Friday, July 18, 2008

 

Kay Ryan has been named Poet Laureate of the United States (PLOTUS in Donald Hall’s useful acronym). And while she is being pitched as an outsider in this position, she also represents the 47th consecutive School of Quietude poet to hold the position in its 71 year history.¹ The sole attempt at an exception ever was the 1952 invitation to William Carlos Williams, who declined due to illness & never served. Williams still gets listed, I see, in some rosters, perhaps out of embarrassment at just how one-sided this peculiar institution has been. The male-female & white-nonwhite ratios have nothing on the stranglehold grasp of this one small literary tendency. Avants & post-avants are right there with Asian- and Hispanic-Americans when it comes to celebrating the voice that is great within us. We. Just. Don’t. Exist.

Still, Ryan could be called a genuine outsider. She doesn’t teach in Amherst or Cambridge or New Haven, but at the College of Marin, a junior college just north of San Francisco. She is not included in Oxford’s Anthology of Modern American Poets – tho neither are Kooser, Simic or Hall among recent laureates. Even more telling, Ryan is not among the 110 poets included in the encyclopedic Bay Poetics anthology.

But if Ryan is a cipher to much of the poetry scene even in her own community, the reality is that she’s not a bad writer. Nor is she a typical quietist in her use of short forms & short lines. And the real test of her tenure won’t be whether or not she is worthy of the award – there are hundreds of poets, post-avant & quietist alike, with similar credentials. The test will be what she does with the position.

The task of the successful laureate presumably is to improve the conditions for poetry during his/her tenure in the office. In this regard, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Ted Kooser & Donald Hall were all successful, because they used the bully pulpit of the office to advocate for verse itself. Kooser may have also used the post to take some potshots at those who don’t confuse sentimental mawkishness for “plain speech,” but on the whole his American Life in Poetry newspaper feature, the main consequence of his term as PLOTUS, is a fair argument for what he likes, and it at least gets the idea of poetry out to audiences who might well have no other serendipitous access to the form.

By comparison, Louise Glück did a few interviews at the start of her term & otherwise disappeared into the night. Still, even a bump on a log could have made a more positive contribution to the genre than the office’s most recent occupant, the aforementioned Mr. Simic. He attacked what he didn’t like – big books, complexity, the New Americans – & let it go at that. Even the three years the post went vacant after Williams turned it down could not match Simic in diminishing its prestige & importance. The most polite thing that can be said about Simic is that he didn’t understand the position or the opportunity he had been given.

This places Ryan into an interesting situation. Expectations could hardly be lowered any further. The task before her is not simply to find new and useful ways to promote the diversity of American poetries, but to rehabilitate the office of PLOTUS itself. She can begin by presuming that she represents all of the poets & poetries of the nation, not just the same little clique that’s clung to the job since 1937.

 

¹ Stanley Kunitz held the post twice, in 1974-76 and again in 2000-2001. Glück & Rita Dove also has held the post twice, each being part of a SoQ trifecta for Y2K along with W. S. Merwin. Coming after Hass & Pinsky, that was a three-can-be-less-than-one experience.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

 

   

Recently Received

 

Books (Poetry)

Christopher Arigo, In the Archives, Omnidawn, Richmond, CA 2007

Julianna Baggott, Compulsions of Silkworms & Bees, Pleiades Press, Warrensburg, MO & Rock Hill, SC

Carlos Blackburn, The Selected Poems of Hamster, Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn 2008

Blesilda I.R. Carmona, A Novice in Altruism and Other Poems, Watermark Press, Owings Mills, MD 2007

Jack Cooper, Across My Silence, World Audience, New York 2007

Patrick Durgin & Jen Hofer, The Route, Atelos, Berkeley 2008

Craig Dworkin, Parse, Atelos, Berkeley 2008

Amy England, Victory and Her Opposites: A Guide, st1:City>Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT 2007

Susan Firer, Milwaukee Does Strange Things To People: New and Selected Poems, 1979 – 2007, The Backwaters Press, Omaha 2007

