Saturday, January 28, 2006

 

Jesse Glass is re-examining the work & life of yet another Deep Neglectorino, Lindley Williams Hubbell, a confidant of Gertrude Stein who spent many years in Japan.

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Pierre Joris has wonderful piece on the late Mary Beach, poet & artist, widow of Claude Pélieu, mother-in-law of Beat poet Charlie Plymell. Scroll down Pierre’s site a little & read about the plight of Gennady Aygi. Aygi is the great national poet of Chuvasia, an autonomous republic in central Russia.

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Jeff Davis has a thoughtful, useful consideration of Robert Creeley.

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Adam Fieled has decided that I’m Ezra Pound. That ought to scare me off podcasts forever.



Friday, January 27, 2006

 

There are nine poems in Night Palace, printed on a single sheet of paper – there must be a name for this somber yellow-orange¹ – which came in an envelope the other day from Sylvester Pollet’s remarkable Backwoods Broadsides, one of the best micropublishing projects around – one might go so far as to say The Dean of the One-Page Periodicals. The author is Joanne Kyger, about whom I’ve written before here and here. Reading her poems, which span a 13 month period from October 2003 to November 2004, I wonder if this really represents a full year’s work and, if so, if the collection of ten poems that are collected on the website run by (or for) Michael McClure & Ray Manzarek (he being the keyboard player of The Doors & the secret sauce behind some of the 1960s’ most iconic melodies), which date from March 2002 right up to October 2003, mean that these two publications gather together some 30 months’ worth of Kyger’s poetry.

Kyger has always been the most personal of poets – one might even say the most occasional, in that her poems have almost invariably captured some present moment. In fact, as I read her, presence is constantly the issue in her work. There are some ways in which she is the poet who most thoroughly represents that Buddhist perspective in poetry, more so even than Phil Whalen & Norman Fischer. So it is intriguing to see that three of the nine poems here are set in Iraq, that two focus on Carl Jung (one also bringing in, of all details, the Democratic Convention), and one is an elegy for Don Allen:

Once he took Richard Brautigan and me north out into
    the wine country circa 1964 when it was really empty
       and spring blossoms were on the trees

He’d point and Richard and I would run out from the car
    and hack away at all the branches we could find
       and finally the car was all filled up

When he dropped us off in the city
    He took just one very shapely branch
       & left us on the sidewalk

with this huge mound
    of drooping greenery and blossoms
       and drove away   into the night

There are little moments in the construction of this poem – the capitalized He in the third stanza where grammar wouldn’t require it, even tho the poem doesn’t cap its left margins; the three words with double letters in that next-to-last line, a lushness to underscore the image – that are Kyger signatures. A simple enough poem that knows exactly what it wants to achieve & does so efficiently, with a light touch.

I first published some of Kyger’s poetry in the Chicago Review feature that I co-edited with David Melnick some 36 years. Kyger was herself just 36 at the time, already a decade beyond her first fabled trip to India & Japan. Her memoir of starting to write under the tutelage of Robert Duncan & Jack Spicer can be read here & you should definitely click on the link there to “The Maze,” her first real poem. It’s a stunning start to a great career. Kyger’s Selected Poems came out from Penguin four years ago but, better still, a collected edition is forthcoming from The National Poetry Foundation.



Thursday, January 26, 2006

 

After reading my piece Monday on Holly Iglesias’ Boxing inside the Box, François Luong sent me the following interview with Kimiko Hahn, which originally appeared in the newsletter eBao. I found (find) it fascinating and asked if I could reprint it here.  

At the Intersection of Murasaki Shikibu and Rapunzel:
the Poet Kimiko Hahn

 

The poet Kimiko Hahn is a member of the growing generation of Asian-American poets receiving the spotlight in the contemporary American poetry scene, along with Marilyn Chin, Cathy Song, C. Dale Young, Li-Young Lee and Rick Noguchi. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including The Artist’s Daughter (W.W. Norton, 2002), Mosquito and Ant (W.W. Norton, 2000) and the forthcoming The Narrow Road to the Interior. She has received an American Book Award and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, among other awards. She will join the faculty of the prestigious Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston this fall, after having taught at Queens College/CUNY in New York City.

