Saturday, February 28, 2009

 

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

 

The Obama Code” –
George Lakoff looks
at the president’s
rhetorical frames

§

Lisa Fishman, reading

§

Dorothy Wordsworth

§

Clayton Eshleman
& the spirits of the head

§

Zukofsky raw, Zukofsky cooked

§

Duncan & Levertov
in Milwaukee

§

Sunday, March 1:
a tribute to Emma Bee Bernstein

§

Early Charles Bernstein audios
(one from when he was 18)

§

Minimalism as conceit

§

Tina Darragh:
“Illuminated Apology Laments”

§

Javier Huerta:
20 books that made me
fall in love with poetry

Barbara Jane Reyes

Eduardo Corral

§

Hybridity =
“the best of the worst
& the worst of the best”

§

The Kindle swindle?

§

What’s so great
about David Orr?

& what do you mean
great”?

Barbara Jane Reyes
weighs in

Travis Nichols gathers reactions

Remember the words of
Tony the Tiger!

§

Born digital

§

A different idea of e-lit

§

Archival poetics

§

Stephen Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense

§

Beats go to the movies:

Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

On the Road

Howl

§

Adorno & the Gurlesque

§

Zolf & Bök
in San Francisco

§

The bookseller of Kabul
responds

§

Aaron Kunin:
What if the citizen is a girl?

§

Joseph Duemer on the plumbers

§

Dodie Bellamy:
“Girl Body”

§

Making Tony Tost
“Flarf’s biggest fan”

§

In addition to some great events in March,
starting with Rae Armantrout & Lisa Robertson
March 7,
Moe’s Books in Berkeley
has been putting up documentation of its readings
on the web

§

George Moore’s
“endless Proustian dither”

§

Anagrams of the classics

§

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

 

Some of my favorite poets are individuals whose work tends to be opaque to me in the sense that I can tell that they think, literally process information, very differently from the way I do, but do so in ways that make it manifestly evident that they accomplish this with a high order of discrimination. That was how I first experienced the work of Louis Zukofsky, confronting it on Richard Moore’s TV series on KQED in San Francisco in 1966. My first thought was something like “That man is from outer space!” followed very quickly by the realization that “They’re very smart on his planet.” Another poet who fits this sense – I think of it as the Big Other – is Tom Raworth. They’re really sharp on his planet also. Now over the years, the influence of Zukofsky has had a huge, shaping influence on me – he doesn’t seem nearly so alien now, but I realize that it’s me who has done the changing, driven by my constant admiration for the values of his poetry. I’ve known Tom Raworth at least going back to the days when we both lived in San Francisco in the mid-1970s. I’m not all that sure that I’ve become more like him over time, but I have found those nooks & crannies in my own writing that seem to me closest to what I find in his poetry. I treasure those moments a lot.

A third poet who fits this profile is someone I’ve known quite well for decades – Kit Robinson. In the American Tree takes its title from a poem – and a radio show – of Kit’s; we’ve worked for the same employers; I once even took over an apartment of his after he’d moved out. I could inhabit his space, but there is no way I could ever have written his poems. They puzzle & fascinate me, even as they delight.

I knew this early on, as early say as The Dolch Stanzas, Robinson’s 1976 series of short lyrics that take their vocabularies entirely from a list of 220 words identified by E.W. Dolch in 1936 as generally constituting “up from 50 to 75 percent of the reading material encountered by students.” It’s a brilliant strategy, but what’s brilliant about it isn’t the idea of using a restricted or found vocabulary, not even one so compellingly “simple.” What’s brilliant about it is the actual poems composed, viz:

put it away
he gave it to him
she thought it over

they ended up at brown’s
little was said of
each and every one

at six the sun jumps down
little by little
in its place

and you can see into
what’s left
of what there is to do

There are a lot of different ways to read a poem like this – as reportage, as the representation of speech, as narrative per se (not plot, but the unfolding of meaning over time). Today, reading this poem for what must be the 300th time in my life, what thrills me most is its prosodic intelligence. Robinson has one of the best ears ever. Watch the by-no-means-accidental positioning of two- & three-syllable words & how they set up, almost shape, the one-syllable terms that are the absolute gut of this text. These more complex words are as important as line breaks & serve a not dissimilar rhythmic function. Indeed, you can hear how they play off of, or against, the line breaks, the way a bass plays off against brushed drums in the high-hat set of a jazz quartet.

