Thursday, January 17, 2008
12 or 20 Questions
is a great new interview site
from rob mclennan
Boston Globe obit of Vincent Ferrini
Every candidate for this year’s
National Book Critics’ Circle poetry award
published with a small or independent press!
The new NEA creative writing fellowship guidelines
have been released
As always, the real question will be
who controls the screening process?
will come with sound
Coming in May to
a symposium on
“Conceptual Poetry and its Others”
25 years after Grzegorz Przemyk was beaten to death
at the age of 19 by the Polish Militia,
his poetry appears in book form
Eliot Weinberger on the Book of Psalms
Reginald Shepherd on translation
Prevalence of the F word
in Chinese commercial translations
Translating lit for the cops
Damn the blasphemy laws!
Poetry, Art and the Book!
Daisy Fried is crabby
But not compared to Stanley Fish!
A profile of Poetic Speed
(that’s a person)
“The 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945”
manages not to include Bunting,
Raworth, Prynne, Fisher . . .
Celebrating Allama Iqbal
Profiling Nikos Engonopoulos
One of the books on Major Jackson’s wish list
is his own
Reading Shelley literally
Rigoberto González on Jenny Browne
Dave Wood’s book report
rambles a little
And the T.S. Eliot Prize goes to…
This make O’Brien
the most celebrated poet in all of
Sam Gardiner’s Night Ships
Frosty the prose man
The natural landscapes of urban dwellers
Mark Jarman’s prose poems
Workshopping with Jean Sprackland
The letters are falling!
in this year’s National Poetry Month campaign
This year’s Caldecott Medal goes to . . .
a 544-page novel!
Self-published novel makes$2,000,000
& 40 libraries have closed in the past 12 months
This week’s death-of-a-bookstore
piece comes from Palm Springs
Not to mention the fake bookseller
Not that you need to read
Guild program getting authors back into print
Talking with Todd London
on the balkanized ear
on Freud’s flesh
Rents taking toll on
by Eric Hobsbawm
Morals with Steven Pinker
Thinking with your body
Nixon handicaps the candidates
Talking with Lewis Hyde
A question re the New American poetry:
whatever became of Edward Marshall?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
If you give them a little time, poetry anthologies can turn into wonderful instruments for looking at the world of poetry historically, even sociologically. One that I picked up not that long ago is The New Writing in the USA, published by Penguin for the commonwealth market in 1967, and edited by Donald M. Allen & Robert Creeley. This places it seven years after the breakthrough The New American Poetry, known to everyone as the Allen anthology, two years after the Robert Kelly-Paris Leary A Controversy of Poets attempted to put on display the differences in poetics between the New Americans & the School of Quietude.
The New Writing has 33 contributors – Donald Allen’s preface makes it clear that Robert “Duncan, disenchanted with anthologies, has refused us permission” (as indeed he did also to Kelly & Leary). Of the 33, just 22 appeared in the Allen anthology seven years earlier. Among the more notable absences here of contributors to that earlier volume are Brother Antoninus, Paul Blackburn, Paul Carroll, Larry Eigner, Madeline Gleason, Kenneth Koch, Philip Lamantia, David Meltzer, Joel Oppenheimer, Peter Orlovsky, Jimmy Schuyler, & Jonathan Williams. Some of these may be all the more surprising when you consider that Richard Duerden & Ron Loewinsohn appear in both books. But less surprising, given the broader range hinted at in the title – Writing instead of Poetry – is that over half of the eleven additions new to this volume are either prose writers – such as William Burroughs, John Rechy, Michael Rumaker, Hubert Selby, Jr. & Douglas Woolf – or, in the case of Richard Brautigan, are represented solely by fiction.
