Saturday, January 17, 2009

 

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Friday, January 16, 2009

 

Yvor Winters,
gangsta of Quietude

Are the religious strongly drawn to Winters?

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Kenny Goldsmith:
”A bad time for poetry”

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Mark Wallace, K. Lorraine Graham & Joseph Mosconi
on new directions in writiing

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Close reading Kathleen Fraser

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Stephen Vincent at Braunstein / Quay

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Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater

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Israeli poets protest Gaza war

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Last weekend of the Dmitri Prigov show at Rutgers

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Elizabeth Alexander on the inaugural poem

The AP asks 10 poets for their inaugural poems

How to write an inaugural poem

How not to write an inaugural poem

First words

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Ada Limón:
Five ways to practice poetry

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“New Lit Boy” Tao Lin

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New York Times obit
for W.D. Snodgrass

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This is so soothing

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Where poPoe’s
telltale heart really belongs

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Jerry Rothenberg
on translation & Celan

& on Langpo & the academy

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Talking with Marjorie Perloff

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The rest of Linh Dinh’s Seven Contemporary Italian Poets:
Marina Pizzi
Vanni Santoni
Florinda Fusco
Michele Zaffarano
Alessandro Broggi

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Mesmerized by flarf

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Is Poegles flarf?

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Three (inter)views of John Ashbery

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Hank Lazer
photo & videocast

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Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm archives
(over 900 MP3s)

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Charles Bernstein’s The Subject

Sound files of Charles Bernstein-Ben Yarmolinsky operas
including two versions of The Subject

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Remembering Jason Shinder

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Liam Agrani lives in the margins (PDF)

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Nostalgia & quietism

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Catharsis vs. epiphany

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Edward Hirsch & Marilyn Hacker
have been named
Chancellors of the
Academy of American Poets

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Literary reading perks back up

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Booksmith beats the odds

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Book Thug’s very big subscription deal

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Politics & the MLA

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WCW meets the MLA (PDF)

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The poetry of Paul Auster

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Shakespeare & deep England

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Talking with Luc Sante

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The antiwar poetry of Robinson Jeffers

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The library Jefferson built

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The library of secrets

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A note on the Gotham Book Mart – Penn deal

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An agent in the making

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Who will be the last media giant standing?

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Borders hedges it board

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Arts orgs at risk

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Battlestar Galactica’s final season
starts tonight!

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The Chicago Tribune
on
Where Does It or You Begin?
(Memory as Innovation)
Writing, Performance & Video Festival

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The graying of the jazz world

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The Steve Layton songbook
(with lyrics and vocals from everyone from
Ezra Pound to Edmond Jabès to Leroy Jenkins)

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Slow music – found sound

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Peter Voulkos,
the godfather of ceramics

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Coosje van Bruggen has died

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Entropa” offends European sensibilities

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The History Show,
a retrospective of A.I.R.,
the first all-women’s gallery
has been extended to April 24
(PDF)

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The Critical Art Ensemble
at Printed Matter

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

 

I have been asked by Joshua Marie Wilkinson to contribute to an anthology on teaching poetry, which, given that I work in a classroom maybe once every decade, obviously seems intended as a bit of a provocation. But it’s a good and serious question. Far from being “the easy way out” for writers around the question of how to make a living, I think it’s a difficult and important task, and that the people who take it on are very poorly paid for the work they do.

There are, I think, two very different dynamics involved in the making of a poet. One is learning that you already know everything you need about writing before you even begin. The other is an extended reading of the literature, to understand what has been done, why, and what its implications might be.

The first sounds easy, but is in fact the harder of the two tasks. Many starting writers never solve this problem at all, which means that they’re destined to fail. The difficulty is what happens in that instant between the moment before you even begin and the moment once you’ve begun, into which is inserted every vague notion you may have about what writing is, how it is done, who does it, every conceivable fantasy you might harbor about “being a poet” or “being a novelist.” Before you begin, the blank page or screen is in front of you, absolutely free of any irrevocable marks, literally virgin territory. Once you begin, however, you instantaneously discover yourself burdened with thousands of ghosts and beliefs about what writing is. It’s like trying to swim with a team of elephants on your back. The opportunities for drowning are immense.