Keith Flynn, The Golden Ratio, Iris Press, Oak Ridge , TN 2007

Terri Ford, Hams Beneath the Firmament, Four Way Books, New York 2007

Noah Falk, Measuring Tape for the Midwest, Pavement Saw Press, Montpelier OH 2008

William Fuller, Three Replies, Barque, London 2008

John Gallaher, The Little Book of Guesses, Four Way Books, New York 2007

Kawita Kandpal, Folding A River, Marick Press, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 2007

Janet P. Kirchheimer, How to Spot One of Us, CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, New York 2007

John Martone, Ordinary Fool, Dogwood & Honeysuckle, Charleston, IL 2008 (text differs dramatically from PDF on website)

Davis McCombs, Dismal Rock, Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT 2008

Elizabeth Seydel Morgan, Without a Philosophy, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 2007

Paulann Petersen, Kindle, Mountains and Rivers Press, Eugene OR 2008

Greg Rappleye, Figured Dark, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville 2007

Rebecca Seiferle, Wild Tongue, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend 2007

Nathalie Stephens, The Sorrow and the Fast of It, Nightboat Books, Cold Spring, NY 2007

Larissa Szporluk, Embryos & Idiots, Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT 2007

Susan Tichy, Bone Pagoda, Ahsahta Press, Boise 2007

Kyle Torke, Still in Soil, World Audience, New York, NY 2007

Lee Upton, Undid in the Land of Undone, New Issues Press, Kalamazoo 2007

Nance Van Winckel, No Starling, University of Washington Press, Seattle & London 2007

Anne Waldman, Red Noir, Farfalla Press / McMillan & Parrish, Brooklyn 2008

Dana Ward, Goodnight Voice, House Press, Berkeley 2008

Rachel Zucker, The Bad Wife Handbook, Wesleyan, Middletown, CT 2007

 

Books (Other)

Joel Bettridge & Eric Murphy Selinger, editors, Ronald Johnson: Life and Works, National Poetry Foundation, Orono 2008. Includes essays by Mark Scroggins, Patrick Pritchett, Norman Finkelstein, Edward Foster, Donald Revell, Barbara Cole, Susan M. Schultz, Michael Basinski, Jonathan Brannen, Marjorie Perloff, Jena Osman, Nicholas Lawrence, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Jonathan Skinner, Burt Kimmelman, Gregg Biglieri, Richard Deming, Graham Foust, Paul Naylor, Devin Johnston, and more.

Heimito von Doderer, Divertimenti and Variations, translated by Vincent Kling, Counterpath Press, Denver 2008

Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Absolutely Eden, United Artists, New York 2008

 

Journals

House Organ, No. 63, Summer 2008, Lakewood, OH. Includes John Olson, Nathan Whiting, Clayton Eshleman, Anna Soo-Hoo, Diane Di Prima, William Sylvester, Curtis Faville, Cliff Fyman, Merrill Gilfillan, Harrison Fisher, David Miller, Edward Sanders, more.

Matrix, issue 80, Summer 2008, Montreal. Includes Arjun Basu, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Pasha Malla, Chandra Mayor, Heather O’Neill, Darren Wershler-Henry, more.

Parmentier, vol. 17, no. 2, June 2008, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Dossier T=A=A=L. Includes Bruce Andrews, Rae Armantrout, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Susan Howe, Michael Palmer, Bob Perelman, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten, all in Dutch translation, plus essays by Ton van ‘t Hof, Eliot Weinberger, Elisabeth Tonnard, Han van der Vegt & Arnoud van Adrichem, Samuel Vriezen, Sarah Posman, more.

Work, no. 6, no date listed, Oakland. Includes William Moor, Rebecca van de Voort, Thierry Brunet, Tony Perniciaro

Zen Monster, vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 2008, Elberon, NJ. Includes Anne Waldman, Barbara Henning, Bob Perelman, Brian Unger, Charles Bernstein, Cole Swensen, Eliot Katz, Fanny Howe, Gary Snyder, Gloria Frym, Hank Lazer, Henri Michaux, Matvei Yankelevich, Norma Cole, Norman Fischer, Philip Whalen, Reed Bye, Richard Siebuth, Simon Pettet, Stephen Paul Miller, Steve Benson, Susan Bee, Wang Ping, Will Alexander, many, many more.

