Saturday, July 28, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
Jessica Bozek & Eli Queen, cor▪re▪spon▪dence, dusi/e-chap kollektiv,
Ray Craig, inferred from. two identical distances, Otoliths,
John Crouse, Obstructs / Constitutes, Effing Press,
Gloria Frym, The Lost Sappho Poems, Effing Press,
Nada Gordon, Folly, Roof,
Dorothea Lasky, Awe, Wave Books,
C.J. Martin, City, Vigilance, no location given, 2007
Dale Smith, Black Stone, Effing Press,
Joe Wenderoth, No Real Light, Wave Books,
Thomas Fink & Joseph Lease, “Burning Interiors”: David Shapiro’s Poetry and Poetics, Farleigh Dickinson University Press,
Hot Whiskey Magazine, #3,
House Organ, no. 59,
Moonshine pamphlet series #1,
Peter Davis, Short Hand, Toward
Poems-For-All Mini-Books (2”x1.75”),
published by the
Ted Joans, The Truth
Richard Krech, Covert Intercept
Richard Krech, On the Fence
Ann Menebroker, Looking for War
Ko Un, Korean Zen Poems
Simon Pettet, kundalini serpent power in readiness, Farfalla Press/McMillan & Parish and the Bowery Poetry Club, artwork by George Schneeman
Labels: Recently Received
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Yesterday’s link list included both a defense of literary criticism in newspapers and a link to a New York Times review by James Longenbach of four new volumes of verse. That juxtaposition is worth thinking about a little more closely.
The defense is an extended version of a talk given by Lindsay Waters, an executive editor at Harvard University Press who sits on the board of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), where he is responsible for the press’ humanities texts. As one might anticipate from somebody in his position, his argument is reasoned, well-crafted, a pleasure to read. Waters makes a defense for criticism as such without sinking to the reactionary “gate keeper” mythology that a Hilton Kramer might use – that argument is simply that the masses won’t know what to think without being told how do so by the enlightened few, so that critics are all that protect us from such barbarians as Jack Kerouac or Ron Silliman. Waters, in sharp contrast, argues for the very best in criticism, that it is simply an intelligent person confronting new work for the first time & reporting honestly about same. Waters’ climax virtually requires orchestral crescendos to accompany his prose:
Criticism is Lester Bangs. It’s Frank Kermode, Elizabeth Bowen, Mary McCarthy, Thomas Merton, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Michael Dirda. It is Lorenzo Valla, and it oozes from crack in the pavement in the other HUP book I brought to show you today (beyond our brand-new Donation of Constantine – Howard Hampton’s Born in Flames: Termite Dreams, Dialectical Fairy Tales, and Pop Apocalypses (HUP, 2007). It’s lists, of course, it’s lists. It’s judgment upon judgment. It’s gut responses, and it’s argument. When we engage in the process of arguing about art, we devise new reasons, new ideas, new forms of thought. This is a central human activity, one that leads to the creation of new brain cells. Killing the book reviews is – a phrase I’ve used elsewhere –
I don’t think you have to love everybody on that list – I’m not fond of either Kermode or Dirda – to understand that Waters really wants you to connect to critical thinking at its best as his justification for its preservation.
And I think he’s right, at least partly, when he claims that newspapers killing off their review sections constitutes a “fad” among tabloid executives trying very hard to save their publications in an emerging post-print universe. The great irony, as I see it, is that publishers – it’s seldom the editors – who slash their review sections are being penny wise & pound foolish at a moment in history when that constitutes suicidal behavior. Their rationale is that the review sections no longer are profitable per se because fewer ads are bringing in revenue. That in turn has a lot to do with consolidation among the major trade publishers and the decline of independent booksellers. But immediate ad revenue is only one facet of the contribution a review section makes to a daily paper – driving sustainable readership is even more important.
Regardless of how good or bad a particular review section might be – and some of them, like that of the San Francisco Chronicle, are almost shockingly bad – reviews are a phenomenon directed at a particular fraction of the newspaper audience: serious readers. Driving off that portion of your audience that is most committed to writing in print format would seem to be openly self-destructive behavior. If newspapers actually think that they can generate loyalty and circulation amongst, say, the fans of Lindsay Lohan by focusing more attention on celebrity DUIs than they can get by actually reaching out to readers who already have a commitment to print formats, well, do I even have to finish this sentence? It’s like trying to lose weight by cutting open an artery – it sorta works, but the collateral damage is severe. What this trend really shows is that publishers don’t understand their product or their audience.