Much of the actual process of “learning to write” is involved in examining these beliefs, one at a time, almost as though you were peeling them away. You would be surprised just how many of the things you do as a poet, unconsciously, are in fact decisions you’ve made predicated on these beliefs.

So one of the things I do in a classroom, always, is to work through a series of exercises intended to make people conscious of the decisions they make. This is something I picked up from three of my teachers, Wright Morris, Jack Gilbert & especially William Everson (Brother Antoninus at the time I was his student). Following Everson, I let students know at the start that what they write for my class is not going to feel like their work. It’s going to seem uncomfortable and alien. If it doesn’t, they’re not doing it right. Their discomfort is really an index of how well they’re doing their homework.

I start with the actual physics of writing. How do they do it? On a computer? In a notebook? On a legal tablet? Whatever it might be. I ask them to change this: if they usually work on a computer, try doing it by hand; if they usually work in a notebook, try writing on a PC. Robert Creeley has an interview somewhere in which he recommends this as a mechanism for getting out of writer’s block, and I can see how this exercise might be useful in that circumstance. I recall that once, back when I was a student at San Francisco State, I inadvertently dropped my typewriter and suddenly had a couple of hundred typewriter pieces all over my apartment. Since I had almost no money, it took me to the end of the semester to be able to afford a new machine. So I was forced into switching my basic method of creating first drafts, which I’d been doing on the typewriter since I was in tenth grade. I switched over to legal tablets, a process that also gave me more flexibility as to when and where I might write. Since I was living in Berkeley at the time, getting to school meant a long ride on the F bus (this was before BART), followed by a long ride on the Muni to get out to the Sunset District. For the first time, I began writing on public transportation, inspired in part by the fact that three of my favorite poets, Robert Duncan, Phil Whalen & Paul Blackburn, had all written about doing so themselves. It was a fascinating process and took my work forward very quickly, although I noticed, once I typed up my manuscripts, that virtually all of them fit perfectly on a single typed page, often filling it completely both vertically & horizontally.

Later, when I was at Berkeley and thinking about writing in prose, I made a point of buying one of those smaller black-bound sketchbooks, the size of a trade paperback, and sat on the roof of our apartment building on Highland Place in Berkeley, usually watching the sun set over downtown San Francisco, constantly writing and rewriting what I hoped someday would become “the perfect” paragraph. Tho I worked on this project years before I would begin Ketjak, there is one (incomplete) sentence in that work taken directly from this project.

Depending on the length of the class, we examine a variety of such variables. Do you write in the morning or at night? Do you have to have silence? Do you like to have music? What kinds? Do you need total solitude? If you use paper, what size, color, etc.? Do you write under the influence, whether it be coffee & tea or something stronger? One can switch one or more, or even all, of these variables and it’s worth looking at the impact of each.

Making students conscious of the terms & conditions of their writing is one step toward making them responsible for every single element on the page or screen or in the air. Do you capitalize at the left margin? If so, do you know why you do so? If you don’t know, why are you doing it? A writer needs to own everything she or he does.

The second task, the extended reading, takes far longer. There are people – Bruce Andrews was one, Rae Armantrout another – who are writing in their mature style very early on, but in both cases you will find that they were voracious readers also. This is where I think that Malcolm Gladwell’s gimmicky 10,000 of work to become good at any one thing, whether or not it’s writing, comes into play. You need to understand the range of poetry that you are seeking to become part of – a process that becomes harder each year as the number of contemporary publishing poets grows – and you need to be able to trace the history of this landscape backwards at least 200 years. I would go further than that myself – I’d argue that you need to know enough middle English to reach Chaucer in the original, and really grasp (a deliberately vague term) your own place within this constellation. If you can’t, you haven’t read enough, written enough, thought hard enough.

