Saturday, February 20, 2010

 


Some friends gave us tickets to see John Prine at the Merriam Theater Friday night & he did this tune in an encore, not with Iris DeMent but with Sara Watkins, the fiddler from Nickle Creek, who’d opened as a solo act. During his two-hour-long set, Prine of course did this following song, still one of my favorites ever.


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Friday, February 19, 2010

 

In the comments stream yesterday, Steve Fama noted that his favorite videopoem was Bruce Conner’s 5:10 to Dreamland. You can’t find that on the web, as such, because Conner worked hard to prevent his work from turning up there. Mark Charles Brown’s Erasing Dreamland, however, is a film that “uses” Conner’s film in its entirety – it’s the left side of this dyptich. On the YouTube site, Fama notes that Conner had no problem with this usage or its appearance on the web. Patrick Gleeson, whose music scores both films, was somebody I used to run into around SF State & the Haight circa 1967 – he’s probably the guy who made me realize that music could be electronic & free form.

My own favorite videopoem would be Frank Film by Frank & Caroline Mouris, which can be viewed on the Ubu website by clicking that link. Frank Film is also my nomination as the best film ever to win an Oscar. It is, I should note, a dramatic monolog (and much more).

I doubt either Conner or the Mouris’ had the idea of videopoetry in mind when they created these. I doubt the word "video" was in their heads at all, in fact. That’s a whole other discussion.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

 

A second link that had me pondering the world was the discussion of innovation in art, both Adam Jameson’s original post and the many comments it generated on The Big Other. There are, I believe, two fundamental drivers behind innovation, but they are almost diametrically opposed to one another. Very often critiques of innovation (and occasionally advocates of it as well) confuse one with the other.

I have written before that any history of poetry is inevitably a history of change in poetry, and that an inevitable consequence is that the well-wrought urn is almost invariably a trivial accomplishment. Indeed, it’s a trivial goal. That which forwards the evolution of poetry, something that occurs raggedly & in fits & starts, is really the heart of writing practice, the pump that breathes life into verse & makes it relevant to our lives. This is why Charles Olson was a major poet and Robert Lowell a wasted minor talent at best. And it’s why I take vispo & video poems far more seriously than I do, say, dramatic monolog. Not that that guarantees that they will amount to anything.

But. And this is the crux here. There are, as I suggested above, two diametrically opposed drivers of innovation. One is that innovation that continually besets all art because the world itself is changing and poetry (& any other art) must change likewise to relate to these changing conditions. Capitalism in particular perpetually generates enormous change & the key to Joseph Schumpeter’s famous “creative destruction” is the conjunction between adjective & noun. It is as easy to be blinded by the noun as by the adjective, and each is a dead end. Innovation like, say, the Cluetrain Manifesto is not so dissimilar from the cluelessness of the Italian Futurists, who found themselves on the luge to fascism because they didn’t have a larger context for their celebration of the disruptive technologies of modernism. Innovation without context, without critique, is mere fashionism, a desire to be the latest thing, whate’er that might be. Such innovation of the market is forever subject to the market. At best, it’s silly & harmless. For the most part, it’s stupid.

But the other innovation is that which looks to the world and brings the world into one’s art, not just as a slapdash invocation (LBJ intoning “We shall overcome,” Pat Boone singing the Rolling Stones), but to actually change the structure of the work so as to make it adequate to the (always already) new context. In that sense, Blake, Baudelaire, Dickinson, Stein, Jack Spicer & Barrett Watten are all united. Such change is fundamentally disruptive.

The problem with all things hybrid links precisely to this issue. Hybridism wants to be new & it wants to be the well-wrought urn. For the most part, it accomplishes neither. Above all else, it is a failure of courage.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

 

Courtesy of the Estate of Allen Ginsberg

Five American poets, only one of whom is over the age of 40, 1963

There is always a lot to think about in the links lists as I patch them together & this week’s no exception. The link that I kept coming back to, not because it was the deepest or most insightful, was the article by David Barber in The Boston Globe, a review of three poets from that generation now coming into its eighties, that the headline suggested was “perhaps the greatest generation.” Barber, who is the poetry editor of The Atlantic, reviewed John Ashbery, Phil Levine & Gary Snyder, and may or may not have suggested the title, which in the daily press is something usually imposed on articles by the editorial staff. Which is to say that I don’t necessarily think that Barber himself deserves either credit or blame for this title.

