Saturday, May 12, 2007

 

The Poetry Project has just named Stacy Szymaszek as its new artistic director, succeeding the outgoing Anselm Berrigan. This is terrific news, for Stacy and especially for the Poetry Project.

Here is the official announcement, as it showed up in my email this morning:

Dear Everyone,

The Poetry Project is delighted to announce that poet Stacy Szymaszek has been hired to be the Project’s new Artistic Director. Stacy’s tenure will begin
July 1, 2007. The Artistic Director is basically artistic and executive director rolled into one, responsible for everything from programming to paper clips. She sets the tone for and guides the Project through nine months of annual programming – now in its 41st season, the Poetry Project offers a Wednesday night readings series, a Monday night reading/performance series, a Friday late-night series, 6-10 weekly writing workshops per season, a quarterly newsletter, a (revamped) website at www.poetryproject.com, a stripped-down literary mag The Recluse, and extensive audio and document archives. The Poetry Project is also a 501-c-3 non-profit & raises money in about a thousand different ways, and so the A.D. runs that ship as well as managing staff, paying the bills, working with St. Mark’s Church, putting away chairs after readings, and working with the ever-growing and shifting entity known as the community.

Stacy Szymaszek
was born and raised in
Milwaukee, WI. From 1999 to 2005, she was the Literary Program Manager for the nonprofit literary organization Woodland Pattern Book Center. Her extensive curatorial and editorial work during this period helped galvanize a community of poets in the Midwest region with Woodland Pattern serving as one of several meeting places. In 2005 she answered the call to move to New York to serve as the Program Coordinator at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. This year, she also served as the Monday Night Coordinator. She is the author of several chapbooks including Mutual Aid (gong press, 2004), Some Mariners (Etherdome, 2004), There Were Hostilities (repair, 2005), Pasolini  Poems (Cy Press, 2005) and from hyperglossia (Belladonna Books, 2005). Her first book, Emptied of All Ships, was published in 2005 and her second book hyperglossia is forthcoming in 2009, both with Litmus Press. Her work appears in the recent anthology For the Time-Being: The Bootstrap Book of Poetic Journals, as well as in numerous journals and web-zines. She is also a coeditor with Instance Press, contributing editor of Fascicle and editor of the poetry magazine Gam.
 
Work by Stacy Szymaszek:
 
http://bostonreview.net/BR30.1/sampler.html
http://www.fascicle.com/issue01/Poets/szymaszek2.htm

Interviews with Stacy Szymaszek:
 
http://www.kickingwind.com/5406.html
http://www.chicagopostmodernpoetry.com/Stacy.htm

Review of Emptied of All Ships:
 
http://jacketmagazine.com/28/sims-szym.html

 

Stacy is learning the secret of every good organizer – if you show up and put in a lot of good energy, many groups will just give themselves to you. This blog first took note of her poetry in September 2003. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to hear her give a great reading in Chicago. As a poet & as a person, Stacy Szymaszek is the real deal. Congrats to all concerned.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

 

In my note on Mark Mirsky’s memoir, Creeley, I wrote that “When someone who is important to a lot of people dies, the survivors stand around and tell stories.” That reminded me of a book I picked up when I was in California last, I think at Green Apple in San Francisco, to which I hadn’t as yet given a closer inspection. Hey Lew is about as hand-cobbled as a perfect-bound book can be: no publisher listed, no consistent typography (and what there is appears to have been done literally on a typewriter), more than a few pages slightly askew, odd numbers on the left, even on the right, the table of contents is actually an index. Hey Lew is, however, a volume lovingly produced & rich with content and the presence of Lew Welch, the “beat” poet who walked off into the woods near Nevada City, California, one May morning in 1971 with a gun, leaving behind this note:

I never could make anything work out right and now I'm betraying my friends. I can't make anything out of it - never could. I had great visions but never could bring them together with reality. I used it all up. It's all gone. Don Allen is to be my literary executor- use MSS at Gary's and at Grove Press. I have $2,000 in Nevada City Bank of America - use it to cover my affairs and debts. I don't owe Allen G. anything yet nor my Mother. I went Southwest. Goodbye. Lew Welch.

