Friday, February 01, 2008

 

Small Press Distribution
is blogging
the AWP Bookfair
this weekend in
New York

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

 

“New” poems by Jimmy Schuyler

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Talking with Tom Mandel

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Thing of Beauty book launch reading
(MP3)

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Shin Yu Pai & Rick Benjamin talking together

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Rita Wong’s Transparency Machine Event materials
can be downloaded here

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Stephen Burt on The Grand Piano,
translation, Catullus & Frank Bidart

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Orhan Pamuk assassination plot foiled

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The real best-seller list

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Jackson Pollock & Frank O’Hara

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Bill Griffiths’
List of Little Press Publications
has risen from the grave

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Misreading Charles Bernstein

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Thomas Fink on Eileen R. Tabios

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Poetry for the people?

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Juan Felipe Herrera’s “undocuments

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Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Nettles

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Lunch Poems with Li-Young Lee

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Jay Wright’s The Guide Signs

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The idea of inherent form

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The electronic poet who studied with Robert Frost

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Poetry without a license

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The poet laureate of Prince Edward Island

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Peter Ackroyd’s Poe bio

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Paul Muldoon & The Fifty-Minute Mermaid

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The state of Kiswahili poetry

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Robert Weaver has died

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Talking with David Surette

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Rescuing Milton

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Lessing: after the Nobel

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What exactly are poems?

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Is the ruler of Dubai a poet?

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Close reading Granta 100

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Book buying over the web surges

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Another African-American bookshop
shuts down

So does the oldest bookstore in Canada

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The death of a book store
one year later

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Getting a grant
to open a bookstore in
Brooklyn

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The tipping point

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Where are the readers of tomorrow?

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Is the Kindle smokin?

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Which books really sell fast

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"Literature on mobile phones is massive in China,"

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Here comes Titlepage

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Ah, the novella
fiction for nonreaders

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A profile of Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish

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Adrienne Rich’s
Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth

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Robert Pinsky’s Gulf Music

Confusing Tony Bennett for Bruce Springsteen

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Still more on Alfred Kazin

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A. Alvarez stacking the odds

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What is a character?

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In a too-familiar voice

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The politics of rhetoric & comp.

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The need for public art

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Patricia Corbett has “slept into eternity

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Bruce Nauman, the Philly Art Museum
& the
Venice Biennale

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New work by Trevor Winkfield

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The future of Art in America

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From the School of Visual Quietude

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Koolhaas to update the Hermitage

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Welcome to Potatoland

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Beckett in Brooklyn

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Rebuilding Martha Graham

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Baryshnikov @ 60

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Joanna Newsom & the Brooklyn Philharmonic

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Picturing Harvey Milk

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“The words are my life” is a peculiarly American sentiment. It is what connects Louis Zukofsky, who actually coined this claim, to Walt Whitman as well as to Ezra Pound, as well as to Beverly Dahlen, Rob Fitterman & Rachel Blau DuPlessis, the animating principle that underlies all attempts at the true long poem, or what might more accurately be called the life poem. In Canada, by way of contrast, the long poem seems much more to be about the poem as book. And there more than a few booklength Quietest long poems as well. In England, in spite of such earlier examples as Chaucer, Spenser, Milton & Browning, only David Jones & Allen Fisher really seem to have taken on the challenge in this past century. So to come across a major new instance of exactly this perspective, this time from Mexico, is – for me at least – as exciting as it gets. And because it’s well written & well translated, this book is a total thrill.

Dolores Dorantes is both the title & author of this work, which in fact consists of two books – SexoPUROsexoVELOZ & Septiembre – that are volumes two & three of this project. (It’s a little unclear if the first volume still exists, having apparently been folded into these texts.) Dorantes’ frame of reference, so far as I can tell, is far removed from North American poetics – I see no concern here with how this might intervene into our poetry discussions, tho she often employs literary devices that will seem familiar to anyone who has read Spring & All or any of the New American Poets: a deft free-verse line; willingness to use the page spatially for rhetorical reasons; a willingness to jump discourses in a single line. Here is one relatively simple passage from the first volume:

