Saturday, October 11, 2003
Michael Bogue wants to extrapolate my question of
I had originally written this to be a "comment" but it rambled on way to long. Does anyone use comment features on weblogs much?
So what do you call those cities where there probably isn't even 150 readings every twenty years?
I live in a small, very conservative Canadian city of about 360 000, and if you don't particularly get along with the local self-proclaimed poets - and I don't - yr rather out of luck.
Your comment on sound poetry is right on the mark. Canadians seem to prefer someone standing on the stage reading the alphabet in an earnest manner, than the lone poet in a cork lined room who may only be writing for an audience of one, burning with the intensity of his own inwardness.
If there is an open poetry reading in a city this size - it tends to go something like this: Six or eight poets show up. One of them has brought an "audience" with them - they get up and read first - they leave. There are bars they need to go to. Half your "audience" is gone. After the reading - most people go home without introducing themselves in any genuine way.
Ever since our City Hall pretty much decided to abandon the city core - and you can see the same thing at work in every Canadian city about this size - "the center cannot hold" and the huge box stores slouching towards Bethlehem - or "Chapters."
No core means the "best
minds of our generation" are destroyed by economic planning madness - and
simply move... elsewhere. West usually -
Suffice it to say - a depressing situation. A "scene" so small that you don't have to have the loss of one institution - there are none - but simply one or two people who don't get along to split the already dismally small audience in half.
So - what are the advantages to a poet living in a city this small - but still large enough to be considered a center of some culture - tho more so in the 60s than now? I'm thinking of Christopher Dewdney's great archival and localist work as well as Greg Curnoe - whose paintings often incorporate text and certainly fall under the rubric of intermedia poetry.
One of the finest poets I have met lives in this city- Scott Carlson - but he refuses to publish his work in any conventional way. He simply puts out small broadsides covering the front and back of a sheet of paper and photocopies them at a a local career center.
His performance style, suffice it to say, is the polar opposite of "school of quietude" type.
Apparently he used to get nosebleeds when he performed he would be so loud. Imagine a street corner preacher who listens to too much heavy metal and spends his days dreaming up bizarre Blakean cosmologies and you will have some of the picture. I've tried to get him to do some recordings and let me put his work on the internet - but he is as leery as the internet as I am enthusiastic for its possibilities.
He is, in short, an original.
Something you rarely find anywhere. In a large city - even
In a city of a few million - would such a person just be another crackpot or would they find their audience? Probably both...
Tho I have met many poets in this city - they are rarely of the non "school-of-quietude" type - an appellation I would rename "school of solitude" - and are typically very conservative. The first time I took some of my early writing experiments to the local writer-in-residence I was informed "he usually threw things like that out."
It's a comment I treasure to this day.
In fact the only person who gave me any sort of encouragement was Karen Mac Cormack, a fine editor/poet and a great person to boot.
Of course, they had to bring
her in from
I may go and take some work to
the new "poet laureate" of
His "slam" against poetry slams seems more reactionary than well thought out. I only ever once hosted a "poetry slam" and it succeeded in bringing out people who would otherwise never come to such an event, and if the poetry was no better than your typical open mic, it was no worse either.
In conclusion, to my point, and
I do have one - is that I believe there needs to be a far greater support of
poetry in smaller metropolitan areas. There will never be a "London School
of Poetry", or a
I have grown to see the center of my city going from a vital center of economy and culture to a largely burned out husk where every third building is empty - and most of the ones that are not are businesses I call "parasites of the poor" - pawn shops, dollar stores, quick-loans ie legal loan sharks etc. , the rest being Government run Temples in the Church of Social Concern - and it has removed much of the sense of purpose from the arts community as a whole, but the poetry scene in particular.
So my question is before me on how to survive and thrive in a more-indifferent-than average city, without losing my marbles or my way.
I certainly envy those poets who, by living in the large city, have the social resources to receive varied feedback on their works - whatever the means - and to me it seems just one more example of the hegemony of separation that keeps, poets from audience, audience from publisher and publisher from poets.