But poets getting all exercised about the demise of review sections is a little like poets getting all hot & bothered about the collapse of independent bookstores that carry almost no poetry & keep it hidden in the far back corner somewhere. This is where the Times review seems all too typical. Longenbach reviews four books, two by Houghton Mifflin, one by Norton and one by Margie/Intuit House. Three of the authors are issuing their first books, with only Josephine Dickinson, a widow who still works a farm in the north of
The more interesting ringer here is Troy Jollimore, the one poet reviewed with a book from a small press, but having won the National Book Critics Circle award. Jollimore has been pretty straightforward in interviews in characterizing Tom Thompson in Purgatory as imitation John Berryman, so the real question isn’t why a young poet might take on such a project, but rather what might possess Mr. Waters’ organization to give their annual prize to something that is so obviously “smart student work” when dozens of major books were published last year. The very best I can come up with is that the form is recognizable, at least to a body whose typical member appears to be 50 years out of date on contemporary poetry. Or seventy.
Josephson’s book, which is a compilation of two of her British volumes, seems to me a reasonable project for a publisher like Houghton Mifflin. But Bellows & Donovan demonstrate very clearly that trade presses do not represent a higher quality of writing, but rather are just another small press scene, one with better distribution and advertising budgets. Does it make any sense that their books should get more attention, say, than a Troy Jollimore? No, but if the NBCC hadn’t awarded him its prize that is exactly what would be happening. And there were hundreds of better books published by small presses last year, by Quietists & post-avants alike.
It’s in this sense that the New York Times is hardly better than the independent bookstore whose poetry section, all two shelves of it, stretches all the way from Yeats to Rilke, maybe with a little Rumi & Billy Collins tossed in. And the Times is almost certainly the best daily in
Andrew Keen is getting a lot of play these days for his book, The Cult of the Amateur, which argues that the web has opened the floodgates to “non-professional” critics who will run their various fields of inquiry into the ground because they lack the “standards” & discipline of, say, NYTBR or The New Criterion. My own sense is that Keen is 100 percent wrong. Critical sites have grown on the web precisely because the institutional critical apparatus in this country is so sclerotic & inept. This is true of not just of newspapers, but of many academic journals as well. Nothing breeds mediocrity faster than the “consensus building” process of any refereed journal. I may not agree with the likes and dislikes of SoQ bloggers like C. Dale Young or Joseph Duemer, but there is no question that their blogs have far more integrity as critical sites than, say, The New York Times or the NBCC in general. And I trust readers to be able to discern the difference. Which I think is just what Mr. Keen fears most.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
“I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut"
A day in the life of
to Battery Park
Acrostics for Bush
A Nigerian poet
And a profile of
What’s a book
or don’t we?”
Before there was flarf…...
A review of
School of Quietude
by the elements
the passing of
Mary Ellen Solt
of newspaper reviewers
A kiss is just a kiss,
The art collector
a fascist coup
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
When, in editing the first volume of Poet’s Bookshelf, Peter Davis got some 81 poets to respond to his request for a list of
5-10 books that have been most “essential” to you, as a poet
and asked his respondents further to “Please write some comments about your list,” he got an awesomely, if predictably, wide range of reactions. At one extreme were minimalist responses, such as J.D. McClatchy’s list of three:
Virgil, The Aeneid
The American Heritage Dictionary
followed by a five-paragraph essay that begins “The Aeneid is undoubtedly the greatest poem ever written….” Only two other contributors mention Virgil on their lists at all. Clark Coolidge tries the opposite approach to minimalism, citing 16 books, twelve of whose authors were in Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry and the other four (William Carlos Williams, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Joe Ceravolo) of whom would have been included in the Allen had they only been a little older or a little younger. Coolidge is marvelously specific as to which publication proved “essential,” noting that the version of Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight he has in mind is the selection of “the first 49 sections as printed in Big Table magazine, no. 1, 1959.” Coolidge is the only contributor to the first volume of
I was given a copy of Ray’s typescript by Buell Neidlinger, Cecil Taylor’s bass player in the fifties, in 1961.
But Coolidge’s entire discussion beyond the specificity of his list is extremely brief:
The publication dates are, unless otherwise indicated, also the years of first possession.
