Saturday, January 26, 2008

 

A profile of Lilya Brik

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Ton van ‘t Hof’s brilliant link list

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The sexiest poem of the year (2007)
is The Big Melt

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Maya Angelou’s pro-Hillary poem

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Talking with Amadou Lamine Sall

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First US obit of Hone Tuwhare

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Gabe Gudding’s
fifteen minute poem for ron silliman

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Frank Wilson on Christian Wiman

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Roberto Bolaño’s “Max Mirabalais…”

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Jennifer Bartlett’s Derivative
of the Moving Image

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Cell phone fiction

Confessions of a cell phone fictioneer

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England’s France:
On David Gascoyne’s translations of Pierre Jean Jouve
& Alan Simpson’s Drunken Boats

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York’s voice

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Is art bad for you?

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Misreading Frost

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The new Pound bio
reviewed in the Moonie newspaper
by a prof from
Amherst

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Sam Cornish
is Boston’s first poet laureate

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A trio
of Canadian poets laureate

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The poet laureate of
Lancaster County, PA

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“Grammar Nazi” slam poet

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The persistence of bad poetry

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A profile of JG Ballard

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Publishers’ Weekly profiles Bookslut

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Poetry & marathons: the beginning

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Cathy Wagner @ Satchel’s Grill

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The future of Quietude:
Who reads George Sterling now?

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Slammin’ @ Brandeis

& in Duluth

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An enigma to Heidegger,
”simple” and “happy” to Billy Collins

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Blog comments vs. peer review

§

Charles Wright is well equipped to evoke nostalgia”

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Poe’s “toaster” strikes again

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A profile of Steve Kessler

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Little to smile at
in Brian Turner’s poetry from
Iraq

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Rod Jellema’s A Slender Grace

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Poetry at Rose
turns 20

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New bio of Milton
skips the poetry

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The best indie bookstores in the UK

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The latest death-of-a-bookstore piece
comes from Tahoe

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Is too much writing killing writing?

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The decline of literacy, the rise of books

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The kids can’t help it

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Eloquence vs. rhetoric

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Mary Beard
on the persistence of Greek Myth
(note the links)

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Launching The Relationship

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Talking with filmmaker Ernie Gehr
(MP3)

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Wal-Mart supports contemporary dance

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What it takes to develop an opera in the US today

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The dream of anonymity

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Particle art

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The garage as art

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Diebenkorn in New Mexico

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What you notice

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Coming soon: the smell of fear

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Always a good career move

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Against independent voters

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Stonewalling Jefferson’s (& others’) archives

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Friday, January 25, 2008

 

After Verizon escalated my connectivity problems to “the central office” which was supposed to get back to me “within 24 to 48 hours,” but who were still “working on a solution” this morning when the 48-hour threshold passed, I finally escalated to real help – my 16-year-old son. It took him about 40 minutes to get back online, but the problem has been resolved. I never did hear back from Verizon.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

 




Burt Hatlen

1936 - 2008

Burt was an excellent scholar & fine friend. I don’t know if In the American Tree would ever have been published without his support, and his work with the National Poetry Foundation was pivotal in that institution’s history.

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I have been having internet connectivity issues
and they may continue for awhile.
Please have patience.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

 

One of the most interesting new poets of 2007 turns out to be Henry Parland, whose first book in English (at least to my knowledge) has just been published by Ugly Duckling Presse of Brooklyn. Parland is one of the great modernists of Swedish literature, in spite of the fact that he did not come from a Swedish family, read & spoke the language for less than a decade, and never once set foot in the country. And in spite of the fact that he died at the age of 22 in 1930. Ideals Clearance, translated ably enough by Johannes Göransson, presents Parland’s first volume, the only one actually published during his lifetime.

