Saturday, September 08, 2007

 

A history of lighght

§

Taking
The Grand Piano
literally

§

William Gibson:
countering the antibuzz

Node:
website for
a non-existent journal

§

Creative writing
& surveillance
after Virginia Tech

§

A sober assessment
of the “crisis
in newspaper book reviews

Plus
Morris Dickstein
on
the future of criticism

§

A State Department history
of American poetry,
from the problematic
to the completely whack!

§

A wonderful review
of Reed Whittemore’s
memoirs

§

Simon DeDeo
on the
practicalities of blogging
(on not all of which
I agree)

§

Talking with
(and reading)
Ryan Eckes

§

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
on
Democracy Now!

§

An obit for
Mary Rising Higgins

§

This week’s
New Thing

§

Even tho he was a right winger,
Kerouac drives The New Criterion crazy!

Plus a libertarian
for Kerouac
(note what other book
has its 50th anniversary
this year)

§

Who owns the rights
to
Beckett & Ionesco?

§

James Laughlin
&
Brendan Gill
in conversation

§

V.S. Naipul
on
Derek Walcott

§

Whitman’s novel

§

Just saying no

§

Auden’s lost poems

§

There’s going to be
a conference on
Thomas Merton

§

More on
Mrs. Shakespeare

§

Serializing your novel
on Facebook

§

Library tourism

§

Talking with
Ornette Coleman

§

Minimalism
to the max!

§

Damien Hirst’s
cash register
goes bling!

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Friday, September 07, 2007

 

Recently Received

 

Books (Poetry)

Angela Ball, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh 2007

Gary Barwin & derek beaulieu, frogments from the frag pool: haiku after bashō, The Mercury Press, Toronto, 2005

Jack Collom, In the Wind: Busking Poetry on the Downtown Boulder Mall, Summer 2006, Baksún Books, Boulder 2007

Brenda Coultas, The Marvelous Bones of Time: Excavations and Explanations, Coffee House Press, Minneapolis 2007

Thomas Devaney, A Series of Small Boxes, Fish Drum, New York 2007

Jim Harrison, Letters to Yesenin, Copper Canyon, Port Townsend, WA 2007

Pura López-Colomé, Aurora, translated by Jason Stumpf, Shearsman, Exeter, U.K., 2007

Helen Losse, Paper Snowflakes, Southern Hum Press, Lafayette, LA 2006

Justin Marks, [Summer    Insular], Horse Less Press, Providence 2007

Garry Thomas Morse, Transversals for Orpheus & The Untitled 1-13, Line Books, Burnaby, BC, 2006

Michael Nicoloff, Punks, Taxt, Oakland 2007

Ron Padgett, How to be Perfect, Coffee House Press, Minneapolis 2007

President of the United Hearts, The Big Melt, Factory School, no location given, 2007

Martha Ronk, Vertigo, Coffee House Press, Minneapolis 2007

John Sakkis, The Moveable Ones, Transmission Press, San Francisco 2007

Mathias Svalina, Why I am White, Kitchen Press, New York 2007

Andrew Schelling, Caribou & Others, Track & Field, Bainbridge Island, WA, 2006

Morgan Lucas Schuldt, Otherhow, Kitchen Press, New York 2007

Laura Solomon, Blue and Red Things, Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2007

Catherine Wagner, Everyone in the Room is a Representative of the World at Large, Bonfire Press, Fort Collins, CO 2007

Barrett Watten, Plasma / Parallèles / «X», translated by Martin Richet, Le Quartanier, Montréal 2007

 

 

Books (Anthology)

The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry, edited by Andrew Schelling, Wisdom, Boston 2007. Includes Will Alexander, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Diane Di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Norman Fischer, Sam Hamill, Jane Hirschfield, Lawson Fusao Inada, Robert Kelly, Joanne Kyger, Michael McClure, Harryette Mullen, Hoa Nguyen, Shin Yu Pai, Pat Reed, Janet Rodney, Leslie Scalapino, Gary Snyder, Arthur Sze, Nathaniel Tarn, Cecilia Vicuña, Philip Whalen, more.