Another sonic element, no less intentional, is the letter “t,” both in its hard & soft manifestations (there’s that jazz drum parallel again). That letter occurs in every line but one, which just so happens to be right at the middle of the text, a moment of stillness that makes that line – each and every one – come across as positively liquid.

You will already have noticed the nouns & pronouns. No pronoun that could be imagined as referring to human beings occurs twice in this text. The two nouns that could be envisioned by what is said in the text – brown’s & the sun – are each approached at some angle. Brown is a Dolch word alright, but it could be a name as well as the designation of a color & the name could be a possessive such as one might find at a tavern or club. You might say that brown’s anchors the first line of one of the poem’s two interior stanzas, just as the sun does the second. And that whole verb phrase the sun jumps down leaps out as the one moment of figurative hoo-hah in the entire piece. It’s one of the poems many tiny moments of elegance – not unlike, say, the way it appears in every line of the first stanza, each time moving a little further to the right.

But what totally blows me away about these last two stanzas continues to be their organization of sound. They flow as if a single movement, but a complex one built from very simple parts – a line all of one-syllable words, then that very compact line of five syllables (two beats, one beat, two beats), then the flow into three words all of one syllable. That leaves you just perched for what’s about to come, that long first line of the final stanza which arrives at the only two-syllable word in what feels like miles.¹ And then that beautiful downhill sequence of the two lines, each anchored by the word what.

That last line also just happens to have the only caesura in the entire poem, that pause between is and to do. Reading it, I always feel like I’ve been shot from a cannon at the end of that last line.

I always think that the painstaking detail of any poem’s formal features is problematic. Talking about it is never the same as reading it. But I want to make a point here, which is just how much is taking place within a text of such a simple surface. I could go on for awhile as well.

But an important part of how Robinson’s poetry functions isn’t by what goes on so much as what doesn’t. The best way to show this is to look at something that appears on the surface to be all but completely artless, the sequence Ice Cubes, a series of poems composed of quatrains where every line has but a single word, hence:

then
begin
over
and

sleep
to
control
costs

no
overhead
no
inventory

but
dreams
count
you

among
the
players
in

the
all
universe
commodities

sweepstakes
where
futures
rise

and
fall
breathing
normally

One can trace the origin of this poem easily enough back to an ad for a mattress outlet, but again what matters are all the ways in which it is not that, at least not any more. It is worth noting that these are the first lines of the work, yet it starts as if already in process (an echo literally of The Cantos?) before picking up its quotation from what may have been a radio commercial – the one stanza where this comes through clearly is no / overhead / no / inventory. But that is because it’s the exception. What this text profoundly is not is simply broken up prose & in this regard Ice Cubes strikes me as almost antithetical to a lot of, say, hay(na)ku, another form that depends on strict word counts. Not that hay(na)ku need be such, just that a lot of it is. The entire secret to such forms as these, Robinson’s work implies, lies instead in controlling the shifts & gaps. He wants – even needs – the edits to be visible. Consider the second work in this sequence::

by
doing
something
I

could
figure
in
nature

This text is almost reminiscent of The Dolch Stanzas, insisting not at all on any referential frame. Yet notice what a difference it makes when half the words have more than one syllable. And notice it’s very fragmentary existence, like a portrait of an individual that shows you only an ear. We recognize right away the logic of graphic extension in the first three lines, each longer than the one before, so that the single letter “I” feels rather like dropping off a cliff.

The second stanza contains both a balance & a joke, one that might not work if we could not see/hear all the linguistic parallels and contrasts between figure & nature, and if the one-syllable words here didn’t recede.

Each stanza has a shape, a logic that works on several levels & they’re quite different. This is true of course with the first poem from the sequence as well, but it gets foregrounded more clearly in this miniature frame.

