Saturday, June 28, 2008

 

The current “summer reading” issue of Poets & Writers magazine has this photo of Marilyn Monroe reading Joyce’s Ulysses on its cover. It’s a complicated image: Hollywood ’s iconic “sex kitten” dressed to show her legs on a piece of playground equipment while reading a book famously prosecuted as pornography & equally notorious as a difficult high-art masterpiece. Monroe’s not just reading any old part of it, either – she’s deep into the last chapter, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, Yes.

The photo was taken in 1955 by Eve Arnold (still around & active today at the age of 96), who, like Monroe, was a largely self-taught trailblazer, taking up the camera with little formal training at 36 & becoming, just three years later, the first female member of Magnum, the international photographic cooperative. While Arnold certainly is using the cognitive dissonance of these juxtapositions – ingénue / “difficult modernism” & pornography / playground – I don’t think she’s making fun of Monroe in the slightest. Indeed, Arnold, who has photographed pretty much everybody in her career, is most famous for her work with Monroe, with whom she worked repeatedly during the last 11 years of the actress’ life.

In 1955, Monroe had just blown through her 274-day marriage to Joe DiMaggio and was seeing playwright Arthur Miller, for whom she would convert to Judaism (again echoing her friend Arnold) before their decidedly secular wedding the following year in the law office of a friend. My guess is that this is Miller’s copy of Ulysses. Monroe is working to fit into Miller’s world.

Some of the occurrences of this image on the web suggest that Monroe may just be “pretending” to read the book, but the second photo at the bottom of this note from that same shoot shows Monroe still turned to the same chapter, something I doubt you’d see if she were just opening the book for effect. No, I think the real story is that Monroe’s just about done with the book & Arnold understood just what an opportunity this was.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

 


Barrett Watten, Steve Benson, Kit Robinson          (photo by Tom Orange)

Writing as event:
reading The Grand Piano
at Orono

Language in the 1970s

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In the Un-American Tree:
why langpo is a
U.S. phenomenon

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The PhillySound comes to Fanzine

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The editor strikes back!
Mark Scroggins on Charles Bernstein on Auggie Kleinzahler

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Bruce Andrews:
Meaning, Method, Motive

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Analyzing this blog’s secret sauce

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The uncollected Clark Coolidge

Language, memory & masculinity
in Coolidge’s work

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Talking with Lytton Smith

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Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art

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The dark labyrinth of conceptual poetries

A Euro-conceptualist conception
of the perfect day

Beyond conceptualism & flarf:
toward a slow poetry!

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Anne Tardos, Kenny Goldsmith & Charles Bernstein
on Swedish radio (MP3)

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Hannah Weiner & Basic English

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The “Objectivist” issue of Poetry

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Bernadette Mayer & the Capitalization of everyday life

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Jay Wright’s Polynomials and Pollen

Wright’s The Presentable Art of Reading Absence

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Talking with Jared White & Farrah Field

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Clarity in Oppen & Pound

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Talking with Vincent Quatroche

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Patrick Durgin:
bringing Hannah Weiner to the fore

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Poem predicated on Progress

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John Ashbery’s optional apocalypse

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Marché de la Poésie

Programme

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Talking with Renee Angle

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Jackson Mac Low
& the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E  of intermedia

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Aleda Shirley has died

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Bricolage in Ronald Johnson’s ARK

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Video of Clayton Eshleman reading César Vallejo

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I think of this as the dancing alphabet

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Spending actually declined” last year
in public college libraries

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What didn’t happen in the 1970s

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On we” ennui

Breaking it down
to us & them

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Rachel Zolf wins Trillium

& Coach House wins the Premier’s Award

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Frank Kuenstler on PENNsound

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The power of poetry
over baseball

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Doubt & humor in Robert Creeley

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Mayakovsky & galoshes

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The Magisterium of Poetry

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A piece on poets with disabilities
that makes no mention of
Larry Eigner, John Wieners,
Jimmy Schuyler, Hannah Weiner,
Lynn Strongin, Michael Cuddihy or Scott Bentley

One place you could begin

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“All models are wrong,
but some are useful

§

What would the perfect
online bookstore
look like?

§

Tombstones for bookstores

§

Is Amazon publishing’s
hope for the future”?

§

Patterns

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Rotterdam’s Poetry International Festival

Videos (and some sound clips) of events

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Camus notebooks

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Talking with James Winn
about The Poetry of War

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University presses
start to sell via Kindle

§

Bronk!

§

Everything is poetic
about Times Square

§

The Other Voices International Project

§

FictionDB goes free!!

