Saturday, May 10, 2008

 

If you set a Google Alert for the name Robert Creeley, one thing you will discover fairly quickly is that there are quite a few blogs and a growing number of Flickr! pages that tend to post snippets of literature as daily words to live by, rather in the manner of homilies on page-a-day calendars. And that Robert Creeley is becoming something of a favorite for this kind of use. I have no idea how long these sites stay up, nor how many of the upwards of 180,000 websites that mention Creeley they might account for. But there do seem to be a couple of new ones every single day.

This is, of course, a traditional use of literature, not so far removed in its historical context from the sort of use implied in the idea that high school students memorizing & reciting poetry is a “good thing.” Both are a far cry from the conception of poetry as “news” advocated by William Carlos Williams, and are in fact profoundly pre- if not outright anti-modern (let alone postmodern) notions. They recreate a world prior to the invasion of technology (or, for that matter, electricity) into the home. They’re one step removed from using the Bible for these exact same purposes, and it’s noteworthy that the advocates for a federally funded project like Poetry Out Loud don’t advertise the original role of such recitation as an important stepping stone along the path toward a secularized enlightenment. Recitation not only meant that literature was replacing the Bible as a template for living and source of information, but also brought literature to the event’s listeners, many of whom were not yet literate.

I tend to think of such literary projects as the true flarf of our time, since both public recitation and the idea of poetry as homily seem deeply committed to the most sentimental notion of writing one could imagine. Which is why I think it surprising to find somebody so thoroughly identified with the postmodern as Creeley being adopted in such a premodern manner. It’s not that one can’t find instances in his writing that might not be amenable to such use – more than a few readers complain of Creeley’s sentimentality in his later writing – but generally what I see on the web these days are the early poems, especially those from For Love, being yoked to this purpose. How ironic, given Creeley’s own comment upon sentimentality in the poem from which that volume takes its title:

For love – I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Nor is Creeley alone in this predicament – what exactly was the meaning of Ron Padgett on Prairie Home Companion a few weeks back?

It’s hard not to see the sentimentality in some of these circumstances. Consider this promotional framing that came in an email I received Friday from PBS Newshour, promoting a story it planned to do last night on poetry. What follows is verbatim:

*MOTHER'S DAY POETRY

 May 9, 2008

As part of our ongoing NewsHour Poetry Series, tonight we look at (poet) Frances Richey.

The Iraq War has divided many Americans including Frances and Ben Richey. Ben, a graduate of West Point, is a 33-year-old Green Beret who has served two tours of duty in Iraq. His mother, Frances, opposed the war, creating a rift in what was a close relationship between a single mother and her only child. But in response, Frances wrote poems about and for her son, collected in a new book, The Warrior. The poetry has helped bring mother and son closer together again.

I don’t want to make light of the sacrifices and risks experienced either by Ben or his mother. But at what level is their experience being converted by poetry into the television equivalent of greeting card sentiment? And to what degree is poetry simply being (mis)used by PBS? Those are not easy or automatic yes-or-no questions. I don’t think Creeley’s “I Know a Man,” for example, ought to be read in this fashion, and yet I can see that some people are doing just that.

Whenever we see poetry being equated with sentiment and sentiment equated with responses to military intervention, as with the Richeys, it’s hard, frankly, not to remember that schmaltz was the aesthetic preference & sentimentality the preferred emotion of the Nazis. Or, for that matter, how these same phenomena contributed also to Stalinist social realism. This isn’t a left/right question so much as one of totalitarian psychology per se. Sentimentality is the quintessential totalitarian emotion.

Poetry can be the linguistic equivalent of weight training – an experience of language in all its resistance, a world in which “more difficult” does in fact mean “better.” Or it can be hollowed out in service entirely to the referent, an almost weightless domain of “experience.” Whenever the latter happens, however, social institutions (including those that replicate themselves inside of us) institute an almost automatic hierarchy of such experiences & emotions. This is why it’s so easy for people to falsify memoirs of dark beginnings & upward striving. We want to believe. We want to think that poetry can heal the rift between mother & son, even in the light of a conflict started under false pretenses with no clear goal or end in sight. But no amount of poetry is going to solve the problems of Iraq.