There is of course much more to Kit Robinson’s poetry, so much of which is happily included in The Messianic Trees, just out from Adventures in Poetry. In fact, I think it’s possible to argue that I’ve just selected the two least representative works Robinson has. But, in fact, this leads to another aspect of Robinson’s work that makes him, like Raworth or Zukofsky, a part of the Big Other for me. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “typical” Kit Robinson poem. Even as he maintains a completely recognizable authorial persona throughout his entire career, The Messianic Trees is a selected poems composed virtually entirely of “unrepresentative” works. Consider, for example, just how far the two examples above are from “Line 56,” a poem that taps more of Robinson’s sympathy for the New York School (extra points if you know the two reasons why that poem is so named), or the prose poem sequence “Autochthonous Redaction,” or the brooding twin prose works “Verdigris” and “Trial de Novo,” these last three from his 1985 collection Windows.

Another discussion one could have entirely is the role of the job in the poetry of Kit Robinson. He is, I am convinced, the finest chronicler we have had of the cultural surfaces of the corporate office, and especially of the high tech environment. Having some access into that world myself – indeed, having worked in some of those exact same offices – I stand in awe at just how right he gets it, and especially his ability to be both ruthless & gentle at the same time. Twenty or 50 or 100 years from now, people will come back to The Messianic Trees because it is one of the most exact social portraits of the last quarter of the last century and the opening decade of this one. This is one great book.

 

¹ There are seven words with more than one syllable in the poem’s first eight lines, but just one in the last four. It completely changes the tone of the text.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

 

    
 

Recently Received

 

Books (Poetry)

Samuel Amadon, Spy Poem, Projective Industries, Hartford CT 2008

Anny Ballardini, Ghost Dance in 33 Movements, Otoliths, Rockhampton, Australia

Kevin Bowen, Thái Bình: Great Peace, Press Wafer, Boston 2009

Michael Carr, Out Another, Petrichord Books, Cambridge, MA 2008

Richard Deming & Nancy Kuhl, Winter 2008, Phylum Press, New Haven 2008

Adam Fieled, Help!, Greying Ghost, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts 2008

David Gruber, Sleeper’s Republic, Astrophil Press, Jacksonville, FL 2008

Carolyn Guinzio, Quarry, Free Verse Editions, Parlor Press, West Lafayette, IN 2008

Jared Hayes, from Fifty Farms, Caribou Press (for the Dusie Kollektiv), location never given, but we think this one was Maine, 2008

Miguel Hernández, The Prison Poems, translated & introduced by Michael Smith, Parlor Press, West. Lafayette, IN 2008

David Huerta, Before Saying Any of the Great Words, translated by Mark Schafer, Copper Canyon, Port Townsend 2009

Thomas Hummel, Point and Line to Plane, Projective Industries, Hartford CT 2008

Brenda Iijima, Subsistence Equipment, Faux Press, Cambridge, MA 2008

Ellen Kennedy, Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs, Muumuu House, no location given, 2009

Miranda Mellis, Materialisms, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Brooklyn 2008

Gina Myers, Behind the R, Ypolita Press, San Francisco 2008

Jess Mynes, If and When, Katalanché Press, Cambridge, MA 2008

Jennie Neighbors, Between the Twilight and the Sky, Free Verse Editions, Parlor Press, West Lafayette , IN 2008

Pablo Neruda, World’s End, translated by William O’Daly, Copper Canyon, Port Townsend 2009

Thibault Raoult, El P.E., Projective Industries, Hartford CT 2008

G. Emil Reutter, Blue Collar Poet, StoneGarden.net Publishing, Danville, CA 2009

Frances Richard, Shaved Code, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Brooklyn 2008

Andrew Michael Roberts, Something Has to Happen Next, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2009

Boyer Rickel, remanence, Free Verse Editions, Parlor Press, West Lafayette, IN 2008

Zach Savich, Full Catastrophe Living, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2009

Zoë Skoulding, From Here, images by Simonetta Moro, Ypolita Press, San Francisco 2008

G. C. Waldrep, Archicembalo, Tupelo Press, North Adams, MA 2008

Emily Wilson, Micrographia, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2009

 

Books (Poetry Anthologies)

Ámbar Past, with Xalik Guzmán Bakbalom & Xpetra Ernandes, IncantationsL Songs, Spells, and Images by Mayan Women, Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso 2009. Includes Maria Tzu, Manwela Kokoroch, Bernal Diaz de Castillo, Fiar Diego de Landa, Munda Tostón, Maria Xila, Petú Bak Bolom, author unknown, many more.

