Saturday, August 23, 2008

 

I’m going to be at the shore for a few days, then out to the Olympic Peninsula for a wedding in Port Townsend. Expect things to be spotty and/or pretty quiet until Labor Day.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

 


Portrait by / from J’s Theater

CAConrad interviews
Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Alan Gilbert on DuPlessis

§

Artists’ Books Online
(a tremendous resource
from Johanna Drucker)

§

Rae Armantrout’s
Collected Prose

§

Periodizing Robert Creeley

§

Watten, Kristeva & the ‘80s

§

Lyn Hejinian’s
The Beginner

§

Aesthetics & ethics in
the
School of Quietude

§

Bookstores in Berkeley

§

Robert Pinsky
on
Milton in America

§

Geof Huth
on his work
on the cover of The Alphabet

§

Poetry & the law

Is Radovan Karadzic’s poetry
evidence?

§

Close reading
John Ashbery

John Ashbery on autobiography & language

§

The PLO’s obit of Mahmoud Darwish

At Darwish’s funeral

A man of many homes

Honoring Darwish’s translator,
Fady Joudah

§

Coney Island of the Mind
at 50
(note that the Guardian
actually tries to get the lines right)

City Lights at 55

Al Filreis on Ferlinghetti’s
”Baseball Canto”

§

Louise Glück
looking for the perfect (German) word

§

How many types of poetry are there?

§

Postal poetics

§

Linh Dinh on
poetry & Stalin

§

Should books be rated
for age appropriateness?

§

Bloggers blog on bloggers:
21 reviews of each others’ work

§

Q&A with Kay Ryan

On chickens & comics

§

Talking with Kamla Kapur

§

A profile of Jan Steckel

§

How should poets help one another?

§

Kenneth Fearing & the future of journalism

§

Language is about ambiguity”

§

Sex and the semi-colon

§

The ePockyLips of Speling

§

“50 Near-Perfect Books of
German Poetry

The prose of Heinrich Heine

§

Kafka’s papers

§

Do you buy poetry?
(analysis) (raw data)

§

On buying poetry &
on Landis Everson

§

In Chicago, Transition Books closes

§

How not to run a bookstore

§

What should you do with all those books?

§

On signing books

§

Anthony Hecht:
Auden’s advice

§

Coleman Barks in Iran

§

Not so Scruffy after all

§

A profile of John Toledo

§

Paul Siegell’s Poemergency Room

§

Poems etched in glass

Christopher Fritton’s My Fingernails are Fresnel Lenses

§

The “digital” (free) textbook debate

But hard copy book costs just go up

& price fixing is back

§

The Kindle controversy

§

& then there’s Kapil Sibal,
writing books on his Blackberry

§

Blogs vs. newspapers

6,311 jobs lost
in the nation’s 100 largest papers
in just the last year
(PDF)

§

Texistence

§

Kristi Maxwell’s Realm Sixty-Four

§

W.S. Merwin:
meeting Ezra Pound

§

The letters of Penelope Fitzgerald

§

The “most beloved” author ever
in the
United Kingdom

§

A thumbnail tour
of ancient Chinese classics

§

Audio of “faculty readings”
from this year’s
West Chester Poetry Conference

& from 2007

§

Cowboy poets
come to Stony Plain

§

A poet’s path
from Sierra Leone to Minnesota

§

Poetry at the Big Chill

§

Talking with D.C. Chambial

§

Talking with Jackie Kay

§

First Edwin Morgan Prize awarded

§

A profile of Allison McVety

§

What if Harvard’s English Department
had the same attitude
as its new theater director?

§

What college freshmen do & don’t know

§

Movies ruin novels --
here come Watchmen & On the Road

§

A boxing movie
based on a poem

§

Shakespeare & music

§

Finishing Kubla Khan

§

Music & language

Podcast on
music & the brain
(MP3)

§

Solzhenitsyn & music

§

Sampling & intellectual property
in
Botswana

§

Louis Zukofsky
& the Silver Jews?