 

François Luong: When she addressed the American Poetry Society, Marilyn Chin said: “I am a Chinese-American poet, born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. My poetry both laments and celebrates my ‘hyphenated’ identity.” Like Chin’s use of the Chinese quatrain, you reappropriate Japanese traditional form of the zuihitsu with “The Downpour,” and acknowledge the tanka in “Chekov’s Diner,” but you also use the Chinese form of nu shu with “Mosquito and Ant.” In this movement, is there an experience that is shared by all Asian-Americans and that is not exclusive to Chinese-Americans or Japanese-Americans?

 

Kimiko Hahn: If by ‘movement’ you are referring to a trend that Marilyn and I are a part of—I would hesitate to call it that; and I would really hesitate to speak for other Asian Americans. Having said so, I do believe this reappropriation is a recurring interest—as a way of tending to roots—even as subject matter.

 

Or perhaps you are referring to a movement within my work? In Mosquito and Ant my interest in nu shu has more to do with a shared experience among women—rather than Asian Americans; i.e., the notion that women need to speak to one another and sometimes in a language of their own. I am always amazed that although women’s education historically works against communication, it sometimes works for the making of an exquisite correspondence. (Hence my preoccupation with Heian literature.) At the time of writing this sequence, I felt I needed to return to the flat Chinese and Japanese image and although I did not use a Chinese form, I did draw inspiration from the idea of nu shu.

 

FL: For the poem “Tissue,” you cite Adrienne Rich’s line “The imagination’s cry is a sexual cry” as your triggering line. But while Rich’s poem becomes a meditation on femininity and motherhood, your poem expands on this trope to become a meditation on language and disjunction as well. How does being a Japanese-American influence your writing?

 

KH: As the grandchild of immigrants (my issei grandparents [Note: issei refers to a first-generation Japanese immigrant] on Maui spoke almost no English; my mother spoke English, Japanese and pidgin) I sometimes feel that I am not going to say what I mean. That there is a deficiency. However, I am self-possessed enough to also feel that I will not be silenced or stopped—even by myself—and that I can push toward clarity. In writing, one can revise. And play very freely.

 

Also, like other grandchildren of immigrants, I did not learn their language with real fluency. But I did learn that my mother could say things using different words. “Peach” was also “momo.” This is an important awareness. I guess you could say I was emotionally bilingual—which is a way of bridging “disjunction.”

 

On the other hand—my experience of disjunction is not limited thematically to language or even the subject of identity. (I guess it is the most obvious given that I am Eurasian.)

 

As you pointed out, traditional East Asian aesthetics and forms have influenced my work. When I studied Japanese literature in college, the works by Murasaki Shikibu, Sei Shōnagon, and others were essential to my development. I think (I hope) I have approached these writings from the point of view of a Japanese-American woman, rather than a Western tourist. I hope I bring to the readings a possession of this culture. I hope I bring—what? a cheekiness for even thinking my usage may differ from a Caucasian Westerner?

 

Returning for a moment to your first question: one shared experience I often see in Asian-American (and in other immigrant) work is this kind of anxiety with English as well as with one’s “mother’s tongue.” We see this in Marilyn’s poetry as well as Li-Young Lee’s. One is never quite “at home” in either language—but is also tenaciously possessive. And determined to get it—in both senses of the phrase.

 

And, language, itself, (English and Japanese in particular) is a concern in my poetry—so that what may be “postmodern” to one poet, is a means of exploring my relationship to Western and Eastern cultures, these various roots.

 

FL: As we mentioned earlier, you reappropriate traditional Asian poetic forms, but use them in a contemporary context, such as in your poem “Lady Rokuj­o Hails a Taxi.” We also find you writing in the poem “Orchid Root,” “I need to return to the Chinese women poets. / The flat language / of pine and orchid.” Do you see this reappropriation as an attempt to confront the “Asian” tradition and try to “make it new”?

