Saturday, June 30, 2007

 

Mary Ellen Solt,
a pioneer of vispo,
has died

§

Some translations Ms. Solt
might have approved of:

Ron Padgett of Francis Picabia

Sean Bonney’s Baudelaire

§

Literary bloggers
seen as a threat

§

Of UbuWeb the Magnificent,
an interview

§

A survey of British poetry
in the 1990s

§

Scream on!

§

Reviving
The Mersey Sound

§

A NY Times obit
for Nazik al-Malaika

§

Talking with
Ric Royer

§

The 2007 Bay Area
Poetry Marathon

day 2
is today

§

Some terrific readings coming up
at Moe’s Books, in
Berkeley:

Monday, July 2:
The Bootstrap Book of Poetic Journals

Monday, July 9:
Michael McClure & Diane DiPrima

Monday, July 23:
David Bromige & Richard Denner

§

Nanoethics

§

Ploughshares
has a blog

§

One press
that is doing very well,
thank you

§

Viewing Christa Wolf
from the right

§

A profile of
QuickMuse

§

Published is published!

§

Fact & fiction
in Günter Grass’
confessions

§

Problems of the midlist
black novelist

§

Language anxiety

§

Google & the news

§

Fiction vs. fiction
in the trial of
JT Leroy

§

Marine-Speak

§

Sir Salman
in the Sea of Blasphemy

§

Internationalizing graduate education
in
Europe
by teaching in English

§

The anti-God market

§

Found!

§

Talking with
Mario Vargas Llosa

§

Last-chance attempts
to save the Barnes

§

77 Million Paintings

§

The cost of “free admission

§

1,000 films to see
before you die

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

 

Jay Wright is not the sort of poet you would expect to see publishing with a post-avant house like Flood Editions. Although The Homecoming Singer was published by Corinth Press in 1971, Wright’s generally published with historically black presses or academic houses, such as Princeton, which issued a selected poems in 1987, or Louisiana State University, which published his collected poems, Transfigurations, in 2000. Too young to appear in the classic Arna Bontemps anthologies of black writing, Wright doesn’t show up at all in Nielsen & Ramey’s Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: An Anthology of Innovative Poetry by African Americans. Of the mentions he receives in Aldon Nielsen’s earlier Black Chant: Languages of African-American Postmodernism, only one is not as part of a list, and that consists of three sentences in a passage about Corinth Press informing us that Wright was raised in the Southwest and was the subject of a special issue of Callaloo in 1983. Yet Arnold Adoff’s anthology, The Poetry of Black America: Anthology of the 20th Century, affords Wright more pages than it does Audre Lord, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez or Michael Harper. Wright has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and, in 2005, received the Bollingen Prize, which has gone to Ashbery, Creeley & Pound, but more typically is given to the likes of Louise Glück, Anthony Hecht, John Hollander, W.S. Merwin or Richard Wilbur, representing the spectrum of American poetry from A to B. But if Jay Wright the poet isn’t usual fare for Flood Editions, publishers of Ron Johnson, Robert Duncan, Graham Foust & William Fuller, Music’s Mask and Measure certainly is.

The volume consists of five sequences, entitled “Equation One” through “Five,” each consisting of a number of short, formally consistent poems. If you saw them on the page without reading them, your first impression might be that they were the work of Flood author John Taggart. Readers familiar with the expansive first-person poetics of Wright may be surprised to read, complete on a single page:

This ordinary language finds
rhythm in ambiguous flame,
that stable density of one
and one, the urgent displacement
that nurtures light.

Save for the fact that Robert Creeley would never deploy four adjectives within five lines – just drop them and this really feels like his work – the poem here, and throughout this sequence, seems to call to mind the entire line of the short poem from Zukofsky forward. I hear Taggart, for example, in the name of the flower here:

Fall unveils the acute
aconitum, blue
light against the garden’s
edge. You might hear
a greenish bird in flight.