§

Archiving art & poetry online:
a panel discussion

§

Post-literate:
asemic writing

One dozen asemic books
in PDF format

§

Extreme collecting:
the Cone sisters of Baltimore

§

CAPTCHA paintings

§

Richard Serra:
Thinking on Your Feet

§

LACMA lands Keinholz’
The Illegal Operation

§

Photography in the age
of total surveillance

§

Nic & Sloy:
life = art = poetry

§

Donald Baechler on style
in
Lower Manhattan

§

Dance & the problem of genre

§

Count this

§

11 issues for the future
according to the
RAND Corporation

§

Jerry Wexler has died

As has Manny Farber

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

 

When I picked Aram Saroyan’s Complete Minimal Poems for the William Carlos Williams award earlier this year, I noted that there were some 19 books entered into the Poetry Society of America contest that were so good that I wanted to give them all awards. I have to date discussed 15 of those books here. One that I haven’t yet written about was also published by Saroyan’s own publisher, Ugly Duckling Presse¹ of Brooklyn. This is Laura Solomon’s Blue and Red Things, a slim book that would be thinner still if it did not reprint an earlier Solomon chapbook, Letters by which Sisters Will Know Brothers.

Solomon is a Philadelphia poet, tho not somebody I’ve met. Her poetry reads like a current generation post-NY school aesthetic, valuing liveliness, spontaneity & wit over the closed pattern work of received forms:

Boots Made of Steel


Feet of little
consequence.

I will stomp
through the forest
so that even the very
tops of the trees can hear me.

Snow will not
bury my tracks.

Yet there is a seriousness here that one doesn’t automatically associate with the New York School, or at least only with very certain members thereof (e.g. David Shapiro) & which can show up here in the most unexpected ways:

What the Buzzard Had to Say

I am small and a weed
but this does not discourage me
with every circle I grow an acre with every road
I feed a tiny god.

There is a cognitive dissonance right at the juncture between tiny & god that is quite remarkable. Imagine a 30-second piece of music, complete in & of itself, that ends deliberately with a fingernail dragged along a blackboard. It’s an effect that only one composer I can imagine (Harry Partch) ever could have pulled off. Solomon makes it look effortless.

This skill comes in especially handy in the book’s two longer sequences, a ten-page piece entitled “Notes to the Music” and the book’s final section, “Letters by which Sisters Will Know Brothers.” In both instances, it’s hard to demonstrate this piecemeal, a quote here or a quote there. Solomon is quite willing to construct one seeming imperfect page after another in a manner that adds up to a great deal of emotional & intellectual power. The elegiac “Letters,” dedicated to two men who died too young at 22 & 44, is that rarest of creatures, a work in the NY School mode that could actually move you to tears. That sense of the imperfect – you can see it in the first poem above which could seem too static, or even in the book’s title, in the vagueness of the word Things – is I think a powerful device, precisely because it’s difficult (if not impossible) not to read it as sincerity. Solomon uses these imprecisions with almost zenlike mastery, like the “perfect” circle of stones that doesn’t come into focus until you move one (and only one) a few inches out of place.

The result is a book toward which I have two distinct reactions. First, it’s serious in the way that life is also. Second, it makes me feel good about poetry, and about the future of poetry. So long as we have poets like Laura Solomon, we have hope.

 

¹ I find that terminal “e” unforgivably pretentious, like all the little boutiques that call themselves “shoppes” in every suburban mall in America.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

 

Available for pre-publication orders today!

This is the poem I’ve been working on since 1979. I can’t even begin to tell you just how much of my life & soul are poured into these pages. “The Alphabet,” it says on the publisher’s website (and I wouldn’t disagree), “is a work of American ethnography, a cultural collage of artifacts, moments, episodes, and voices historical and private—that capture the dizzying evolution of America's social, cultural, and literary consciousness.” It’s also an extended meditation on the possibilities of form. Individual sections of The Alphabet include the following:

Albany
Blue
Carbon
Demo
Engines (written with Rae Armantrout)
Force
Garfield
Hidden
Ink
Jones
Ketjak2: Caravan of Affect
Lit
Manifest
Non
Oz
Paradise
Quindecagon
®
Skies
Toner
Under
VOG
What
Xing
You
Zyxt

At roughly 1,000 pages, The Alphabet is not an inexpensive book $39.95 in paper tho compared with paying $16.95 for a sixty page book of poems, it’s an utter bargain. Fans of Geof Huth will recognize his work in the cover art. The book will be available in September.

With its publication, I am now in the position of having all of my mature poetry available in print. I’m aware of exactly how rare this is in the year 2008. That presses like UC, Salt & Alabama would make such a commitment to my writing is genuinely humbling.

Now it’s time to turn my attention to trying a long poem, Universe.

"Ron Silliman's ongoing long poem The Alphabet . . . mingles quotidian observation, linguistic-philosophical reflection, and street-level social critique to produce as vivid, systemic, and cumulatively moving an account of contemporary life as any poet now writing."
Times Literary Supplement

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

 


Javier Bardem & Rebecca Hall are at the center of Woody Allen’s
Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

There are some spoilers in what follows. Proceed with caution.