 

KH: I should be so lucky. Honestly—I do not know what East Asian writers are currently doing so I have no way of knowing if my efforts are an inroad. Sure—I would love to be a part of some kind of front.

 

What I do know is that very few writers are acquainted with the zuihitsu. My next book, The Narrow Road to the Interior (title stolen from Bashō), is a collection of these prose pieces with tanka threaded throughout. There is also an essay on this “poetic miscellany”—as it has been called.

 

Strictly speaking, there is no Western equivalent although I see similarities in [modernist poet William Carlos] Williams’ Paterson, Michelle Cliff’s and Charles Simic’s prose—even Melville’s Moby Dick. I hope that my version of these Asian forms add something new (to use your word) to the poetry scene and to the discourse on what is fiction and nonfiction. (The Japanese reader does not expect everything in a diary to be factual—artfulness is more important, more Truthful.)

 

The reappropriation finally is a way to make it mine. For it to belong to me; and me, then the tradition.

 

FL: When you write in “Mosquito and Ant”

 

She

Shi in Japanese: four, poem, death.

 

In Chinese?

In mosquito and ant script?

 

(Yes in Chinese, yes)

 

and later, in “Responding to Light”:

 

SOAR

SORE

SOEUR

SOUR

SUR

SURE

 

we find you play with homophony. Similarly, you also play with polynimy in your poem “Orchid Root,” when you write:

 

PINE

MAGPIE

CLOUD

 

How does meaning change with this shift in tongues?

 

KH: The homophony creates a different kind of juxtaposition in the reader’s imagination, an aural one. Let’s have some fun here: “aural” as in pertaining to the ear AND to an aura! Like an image—it is up to the reader’s imagination and unconscious. Yes?

 

For those unacquainted with Chinese characters, I hope that my word play produces something startling and bewildering and beautiful. For those who are familiar, I hope my usage is a playful validation of non-Western culture inside American poetry (which of course is far from new).

 

FL: Your focus changes in your latest book, The Artist’s Daughter. While remaining within the realm of womanhood and motherhood, your point of view shifts from Asian-centric to a more European-centric point of view. You explore, for example, the European fairy tale of Rapunzel. Similarly, your recent poems in the literary journal Gulf Coast, “Research” and “The Blob,” eschew this feminist and confessional aesthetic to center more around science. How do you explain those various aesthetic shifts?

 

KH: First —I do not view these shifts as aesthetic. I hope that readers have felt and continue to experience my own pleasure with diction because I am enamored of language. Whether it is the language of one grandmother (momo) or the other grandmother (peach). Whether the words relate to a kimono pattern, Marxism, —or entomology.

 

These shifts have more to do with focus. I was hoping to “get under the skin” of my earlier themes.

 

While I was working on the poems that would become The Artist’s Daughter I was thinking about how I felt like the designated family monster when I was growing up. I decided to research (something else I like to do) historical monsters and to reread fairy tales. So I hope that the poems in this collection resonate with the kind of sex and violence I heard in the stories my mother read to me—both Grimm’s and Asian folk tales; from such stories, a child knows that when she closes her eyes to sleep, she is safe from cannibals and necrophiles. What a child would just call a monster. It is important stuff. I love [former U.S. Poet Laureate] Louise Glück’s lines: “We view the world once./The rest is memory.”

 

In my new work (inspired by articles from The New York Times’ science section), I continue my attraction to scientific language—which is quite exotic to my ear. The poems are not “identity” poems nor are they “about” my Asian-American background; nor are they, finally, “about” science. I imagine the sequence will continue earlier themes—whether disjunction or loss. Or anxiety with language—and the adoration of it. These poems also signal an attention to other influences such as Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore. But I am never far from, say, Princess Shikishi and her body of work.

 

Thank you for asking.



Wednesday, January 25, 2006

 

Sometime tonight, this blog should be getting its 600,000th visitor…depending, that is, on the Blogger outage that is scheduled for 7 PM Eastern. They say that it will take roughly 15 minutes.