COME WITH THE BOATMAN
a madness
– forbidden –
inside you
the she-deep you

Beneath a dress
you’ll brandish the sickle

anchor my tide will devour

HTML can’t replicate the small caps of the first line (or maybe it’s that I can’t), but you can see, even here, when it is a continuous voice & perspective throughout that the seven-line passage is filled with shifts marked by letter & punctuation. One might argue (were one a dunce) that the image of woman as ocean is by now a cliché, which it might be were it not for the allegory of the boatman constructed upon it, placed in within a context in which “you” – is that the second person here, or the first person addressing herself? – contains something interior associated both with the sickle (an image both of peasant life & a political party) & its formal kin, the anchor. This passage can be read any number of different ways, all depending on how the reader fills the you in the fourth & sixth lines – make it a man & you have a gender-bending moment, make it a woman & you have an instance of same-sex eros, make it the author & it’s something else again. Make it yourself, well, it could be any one of the above, couldn’t it? Dorantes, the author, has no interest in separating these out for us, which leads to a very particular kind of text, one that is continually in process, never settled.

I would compare the experience of reading her work, especially the first of these two projects, with looking at a mobile, except that one tends to look at mobiles from a stationary position exterior to the process, where Dorantes’ texts feel far more interior & indeterminate & the reader has fewer opportunities to step back & take it all in. Imagine instead a waterslide at a theme park built into and through a giant mobile – then turn the humidity way up. Dolores Dorantes feels more like that.

Septiembre is the more stable of the two works, and here Dorantes can sound at times almost like George Oppen. Imagine this as a section of Of Being Numerous:

The world (before) defending itself

now lies
upon men

They move it
voices moving tides
Without will (the world)

desolate

we carry it ourselves
(in ourselves):

multitude

Like Oppen, Dorantes is a profoundly political poet, tho her own politics feel far from the 1940s Popular Front that was coin of the realm for the Objectivists. Ultimately, tho, any U.S. frame for reading Dorantes – even one in which she becomes a major new practitioner of the life poem – is going to fail, simply because it isn’t the frame she’s using. Living in Ciudad Juárez may put her right on the border, but it is quite clear just where her commitments really are.

A word about Jen Hofer’s role here as translator. For many years already, she’s been doing important and powerful work making the poetry of Mexico – and the poetry of women in Mexico in particular – available in the US. Every national literature should have at least one of her. I can’t think of anyone who has done this much to bring writing from south of the border to us since Meg Randall and Sergio Mondragon were publishing El Corno Emplumado in the 1960s.

When Kent Johnson – who along with Forrest Gander has been doing some of this himself – excoriates contemporary (or recent) American poetry for paying too little heed to the project of translation & the literatures of other languages, I have to agree with him, even when I’m the person at whom he’s wagging a finger. I may excuse my own lack of a second language – a single homophonic translation of Rilke does not get me a pass – as a consequence of my working class education (nobody expected me to go college & my own college record sort of shows that), but it doesn’t mean that I don’t also feel this absence as a lack. So, from my perspective, Jen Hofer is all the more valuable, as are Kent & Forrest & anyone else doing this work, because I can’t get to this writing any other way.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

 

Paul Thomas Anderson makes intelligent, well focused films: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love & now There Will Be Blood. Because of the first two, Anderson is acknowledged as a master of the ensemble film & it’s true that he says his favorite movie of all time is Network & that There Will Be Blood is dedicated to the late Robert Altman, the Picasso of the genre. But There Will Be Blood is much more like Punch Drunk Love in that it’s a character study, a film fixed firmly on a single individual whose narrative unveils their personality. I recall Kathy Acker once telling me that character was, for her, the most mysterious element in fiction, that it was one thing to have sentences & paragraphs integrate upward into a story line, but something altogether different to give a sense of a living, breathing person, especially somebody who might be altogether different from the author.

Daniel Plainview, the misanthropic oil speculator portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, presumably is quite a bit different from Anderson. Who Plainview is not particularly different from is Fred C. Dobbs, the paranoid prospector at the center of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Anderson admits that when he wrote the screenplay, adapted from Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, he would watch Treasure each night as he fell asleep. If Lewis plays Plainview as though he were living the role thoroughly, it may well be that he both understands this model uncommonly well – and he knows that his real competition here is Humphrey Bogart at his most extravagant. Dobbs’ paranoia is a little more wild-eyed than Plainview’s, but under the surface the same DNA beats in both. You can still see the remnants of Upton Sinclair’s moral tale about the evil that capital wreaks on the men most determined to have it. Plainview’s a man determined to win and the simplest way to do that is to deny the humanity of one’s competitors. That in turn might justify just about anything. Who a competitor is proves highly situational: it might be the man who owns the land you seek to lease or buy; it might be Standard Oil; it could be the baby-faced evangelical who wants to minister to your employees; it could even be your son. Or your brother. But once you are competition, however Plainview defines it, you are outside the infinitely small circle of what he might care about. In a sense, this film, like Martin Scorsese’s not too dissimilar The Aviator, chronicles just how that circle tightens the more successful Plainview is.