To do this, your reading needs shape, which is to say that if you can’t articulate where a poet fits into the universe, their work either is not distinct enough or you haven’t read enough to place them. Conversely, you need to be able to challenge claims that want to lead you astray. Anyone – anyone! – who argues that either Dickinson or Whitman leads you to the School of Quietude (tho they won’t call it that) is a fraud. Tho it is worth noting that Dickinson & Whitman will lead you to very different parts of the post-avant spectrum. So read the New American Poets as a project. And the Objectivists. And the Imagists. And the Romantics. Even the New Formalists. If a writer falls outside any cluster, as many over the last two decades have, figure out what makes them so misanthropic. Is it really, as I suspect, a "natural" (but defensive) reaction to the conservative ascendancy that began with Reagan? Are flarf, conceptual poetry & "hybrid" writing the first steps toward a post-Bush era literature?

Ultimately the poems you or anyone will write will be the poems you (or anyone) needs. I always think of this as the blind spot in the totality of verse, a place toward which each of us is driven & where we never quite fully arrive.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

 




Rabbi Alan Lew

1943 2009

Lew on PennSound (MP3)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

 


Lance Phillips

In 1953, when The Paris Review published its first issue and included an interview with E.M. Forster (PDF), the journal made its largest – and one might say only – contribution to literary culture in popularizing what would become a new mode of literary discourse, one perfectly suited to the postwar years of the early 1950s. Kulchur, as Pound or Lita Hornick might have spellt it, was no longer merely the plaything of an educated elite. Just as television, that newfangled thing, was giving images to the radio plays & vaudeville variety shows of old radio & bringing into the home original drama and – especially through the auspices of one Walter Disney – cinema, one no longer needed to head out for an evening of the performing arts. One might even watch Korla Pandit, the African-American organist born John Roland Redd who used a mock-Indian identity to become the first true daytime music star of the new medium. All this occurring in the vast economic expansion that followed the end of World War 2, when the GI Bill suddenly made college accessible to a rapidly expanding middle class. (Thank you, UAW.). Everything from youth culture to rock ‘n’ roll was in the offing.

The interview was the perfect critical medium for this period because it permitted insight into the author as a person, a new kind of celebrity that many of the old modernists had shunned – Picasso was an exception & had she lived a little longer Stein would have been another. It was visibly modeled on the personal interviews that had become commonplace accoutrements of the Hollywood studio system. And, for a variety of criticism, it wasn’t all that critical. This was not Clement Greenberg on the Mount, nor the stern retro pieties of New Criticism. It did not pretend to be the litcrit equivalent of John Gielgud. Sal Mineo would do just fine.

But if you read those early Paris Review interviews, many of which are now online & downloadable, you will notice something very distinct about them, which is the preparation accorded each by the interviewer (often, for poetry, a young Donald Hall in those early years). The interviewer shows up at the interviewee’s door fully informed as to what the author has written, what the author has read, whom the author knows, whom the author has slept with & what the author has said in public & often enough in private also. This affords even a casual reader an enormous amount of intimacy in those pieces – you can tell right away that Robert Graves is a mean-spirited bully, and, frankly, he’s not alone among the greats of that era.

With the notable exception of Tom Beckett, I’ve never had an interviewer as well prepared as seems to have been the norm for the Paris Review in the 1950s, and I’m used now to the post-interview drill of going through a draft transcript closely because I can’t presume that an interviewer will know that there is no “e” in Olson, that Ginsberg’s first name is not Alan, that there is no “u” in his surname, or that Zukofsky has an “f” and no “v.”

So my sense of the form is that it’s one that is easily debased. As I know I’ve recounted here before, my template for the ill-prepped interview is one that I by chance happened to sit in on between a newspaper reporter in Bangor, Maine & Omar Pound, son of Ezra & a poet & translator in his own right. The reporter, a one-time high-school English teacher gone to seed, leaned forward in the midst of this session, held in the cafeteria at the University of Maine campus circa 1984, and half-whispered in a conspiratorial tone to Pound, “So what kind of communist was your father?” Omar blanched, simply looked at me and asked, “How would you answer that?”