Here too there is a word choice – greenish – I can’t imagine Taggart making, even as I wonder what bird that possibly might be, anything from a mallard to a feral parrot. Does it change the poem to know that aconitum is poisonous?

There’s not as much narrative distance from one page to the next as there would be with Zukofsky, Creeley or Taggart – you could reasonably print these equations as poems in a journal, running the eleven stanzas of the first, for instant, onto two or three pages. But that approach would surrender the sharp focus on each stanza as a work-in-itself:

Silence structures a fragile
world; the little day
passes; darkness descends.
The expansive touch of prayer
makes love a random walk.

If what Wright wanted to accomplish was to demonstrate that he could have been a completely different poet & still have been a superb one, this book proves the point again & again. Yet I doubt actually if Wright was much interested in that at all. The five “equations” do ultimately tell a kind of story & the form very much reflects the content.

So maybe it’s the publishers of Flood who deserve the credit here, since this book is going to bring Wright to an audience that maybe hasn’t paid him much heed in a long time – that Corinth Press volume, after all, was 36 years ago. Wright absolutely stands up to the requirements of a poetry very different from his best known works, and we’re fortunate that they’re aimed right at readers who are going to respond deeply to these seemingly simple texts.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

 

The book machine

§

Poet Rahim al-Maliki
killed in Baghdad blast

§

Coming to Rushdie’s defense
in Pakistan

but not in The West

The New York Times
speaks up
in Rushdie’s defense
sorta

§

Two readings by Joe Ceravolo
(MP3s)

§

Rediscovering
Egbert Martin

§

Janine Pommy Vega –
not a delicate creature

§

Jack Spicer
reading
Language
(MP3)

§

Faculty Status at Antioch Campuses

Campus

Full-Time Tenured

Full-Time Tenure Track

Full-Time Non-Tenure Track

Part-Time

Antioch College

26

13

7

0

Los Angeles

0

0

18

5

McGregor (distance education)

0

0

27

57

New England

0

0

43

92

Santa Barbara

0

0

7

57

Seattle

0

0

36

79

Guess which campus is closing?

§

JT Leroy
is busted

§

Why so many archives
go to Austin

§

Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.
gets more attention
for having his
Nassau County
laureateship
nixed

§

Creeley & Stein’s translator
brings Scottish poetry
to
Brazil

§

What the collapse
of AMS/PGW
means to the large
independent publishers

§

Two readings by
John Godfrey
(MP3s)

§

A new poetry column
in the News & Observer
of
Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill, NC
tries to quiet down
all that
Lucipo-Desert City stuff

§

Philip Lopate
on
Lenny Michaels

§

The American Iliad

§

Poets picking poets
(plus a book
from a working-class hero
who just happens
to be married
to Dorianne Laux)

§

A U.S. obit
for
Nazek Al Malaika

§

Jessica Fischer,
Yale Younger Poet
& the latest
protégé
of Milosz & Hass

§

Concluding
online publication
of a book
on Oromo poetry

§

Home of the Hoosier Poet

§

Poems about
”byres, beds, bogs and bicycles,
weather, townlands,
candlesticks
and a council pump”

§

The Gioia of reading
on CNN

§

One of the stranger ideas
on how to fund poetry

§

Librarians vs. the FBI

§

Galway Kinnell
at 80

§

This poet is earning
an MD

§

David Harsent’s Selected Poems
dealt with
in under 200 words

§

My place was always
left-center, a little to the rear

§

Roberto Bolaño
as seen from the
U.K.

§

Being Shelley

§

Littlefoot:
a poem by Charles Wright

§

A prize for poetry
in Ireland

§

The Poetry Circle of the Air:
on Maxine Kumin

§

True poetry is always noble and moral

§

The letters of
A.E. Housman

§

Maja Ratkje
live in Paris

§

The ordinary reader

§

Fighting to save
internet radio

§

Summer o’ Love
redux

§

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

 

At first, the poems of Chris Tonelli remind you of the off-beat wit associated with the New York School:

Night Terror

I had a dream that
the train seemed
important in passing,
something charged.
And I felt as if I was
easily going to have
sex w/ somebody
on that train. But, as
usual, it was someone
on the train before.