Of the five new poets that show up here but not in the Allen anthology, four are younger – James Koller, Joanne Kyger, Ed Sanders & George Stanley – while the fifth is Louis Zukofsky. Of these, only Zukofsky shows up in A Controversy of Poets. In that book, each editor contributed 30 poets (the total of 59 was a consequence of Duncan’s refusal). Besides Zukofsky, some of the non-Quietist poets Kelly added to Controversy included Kelly himself, Ted Enslin, Jerry Rothenberg, Diane Wakoski, Gerrit Lansing, Georgia Lee McElhaney, Joel Oppenheimer, Rochelle Owens & Jackson Mac Low.¹ It’s a volume very much intended, at least by Kelly, to demonstrate the evolution of post-avant writing since 1960.
The differences between Kelly’s choices in 1965 & Creeley’s two years later are interesting. Kelly’s are very visibly the core poets – only David Antin & Clayton Eshleman are missing – of the journal Catepillar, which Eshleman will begin publishing in the fall of 1967. Except for Lansing, who’d already moved from a job with Columbia University Press up to Gloucester, Massachusetts, & the New York-raised McElhaney who’s bio note gives no clue where she might be living (she now resides in Shepherdstown, WV), it’s a New York-centric reading of contemporary poetry.
With the exception of Sanders, the one true Beat who was close to the Projectivist Poets (Olson’s fascination with documentation leads pretty directly to Sanders’ investigative poetry & the two shared a fetish for all things Egyptian), Creeley’s other choices are noticeably Western – two members of the Spicer Circle (Kyger & Stanley) & two who could easily be placed as New Western/Zen Cowboy poets (Koller & again Kyger), the orientation most clearly articulated by Koller’s magazine, Coyote’s Journal. Even among Creeley’s prosoid choices you see this – first in Brautigan & then Rumaker, a Black Mountain graduate who’d headed to the great gay Mecca on the Left Coast. “The Cleveland Wrecking Yard” from Brautigan’s then-in-progress novel Trout Fishing in America is an iconic instance of West Coast aesthetics.
Because the focus here is writing rather than poetry, as such, it’s interesting to see which poets are represented by prose, fictive or otherwise. Creeley’s own selection begins with the story “The Book,” and follows with two poems from Words. Ed Dorn has just one poem, tho possibly his very best ever, ”From Gloucester Out” followed by the story “1st Avenue.” LeRoi Jones’ work consists of his “Crow Jane” series of poems, followed by the play “Dutchman.” Kerouac is strictly prose. McClure has two poems followed by the essay “Suicide and Death.” Olson, whose 24 pages are exceeded only by Kerouac’s “Before The Road” with 26 (Burroughs has 23, Rumaker 21 and everyone else quite a few less), starts off with “A Human Universe,” following up with two poems.
It’s interesting to think of the fate of other forms & the New Americans generally. With the exceptions of Burroughs, Brautigan, Bobbie Louise Hawkins & Gil Sorrentino, four very different writers, the fiction of that generation isn’t easy to come by. Yet clearly, in Creeley’s eyes at least, fiction & even theory were important New American projects, as such. Less than a decade later, the language poets will get slammed by the likes of Tom Clark & Andrei Codrescu for their own interest in critical & especially theoretical writing. And langpo itself had already jettisoned fiction. Indeed, after Mabel, the last 30 years of Creeley’s life are fiction free.
What happened? For one thing, I think the market constraints on fiction as product proved infinitely stronger than those the big trade presses were able to bring to bear on poetry. The New Americans had impacts on a wide range of interesting prose writers, from Keith Abbott to Jeremy Larner to Harry Matthews to Kathy Acker, but in the advertising driven world of trade fiction even these writers have been substantially marginalized.
Olson’s death had a huge impact on critical writing, as such. While he was not the only such writer – arguably Creeley was the more important critic overall – it was Olson who goaded the likes of both Creeley & Duncan to produce theoretical work. Other than O’Hara’s wry “Personism,” nobody else among the New Americans really produced any to speak of. What they did produce, like Sorrentino’s chronicles of short reviews, were mostly critical rather than theoretical. And when the NY School poets figured out that critical writing applied to the visual arts paid money, that was all she wrote. Some, like Peter Schjeldahl, John Yau & Carter Ratcliff, would become very good at this, but only Yau has kept much of an identity as a poet.
