Saturday, June 23, 2007

 

Juan Ramón Jiménez:
sex with the nuns

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Poetry from Guantanamo
(video,
may require subscription
to the Wall Street Journal)

An article about the book
in which these poems appear

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37 years in exile,
Iraqi poet
Nazek Al Malaika
dies in Cairo

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Juliana Spahr’s
The Transformation

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You do the math:
parataxis
in John Ashbery & Lyn Hejinian

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A review of Hettie Jones

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Rescuing Canadian neglectorinos

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Interviewing Charles Bernstein
from
Bengal

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Made Beautiful by Use

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Chris Stroffolino,
pro-Beatnik

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Why is Rushdie a knight?

Why he should be

Nominating committee
proves clueless

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JT Leroy
appears
at his/her trial

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Librarian fending off
the attack of
the Blog People

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Pimp my Bookcart!

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Remembering Michael Hamburger

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The teacher who slams

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Implications
of the decline
in newspaper critics

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According to HFN,
the Home Furnishing News
trade mag,
Barnes & Noble is testing
furniture sales

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Harvard Book Store
hits 75

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Translating Urdu poetry

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A Fringe Fest
for London’s Book Expo

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The Great British Novel:
a contradiction in terms?

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Flannery O’Connor,
Betty Hester
(& Brad Gooch!)

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Seeking the 19th century
for expats in Osaka

The real (19th century) deal
in Boston

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One free book
for each 11-year-old
in the country

(now about their parents…)

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Aiming to spoil
Harry Potter

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E-paper inches closer

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Gioia at Stanford:
art before celebrity

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The cult of the amateur 2.0

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The boy who would not speak

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Stephen Vincent’s
brief career
as an installation

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Art student
strikes gold

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Like Bambi
in a bloodbath

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Who’s at Documenta

& who
wishes they weren’t

The NY Times
takes it more seriously

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Peter Schjeldahl
on the
Venice Biennale

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Seeing red
on
Mount Blanc

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Form failing function
puts modernist architecture
at risk

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People in glass houses
dot dot dot

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The naked museum

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Learning to really hate
John Zorn

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Friday, June 22, 2007

 

The first time I ever read an excerpt from Ketjak publicly, at a restaurant on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, either very late in 1974 or possibly early ’75, my co-reader was (or was to have been) Kathy Acker. I say “was to have been” since instead of showing up herself, Kathy sent three surrogates whom she had instructed to talk about what she was like as a lover. Peter Gordon, whom I believe may then have been Kathy’s husband (a distinction both seemed to take very lightly), was one speaker. Composer (and later a longtime researcher at the famed Xerox PARC think tank in Palo Alto, a job he segued into having been a successful programmer of music for early generation video games) Rich Gold was the second. I forget just who the third was, tho it may have been either Clay Fear (pianist Christopher Berg) or possibly Phil Harmonic or even Blue Gene Tyranny, other composers from the electronic music scene around Mills College. In fact, they never discussed what Acker was like as a lover, certainly not in the usual sense of depicting her as a sexual partner. Rather, the trio talked instead about what it might be that would have caused Acker to think (a) to do this, what the role of gossip or possibly gossip plus sex might be in the art scene, and (b) why she would think that her lovers in particular could sit down side by side & have a reasonable conversation on this topic in public. It was a utopian moment, albeit one delivered with some puzzlement & bemusement. It was apparent that all three cared about Kathy much more deeply than I think she ever would have acknowledged.

I had thought that my new poem – I was reading Ketjak out of the green notebook in which the early portion of the text was composed – was going to sound quite revolutionary, all this reiteration & weaving together of different themes. But in fact I’d been trumped by Kathy’s marvelous sense of self-mythologization & theater. Years later, I once heard a poet who’d been there recount almost verbatim the discussion between the three panelists. Who else had been on that bill, I asked. He couldn’t remember.

Last Sunday, I found myself in a not completely dissimilar situation at the Zinc Bar in Manhattan, once again reading the opening half hour of Ketjak, once again following a firebrand young writer with a strong sense of theater. As I’ve noted before, Jessica Smith’s Organic Furniture Cellar is a work in which ambition just flat out leaps off the page. If you have any bias against strong women, you are absolutely going to hate this book. Since she is now the age I was when I first composed Ketjak, this means that OFC was written when Smith was between 23 and 25. That much talent combined with that much ambition can seem quite intimidating. In her blog note for Monday, Jessica asks “Why does the audience cower?” I think the answer is that we’re still at least a generation, probably many more, away from the time when people are comfortable being close to that much power, especially when its source is female.