 

Carve has begun to issue chapbooks, beginning with Jess Mynes’ birds for example. I love that title, perhaps because it is so very Eigneresque. It would be a mistake to Mynes’ work itself Eigneresque, tho he has an ear for exactness that harkens back to the best instincts of the Projectivists:

orange
          for Slick


What’s the worth of
orange is what I found

and where I remain. What’s
of consequence therein.

What’s worth dusk
scattered without. In

the many is what’s we’re
looking for. What’s

with the soil under
foot. What’s in order

is elemental. What’s in
a perchance verb is

only a limited performance.
What use is a calm day

to my singing grand
mother. Do declare!

I am the beginning and you
remain. A cake of soil

if you will.
What’s about
a she in I. What’s for this

head is desert openness.

Nine of the thirteen sentences here begin with What’s, tho it doesn’t always lead where you might expect, grammatically. More important to my ear, tho, is the use of the period which turns up at the line’s end just four times. Because of the reiteration of What’s, I hear that as a hard period, made even harder by that opening W sound. In the second, third & fourth stanzas, the period shows up near the line’s end, but the last three interlinear periods in this poem, maybe even the last four, all show up closer to the beginning. It’s a small detail, but one that shades the pacing of these lines & gives the poem an aural profile that is distinct & to my ear attractive. If sound isn’t what this poem is “about,” it’s very close to what is – the memory of speech patterns & verbal signatures that we associate with loved ones: Do declare! For a poem that at one level appears to be abstract, it’s remarkably concrete.

Not every poem here is this exact, nor this successful, tho several are quite close. Mynes gets on shakier ground when he opts for a longer line & more casually discursive style (viz. “No Fly Zone”). Mynes’ ear is so finely tuned to point-to-point verbal sculpting that when he backs away from that, he seems less certain how to proceed. Why he would even want to isn’t entirely clear to me – it made me wonder if he doesn’t worry about being influenced, perhaps by Creeley, perhaps by Coolidge. Yet ultimately he’s very different from either.

Younger poets – I have no idea how old Mynes might be, only that he works as a librarian at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Massachusetts, & hasn’t published a lot as yet – often want very much to fit in to whatever is cool or edgy, a desire that sometimes takes them away from their own quirkiness. In fact, most successful poets discover that those little quirks ultimately become the terrain for the major engagement of one’s mature work. One can read For Love, for example, as a work trying very hard to “fit in” to a poetic world that was, in fact, largely overturned by Creeley’s fellow New Americans, whereas Words & Pieces really hone in on his love for minute focus. Reading birds for example, my gut tells me that Mynes’ ear is very close to center for his aesthetic. I would trust that, wherever it led me.



Tuesday, January 24, 2006

 

Susan Bee, Diving into the Wreck, 2005, oil and collage on linen

 

Michael & Pam Rosenthal visited last week, bringing with them Pam’s mother, who recently moved here and turns out to be a great gal. It made me realize just how seldom it is that we get to meet the parents of our friends. Indeed, before our wedding, I doubt if many of my closest friends had ever met my mother, the notable exception being Lyn Hejinian (who had come to our rescue once for something – I’ve actually forgotten what) or, for that matter, Krishna’s parents (again, a couple of exceptions).

I met the father of the painter Susan Bee just once, quite a few years ago, but I regret never having met Bee’s mother, also a painter by the name of Miriam Laufer. Laufer (1918-80) was moderately successful during her life – a complicated one, born in Poland, raised in Berlin before fleeing to Palestine at the age of 16, only to leave there thirteen years later when she & her husband moved to New York. While she began presenting her work in group shows fairly quickly, it would be 12 years before Laufer had her first solo show in 1959. After her death, there was a retrospective held at the Phoenix Gallery in New York, her eighth show with the gallery & Asylum’s Press produced a catalog. I regret – since I never got to the show itself – that only its cover was in color.