But then the humor gets more aggressive, or perhaps transgressive, and reminds me at least more of some of the aspects of Actualism – the 1970s movement begot by Ted Berrigan in Iowa that mostly moved later to the Bay Area before sputtering out – with which I was less fond:

Think Outside the Box

Think inside the butthole.

The last word of this one-line poem pivots the last word of its title, which is its “move” aesthetically. But it also limits it, drastically. So it makes me wonder.

This in turn is followed by a work that tries way too hard for its effect:

The Over-Zealous Philanthropist or The Bullshit Air on the Other Side of Forgiveness

In the silence
after the fart, he
makes sure that
everyone is ok.

Which makes me think the author must be very young indeed.¹ But then there’s something extraordinary:

At a Theater Urinal

The electric eye must have known the movie
was strange and wonderful because it flushed

while I was standing right there. It was true.
No one was watching anymore. It said: Go,

tumble like a manuscript over the lawn.

So that this short volume, {Wide Tree} – the brackets are part of the title – just out from Kitchen Press, rescues itself, tho not completely. Then I see this Cambridge poet dedicate a poem to Bill Knott, the crown prince of bad judgment wedded to an otherwise razor mind, and I begin to wonder if Chris Tonelli isn’t, or wasn’t once, one of Knott’s students. Tonelli’s own profile on Blogger lists a group of favorite books that includes these poets (and in this order):

Wallace Stevens
John Ashbery (Self-Portrait)
Ted Hughes
Elizabeth Bishop
A.R. Ammons
Fernando Pessoa
Nicanor Parra
Alan Dugan
Denis Johnson
Franz Wright
William Bronk
Bill Knott
August Kleinzahler
Anne Carson

Except for the Ashbery, not a New York School poet in sight. And while you could reasonably call William Bronk & Auggie Kleinzahler post-avants, it’s probably more accurate to suggest that they really fall somewhere in the middle between the post-world & the School d’ Quietude (SoQ), not unlike Stevens or Bishop, who approach this middle ground from the other direction.

But it’s almost impossible for me to imagine the poet who could write “Think Outside the Box” reading & liking the inordinately grim, but ethically impeccable, Bronk. Or, for that matter, Franz Wright, whose poems are only funny in an Ed Wood sort of way, unintentionally. Ammons, Bishop & Dugan all strike me as among the very best SoQ poets of the past century – Dugan is especially under-appreciated. And he does use humor (usually of the gallows sort – Dugan might be the connecting point between some of these other poets & a writer like Bronk).

The most interesting of these choices, to my reading at least, is Ashbery, not only because Tonelli’s book virtually screams out its debt to Ted Berrigan & Ron Padgett & Dick Gallup & Darrell Gray (perhaps him most of all), all either NY School poets or, in Gray’s case, one heavily influenced thereby, albeit at one remove. It’s that Tonelli has chosen the very least “NY Schoolish” of all Ashbery’s books.

So here is my question, and it could apply to Knott as well as to Tonelli – why would a poet so thoroughly oriented toward a particular kind of poetry, specifically the New York School, not engage more directly & fully with that writing? What is it about either one of them that keeps their imaginations so thoroughly “on campus” when it could be far more unbounded in a different setting?

I’m not particularly saying that their approach is “wrong,” but I do find it baffling.

 

¹ His Blogger profile – not always the best source – says he’s 32.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

 

The use of names in jacket blurbs or, for that matter, as points of comparison anywhere is a process that needs to be handled with considerable delicacy if it is not to descend instantly into nonsense. In Dave Itzkoff piece on the new Library of America volume of Philip K. Dick novels in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review notes, Jonathan Lethem recently penned a piece on Dick that

tells us Dick is a bit like Dostoyevsky, a bit like Robert Altman, a bit like Bob Dylan.