Success does isolate an individual. Just ask Britney Spears. But, Anderson suggests, more than suggests, some people succeed because they are driven to isolate themselves. Plainview says as much at different moments in the movie. I’m not convinced of the psychology of this, but it does make for an effective story arc. Anderson accentuates it by surrounding Day-Lewis with character actors who haven’t been overused – David Willis, who plays the preacher’s dad Abel Sunday, is an actor roughly my age who has been in exactly four motion pictures, one of them 26 years ago. You might remember him as Franz Bettmann in The Good German, but the roles are so different it’s improbable. Indeed, the one person you might recognize in this production besides Day-Lewis is likely to be Paul Dano, who plays the baby-faced preacher as well as his opportunist brother. Dano was the silent teenager in Little Miss Sunshine who wanted to be an astronaut. Again the roles are so different that neither my wife nor son recognized him. Russell Harvard, who plays the grown-up son H.W. Plainview, has just short film credit to his name, plus a single episode of CSI: New York. Kevin O’Connor, who plays Daniel’s brother, has bounced around as a character actor for years, but his biggest role to date has been as Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant in Van Helsing.

Surrounding Day-Lewis with actors you can’t name is a great way to make the file entirely about his character. It’s one of many subtle devices like this throughout the film, which does not go out of its way to explain things. For example, one question that neither I nor my wife or my son could answer is what was in the diary that young H.W. read & did it cause him to set the fire to the cabin? Was H.W. trying to “get” the brother? It’s actually possible that the answer is there on the screen, but unlike most Hollywood movies, Anderson doesn’t bludgeon you with details. I wonder how many viewers even notice the narrative of how Plainview acquires the boy, which occurs in the first 90 seconds of the motion picture (he’s not lying when he later denies that the son has any of his blood). And I myself missed the moment of transition from Texas to California until I suddenly started to recognize landscapes and hear names like San Luis Obispo, Tehachapi & Modesto. I’ll wager that there are more than a few viewers who think the whole film occurs in the Lone Star State.

Day-Lewis isn’t always my cup of tea as an actor. I wasn’t particularly impressed with him in Gangs of New York, tho he received an Oscar nomination for the role. And it was impossible to see him in My Left Foot (for which he won the Oscar for best actor) without thinking that I knew a much better writer with many of these same issues in Larry Eigner. Left Foot thus came across as melodramatic, sentimental & wildly overacted. What would it have looked like if I hadn’t known somebody whose physical vocabulary was every bit as restricted as Larry’s? I really have no clue. But in fact I generally have preferred Day-Lewis’ earlier performances, especially in My Beautiful Laundrette & The Unbearable Lightness of Being, both of which came out at least 20 years ago.

This film, however, was made for Day-Lewis. In many ways, it’s about what he can do as an actor. He’s on-screen 98 percent of the time & often is asked to do nothing more than glower or convey an intense-but-withheld emotion via his lower lip. Most of his dialog is a lie, and we have to see this in a way so that we understand it and the characters on screen would not. Plainview’s walk prior to the broken leg is as distinct & unmodern (or at least unsophisticated) as his limp is later. His eyebrows are always “in character.” There are a couple of moments, particularly when he’s expressing anger, where I don’t quite believe him, but they add up to less than a minute’s worth of this film’s total of 158.

It’s become fashionable in recent years, especially in westerns – and the Texas oilfields around Marfa a century ago certainly qualify – to have the protagonist come across as scruffy, which helps strip the veneer of glamour from Day-Lewis’ presentation. Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma looks like an escapee from the Village People by comparison. But the origin of this approach, of course, is precisely Bogart’s Dobbs in Sierra Madre. In the inevitable comparison between the two actors, Bogart wins hands down. Not only is Bogart’s role permanently memorable – once you’ve seen the wild glint of Fred C. Dobbs, you’ll never forget it – but Bogart has to share the screen with some major performers in Walter Huston – he had once been D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln – and Tim Holt, not to mention classic character actors in Barton Maclane and Alfonso Bedoya.¹ Anderson really gives Day-Lewis only Paul Dano & Kevin O’Connor to work with. Although Dano’s baby-faced evangelist appears not to age a day between 1902 and 1927, the young actor does a decent job standing up to Day-Lewis under difficult circumstances (tho he does far better when confronting his own father, played by Willis). It’s not a fair situation for Dano or for Day-Lewis.