Actually, The New Writing in the USA may have been the first anthology related to the New Americans that had to acknowledge death at all – the contributor’s notes for both O’Hara and Spicer mention their recent deaths. Kerouac, Olson & Lew Welch will all die within the next four years.²
And in some sense, it does a better job acknowledging death than it does gender. Just three of its 33 contributors – Guest, Kyger & Levertov – are female, the same dim ratio of ten to one that applied to The New American Poetry which had four women (add Gleason & Helen Adam, subtract Kyger) among its 44 poets. Of the 59 poets in Controversy, seven were female, including Guest & Levertov, but now adding McElhaney, Owens & Wakowski among the New Americans, Nancy Sullivan, Anne Sexton & Adrienne Rich among the Quietists. In getting to a ratio of not quite six to one male to female contributors, Robert Kelly shatters the ten-to-one glass binding that Leary, Allen & even Allen plus Creeley maintain.
Another thing worth noting here is the actual quality of the work. In addition to printing the best poem Ed Dorn may have written, Creeley & Allen include Ron Loewinsohn’s “Against the Silences to Come,” easily his best work to this day, Jack Spicer’s “Love Poems” from Langauge (contrast this with “Billy the Kid,” “The Book of Percival” & “The Book of Merlin” in Controversy and the early “Imaginary Elegies” in The New American Poetry), Jones’ Dutchman, plus some very interesting & atypical Allen Ginsberg, “The Change: Kyoto-Tokyo Express, July 18, 1963” and “Kral Majales.” In part, this is just a generation of poets having grown more mature in the seven years since the Allen anthology, but it’s also Creeley’s much sharper eye (Trout Fishing in America, an excerpt from Naked Lunch) coming to bear. If they could have gotten his permission, Creeley & Allen would have printed Duncan’s “The Apprehensions” as well.
The one place they don’t seem particularly sharp is around the work of the New York school. While Creeley & Allen pick pieces from two of Ashbery’s very best books, Rivers and Mountains & The Tennis Court Oath, including “These Lacustrine Cities,” they tend to stick to the safest works there, missing “Europe” and “The Skaters,” for example, entirely. O’Hara is restricted to one lunch poem and two pieces from the Tibor de Nagy edition of Love Poems. A Controversy of Poets, which printed all of “Biotherm” – in six point type! – puts this British collection to shame. If they do a better job by Barbara Guest, it’s probably because they asked her advice – the two poems included here, “The Blue Stairs” and “The Return of the Muses,” had not previously appeared in print.
One final point – feelings about The School of Quietude. Here are the first two-plus paragraphs of the first full section of Creeley’s “Introduction”:
The forties were a hostile time for the writers here included. The colleges and universities were dominant in their insistence upon an idea of form extrinsic to the given instance. Poems were equivalent to cars insofar as many could occur of similar pattern – although each was, of course, ‘singular’. But it was this assumption of a mold, as a means that could be gained beyond the literal fact of the writing here and now, that had authority.
It is the more ironic to think of it, remembering the incredible pressure of feeling also present in these years – of all that did want ‘to be said,” of so much confusion and pain wanting statement in its own terms. But again, it is Karl Shapiro’s Essay on Rime (written in the South Pacific at a military base, ‘without access to books’, in iambic pentameter) which is successful, and Auden is the measure of competence. In contrast Ezra Pound, H.D., William Carlos Williams (despite the token interest as Paterson begins to be published), Hart Crane, and especially Walt Whitman are largely disregarded
The situation of prose I remember as much the same.
The sharp partisan tone of Creeley’s writing here clearly reflects his feelings. You don’t sense – not yet, anyway – any certainty that the likes of Shapiro & Auden are destined for the dustbin of history & that the likes of Whitman & Crane will live on. Shapiro has already arrived at something approximating anonymity & the lingering fans of Auden today are like meeting Ward & June Cleaver, still in black & white, suddenly deposited by time machine into the 21st century.