I do not intend this list as any sort of “canon.” This is the contemporary American poetry that most excited me as I began to seriously attempt the art.
As essays go, this is twice the length of Elizabeth Spires’ contribution:
These are authors and books that I greatly admire, and that I have been influenced by, but that seem to me “overlooked.”
Her list contains seven poets, including Josephine Jacobsen, A. R. Ammons, John Berryman, Elizabeth Coatsworth, May Swenson, William Meredith and Gwen Harwood. Considering that I have never even heard of two of her choices, I wish she’d expanded somewhat on what it is about them that makes them, for her, special.
Some contributions are eye opening. Thom Gunn lists no
William Carlos Williams
Basil Bunting, Briggflatts and Other Poems
Another poet who for all purposes chooses no
Here is Fanny Howe’s contribution, in its entirety:
Years ago Edward Dahlberg gave me a list of ten book that I was allowed to read, all the rest being trash. Some of the trash included Melville, the Brontës, Thomas Hardy, Dickinson, Yeats, Rilke and Joyce. These writers have populated my bookshelves for decades. Dahlberg would have been repelled by anthologies that I own: Jerome Rothenberg’s
At the other extreme, Clayton Eshleman lists “Nine Fire Sources,” just four of which are books of poems. The others include “Tea for Two” by Bud Powell, Origin magazine, the paintings of Chaϊm Soutine, Wilhelm Reich’s The Function of the Orgasm and Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World. Eshleman then writes twelve pages of commentary on these nine sources, making his contribution something akin to The Education of Clayton Eshleman. Tho his choices won’t be surprising to any of his readers, his discussion is the most detailed in the volume & thereby the most illuminating.
Barrett Watten’s draft of a response for a future edition of Poet’s Bookshelf on his website at
With the exception of a category Watten labels “Great Books” (four pre-20th century authors, plus the German novelists Alfred Döblin & W. G. Sebald) which Watten posits last, literally on the far side of theory, film and the visual arts, his literary selections are grouped together in six clusters at the start of his piece:
The modernists are predictable precisely because disputes over that generation, at least with regards to English language literature, appear to have been settled once Stein – who was almost entirely ignored in the 1950s & ‘60s – was returned to a central role: Joyce, Woolf, Stein, Pound, Williams, McKay, with the text selected from this group being Spring & All. That book was one of two by Williams on my own list of 12 in the first volume of this series¹ so this makes complete sense to me. My own list for this category would see Faulkner in place of Woolf or McKay, and possibly Hart Crane as well. But my real sense is that the deeper question here is the exclusivity of Watten’s focus on English-language modernism. I would almost certainly include Vladimir Maykofsky & Velimir Khlebnikov. I know there are people who would argue for Stevens or even Eliot, but I’d have to put Woolf & McKay back in, as well as a host of other writers (Brecht, Riding, Hughes, Hikmet, Cavafy, Borges, Kafka), before I’d get to Stevens. The list is a whole lot longer before I would reach Eliot.
The structure of Watten’s next five categories is worth thinking about, because it begins with one grouping, the postmoderns, who basically represent the Objectivists plus every kind of New American Poetry (NAP) other than the
Watten’s own Other, his “postmoderns,” turns out to be the three horsemen of the Projectivist movement – Olson, Duncan & Creeley – plus sort of one each of the other non-NY schools: Zukofsky (Objectivism), Ginsberg (Beat) & Joanne Kyger (both Spicer & the Zen Cowboy clusters). The book he highlights as key here is Creeley’s Pieces, also one of the twelves volumes I had on my list in the first volume. Watten gets the
Ashbery shows up again in one of the three groupings that tend to be more contemporary, one of two authors to turn up in two clusters, the other being Clark Coolidge (who also is included under “new music/jazz” for his collection Sound as Thought). Both Coolidge & Ashbery turn up in the Proto Language. The whole concept of proto language – the idea, as I understand it, of writing that “arrived at” language poetry without necessarily meaning to get there, which includes The Tennis Court Oath, Coolidge’s The Maintains, Larry Eigner’s Another Time in Fragments, Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal, Robert Grenier’s Sentences and Rae Armantrout’s first book, Extremities – is interesting to contemplate. It certainly is the case that there are a number of people – Michael Palmer, Bernadette Mayer, Jackson Mac Low, Ted Greenwald, as well as the ones Watten lists – who either have been uncomfortable with any association with langpo, so-called, or whom others have felt were “roped in” just to lend the phenomenon some legitimacy. But just as, in the 1950s, Denise Levertov had virtually nothing in common with the “Beat” writers so many of the New American Poets initially were typed as, any literary movement, if it has any force, any serious social as well as aesthetic meaning, tends to incorporate any number of such “border cases.” Is John Clellon Holmes a Beat novelist? F. T. Prince a “
So I like the concept of Proto Language, simply because it acknowledges the complexity of categories per se, tho I don’t draw the Venn diagrams of poetry in the same way as Barrett – I don’t see anything “proto” about Armantrout, Grenier or Weiner, tho I could probably be persuaded about it with regards to Coolidge, and the likes of a Palmer or Mayer strike me as a no-brainer for this category. I’m persuaded, for example, that a purely formal definition of language writing, or for that matter any literary tendency, is both ahistorical as well as apolitical. That is why, for example, Rae Armantrout strikes me as a canonic example of language writing, whereas Peter Ganick & Sheila Murphy seem entirely outside the phenomenon. It’s not a question of the value of the writing any of the three, only one of historical & social context – and not being a New Critic, I do think those enter in.