Hey, at least the guy knew that Pound had been in trouble for extreme political views. And in 1984, those were the only views he could imagine as excessive. Maybe he was foreseeing the day when Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan & Donald Rumsfeld made fascism mainstream once again, albeit this time with the happy-face logo of America & apple pie.

In recent years, however, the form of the interview has undergone not one, but two fundamental transformations. The first is email & the written interview. This is really an electronic extension of an already existing form – the mail interview, which can be found even fairly early in the pages of Paris Review. It’s how Beckett interviewed me for The Difficulties. There are advantages to this approach: the interviewer isn’t likely to go for the “gotcha” type question, that carryover of the old Hollywood interview & legal cross-examination (&, in Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason episodes, a bit of both); and you can ensure from the get-go that names like Zukofsky get treated properly. But there’s a complication – what is lost when you stretch out the time of exchange in this manner is spontaneity. Might I have said something different if I had been asked the same question aloud, perhaps over tall glasses of ice tea with a tape recorder whirring nearby? Almost certainly. However, this expansion also gives the interviewee time not just to answer (or to seem to answer) the question, but, in doing so carefully, also to direct where the next question might go. If the loss of spontaneity is the downside of the written interview, collaboration between interviewer & interviewee can rise substantially, which from my perspective is a plus.

Most recently, there has been a spate of interviews that in many ways aren’t interviews at all – they’re surveys. Preparation for the individual interviewee is unnecessary because you are asking the same questions of everyone. These are interesting to the degree that the questions are thought provoking – I declined one recently that wanted to know about my theory of washing dishes – and the people solicited are themselves interesting & willing to offer substantive comments.

The first of these surveys that I’m aware of is Here Comes Everybody, which Lance Phillips started in June 2004 & kept up thru January 2007, over 130 interviews in all. Phillips figured out that he was onto something pretty quickly – I don’t think he envisioned that many responses when he began. The questions he asked might be asked of any Anglo-American poet (and with the change of a single phrase in question 4, of any English-speaking writer in the world, from Australia to Nigeria to India).

1. What is the first poem you ever loved? Why?

2. What is something / someone non-“literary” you read which may surprise your peers / colleagues? Why do you read it / them?

3. How important is philosophy to your writing? Why?

4. Who are some of your favorite non-Anglo-American writers? Why?

5. Do you read a lot of poetry? If so, how important is it to your writing?

6. What is something which your peers / colleagues may assume you’ve read but haven’t? Why haven’t you?

7. How would you explain what a poem is to a seven year old?

8. Do you believe in a Role for the Poet? If so, how does it differ from the Role of the Citizen?

9. Word associations (the first word which comes to mind; be honest):

Lemon : 
Chiseled :
I :
Of :
Form :

10. What is the relationship between the text and the body in your writing?

That they might be asked of any poet is both the strength & weakness of the survey form. There were never any follow-up questions. If you have a poet who has a particularly complex relationship to one of the questions, there’s no way to probe more deeply. The late kari edwards worked very hard to avoid being identified as either man or woman, having lived for periods as both – kari once made a point of thanking me when I wrote a review that avoided using any pronouns at all. Here is edwards’ response to that last question:

all I have on this earth is this body, everything else is just things and other bodies doing things. if I do not place myself in the core of my body I can not even attempt to connect to reality and end up in the grand illusion. My body is what allows me to feel others and the universe. if I want to speak of the possible I have to be in touch with the present present in the body that is in my body.

I can’t imagine an active interviewer not following that with a question about gender itself & its place in edwards’ work. Instead, this is the actual end of the interview, a silence that feels even more tragic now that edwards is gone.

Phillips at one point tried to transform these surveys from a blog to an anthology, only to meet with resistance on the part of several participants. Happily, he’s left the blog itself up, and I’ve continued to link to it among the “collective blogs.”

