Saturday, April 07, 2007

 

Of Darren Wershler-Henry
in The New Yorker

§

More on the idea
of a poet laureate
for
Boston

§

William Logan
on
Derek Walcott

§

Life is very quiet
on this year’s
Griffin Prize shortlist

unless you consider
Frederick Seidel’s
custom-made
Ducati

or can recall
Paul Farley’s
howl
for the beleaguered
mainstream

(about which
Simon Turner
has some
pertinent comments)

§

Roberto Bolaño in Mexico

§

My Thieves
(actually, Ethan Paquin’s)

§

“I liked
his funny poems
the best”

§

Lyrics that turn liquid

§

mediaeval verse-forms are like little windows

§

Science fiction science faction:
a big video of a
talk by Bruce Sterling

§

A seriously olde dictionary

§

The on-line challenge
of Arabic fonts

§

Le Jazz YouTube

§

Mr. Brannon has carved out a niche
between classic Conceptualism …
and the fragmented borrowing of Language poetry”

§

Anonymous street art

§

Appearing
at Museo del Barrio

§

Susan Philipsz
in Tokyo

§

The market for imaginary Pollocks
heats up

§

A “masterpiece-driven market

§

The neighbors smell a rat
or maybe a horse

§

Shovel this

§

Stupid Artist Tricks:
First Prize

§

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Friday, April 06, 2007

 

While I was away in Boston, I received two anthologies one could characterize as thoroughly immersed in something akin to a School-of-Quietude vision of American poetics: Ed Ochester’s American Poetry Now: Pitt Poetry Series Anthology (APN) from the University of Pittsburgh Press, and Poetry Daily:Essentials 2007 (PD), edited by Diane Boller and Don Selby, available from Sourcebooks, Inc., in Napierville, Illinois. Because the two projects appear to share a general worldview, it’s their differences that strike me as most revealing.

The most obvious point in common you might think would be their table of contents. Ochester’s volume contains four dozen of the poets published by the U. of Pittsburgh Press during his 40-year reign as its poetry editor. PD, as I’m going to call the Boller & Selby edition, contains 152 works from the Poetry Daily website that have appeared there since the last such anthology was done in 2003. Among those included in APN are Lorna Dee Cervantes, Wanda Coleman, Billy Collins, Toi Derricotte, Denise Duhamel, Russell Edson, Edward Field, Daisy Fried, Bob Hicok, Etheridge Knight, Ted Kooser, Larry Levis, Peter Meinke, Kathleen Norris, Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Muriel Rukeyser, Reginald Shepherd, Afaa Michael Weaver, David Wojahn & Dean Young.

Among those included in PD are Edward Hirsch, Louise Glück, Eamon Grennan, Brendan Calvin, Tony Dent, Dorianne Laux, Karl Kirchwey, Jane Kenyon, Claudia Emerson, Wislawa Szymborska, Kay Ryan, Randing Blasing, Antler, Chase Twichell, William Logan, Jennifer Chang, David Woo, W.D. Snodgrass, David Wojahn, C.K. Williams, Michael Scharf, Liam Rector, Thomas Lux, Louis Simpson, Timothy Liu, Carl Dennis, Simon Armitage, Dan Chiasson, Heather McHugh, Linda Gregg, Charles Simic, Ted Kooser, Bob Hicok, Debora Greger, Colette Inez, Marilyn Hacker, Floyd Skloot, David Antin, Michael Ryan, June Jordan, Gail Mazur, Daisy Fried, Gerald Stern, Albert Goldbarth, John Koethe, Christian Wiman, Yusef Komunyakaa, Maxine Kumin, Charles Wright, Franz Wright, Richard Tillinghast, W.S. Merwin, Stephen Dunn, Gustaf Sobin, David Wagoner, Daniel Hoffman, Natasha Trethewey, Martín Espada, Paul Violi, Robert Hershon & Thomas Lynch.

But here is the kicker: these two volumes have between them 193 poets, only four of whom show up in both volumes: Daisy Fried, Barbara Hamby, Bob Hicock & Ted Kooser. Why this is so and what this might mean intrigues me.

Neither edition is entirely rigid about its boundaries & I feel pretty safe in suggesting that both Ochester and Boller-Selby would probably reject the School of Quietude label outright. Edward Field, who is in the Ochester volume, appeared in Donald Allen’s epoch-making The New American Poetry some 40-plus years ago. And to call Wanda Coleman or Lorna Dee Cervantes, two of Ochester’s other contributors, examples of Quietude would just be misleading. The real story here has been, for several decades now, that writers of color have had dispensation to be lively and thoughtful & to treat American literature as tho it were more than just a sidebar to pre-Romantic British letters. Similarly, “talking at blerancourt” by David Antin may well be PD’s longest single contribution – ten pages of Antin’s patented verbal noodling to respond to the question “what is an artist” – as well as one of its liveliest.