 

Books (Other)

Roger Farr, Reg Johanson, Aaron Vidaver, PILLS: N 49.19.47 – W 123.8.11, Pacific Institute for Language and Literacy Studies, Vancouver , BC (Coast Salish Territory) 2008. Notes for discussion at the Kootenay School of Writing “Positions” colloquium.

Michael O’Brien, Readings, Press Wafer, Boston 2009

Robert D. Richardson, First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2009

Ira Sadoff, History Matters: Contemporary Poetry on the Margins of American Culture, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2009

Henry Weinfield, The Music of Thought in the Poetry of George Oppen and William Bronk, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2009



Journals

Cannot Exist, no. 4, Madison, January 2009. Includes Rodrigo Toscano, Carrie Hunter, Raymond Farr, Thom Donovan, Eileen Myles, Lynn Behrendt, more.

Invisible Ear, no. 2, Northampton, Mass, October 2008. Includes Marie Buck, Jessica Fjeld, Brad Flis, Lawrence Giffin, Rachel B. Gaser, Ben Kopel, Lily Ladewig, Emily Pettit, Alex Phillips & Jono Tosch.

Kankazine, Best of 2004 – 2007, no location given (but we’re thinking Kankakee County, IL). Includes Miranda Mead, V.S. Pruett, more.

Kankazine, Starting 2008, no location given (but we’re thinking Kankakee County, IL). Includes Leslie Pelaez, Jose Castillo,  Erin Schumaker, more.

Kankazine, Summerish 2008, no location given (but we’re thinking Kankakee County, IL). Includes H. Douglas King, Hans Stern, more.

Kankazine, Ending 2008, no location given (but we’re thinking Kankakee County, IL). Includes David Thomas Jarecki, Solomon Jackson, more.

Lana Turner, no. 1, no location (but Los Angeles is likely), Fall 2008. Includes Kiwao Nomura, Cesar Aira, Geoffrey G. O'Brien, Ewa Chrusciel, Annah Sobelman, Peter Eirich, Josef Kaplan, Sawako Nakayasu, Karen Garthe, Sandra Simonds, Martha Ronk, Joshua Clover, Conrad Stewart, Alain Badiou, Calvin Bedient, J. Scott Smith, Saadi Yousef, Sargon Boulus, Jane Miller, Jorie Graham, Brenda Hillman, Cathy Park Hong, Jasper Bernes, Srikanth Reddy, Shane Book, Matthew Cooperman, Judith Taylor, John Lucas, Gopal Balakrishnan, Matt Lau, Amy Kim, Barbara Guest, Andrew Joron, Marjorie Perloff, David Lau, Annah Sobelman, Brenda Hillman, Martha Ronk, Timothy Donnelly, Nahrain Al-Mousawi, Rusty Morrison, Juliana Spahr, Molly Bendall, Joel Brouwer, Andrea Quaid, Srikanth Reddy & Cole Swensen

 

Other Media, Formats

Anonymous, Before the Forest Engine, Park Book Three, no location or date – gorgeous little chapbook with illustrations that function as a “flip-book”

Anonymous, no title, publisher or date listed, eight-page book on a single sheet of paper, poems about pebbles in a minuscule & unreadable calligraphy (but looks very nice)

C. Shoup, Kankakee County Artist Cards, Bradley, IL. Oversized postcards with envelopes. Tied together with string (as were the issues of Kankazine).Quality twine.

 

Still books
waiting
to be noted
here

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Monday, February 23, 2009

 

A visit with Tom Meyer

§

John Ashbery
& David Orr’s lament
that it’s all over
for the School of Q

§

Third-way poetics

Hybrid, not as in car

§

Flarf 101

§

Your mission,
should you choose to accept it

§

K. Silem Mohammad’s
Breathalyzer

§

On docu-poetry

§

Crisis, Contradiction, Contestation,
the conference

§

Noise, sound or poetry?