The question I have isn’t about Frances Richey or Robert Creeley or Ron Padgett, who are being used for the agendas of others, so much as it is why are we seeing this resurgence, right now, of totalitarian framing on the part of NPR, PBS and the National Endowment of the Arts? And why do we see it burbling up like so many toadstools along the riverbanks of the Web?

                   for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

 


photo by Chip Cooper

A terrific interview of
Cornelius Eady on Fresh Air

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Dale Smith on Jonathan Williams’
contributions to small press culture

An belated obit from The Times of London

A Jonathan Williams celebration in Philadelphia

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Louis Zukofsky as a “body without organs”

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Tony Tost’s “System Says”

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Adrienne Rich returns

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Close reading (aloud) a sound poem by Jaap Blonk

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The end of the sentence

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Getting rid of book returns

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A musical setting for Creeley’s “Sufi Sam Christian”

The Creeley-Steve Swallow version

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The Nuyorican Poets Café
turns 35

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Hating contemporary poetry
from Allen Ginsberg to Nada Gordon

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Can POD save the back-list?

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The impossible task of being
Alice Walker’s daughter

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Poetry Roundup:
Lewis Warsh, Cristina Perri Rossi, Auggie Kleinzhaler

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Julie Patton & Charles Bernstein on the Bowery

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Brian Cassidy on a collection of early photos & collages
by & about William S. Burroughs

The photos & collages can be linked from the left

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A short history of Korean poetry

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Back to Plath

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An anthology of Greek-American poetry

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Stride exits on its own terms

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A profile of Woeser

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The Palestine Festival of Literature

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Kashmiri poets in Middle Eastern anthology

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Banned Saudi novel available in English

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Shakespeare & philosophy

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Jeanette Winterson on
Shakespeare & Co.

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This week’s death-of-a-bookstore pieces
comes from Seattle

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The poet with too many heads

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Noise in the library

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Web reviews are selling books (duh)

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Giving authors back their ©

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Fatwas can make you a better person

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A profile of Vivimarie Vanderpoorten

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Joyce Carol Oates, taking shots at the canon

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Ilyas Malayev has died

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Poetry & pain

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What future for “foreign” languages?

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Bemoaning contemporary fiction

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Talking with David Yezzi

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Just the whole idea of
a Stephen King-John Mellencamp musical …

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Talking with Dana Gioia

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Talking about Richard Rorty

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Marketing contemporary Chinese art
under questionable circumstances

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John Yau talks to Simon Frost

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The perfect image of
being British”?

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Getting vertical with Richard Serra

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The “Michelangelo of graffiti

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Talking with Jeff Koons

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Mourning the death of Polaroid

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The photo is dead

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Phong Bui talks to Tom Doyle

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Rothko to Qatar

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A profile of Alanna Heiss

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A profile of Anselm Kiefer

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Art school as a place to
stop making sense

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Art writing beyond criticism

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Advancing dance

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Dance & anorexia

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The “Top 100” public intellectuals
are 92 percent male

What else is wrong with this list?

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

 

Recently Received

 

Books (Poetry)

William Allegrezza, Filament Sense, Ypolita Press, San Francisco 2007

Walter Bargen, West of West, Timberline, Fulton MO 2007

Claire Becker, Untoward, Lame House Press, Saginaw & Brooklyn 2007

Emily Borenstein, Night of the Broken Glass and Transformations, Timberline, Fulton MO 2007

Stephen Cramer, Tongue & Groove, University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago 2007

Jack Crimmins, Time has Razors, Earthworm Press & Projects, San Francisco 2007

Alan Davies, Book 6, House Press, no location give, 2008

Norman Dubie, The Insomniac Liar of Topo, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend 2007

Greg Fuchs, Metropolitan Transit, Isabel Lettres, Brooklyn 2007

Adam Getty, Repose: Poems, Nightwood Editions, Gibsons Landing, BC 2008

Albert Goldbarth, The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972 – 2007, Graywolf Press, St. Paul 2007

Phil Hall, White Porcupine, BookThug, Toronto 2007

Sam Hamill, Measured by Stone, Curbstone Press, Willamantic CT 2007

Anthony Hawley, Forget Reading, Shearsman, Exeter 2008

Jeanne Heuving, Transducer, Chax Press, Tucson 2008

Fady Joudah, The Earth in the Attic, foreword by Louise Glück, Yale Series of Younger Poets, Yale University Press, New Haven 2008

James Longenbach, Draft of a Letter, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2007