 

Books (Other)

Stephen Burt, The Forms of Youth: 20th-Century Poetry and Adolescence, Columbia University Press, New York 2007

C.T. Funkhouser, Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995, The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa 2007

Jack Kerouac, On the Road: The Original Scroll, Viking, New York 2007

Jack Kerouac, Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, Penguin, New York 2007

Jennifer Moxley, The Middle Room, Subpress, Berkeley, 2007

Charles Potts, Valga Krusa, A Memoir of Berkeley, Vol. 1, The Yellow Christ, Green Panda Press, Cleveland Heights, OH 2007

Charles Potts, Valga Krusa, A Memoir of Berkeley, Vol. 2, Laffing Water, Green Panda Press, Cleveland Heights, OH 2007

Selah Saterstrom, The Meat and Spirit Plan, Coffee House Press, Minneapolis 2007

Viktor Shklovsky, Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot, Dalkey Archive, Champaign, IL 2007

Christian Wiman, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet, Copper Canyon, Port Townsend, WA 2007

 

Journals

MiPoesias, Vol. 21, No. 4, September 2007, Bloomington, IL. Includes interview with Franz Wright, poetry by Campbell McGrath, Keith & Rosmarie Waldrop, Betsy Wheeler, Cynthia Sailers, review of Annie Finch, more.

The New Review of Literature, Vol. 5, No. 1, Fall 2007, Los Angeles, 2007. Includes Rae Armantrout, Norma Cole, Ray DiPalma, Noah Eli Gordon, Anselm Hollo, Michael Joyce, William Mohr, Simon Perchik, Dennis Phillips, Stephen Ratcliffe, Susan M. Schultz, more.

The Tiny no. 3, Brooklyn, 2007. Includes Ellen Baxt, Edmund Berrigan, Peter Gizzi, Scott Glassman, Eryn Green, Anthony Hawley, Brenda Iijima, Rodney Koeneke, Michael Koshkin, Jill Magi, Joseph Massey, Ange Mlinko, Nick Piombino, Logan Ryan Smith, Maggie Smith, Derek White, more.

 

 

All items received since August 21

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

 

     

The Grand Piano
website
is live!

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

 

Kerouac –
It was the sentences

Where
On the Road
was written

The Guardian
is doing a week of articles
on Kerouac

& The L.A. Times
has several articles

On the Road
in Lowell

Of stamps
&
high-school textbooks

& the attention of
Newsweek

The Jack Kerouac Quiz

AbeBook.Com’s
Kerouac feature

The Beat Museum’s
new collections page

§

A big birthday bash
for
John Ashbery

John Ashbery
at home

The Boston Globe
on Ashbery & MTV

Slate
on
how to read
John Ashbery

§

Talking with
Roberto Harrison

§

Samuel R. Delany’s
Dark Reflections

§

John Timpane
on
Eshleman’s Vallejo

§

The London Review of Books
on
Roberto Bolaño

§

Socialism & print

§

The poet as specialist

§

Publishing poetry
in India

§

Finding Charles Simic
in
L.A.

Plus a profile
of the new laureate

§

Inventing Shakespeare

§

HumPo
Jamaica-style

§

A room of one’s own,
Bush style

§

Nazim Hikmet
wrote half his poems
in jail

§

The prison poet
of Malawi

§

The legend of
Alexander Penn

§

Poet of the Underworld,
Mumbai chapter

§

Talking with
Chuck Stebelton

§

The writer as recluse

§

Jay Parini
reading
Margaret Atwood

§

Slaying the
Dylan is a poet
claim
one more time

§

Gutting libraries
in the
U.K.

§

Talking with
Christian Wiman

§

How Dante
got to
Britain

§

Celebrating
Christopher Okigbo

§

Make room
for Rumi

§

This week’s
death-of-a-bookstore piece:
Eugene, Oregon

while another bookstore
opens in
Lawrence, Kansas

§

Online broadsides

§

A profile of
Don “CookieCollup

§

Poetry in emotion

§

Plathiana

§

The Clive James phenomenon

From Auden
to Alison Croggon

(with more Clive James)

§

Bombast
with David Kirby

§

Breadloaf admin
wins
Rona Jaffe Prize

§

The sage of Ummah

§

Of Hill & Thwaite

§

A profile of
Charles Wright

§

Bringing Attar
to
Australia

§

Remembering
Norman MacCaig

§

Frieda Hughes
on
Simon Armitage

§

A profile of
James Wood

§

The “Artful” Edit

§

Why I am not an editor

§

Do publishers matter?