Welch’s body was never found.

The outline of Welch’s life is fairly well known & Hey Lew dispenses with it quickly, printing literally on page one Levi Asher’s bio note, still available on the web via the Beat Museum, tho listed in Hey Lew as “Author Unknown – From the Internet.” One of the Reed Three – the others were Gary Snyder & Phil Whalen – Welch was intensely handsome &, based on the one time I ever saw him, immediately likeable, a tenor with a devastating Motown version of The Waste Land that Mr. Eliot’s heirs successfully prevented him ever from recording. And one of the finest poets of his generation. While most of his peers in the Beat & San Francisco scenes were getting world famous in the 1950s, Welch was either incapacitated by one of several nervous breakdowns, off on a binge, or else in Chicago writing marketing copy – he authored one of the classic tag lines of the era, “Raid Kills Bugs Dead,” whose one-syllable words with the vowel contained between consonants is itself a classic instance of Welch’s own aesthetic.

The book really begins on the next page, with the transcript of a recorded conversation between Hey Lew’s editor Magda Cregg, her son rocker Huey Lewis & actor Peter Coyote. Cregg was the last – and longest – of Welch’s relationships, Lewis functionally his stepson. (Lewis took Welch’s first name for his last when he joined the band Clover.) This is the first of many such reminiscences, transcriptions, poems, and photographs & drawings. Some of the reminiscences are harder to read than others – Lewis Mac Adams, for one – just because Welch was a guy clearly in trouble & his friends knew it without understanding what, if anything, they could do. The poetry, elegies for the most part, feels a little more reserved. The photos are a marvel. Lew as a 12-year-old along side his sister Gigs, Lew directing a full-moon mussel gathering in the tide pools of Muir Beach, some tremendous shots of Lew with others, from Jeff Cregg to Mary Norbert Korte, or sitting on a log by the beach with Margo Patterson Doss, Donald Allen, Joanne Kyger & Dr. Hippocrates (one of the first free medicine / alternative healing MDs to function as a newspaper columnist in the Bay Area). Marin County is a palpable presence here, tho mostly it is Bolinas & the Mesa, not actually the Marin City black ghetto where Lew & Magda mostly lived (and where Anne Lamott still does).

This book was put out in 1997, three dozen years after Lew disappeared. Ten years later, it’s still a great read. Some of its other contributors include Robert Creeley, Bill Deemer, Greatful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, Coyote’s Journal editor Jim Koller, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Joanne Kyger, Albert Saijo, Grover Sales, Gary Snyder & even neocon gadfly Stephen Schwartz, plus at least as many others who may be a little less famous. Lawyer Richard Hughey’s five-page memoir of his time as a student of Lew’s and of the scene in San Francisco in the 1950s & ‘60s (contrasting, for example, Welch’s death with the other major literary suicide of that time & place, Weldon Kees) is worth the price of this book all on its own. The only serious omission is Phil Whalen.

Welch, like John Wieners, Jimmy Schuyler, Hannah Weiner, Robert Lowell & too many others, is a perfect example of how poetry is quite possibly the one profession in which mental illness is not a handicap. At the same time, the very real day-to-day issues of living in a society that at its best struggles with how to include these psychiatric Others into the community can be overwhelming. Certainly Welch found it so. We are lucky to have gotten so many wonderful poems out his relatively short time – just 45 years – among us.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

 

Friday, May 11

7:00 PM

At the Last Word Bookshop

220 S. 40th Street (near Walnut),  215-386-7750

Philadelphia

A Mad Poets Society event, hosted by Leonard Gontarek

With Christina Davis

This will be my first reading from the new The Age of Huts (compleat) since its publication. Needless to say, I’m excited. Penn graduate Christina Davis works at Poets House & is on the board at Alice James Books, which published her Forth a Raven. Her work has that spare, exact quality one finds in Objectivists like Oppen & Niedecker, and in poets like Dickinson, Creeley & Armantrout.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