I’m not convinced that I’d vote for Day-Lewis for best actor were it up to me – I think Emile Hirsch actually handles a more difficult role with far greater subtlety in Into the Wild, but Hirsch didn’t even get nominated. On the other hand, if you want to spend an evening watching one of the best give us a damn fine version of Bogie, then There Will Be Blood is your film.

 

¹ Sierra Madre made Bedoya’s career in the US, although he’d already made over 50 films in Mexico.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

 

George & Mary Oppen

George Oppen at 100

For the 100th birthday party,
scroll down to April 7th

Oppen’s cousin, Ethel Kremer Schwabacher

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Carl Boon’s dissertation
on my poem
The Alphabet

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Talking with Frank Sherlock

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A profile of Edith Grossman

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How JG Ballard wrote Crash

More excerpts from his new memoir
can be found here & here

How I write

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Frank Stanford & Gram Parsons

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The unpublishable published

An example thereof

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A silly review of the new Pound bio

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Extreme alphabet

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cocreator of the ‘creative writing industry’”

It should have stayed lost

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Nabokov at the stake,
fanning the flames

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Bob Hass in Tel Aviv

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Poetry &/or intelligibility
pops up as a concern
in Kurdish north Iraq

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Gender politics & poetry in Tamil Nadu

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The love poems of Edwin Morgan

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Oh no, Karibu:
death of a bookstore chain in DC

Readers rescuing bookstores

In Vancouver, Little Sisters is for sale

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A new formalist
trying to trim
the
School of Quietude

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The poetry of Ngozi Obasi Awa

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Derek Walcott: 60 years of poetry

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Cowboy poets gather in Alpine, TX

Paul Zarzyski at the “cowboy Woodstock

The astronaut’s daughter who turned cowboy poet

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The tubercular shoemaker who became a major Yiddish poet

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A short profile of Niizh Makwa

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Anagram leads to arrest in Burma

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A regional poet from
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

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76 South Carolina poets

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There are no SF poets in the new Zyzzyva

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Reading report: Galway Kinnell

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The secret life of Tom Paulin

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A profile of Natasha Trethewey

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Green Mill: the Globe Theatre of Slam

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People of the chapbook

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Growing literary agents from stem cells

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Rochester’s new poet laureate

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Governor to attend Kentucky laureate’s reading

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A poet in the schools

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A poetry marathon in Laconia, NH

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Rough eulogy for Poe

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Actual poems from the virtual pond

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Famous Seamus on Bobby Burns

The Burns fanatic

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Stephen King by the numbers

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Two poems by Rehman Baba

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Amazon’s top reviewers

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Paul Durcan on the Laughter of Mothers

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Jeanette Winterson on
the correspondence of Ted Hughes

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Things to do off-site
away from the AWP

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Reading Charlie Simic in Utah

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On seriously missing deadlines

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Macbeth & the X-Men

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Little matters of metaphor

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Adios, Eyak:
Chief Marie Smith Jones,
the last fluent speaker, dies

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Library of Congress readings
can be found here & here

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Sci-fi: the last refuge of philosophical thought

A profile of Marshall McLuhan

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Philosophy & comics

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Anonymous

Anon vs. Scientology

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Walter Benjamin’s Archive

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The anti-collaboratorAlfred Kazin

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The Cognitive Linguistics Reader

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The wandering archive of Robert Capa

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The New York photographs
of Rudy Burckhardt

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Julian Rosenfeldt south of Chelsea

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The new political art

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Who really painted the Sistine Chapel?

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Courbet at the Met

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Follow the money

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Will recession cap the art market?

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Conflict of interest

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Same ol’ film academy

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After atonality

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Programming contemporary music

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935 lies

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Juxtaposition of the century dept.:
Friday, February 1
Rae Armantrout and Mark Strand
Sponsored by the
Academy of American Poets
Grand Ballroom
, 3rd Floor,
Hilton
New York, 1335 7th Avenue
8:30 p.m.; FREE and open to the public

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