§

Crank those books out!

§

Archiving the submissions

§

Ancient Greek novels

§

The world’s “top thinker”?

§

Contemporary poetry of Goa

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Does Google rule the world?

§

Bye –bye indie cinema

§

Flarf’s sonic cousin

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The sound of colors

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Digitizing sheet music

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Alan Gilbert on Theodore A. Harris
& the art of collaboration

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On Jed Perl’s attack on the present

§

Dia gets a new director

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Blaming Barnes

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Twyla Tharp & the imitation of self

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Empowerment and/or isolation

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Special kudos to
the National Poetry Foundation
for putting up
so many of the abstracts & documents
from the 1970s conference

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

 


Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) contemplates the price she has already paid
for helping her roommate obtain an abortion

If you saw Christian Mungiu’s masterful, if harrowing, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days in the theater and haven’t had a chance to catch it on DVD – it just came out – I recommend that you get hold of the little round platter just so that you can see the few extras burned onto the disc. If you haven’t yet seen it, I recommend that you do that now & return to this discussion later, for much of what follows will contain spoilers. There is a discussion that moves toward poetics in the last five paragraphs – beginning with “In a sense…” – that can be read separately.

4 luni, as it might be abbreviated in its original Romanian, is the tale of a college student who helps her roommate obtain an illegal abortion during the last days of the (big C) Communist Ceauşescu regime in 1987. One of the most repressive & financially exhausted of all Soviet bloc countries, Romania was a nation with a police state infrastructure that routinely depended on the black market for many, if not most, of the items of daily life. For a student able to obtain quantities of western cigarettes, coffee, shampoo or milk powder, the black market is an easy way through college. For those buying, it’s all about who you know, who they send you to, waiting around for each & ever item – one didn’t shop for pleasure under Communism. If daily life was a hell of waiting under the old regime¹, obtaining something that was dangerous & illegal was much harder.

For his police state, his cult of personality & his laws against abortion, the citizens of Romania let Nicolae Ceauşescu feel their displeasure. He & his wife were shot to death by firing squad on Christmas Day, 1989. The prohibition against abortions during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy did not last out the week.

I’m not going to recount the film’s narrative fully here, other than to note that this is a film all anti-abortion activists should see, since it shows in painful details what occurs when the procedure is illegal. And it’s one film that all volunteers at Planned Parenthood should see as an in-service training, not just to remind themselves why they put up with the bullshit of picket lines & death threats (and on occasion far worse), but also why every abortion itself is a tragedy of bad choices & poor planning, & why it’s so important to get contraceptive tools & information distributed far more widely than they are today. In 4 Months, the traditional risks of illegal abortion – arrest, death – are skirted, in part because the main characters are all educated people in their early 20s. Imagine this same film with 13-year-olds & the movie you get is a far cry from Juno.

But what interests me here are some decisions writer / producer / director Mongiu made in putting together this film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes & earned him a gold medal from the current president of a still impoverished Romania. The first is the absence of music, which appears only toward the end of the film’s credits. The second are the obvious dramatic threads that are picked up & left hanging, most notably a sequence in which Otilia surreptitiously picks through the abortionist’s bag & steals a knife, an item that foretells all manner of bad endings but never otherwise is used dramatically in the film (I think she notices it again much later, but does so I think just so we recall its presence). Mongiu discusses these in one of the most intelligent director interviews I’ve seen among the added features. In real life, Mongiu argues, life isn’t accompanied by a sound track, things occurs for which there is no closure, experience isn’t aestheticized – to replicate this he has had to build them into the film, adding details that then don’t get followed, eschewing music, refusing to make jump cuts within scenes so as to coerce an audience’s perception of the action. The result is that the film is a series of very long takes, that often Anamaria Marinca, the amazing actress who plays Otilia, has her back turned to the camera & that actual camera shifts within scenes – as when Otilia comes into the bathroom to wash herself out after having been raped by Mr. Bebe, the abortionist – almost cause a kind of vertigo because they’re so rare. In one key scene, the characters’ faces are entirely in darkness. Often the characters are not centered (an issue if you see this in the unletterboxed DVD version) onscreen. Otilia is left waiting in Mr. Bebe’s Soviet-era automobile while he steps out to argue with his mother, who otherwise has no role in this film.