The result, Itzkoff argues, is not unlike the famous scramble suit of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly,

all one sees is a shifting set of characteristics that add up to a vague blur.

But Lethem’s triangulation of the sci-fi master has the virtue of having at least put if not the “right,” at least reasonable¹ stakes in the ground. What happens when the names invoked are profoundly, even goofily, inappropriate?

This thought ran through my head as I gazed at the rear cover of Copper Canyon’s new volume poetry by Marvin Bell, Mars Being Red. The names invoked on the jacket are, in this order, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot & Allen Ginsberg. That is such a peculiar troika that it’s ultimately unfair to Bell, whose poetry may not be my favorite, but for whom one could certainly make an argument. Bell is, at least to my reading, a victim of his own book jacket at least to the degree that these names set up expectations on the part of unfamiliar or unsuspecting readers. There are lots of reasons one might want to read Bell, might want to read this book, would find this book utterly fascinating, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot or Allen Ginsberg, with the possible plausible exception that Ginsberg wrote passionately about the war in Vietnam & Bell here writes his most topical poetry ever, taking on Rumsfeld, Cheney & Bush. Yet one could say that Donald Justice, with whom Bell taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop early in his career, likewise wrote passionately about Vietnam, as did James Dickey & Robert Bly. The choice of Ginsberg in this context seems especially gratuitous.

And it’s not even the claim the jacket is making. The actual quote, from an unnamed author at Booklist reads as follows:

T.S. Eliot meets Allen Ginsberg . . . [Bell’s poetry] will fascinate those interested in seeing what language can sometimes do in the hands of an expert.

To suggest that Bell’s poetry is in any manner the aesthetic lovechild of Eliot & Ginsberg does a kind of violence to all three – and it reminds us that Booklist doesn’t get knowledgeable people to write about the books it covers – but it is Bell who is most deeply wronged here. Because it is what is unique about his poetry that seems to me to be exactly what is being paved over by such a crude analogy.

Eliot, after all, was the anointed one amongst large portions of the School of Quietude (SoQ) right at the moment when Bell emerged as a young poet & settled in at Iowa City for two solid generations before his recent retirement (he’s now teaching in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University in Oregon). Eliot was the poet raised to canonic heights by the New Critics, the point on which the older Fugitives and the younger Brahmins around Robert Lowell in Boston could all agree.

Iowa City was a major node on the New Critical map because René Wellek taught there between 1939 & ’46, tho he was originally greeted with open hostility by the old guard literary historians. Robert Penn Warren taught there for a semester in 1941. When John Berryman, one of the Brahmins, taught in the Workshop, his students included W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Robert Dana, Constance Urdang, Donald Finkel & Henri Coulette. And when Murray Krieger, who had studied with both Warren & Allen Tate & taught at Kenyon, was named M.F. Carpenter Chair in Literary Criticism at Iowa in 1963, it was the first named chair for that discipline in America.

Yet as that class list makes clear, the teacher does not predict the student. Robert Grenier was the student of Robert Lowell just as I am very much the student of Jack Gilbert. For all of the conscious inbreeding implicit in a program like the Iowa Writers Workshop picking alumni like Bell & Justice to lead it for the next generation, the Workshop was hardly the paradise of the old formalism & in fact functioned much more as a counterbalance to it within the broader spectrum of the School of Quietude.

This actually is what I think Booklist must be getting at with its inclusion of “Allen Ginsberg,” who was never anything but the antithesis of Quietude during his own lifetime. In fact, the Workshop proved much closer to the new free-verse aesthetic of “open,” “naked, or even “leaping” poetry that grew up around apostate SoQ institutions like the American Poetry Review & poets such as Phil Levine & Robert Bly. A much more appropriate name than Ginsberg here would have been Kenneth Rexroth, the god of the Copper Canyon aesthetic generally, and an importance source for many of the poets who opted out of the old formalism but didn’t buy into Bly’s crabbed version of internationalism as its alternative.

