of white space.


This is Not a Novel consists almost entirely of snippets of anecdotes & quotations from various creative souls, interspersed with a series of statements that would be in the first person if the first person here did not refer so obsessively to itself as Writer, capital W. As in “Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing,” the first sentence in the book. At first, I found the artificiality of posing first-person statements in such a deliberately distanced fashion to be jarring, but as I read on & as I gradually got what the story was going to be – there’s a revelation on the last page that a reader will have figured out at least 50 pages earlier – this consciously Brechtian device began to make great sense.

 

The book both is & is not about the construction of character. Is not in the sense that Writer makes no visible effort to construct any of the little handholds for generating a history, gender, context for itself, indeed makes a point of declaring that “Writer is equally tired of inventing characters,” the work’s 10th sentence (& the whole of its seventh paragraph). Is in the sense that the reader is presented a view that is entirely interior, an obsessive chronicle of the disabilities and dire fates of the world’s intellectuals (or at least mostly intellectuals – a few baseball players turn up):

 

Maxim Gorky died of tuberculosis.

Or was he murdered by Stalin?

 

Baudelaire died after being paralyzed and deprived of speech by syphilis.

 

Curiously enough, given the focus on death, which starts out as just part of the mix in these commentaries and gradually evolves to become its obsessive focus, this is a remarkably cheery production. What one gets, as the text accumulates, is a long view of the fate of thinking & doing in the history of Westciv. Whatever your troubles are, they generally aren’t much worse than that of Stendahl, whose funeral was attended by all of three people, two more than attended the funeral of Liebniz. Or all the artists who died at the hands of the church or the state.

 

Much of what makes This is Not a Novel so bracing is its juxtaposition of details, which I found constantly thrilling:

 

          Frank Lloyd Wright died of a heart attack after surgery.

 

          Hilda Doolittle died of the flu, although already assaulted by a heart attack and a stroke.

 

          Even after Einstein at the Beach had been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Philip Glass was driving a taxi in New York City.

 

Much of it is also quite funny:

 

          A kind of shopgirl’s philosophy, Lévi-Strauss dismissed much of Sartre as.

          An ecstatic schoolgirl antistyle, Leslie Fiedler accused Kerouac of.

 

Markson, if not Writer, being entirely aware of the grammatic violations here every bit as much as the class & gender aspersions being cast. As in “female-young” & “female-working class” being, by those features alone, dismissible. Thus we discover which writers & dictators typed with two fingers, how people thought that James Joyce smelled (not good), & so forth.

 

In spite of it’s title, the work is very much “a novel” in the sense that there is an inexorable logic toward a dramatic conclusion. Although “Writer is weary unto death of making up stories” – the book’s second sentence – there are, by my estimate, something on the order 2,000 different stories actually told during the course of this one short book – one could argue, I suppose, that most weren’t made up but already existed in public domain – & they all integrate upward into a single master narrative. As I suggested before, the key plot device on the final page is visible long before the final page itself is, and I think that this may be a strength of the book – it relieves Markson (if not “Writer”) from a charge of betrayal as the non-novel transforms itself into one at the last feasible moment & contributes instead to the book’s feel of plotlessness, a sense of an almost endless expanse of possibility as one wants to add all the other possible details that could have been in this book, e.g., poets with twins or the ways of death of so many other writers & artists or all the various jobs different poets & musicians have had. The instant one begins to think along these lines, the list becomes almost infinite in scope. That plotless prose (I’m borrowing the phrase from Shklovsky) is a space of vast potentiality – it’s an act of great generosity on the part of the artist (any artist) – but as a generation of abstract lyrics have demonstrated quite conclusively, it’s something achieved not by the subtraction of syntax but rather by directing the work toward a specific psychic locale, one in which possibility exists but is never checked.

 

This book could have gone on forever & I never would have complained.



Thursday, May 08, 2003

 

Who is Graham Foust? All I really know about the man is that he is, or was, a grad student at SUNY Buffalo who once made some curious comments about my reading of Jack Spicer. More recently he seems to have been teaching at Drake, which would put him in Des Moines. BuffaloDes Moines is a fair distance, both physically & culturally.

 

The other afternoon, after going on a bike ride with the kids, I sat down into this little space I’ve made with a bench and a table between a poplar & a giant wild cherry tree in the back yard & read through a little book that was sent to me in a “CARE package” awhile back. The book is entitled 6, but I didn’t realize it until I finished the volume, finding that it had just six poems and thus that the beautiful single blue looping finger-paint stroke on the cover was not, as I’d originally imagined, simply a gorgeous abstraction, but the title.