 

Other Media & Formats

Robert Anbian, I Not I, Edgetone Records, El Cerrito 2008 (Double-CD)

Bobby Byrd & Joe Hayes, Bobby Byrd and Joe Hayes at the Outpost, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2006. CD

Robin Demers, Ghost of light / Marcus Merritt, memory preserved, House Press, Berkeley 2008. Two-sided cardstock broadside, 5.5”x8.5”

Gene Frumkin, Gene Frumkin Reads, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2005. CD

Larry Goodell, Larry Goodell Live in Placitas, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2006. CD

Burt Hatlen, New Poems, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2007. CD

Mary Rising Higgins, George Kalamaras, Mary Ann Cain, Gene Frumkin, Reading at the Harwood Art , Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2006. CD

Mary Rising Higgins, Mary Rising Higgins, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2005. CD

Joseph Massey, At Once, The Cultural Society, Minneapolis 2008. Cardstock broadside. 4.5” x 10”

Margaret Randall, Margaret Randall Reads, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2008. CD

Michael Rothenberg & David Meltzer, Michael Rothenberg and David Meltzer at the Outpost, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2007. CD

Cedar Sigo After DREAM, artwork by John Huston. House Press, Berkeley 2008. Two-sided cardstock broadside, 5.5”x8.5”

Bill Sylvester, Bill Sylvester Reads, Vox Audio, Magdalena NM 2006. CD

 

 

Still catching up on all items received
since January 11.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

 

Ben Friedlander
on flarf, SloPo & slow food
from his vantage in
Sicily

§

The role of the muse in flarf

§

Juliana Spahr & Eliot Weinberger’s
”post-9/11 poetics”

§

Rachel Blau DuPlessis & William Watkin
discuss Draft 33: Deixis

§

Many recordings of Bill Griffiths

§

Lyn Hejinian & Giorgio Agamben

§

Daisy Fried & Carl Meinhardt
on
Logan’s O’Hara

§

UC Berkeley obit for Alfred Arteaga

§

J.H. Prynne
reading John Wieners’ “Cocaine”

§

William Studebaker
is missing & presumed drowned

§

Clayton Eshleman talking with
Paul Hoover & Maxine Chernoff

§

Seth Abramson on
the state of the small press

And part 2

§

Eleven poems read by Lee Harwood

§

David Vincenti
on classification in poetry

§

Stanley Fish on John Milton

§

Paul Hoover on Newlipo

§

Andrea Brady’s page
at Archive of the Now

§

Charles Bernstein:
Every True Religion is Bound to Fail

§

Geoff Nunberg on language & technology

§

The Pessoa-Crowley correspondence
is for sale

Some poems by Pessoa
in the International Herald Tribune

§

Howard Junker on “Aunt Lute’s Women

§

When an editor take a best-seller with him

§

Rigoberto Gonzáles on Gabriela Juaregui

§

Outrage & a resignation
over Gloucester’s new laureate

§

Tracking George Colburn

§

Theo Dorgan & Gerald Dawes

§

A dozen MP3s of poems by Patricia Farrell

§

Jen Hadfield, Peter Manson & Mervyn Peake

§

Selima Hill’s Gloria: Selected Poems

§

Nabokov’s Crystograms

§

Performing Shakespeare’s Sonnets

§

Recordings & resources
for Kaia Sand

§

The logic of fighting
cultural decay

§

Alan Shapiro’s Old War

§

Giving journalism a bad name

Is it curtains for critics?”
(sans photos)

The critics

§

The return of British avant-garde fiction

§

Tom Weston & Sue Wootton

§

Talking with Edward Hirsch

§

Are ereaders the iPod of books?

