Saturday, April 28, 2007
How your eyes
(implications for page layout)
“In Praise of Difficult Poetry”
(an example of
being Kenneth Koch)
on the list of
50 Bullsh**t Jobs:
the Northern California Book Award
an award notable
for the strength of the competition
Other recipients included
two books by Ko Un
receiving the translation award,
a special citation to Maxine Hong Kingston
& the Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award
going to Andrew Hoyem
An argument for saving
the book supplement sections
of American newspapers…
The role of poetry:
the view from Morris County, NJ
experience of racism
as seen by an alum
“Call me Zits”:
the latest novel
from Sherman Alexie
The most important development
in a couple of years
See step 3 of
in 10 Easy Steps”
A review of the recent
Wallace Berman & His Circle
Some kind words
about yours truly
Friday, April 27, 2007
You will note that I’ve finally begun revising the blogroll in the lefthand column for the first time since a virus ate the underlying Word file. I’ve begun checking every link and will be discarding those that have either gone dark or had no activity since the beginning of the year. I will also be revising the links for those, like Jim Behrle’s, that hop around on the net like a kid with ADHD. You will note that as I get through a section, the color of the names will change to black. I also hope to go back through my emails and pick as many requests for links as I can find. If you’ve made a request and I’ve failed to add it once I’ve gone through your part of the alphabet, drop me a quick note with the link and I’ll do so.
I should note also, I suppose, that I’ve had requests from sites that have nothing to do with poetry – “viral” ad fake blog sites for cigarettes & alcohol mostly, companies that have also requested the opportunity to advertise here – and will not be adding those.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Readers of this space will recall that I have been an advocate of Linh Dinh’s work for some time now, and this note will mark the third consecutive year that I’ve written positively about a book of his poetry. Indeed, some of what I will say could almost be lifted from my two previous notes, even tho Jam Alerts, his new book from Chax, is easily his finest, “most mature” volume to date. This is because Dinh is a writer with a vision, a very specific story to tell, and his books each are manifestations of this drive.
Dinh’s tale is about our future, but he’s not a science fiction writer – at least not yet – so he tells it through our present. I’ve compared him in the past, indeed even on the blurb on the back cover of this book, with William Burroughs, another writer operating out of very similar terms & compulsions. In both cases, the tale is bleak, dystopic. What happens at the end of empire is not pretty, it’s not a matter of genteel decay, but rather ongoing denial that becomes increasingly shrill & delusional. With the potential for horrific violence always simmering just below the surface. Dinh’s tradition, to call it that, includes the likes of Bosch, Brueghel, Blake & Lautréamont.
Our time is past. That is the essence of Dinh’s poems, every one of which feels like a warning of some kind, some humorous, others ominous. That we don’t know this yet creates a gap between what we do and what we think we do. Our lives are carried out within this gap & repeatedly Dinh finds the contradictions that we demand in order to keep going.
There are two works in Jam Alerts that use time as a structural element. One is a fake blog, in reality a suite of prose poems that go on for 14 pages, the longest sustained work in the book. The other, even closer to the volume’s end, is entitled “Recent Archeo News”:
8 February 3006 – 30 billion scraps
Of well-preserved, well-made plastic
Accidentally unearthed in
”COSMIC EXPANDING” toy sword
Excavated in outskirts of
Recovered just off-shore, near
Found in dog’s grave, tucked in anus.
Shed light on 21st Century Tokyo.
And rare titanium navel ring shaped like lovely butterfly
Interred with disturbed skeleton of teen-aged girl.
With lots of loose change, buried erect
In well-preserved peep show cubicle.
Discovered nearly intact in deserted desert.
Trumpets and cornets found bobbing
Bolts, pegs, screws, pins, nails and human hair
Detected in ancient asphalt driveway.
17 December 3005 – Plethora of megalomaniac
And glib sculptures in corporate spaces offer
Abundant proofs that 20th century man
Was prone to lead poisoning.
And dead head bongs excite experts.