But I don’t think that the only role these elements serve is to heighten our sense of the film’s imitation of real life – I think that Mongiu is being disingenuous in the interview when he suggests this. Rather, I think he is playing quite deliberately with the audience’s well developed expectations, and that the knife in particular is an exceptionally cagey choice for just such treatment. It’s not just that it’s a detail that doesn’t go anywhere, but Mongiu knows full well that we are all waiting for it to be used, to save Gâbita, to kill Mr. Bebe, whatever. Mongiu does exactly the same thing with a remarkable dinner sequence, as Otilia & her boyfriend Adi sit silently at dinner (she’s at the table, he’s behind her, as they celebrate his mother’s 48th birthday). With ten guests around a table that, in the U.S., would never be asked serve more than six, we can see the young couple’s alienation, from his parents & from one another, as the roomful of doctors (and doctors’ wives – Mongiu’s own parents are doctors & he was only a little younger than Adi when this story would have taken place) jabber away, a key detail being that the head of their “unit,” wherever they all work, got their not on his medical skills, but rather on his “healthy” ability to get on “in the [Communist] party”. Everyone talks, not quite at once, Otilia & Adi remain silent, the center of our screen &, with Adi’s mother, our attention. With few if any cuts, the scene took five days to film. Onscreen, it runs less than five minutes.

In a sense, Mongiu recognizes that, just as a poem is a “machine made of words,” to quote Dr. Williams, a film likewise is a “machine made of cuts & scenes” and thus has to achieve “artlessness” as a surface by building it in, not unlike the way Judy Grahn deliberately builds in artlessness to her very best (& relatively early) poems, such as “A Woman is Talking to Death” or “A Common Woman.” It isn’t inherent in the medium, whether film or poetry. Clarity, after all, isn’t a given – it’s an effect.

In the past few weeks I’ve noticed several comments, laments really, from people about the alleged “elitism” of post-avant poetics, including several comments the other day to my note contrasting flarf & conceptual poetics, but also on my nephew Daniel’s blog as well. As I noted on my links list Monday, connecting to one such complaint, it’s an argument that could have been made against some of the work of the troubadour poets in the High Middle Ages (1100 – 1350). And it’s become increasingly the case as other genres, from the novel to reality TV, have come along to absorb some of the social roles traditionally encased in the poem. The one function – the only one – that no other genre can take from poetry is its role as the art of language without limit. And in a nation in which 90 percent of the readers (and 100 percent of the editors) of the New York Review of Books are insane if they think that they’re literate, that does make poetry something that can only work for the masses under two circumstances –

   the poet her- or himself is capable only of a handful of surface effects (the Kooser / Collins road)

   the poet her- or himself makes conscious decisions to build in hooks that give the appearance of dumbing it down for the “average Joe” (the Robert Creeley / Judy Grahn / Frank O’Hara road)

One of these is, I would submit, a legitimate aesthetic choice. And one of these strikes me as having more to do with neurological pathology than it does literature. (If someone no brighter than George W. Bush wrote poetry, would Garrison Keillor think it “good”?) I think it’s clear that Mongiu’s road is that of the aesthetic choice.

A second “bonus” feature on the DVD gives us some indication as to why. One of the “benefits” of post-Communist life in Romania, a nation with twice the population of Pennsylvania, has been the destruction of its film industry. Without state sponsorship, there is little in the way of funding for films. And most of the old theaters are in commercial districts where more money can be made by putting the buildings to other uses. With a population of 22 million people – 2 million in Bucharest alone – Romania now has just three dozen cinemas. To show a film like 4 luni to Romanian audiences, some of whom have not seen a film in a theater in the 19 years since the fall of Ceauşescu, the filmmakers put together a caravan that traveled to thirty cities over one month, showing the picture in auditoriums or even on outdoor screens & walls – they brought their screen with them in addition to all the projection equipment needed for 35mm viewing, Over the month, the film reached an audience of nearly 18,000 people – a great success for Romanian cinema, but frankly pathetic numbers compared to the 5+ million tickets sold the first weekend of Sex and the City in the USA. (In fact, film caravans exist throughout Europe as an alternative means of distribution for regional – non US blockbuster – or serious cinema, the problem’s not unique to Romania, just more pronounced.)

I have always – even as a teenager – been interested in what the troubadours called trobar clus, that writing they reserved for their best readers / listeners, themselves, the origin of the sestina. I want a poetry that does the very most it can do – all of the 19 books from the Poetry Society of America contest that I really loved (I have seven still to profile here) reflect that. Some do so in terms that enable them to reach broader audiences, but others don’t avail themselves of that choice, taking what I might call the Stein / Zukofsky / Beckett / Joyce / Watten road instead. The idea that one road (the Creeley / Grahn et al road) is morally superior to the Stein et al road is, I think, defensible only – and I do mean only – if you think that the population of the US, and the other English-speaking countries, is so deeply, even permanently damaged that a truly literate art of language can never fully exist. That’s a possibility, but I’m much more of an optimist than that.