Dorothea Lasky, Tourmaline, Transmission Press, San Francisco 2008

Andrew Lundwall & Adam Fieled, Funtime, Funtime Press, no location given 2007

Camille Martin, Codes of Public Sleep, BookThug, Toronto 2007

David Mason, Ludlow: A Verse Novel, Red Hen Press, Granada Hills, CA 2007

Colleen J. McElroy, Sleeping with the Moon, University of Illinois, Urbana & Chicago 2007

Sandra McPherson, Expectation Days, University of Illinois, Urbana & Chicago 2007

Andrew Mister, Hotels, Fewer & Further Press, Wendell MA 2007

Karla K. Morton, Wee Cowrin’ Timorous Beastie: A Scottish Epic Story Written in Rhyme, music by Howard Baer, Lagniappe Publishing, Denton, TX 2007

Ariana Reines, Coeur de Lion, Mal-o-Mar, Brooklyn 2007

Kyle Schlesinger, Hello Helicopter, BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo 2007

Ron Smith, Moon Road: Poems 1986 – 2005, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 2007

Carole Stone, Traveling with the Dead, The Backwaters Press, Omaha 2007

John Tritica, Sound Remains, Chax Press, Tucson 2008

Lewis Turco, Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems 1959 – 2007, Starcloud Press, Scottsdale 2007

Chris Vitiello, Irresponsibility, Ahsahta Press, Boise 2008

Laura Walker, Rimertown: An Atlas, UC Press, Berkeley 2008

Tom White, Joke Book: The Goodbyes Remixed, self-published, Cardiff, South Wales, no date iven

Meg Withers, A Communion of Saints, TinFish Press, Kāne’ohe, HI 2008

Cecilia Woloch, Narcissus, Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT 2008

 

Books (Other)

Tisa Bryant, Unexplained Presence, Leon Works, no location given, 2007

Bob Grumman, From Haiku to Lyriku: A Participant’s Impressions of a Portion of Post-2000 North American Kernular Poetry, Runaway Spoon Press, Port Charlotte, FL 2007

 

Journals

Action Poetique, no. 191-192, February 2008, Ivry-sur-Siene, France. Florence Passottu, Michel Deguy, Mohamed Ouagrar, El Mehdi Iazzi, Christine Lavant, Mai Cheng, Jidi Majia, Lisa Robertson, Paul Rodenko, Nathalie Quintane, Fabienne Vallin, Patrick Laffont, more.

Cannot Exist, no. 1, February 2008, Madison, WI. Includes Rob Halpern, Rick Burkhardt, Laura Sims, Arielle Guy, Lisa Jarnot, Rodrigo Toscano, Roberto Harrison, Kent Johnson.

Court Green, no. 5, 2008, Chicago. Includes Jan Beatty, Susan Briante, Chelsey Minnis, Brian Young, Daneen Wardrop, Ron Koertge, Grace Ocasio, Noah Eli Gordon, Jack Anderson, Jordan Davis, Denise Duhamel, Roberto Harrison, Stephanie Strickland, Nancy Kuhl, Sarah Vap, Pat Nolan, Alice Notley, Amy Gertsler, Tim Dlugos, Baron Wormser, Rachel Loden, Ivy Alvarez, Amy Newman, Sarah Murphjy, Wayne Koestenbaum, Muriel Rukeyser, Jean Valentine, Diane Di Prima, Lee Ann Brown, Sylvia Plath, Mary Jo Bang, Susie Timmons, more.

The Ixnay Reader, vol. 3, 2007, Philadelphia. Includes Christophe Casamassima, Stan Mir, Susana Gardner, Noah Eli Gordon, Jules Boykoff, Jen Hofer, Mark Wallace, Divya Victor, Harold Abramowitz & Graham Foust.

Model Homes, no. 2, Winter 2008, Detroit. Includes Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Lawrence Griffin, Tan Lin, Judith Goldman, Kit Robinson, Robert Fitterman, Carla Harryman, Jennifer Scappettone, Tao Lin, Louis Cabri, Seth Landman, Nancy Shaw & Catriona Strang.

Room to Move, no. 1, no location given 2008. Includes Steve Collis, Derek Beaulieu, Joanne Arnott, Hugh Thomas, Nikki Reimer, Ron Silliman, Gary Barwin, Gregory Betts, more.

 

Other Media & Formats

Tuesday; An Art Project, vol. 1, no. 2, Fall 2007, Waltham MA. Includes Jilly Dybka, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Joan Houlihan, Ravi Shankar, Rosmarie Waldrop, more. Postcards in a folded cover.