I don’t know of any other male poet today who has written about scrunchies, recognized them as integral to the texture of our lives. That is so typical of Dinh, who so often seems to be inventing poetry from scratch, as tho he didn’t know the form itself existed & had a history before, just by looking intensely, noting what’s really there in front of him. The elements listed for the driveway reminded me of how ground up remnants of the Cypress Superstructure, the section of freeway that collapsed in the Loma Prieta quake in Oakland in 1989 were pulverized and turned into landfill for a roadside berm along highway 580 in San Leandro, and how quick grass grew over that rubble that had taken the lives of several dozen people, pancaked by the rotting infrastructure as it caved in. It reminded me of Michael Gottlieb’s great elegy for the dead of the
This work in some ways is “classic” Dinh in that it’s brilliant & also partly doesn’t work. The reader gets the “gimmick,” the structural premise behind every entry pretty quickly. Some of them are, indeed, brilliant. But the one about New Orleans is a gesture to the topical that feels curiously out of place here, or at least does until you have read enough of Dinh to recognize that the “out of place” is a major issue in/for all his writing.
Both “Recent Archeo News” and the false blog, “Fortunes,” use time in the same fashion – it appears in reverse, so as not to promise a future even as it gives us what sound like sound bites or headlines of a news page on the web a millennium from now. As mechanistic as each entry is, Dinh foregrounds the aesthetic by choosing to capitalize the left-hand margins. When he reads, he pauses more distinctly at linebreaks than any poet since Robert Creeley, really forcing the recognition that these are first of all aesthetic decisions being made. Unspoken in all this text is the premise that everything about our lives has been lost & has to be recovered by specialists in a very different future, one in which
We find time again at issue in the volume’s final work, “Beloved Alone”:
Standing in deep snow, don’t look forward to the late bus
Swinging around the corner, at last, don’t look forward to Friday,
5 o’clock or the end of your unjust sentence, don’t look forward
To the landing of this numbing, trans-everything flight, thank you
For your patience, don’t look forward to the return of your daddy,
Because, for every second of each long day, you must remember
What DaVinci said: “A man who looks forward to Spring
Is looking forward to his own death.”
Dinh was born in
Labels: Linh Dinh
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
tries to deal with the
in the quality”
of Ed Dorn’s poetry
Yeats & the fiddler
of L’Enfant Plaza
Alan Bernheimer’s photo of
reading all of Ketjak,
Powell & Market,
Newspaper book reviewers
fight to survive…
moves book reviews
(the newspaper nobody reads)
An interesting account
British poetry wars
A newspaper piece
Poets on Painters,
which will be traveling
the Queens Library Gallery in
and to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
4 Nancy Shaw sites
on the web
(thanks to Aaron Vidaver):
Obit from the Vancouver Sun
Interview (with Catriona Strang,
Jeff Derksen & Lisa Robertson)
Affordable Tedium (1987)
“the face of poetry in America is a black face”
on the place of poetry
& the risks she takes
On the poetry
of Sheikh Saadi,
of the 12th century
to the art of
“Tentative, greedy, by night they came,
drawn to the insects drawn to the light”
Not Vachel Lindsay,
not Rudyard Kipling,
but the tub-thumping
in the New Yorker
“The rusting, decomposing hulk of the United States
is moored across Columbus Boulevard from Ikea”
& other subtleties
from C.K. Williams
in the self-same publication
“To steal a glance and, anxious, see
Him slipping into transparency—“
Thus J.D. McClatchy
starts his sonnet
The Paris Review
A profile of
What is feminist art?
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
“Language is eyes,” Zukofsky’s Shakespeare reminds us repeatedly throughout Bottom, which is perhaps why it seems so odd that Zukofsky & so many of those who have followed his lead in American letters over the past half century get slammed from time to time for being “non-referential.” Referentiality is inherent in language and while it can be played with, even (as Clark Coolidge demonstrates conclusively in The Maintains and Polaroid) stymied, it never goes away for very long. Cole Swensen’s The Glass Age is a masterwork that takes the question of reference seriously, making it the subject of her book, a trio of interlinked series that focus on windows, glass, motion pictures, post-impressionist painting, phenomenology, ontology & life as it currently is being lived.