 

My name is Jerry
and I’m a poet

§

Talking with
Barry Schwabsky

§

The affairs of
C. Day-Lewis

§

Patti Smith
in The New Yorker:
an allegory
for Virginia Tech

§

A profile
of PENNsound

§

The two Shakespeares

& a third

§

Lucille Clifton
has received
the Ruth Lilly prize

§

Tumbleweed
& the Taco Shop Poets

§

Anti-elegy
for
Ebereonwu

§

Libraries,
zines
& one-shots

§

Libraries,
the digital divide
& Bill Gates

§

The future
of book reviews

§

The risk
in reviews

§

A profile of
newspaper readers
on the web

§

Rigoberto Gonzáles
on
Juan Morales

§

Hofmann’s
Deutschland

§

The Selected Poems
of Derek Walcott

§

Gulzar
celebrates
Amrita Pritam

§

A eulogy
for Jakov Lind

§

Brodsky
vs.
Brodsky

§

Deborah Garrison
is ba-ack

§

Famous
neglectorinos
?

§

Elaine Feinstein’s
elegy
to her husband

§

Les Murray
thought of
as an avant Brit

§

Talking with
Ted Kooser

§

What
the workers
want

§

This takes the prize

§

Talking with
Linda Gregerson

§

Julia Kristeva
on
Ségolène Royal

§

Art and the State

§

All about Banksy

§

Takashi Murakami
at
Gagosian

§

Memo to Self:
If you want to get
a lot of angry emails,
say something nice
about Jorie Graham

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

 

I have a question about the line and linebreaks. I’m mindful of a monograph I read by Bertram Bronson when I was in college on the standardization of punctuation & capitalization in English. The two salient points were (1) that the transformation from variable everything to an accepted standard occurred quite rapidly, essentially over the course of a single decade around 1760, and (2) nobody at the time thought to comment on it.

The linebreak in poetry – or at least in typography – is undergoing change, and it’s worth noting. When I first came into poetry in the mid-1960s, all poets & publishers treated long lines the same way – if it ran over the length of the page, one broke it, using a small hanging indent to indicate that it is not a new line. This is the model for the run-over line used by Walt Whitman in the first edition of Leaves of Grass and up until sometime around 1990 was uniformly employed by every book of English-language poetry I ever came across. Doing anything different was a sign not of innovation, but incompetence.

But sometime or the last decade, this consensus has begun to break down. In recent years I’ve come across two different kinds of typesetting for the run-over line. The first literally treats it as tho it were prose, taking the run-over line all the way back to the lefthand margin. In a verse text, this can make it hard (if not outright impossible) to discern a new line from the extra material of a long previous one. In some ways, this makes the line visually closer to the concept of a paragraph, distinguishable only by the capital letter at the lefthand margin. Since I’ve always tended to think of the line as a unit hovering in the general vicinity of the phrase & sentence, this newer approach offers a certain tension that I find I like. As if to challenge the idea of what is a complete thought and what are these units, anyway. In an age in which the average poet has read not only Saussure on the differences between speech & writing, but Derrida’s critique of Saussure, this makes some sense.

The second kind of run-over line usage I’ve seen is visible in Jorie Graham’s book Overlord, where she incorporates the extra material with a right-side hanging indent, whose actual starting position seems to depend on the position of the word furthest to the right of the first line of text. Thus, if I can mimic this in HTML,

clock if it was the kitchen, alongside the tapping of the wintered lilac’s branches on the violet-shadowed    

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen run-over lines treated this way, and I admit that I always find it jarring, perhaps because it seems to violate the left-margin bias I presume for the printed page. In one sense, it is probably a natural consequence of decades of justified type for prose, the right-hand margin now taking on as much power & potential as that of the left. If so, it’s a subtle, but deep change in how we read & indeed in what the physical act of read implies for those of us using English.