"Art too is just a way of living, and however one lives, one can, without knowing, prepare for it; in everything real one is closer to it, more its neighbor, than in the unreal half-artistic professions, which, while they pretend to be close to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of all art - as, for example, all of journalism does and almost all criticism and three quarters of what is called (and wants to be called) literature."
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Friday, October 10, 2003
Hi! Long time no see.
I made a comment in Kasey Mohammad's blog Comment Box last week (9/27/03, cc-ed to the Poetics List), about the "line-breaks" in a Linda Pastan poem that he was reading and how the same line-breaks (identical scansion for similar sequences of [3-syllable] lines) occur throughout William Carlos Williams' poetry and others Modernists'.
Partially because the follow-up involved my being "back-channeled" by someone who aggressively felt that my reading of "meter"/scansion in Pastan's and 20th/21st century poetry was a sheer, quixotic illusion on my part, I am left with an uncomfortable sense about what the hell lines/verses are, nowadays. And what we're doing with them, why we're still using them.
I'm curious to ask others' experience with this question, both in your own poetic practice and your reading of others' ("free verse") poetry. I'm hoping you might have some feedback.
Do you write lines/make "line-breaks" with some conscious/semi-conscious sense of why you are making those choices (that can be explained)? Do you feel that there's a "meter" involved, even though it isn't conventional New Formalist meter? Do you feel that there is some rationale to what you're doing, but that it's carried out on an "intuitive" level? Do you have a free sense that there is no reason behind your lineations and feel that that's a liberated, "modern" position?
Is the perseveration of poetry into an appearance of "verse"/lines simply some sort of nominal, vestigial, semiotic cue to a bygone era that's meant to re-classify (re-dialecticize) the writing into Poetry (hence, privileging it to all sorts of liberties you do not make in your prose)? What would it say about the continuing practice of lineation if it's so vastly widespread but something no one has any conscious insight into?
I realize that the whole issue of the "line" may seem hopelessly passé and outmoded to many — but since I'm finding my own resources that I bring to the question to be more than inconclusive, I thought I'd ask.
Recommended readings you find decisive in regards to this would be appreciated, too. (I recall reading a Marjorie Perloff chapter on the subject where, as I remember it, her conclusion is that no identifiable "justification" can be found for the "free verse" line. And I react to the Projectivist/Olson "breath"/"instanter upon another" explanation as itself ultimately being quixotic and illusionistic.)
The great linebreak debates of the 1960s were one of those you-had-to-be-there kinds of things. An enormous amount of energy & passion was expended on just this question during that decade, so much so that the line’s absence is a major subtext in a work from the ‘70s like Ketjak.
Case in point: Denise Levertov once invited David Bromige, Lynn Strongin & your humble correspondent to read to one of her writing classes at UC Berkeley. During the session, a student asked if a linebreak had more of a pause than a comma or period. Levertov responded with a very prescriptive “it’s one-half the pause of a comma” answer to which David & I both piped up almost simultaneously that Levertov had it exactly backwards. A relatively heated (& none too pleasant) little discussion was then held by all. The reality (in retrospect) was that all three of us were being completely stubborn.
importantly, all three of us held an idea that there was such a thing as a correct linebreak, that it was something
you could indeed get wrong. The projectivist interpretation of Williams had
been to align the line with a conception of speech, as if the same text might
not be spoken with different “breath units” for
emphasis, or even just because one happened to do it that way that day.
Levertov’s position was actually closer to what somebody might have come up
with paying more direct attention to the way Williams or Zukofsky (and
especially him) read their works aloud. Bromige & I were coming at the same
question the way somebody who’d primarily listened to Creeley, Olson or Duncan
– i.e. the next generation – read their works. Indeed, as I’ve noted in other
The mistake that David, Denise & I were all making wasn’t calibrating line breaks with “traditional” or “prose” punctuation elements, ½ comma vs. 2 commas, but rather the idea that, in the abstract, there could be such a thing as a correct answer at all. It is not that linebreaks are not meaningful, but rather that their meaning is not fixed. Like the use of rhyme, sound, metaphor, persona – any element you choose to pick – it depends entirely upon the context, the individual poem. Now, there may be obvious advantages for an individual poet to settle on a particular strategy so as to set expectations appropriately for her or his readers, but it’s not a requirement.