But a second question might be if one were to break contemporary poetry into just three possible tendencies to list as “most formative,” are these the ones you would pick? I realize, of course, that Watten wasn’t asked to account for the whole of poetry, only what was personally important to/for him. There’s no need for him to identify his “most influential
But I would also have to add another category for more or less contemporary foreign writing in translation. For me, that is a list that would begin with Francis Ponge (maybe even St.-John Perse & Victor Segalen), would include Ivan Zhdanov, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Alexei Parschikov & Nina Iskrenko. This would need to be paired with English-language poetry from outside the
And while I like Watten’s concept here of the hybrid text – I can see how that makes sense for Barry and his own writing – I think my own experience would be to divide that idean into one category for poet’s fiction, starting with Kerouac’s Visions of Cody and This Railroad Earth, lots of Fielding Dawson, as well as Acker, Sorrentino, Leslie Dick, Nicole Brossard, while putting the likes of Harryman & Benson back into langpo proper.
A lot of this has to do with mental maps &, as always, that is a concept that turns me back to the questionnaire Jack Spicer used for entrance into his Magic Workshop at the San Francisco Public Library fifty years ago, where he asked respondents to pick one of two templates for a map of literary influences – one vaguely genealogical, the other looking like clusters of galaxies in the night sky. Pick one and fill it in with names. My own doesn’t look like anything Spicer might have recognized, but it’s also interesting to see how different the map is from somebody of my own generation & cohort like Watten. Both Watten & Spicer, it is worth noting, made my own list of 12 books.
¹ The other being The Desert Music, the volume that literally was my introduction to the pleasures of contemporary poetry.
² This isn’t the breakdown according to Donald Allen, but what really existed.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Peter Davis must be in the process of gathering together a second volume of his anthology, Poet’s Bookshelf, collecting the lists of a new set of writers as to the ten or so books that most were or are “most ‘essential’ to you, as a poet,” since Barrett Watten, not one of the 81 contributors in the first volume, has been asked to prepare a similar list. Barry has responded with great gusto & offers a list not just of ten books, but rather a 15 or 16 works in twelve different categories that proved “most formative” for him. Even the categories chosen deserve a look-see:
New York School
For each of these categories, Watten offers a half dozen or so key works, highlighting one or two in boldface that are the ones he would ultimately list – “had these works not existed, all would be otherwise,” he writes.¹
I certainly understand the impulse to expand beyond just a blank list of individual volumes of poetry. My own selection in volume one contained 12 items², just six of which were individual volumes of verse in any usual sense. One was a volume, Spring & All, that contains both poetry & critical writing – it is in fact Watten’s selection under Modernists. Another was the Allen anthology. A third was a “box” of poems, rather than a book, Robert Grenier’s Sentences. (Watten lists it as one of his alternates under “Proto Language.”) One was a novel – Kathy Acker’s The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula (Watten lists a different Acker novel as an alternate under his “Hybrid Texts” category). One was a book of theory by a poet – Charles Olson’s Proprioception – and one a book of political theory – Henri Lefebvre’s Dialectical Materialism from the old Cape/Grossman series that included such classics as Olson’s Mayan Letters and Louis Zukofsky’s “A” 22 and 23 (one of my six “regular books” of poetry).