Smith began her reading by distributing a dozen or so copies of OFC to the audience, roughly one for every three people there. She then announced that she was going to read the text on page 43, and proceeded to read it. Silently.

This is, I think, an impulse every writer who has ever given a reading must have felt somewhere along the line. But never before have I actually seen someone act upon that impulse. As a move in a reading, it’s brash, “right,” obvious & “juvenile” all at once. It’s the complexity of all those different aspects working in unison (or at cross purposes) that probably stops each of us from proceeding to act on this impulse. Smith’s gift is that she acts where others demure.

Smith followed this by reading, really reading aloud, most tho not all of Exile, the first of three works that make up the Topology half of Organic Furniture Cellar. In some fashion not entirely evident to me, Exile is a read-through of James Joyce’s Ulysses (this reading occurring on the day after Bloomsday). Hearing her proceed through these poems made me conscious of the degree of organization in OFC: one half, or movement, dedicated to time, Chronology, the other to space, Topology, each composed of three suites, at least one of which perceptibly deals with the dimension of the other half of the book.

Smith is, I’ve decided, a formalist who thinks deeply about large structures. In this sense, her work does resemble the writing of Steve McCaffery (whom she acknowledges in the surprisingly straightforward ten-page introduction to OFC, a manifesto calling for a “plastic” poetics) as well as certain works by such dissimilar writers as Barrett Watten & Jack Spicer. OFC is a closed poem in rather the same way that a sestina is closed, or perhaps a better analogy might be The Odyssey. Even as each page looks like a testament to the ludic, its very existence depends upon the whole.

In her critical writing – Smith’s acknowledgement’s page is every bit as detailed & serious as the book’s introduction – she is very clear that these “works on paper” (OFC’s actual subtitle) are not to be thought of as spoken & that she wants to challenge the lazier habits of reading as well:

With plastic poetry, I want to change the reading space in such a way that the one who reads is forced to make amends for new structures in his or her virtual path. The words on a page must be plastic in virtual space as architecture and sculpture are plastic in real space.

One way to mark this in a reading obviously is to disrupt the readerliness of the event over & over, by reading a text silently or by saying, as Smith did of The Wandering Rocks section of Exile,

I really like this poem. I read it all the time in my head, but I’m not going to read it right now.

Having read the opening suite of Topology – Smith’s source of Ulysses being something of an icon of the geographically centered text¹ – she turned to Canal Series, the first suite of Chronography, OFC’s opening section, which might be said to document Smith’s move – more than just physical – from her home state of Alabama to Buffalo, New York. She described the suite as her “cultural shock” poetry.

The only passage of Smith’s reading that did not come from the opening suites of OFC’s two sections proved to be the one she read silently, the “Nightwalks” poem of Shifting Landscapes (the third of Chronography’s suites). It’s a poem that in part articulates the experience of driving as well as a need to demarcate the distinction between “inside the circle” & “outside the circle.” Given that Smith had just driven for eight hours from Richmond, Virginia, for this reading – the drive should have taken six, but the usual Sunday I-95 coagulation was made that much worse by Father’s Day traffic heading home -- and that Smith arrived with something like ten minutes to spare before she went on, the interregnum created by the silent reading proved not unlike a moment’s meditation, creating the spacing in which a reading could proceed. Not that Smith doesn’t have, as she has announced both on her blog & at the Zinc Bar, “problems with reading.”

I gave my reading, pleased to see all the folks in the audience, to see among them Kit Robinson (in town for a family event), Ted Greenwald & Charles Bernstein, as well as younger poets such as Brenda Iijima & Douglas Rothschild, & younger poets still, such as Adam Golaski & Eric Gelsinger (neither of whom I’d met before). I reminded myself that Smith is really part of this last cohort, and that in fact I wrote Ketjak five years before she was born. That is a humbling situation.

The instant I was done, Smith hopped back up, announcing that “I want to read some more,” in response to what I’d just read. She then proceeded to read The Sirens section of Exile, which does indeed echo the self-same chapter of Ulysses, bronze by gold, albeit in Smith’s version the capital letter isn’t the b as it is for Joyce, but rather the n since its spelling out a mid-word acrostic that reads vertically NEON LIT CHURCHES. Keeping her reading persona intact, one part Kathy Acker, one part Scarlett O’Hara, as well as her poetics (upper limit Cage, lower limit the performance-centered wit of a Steve McCaffery), Smith commented “I like poetry as litigation.” Indeed.