Regret is the right word here: the images of Laufer’s work that are up now on the M/E/A/N/I/N/G website demonstrate the importance of color to her work. Of the generation that came of age during the Second World War – five years younger than Philip Guston, four years older than Leon Golub – her work fits perfectly into that first generation of artists for whom refiguration emerged from the “pure” painting of the abstract expressionists. In her work, tho, one sees a richness of tone, an intensity, that harks back to Hans Hoffman &, earlier still, to the first generation of fauve-flavored expressionists, such as Chaim Soutine.

Laufer will have her first show in 24 years starting on February 7 at A.I.R. Gallery in New York, at 511 W. 25th Street, part of a dual exhibit with Susan Bee, the first time mother & daughter have been paired. I can tell from the catalog – all of which you can find online, in a piecemeal sort of fashion, including an excellent essay on the two by Johanna Drucker – that it’s going to be knockout show. Drucker addresses the question I think anyone might ask – what impact does the parental connection have on the work of the daughter? Their lives as productive artists have not been as asynchronous as, say, that of Ted Berrigan and his two younger sons. Bee had two solo shows & seven group exhibitions in the decade before her mother died, although the rich hues of her mature work – the connection I think everyone will “get” instantly seeing their work side by side – doesn’t emerge until later.

Yet Laufer’s signature work, a series of oil paintings done on automobile windshields, reminds me of an aspect of Bee’s very early artwork when she was fascinated with the photograms of Man Ray. The one piece of Bee’s that I own is from late in this period when she was taking black-and-white photographs & developing them by brushing the developing chemicals over the exposed image. Not only is the brushwork painterly, but there’s a radical tension between image & stroke that strikes me as not dissimilar from the one I feel from painting applied to a “non-painterly” surface like a windshield. How much, I wonder, did daughter influence mother here? Is there any way for an outsider to know? How much is it like/unlike the tension between using stenciled words on Laufer’s canvases (or windshields)? Or, for that matter, the tension between paint, collage & even poetry (explicitly that of Adrienne Rich), that we find in a work like Bee’s Diving into the Wreck?

Those are the sorts of questions I want to ask, not knowing if I’ll ever have an answer. It’s not clear that I’ll be able to get up to New York to see the show. But if you can, you should make plans to do so yourself.

Miriam Laufer, Stop, 1977, oil paint on windshield



Monday, January 23, 2006

 

An angry book on the history & dynamics of the prose poem is an inherently interesting project. I opened Holly Iglesias’ Boxing Inside the Box: Women’s Prose Poetry, published by Quale, skeptically & found myself drawn in instantly & completely, alternately sympathetic & furious & saddened & fascinated at what I read. This book is a brave & grand failure, but a failure nonetheless.

Iglesias’ project is to rescue the prose poem for women. It needs rescuing, her argument reasons, because the form is historically so male, at least in the United States. This is the prose poem as first theorized old Iron John himself, Robert Bly, which has three strains that Iglesias summarizes as follows:

fables (with David Ignatow, Charles Simic, and Russell Edson as modern masters), post-Romantic “fire prose” (perfected by Rimbaud), and the ‘object/thing poem’ (as written by Bly, Francis Ponge, Tomas Tranströmer, and James Wright).¹

This restrictive vision of what is possible Igelsias rightly calls the template prose poem, a paint-by-numbers version that seems carefully designed to enable poetic prose without getting anywhere near anything even remotely avant. While this certainly was the dominant mode of the prose poem circa 1970 or thereabouts, it has receded like gingivitis-infected gums since then. Even three decades ago, John Ashbery had published Three Poems, Robert Creeley had written Mabel and A Day Book, works that connect up with the broader uses of prose in poetry, such as Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, William Carlos Williams’ Kore in Hell: Improvisations, or Robert Duncan’s The Structure of Rime. Second gen NY Schoolers like Ron Padgett were checking out Bly’s sources & discovering a much richer & broader history than had been portrayed in journals like The Fifties, The Sixties or Kayak. And, once the Language poets showed up with the new sentence in the middle of the 1970s, whatever residual authority the template prose poem held dissipated.