Just as one
can find Jack Spicer poems that are clearly intended to be read with end stops
– the well-known “Ferlinghetti” from Heads
of the Town, for example – there are many poems there & in his other
books that are not. Creeley’s use of end stops is different in For Love, Pieces and Life & Death. Similarly, one reason
that so many new formalists don’t simply blush to death with embarrassment over
their hokey tone-deaf metrics is that most literally don’t intend for the
linebreak to be heard at all. If you hear the line
To ask what
the meaning of a line break is, let alone the “correct” meaning, is akin to
asking what an edge is in sculpture. Well, it depends. Part of what is so
interesting about a well-written poem is how quickly & deftly it
communicates to the reader what sort of line it is using, which invariably
depends significantly (tho not entirely) on the use of the
There are some general dynamics that do seem to apply to the line & which one can identify in any poem (regardless of school or aesthetics) – the word that receives the greatest emphasis tends to be the last (although this can be shifted via prosody), the word that receives the second greatest tends to be the first. If a caesura is in play – less & less these days, at least on the post-avant side of the street – the last word prior to the caesura may actually receive greater emphasis than the line’s first word. And so forth. But these aren’t rules so much as forces that different poets will exploit differently to reach desired effects during the course of writing. And those desired effects could be anything.
So, yes, Marjorie would be right in assert that no justification exists for “the free verse line” – which is not one thing but a couple of hundred thousand – but the larger issue is that “justification” is not the point. Again, to pose sculpture as an analog here, what is the justification for an edge? In a Sol Lewitt or, just for fun, Jeff Koons? Sculptors use edge as part of an ensemble of things to think about as they proceed about their work. But edge is to sculpture quite a bit like the line. Sculpture has – regardless of the medium or aesthetics – mass & dimension & it comes to a stop. And wherever it comes to a stop, one finds an edge. But to say that it defines sculpture the way some criticism has claimed that role for the line in poetry is, I think, missing the actual dynamics of how work gets done & what the work actually is.
Now I do
cringe when I see poets who haven’t thought through the line – including (but
not limited to) the line break – it’s far too common, though how shocking is it
really that not all poetry is the best? But so what? I can find dramatically
different kinds of lines in the writing of Eleni Sikelianos &
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Curtis Faville raises the question of spacing & fonts once again.
Reading just now your "blog" on Eigner's letter/poetics—you surmise how Larry may have begun to perceive his writing efforts in terms of a sort of Sapphic fragmentary phenomenon—where bits of partially realized text—or disintegrating text—stand as integral, or "free-standing" (?) examples of completed, end-point data. I.e., "finished." So, the effort— Bob [Grenier] has Larry's old typewriter which sits like a piece of relevant sculpture in his livingroom in Bolinas. Sort of like Kerouac's, with the "roll" threaded through the cylinder. Bob views this pre-Cambrian instrument as a sort of Living Lincoln railsplitter rustic, pre-IBM Selectric, pre-computer, but "still" literate grid generator. I view Larry's slavishness to equal spacing as a physical and rude requirement forced upon him by necessity, but in other universes, etc., what might he have done? Could we but create poems in magic mid-air jagged swipes & swirls of our digits, as Bob seems intent on doing now, where would "accuracy" and "accountability" to text be?
Strange to note that
Larry's own typewritten text was fairly accurate and even impressive into the
'fifties and 'sixties—but then after he moved to California, he seems to have
developed—or there was a kind of breakdown in this discipline which he came to
view as naturally worth thinking about, so his "letters" and
"notes" begin to be increasingly arcane, "private" (?),
"sloppy," "indecipherable"—and he seems to have felt that
(like Olson) these "specimens" of unedited calligraphy were themselves
more "hip" and "artistic" than spruced up versions. The
I just gave Bob the "corrected" text of another time in fragments based on the third typescript draft of it at Stanford. Which raises questions: Bob and I both first substantially "discovered" Larry's work through that book, but the text of the bookscript is entirely arbitrary, i.e., the typesetter changed the spacing of virtually every line in it because of the unequal width of the letters, yielding a reinterpretation of each poems arrangement on the page. I asked Bob about this—did our unconscious "misreading" of Larry's text in the "books" actually show that the spacing issue is an illusion? Does not the "reinterpreted" text actually have an historical integrity—which we are now about the "correct"?