What makes Vicky Cristina Barcelona the perfect summer bon-bon is something that the film is missing, even more than all the things it has in great quantity – good writing, decent acting, eminently sympathetic characters, a fabulous soundtrack of Spanish guitar, the architecture of Antoni Gaudi for backdrops, almost perfect pacing. What it doesn’t have, for once in Woody Allen’s career, is Woody Allen. It’s not that he’s not a presence, complete with all the signature tics of his film style – a voiceover narrator, a film that loves to talk, people forever puzzled about love, even the latest in his line of screen muses in the presence of Scarlett Johansson – but Allen’s not on screen & nobody is a stand-in for Allen, not even Javier Bardem’s archetypal Latin lover, the painter Juan Antonio Gonzalo, the male at the center of this very female-focused film. As a result, Allen has done something new: made a movie about Other People. And done so very credibly.

The premise of the film is quite simple: two young American women, vaguely post-college, spend two months in Barcelona. One, Johansson’s Cristina, is an arty type, having just completed a 12-minute movie that has made her wonder what her art form should really be. The other, Rebecca Hall’s Vicky, plays the straight girl, the best friend who’s engaged to be married to a young corporate type, with the single notable anomaly that she’s working on a Ph.D. on Catalan identity. “What are you going to do with that?” one of the film’s secondary characters asks her.

“She’s going to get pregnant,” advises this character’s wife, Patricia Clarkson, the relative who has offered her home to the two girls for July & August, “and that will answer all of her questions.” Except of course, obviously, it won’t. And that really is the story of this film, as it gradually portrays a world in which everyone is well-intentioned, everyone is unsatisfied in love (even Clarkson has a thing on the side with her husband’s business partner), all the women have secrets and the definition of a good life appears to be the willingness to keep asking questions & accept complexity & ambiguity.

None of this is new to cinema – Stealing Beauty, which made a star out of Liv Tyler, does the American-goes-to-Europe-to-find-herself more sensually than VCB (and is a far more accurate portrait of the life of an artist), Desperately Seeking Susan does the straight girl-bohemian girl bond with more zest & it would hard to find more stereotyped Spanish characters than the Bardem’s painter-Lothario & his firebrand ex-wife (from whom Bardem has gotten all of his painting ideas) portrayed with startling gusto by Penelope Cruz. The amazing thing here is that it all works. This is a film all about pacing & balance, with lots of intricate pieces in play at any given moment, in which the characters are forever talking & yet, when Vicky looks over at Juan Antonio as they listen to some Spanish guitar, the whole history of female-male desire is palpable in just her eyes. It’s a great moment & Hall is a terrific actress.

Hall, who received some minor film award nominations for her role in The Prestige, but is largely new to the movies (she comes from a British theater family), is one of the two anchors in this film, the other being Bardem. Bardem’s importance is obvious – he’s involved with all three women – but Hall’s is more subtle & her role more demanding. While Johansson’s Cristina is openly game for everything, up to & including becoming part of an ongoing threesome with the two Spanish painters, Hall has to play somebody more locked into her sense of right & wrong & appropriate. As the film progresses, Johansson’s character grows more certain of herself as a person who is willing to take risks, while Hall’s character discovers that she has depths that will never addressed by a “normal” life. By the film’s end, she’s willing to lie to her husband about how she got shot & you realize that she may very well go on and get pregnant, but that she certainly won’t rely on Doug to provide the depth & meaning to her world.

The only characters in this film about whose internal lives you don’t get some insight are Clarkson’s husband, Mark (character actor Kevin Dunn), & Hall’s husband, Doug, played by Chris Messina (Ted from Six Feet Under). Do they also live lives of quiet desperation or are they the stick figures presented here? The one hint Allen gives that he understands their plight also comes from a third male figure, a young American in a Spanish language class Vicky attends who is just getting started in his career at the embassy & is perfectly willing to hit on the American newly wed. He hasn’t reached the point where he can exteriorize his own insecurities with a boat, a swimming pool or little red sports car, but he’s testing the waters of life just like everyone else.

Of the minor characters, the most interesting is Juan Antonio’s father, a poet who refuses to publish, appears to live alone, & who talks openly about his desire to sleep with Juan Antonio’s ex-wife. Seeing Juan Antonio with his dad is what first softens Vicky’s attitude towards the fellow who, she is sure, just wants to get into her pants. Asked why his dad won’t publish, Juan Antonio replies that the old man “hates people” because “they refuse to love.” No further explanation as to what gave rise to that opinion. As an allegory, that doesn’t quite work. But as a narrative thread that is spun out but not completed – like the language student – it adds a layer of indeterminacy that serves this picture well.