A remarkably adept, even facile craftsperson – I know of no poet who makes the most stunning verbal effects on the page look more effortless – Swensen is in some ways the epitome of a third way poet in today’s cultural landscape. Her critical assumptions, literary strategies and approach to the text clearly places her among the finest post-avant poets we now have. And, as this volume amply demonstrates, Swensen addresses a topic long associated with post-avant poetics in ways that are primarily narrative and figurative, strategies long associated with the
There’s something cinematic about Bonnard’s compositions, each scene accentuating action, yet also decentralizing it, diffusing the focus into a plane that hums, a homogeneous intensity extending anarchically
which is echoed in its details – the pattern of the curtain coming in at the same scale as that of the variegated crops in the background and the tablecloth in the fore. It’s an equivalent world, one in which each element serves as a clinamen to trip the homogeneity into precipitating specifics so numerous that they can construct a roiling chaos quite able to hurtle through darkness without a hitch.
Which can also be said of glass, with its random atomic arrangement, like that of a liquid, say, a river stopped mid-gesture, the blink that fixes the picture, suspending it on the surface, a permanent floating leaf.
The form of this passage mimes the content. The discussion starts off at a high level of generalization, goes through some exceptionally complex flourishes before coming to a perfect rest only with the final image. The flourishes are exactly what Swensen suggests, “a homogenous intensity extending anarchically” – it’s worth thinking awhile as to what that might mean – and (my favorite) “a clinamen to trip the homogeneity into precipitating specifics.” What’s so remarkable here is how clearly Swensen plays the clatter of p & t sounds to signal a high degree of organization right as she is about raise the figure of a “roiling chaos,” albeit one “quite able to hurtle through darkness without a hitch.” All of this takes place in an independent clause, one that is balanced by the primary architecture of this same sentence: It’s an equivalent world. Indeed.
With justified prose blocks that contain a sentence that ends one paragraph only to also begin the next, the text plays with concreteness & abstraction, not unlike “a river stopped mid-gesture.” Because there are 23 pages prior to this one, all of them invoking facets of these same figures in a variety of juxtapositions, this somewhat closer reading barely touches of the surface of the connotative fields virtually every noun here sets into motion. These kinds of breath-taking displays occur page after page in The Glass Age, making the reader, this one anyway, almost giddy at the connectedness.
One question for me reading this book is whether, in fact, it is one work or three. I think ultimately it is one, albeit one in the same way that John Ashbery’s Three Poems is a single poem. The inter-relationships active in each of the three texts – Bonnard is on the first page, Bonnard is on the last – are so dense that breaking them down into three sequences seems ultimately the harder-to-justify act, the integrity of these movements seems infinitely more tenuous than that of the whole.
Though I’ve already invoked him twice here, the poet whom I really think it is most interesting to pose as a context for The Glass Age isn’t John Ashbery, but Michael Palmer. For one thing, many of the values in Palmer’s work – precision, beauty, the philosophical dimension of language – are active in Swensen’s poems as well, more so than in Ashbery’s, which is more open to humor &, perhaps as a result, takes on more of a hopalong gait. Ashbery can seem quite goofy, something neither Palmer or Swensen ever do. But if Palmer is more of a language poet than Swensen, it is precisely because his own aesthetic, one part Robert Duncan, the other part de Chirico, feels much closer to the New American poetry & its quarrel with modernism, as such. Swensen, who has written of this very issue with regards to contemporary poetics, seems largely free of the problem. Even as Swensen writes of Bonnard, or of Vilhelm Hammershøi, another painter of windows born in the 1860s, her poetry doesn’t feel backwards-looking in the slightest. If there is any part of Ashbery that is at all close to what she’s doing, it’s his work in Rivers and Mountains, especially “The Skaters” and “Into the Dusk-Charged Air,” writing that imagines what would happen if surrealism & Oulipo were entirely American phenomena. Swensen carries this sense of possibility much further, while being a lot smoother than Ashbery was more or less at the same age. The question for her here is something more like what if philosophy were geometry were art history, the sum total being a poem. From my perspective, it’s almost impossible to describe. You will just have to read The Glass Age to find out.
Labels: Cole Swensen
Monday, April 23, 2007
Over the past month, I’ve received three focused anthologies, focused in the sense that none pretends to be “best poets of X” or whatever, but rather use the anthology form to examine something more targeted & specific. Tyler Doherty & Tom Morgan’s For the Time-Being: The Bootstrap Book of Poetic Journals explores a major poetic genre and tradition. Jonathan Wells’ Third Rail: The Poetry of Rock and Roll uses one genre, poetry, to examine another. So does Poets on Painters, edited by Katie Geha and Travis Nichols, the catalog of a show that opens next week at the Ulrich Museum of Art on the Wichita State Campus.