At the time Creeley was writing, the stranglehold of New Criticism on English Departments still seemed endless. The fact that English Departments were themselves a relatively recent phenomenon wasn’t yet perceived. Nor, for that matter, were the inroads that opponents of the New Critics, starting with Northrop Frye, were starting to have. The simple arrogance of presumption that characterized anti-New American criticism in the 1960s – viz. Norman Podhoretz – has been replaced by a new strategy whereby SoQ poets & their critical sponsors deny the very presence of their own existence as a community. But the old institutions have largely crumbled. Anthologies like The New American Poetry, A Controversy of Poets & The New Writing in the USA all had something to do with that.
¹ Some Allen anthology participants who turn up in A Controversy of Poets but not The New Writing in the USA include Blackburn, Eigner, Edward Field (who may have been a Paris Leary choice), Edward Marshall & Jonathan Williams. Some who turn up in The New Writing, but not A Controversy include Duerden, Guest, Loewinsohn, Sorrentino, Welch & Whalen. The 15 poets who appear in all three books are Ashbery, Blaser, Corso, Creeley, Dorn, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Jones (Baraka), Levertov, McClure, O’Hara, Olson, Snyder, Spicer & Wieners.
² In happy contrast, just two of the 40 poets included in In the American Tree have passed in the 22 years since its publication.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
A Book of Prophecies, the latest posthumous publication by John Wieners, is a very beautiful & very strange book, a combination that it shares with quite a bit of the late
Wieners had gotten into college at 16 and already graduated by the age of 20 when a chance hearing of Charles Olson – Wieners had come in just to get out of the rain – caused him to enroll at Black Mountain College, then in its final throes as a financial basket case that just happened also to be the best arts college in American history. By the time he reached
Well we can go
in the queer bars w/
our long hair reaching
down to the ground and
we can sing our songs
of love like the black mama
on the juke box after all
what have we got left.
On our right the fairies
giggle in their lacquered
voice & blow
smoke inn your eyes let them
it’s a nigger’s world
and we retain strength.
The gifts do not desert us,
the fountains do not dry,
there are mountains
swelling for spring to cascade.
It is all here between
the powdered legs & painted
eyes of the fairy
Friends who do not fail us
Mary in our hour of
despair. Take not
away from the small fires
I burn in the memory of love.
I read all this politically incorrect language as an index of just how pre-Stonewall this poem is. Like characters in the fiction of John Rechy or Hubert Selby, Jr., gay life is figured here as part of a larger outlaw culture. Everyone – no exceptions – is characterized negatively & yet the use of the first person plural lends it all a tragically dignified air. The great twist of the final line is nothing more than speaking in the first person singular, owning the language of what’s come before, owning his role in this world.
By 1970, John Wieners was fully engulfed by the twin demons of heroin & schizophrenia. Even in The Hotel Wentley Poems Wieners had written “A poem for tea heads” (slang for mary jane to you kiddies) & “A poem for the insane.” (Wieners was institutionalized in 1961 & again in 1969.) One result is that the careful diarist of
Prophecies, if anything, is a far more personal book. In fact, you could honestly characterize it as two books, the first being a 93-page journal that mixes poetry with critical writing (including a mad essay contrasting Wieners’ father with Charles Olson, which tells you exactly what kind of surrogate the big O was in Wieners’ life) with some fairly cryptic journal entries. The second, tho, is briefer, darker & stranger. A note presumably by editor Michael Carr introduces the section:
The following poems, lists and notes begin at the back of the journal and run counter to the main body of the text from back to front. They were written upside down and mostly on the verso page, usually left blank elsewhere in the notebook.
The poems are often quite short:
They must let us know you
I am the chase and you are pursuit.
The different ways the ear hears pursued under pursuit gives this poem a vibrancy that never quite stops, just as the unspecified They carries with it a sense of paranoia and dread. Many of Wieners’ best poems – most of which are quite a bit longer than this – use these same kinds of shifts & tactics.