 

Still catching up on all items received
since January 11.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

 

Brenda Coultas is one of those startlingly original poets who makes you scratch your head & reach for all manner of inappropriate comparisons just to contextualize what she’s doing to American verse. Generally she hangs with the post-avants – one might align her fascination with history & documentation with the likes of Cecil Giscombe or Paul Metcalf (or, most recently, Stacy Szymaszek), all writers who extend the Olsonian tradition of poet as archivist. But Coultas is also interested in the local & the offbeat to such a degree that she totally sidesteps the implicit heroism of the questing historian. In The Marvelous Bones of Time we hear her called, as surely as she must have been as a child, both coatless & poultice. Yet in no way is this fabulous, quirky volume a recitation of childhood, even as it tackles issues that have everything to do with one’s place in the world. Ultimately, the writer she reminds me of most – perhaps because he also hangs with the post-avants but is truly unclassifiable – is Merrill Gilfillan. Gilfillan, tho, is a great nature writer, a totally different focus than Coultas’ much more social poetics. Yet both are people you can read for the deep pleasure that is just present everywhere in their exacting, intelligent work, as they turn your attention to topics you never would have imagined choosing to read about. Both are poets who mine that fine borderline between poetry & prose, bringing the strengths of both to most of what they do. And both are writers of “inner America,” a very different land than along any of its coasts.

If Laurel Blossom’s Degrees of Latitude was an instance of the poem as book, The Marvelous Bones of Time is two such projects – right down to separate tables of contents. The first, and shorter, of the two, is The Abolition Journal (or, Tracing the Earthworks of My County), which explores the history of slavery on the border between slave & free states – and the history of slavery & the Coultas clan.¹ The border here specifically is the Ohio River, separating the southern limit of Indiana from the northern limit of Kentucky. Kentucky was one of several border states – Maryland, West Virginia & Missouri were others – that technically remained in the Union during the Civil War (West Virginia was, in fact, created when it did not join with the remainder of Virginia in seceding) while permitting slavery. In several of these states there were attempts to secede & Kentucky went so far as to create a Confederate government in exile. Both Abraham Lincoln & Jefferson Davis – and Brenda Coultas – were born in Kentucky. Like Lincoln, she was raised north of the river.

The Abolition Journal is more recognizably poetic of the book’s two sections, for example:

The engineer conducted a train
regularly he (colored)
and free
the silent train
riders (of what color?)
moving toward water

the train has a head and runs through the night
the length and carriage of it
trees and crops fly by

driving through a finger of water
over the shoulders of a river
into the mouth of a creek
toward a point on shore

But then there is this, entitled “War of Words”

There was a war between the Kentuckians and the Hoosiers. The Kentuckians were throwing firecrackers and the Hoosiers were lighting them and throwing them back.

There was a Hoosier fishing on one bank and a Kentuckian fishing on the other. The Hoosier was catching lots of fish while the Kentuckian had none. The Kentuckian said “I’m not getting any bites over here.” The Hoosier said “Come over and try this side, I’ll shine my flashlight beem and you can walk over it.” The Kentuckian said, “No way, I’ll get halfway there and you’ll turn it off.”

Have your heard about the new state farm?
They put a fence around
Kentucky.

Why do ducks fly upside down over
Kentucky?
There’s nothing worth shitting on.

Do you know why they built a bridge across the
Ohio River?
So Kentuckians can swim across in the shade.

The second section – or book – within this book, A Little Cemetery, consists of four sequences, each of which has to do with the tales of ghosts, monsters or other matters of the paranormal. This piece comes immediately after the sequence – an account of trying to make a film of pet pigs that has become harder because the pigs have been eaten – which actually gives the book its title. It’s called “More Monsters”:

Several people offer to help us with our monsters. What do you mean by help? I ask, not sure if they intended to offer moral support or to help us capture the creature. Although we read the sign that said, “Take only memories,” we want to borrow our creature as proof of something bigger than ourselves and our big box stores, presidential funerals, and wars. This creature could cause all the books to be rewritten, all of science to pause and start over again. A harmless swatch of sweat or spit, the DNA is all we need, but we must get close enough to put a swab in its ear. We intend to give the monster back, not to murder it. Our trap? We need wire and steel, to build a cage to contain it, or we could live in the cage, in the thick of the deep woods protected by steel.

A Little Cemetery, in this sense, is the closest thing I’ve read in a serious work to something akin to the X Files. But it is also the case (and probably where I’d turn if I were trying to work this out in a much longer paper) that in addition to all these supplements from beyond the grave the driving force here seems very much to be gender.