But Graham carries this dynamic one giant step further, by consisting running short or secondary or indented lines (however you want to think of them) in exactly the same manner beneath lines that go nowhere near the right-hand margin:

One where you can go back. I thought each new

now, new

Or:

are full, and the song begins. One day

I woke up, I was

Or, just to underscore that she wants you to know she is doing this:

Looked everywhere, all the way back. The

back

tells me

I have to come back here, here to the front, there is
no further I can go….

The variable right-hand margin here is as powerful, although in a very different way, as the left. These shorter lines make you go back to that first long instance, what once had seemed to be a simple run-over line, now makes you wonder, is it really? In Overlord, only the compound violet-shadowed appears on the second line.

This reminds me of discussions I heard in the 1960s that circled around Williams’ use of a three-step line (or stanza). Is it one line or three? There seemed to be some sense at the time that if any of the lines pushed past the start of the indented left margin of the next, then they were to be read as separate lines, but that if not, then not. The poetry of the period, and especially the more playful of the Black Mountain poets (Blackburn, say, a man who was willing to put s p a c e s between every letter of a word to get an effect he sought), often seemed to want to have it both ways, which is perfectly possible if your concern is – as Graham’s clearly is – with the poem itself and not the problem of categories. One could after all have a reversed stepped line as well, with three (or more) segments, each of which is indented less deeply than the one above.

In the English-language verse line, or at least the free-verse line, the most powerful word is always the last, the second-most powerful being the word at the left margin,¹ both of these occasioned by the left-biased gravity of the printed page in this language. Graham’s play at the right margin suggests that we need to look at it a little more closely. Is it conceivable, say, that within the School of Quietude (from whence Graham has come as a writer, tho she’s moved a considerable distance over her career), these basic dynamics of the line don’t apply in quite the same way and that therefore one might (perhaps must) initiate such right-sided play as a means of strengthening that side of the line? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s worth mulling over, dreaming on.

If Graham were more, say, Duncan-esque as a poet & did this maybe five times as often as she does in this book, Overlord would take on the character of a verbal dance (not unlike Duncan). As it stands, a poet could do well to read Overlord just to watch how Graham uses the line. She and Eleni Sikelianos are perhaps the two writers who do the most to explore its parameters & dynamics since Charles Olson. That in itself is something to think about.

 

¹ Carrying this out further, if the line is long enough to have a palpable caesura, then the third most powerful word is the one just before it, the fourth most powerful, the one right after.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

 

There was a time when a serious novelist got his start, or perhaps his training, by writing poetry. Less common now than it once was, one might find someone who had already earned a solid reputation as a poet – think of Gilbert Sorrentino, Toby Olson, Michael Ondaatje, Barry Gifford – before going on to write the novels for which he would become much more well known. The theory of course is that the concentrated writing demands of poetry would offer an intensive study that would yield dividends in the more leisurely fields of full-length fiction.

Ezra Pound in turn suggested that before one write poetry, one should translate a lot of it, so as to internalize “the greats” as well as get through the learning stages without perpetually having to reinvent the wheel. One could see how Sappho or Dante or Lorca handled a particular writing problem so that, decades later, one might come to a problematic line-break (or whatever) with some sense that it had a history, that the decision one made carried with it more than the tactical need to get to the next line. The process also had two salutary side-effects: it got a lot of great work back into print in one’s own tongue in a contemporary way, and it tended to marginalize monolinguals among the wannabes, who after all were likely to be riff-raff.