Yet it is the template prose poem that Iglesias goes after, elevating it to a level of institutional dominance that hasn’t been the case in decades. This is something that she almost acknowledges in her reading of the main critical works on prose poetry, written by the likes of Stephen Fredman & Michel Deville, since their books begin by presuming exactly this newer & broader range. Iglesias doesn’t like language poetry & its kin all that much – her description of it is as follows:

Language poetry works to redefine poetry as a scriptural practice, as the process of composition itself rather than as an art form based on speech. Words in this schema are objects rather than referents; any notion of mimesis or the transparency of language is banished. Whatever shred of narrative remains is stripped of both time and place and based strictly on tone and syntax. Language poetry labors mightily to be difficult, takes pleasure in defacing the page; it can be opaque, self-referential, and inaccessible in the extreme.

It’s hard to imagine a one-paragraph description of virtually anything that is more inaccurate than this. I try to envision this as a description of the writing of Bob Perelman or Rae Armantrout or David Bromige or Charles Bernstein or Steve Benson or Lyn Hejinian & simply cannot do it. None of them labors mightily, even cursorily, to be difficult. Many of Benson’s performances are anything but scriptural. The same is true for almost all of Armantrout’s verse. Neither Bernstein nor Bromige nor Perelman banish narrative, tho they often play with it. Perelman’s “Manchurian Candidate” is hardly stripped of time or place. What part of Hejinian or Armantrout can be said to “deface” the page? These are just free-floating accusations that don’t stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. Then there is the problem that words could never become referents unless & until they were objects, which is 180 degrees different from suggesting that words could be referential. Mostly, tho, this is the description of somebody who just doesn’t like langpo & would prefer not to have to deal with it. Which, for the most case in this book, she doesn’t. Langpo is not Iglesias’ target here & she invokes it only because it threatens to undercut her argument by offering a different set of facts. It is worth noting further, given this book’s topic & subtitle, that Iglesias mentions Hejinian just once², Armantrout, Carla Harryman, Tina Darragh, Lynne Dreyer, Diane Ward, Harryette Mullen, Leslie Scalapino, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Erica Hunt, Bernadette Mayer, Hannah Weiner & Laura Moriarty not at all.

Yet Iglesias writes positively about Susan Howe as well as several other women writers who have certainly been influenced by langpo: Kathleen Fraser, Rosmarie Waldrop & C.D. Wright. Indeed, both Waldrop & Wright figure vitally in the book’s expository structure – one could even claim that the book aims precisely at Wright, since its final pages are given over, with no critical comment, to her “This box comes in” from String Light. As tho it were the solution that her argument is wanting to make. And it is, frankly, a terrific piece of work.

But the real gut of that paragraph, the point at which it does connect to Iglesias’ main argument is the claim that “any notion of mimesis or the transparency of language is banished.” The key word here is banished, suggesting as it does that mimesis & transparency are natural entities rather than cultural constructions. This, as it turns out, is related directly to the problem Iglesias has with the template prose poem, which is its denigration of the “lyric I” & the concept of an unproblematic narrative writing. Her model at the book’s beginning is Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel,” an account of afternoon tea with a mass murderer in Latin America.

Iglesias’ ultimate argument is that males have had centuries to explore the lyric I & their own narratives, but now that women are starting to do so as well, male writing is moving toward prose poetry that, by virtue of Bly’s template, precisely devalues both normal narrative & the lyric I. Women need to hear their stories told in exactly the same terms as they grew up listening to the stories of men. This is actually very close to the same argument that I made in “Poetry and the Politics of the Subject,” in the Socialist Review in 1988, a position that Leslie Scalapino & others read at the time as implying that I thought women & people of color should not be part of the post-avant world. So it’s very weird to run into it here, nearly 20 years later, being taken as the heart of a feminist poetics.

I don’t disagree with Iglesias here, but at the same time her position is not the full story. It still seems to me that there can be no doubt that some people previously excluded from the social agency of power find it necessary, beyond just useful, to occupy those same positions because simply to do so overturns centuries of expectations on all sides. But I don’t think that this can ever be a full or permanent solution. The poetics that Iglesias argues for, to the degree that it can be gleaned from what she is arguing against, will never get you to the writing of Pamela Lu or Mary Burger. Indeed, it will never get you to Tender Buttons, a book first published 101 years ago, let alone to Lyn Hejinian’s My Life.