If Parland doesn’t fit any of the readymade categories into which first generation modernists typically get slotted, part of it may be because Baltic modernism – particularly the poetry – isn’t well known in the west, outside of the Russian Futurists who really are part of a different discussion¹ (tho Parland was born in St. Petersburg & lived there & in Kiev until the age of four when his parents fled the increasingly troubled country for the suburbs of Helsinki). Parland’s outsider status in Finland seemed equally precarious & led to a constant shuffling of schools until, at the age of 14, he was placed in an academy for Swedish Finns, where he was finally introduced to the language at which he would become a master.

The other reason that Parland doesn’t fit is that his poetry seems in fact much too contemporary for high modernism. Reading him, one thinks of a later movement, like the Objectivists – think of Oppen’s Discrete Series, Zukofsky’s short poems, much of Rakosi’s work, or Niedecker’s writers generally Parland’s own age but far removed from the fluid borders of the Baltic whose own literary interventions didn’t get started until Parland had been dead awhile. Or one thinks of certain more recent writers, including the great Finnish-American poet, Anselm Hollo. Parland is somebody whose work wouldn’t seem out of place at Saint Marks, or in the summer program at Naropa, or corresponding with the likes of Joseph Massey, Laura Sims or Graham Foust. Here, for example, is the ninth poem of the sequence, “Socks,” a series that literally engages fashion.

Legs,
what do you know about legs?
you who think about skirts
when you pass the windows of the department store.

What do you know
about the legs
of the twentieth century?

“Socks” is the second of the books four sections or series. In each, something just over half of the poems appear to be explicitly about the topic identified by the title, which is why it is noteworthy that Parland’s section titles include “Stains,” “Flu” & “Grimaces.” Where the short prose poems of Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, talks around a wide range of nouns in not much more space than Parland’s short poems, her objects tend to the specific. To write, literally, about stains or the flu or, for that matter, socks, is to identify with the most transitory and incidental elements of life. This is about as far from Pound’s sense of epic as one might imagine. Even the Russian Futurists, at least during the period when Parland was alive & writing, wrote of the masses in order to raise them to heroic proportions. Parland’s focus may magnify, but even at its most optimistic is never heroic. Here is a “Stain”:

Something was –
april snow by the road,
april sun in a smile,
and a blue murmur across the ground.

This is from “Flu”:

In the next room
the pool balls laugh
but the mouth across from me
spits wordleftovers
in my face.

They fall to the floor
and run between my feet
like cockroaches
with six bustling legs.

Anyone who has ever tried to get through a workday with a fever will recognize this slightly hallucinated tableaux, the impossibility of rendering sense from another’s conversation. In the poem from “Stain,” Parland uses the literal fact of his referent, an unintelligible blue smear on the ground, to invoke other equally “unreadable” moments, a lingering dollop of snow, the flash of a smile. I can’t tell how literally sorl translates into murmur, but certainly in English the effect is perfect.

Because this edition places the Swedish on the facing page, you can test the degree to which Göransson is an interventionist as a translator & thus how much of this modernity is Göransson’s sensibility. The answer, I think, is not much. Here is the Swedish for the first poem above:

Ben,
vad vet ni om ben?
som tänker kjolar
ni går förbi Strumpcentralens skådefönster.

Vat vet ni
om det tjugonde århundradets
ben?

A more purely literal translation of the final sentence might read

What do you know
about twentieth century
legs?

Or, more literal yet, “What know you,” which would preserve the power of the single syllable words that are so critical to this poem’s impact in the original. But to do so would lose the sense of ordinary language, and this is a poem that requires the air of the demotic.To quibble that the original puts the ultimate emphasis on legs not century strikes me as missing the point. Within the constraints of translation, and of the original², this is a faithful, workmanlike job. Which means that the attitude, which is what comes across as so distinct, comes not from Göransson but Parland.