 

¹ All those Dublin tourists following their maps of Ulysses from station to station.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

 

Recently Received

Books (Poetry)

Kostas Anagnopoulos, Irritant, Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, NY, 2007

Stan Apps, Info Ration, Make Now Press, Los Angeles, 2007

John Ashbery, A Worldly Country, Ecco, New York, 2007

Ed Barrett, Kevin White, Pressed Wafer, Boston, 2007

Ellen Baxt, Analfabeto / An Alphabet, Shearsman, Exeter, U.K., 2007

Marvin Bell, Mars Being Red, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 2007

Erin Elizabeth Burke, Run Down the Emphasis, Kitchen Press, New York, 2007

Clint Burnham, Rental Van, Anvil Press, Vancouver, BC, 2007

Inger Christensen, It, translated by Susanna Nied, New Directions, New York, 2007

Norman Finkelstein, Passing Over, Marsh Hawk Press, East Rockaway, NY, 2007

Elisa Gabbert, Thanks for Sending the Engine, Kitchen Press, New York, 2007

Kenneth Goldsmith, Traffic, Make Now Press, Los Angeles, 2007

Kate Greenstreet, Rushes, Above/Ground Press, Maxville, Ontario, 2007

Cathy Park Hong, Dance Dance Revolution, W.W. Norton, New York, 2007

Justin Marks, You Being You By Proxy, Kitchen Press, New York, 2007

Jennifer Moxley, The L:ine, Post-Apollo Press, Sausalito, CA, 2007

Frank Parker, Heart Shaped Blossoms, self-published, Tucson, AZ, 2007

Matt Rasmussen, Fingergun, Kitchen Press, New York, 2007

Stuart Ross, I Cut My Finger, Anvil Press, Vancouver, BC, 2007

Emma Rossi, Becoming, Green Zone, Brooklyn, NY 2007

Ara Shirinyan, Syria Is In The World, Palm Press, Long Beach, CA, 2007

Chris Tonelli, (Wide Tree), Kitchen Press, New York, 2007

Amish Trivedi, The Naked Rain, no publisher listed, Iowa City, IA, 2007

Jay Wright, Music’s Mask and Measure, Flood Editions, Chicago, 2007

 

Books (other)

Gordon Ball, Dark Music, Cityful Press, Longmont, CO, 2006

Morton Hurley (editor), The Anthology of Spam Poetry: The First Hour, Vértice 1925, Houston, TX, 2007

David Markson, The Last Novel, Shoemaker Hoard, Emeryville, CA, 2007

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, Vintage Books, New York, NY 2006

Freckerick Smock, Pax Intrantibus: A Meditation on the Poetry of Thomas Merton, Broadstone Books, Frankfort, KY, 2007

Christa Wolf, One Day A Year: 1960-2000, translated by Lowell Bangerter, Europa Editions, Rome & New York City, 2007

 

Journals

Oh One Arrow, flim forum press. Slingerlands, NY, 2007. Includes Brandon Shimoda, Thom Donovan, Adam Golaski, Eric Gelsinger, Matthew Klane, Pierre Jiris, Aaron Lowinger, more.

Open Letter, Thirteenth Series, Number 2, Spring 2007, Into the Looking-Glass Labyrinth: Myths & Mystery in Canadian Literature, Toronto, Ontario. Includes Frank Davey, Marta Dvorak, Christopher Dewdney, more.

 

 

Works all received after June 12th

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

 

Coming to the Bowery Poetry Club
Saturday, June 23
(also, Boston, Cambridge, Danbury,
Nyack & back in NYC
over the next ten days),
the great folk ensemble
of Tuva,
Alash

I heard them jamming on Monday
with members of
the Sun Ra Arkestra,
& it was,
to quote
Krishna,
”mind blowing”

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A Barbara Guest
festschrift

Read more »

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

 

The most exciting and satisfying anthology I’ve acquired in the past month is The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century, edited by William Allegrezza & Raymond Bianchi and published by their own Cracked Slab Books. It’s by no means a perfect anthology – indeed, it makes some of the same basic mistakes that I excoriated the editors of Saints of Hysteria over – no index of contributors (which, frankly, even an acknowledgements page or bionotes section can accomplish), no visible theory of organization, some questionable calls concerning the book’s scope, even mixing in poetic statements with the poetry. Yet whereas Saints very quickly collapses under the aggregate weight of bad decisions, City Visible just sails on through. It not only is easily the best anthology I’ve ever seen that tried to capture the lively scene of the Second City, but it’s a worthy companion to Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics, which for my money is the gold standard in contemporary poetry anthologies, especially ones that offer a regional focus.¹ Why does City Visible succeed where Hysteria simply proves to be too-well named?