The problem is not that Iglesias is a female essentialist, nor a normative lyric poetry essentialist – nobody who could write “Pope Fiction” would be that – but that Iglesias relies on one of the profound missteps of the old template prose poem itself, the equation of the form of the paragraph with a box. It’s in her title, it’s a metaphor she returns to constantly, even the subject of C.D. Wright’s final piece. And Iglesias never lets us forget that it is also male slang for a particular part of the female anatomy. But, from Isadore Ducasse to St.-John Perse to Francis Ponge to Emond Jabès, let alone to Beverly Dahlen & Leslie Scalapino, the reduction of the prose poem to the paragraph as outer limit is just nonsense. It’s not that it can’t be – Carla Harryman has done brilliant work in such spaces, as have others going all the way back to Stein – but that it is ever a prerequisite. And it’s profoundly ahistorical – trace the history of the pilcrow (¶) in Wikipedia:

The pilcrow was used in medieval times to mark a new train of thought, before the convention of physically discrete paragraphs was commonplace.

Sounds more than a little like the new sentence, doesn’t it?

Yet Iglesias’ argument depends on your belief that the prose poem is, before it is anything else, a box. To belabor the obvious, a prose poem without a box is like a fish without a bicycle. Try fitting Lyn Hejinian & Leslie Scalapino’s collaborative work, Sight, into that box.

I think that this error on Iglesias’ part – I can’t think of any other word to describe it – explains also why she later muddles the major positive argument she wants to make, for the work of Kimiko Hahn, the closest thing this book has to an actual heroine. The aspect – “a hybrid form” – that Iglesias assigns to Hahn’s feminist approach to the prose poem is, if we are to assign biological formation to aesthetic stance, at least as much the consequence of Hahn’s multiple ethnicities. The passages Iglesias quotes say so explicitly. Iglesias could have made that argument as well, but this isn’t a book about the subaltern position – Iglesias tends to be anti-theory in general. It would have been interesting to explore how her thesis plays against questions not just of race, but class (think Tina Darragh, Rae Armantrout, even Erica Hunt) & other ideological dynamics. My sense is that the argument would dissolve – that you can make basically the same case for any subaltern position, but that once you’ve done that,. once you’ve occupied the master’s lyric I, what are you going to do next? A question that would invariably lead you away from Iglesias’ announced aesthetic.

Yet what is so odd about this, unsettling really, is that she makes the argument in a book whose formal model clearly is Williams’ Spring & All, certainly not a feminist text & one that argues formally as well as thematically against accepting the normative I at face value. Perhaps that is why Iglesias’ prose sometimes feels so ham-fisted – see that tortured, self-contradicting description of language poetry. Curiously, this accounts for one of the book’s greatest moments, the epilog, when one moves beyond Iglesias’ problematic generalities into C.D. Wright’s shining prose description of, what else, a box. It’s such a powerful & economic piece of prose that you immediately sense the heightened state of reality. And then you realize that this isn’t what came before.

 

¹ Putting Ponge & Bly in the same category is roughly equivalent to M.L. Rosenthal’s lumping together Robert Lowell & Allen Ginsberg as “confessionalists.” In both instances, you can’t make a dull poet interesting just by joining his name to someone like Ponge or Ginsberg. This, we should note, is Bly’s over-reaching. Iglesias is wrong only insofar as she doesn’t challenge the reductive nonsense of his trifold system. Making Ponge into the French James Wright is a way of avoiding dealing with the fact that, in France, there were already quite obviously more than just three strains of prose poetry. Victor Segalen & St.-John Perse, to name two, fall well outside the model proposed by Bly.

² Ironically, noting that Hejinian is mentioned just once by Marjorie Perloff in a piece that focuses on male poets



Sunday, January 22, 2006

 

A nice review of The Poems of Charles Reznikoff 1918-1975 by Joshua Clover in the New York Times.



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