One novelist who actually went with the program is Paul Auster, a writer certain to show up on any short list of the most innovative fictioneers of the past half century. Although, as it happens, I had been reading translations of his from the French for some time, it was the poetry of Paul Auster that I first happened to notice in little magazines in the 1970s. As a translator & reader of French poetry, Auster’s 1982 anthology, The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry was – and still is – the finest one-volume presentation of a foreign literature I’d ever seen. In retrospect, I find it hard to imagine that it’s been 25 years since this great collection was first published, and harder still to imagine that it’s out of print. That link above will get you to the list of 68 used copies currently available for sale. It’s one of those volumes that, to echo Pound, belongs on any poet’s five-foot bookshelf.

Auster published a collection of his translations with Marsilio, a publisher that was active in the ‘90s in New York, in 1997. Called Translations, the volume is not a gathering of all Auster’s work carrying modern French writing over into English, but rather a reprinting of four earlier booklength projects that were published separately, one by Living Hand in 1974, two by Jack Shoemaker at North Point & one by Random House, the latter three all in the 1980s. The four writers translated are Joseph Joubert, Stéphane Mallarmé, Andre du Bouchet & Philippe Petit. I’ve always loved Mallarmé, a writer who strikes me as more anticipatory of Le Style Zukofsky than Apollinaire, and similarly du Bouchet is someone whose work I seldom pass up when I find it in any passable translation. He often strikes me as the first of France’s contemporary poets. The work of Pettit’s here is The High Wire, a series of short chapters or pieces built around the conceit that the line is a kind of tightrope, in some sense a descendant of the extended prose explorations, say, of Francis Ponge (viz. Soap). But without ultimately the subtlety, indirectness or irony of Ponge.

But the real surprise for me here is Joubert, an 18th century writer of aphorisms whose work I did not know. Reading these passages, one realizes that, contra Baudelaire, Aloysius Bertrand did not come out of nowhere when he first created Gaspard in the 1820s. In fact, Joubert never published during his life and his notebooks didn’t start to come into print until over a decade after Bertrand’s work:

A century in which the body has become subtle, in which the mind has become coarse.

One fills himself only with juices, warm waters, vapors, lightnesses. The other concerns himself only with matter, animals, minerals, configurations, and weights. Bodies that receive an over-subtle nourishment and minds concerned only with objects that are too real and too hard, are equally depraved.
They have an earthly mind with airy bodies.

To live without sky . . .

To reason, to argue. It is to walk with crutches in search of the truth. We comes to it with a leap. We must use reasoning to make sure we have reached the end and that we have covered the whole path. Likewise in the stadium, the runner touches the stone with his hands and steps back to see the barrier in front of the goal.
These false rules only serve to persuade those who observe them that they have attained what they cannot attain.
We have led our minds astray. . . .

Among the three extensions, we must include time, space, and silence. Space is in time, silence is in space.

To be in one’s place, to be at one’s post, to be part of the order, to be content. Not to murmur of suffering, to be incapable of being unhappy.

Too much talk (they say). Nota bene: too much writing.

It is impossible to love the same person twice.

(ellipses in the original)

Ironically, perhaps, Auster’s Translations is itself now out of print (the link above again leads to used copies available), but New York Review Books has apparently republished the Jourbert. I don’t know if the edition is expanded from the 145 pages gathered here – the complete version in French takes two volumes – but it is surely worth the price. I would say the same for both the du Bouchet & Mallarmé.

Anyone who has read Auster’s translations, say in the Random House anthology, will know that he’s a particularly inobtrusive presence as a translator, you never sense him wrestling with the author in the same way, say, as Clayton Eshleman does Vallejo. Auster gathers a number of these translations of other French poets & runs them near the end of his own Collected Poems, with only du Bouchet showing up in both projects (Neither du Bouchet nor Pettit turn up in the Random House collection). These include versions of Éluard, Breton, Tzara, Soupault, Desnos, Char & Dupin, and are dated 1967-69. They’re the earliest work in Collected Poems save for a prose work from 1967 at the end entitled “Notes from a Composition Book” that is right out of Joubert in its tactics.