The answer is generosity. Where one is painfully aware that the editors of Hysteria are constantly shuffling the deck in order to keep the reader from figuring out just how few cards they’re playing with, City Visible, which – for its project – is positively anorectic at 250 pages (half the size of Bay Poetics), repeatedly errs on the side of inclusion. Its 52 poets offer a very broad definition of what is Chicago and innovative poetry, covering the suburbs all the way from Mill Valley to Saint Marks Place. There are poets here who live in Iowa City, Madison, Milwaukee, as well as writers whose connection to the city of Chicago is historical rather than current (Paul Hoover & Maxine Chernoff on the West Coast, new Poetry Project Executive Director Stacy Szymaszek – a lifelong Milwaukee gal until she decided to take New York by storm – firmly planted in the East, Tim Yu in Toronto, Jesse Seldess all the way in Berlin²). It’s not that there are no omissions – Christian Wiman & the School of Quietude are altogether absent, as are the Slam poets for which the city is known – or even that there are no omissions that, in the context of this specific project, aren’t puzzling & even egregious – Mary Margaret Sloan, Connie Deanovich, Karl Gartung if you buy the book’s geographic reach into Wisconsin – it’s that you can see the editors throwing out as wide a net as they could envision.

At just under five pages per poet, it turns out to be a better presentation overall than the 30 pages accorded each of 13 participants in the Rankine & Sewell volume with its far broader scope precisely because City Visible offers so much more context. What jumps immediately at me is how very important the line is for so many of these poets, whether it’s the very long line of Jennifer Scappetone, the lush rhetorical line of Peter O’Leary, the variable stanzas & gaps in lines of Ed Roberson, Szymaszek’s sense of the Olsonian, even William Fuller’s hyper-precise prose poems, or, to pick a very different example, this:

I will fuck you up.
Come back here motherfucker.
You ‘bout to get served.

This poem by Luis Urrea is, among its other virtues, a perfect haiku. Urrea’s fabulous ear for the vernacular is almost enough to make me love this form for the first time in decades.

What’s interesting about this, for me at least, is that the great knock against Chicago verse amongst the New Americans was always that the language was so very flat, with examples cited invariably citing both Carl Sandburg & Paul Carroll³. It’s conceivable that Allegrezza & Bianchi have shaded this book a little more in the direction of melopoetic craft than might really be warranted looking at the scene sociologically – you will note that their broad net didn’t manage to catch more experimental figures like Karl Young or Miekal And, & that the works selected of Roberto Harrison, given a very generous sampling toward the very end of the book, are far from his most opaque or difficult pieces.

The City Visible does one thing that I generally don’t care for in anthologies, but which works here to give this book far more of a sense of order than, say, Hysteria: it uses photographs of the poets at the beginning of each selection. It’s not so much the quality of the photo – some, like Juliana Spahr’s snapshot of Jennifer Scappettone, don’t reproduce well at all in a thumbnail size on the matte finish of your standard trade book paper – as it is the instant visual separation of one poet from the next. In a way, these miniature photos accomplish much of what a gray page separating out each contributor would have done, but without adding 50-plus pages to the project. This is especially important since Allegrezza & Bianchi seem determined to make use of almost every inch of white space imaginable. When a contributor doesn’t use the three-quarters of a page given over to poetic statements – Michael O’Leary’s piece is one sentence long – the glare of unused paper is startling.

There are a lot of poets here who are reasonably well known far beyond the West Coast of Lake Michigan – Eric Elshtain, Peter & Michael O’Leary, William Fuller, Ed Roberson, Arielle Greenberg, Shin Yu Pai, Dan Beachy-Quick, Maxine Chernoff, Paul Hoover, Tim Yu, Laura Sims, Roberto Harrison, Stacy Szymaszek – as well as poets who were completely new to me, including Srikanth Reddy, Suzanne Buffam, Erica Berheim, Garin Cychol, Kristy Odelius, Simone Muench, Lea Graham, Michelle Taransky, Cecilia Pinto, Johanny Paz, Ela Kotowska, Jennifer Karmin. And a bunch in between, such as John Tipton or Mark Tardi, whose poetry is some of my favorite in this volume. Tipton & Tardi are two poets I’ve been following for some time now, but it’s not clear to me that they’re nearly as widely known as they’re going to be in, say, another five years. This book should actually help in that process.