What is really different between the two volumes is Ed Ochester’s editorial vision. Like all good poetry editors, he has a clear sense of what he likes & why. There are almost no formalists, new or old, in APN. PD includes not only old (W.D. Snodgrass) & new (William Logan, Christian Wiman, Karl Kirchwey), but actually existing British pre-Romantics like Simon Armitage, even as it does so in a broader landscape that can include not just a poet like Antin, but other post-avants such as Michael Scharf & the late Gustaf Sobin. And with 152 poems spread over 225 pages – Albert Goldbarth appears twice & Mary Molinary has three short poems from the same appearance in Beloit Poetry Journal, so the number of poets is 149 – PD feels much more like a literary version of Noah’s ark. Or would, if only it were more representative of the poetry even of its own website.

Poetry Daily is, more than anything else, an advertising website that focuses on poetry. Payment as such is not a requirement to having one’s poem picked for the daily feature, but everything on the website suggests an attempt to drive revenue through the site’s affiliate program with Amazon – something that a more self-critical website would think twice about given the impact Amazon is having on independent bookstores – and the site does run ads for conferences & the like. Perhaps because Boller & Selby aren’t strong readers, Poetry Daily is largely captive to those presses that make an active effort to promote their books. And historically, those have been the university & New York trade presses. So while this is nowhere nearly the monolithic publishing universe that was the case, say, 20 years ago, it is still very much not representative of the poetry scene in North America overall.

Unfortunately, this is where Boller & Selby’s weakness as editors makes a significant difference. While their goal actually does seem to be to represent English-language poetry in its richness & breadth, their instincts as editors are much narrower. There is, for example, a broader representation of post-avants among the 365 poets retained in the site’s archive – each poem-of-the-day retained for one year – than shows up here in this collection of 149 writers taken from a roster that must have numbered close to 1,000 possible contributors. For example, post-avants who presently have work in the PD archive who are not represented in this volume include Rae Armantrout, John Ashbery, Dan Beachy-Quick, Charles Bernstein, Stephen Burt, Robert Creeley, Gary Gach, Forrest Gander, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Gizzi, Cynthia Hogue, Robert Kelly, John Kinsella, Kenneth Koch, Ben Lerner, Rachel Loden, Nathaniel Mackey, Harryette Mullen, Alice Notley, Spencer Selby, Evie Shockley, Patricia Smith, Cole Swensen, Elizabeth Treadwell & Bill Zavatsky.

Two things need to be noted here. First, post-avant poets make up a substantial portion of all poets now writing – my guess would be half – so to see what amounts to ten percent of the PD archive itself allocated to half the world tells me just how much work there is left to do to open the world of poetry up just so that every tendency has something approximating equal access to such resources. While I’m pleased to see the likes of Antin, Antler, Scharf, Sobin & Violi in the actual print volume, the reality is that the meager ten percent representation of the website has been reduced to roughly one half of that for this keepsake. This doesn’t especially surprise me since Poetry Today’s website also has a news page that contains links (not unlike the ones that ran here Wednesday), a resource that takes not too much energy to produce – but in which PD consistently misses about 75 percent of all articles relating to post-avants that appear even in major American newspapers. While Boller & Selby do strike me as trying to represent the whole of poetry, much of what’s out there is simply not on their radar in Charlottesville.

Ochester, on the other hand, has a vision & a commitment & it shows in his volume. It doesn’t hurt either that his format gives each writer roughly six pages for work, with a seventh for a photograph & some bio-bibliographic data. American Poetry Now is superbly produced just as a book, whereas PD suffers from cheesy font & paper choices, what you might expect from a printing house that features, as its best-selling book, 50,001 Best Baby Names.

Whether Ochester’s vision is a serious one for poetry is no doubt a different discussion than the one I’m interested in today. At the end of his book, he offers two lists of suggested further reading. The first is identified as “Essential Books of Poetry,” the other merely as “Recommended.” While Pound & Williams & even Frank O’Hara show up on the essential list alongside such immortals as Robert Bly & Phil Levine, and the lengthier recommended list includes many of the New Americans & even the likes of Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian & Harryette Mullen, the total absence of such poets as Louis Zukofsky & Gertrude Stein tells you that Ochester’s vision of the divisions between the raw & the cooked largely ossified at a point in the 1960s before such poets had arrived at their more recent canonic status. As a reading list, it’s really rather sad.