But it’s the lists – long rosters of names only some of which have titles such as “Poets I Have Met” – that attest to Wieners’ sense of anxiety. On that list of poets there are 233 names, the final four being Clayton Eshleman, Basil Bunting, Rafael Alberti & Pier Paolo Pasolini. One double list chronicles “Presents My Mother Gave Me,” one column for 1969, the other for 1970. Cash, pills and driving lessons appear in both columns. One 11-page list of years runs with each year presented as a separate column, tho most are blank and the chronicle starts 13 years before Wieners was born. These snatches are infinitely more personal than the outward looking diary notes of the 1950s and I came away from this section sensing that I was being a voyeur here more than I was a reader.
But I don’t think Carr could have edited this any other way. Wieners finally was not the crafter of distinct texts. A little like Larry Eigner – who often offered multiple variations of the same core poem (sometimes typed and handwritten one atop the other) – there isn’t a fixed border where the poem ends & “the real world” begins for Wieners. The fluidity of this, in fact, is an important part of the experience. So it’s not excessively unrealistic to hope that we are going to be in for discovering other notebooks that will, like
Wieners gave the journal directly to Louisa Solano, friend and former proprietor of the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in
Just how many other such manuscripts may exist, probably in private hands, is anybody’s guess. The forthcoming edition of My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer has quite a bit more material, for example, than the Collected Books published ten years after his death in 1965. Like Spicer, Wieners is a writer who might not be able to have a true collected for several decades yet. Which is to say that we may still find more poems every bit as wonderful as
After Reading Words
What can I, may I, can I say to you,
the competition of one man against another.
Your impeccable ear will never die
on the page. Your ear for phrase –
and let the mind drop off to
another concern. It will never return
without concentration, your self
awareness of the process happening
drowns in the flood of my own nature,
rising to express feeling for you,
the music of wholeness through having
something to say, strong examination
of person, situation and return;
inventive, intense and interior
Labels: John Wieners
Monday, January 14, 2008
Thing of Beauty truly is. The first real attempt at a comprehensive selected poems by Jackson Mac Low since the 1986 publication of Representative Works 1938 – 1985, half of this new volume, impeccably edited by Mac Low’s longtime partner & collaborator Anne Tardos, was written after the completion of that earlier book. Thus the subtitle New and Selected Works.
Thing of Beauty carefully lays out the scope of a great career that lasted just shy of seventy years. Indeed, Mac Low had just turned fifteen when he composed the volume’s title poem. It’s a lyric such one might expect of a boy. Yet already we see the impulse toward systematic changes that will lead Mac Low to become the great champion of chance and anti-ego-centered techniques in American poetry as well as the anti-war commitment that he carried without hesitation throughout his life:
It was a thing
Not strong nor large,
She was a thing
Not strong nor tall,
He was a thing
Not small nor delicate
Like the other
Wrought for holy causes –
Both sides fought
For the Good
The Small and Precious
The Slender and Graceful,
The Tall and Manly;
Transformed by men;
It, to a meaningless
She, to a shapeless,
He, to a festering
The good of Mankind
Was served –
This poem actually occurs earlier than any in Representative Works. That volume starts with what is the second poem here – Mac Low has just turned sixteen and already is using typography in ways that other poets would not catch up with for forty years: HUNGER STrikE wh At doe S lifemean is the title.