§

An arrest at last in the theft of
”the most important printed book
in the English language”

§

A reading in Mangalore

§

Elizabeth Hardwick,
with & without Robert Lowell

§

Meaning Schmeaning

§

Appropriation, quotation, ©, theft

§

Wordsworth “Daffodil” estate for sale

§

A Michigan poetry site

§

A David von Schlegell timeline

§

Robin Gunningham is Banksy

§

TMI

§

What you paint
says about you

§

Playing David Byrne’s building

§

Wright’s Buffalo masterpiece
shines again

§

The reconstruction of Seymour Papert

§

The next renaissance

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

 

Warning: spoilers ahead. If you plan to see Hancock anytime soon, you probably don’t want to read this until you have done so.

Hancock is a mess. I can’t recall the last time I saw a major sci-fi flick with this many narrative holes – narrative canyons, really. Example: one week after a botched bank robbery that cost him his hand, the mastermind of the job is already in prison, outfitted with a prosthetic hook & teamed up with the two cons who most dislike our film’s eponymous hero. We learn that this minor mastermind (groomed to look like the replicant in Bladerunner who failed his psych test) is, by training, a psychology professor who originally put together a gang of grad students. Absolutely nothing ever comes of this seemingly significant & interesting detail, even as the trio break out of Norwalk & come hunting for Hancock.

Example: Our hero “gives himself up” to the law for the incidental damage he causes to buildings, trains, freeways and goes off to jail, and goes to court accompanied not by his lawyer, but by his PR guy. Yeah, I know: adding an extra character and giving him/her lines means having to pay them. But what’s wrong with this picture?

Example: Aforementioned PR guy, Ray Embry (played by Jason Bateman, a bland everyman for Will Smith & Charlize Theron to bounce off of), makes Hancock a superhero uniform to upgrade the street wino image Will Smith’s character has heretofore cultivated. It’s bulletproof so long as the character inside it is. How does it do that? Where did Embry come up with this? It’s a detail, but hey, that’s where the devil is in this production.

Example: Embry is trying to get his PR career off the ground. His wife appears to have no employment. They live in what has to be a multi-million dollar home in LA. Nice trick if you can do it.

Example: In a key scene at the hospital, Embry comes up with an ax to rescue Hancock from the one-handed psych prof. Not just one of those dainty little fireman’s hatchets you might find behind glass and under the word “Emergency.” A big, long-handled lumberjack ax. Nice to have when you need it, but where exactly do they keep these in your hospital?

Oh, and did I mention yet that there’s a second superhero in this plot, one who never rescues any of the citizens from scofflaws and whose only goal in life appears to be making meatballs on Thursday? And watching crime stories on local news. Why & what’s that about? It’s not like these are tossed-off details such as the bank robber’s degree in psych or the fact that Attila the Hun was totally cross-eyed – it’s a major element of the story but it’s never explored. In many ways, this is the most interesting character in the film. And an enormous narrative opportunity not taken.

I thought, while sitting there wondering if this would all make sense, well, sometimes the details you’re given in the original material – such as a graphic novel – create these problems themselves (just watch them try to shoehorn all the extraneous detail into The Watchmen if & when that classic ever makes it to the screen). But it turns out that Hancock isn’t an adaptation. TV writer Vincent Ngo created an original script – then called Tonight, He Comes – that was then rewritten by X-Files veteran Vince Gilligan, who added, for example, the second superhero.

Then there is the biggest gap of all in this film – its rampant homophobia. This occurs in at least four separate places and ways in the movie. The PR guy shows Hancock a series of comic book covers to get him into the idea of a superhero uniform and asks Will Smith what these remind him of. Every response Hancock gives ends on the noun homo. It’s in character & played for laughs & I probably wouldn’t be bothered by it if it weren’t for the other two incidents. Incident two involves a prison fight that is resolved by what most state penal codes would refer to as sodomy by an object (a human head). It’s played for laughs also, even as it propels two of the major baddies toward the film’s final conflict. When asked how it felt later, the psych prof has to prod the victim to “use his words.” In short, this biker type is the victim of a rape conducted by Hancock. The film may remind us of this, but it never suggests that Hancock’s actions are in any major way reprehensible. The third instance is the bully who is terrorizing the Embry’s kid. Why make him a longhair francophone whose name Michel rhymes with the female name Michelle? How does anyone with that profile become the leader of a gang, even in the white upper-class enclaves of LA? What is that about? Finally, there is the film’s favorite epithet: asshole. From beginning to end, that word is never very far from the surface.