For the Time-Being is one of those “Aha” experiences – the idea behind it is so good and so right that the one real surprise is that this anthology didn’t exist 30 years ago when the likes of Phil Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Blackburn & Joanne Kyger were putting an American stamp on this genre that has deep roots in the literature of Japan and in the work of such as Thoreau closer to home. Doherty & Morgan understand what they have here also: in addition to poetry & poetic journals – they also include poems as such that are, to employ William Corbett’s term, “observational,” a register of time – the volume includes a quartet of essays as well as interviews with Kyger, Michael Rothenberg, Andrew Schelling and Shin Yu Pai, “poets we had always identified as working in this mode.” In all, they include work from a total of 29 poets including Jack Collom & Joel Sloman – both of whom also contribute essays – Hoa Nguyen, Stephen Ratcliffe, Pam Brown, Joseph Massey, Aaron Tieger, Laurie Duggan, Thomas A. Clark, Stacey Szymaszek, Marcella Durand, Daniel Bouchard, Jonathan Greene, Bob Arnold, Dale Smith, Joseph Torra & more in addition to all the interviewees. There is even an appendix of sort with a list of related books – I was surprised to my own Xing included, but also surprised to see my own
If I have any hesitations about Time-Being, they have mostly to do with not including more “historic” materials – Ginsberg’s Indian journals, Larry Eigner’s poetry (which just might be the origin of the “observational” mode, or at least he’s its Shakespeare), some of Blackburn’s work or Whalen’s, perhaps an excerpt from Williams’ Paterson, which certainly is close kin to this mode – and, dare I say, a failure to incorporate any examples from School of Quietude poets, such as A.R. Ammons. While it is true that this is a form that has been developed largely by post-avants poets, it hasn’t been as exclusively their domain as this book seems to suggest.
On of the reasons Time-Being works so well is that it’s ultimately a form- or genre-based project, even as it demonstrates as much as anything else just how wide the genre can be (try to imagine Joseph Massey’s miniatures as a mode of journal & it works, but you wouldn’t typically think of them that way, or at least I wouldn’t). Content-based anthologies are, I think, inherently dicier projects. Third Rail: The Poetry of Rock and Roll demonstrates the problem & creates some all its very own. Ultimately, they ask the poem to do that which is perhaps poetry’s least fruitful function, to be both referential & deferential to something entirely outside the frame of the poem. It could rock & roll, as it is here, but it could just as easily have been the war in
Jonathan Wells has taken the problem to a new level, tho. He’s gathered together an anthology that is the literary equivalent of Lawrence Welk and is passing it off as Green Day. Worse, Wells has somehow dragged poor Bono into adding a foreword, demonstrating only that he doesn’t read poetry. Wells’ collection of rock poets includes Kevin Young, Campbell McGrath, William Matthews, Billy Collins, David St. John, Philip Levine, Edward Hirsch, Tess Gallagher, Charles Wright, Stephen Dunn, Carol Ann Duffy, Thom Gunn, James Tate, Dorianne Laux, Philip Larkin, David Wojahn, Charles Simic, B.H. Fairchild, Yusef Komunyakaa, Paul Muldoon, Les Murray, Bill Knott, Franz Wright, a bizarrely out of place Allen Ginsberg (strictly a token), Heather McHugh & more. Ginsberg is one of the few poets in this collection who isn’t writing in a tradition that was obsolete two (or ten) decades before Elvis discovered Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. Gunn, Muldoon Tate & Matthew Zapruder shine here simply by contrast. And the collection gives every sign of being ignorant of history: there is no evidence of Jack Spicer’s famous anti-Beatles poem, or the work of Victor Bockris, Patty Smith, Jim Carroll, Laurie Anderson, Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, John Sinclair, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Franklin Bruno, Clark Coolidge, Chris Stroffolino, Tom Clark’s Neil Young appropriations or even the high school poetry of Jim Morrison (from whence Muldoon garnered his most recent book title). There is, after all, an actually existing tradition of rock poetry – and it’s entirely absent here. This book is embarrassing.