Parland is not just a good poet – tho he is that – he’s also a particularly instructive poet for somebody like myself. I’m always arguing location, location, location, and that there is no such thing as a poet, only kinds of poets. Yet Parland’s relationship to Sweden is tenuous at best. After school in Finland, he lived what little remained of his life in Lithuania, a nation whose status as such has flickered off & on for centuries. One can only wonder what would have become of Parland had he remained there long enough for the Stalinists to take over. Or if he would have fled west in advance of the Second World War – he was too young for the first. Given the history that was awaiting Parland, there is just no way to speculate as to what he might have become as a writer had he lived. For one thing, he was working on a novel for much of the last two years of his life.

So Parland is something of a test case for my idea that poetry is a system and that location is determining as a factor in the questions of what shall be read, when & how. As you can see from descriptions above, I’m mostly forced to compare him to poets whom he almost certainly never read and to some (like Hollo) whom he actually may have influenced.³ Yet perhaps by sitting as outside the system as Parland does, he casts it into an ever sharper relief. By revealing all the ways in which this brief wunderkind doesn’t fit, Henry Parland shows us precisely what “fitting” must mean.

 

¹ The ways in which Russia both is and isn’t a Baltic state would take a footnote the size of War & Peace to fully tease out. Suffice it to say that Russia has a deeply conflicted relationship to the concept of Europe as well as to its own status as a nation that is both European & Asian at the same time.

² Strumpcentralens is a word that appears just once on the entire web, at least until today, sayeth Google, and that in a PDF version of Parland’s original.

³ One modernist classic whose tone Parland’s book does remind me of, at least a little, is Blaise Cendrars’ Kodak, the volume that caused a certain film manufacturer to sue Cendrars even though it was composed entirely of appropriations from Gustave Lerouge’s novel Les mysteriuex Docteur Cornelius. Cendrars’ book was published in 1924, so it is conceivable that Parland (who read Proust in the original) did know of it.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

 

Brent Cunningham’s Interview with Robert Creeley is just the fifth volume of Hooke’s Books, but it’s been a doozy of a run thus far, with volumes by Norma Cole, Lauren Shufran, Kevin Killian & Laura Moriarty. This is the third book in a row from this press that I’ve reviewed here, not because I know Cunningham at all well – basically he’s been the affable “tall one” at Small Press Distribution for the past several years, tho he did give me a lift from there one time – but because the projects he does are so distinct, such as Norma Cole’s meditation on Tom Raworth as a collagiste, a selection of Kevin Killian’s wondrous Amazon reviews, and now a literal interview with Robert Creeley done in May of 1998, when Cunningham was finishing up a masters (in poetics?) at SUNY Buffalo & talking an independent study with Bob.

This book is a fascinating object, tho not the first fine press publication of an interview with Creeley. Tho Cunningham says he had no particular eye toward publication at the time he conducted the interview, Creeley had to have known that this would appear in print at some point. He’s brutally frank about some poets & some of his colleagues at Buffalo. He talks in great detail about the circumstances of Olson’s childhood & what made the working class kid from Worcester such an outsider at Harvard. And Creeley discusses why the environs of Amherst, Massachusetts, should have become ground zero for the School of Quietude when such unquiet folk as himself & Emily D could hale from the region as well.

But what I found most amazing here was simple presence of Creeley’s voice, transcribed. If ever you need a one-volume demonstration of why an oral interview later set into print is superior, by far, to one conducted by correspondence or email, this is your book. More than most authors, maybe more than any, Robert Creeley knew how to pattern his prose and his verse to replicate the patterns of his speech. That, in one sentence, was the kernel of Projective Verse and no one did it better than the author whom Olson most often pointed to as evidence for this theory in the first place.

But – as Jack Kerouac demonstrates in great detail in Visions of Cody when he gives you both a transcription of a tape and an “imitation” thereof, truly visions of code – speech, as such, is never the same as its representation. Creeley transcribed is never the same as Creeley crafted. And I’m not devaluing the latter when I argue that there is a place for the former that none of the texts by themselves can offer.