§

The lives of
Rem Koolhaas

§

The Words Project

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

 

Is there any dynamic in the construction of meaning more powerful than the parsimony principle? The principle, which is derived from the linguistics work of Paul Kay, states that the reader, viewer, listener, consumer will – or perhaps should – incorporate the fewest extraneous details needed for the creation of coherence. It does this by presuming, to use the formula I first employed in a discussion of Joe Ceravolo & Rae Armantrout in my book The New Sentence, that

whenever it is possible to integrate two separate schema into a single larger frame-structure by imagining them as sharing a common participant the reader will do so. (ital. in the original)

The example I give in that book is of a section of Armantrout’s poem “Grace”:

a spring there
where his entry must be made

signals him on

Whenever I’ve asked students to “tell me what this means,” whether at San Francisco State in 1981 or at Naropa as recently as last summer, I’ve been offered a variety of narratives – I mention three in the book that were given at SF State, two of which I’ve come across repeatedly over the years, one being the idea of a diver in that instant leaving the board before the arc & splash of the event, the other that of the “step into character” that comes over an actor or actress as they make their entrance from backstage. Never in 26 years has a student offered the narrative Armantrout herself gave me when asked, that of vaginal lubrication.

But this doesn’t make any of these narrative scaffolds wrong. All three, in fact, line up the key terms in this passage into roughly the same configuration, tho Armantrout’s own version is the most intimate. New Criticism, wild child of 1930s academia, insisted on something akin to a Lou Dobbs approach to the parsimony principle – Brooks, Wellek, Warren, Tate, Ransom, Jarrell et al hoped to build a border wall around the text that would keep all of those migrant nuances on the far side. They had about as much success as Dobbs is going to have with his wall against undocumented Latin American workers.

Thus by the 1950s poets were already playing with the possibilities of just this dimension of reading: Creeley’s famousI Know a Man” derives much of its power from precisely the fact that the reader situates the key verb, drive, into two possible contexts, one in which the word belongs to the narrator, the other in which the word belongs to John “which was not his / name.” Creeley himself said that the former was his original intent, but even he had to acknowledge that readers everywhere could hear both. The ambiguity in the term drive ties right back into the two narrative figures of compulsivity – “because I am / always talking” and this journey through the dark, which somehow is not now occurring in the necessary “goddamn big car” – rendering this a text about primal need in an existential universe, one hell of a lot to get into just 12 lines.

I saw a really interesting use of the parsimony principle while I was vacationing in a recent film by Jim Jarmusch, Broken Flowers. In the narrative, retired computer exec Don Johnston (played by Bill Murray doing his best Buster Keaton impression) has his live-in girlfriend (Julie Delpy) walk out on him just as he receives an unsigned letter from a prior one informing him that he has a teenage son who may be on a road trip trying to find him. Thanks to the machinations of his next door neighbor (Jeffrey Wright), an amateur sleuth, Murray heads off to check on the five women with whom he was involved during that general time frame, searching for clues as to which one wrote the note, typed on pink stationery. The movie thus turns into a Don Juan’s meditation on the meaning of relationships. The first (Sharon Stone) is the widow of a racing driver with an oversexed teenage daughter named Lolita, the second (Frances Conroy, the mother Ruth Fisher from Six Feet Under) the wife and partner of a real estate developer, the third (Jessica Lange) an animal communicator who may be romantically involved with her secretary (Chloë Sevigny), and the fourth (Tilda Swinton) living rurally on a farm with what appears to be a biker gang. All make conspicuous use of pink – Swinton has a pink typewriter, no less, lying in the grass – as does departing current girlfriend Delpy (who also seems to know more about the note than she ought). None ever admits to being the author of the note – in part because Murray never asks directly – or to being the mother of his child, but in each case the language used is exceptionally legalistic. The real estate developer says that she didn’t think she could have been a good mother to her husband’s children, but never says whether she ever had any other children.