§

Rachel Zolf & Christian Bök

§

Gay sheikh’s desert storm

Atwood now regrets
Dubai boycott

Atwood’s comments

§

In which Joseph Hutchison
declines to be a plumber

§

The poet that changed America

Everybody got it wrong

§

The Unabomber theory of poetry

§

Close reading
0 to 9,
but not the content

§

the scariest poet since Emily Dickinson”

§

Olson’s bicycle,
so to speak

§

Here comes Kerouac’s 1942 “sea novel

§

A taste of Prairie Style

§

Videos of
Rae Armantrout, Charles Bernstein
& Myung Mi Kim

§

Jack Spicer’s
My Vocabulary Did This to Me

§

After Winter:
The Art & Life of
Sterling A. Brown

§

Allen Bramhall on Eileen Tabios

§

Christopher Nolan has died

§

George Szirtes
New & Collected Poems

§

Italo Calvino in The New Yorker

§

199 of the world’s languages
have 10 or fewer speakers left

A major problem is
urbanization

§

It was Robert Redford
who got art funds
into the bailout package

Or maybe not

We think it’s because
Joan Specter,
Arlen’s wife,
seriously cares about art

§

Not a best seller
Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem
has sold just 6,000 copies
of the 100K printed

§

Recent poems from Miller Williams

§

The poetics of hip-hop

§

Tori Amos’ Slam Forward

§

Ancient Japanese poetry manuscripts

§

The whole library in a “wafer”

§

Indie bookstores in Vermont

§

The Indies Choice Book Award
poetry short list is …
nonexistent?!?

(If indie bookstores
don’t support indie literature,
why do they even exist?)

§

Brandon Brown’s Kidnapped

§

Nico Vassilakis Avoid

A review of Text Loses Time

§

Doug Messerli’s
Project for Innovative Poetry

§

Kathleen Halme & Brigette Byrd

§

3 profiles of Mary Swander,
Iowa’s new laureate

§

Kansas opts for
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

§

UniVerse of Poetry

§

An upbeat assessment of AWP

And a rogue panel

§

Al-Tayeb Saleh has died

§

Meg Hamill’s Death Notices

§

Remembering Michael Hartnett

§

Muse India

§

Howard Norman at Duke

§

New European Poets

§

César Moro

§

Poems of Joe Bruchac

§

A post-Valentine
anti-love song from
Alan Dugan

§

Buson’s haiga

§

Zach Houston’s poetry on demand

§

The shortlist for
oddest book of the year

§

Addicted to addicted aesthetics

§

Saul Williams’ “NGH WHT”

§

Borgesian

§

A profile of Stanley Banks

§

Wallace who at 100

§

The Irish Times’
Poetry Now shortlist

§

What became of Roger Fogelman

§

The end of publishing,
one job at a time

§

A farewell to newspapers

Mainstream media: RIP

Post-print journalism

The morgue

Local TV news
& the cult of personality

How Japanese papers are trying
to save themselves

How to survive a journalism career

§

Another newspaper chain
files for bankruptcy

§

Watching the death of
The NY Times Book Review
up close

§

A national organization of adjuncts?

§

Meeting Robert Bly

§

Women writers,
from Anne Bradstreet onward

§

Ruminating with Coleman Barks

§

Check out Wood Coin

§

Brad Gooch’s Flannery

§

Reading Homer at Catholic U.

§

Cambridge, Mass., writes its own poem

§

The curse of being prolific

§

Chatter at Belladonna

§

Rob Mackenzie
on “Alien vs. Predator”

An interview with
Michael Robbins

§

T.S. Eliot Summer School

§

Ruth Padel
is the frontrunner
for Oxford poetry post

§

Walking poems

§

New York Times obit of
Edward Upward

§

Linda Bierds in Walla Walla

§

Helen Vendler on
Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. the Corduroy Kid

Two works from Simon Armitage’s book

§

D.A. Powell’s Chronic

§

Britain’s lack of free speech protections
needs to be addressed here

§

Top artists battle UK visa clampdown

§

Julian Barnes on George Orwell

§

Remembering Maurice Bowra

§

Dennis Barone
on Hurricane Katrina, Charles Olson
& Hartford, Connecticut

§

Is art genetic?

§

The poetics of Mad Men

§

Play Write: State of the Art

§

Pinter’s legacy

§

The tin man

§

Monk’s advice
to Steve Lacy

Epistrophy

§

Ralph Eugene Meatyard

§

Peter Schjeldahl on Shepard Fairey

§

Picasso & the allure of language

§

One cheer for hucksterism

§

Hilton Als on Milk

§

Project Runway’s
“invisible” finale

§

Kisaeng Becomes You

§

Paterson’s Great Falls
is now a national park

§

Dinosaurs in trouble

§

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