 

¹ My experiences in Russia two years later confirm this. Under Communism’s last stages, life was logistics.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

 

Writing as Event!


THE GRAND PIANO, Part 6
An Experiment in Collective Autobiography
San Francisco, 1975-1980

By Ron Silliman, Steve Benson, Bob Perelman, Kit Robinson, Barrett Watten, Lyn Hejinian, Carla Harryman, Rae Armantrout, Ted Pearson, and Tom Mandel.

"A vital contribution to the collective memory of the poetry of that period.... The relationship of the individual to the society and its intermediate institutions, such as the Grand Piano readings, is relevant to any thoughtful analysis of the place of poetry writing and production today."

        —James Sherry, Jacket 34

"The collective autobiographers are less interested in revising the past and more interested in using the narratives of their history to further contextualize the complex poetics and communal history of that poetics for the future...to nurture an arena of possibilities where ideas can be exchanged."

        —Rob Fitterman, “Futuring The Grand Piano

"The Grand Piano is itself a veering off and an investigation and a playing or experimenting with the materials of language, history, textuality, and temporality, the personal and political, poetry and community.... There is an abundance to linger over in The Grand Piano even as and perhaps because of the large gaps and contradictions."

        —Robin Tremblay-McGaw, How2

Copies of single volumes may be ordered from Small Press Distribution

Subscriptions to The Grand Piano (ten volumes, at quarterly intervals, beginning with parts 1–6), are available; Send order form and check for $90 made out to Lyn Hejinian, 2639 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA 94705. Partial subscriptions starting from no. 2 are $80; from no. 3, for $70; from no. 4, for $60, from no. 5, $50; from no. 6, $40, etc.

Order forms may be downloaded here: color or b&w

Designed and published by Barrett Watten, Mode A/This Press (Detroit).
6885 Cathedral Drive, Bloomfield Twp., MI 48301.

http://www.thegrandpiano.org

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Monday, June 23, 2008

 

A tribute to Keith Wilson

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Flood pictures
of the University of Iowa

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Context, misreading & aggression
at the Aggression Conference

Juliana Spahr on the distinction
between a poetics of difference
& one of indeterminacy

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A response to The Grand Piano

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Kristin Prevallet on The Age of Huts (compleat) (PDF)

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Joel Brouwer on C.D. Wright

Angela Garbes on Rising, Falling, Hovering

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Talking with Mark Wallace

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Tracie Morris on PENNsound

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John Ashbery live
at the Griffin Prize

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A field guide to poetry in Cleveland

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Alan Gilbert on the Beats in India

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Philip Metres on Bruce Andrews
(with the Bill O’Reilly video)

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Jasper Bernes on the 1970s conference

Peter O’Leary on same (& day 2)

Rodney Koeneke’s An Alphabet for Orono (& part 2)

The Clark Coolidge experience

Thinking about (the Experimental Poetry) Community

Ben Friedlander’s photos now number 187
including this group shot
(click on the big version)

Patrick Pritchett’s photos

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For an Unoriginal Literature

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Reading Mac Low,
reading me reading Mac Low

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Langpo & New Narrative

§

The Kabbalistic Flarfist

A planh one could have made
about the troubadours

Flarf is people…

Animal, human, flarf, conceptual

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Upper Limit Los Angeles

§

Long live the Prince of Poets

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Eshleman reads Vallejo

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Talking with Honor Moore

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The blood of Sarah Manguso

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Leila Wilson on Eileen Myles (PDF)

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Howl & the paperback revolution

Allen Ginsberg reading Howl

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Four Jack Spicer poems in Portuguese
(plus “Thing Language” read by Jack)

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“a Human Rights Watch
labor report
refashioned in free verse”

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Susan Howe reading “The Nonconformist’s Memorial”

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Didi Menendez on the Joe Milford Poetry Show

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Mark Nowack on Fordism & poetics

§

In which Scribbleskiff
discovers Jonathan Williams

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performing a Robert Creeley

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Jena Osman reading “Mercury: A Visualization”

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2 versions of a poem by Phil Whalen

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Fond of fonts

§

Rise of the mini-lecture

§

Jackson Mac Low reads “Stein 100: A Feather Likeness
of the Justice Chair”

§

Who killed the semi-colon?