 

The poems are beautiful, complex, simple & sad – acts of condensare as tight as any I’ve read in ages. Here is just one of these poems:

 

Let me lay

quiet

awhile

 

lost

at least

in thought.

 

Let me

unsentence me

to things.

 

Give me the time

to give me

away

 

if only like a place

I wanted saved.

 

At first, for the first two stanzas, these works remind me some of the Zen-inflected post-Objectivism of David Gitin. But then “unsentence me” in the third stanza changes everything. The logic from this point forward spirals outward in ways not predictable by what we’ve (or at least I’ve) imagined about such things. At core, the poem is about the relationship between people & the world & the intermediating role played by language, as much an obstacle as a connector. So it’s not surprising that Foust entitles this piece, ”To grammatology.”

 

What is surprising, though, is that such a work comes after a poem entitled “Heroin.” Another piece in the group is entitled “Night train,” the lower case
t intended at least partly to separate the image out from the street wino’s favorite Gallo vintage, lest we think we’ve arrived at a pomo-trained John Wieners. What in fact we seem to have – based on reading just these poems – is somebody acutely tuned to the inner contradictions of language. The agon of Foust’s final poem, “The promise of your waking here,” confirms the diagnosis:

 

Terrible bliss, this

incongruous sadness –

 

this dream of leaving you,

with you, you.

 

And I in my failure

to tear open often wonder:

 

what if to stutter were

to mend?

 

It seems fitting that Foust has written on both Spicer & Wallace Stevens for the e-journal Jacket. He is, it would seem, a profoundly philosophical poet.

 

Reading the book took me back to what he’d written about my own reading of Spicer several years ago, especially one passage that had always confused me:

 

While I find Silliman's close-reading of Spicer's poem quite valuable in terms of how one might read "This ocean," I'd also argue that he could have looked more closely at Poetry, as two pages away from Berryman's "greens of the Ganges" lies what may very well be the source (or one of the sources) for what is arguably Spicer's most famous poem.

 

At the time, I recall turning to my copy of Poetry’s 50th anniversary double issue – I still own a copy I bought used well over 30 years ago – & refound the Berryman Dream Song in question on page 7. I flipped back two pages to find another of Berryman’s pieces, “Spellbound held subtle Henry…  -- the 71st Dream Song. I couldn’t then, & can’t now, imagine that as a source for any Spicer text, let alone “what is arguably Spicer’s most famous poem.” So I flipped forward two pages, to page 5, where I came across Ben Belitt’s “The Hornet’s House,” of which the following is the first of seven quatrains:

 

Upside-down on their mill-stone, the hornets had already begun

That labor for slaves, oblique

Under balancing weights, where their universe hung by a wick,

Till the will of their species was done.

 

Is this really the inspiration for Spicer’s work from Language that starts:

 

I hear a banging on the door of the night

Buzz, buzz; buzz, buzz; buzz, buzz

If you open the door does it let in light?

Buzz, buzz; buzz, buzz; buzz, buzz.

 

And, even if it were, could that truly be called “arguably Spicer’s most famous poem?” I’d happily agree to it somewhere in the top 20 or 30, but “most?” Not.*

 

Foust’s comments still puzzled me. This time, however, I continued flipping through my copy of that issue of Poetry, and found on page 10 the following poem by Frederick Bock:

 

The Cows

 

Describing a sunset is as hard as riding a cow.

        Iowa saying.

 

Who are we in the valley of their language?

The landscape listens to their

Shapes like sounds

 

That perfectly express the heliocentric

Slant of the rays they tread

Homeward to barn.

 

And so – grown bright enough to still our speech

And let them embody a thought

We cannot say –

 

We perch on the fence and study that free tongue

Of color wonderfully winding

The ragged hill.

 

It used to be when cows came home transfigured

One of always jumped some

Flank of splendor

 

In hope of a big ride over a thousand acres –

Only to get thrown hard

On humble ground.

 

But now their quiet moves us. Our golden faces

Crisped by aubergine shadows from

Our golden hands

 

Turn after them an abstruse longing to learn –

From the slowly pageanted idiom

Their shapes take on

 

With jeweled clarity from the hypnogogic

THAT ART THOU still hanging bright

In the West –

 

Just who we are in the valley of any language

If only the gates of our silence

Let in sky.

 

Foust is absolutely correct! Though his pagination abilities are to be questioned. One can only imagine what Spicer must have thought when confronting “aubergine shadows,” “jeweled clarity” and the breathless “THAT ART THOU” all in caps.