Auster’s own career as a poet in English extends from 1970 to 1979. As one might anticipate from somebody so thoroughly into the French thing, Auster’s work looks on its surface a little like New York School verse, especially of the uptown Columbia variant that looked more to Ron Padgett & John Ashbery than, say, to Ted Berrigan (who, so far as I’m aware, never published any translations¹). Where they differ, markedly, from the NY School, is in their tone, which like Auster’s austere prose is very subdued:

Picks jot the quarry – eroded marks
That could not cipher the message.
The quarrel unleashed its alphabet,
And the stones, girded by abuse,
Have memorized the defeat.

Even when Auster takes on what for him amounts to a gaudier surface, it has none of the cartoon moments that were so beloved downtown:

Fore-Shadows

I breathe you.
I becalm you out of me.
I numb you in the reach
of brethren light.
I suckle you
to the dregs of disaster.

The sky pins a vagrant star
on my chest. I see the wind
as witness, the towering night
that lapsed
in a maze of oaks,
the distance.

I haunt you
to the brink of sorrow.
I milk you of strength.
I defy you,
I deify you
to nothing and
to no one.

I become
your necessary and most violent
heir.

Frankly, it takes some courage, having become famous and known as a stylist in prose, to allow this last poem back into print. It’s clearly the work of somebody who is working at figuring out what he’s going to do with writing, but certainly not doing it yet. Which is basically the story of Collected Poems, the education of Paul Auster, who even at his sharpest here still is not who he will become once he turns to prose:

In Memory of Myself

Simply to have stopped.


As if I could begin
where my voice has stopped, myself
the sound of a word

I cannot speak.

So much silence
to be brought to life
in this pensive flesh, the beating
drum of words
within, so many words

lost in the wide world
within me, and thereby to have known
that in spite of myself.

I am here.

As if this were the world.

These two books would make a great two-volume set, tho right now I believe only the Joubert and the Collected Poems are in print. I’d love for Overlook to take the initiative somewhere down the road and bring them together.

 

¹ This virtually is an invitation to be corrected, and I’d love to be.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

 

Saluting Jack Gilbert

A note on Jack
with some of my favorite
poems of his

§

The newspaper book review:
a thing of the past?

§

The third
New York Times piece
on Martin Duberman’s
bio of
Lincoln Kirstein
in ten days

§

Google Books:
What’s not to like?

§

Robert Chrysler
needs us
to watch his back

§

Your style
is your brand

§

Creative writing classes
& depictions of violence

§

The scroll
arrives
in Santa Fe

§

Indie bookstores:
hanging on

§

As go books
so go CDs?

§

New hope
for the
School of Quietude

§

A portrait of
Frederick Seidel

§

A portrait of
Al Young

§

Mitt Romney’s favorite author?
L. Ron Hubbard

§

Stephen Harper’s favorite book?
The Guinness Book of Records

Quick, Americans:
who is Stephen Harper?

§

Reading Danish poet
Niels Hav
in
Morocco

§

The beat
of the Nuyorican Poets

§

Laureate at work

§

The Poet Laureate
of Montgomery County, PA

§

A poetry reading
in 30 languages
in
Eau Claire

§

Ban the book,
invite the author

§

Once on the Whitbread short list,
he’s turned self-publisher
of his poems

§

Book club
bitchiness

§

First prize:
concentration of clichés
in the service of
National Poetry Month

§

Poetry news
from the Twin Cities

§

Bob Dylan
scares children

§

SAM I am:
The new
Seattle Art Museum
is a hit

§

An anthology
of Iranian
women’s poetry

from the Middle Ages
to the present

§

They write you up,
your mum & dad

§

The eye
of Ryan McGinley

§

The Male Gaze

§

Blatherum Infinitum

§

Recent responses
to poems from
The Age of Huts:

Pearl Pirie
on
The Chinese Notebook

Luminita Suse
on
Sunset Debris

& Jack Kimball
is reading
(more likely rereading)
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E

Plus
I’ve turned up
in at least two dreams
at the
Annandale Dream Journal

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