Third Rail makes one almost hesitant to approach Poets on Painters, visually a much more appealing volume in that it’s a catalog to an art show, the volume designed by Jeff Clark no less. As a derivative literary genre, ekphrasis at least has a history. Further, the writers here are among the more exciting of our younger poets today: Laura Solomon, Hoa Nguyen, Sawako Nakayasu, Noah Eli Gordon, Nick Moudry, Kristin Prevallet, Corina Copp, & more. The foreword is by somebody who actually knows the genre, Anselm Berrigan. And there is an engaging correspondence up front between co-curators Katie Geha, a curator at the
You are right that there is a rich history of poets and painters working together but that this is not the mode of our exhibition. The emphasis is not on the relationship between the poet and the artists, but rather on the relationship between two texts. The artists in Poets on Painters did not work together; rather, an invitation was extended, a poet was matched with a specific painting and asked to write a poem to correspond. The painting predates the poem, making the poet’s correspondence the wall-text for the exhibition and the text for the catalog, creating an entirely new site and new image. The painting is the first site, the poet’s response, the second. When placed side-by-side, the two works create a new image – the poem and the painting constantly in correspondence.
This note, however, literally ends with a postscript:
This process puts an asymmetry into the process not unlike Wells’ book: poetry in both cases is asked to be responsive, if not reactive. The pressure is entirely on the poet.
Eve’s necklace after the legume
seed-pod black and segmented
Chunky black beads
And “in the madness of spring”: pink
Flowers drooping in clusters
Burn up thy thought
Tho much in Nguyen’s poem might be thought of as depiction – Bovasso’s piece is a remote cousin to this – where it most completely replicates it is in the rapid shifts between lines and the hyperactive punctuation of And “in the madness of spring”: pink. The tempo of the poem is very accurate to the busyness of the painting.
Nick Moudry responds to a work entitled Untitled (Black Butterfly Pink MGoz) – again, a piece related to this – with a text called “The proper perspective”:
Our chief occupation – from a
position not quite central – is
to send them off wildly
in any direction without explaining why
that particular path was
converging and crossing. A
course in mathematics would
not be so much wasted as
beside the point. After
all, an entire city
can’t believe in chemistry, can
they? Therefore I felt
justified – by
virtue of the law – in reducing the
world to a skeleton. the
first mistake is
to assume every
dialogue is argument.
I need money. Reduce,
reduce, reduce sounds more
alluring than any
purely stated idea. I suppose
we are just fighting off boredom.
The effect is the penetration
that is used exactly as
if the force moves through it rather
than turning back inward I hear.
Both picture and poem foreground the line, albeit obliquely, one barely visible against the black surface, the other barely audible through one enjambed soft linebreak after another. There’s a dry wit – the closest Moudry gets to slapstick is to twist the grammar and give us they instead of it in his question of cities, chemistry & belief. It’s not a poem “about” the painting so much as it is an homage to its impulses, gestures, sense of weight. More akin to an equivalent structure than, say, the correspondence Geha writes of in the introduction.
None of the painters or poets here are (as yet) iconic. One senses that their future is still more important than, say, their past – unlike Time-Being, which mixes the two, or Third Rail, which is strictly backward looking – and for this reason Poets on Painters is the book from this trio I’ll be rereading the most often.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
of Ezra Pound’s
But when they don’t work:
Of the 1,006 words
Washington Post writer
uses to discuss
the “non-journalism” Pulitzers
awarded last week,
are devoted to poetry
of the LA Times
even fewer –
8 out of 692,
the first of which is
of Bloomberg News
devotes 51 words
from his allotment of
And when prizes do work:
Knopf took away
On the process
Pulitzer for drama
The London Book Fair
the art of the deal
A profile of
James Weldon Johnson,
Atlanta Journal Constitution,
it’s the book review editor
that has been found
A profile of
one of the
The writing of
Using Cho’s videos
as an opportunity
Trying to find
Plus Dana & Laura
at a museum
named for Mr. Barnum
As good a defense
of Geoffrey Hill
as I’ve ever read
No academic publisher
& the aging eye
How to think
about visual art
Return of the repressed:
abstraction is back