But it is at least a vision & as such makes American Poetry Now a more useful volume than Poetry Daily Essentials 2007. It’s worth noting, finally, that not only is the work in PD a far cry from essential – I suppose “Misrepresentative Smatterings” wouldn’t have sold as well – but two of the things you cannot get from the Ochester volume either are a sense of American poetry and a sense of poetry now. This sort of grandiose misnaming may well be the archetypal gesture of the School of Quietude, which has historically treated anything not in its official field of vision as non-existent for over 150 years. In this sense, Ochester & the team of Selby & Boller are both members of the same militant faction even if the cracks between their efforts is what’s most interesting in these two limited, limiting collections.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

 

Allen Ginsberg

Gone ten years today

Scenes from Allen’s
Last Three Days on Earth
as a Spirit

by Jonas Mekas
1997

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

 

George Quasha rocks!

§

This week’s featured book
on the
Academy of American Poets
home page
is The Age of Huts

§

Geoffrey Gatza
is a godsend….

§

Steve Evans
on
100 years of
the little magazine

§

Globalization and the cost of paper

§

A review
of Ann Mikolowski’s
Detroit retrospective

§

A positive
if somewhat scattered
review
of Elaine Equi

§

Stephen Greenblatt
on Clinton’s Macbeth

§

Why libraries matter

§

English in the mouth
of Beckett’s actors

Beckett’s Beckett

§

Poets on Painters:
Wichita’s biggest poetry event
since Allen Ginsberg
rode around in a minivan

(& note that this show
is available to travel!)

§

Burt Hatlen’s
latest CD

§

Talking with
Charlie Simic

§

The late spring
of Geoffrey Hill

§

Deborah Garrison
as a
highbrow analogue

§

Is
Out in the garden, the wind was like a dog
the worst first line
ever written?

§

A fawning take
on Galway Kinnell
at 80

§

Tony Harrison
at 70

§

Rescuing
May Swenson
in
Utah

§

A Balinese take
on
New Zealand poet
Elizabeth Smither

& a Malaysian view
of Benjamin Zephaniah

§

Troy Jollimore’s publisher

§

The Fence moves north

§

Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems

§

More
on
Oprah & Cormac

§

Michael Hoffman’s
latest anthology
of 20th century German poetry

§

Poetry & nationalism
in
Zagreb

§

FSG’s heavy duty
web site
for Roberto Bolaño’s
The Savage Detectives

§

Further down the family tree
from
the Baroness Else von Freytag Loringhoven

§

Writing & military service

§

The memoirs of Carolyn Brown

§

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

 


(Photo by Larry Keenan)

I’ll wager that I knew who Hettie Jones was as an editor, and as a presence on the New York City poetry scene, before I was 20 years old. So I find myself amazed to admit that it has actually taken me now 40 years to read a book of her poetry, the quite lively Doing 70, published by the redoubtable Hanging Loose Press. It’s like discovering a whole new New American poet. And with my roots and interests as a poet, that’s a considerable gift.

It’s not like the emergence not so long ago of Landis Everson, who was a marginal enough member of the Berkeley renaissance a half century back, but who has returned now in his later years as more postmodern writer, full of subtle shadings nobody would even have noticed back in the early 1950s. Nor is it like the big belated book, A Tall, Serious Girl by George Stanley, a long overdue selected poems by a major writer of the Spicer circle who was largely out-of-print in the U.S. after having moved to Canada some 40 years ago. No, Hettie Jones is writing what are patently New American poems today almost in the same way that Michael McClure or Gary Snyder could be said to be doing the same, carrying forward that aesthetic from the 1950s to the present unbroken:

Here Is


a woman who know
what here is, through

long years of being
here

by a window that offers
others, there



here then is
this woman

ten thirty pm
on April seven

a struggling spring
in two thousand six

These are clean, simple poems, never trying too hard, but not written out of any nostalgia for the “beat scene” of Jones’ fabled youth either. When she says, in an interview given to Nancy Grace, that “I was much too logical and much too old fashioned and much too linear” to be a language poet, she’s not putting them or herself down, simply placing herself in the larger universe of literary possibilities. But this doesn’t mean that she’s not capable of complex statements, done with both great precision & notable grace, as in the poem “About Face”:

In Ghana, in August, in
the Golden Tulip’s
Demba Lounge

Nat Cole sings
“Merry Christmas”

as lone white men
on cell phones listen,
some with evident
nostalgia, to a black man
singing of home