I put it to you—
Compass Rose Books
As the very blog entry Curtis was responding to demonstrates, I’ve railed against the impact of Robert Duncan insisting on publishing Ground Work: Before the War in Courier. There are monospace fonts beyond Courier—Lucida not only offers a “typewriter” script, but other options such as the Lucida Sans font this paragraph is set in that approximates a fairly close compromise and avoids the problematic surface of a truly typewritten script.
interesting—beyond interesting actually—that projectivists,
who were so obsessive in their prescription of the line as a score for speech*,
turn out also to be obsessive in replicating a certain stage of the work
itself, the typed draft.
own speech skills were minimal due to cerebral palsy. They improved markedly
during the years he lived in
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
I have what
I would call a loose structural definition of tiering. A first tier metro – and
as I noted, I see only two in the
typically, second tier scenes can be nearly as lively as first tier ones, but
tend to be much more dependent on one or two institutions without which they
could not thrive. The writing program at UC San Diego, the Writers Workshop in
are other second-tier scenes, or maybe I should say scenes that I would group
with the institutionally dependent ones above that seem not to have a single
dominant local institution, & generally seem to survive without one.
Monday, October 06, 2003
Aaron Tieger, the editor of Carve & himself a blogger, sent me the following email that, among other things, contrasts the reading style of poets in Boston with those in (or from) New York.
I'm never sure whether to use the comment box or email (or my own blog) to respond to blogs, so I'll send you this and if you feel like posting any of it then do so, and if not, then do not.
First, thanks for the CARVE mention.
And personally, I rather like that
Anyway, I think I've said all I can think of to say. Enjoyed the post. Hope you like the magazine.
Best, Aaron Tieger
"You gotta brush your teeth with rock and roll" (Peter Wolf)
"There is no them and us, there is only you and me... We need to find the 'self' that can truly be the authority that it is... The exponent of Karate does not aim at the brick when wishing to break it, but at the space beyond." (CRASS)
comments remind of the observation that New York poets made (or used to make,
as I’m not certain that this distinction is still true) that San Francisco
poets in the 1970s & ‘80s came to New York and read for long periods of
time—45 minutes & up—the idea being that SF poets went on more or less endlessly
in contrast with the more time efficient New Yorkers. And it is true that at
least at venues like
however, a logic to it that, I think, played out
Similarly, I recall other discussions from that same period that suggested that the tendency toward sound poetry & other performance-centric genres in Canadian poetry was at least partly the result of the fact that the Canada Council supported performances to a degree that it did not the solitary poet isolated off in that room of one’s own.
Russian poets of my own generation, I know that some of these same dynamics
remain at play, as several poets such as Arkadii Dragomoschenko & Alexei
Parschikov adopted a deliberately low-key, non-performative reading style in
reaction to the theatrical declamations of what they felt had been the
compromised older generation of Yevtushenko & Voznesensky. Yet Ivan
Zhdanov, a contemporary of Arkadii & Alexei, but one whose roots are in
All of which is to suggest that there can be multiple strands at work in the creation & context of a reading style. Pound’s trilled “r”s in the recordings of him reading, or Williams’ failure to heed his own line breaks sometimes jump out at us to remind us how very different their world of poetry was from our own. I honestly can’t say if there is a “Boss Town Sound” or reading style, one that is, say, more low key than that of New Yorkers. But I’m open to entertaining the idea.
* Co-started, really, with a poet named Mike Bono, who soon dropped out of the process.
Ш Ш Ш
No blog mañana. I’ll be traveling on business.
Sunday, October 05, 2003