It’s that lag process, being so far out in front of everyone else, that gave rise to Mac Low’s reputation in the early 1960s as a “slow starter.” By the time he was 48 years old – 1970 – he’d published just four books. One of these, fortunately, was 22 Light Poems from Black Sparrow. That collection must have been a strategic act on Mac Low’s part – and very probably on the part of publisher John Martin as well – since Mac Low’s process in the Light Poems of writing poems employing randomly chosen modes of light (from a list of “280 kinds of light, plus eight ‘extras’” deployed using playing cards plus the RAND Corporation’s A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates) yielded texts that were sweet & quirky, but entirely readable by anyone with no familiarity whatsoever with these kinds of ultra-avant shenanigans. Three years later, Dick Higgins published what at the time seemed to be Mac Low’s magnum opus, Stanzas for Iris Lezak.¹ Between the two books, Mac Low had become both famous & widely read, if not yet widely understood. Twelve years later, tho, Mac Low’s sixtieth birthday was celebrated with a festival in
Thing of Beauty differs from Representative Works in some important ways beyond its generous representation of material from the last two decades of Mac Low’s life. Its selection from the early years, literally 48 years of writing, is necessarily 100 pages shorter than the earlier book. But even more important, Tardos has done a much better job than Mac Low himself in organizing these materials to create a coherent path through one of the largest & most ambitious oeuvres ever. Perhaps
Tardos’ organization makes this a perfect “first book” for anyone who may be interested in starting to explore Mac Low’s work. My own sense is that you will quickly want to turn from these brief selections – there are just ten Light Poems (of which no “complete” edition has ever appeared in print), just seven of the 100 poems that compose The Twenties, just forty pages to represent the 424 of Stanzas for Iris Lezak, etc. – and start a collection of everything you can get your hands on.
Perhaps the most telling absences here are those that would more properly have appeared on a CD & a DVD, documentation of Mac Low’s performances, the intersection between poetry & contemporary post-classical music that is so important for Mac Low (He is alleged to have taught chance technique to John Cage & certainly Mac Low is a much more powerful user of these tools in the field of literature). Also, the crisp page design of UC Press, terrific for traditional text, even when composed in the least traditional of methods, doesn’t fully suit the holographic vispo manuscripts that Mac Low created for many of his performances. Granary Press’ Doings: Assorted Performance Pieces, 1955 – 2002 is an excellent choice for the person who has finished Thing of Beauty and then asks the inevitable question: Which book should I read next?
What we really need, ultimately, is the Complete Jackson Mac Low, a multi-volume multimedia project on the scale of the works, say, of Walter Benjamin or Charles Olson or Gertrude Stein. Thing of Beauty is a good first step in the direction of creating that broader picture, but it’s only the tip of a far more vast canon on the part of the most broadly brilliant innovator of – at the very least – the last half century.
¹ I once took a job at an alternative weekly newspaper in
² This is, I believe, the only time ever that all five contributors to the collaboration Legend – Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Steve McCaffery, Ray DiPalma & yours truly – were ever in the same room simultaneously.
Labels: Jackson Mac Low
Sunday, January 13, 2008
is just one of two
”NY School poets”
from The New American Poetry
“The most influential poet
you never heard of”
John Perrault & Carolee Schneeman
on the performance work
of Hannah Weiner
on the art of Roberto Harrison
The poet laureate of New Bedford, MA
currently is reading Phil Whalen,
Joanne Kyger & Afaa Michael Weaver
Raves for The Four Horsemen Project
The new generation of poetry editors
suggests that the
can’t find qualified poets
who are U.S.-born
(anglophilia in the age of globalization?)
Simone de Beauvoir at 100
The poet behind Star Trek & The Matrix
Phil Levine is 80
Levine reading in Berkeley 1998
Not the muse:
a profile of Dorothy Stafford
Nigerian & Romanian poets
as seen from
Abdullah Goran & Kurdish modernism
Eight new members of the National Books Critics Circle
Plus Ron Padgett & Victor Hernandez Cruz
named as chancellors
Opening the fly of A.M. Klein
About Brian Mornar
Poetry, depression & suicide
A roundup of some poets
& poetic prose
115 new bookstores opened in 2007
(forgets to mention the roughly 250 that closed)
Borders gets all poetical
with Mark Strand, Paul Muldoon, a contest,
a little slammin’ & a lot of quietude
A blog devoted to the sound of language
& the conundrum of publicity
Why aren’t more women writers
out on strike?
Johnny can’t read – so what?
When a member of the Forbes family
Listen to the Eliot shortlist
Between the written & the visual
Dvorak, “the negrophile”
A visit with George Herms
George Herms & Allen Ginsberg,
interviewed by Charlie Rose
Raping Europa & The Barnes
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