In an issue of the journal Narrativity, Coultas once wrote of herself:

I'm a failed short story writer in the traditional sense. I write the way I write because I have no choice. I wish I could write in a traditional narrative shape (plot, characters, conflict), I mean that I don't do characters that begin to talk and speak as independent entities with free will. I've always been attracted to language more than plot and character. And I hate most fiction. I hate the whole artificial structure of popular fiction yet love artificial elevated language. My last attempt at straight fiction has left me stuck with 6 pages of notes about Southern Indiana carnival life. But every once in a while I fall in love enough to keep going.

I focus on sentences and images. I like to describe. I'm most influenced by documentary film and photographic essays at the moment, and taking a cue from visual artists and piling up a lot of shit (dumping memories, images, found objects into a journal), then sculpting it for a shape. I use narrative to connect, also I'm a sucker for a narrative riff and for beauty. I'm called a poet and prose writer and I'm at home with both titles: however, my main company consists of poets and poetry is a large chunk of my literary diet.

Except for the “failed” bit, this sounds on target, accurate to the experience of Marvelous Bones. What Coultas doesn’t discuss, tho, is how she goes about that sculpting process, which in fact is what makes this work riveting, completely unlike a “piling up.” Rather, both projects here feel more like careful stalking, circumambulations of nuance, accumulations of meaning into layers. The result is a complete world, quite unlike any other.

 

¹ Full disclosure: while my direct ancestors mostly appear to have arrived in North America after the end of slavery, my father’s third wife – I’m the eldest son of the first – was a member of the Heyward clan, descended from Thomas Heyward, who signed the Declaration of Independence representing South Carolina. The Heyward clan, I am told by my half-siblings, was once the largest slave-owning family in the state. One Heyward, DuBose, wrote Porgy and Bess, the novel, the play, plus the libretto and, with Ira Gershwin, some of the lyrics to the musical. Stephen Sondheim has called DuBose Heyward “the author of the finest set of lyrics in the history of the American musical theater.”

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Monday, May 05, 2008

 

Frank Sherlock & Brett Evans’ Ready to Eat Individual

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Rae Armantrout’s Next Life

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10 questions for Reb Livingston

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12 or 20 questions for me

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NY Times obit for Jason Shinder

& the family obit

§

The Poetry Foundation
is searching for
a director

& Harvard seeks
a poetry curator

§

Self-erasing paper

§

Aileen Ibardaloza on Eileen Tabios

§

Remembering Vincent Ferrini

§

Mark Wallace on Maryrose Larkin

§

Geof Huth on a broad array of topics

§

Jasper Berne’s reading list(s)

§

Ginsberg & Césaire (and more)

§

Greenblatt as playwright

Killing Shakespeare

§

LeGuin’s Lavinia

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Talking with Jennifer Karmin

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Jake Kennedy on Andrea Baker

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Remembering Christine Lassiter

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The Original of Laura

§

Assume the position

§

Documenting
the Pearl River Poetry Conference (of 2005)
in the city of
Guangzhou

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Bob Hass on PBS Newshour

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So it went

§

Ezra Pound’s music

§

John Turturro on Beckett

§

The “commie poet” in Barack Obama’s past

§

Of Simic & Ashbery

§

“the logic of art
on the randomness of experience

§

Kent Johnson has never looked better

§

Poems of the late T’ang

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Oregon opts for the dark ages

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The future of poetic satire

§

Mary Karr on Yoruba poetics

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It’s a Small World

§

This week’s death-of-a-bookstore
is the last indie
in the Paso Robles area

§

Another way to kill book sales

§

The ultimate literary product placement

§

Letting the “death poet” be your judge

§

Louis Daniel Brodsky, still wandering

§

A “poetry swap” at the country store

§

Southern Swagger

§

Break every law

There are no rules

§

A laureate reads in Rochester

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Translating Gulzar into English

§

She writes, she knits, she yodels”

§

Poetry & diversity in Newburyport

§

The power of thinking

& also

§

Save the oldest gallery in the world!

§

The Ontario Review ceases publication

§

Banksy underground

§

The fine folk art of screen painting

§

Ruth Asawa’s wire sculptures

§

Suit settled over destroyed mural

§

The latest threat to sculpture

§

Not a fan of the New Museum

Nor here either

§

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

§

What killed classical music?

§

Lesbian homophobes?

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