Some remind me actually of the short lyrics of the late Carl Rakosi, ringing out changes, that, while completely predictable, can be quite satisfying simply for the precision involved, as in “Shades”:

black for the season
blue for oh how I need

this gray afternoon
when the drummer at the green
subway kiosk
is
red hot

Many of the poems are explicit in their feminism – an attitude that I suspect would have made The Boys of 1955 & thereabouts more than a little anxious & perhaps even dismissive – but it isn’t the simplistic finger-wagging of a Denise Levertov that Jones is after (tho one could argue that that was needed some three dozen years ago). Rather, what one notes about its presence in Jones’ work is the absolute variety of possibilities that come up with this as a subtext, ranging from the utterly grim, such as a poem about a Turkish woman stoned to the edge of death for “having sex / or being raped, same shame” who hangs for three months before dying, or of a female soldier killed in one of Bush’s wars, to poems that are simply, or not so simply, celebrations.

One of the more interesting examples of this can be found in the title poem, a not-quite six page narrative of having one’s car break down on the way back from Boston¹, only to have the trucker from the AAA-plus card (which gets you towed back where you need to be, not just five miles to the nearest rip-off station) turn out to be an engaging boy (Jones guesses his age at 23) who’s been to New York City only a couple of times before. Of course Jones was doing 70 on the Mass Turnpike when her starter broke – and of course just turned seventy a few weeks before – so what ensues is a complete gender reversal of the dynamics I outlined awhile back in the Peter O’Toole flick Venus.

So this is a case of the New American poetry doing something, with a few notable exceptions, the New American poetry itself seldom did. And it’s a pleasure to see it, because it is so clearly not imitation anything.

I want to close with a poem of Jones’ that caught my eye, “Naming Hettie Slocum,” perhaps because the house right next to the monument to Joshua Slocum on Brier Island off the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia (where Slocum was born, tho he did much of his sailing from Olson’s Gloucester) belongs to Krishna’s cousin, Dan Hunt. Given that my own side of the family has its own sailing mythology (thanks to my maternal great grandfather telling everyone that his grandfather was Sir John Franklin, which was right only insofar as that was the grand-dad’s name, tho he was an illiterate fishmonger, not the arctic explorer), this seems too good a coincidence to let pass. But I don’t think this poem needs any further comment from me. Hettie Jones does just fine:

Hettie Slocum once went
halfway around the world and back
in a sailboat. Then she gave up
the nautical life for good
and took off to farm

leaving her husband, Captain Joshua,
the well-known navigator-storyteller,
to the heave and swell of that vast
and wily mother, the sea.

Hettie was a pretty seamstress,
twenty-four and fresh from Nova Scotia;
Slocum, a cousin, forty-two and lonely.
His first wife, love of his life, mother
of his sons, had died. It was 1886.

Hettie was game; she sewed Slocum’s sails
cruised with him and the boys
to Rio, bought a tall hat, survived
an epidemic. He wrote a book
about their adventures, called her

his wife, called her “brave enough to face
the worst storms” – but never once mentioned
her name. Let us then remember her: Hettie!

Hettie Slocum!

Now all is said and done.

 

¹ Carrying with her the correspondence, no less, of the late Helene Dorn, the literal purpose of this trip.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

 

Echoes of Jimmy Carter
& Eugene McCarthy:
the poetry of Barack Obama

§

As Borders sinks
indies struggle

§

The Caravan Project:
books on demand
in every format
but paperback

§

Origins of Poetry
at Woodland Pattern

§

The Cambridge Companion
to Modernist Poetry

has a most promising
table of contents

§

Taking poetry local

§

García Márquezshiner
is a black eye
for Vargas Llosa

§

Charles Bernstein’s
critical anthology
La política
de la forma poética

available now in Spanish
as a PDF eBook

§

Jayanta Mahapatra:
an English-language poet
in India

§

National Poetry Month
opens with
a one-man marathon

§

Medium Cool

§

Book with no ideas
didn’t steal any

§

Linguistic autonomy

§

Cormac McCarthy,
meet Oprah Winfrey

§

Slam poetics
on Bainbridge Island

§

Chocolate Jesus
gets real,
then cancelled

§

Philip Glass:
Truth Force

§

“as fast as his factory
can turn out
masterpieces….”

§

Putting the stall
in installation

§

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

 

For what it’s worth, this blog received 36,845 visits in March as readers accessed 63,788 page views, both records for the site. That translates into one visit every 72 seconds, one page view every 42. This is the third straight year that March has set record figures for this site. The current numbers are more than double those of two years ago.

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