That Jarmusch knows he is doing this, and wants you to pay attention as well, is underscored by the use of names in the film. Everyone Don Johnston meets thinks it’s funny that he has the same name as the star of Nash Bridges and Miami Vice. Except, of course, he doesn’t – his surname has a t, as he continually points out. Similarly, neither Sharon Stone nor her daughter (played by Alexis Dziena) have ever read Nabokov & think nothing of the fact that the daughter is named Lolita, even as the 16-year-old parades in the buff in front of Johnston, talking on two cell phones simultaneously. There are two characters in the film named Winston & a florist who patches up Bill Murray’s black eye is named Sun Green (Murray’s character comments that her name is “perfect”).

The scene on the biker farm is where the use of the parsimony principle reared up for me. Murray asks Swinton, who is the least pleased of the four to see him, if she had borne his child. She responds with the F word & runs inside the farm house, while two of her compadres rush over to grab Murray. One runs inside to see what is wrong, then returns to tell Murray that he was being exceptionally rude, punctuating the manners lesson with a blow to the eye. What is the meaning of this scene? Why did Swinton turn & run? There is no answer to this that I can see other than what a viewer brings to the scene (e.g., Swinton had wanted a child but had had an abortion because Murray made her do so, and has been bitter about this ever since). There’s no evidence for any interpretation whatsoever, but the viewer who wants (needs?) to interpret feels compelled to look for a rationale.

I’m not going to tell you how Jarmusch resolves this conundrum, or even if he does, but one detail that I picked up during the DVD’s extras that fit right in – besides Jarmusch’s claim that he’s not responsible for the meaning of his films, that’s the audience’s job – is the fact that Jarmusch had each of his major women characters, in rehearsal, write the original pink note, in character, to Murray, and then combined elements from all of them in the final version. Which is to say that every key actress was led to believe that she was the mother & thus played her scenes with this back story somewhere in her head. Never were the silences between characters so pregnant.

A second film that I saw just last night at the local art house in Phoenixville – the same theater that appears in the cinema scene of The Blob – is John Carney’s Irish indie musical Once, starring Glen Hansard, the lead singer of The Flames, and Markéta Irglová. Personally, I abhor musicals & am not a big fan of the sweet little romance genre either, but this film is an almost perfect argument for what can be done with these. It won an award this year at Sundance & totally deserved it. While it doesn’t have any of the meta-narrative shenanigans that Jarmusch loves, Once does make superb use of the parsimony principle in how it lets out details about the girl’s life over the course of the film. Who she is and what is possible between the two main characters transforms dramatically over the length of this film (just 96 minutes) – if we knew everything we understand at the end at the very beginning, there would be almost no dramatic tension, so the elaboration of details about her is every bit as much the narrative of this story as is the tale of two kids, the busker & the maid, and how they got together & made a demo disk of their music.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

 

John Ashbery,
poet laureate of MTV

§

Blogging
and book promotion

§

Kerouac, the author
vs.
Kerouac, the hype

§

Robert Pinsky
ad Hoch

§

Woody Guthrie’s
new music

§

A memoir
of gay lit
in the Village

§

While I was away,
both Grace Paley
&
Mary Rising Higgins
passed away

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

 


America’s first poet laureate, Joseph Auslander

It’s worth thinking about this, five years later:

I have never thought of myself as an experimental writer, but this project is clearly a step into un- (or at least under-)charted territory. My idea is to write briefly from time to time mostly about my writing and whatever I might be thinking about poetry at the moment. Other subjects (music, politics, etc.) may enter in, as they do in life.

Blogs have been around for awhile now, but to date I haven't seen a genuinely good one devoted to contemporary poetry, so it may prove that there is no audience for such an endeavor. But this project isn't about audience. The fact that the blog has the potential to carry forward the best elements of a journal and seems inherently prone to digressive, if not absolutely plotless, prose gives me hope that this form might prove amenable to critical thinking.

Ron

That was my first blog, August 29, 2002.

Five years hence, the audience question appears to have been answered – by the size of my blogroll more than the number of visits I’ve had here. It’s no longer even remotely possible for me to keep my list of other blogs up-to-date. My presumptions – that this format was conducive for critical thought and (not clearly stated above, I see now) that there was a hunger among poets for the ability to discuss craft, books, trends, politics, whatever, outside of the funneling framework that is the academy – were correct.