This is one of those films in which the main characters, Vicky & Cristina, learn things about themselves and that is the plot. What they learn is not particularly comforting – Woody Allen doesn’t do comfort – but that they are capable of growth is perhaps the most optimistic message Allen has ever had.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

 

The Positions Colloquium schedule

Mark Wallace on the significance
of the conference

§

Remembering Lawrence Braithwaite

Family obit

Wikipedia

§

Talking with Lydia Davis

§

An underground classic of conceptual writing
finally is available to all:
Mark Peters’ Men (PDF)

§

Larry Rivers & Frank O’Hara

§

Haim Gouri remembers Mahmoud Darwish

The place of Mahmoud Darwish
(includes a last poem)

A second perspective

Darwish’s funeral

An award in Darwish’s name

§

Seedi Mohammed Weld Bamba
is the Prince of Poets

§

John Ashbery:
Attabled with the Spinning Years”

§

Belonging:
New Poetry by Iranians
Around the World

§

Rodney Koeneke checks in
on poetry & technology

§

“When did I start to ignore my elders?”

§

Andy Gricevich on Michael Palmer’s Active Boundaries

§

The BlazeVOX
raffle & bake sale!

§

Blurb wars

§

The value of a compact edition

§

Listening to poems from PENNsound
whilst trekking thru France

§

Jeffrey Beam
talking about & reading from
The Beautiful Tendons
(MP3)

§

my Dear coUntess

§

Martin Burke’s I Ching

§

derek beaulieu on Jordon Scott’s blert

§

Frank Ledwell has died

§

Paul Martínez Pompa
is the winner of
the 2008 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize

§

Travis Nichols on SloPo

§

Sous Rature

§

White Heat –
Emily Dickinson & Thomas Higginson

§

Polis is this:
writing & place

§

Meetings with Improbable Danglers

§

Remembering Gerald Burns

§

Penchant
a poetry collective
in
Northfield, MN

§

Parks & poetry

§

New pages at the
Electronic Poetry Center
for
Donato Mancini
rob mclennan
Gustave Morin

§

A library of (mostly) unread books

§

A list of newsletters & blogs
focused on publishing

§

Indexing as a form of visual art

§

© & the problem of
private property

§

Appeals court rules against family
in Steinbeck rights case

§

“a fungus that’s seep into the marrow of
the Body Poetic”

§

Steve McCaffery, Bob Perelman, Charles Bernstein:
What’s the Word?
(MP3)

§

Howard Junker to retire

§

Reginald Shepherd on Poetry & Criticism
(part 2) (part 3)

Plus a poem in this week’s Nation
(sub may be required)

§

Bob Dylan’s book of poems

§

Dylan Thomas’ wife’s diary
is for sale

§

Dannie Abse:
writing through grief

§

Cynthia Anderson
leaves
Santa Barbara

§

Talking with Sebastian Matthews

§

Alan Cheuse on Doris Lessing

§

Some eyebrow-raising quotations
from John Gardner’s
On Moral Fiction

§

A salute to Ted Solotaroff

§

Banjo Paterson poems
found in 109-year-old diary

§

Kafka & porn?

§

Matthew Cheney’s list of lists

§

Mary Biddinger’s
“unwritten rules” for writing poetry

Deborah Ager’s

§

The “worst writing of 2008” is …
§

“a place in the line of distinguished
light-verse practitioners

§

Mary Karr on Philip Larkin

§

Defending Robert Burns

§

Robert Lowell
& the summer of too many poets

§

Last lines

§

A profile of Francis Wyndham

§

Cyril Goffe
the poet at 100

§

Shklovsky, Barthes, James Wood?

§

Barnes & Noble
will pass
on buying Borders
(sub required for full article)

§

The uselessness
of the literary agent

§

Should Germany unban Mein Kampf?

§

How romantic
are today’s authors?

§

Byron’s fan mail

§

“kind of like
a beauty pageant

§

Alan Sokal
continues to harvest
his little mischief

§

4 questions for arts education?

§

Coming soon to Black Rock

§

Theodore A Harris’ Our Flesh of Flames

§

Should Iowa sell the Pollock?

The governor thinks not

§

Losing money on Richard Serra

§

Why are movies about
Andy Warhol
always so bad?

§

Music geeks

§

Replacing the B.A. with a test?

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