Watten carries this contextualizing impulse much further than I did. Where I listed one volume by Olson that could be called theory (Proprioception), another by Lefebvre, two of Watten’s twelve categories are theoretical, containing a total of 14 books, none of them by poets unless you count Roman Jakobson’s flirtation with the craft during his days as a student in Russia. I have to admit that Jakobson’s Six Lectures on Sound and Meaning as well as Victor Shklovsky’s Third Factory would be on any expanded list of literary theory texts I chose as well, tho I’m surprised, I guess, not to see Roland Barthes’ Writing Degree Zero, anything by Olson or Creeley’s A Quick Graph. In fact, my personal list might well include Watten’s own The Constructivist Moment, Bob Perelman’s anthology of talks that appeared as a double issue of Hills, Perelman’s The Marginalization of Poetry or Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era, an instance of biography of critique that is one of the great books in its own right.
What Watten calls Cultural Theory I would be more inclined to characterize as social or even political theory. And while I like all of the books Watten lists, I don’t think any of them would be on my own personal roster – this is probably the one area where we have the least overlap (as in “none” tho I don’t actually believe that our thinking is that far apart). For one thing, I couldn’t imagine the category, at least as category, not only without Lefebvre, but without Marx, for whom I would have picked several items from among The Eighteenth Brumaire, The German Ideology, The Communist Manifesto, the first volume of Capital and possibly even the Grundrisse. I certainly would have had Illuminations by Walter Benjamin, the book that made him a cult figure in the
Another category that is interesting to think about is New Music/Jazz, for which Watten lists both recordings (Anthiel, Webern, Braxton, Cage, James Brown, Steve Reich, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy) and books (by Clark Coolidge & Ted Pearson). Here we have some interesting overlap – I would almost certainly include Braxton’s For Alto and Steve Reich’s Drumming – Barry & I heard the West Coast premier of the work at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum together in 1974 (and it was formative enough for me that I began writing Ketjak within a fortnight). But I might include Reich’s earlier tape works as well, along with some work by the ROVA Saxophone Quartet (including the “unrecordable” performance piece The Hive), some different Lacy (Sidelines with Michael Smith on piano), and just maybe some folk and blues music, The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and The Band, Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde on Blonde by Dylan, the recordings of Robert Johnson, Drum Hat Buddha by Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer and the jug band blues of Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachel & Hammie Nixon. There were also some live jam sessions at Pangaea on Bernal Heights in San Francisco involving members of ROVA, John Grundfest, Greg Goodman, Henry Kaiser & others that proved formative, for me at least (ensconced as I was on the bleacher seating there, writing rapidly into a notebook) tho nobody thought to have a tape running. Another obvious piece for me would be an item of ersatz world music, the Balinese oral piece called Ketjak, which was cobbled together by Colin McPhee for the sake of tourists from pre-existing Balinese sources.
Like music, film is a category where I would expect any writer to select on deeply personal grounds whatever works might be thought of as “most formative” in the creation of an aesthetic. I’m fascinated at the idea that Barry picks Wojcieck Has’s Saragossa Manuscript just because it also is one of my favorite films of all time as well, and I didn’t realize that we shared that opinion. It’s not the “most important” or “best” film ever made, but it had a powerful impact on me when it made the rounds – with some regularity – at the Cedar Alley Cinema in
I’ll look more closely at Barry’s more purely literary choices next.
¹ Full disclosure: Ketjak and Tjanting are the works so chosen in boldface for language writing.
² Full disclosure (part 2): my selection included a volume of Watten’s: Plasma / Paralleles / “X”.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
from Susan Howe’s
(includes shows with
F.T. Prince, Charles Reznikoff,
Bernadette Mayer, Barbara Guest)
on NPR’s Fresh Air
What David Bromige
have in common
in © hell
The Chelsea Hotel
60 years ago
Tracing Kerouac’s path
The last words
of Kurt Vonnegut
two anthologies, one book
A pox on Harry Potter,
he wrote furiously
& the psychology of
the “realist novel”
of Harry Potter
Forward short list
How many editors
would even recognize
the work of
& the American way
And an attempt
at “Radical Language”
Three of the five poets
in this anthology
of new Maltese poetry
A web page for the book
with links to sound files
of cowboy poets
Graphic Arts Monthly
looks at the scroll
of war & terror
Photography & truth
until he discovers
The Barnes way