How Rexroth, the one-time anarcho-surrealist who was published early on by Zukofsky among the Objectivists & later functioned as a grumpy uncle to the Beats & other New American poets in San Francisco, gets to be adopted by this side of the School of Quietude & becomes, in fact, an important resource, is a long story worth some investigation. An awful lot of cultural revisionism can be traced back to this phenomenon, which would have surprised Rexroth were he alive today almost as much as the new diversity & liveliness in present-day Iowa City might have surprised Ginsberg.

Within all of this movement within the SoQ, Bell has always been a middle figure, fully capable of writing formally & yet comfortable with most of the tenets of the so-called Open poetry. Further, Bell has never been one of the dapper bards in suits comfortable with corporate boards & the like. In this sense, he’s the antithesis of the likes of Edward Hirsch, Dana Gioia & Robert Pinsky.

But to characterize this as T.S. Eliot meets Allen Ginsberg is plausible only in a world in which the readers aren’t going to recognize any poets less famous than those two.

The Whitman reference is even slipperier. If one takes Whitman’s primary literary legacy to be a rejection of the tradition of European closed verse forms, a preference for indeterminacy & the rejection of closure, none of that is true of Bell, who fits 61 poems into 81 pages here, using 12-point type. But the claim that’s being made isn’t finally about Whitman the poet. Quoting (again without naming the actual author) Harvard Review, the jacket says, in its entirety,

Bell has the largest heart since Walt Whitman.

That sounds like a diagnosis of congestive heart disease, but is really not much more than a claim that Bell is an empathetic, caring guy, not the sort of thing you’d write about either Jack Spicer or Robert Frost or Ezra Pound, not in fact a statement about writing at all.

These are the only names actually mentioned on the jacket of Mars Being Red. None really has anything to do with Marvin Bell. It might have been far mor powerful to write, for example, that Marvin Bell’s students have included . . . and listed some of the more successful of those poets, a list at least as powerful (and considerably longer) than Berryman’s. Or to have discussed his own actual context and influences. The remainder of the back cover text does not do much more than indicate that these are Bell’s most overtly political poems.

My question is: does this serve the poet? I can’t imagine that it does.

I’ve written before that I think that that the School of Quietude generally has a hard time discussing influences & forerunners, in part because it doesn’t do much to preserve their legacies. One doesn’t hear of, for example, Robert Hass & Galway Kinnell as representing a “School of John Logan,” although Logan manifestly was the most influential poet in the development of each. The result of which is that Logan has become a classic neglectorino.

In contrast, look at how post-avant poets continue the work, say, of a Spicer or a Frank O’Hara. O’Hara may have been dead for 41 years, but he has a new book out, Poems from the Tibor de Nagy Editions. Spicer is demonstrably more famous now than when he died and is about to have multiple new volumes of his poetry & correspondence out.

You will find few contemporary poets, if any, actively trying on the writing style of an Amy Lowell the way they do Gertrude Stein, tho the two women were born in the same year. Similarly, SoQ modernists like Conrad Aiken, Archibald MacLeish & Edna St. Vincent Millay don’t engage contemporary poets in quite the same way as Pound, Williams or Zukofsky. Why not? It would be easy enough to argue that, well, the Whitman - Dickinson - Pound - Williams - Zukfosky - Olson - Grenier - Goldsmith line of writing survives because it’s objectively better or more powerful or more formally innovative, but it’s obvious also that SoQ poets don’t believe that. Why then do they let their own heritage vanish into the mists of time?

The result is something like what we see on the back of Marvin Bell’s book. Names are invoked, but not meaningfully. It’s no help to the poet and no help to the reader.

 

¹ I might have chosen Roger Corman in lieu of Bob Altman.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

 

A very nice review
of
The Age of Huts


Obviously I owe
Andrew Ervin,
of whom I’d not heard before,
some serious thanks!

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