What I wasn’t able to figure out, tho, is why this order of poets and not some other. It’s not alphabetical, nor by date of birth, two fairly traditional strategies for organizing collections like this. It doesn’t start off with Paul Hoover & Maxine Chernoff, tho it is very clear that if this scene has parental figures in the way Olson functioned as one for Black Mountain, Paul & Maxine are it. They are the only poets in this anthology who appeared as well in the last project of this kind, 15 Chicago Poets, published in 1976 and edited by Richard Friedman, Peter Kostakis & Darlene Pearlstein. Hoover & Chernoff been such important influences for so many years that the scene – especially as outlined here – is just unimaginable without them. But they’re buried deep in the middle of this book & not side by side. Maxine makes a point of noting that she moved to California in 1994. Indeed, I wonder if the necessity – which I certainly agree with – of including Hoover & Chernoff didn’t in turn dictate the broader geographical strategy of the book.

What I wish, in a way, is that Bianchi & Allegrezza had done for City Visible – beyond, say, just having more pages to work with, or a title that was more accurate, such as From Chicago Out (which would capture the role the city really has in this volume) – is to organize the contents more akin to the way Don Allen gathered his 44 poets in 1960 into five suites. Even if they had, say, gathered the departed into one group, perhaps Wisconsin poets into a second, Iowa into a third, and then divided the true current Chicagoans into one set of poets more aligned with formal poetry institutions, and a second grouping of those whose day jobs are not thus institutionalized around writing, it would have made for a more powerful reading. That’s an opportunity that Stephanie Young missed as well in Bay Poetics but I think I would argue that that minute you go beyond some minimum number of contributors – say thirty – some kind of ordering device or strategy is utterly necessary. The order here is not only NOT better than alphabetical, it’s not as effective as an alphabetical because there’s no perceptible rationale.

Similarly, I wish the editors had taken maybe ten more pages to discuss their process, their inclusions & exclusions, their theory of the order and anything which might be useful to contextualize the project further. (Did any poets refuse to participate, for example, the way Duncan declined to participate in A Controversy of Poets or as I did Messerli’s Language Poetries?) But, again, that generosity thing appears to require that the editors give over their pages to poetry to the maximum degree possible. Ten extra pages might have meant cutting two poets & it’s very evident which side of that question Allegrezza & Bianchi are on.

In all, this is an exciting, eye opening & absolutely useful volume. Its faults, like those of the Allen anthology, have more to do with the limits of human beings and economics & how this book got here in this form than they do with anything that might be “wrong” with the result. One question I would be fascinated to have answered, for example, is whether the editors approached any larger press – the University of Chicago Press should die of envy for what Cracked Slab Books has accomplished in its own back yard, for example – that could have guaranteed a more ideal page count (say closer to 500 than 250). In other words, is this volume an act of diffidence and defiance or a further sign that Chicago continues to be the Rodney Dangerfield of writing scenes? In either case, this volume demonstrates just how completely the community has evolved in the three decades since 15 Chicago Poets.

 

¹ In addition to Bay Poetics and the numerous anthologies of the New York School, one regional collection that should have gotten much broader attention at the time it was published was Bill Mohr’s Poetry Loves Poetry, a 1985 gathering of the Los Angeles scene. Two other volumes worth noting are Bill Lavender’s Another South, and rob mclennan’s Decalogue: Ten Ottawa Poets. The strangest regional anthology would seem to be The Addison Street Anthology: Berkeley’s Poetry Walk, edited by Robert Hass and Jessica Fisher, which documents the plaques accorded to Berkeley poets in the city’s theater district. Like Hoover & Chernoff in The City Visible, I was included in this anthology in spite of having moved away several years before. On the other hand, I’m just down the block from Shakespeare, Ben Jonson & Bertie Brecht.

² The risk in this approach, it seems to me, is that it so broadens your possible roster of contributors that it quickly becomes almost meaningless. For example, David Melnick & Tom Mandel both attended the University of Chicago, Andrew Levy taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology for years, Tina Darragh & P. Inman went to library school in Illinois, Jim Liddy’s been practicing a poetics that is one part Jack Spicer, one part Paddy Kavanagh in Milwaukee for decades, Morgan Gibson was once the archetypal Milwaukee poet. Indiana (Eshleman, Hirschman, Fredman) & Michigan (Eshleman again, Wakoski, Watten, Harryman, George & Chris Tysh, Notambu, Pearson when he was there, even John Latta in Ann Arbor) all get left out of this mental map. I’m not suggesting, actually, that any of these poets need to be here – certainly not the way I would argue for Deanovich, Gartung or Sloan – but that the book’s methodology opens the door to such questions.

³ And just as invariably not mentioning Gwendolyn Brooks or, to employ this expanded geographic model, Lorine Niedecker.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

 

See you at the Zinc!

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