Another unstated presumption – that I would be able to do what I wanted in notes no longer than the one above – has proven shakier, to say the least. I had during the previous year tried a few such notes, modeled after Adorno’s Minima Moralia, a book that’s haunted me for 25 years, but my sense of the “finished” essay had me polishing single paragraphs for weeks. Few were ever completed & I never published any of them, even here. The looser, more ad hoc template of blogging proved far readier to get across what I was after.

My world in 2002 was very different. My twins were just ten years old, for example, and we could vacation in a two-room cabin, a considerable change from the five-bedroom manse we had last week in North Carolina. Gil Ott, Robert Creeley & Jackson Mac Low were all around. All were poets whose wisdom I looked to as a guide for my own actions. The Iraq War referred to something that happened during Bush I. Bush II was saying bellicose things about the government of Iraq, but relatively few people actually believed he would be stupid enough to initiate another war without even catching Bin Laden. The governor of California was Gray Davis, the most aptly named politician ever. Few people outside of their immediate circles had ever heard of Barack Obama, John Roberts or Samuel Alito. The population of the city of New Orleans was 484,000, some 210,000 greater than it is today. Forbes in 2002 named Britney Spears as the world’s most powerful celebrity. Later that year, Senator Paul Wellstone & his family would die in an airplane crash. The San Francisco Giants would win the National League Pennant only to lose the World Series to the Angels. Barry Bonds hit 46 home runs and drove in 110 runs, the same number of homers & 13 fewer RBIs than he had during his first year with the Giants in 1993.¹ In 2007, Bonds, reduced by age to a part-time role (he has just 314 at-bats thus far), still leads the Giants in homers with 27.

Blogging, it turns out, has changed the world of poetry in ways that I don’t think we fully realize just yet. There are poets who have begun their careers through blogging, at least one literary genre – flarf – that has its roots there, more than a few collections of physical books that have grown out of blogs. Blogging embodies, more than any other phenomenon I know, the web’s ability to erase or otherwise transform the limits of geography. Poets are linking up on the basis of mutual interests, which is a great thing, especially if you live somewhere other than New York or San Francisco. That ultimately may be its greatest impact. The constrained model of national poetics with which I grew up in the 1960s has little bearing on what actually is happening now. Poets like Sina Queyras, Christian Bök, or John Tranter are not merely instances of Canadian or Australian poetry. A poet like Tsering Wangmo Dhompa can have an impact both as an American poet and in her homeland of Nepal. Of these four, I believe only Queyras has a blog – my guess is that no more than one in ten English-language poets have active blogs, which still means that there are at minimum 10,000 publishing poets in the language right now, a number I would contrast with the low hundreds of poets publishing during the 1950s.

Of the various concepts and phrases I’ve come up with here over the past five years, none has generated more wrath than the School of Quietude. Perhaps the two most common complaints are that the idea is too simplistic and that it describes poetry as it existed at some moment in the past, but not now. Both criticisms are largely correct. There is a project – one for which I have no stomach, personally – filling in a far more adequate mapping of the conservative tradition(s) of poetry, first in the United States and then more globally. The phenomenon means something quite different in the U.S., in the islands (not just England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales, but Jamaica & New Zealand as well) and in other parts of the world – I make a point of noting English-language articles about poetry from Nigeria & India, for example. The day is coming when we acknowledge that they’re as much a part of “English literature” as anything done in Amherst. And not just the writing that mimics what was being done in London in 1805 either.

I will, of course, continue to note the depredations of the School of Quietude where they seem apparent – every single American poet laureate, with the sole exception of William Carlos Williams in 1952 (who was appointed but never served, largely for reasons of health), has been a member of this same small coterie dating back to its creation as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1937, endowed by Archer Huntington, the semi-legitimate heir to Collis Huntington, one of the railroad barons of the 19th century. That sort of institutional oligarchy may not be as prevalent as it was, say, in the 1950s, but it has hardly disappeared. On the other hand, Huntington’s endowment has become less of a reward each year. $35,000 in 1937 would be worth $491,364 today, using the Consumer Price Index as our guide to inflation.²

 

¹ With the sole exception of 2001, the year he hit 73 home runs, Bonds’ numbers from 1993 through 2004 are absolutely consistent. The idea that Bonds suddenly “got powerful” outside of that one year is a fiction.

² Some other guides suggest a value as high as $5 million.

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