§

A profile of Crazzy” Dave Dessler,
Ottawa street poet

§

A profile of Kanwal Bharti

§

A.S. Byatt: from text to textile

§

Travis Nichols: anthologies offer poetic diplomacy

§

Travis Nichols on the problems of laureates

we don’t need a poet laureate

§

John Ronan succeeds Ferrini
as
Gloucester laureate

§

A profile of Gloucester book dealer
Gregory Gibson

§

In Berkeley, Cody’s closes

Olsson’s is closing
one of its DC stores

§

In Minneapolis, Amazon has been saved

§

Indies fight to stay afloat

§

Blackwell’s to launch
print-on-demand

§

In Portsmouth, NH, a move
to hold readings year round

The Portsmouth Laureate home page

§

Anne Waldman reads “Stereo”

§

Self evident

§

Lutheran Surrealism: summing up

§

J.G. Ballard’s surrealism of the suburbs

§

Patti Smith’s Auguries of Innocence,
expanded & reissued

§

Wanda Coleman reads “American Sonnet (35)”

§

A correspondence with Guy Davenport

§

B.S. Johnson’s novel in a box
(some assembly required)

§

Poetry & society
in
China

§

Linh Dinh on sports nationalism in poetry

§

How Louis Jenkins’ “Back Country”
got recited at the Tony Awards

§

a poet trying to have an experience

§

D.A. Powell on New Bat City

§

21st century medievalists

§

Blackburn-born poet returns to roots

§

Jay Parini on the punishing poetry
of Robert Frost

Out, Out

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Are you a member of the School of Quietude?

§

Naguib Mahfouz’ Cairo Modern

§

52 countries will be represented
at this Macedonian poetry conference

§

“an exaggerated sense of importance”

§

Ladi Soyode, lawyer, poet & politician

§

A transcript of Mary Karr
doing Q&A online

Karr on Keats

§

Mark Doty bemoans
conservativism that holds on in the literary world”

§

New book from “old, dead, dull poet

§

Adam Kirsch, rereading Robert Lowell

§

What about Charles Williams,
asks the Archbishop of Canterbury

§

A novelist’s take on
the Iowa Writers Workshop
of the 1980s

§

More people who lost “their voice

§

Richard Shelton
& poetry in prison

§

The question of politics
in Anglophone Cameroon poetry

§

The rhymes of war

§

Carlin Romano on Salman Rushdie

§

Talking with Pamuk & Oe

§

The novelist and the murderers

§

Dylan Thomas: propagandist

“The Art of Conversation” (PDF)

A poet for people who really don’t like poetry

§

Getting paid for writing well

§

Covering the poems of James Joyce

§

An “antidote to the image
of poet as princess

§

Edwin Morgan: modest magus

§

Changing © in Canada

§

Alex Lemon, a poet of white space

§

Poughkeepsie teen
wins a top award

§

Susan Firer & Kevin Prufer

§

A grief-driven poetics

§

Rereading Lolita
from the girl’s point of view

The Lolita Effect

§

Imagining Sylvia Plath

§

MLA added to WorldCat

§

Canada terrorizes Jaspreet Singh

§

Think of it as a sales opportunity

Or a good career move

§

There’s more to research than Google

§

AUTO / PALSY / PLAZA
& other “rubber haiku

§

Reading Peter Bürger

§

Barry Schwabsky on Peter Schjeldahl

§

Monday at MoMA:
Writing Dalí

§

Luc Sante on graffiti vs. advertising

§

Would Australia ban Botticelli?

Censorship isn’t the answer

§

Why critics suck

§

When art & sports critics
trade jobs

§

A Jeff Koons retrospective

§

Frank Stella, campaigning
against the “orphan ©” law

§

The joy of dumbed-down trophy art

§

Hirst bypassing galleries altogether

§

The ultimate elitist object

§

Philip Guston & the poets

Brother from another planet

§

Talking with Robert Irwin

§

Suing the Basquiat authentication committee

§

Twombly at the Tate

§

The most expensive painting
ever sold in Australia
is still a Picasso

§

The Barnes is kaput!

§

Big Bird turns 74

§

A profile of Jean Eustache

A retrospective of his films
next month in
Toronto

§

Godard:
Everything is Cinema

§

Transgender Turkish pop star
faces jail for anti-war message

§

Deconstructing “Luka

§

Ho, ho, hey, hey
the old New Left is in the way

§

Lakoff’s Obama

Lakoff’s brain

The neurobiology of meaning

§

Which type are you?

§

Bye-bye George Carlin

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