 

Born in 1916, Bock got his B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1937 & later returned to study at the workshop in the early 1950s before becoming an assistant to  Henry Rago at Poetry magazine up until 1961. He published one book – The Fountains of Regardlessness from Macmillan in ’61 – and passed away in 1981. If it were not for the naming of one of Poetry’s annual prizes in his honor – Dana Gioia, Billy Collins, the late Jane Kenyon & most recently David Bottoms have all won it – it is unlikely Bock would be remembered today at all.

 

Newton, Iowa, where Bock was born & later died, is maybe 30 miles east of Des Moines out highway 80. I wonder if Foust realizes that Bock’s aubergine shadows are now his own?

 

 

 

 

* Actually, Belitt has been an important inspiration for contemporary American poetry, but primarily in his role as a translator from Spanish, having so enraged & appalled several poets of the 1950s & ‘60s that they began to translate from the Spanish themselves.



Wednesday, May 07, 2003

 

Half with editing, half with a strange humor, The Poker 2 has arrived at the door. The busy retro cover of the first issue has been replicated, suggesting that it will be a theme, billboarding not merely the contents, but also the editors – Dan Bouchard & a roster of seven “contributing” souls – & even the P.O. box in Cambridge. As with the first issue, it’s a breath-taking array of literary riches:

 

To top it all off, the back cover reprints Denise Levertov’s “In California During the Gulf War,” which all too accurately concludes:

 

   And when it was claimed

the war had ended, it had not ended.

 

With all these riches, the work I turn to first belongs to a someone whom I don’t believe I’ve ever met, Merrill Gilfillan. I knew of Gilfillan originally as a poet who had made what to this day is hands-down the finest translation that I’ve ever read of the very first prose poems, Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la Nuit – though it’s never been published to my knowledge in book form & my hand-me-down 25-year-old photocopy is getting quite ratty. Gilfillan’s translations made it possible to understand Baudelaire’s enthusiastic proclamation of Bertrand as the progenitor of a new form. So I would pay attention to Gilfillan’s work in little magazines, mostly, (which didn’t occur all that often since, outside of one eight year stint in New York, Gilfillan has mostly lived in places like Montana, Nebraska & Colorado) until I happened to pick up & read Burnt House to Paw Paw, the finest meditative prose on nature by anyone not named Thoreau I’ve ever come across. From that point forward, I’ve been hooked. I will read anything by the man I can get my hands on & I have yet to be disappointed.

 

Bull Run in October” is a 12-page meditative poem in three parts loosely centered around the Civil War site that sits in the Northern Virginia suburbs just south of DC. Like so many battles of that conflict, this one had two names, the northern one for the geographic features of the site, Bull Run, the southern one for the nearest town, Manassas.* Because Manassas Junction was a critical railway crossroads on the path to Richmond, it was the occasion for two major battles, the first on 21 July 1861, when the North discovered to its surprise that the war was going to be long, bloody & costly – and that the 90-day conscription originally issued for troops was going to prove inadequate – the second in August of the following year, when the Union troops found themselves having to attempt to replicate the defensive stand made during the first battle by Jackson’s “Stonewall” in order to buy time so that they could escape after dark. Because of the two battles – the first represented a major turning point in the war, the second was far bloodier, with over 25,000 dead & wounded – this simple terrain has become one of the most thoroughly documented landscapes in American history.

 

Gilfillan touches on the war, it may even have brought him to Manassas in the first place, but his focus initially is on the natural environment, specifically a single persimmon tree on Matthews Hill.** 

 

      Lone persimmon,

Matthews Hill:

                     Diospyros

on a low Virginia knoll:

                                   Diospyros

virginiana,

                  fruit bright high

in the crown.

 

When the lecture group leaves

I’ll toss a stick and knock some down

 

(VMI boys, that’s my guess, professor

in a Kazootie ballcap

                                over by the Union guns).

 

      Meanwhile

resting in its spindly lee.

 

       Dios/pyros

food for (smooth) (Virginia) gods.

 

This section, the first of six in the first of the three numbered sequences that make up the poem, makes an interesting set of demands on the reader’s knowledge. It helps to know – though, here at least, I don’t think it’s required – some Civil War history, native plants well enough to recognize their formal names, that VMI is the Virginia Military Institute, something on the order of a military finishing school, plus enough of retro Americana kitsch to recognize that the Kazootie ballcap is a reference not just to Rootie Kazootie, but to the exaggerated beak of his baseball cap.