Have I mentioned that I think this film is worth seeing? It is, if you can get beyond the homophobia, the narrative chasms & more gore than is usual in the sanitized violence of superhero films. The principle reasons are the acting of Charlize Theron, who is tremendous even if her character is an opportunity the film wastes, and Will Smith, who does a better-than-good job with a range of complex emotions here and is far less loveable than in any of his previous films. (If you thought George Clooney was unloveable in Michael Clayton, you have yet to see Will Smith blow his nose.) When ten-year-olds call Smith an asshole, it has a certain ring of accuracy.

I haven’t seen Theron in Ǽon Flux, her previous sci-fi effort, nor in The Legend of Bagger Vance, her earlier effort with Smith. So this is a side of her that was new to me – and she completely pulls it off. Not unlike Naomi Watts in King Kong, Theron tends to own every scene in which she plays, regardless of who else is on screen nor how strong they’re supposed to be. This is not always a plus. One of the hardest parts of the film to believe is why this woman would have taken up would have taken on Embry, a puppy-dog PR tyro who was then just a widower with an infant. At one point, Embry asks her about her past – you would have thought a married couple might have had that discussion awhile ago – but her back story is, as I’ve said, the Grand Canyon of this film’s missed opportunities. Somebody who just rolls her eyes when you ask about her relationship with JFK has more to say. For example, what did she tell Embry when they first met? And how do her relationships handle her failure to age?

This is not an unenjoyable bit of summer fluff. The premise – that being a superhero brings with it a major psychic toll is a theme that’s been around for some time (viz The Watchmen or The Dark Knight) and, since 9/11, it’s become rampant at the Cineplex. The idea of the one-of-kind being also being alcoholic is as old, at least, as The Man Who Fell to Earth. Hancock brings together & expands the range of these genres. And brings with it some first-rate acting that is just a pleasure to watch. But if you try to make this film work in your head, it’ll just drive you crazy.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

 

Direct by radio from Mars:
11 new poems & letters by Jack Spicer
(intro by Kevin Killian & Peter Gizzi)

here, here, here, here, here, here & here

§

Barrett Watten on the Poetry of the 1970s,
the Orono conference &
the structures of history

§

Reviews by Alan Davies, of
Fritz Peters’ Boyhood with Gurdjieff,
Carla Harryman’s Open Box,
Kristin Prevallet’s Shadow Evidence Intelligence,
Leslie Scalapino’s “Can’t” is “Night”
& my own The Age of Huts (compleat)

§

Sameness vs. Otherness in American poetry:
Robert Archambeau does his Rodney King speech
in the face of history

Archambeau on Bad Ron vs. Good Ron

§

Arundhati Roy: Slow Poet?

“The pleasure of this book
is that it’s a slow read

§

Fanny Howe on Edward Dahlberg

§

al purdy’s home is for sale

§

Lyn Hejinian’s Saga / Circus
is about to appear

§

Is Elizabeth Bishop
a Canadian poet?

§

Tagore’s voice

§

Egyptian star Angham
appears on Prince of Poets

§

Sitting with Fire
(Tassajara fire blog)

The Henry Miller Library’s
Big Sur fire notes

Sur Fire 2008

§

Flood update on Iowa museums

§

Haki Madhubuti on meeting Gwendolyn Brooks

§

Mike Begnal on the Selected Zukofsky

§

L’affaire faux FOH

Andrew Epstein’s letter on
”Finding ‘Finding Leroi a Lawyer’”

Tony Towle’s letter

Andrew Epstein’s reply to Tony Towle

Bill Berkson’s letter

Kent Johnson’s “true account”

Further thoughts by Epstein & John Latta

§

Tim Atkins on Araki in the U.K.