Yes, Creeley has the New Englander’s locution, which is built around reticence. But it’s much more than an accent, nor even “just” a syntax. Creeley works very hard to avoid putting people, objects or situations into received categories. This he often accomplishes by talking around the category, rather than employing its premises. He examines Olson’s background, a Swedish Catholic only child in a community of Swedes who mostly were Lutheran, immigrants who came to work in a factory while his dad instead ended up at the post office, an island of newcomers in this deeply “native” place invested in its role in creating the American revolution, and yet sufficiently insecure so that the goal of its aesthetics was to out-Brit the Brits, a pathological project that lingers to this day in an even more debased form. Creeley talks about stalking Robert Silliman Hillyer into a bar while at Harvard in order to peak into his notebook only to realize that alcoholic sonneteer was reduced to scribbling random squiggles, not even letters or words, so that people would think he was still writing. (When he got sober, Hillyer would become one of the arch-reactionaries of late forties verse, actively campaigning to have the works of Pound banned).

Anyone who has ever spent time with Creeley will know what I mean about the distinctness of his speech. This book is the first such instance of it that I’ve come across in the not quite three years since his death. As such, it’s a great gift for anyone who has missed not just the poetry, but the person as well.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

 

Alpha poet

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Talking with Laynie Browne

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Laura Moriarty reads from A Semblance

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89 interviews with major authors
all in the journal Jacket

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Talking with Mary Rising Higgins

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Remembering Hone Tuwhare

Tuwhare’s roots in the north

The AP obit

& the Otago Daily Times

Even the pols pay their respects

§

Charles Bernstein reading in the seventies
(MP3)

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The Continental Review
focuses on video poetics

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Materials for Jeremy Prynne’s
Poetry in Translation seminar

§

Horsemen stretch the boundaries

§

Memoirs from Stan Persky
& Don Coles

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Mallarmé in Arabic

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Talking with Mary Jo Bang

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Gary Geddes & the Canadian long poem

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Nikki Giovanni goes to Boise

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The cheerleader
who won the Pulitzer

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Autonauts of the Cosmoroute
(a pedestrian’s dissent)

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Materials for Robert Budde’s
Transparency Machine Event on Ecopoetics

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Talking with Simone Beaubien

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The most prolific writer in the world
is Ryoki Inoue

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A profile of David Rowbotham

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William Logan
fawns o’er Geoffrey Hill

§

How to write poems
from a guy who
can’t read Macbeth

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Les technicians du sacré

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A literature as large as China

§

Yo!
A gender-neutral pronoun emerges

§

The CIA as patron

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Burning Nabokov’s Laura

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A month of poetry

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A profile of Edmund Wilson

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William Kennedy @ 80

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The 22nd most popular poet in the world
was born in 1990

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Alfred Corn on ekphrasis

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Enamored of Robert Burns

The largest existing Burns archive
may just be
in
Provo, Utah

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Sean O’Brien thinks
it’s a great time for poetry

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A journal with a regional focus

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Do prizes matter?

§

Ted Hughes’ letters
make their way south

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© vs. the commons

§

This death-of-a-bookstore-piece
has a new twist – the fire department

While this one
points to the more common problems
of the big chains plus the net

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Where have all the bookstores gone?

§

Book scavengers

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Has the decline in the number
of bookstores in the
UK
finally come to an end?

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Open access book publishing

§

Raise high the roof beam, carpenter,
store your books

§

Are free newspapers
the death of literacy?

§

A long
and not entirely accurate
consideration of the NEA

§

Libraries are not dead yet

Toronto libraries thrive

When the library is rated X

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In archives we trust

Archive Fever

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The “most beautiful language?”

§

Outsourcing journalism

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Against happiness

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What Searle forgets

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The Ezra Pound of chess

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Homeward Bound (Oh yes I am…)

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The art scene in Baghdad

§

Van Gogh’s sketchbook?

§

Art as an end vs. art as a means

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