 

Very little of which ultimately matters, in the sense that it’s nice to know it, but more important – far more important – to read close enough to recognize the instant of utter stillness that is both figured and achieved in that next-to-last stanza. It’s an intriguing formulation – a lee by definition is a protection from the wind, a form of shelter, but spindly suggests quite strongly I think that it’s the tree Gilfillan intends by this phrase. Which means that the term now divided into its roots references the fruit, not the tree.

 

The text is elegant & economic. It’s a perfect example of description build around a single detail. The next four sections of the first part of the poem can be read as a series of moves back & outward – the sequence is almost cinematic in its deployment of information, like a camera pulling back from a speck on a shirt collar to gradually reveal an entire vista.

 

The last section of the first part, however, reverses the direction, in that it starts with what Gilfillan calls “multiples” – thrushes, hickories, oaks – contrasting them precisely with the singularity of the lone persimmon. This sets up a logic that will be reiterated through the next two sequences of the poem. Thus, the last line of the first section – “No single thing.” – evolves to become at the end of the second sequence “No single stranded thing,” and at the end of the third “No single stranded cut-off thing.”

 

On the surface, “Bull Run in October” has the look of a New American poem, and there are passages (“VMI boys, that’s my guess, professor / in a Kazootie ballcap”) that sound more than a little like Paul Blackburn. Yet this use of opposition & reiteration plays out on so many levels – the stand of oaks is atop Chinn Ridge, thus on the far side of the battlefield from the persimmon tree – that I don’t think it can be at all accidental. It is a level of complexity that I don’t recall from Gilfillan’s 1997 Satin Street & a degree of formal architecture virtually unheard of among the New Americans. It’s the sort of structure I associate in my own mind more with the stories of Borges or the metafictions of Steve Katz than with, say, Oulipo or the old patternism that gets called new formalism by wannabe premoderns. Gilfillan, at least in this one poem, appears to be doing something completely new. Given that his choice of a Civil War battlefield for what might be termed a landscape poem presents both something characteristically framed as historic and something else often (too often) characterized as “timeless,” Gilfillan’s ability to arrive with something completely different is a tour de force worth acknowledging.

 

I recall how, reading Baudelaire’s prose poems – which (unlike Bertrand) Baudelaire knew in advance to be both prose & poetry – & realizing that Baudelaire was clearly counting sentences so that more than a few turned out to be 14 sentence poems, I got so excited I could barely stand it. That’s a little how I feel reading “Bull Run in October.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Southern troops were welcome in the cities of the South. The National Parks Service uses the Southern name, presumably on the theory that this was the term adopted by the local community.

 

** My sense, from the one time I took my boys to Manassas a few years ago, is that most casual visitors to the park remain entirely on the taller Henry Hill, so – like the students from the Virginia Military Institute – for Gilfillan to place himself opposite is already to position himself more deeply within the historic framework than would be typical.



Tuesday, May 06, 2003

 

It’s hard for an outsider to know just whom Charles Tomlinson might be. On the one hand, he’s the British poet who edited the Selected Poems of William Carlos Williams, the author of the extraordinary American Scenes*, and someone whom the likes of Robert Creeley has been known to speak of favorably. With Octavio Paz, Jacques Roubaud & Edoardo Sanguineti, Tomlinson partook in one of the first truly international collaborative writing projects, Renga.

 

On the other hand, there is this writer of crabbed occasional verse, technically adequate but unambitious to the point of pathology, whose poetry these days is most likely to appear in the United States in the militantly reactionary – both politically & aesthetically – journal, The New Criterion, alongside the likes of Roger Shattuck, John Haines, William Logan and (another author who should know better) Guy Davenport.

 

Reading Tomlinson’s Selected Poems, as I have been doing for over a year now, is ultimately one of the more disappointing engagements with a poet’s lifework I can recall. Outside of the poems from American Scenes, especially the section of that book that carries that for its own title, there is very little in the Selected that warrants the effort from any perspective beyond, say, an anthropological reading, as if to answer the question why. Tomlinson, the Americanist, the modernist & internationalist, appears to have been the aberration – a random pulse in what otherwise has been a flatline performance stretching over nearly 50 years.

 

This is not to say that there are not some other poems worth reading here, but rather that those that do repay the effort, especially among the later works, such as “Writing on Sand,” “The Tax Inspector” or “Far Point,” invariably suggest a return to the flat, direct pseudo-imagist mode of American Scenes. For one thing, Tomlinson’s ear seems to desert him the instant any line gets to eight syllables – simply excising the works that use longer lines (nearly half of the Selected) would have yielded a far stronger book. But even then one would still have to confront & deal with the crushing sense of the occasional. If ever there were a poet of tourism, of the weekend & of the summer holiday from teaching, Tomlinson is it.