§

Steve Dalachinsky,
jazz poet for the 21st century

§

Contemporary poetry:
schizophrenia vs. aphasia

§

In its first 32 issues,
Shampoo
has had 717 contributors

§

Gary Sullivan on art & consumption

§

Aeons Swish in Eden’s Sway

§

Talking with Boston poet laureate, Sam Cornish

In Kingston, Ontario, a push for a laureate

§

Joe Hutchison
takes exception to my note
of last Saturday

§

Marjorie Perloff on
the clichés of Auggie Kleinzahler

§

Vincent Ferrini’s last works

§

Literary Tats, I kid you not

§

Geoffrey Gatza reading on the rooftop
(with video)

§

The MFA weblog
announces the forthcoming
program at UCSD

§

A South African blog
with a sharp focus
on William Carlos Williams

§

Preparing for a poetry fest
in Jerusalem

§

How is the net changing style?

§

David Orr on poetry & politics

§

Karen Houle’s During

§

A critical biography of Ruth Pitter

§

Copyediting jobs are the latest
to be outsourced to
India

Good riddance

§

In the culture wars,
do facts matter?

§

An article on poetry & cities
that’s reasonably fact free

§

National Review reporter
attends poetry reading

§

Pinsky on Milosz

§

Timothy Kelly’s The Extemities

Not to be confused with
Rae Armantrout’s classic collection

§

Alan Wearne
on the cultural scene
in
Sydney

§

Edward Byrnes lists his blog’s
12 most popular reviews

§

Robert Glück:
I Boombox

§

Scroll down here
to read about
the pigeon poetry championship
in
Canberra

§

Rochester subtexts

§

A profile of Guyanese novelist
Edgar Austen Mittelholzer
(& part 2)

Before Naipul & Walcott
there was Mittelholzer

§

A three-hour video conversation with Katha Pollitt

§

excruciating stuff

§

Funny dude: Salman Rushdie

Best of the Bookers

The key: literary tourism

§

Shakespeare first folio recovered

§

Eleanor Wilner on Howard Nemerov

§

Most-loathed books

§

Farewell to lit crit

§

“the greatest American novel … about marriage

§

Marjorie Perloff on Guy Davenport

§

Keeping literature alive in Baghdad

§

Graywolf’s New European Poets

§

Logger poets

§

Blurbs for sale!?!

§

John Donlan & Louise Bernice Halfe

§

In Australia, a battle of
books & borders

§

Homer is where the heart is

§

The girl with colitis goes by

§

critics resent poets who are understandable

§

Jack Gilbert’s “After Love”

§

Talking with Tom Daley

§

Talking, for 3 hours, with Alice Walker

§

A good report on
the Warwick Writers’ Circle

§

Chick Lit cover trend: headless women

§

the short and brutal careers
in the humanities today

§

Jacob Bennett on low-residency MFAs

§

Life after death
at Antioch?

§

Are books on the brink?

§

Today’s death-of-a-bookstore piece
is more like suspended animation

§

Can newspapers survive?

§

The book business bible on Spring Garden Street

§

de Chirico and poetry

§

Leah Garchik, Paule Anglim & Michael McClure on Bruce Conner

Kenneth Baker on Conner’s work & wit

LA Times obit for Bruce Conner

§

Dutch cartoonist arrested
for “offensive” work
(may require sub)

§

Music has its own
School of Quietude

And it’s just as off-key

§

If they use your music for torture,
do they owe you a fee?

§

George Lewis: Improvised Music after 1950 (PDF)

George Lewis’ history of the AACM

§

Die Soldaten in Boston

§

In Chicago, the blues is dying

§

Words & bridges

§

Richard Brody’s Godard bio:
Everything is Cinema

§

Žižek’s ‘68

§

The “long tail” debate

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