Now, as a couple of people have shown already (here and here), with a survey, you don’t need even to be asked to participate. It’s conceivable, of course, that all 1,700 of my daily visitors could respond to the Here Comes Everybody survey and Phillips would then (a) have more than enough for an anthology and (b) we’d have something like a census of poetry, or at least we’d have some idea how everyone responds to lemon chiseled I of form, which strikes my ear as a decent first line for something.

But I for one miss the old-school in-depth kind of questioning that occurs far too seldom today. What if somebody actually prepared for an interview? Knew the work, the bio, the social networks? Possibly, regardless of the person being interrogated, just possibly we might learn something.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

 

The concrete poetry of Niikuni Seiichi

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Stephanie Young’s Picture Palace

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Thinking through the post-avant

Close reading the post-avant

Counter-reading the post-avant
& confusing cause & effect
re the SoQ

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K. Silem Mohammad on the politics of flarf

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A conceptual review of Eunoia

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Kenny Goldsmith is wrong!

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Garrett Caples on Barbara Guest

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Jerome Rothenberg’s poem for
Emma Bee Bernstein

Tom Beckett
on autobiography & death

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Tribute to Spicer!

The first edition of
My Vocabulary Did This to Me
has already sold out

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Inger Christensen’s Alphabet,
excerpted on a wall in
Copenhagen

New York Times obit

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A member of the Gloucester Planning Board (!)
offers a reading report on
Polis is This

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Remembering Billy Little

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The letters of Allen Ginsberg

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Cutting up  (or down) Bill Burroughs

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Jack’s Last Call:
Say Good-Bye to Kerouac

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Pam Brown reads
Ross Chamber’s Loiterature

Laurence Porter’s review

A Google preview

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Jack Gilbert in APR

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Celebrating Poe’s 200th

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An Allen Fisher interview here
in several parts,
both video & PDF

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Cleave poetry, Langpo
& the problem of schools

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Rusty Morrison’s
The
True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story

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Apollinaire’s Oeuvres poétiques

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What do you read in your sleep?

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Who can read, period?

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Sasha Steenson’s The Method

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Talking with Jayne Anne Phillips

Michiko Kakutani on Lark & Termite

A review in the Comical

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Isabelle Baladine Howald’s Secret of Breath

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer
must find a buyer
or go digital or defunct
in the next 60 days

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When newspapers were new

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An editor is murdered in Sri Lanka

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A history of the op-ed page

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Lo Galluccio’s Sarasota VII

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Which surrealism produces wonder
& which does not?

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More suggestions for inaugural poet

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Noah Cicero’s Treatise

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If an interview were a haiku

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Sharon Mesmer’s Annoying Diabetic Bitch

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Bolaño’s masterpiece

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Umberto Saba’s Songbook

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Sarah Kennedy’s A Witch’s Dictionary

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Pinter’s rhythm

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Ted Berrigan’s Selected Poems

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A poem for Blago

Blagojevich counters with Tennyson

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John Barth’s Development

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Videos from the Jackson Heights Poetry Festival
(Kimiko Hahn, Richard Jeffrey Newman,
Jai Chakrabarti, Lynne Procope)

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20 years of Satanic Verses

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A profile of Emil Hakl

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Cruising with James Wright

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Richard Siken’s Crush

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Micheline’s manifesto

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Who you meet at Breadloaf

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Cannibalism among self-publishing exploiters

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Mark Levine’s Debt

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W.S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius

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Mary Karr profiles one of her former students

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Petition for an arts czar

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Impossible Histories
the avant-garde of the former Yugoslavia

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Avant-garde China

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Postwar abstraction in SF

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Handmade paints

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Where’s Walt?

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Creating vultures

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MVP!

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Theology & Lacan

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Continental Phlosophies

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Who you callin’ anti-Semitic ?

You, you dolt

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Jacques Derrida & Mustapha Chérif:
Islam & the West

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88 Constellations for Wittgenstein

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The recession hits arts groups

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An oral history of
the worst administration in
U.S. history

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William Zantzinger,
who killed poor Hattie Carroll,
has died

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