 

It’s curious & sad ultimately. Reading the Selected is literally to watch a man who had some glimmer of talent waste his life. Born in 1927, Tomlinson is part of the same age cohort as the core of the New American poetry – Ginsberg, Creeley, Ashbery, Eigner all were born at virtually the same moment. With his interest in &, to some degree, ear for American poetry, Tomlinson might have been the person who could have bridged the great gap between the alternative tradition in American literature & the very similar chasm in British letters that puts Bunting, Finlay, Mac Diarmid & David Jones off to one side, while pretending that dullards like Ted Hughes represent anything more than the death of empire. Had someone, anyone, been able to construct that bridge in the 1960s, younger writers, like Raworth & Prynne, might have received the treatment their work warranted. As it is, British poets with any life in them have had to struggle in circumstances with far fewer resources available to them than their counterparts over here.

 

I started Tomlinson’s Selected with great hopes. Now at least I feel I have an answer as to why he didn’t – couldn’t or wouldn’t – create that bridge when he had a chance. As it is, I do think that this is a book that younger poets should read, not as literature but as a cautionary tale: this could happen to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Having even the most well-intentioned British poet edit Williams’ Selected, rather than, say, Creeley or Ginsberg or Blackburn or whomever of all the dozens of American acolytes WCW had within that same generation as Tomlinson, is a notably curious choice, given the vehemence of Williams’ own antipathy toward a view of American literature as a tributary of what Charles Bernstein likes to call “the island poets.” Tomlinson’s 1985 edition replaced one that had originally been edited by Williams himself in 1949, and updated somewhat after his death with work from his last 14 years. The earlier edition had similarly been framed in as conservative a tone as New Directions could muster, with an introduction by Randall Jarrell.



Monday, May 05, 2003

 

Mea culpa for calling Joseph Duemer “Jim” on Saturday. It took me awhile to figure out why people were referring to me as “Rick.” There is a Rick Silliman – when I first moved to Pennsylvania in 1995, he lived directly across the street from me. We both have kids named Jesse, though his is his daughter while mine is my son. We use the same pediatrician & pharmacy, making life for the two of them a little more complicated. It turns out that we’re cousins, but you need a pretty detailed genealogy chart to find the two of us on it (& I’m still there only through my grandfather’s adoption). Within a year, he moved about six blocks south & I moved four blocks east.



 

If there is a single comprehensive list of links to post-avant poetry bloggers, I haven’t found it. The one that Gary Sullivan has on his blog site is as good as any:

 

Brandon Barr
Jim Behrle
Caterina
Josh Corey
Cori
Jordan Davis
Alan de Niro
Joseph Duemer
John Erhardt
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Drew Gardner
Jean Gier
Nada Gordon
Daphne Gottlieb
Henry Gould
Gabriel Gudding
Kali Gura
David Henry
David Hess
Jack Kimball
Anastasios Kozaitis
Laurable
Lester
Judy MacDonald
Mainstream Poetry
Joseph Massey
Jonathan Mayhew
Andrew Mister
Kasey Silem Mohammad
Hugh Nicoll
9for9
Erin Noteboom
Katherine Parrish
Nick Piombino
Angela Rawlings
Ron Silliman
Sandra Simonds
Robert Stanton
Brian Kim Stefans
Gary Sullivan
Eileen Tabios
Jill Walker
Heriberto Yepez
Stephanie Young
Tim Yu
Komnino Zervos

 

 

I’ve updated Jim Behrle’s URL in the above. Jim changes his web address as often as some folks change their trousers. I also switched the link for Heriberto Yepez away from the defunct Tijuana Bible of Poetics to his bilingual Border Blogger2. Except that when I typed in the URL from memory, I omitted the “h” that goes before yepez.blogspot.com, which then took me serendipitously to yet another bilingual Tijuana poet, Raul Yepez, who has his links carefully organized by geographic region of Mexico.

 

Technorati makes it possible for someone to see just who has created links to a particular web page. While a number of the links to my blog come predictably from the same list Gary compiled above, others originate from outside that circle, some of them from way outside that circle. Here are some examples:

 

Climates facilitate ennui.



Here and here and herer.

 

No doubt many of these blogs will eventually find their way into that first list above. Over the weekend, I saw Assorted Grotesqueries on Nick Piombino’s blogroll & the Wily Filipino on Tim Yu’s. Then Kasey Mohammad had them both, plus some other links I’d not seen before.



This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?