A friend who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle for decades once described the process to me this way: when the articles first get selected to run that day, junior editors work out where they will go and propose tentative titles. At the Chron there was something of a running competition among the junior editors to see who could propose the most lewd double entendre as a title for an article, and also to see who could get one all the way through the editing process without being caught by the editors. Every once in awhile, you’d pick up the morning paper & just gasp at something in the television section, realizing that the top editors were not up-to-date with the latest slang on Folsom Street. It’s how alienated labor makes the job bearable, and most offices have some version of this same process.

But the idea that the poets born between, say, 1925 & 1930, constituted something akin to a “greatest generation” gave me pause. For one thing, it equates these poets – and their peers – with the men & women who fought in combat during World War II, which none of the three writers that Barber reviews did. They were basically too young to serve during most if not all of the war. If, like John Ashbery, you were born in 1927, you didn’t turn 18 until 1945, something my father (born in January 1927) got around when he lied about his age to get into the Navy in ‘44. He became a radio operator on the USS Merriwether & got to make one trip across the Pacific during combat conditions, but most of his service was ferrying GIs home from the Pacific after the surrender of the Japanese.

In fact, Barber draws his boundaries much more widely – the “Prohibition years” (i.e., poets born between 1920 & ’33) – & is careful to lead with “Classifying artists by generation is an inexact science at best….” He’s no doubt correct that there is/was a “bumper crop” (his term) of American poets born during those years. But what does that mean? Using Hayden Carruth’s Voice That Is Great Within Us as an index of whom might be included, since that book lists poets by their year of birth, we find the following:

1921
Hayden Carruth
Richard Wilbur

1922
Marie Ponsot

1923
James Dickey
Mitchell Goodman
Arthur Gregor
Anthony Hecht
Denise Levertov
Louis Simpson
Philip Whalen

1924
Cid Corman
Harvey Shapiro

1925
Philip Booth
Donald Justice
Bob Kaufman
Carolyn Kizer
Kenneth Koch
Jack Spicer

1926
A.R. Ammons
Paul Blackburn
Robert Bly
Robert Creeley
Allen Ginsberg
James Merrill
Stanley Moss
Frank O’Hara
David Wagoner

1927
John Ashbery
Larry Eigner
Galway Kinnell
Philip Lamantia
W.S. Merwin
James Wright

1928
Bill Anderson
Philip Levine
Anne Sexton

1929
Edward Dorn
Adrienne Rich
Jonathan Williams

1930
Gregory Corso
Joel Oppenheimer
Gary Snyder

1931
George Starbuck

1932
Patricia Low
Sylvia Plath
David Ray

1933
Robert Sward

Rich as Carruth’s list might be, he still missed Jack Kerouac & Jackson Mac Low, born in 1922, Barbara Guest, Alan Dugan & Jimmy Schuyler, born in ‘23, Edward Field (1924), Jack Gilbert, Gerald Stern, Robin Blaser all born in 1925, Lew Welch in 1926, Paul Carroll in 1927, Gerrit Lansing & Hannah Weiner in ’28, Gilbert Sorrentino in ’29, Bobbie Louise Hawkins in 1930 and David Bromige in ’33. That’s just off the top of my head, so no doubt I’m missing others. And of course, Barber is right about the arbitrariness of such a process. Expanding to 1919 would have brought in Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti & May Swenson,for example. But note that there is nobody on either Carruth’s list or on my expanded version born in 1920, just one in 1921. One could make an argument that there was a renaissance in American poetry, and that these poets were at the heart thereof, but it’s much more concentrated than, say, the Prohibition years. I’d go so far as to argue that it really concentrated around poets born between 1925 & ’27, tho the outer ring reaches back to 1922 & forward to 1930. Just 9 of the 63 poets in my augmented list were born outside of those years, while 26 were born in those three crucial years between ’25 & ’27.

It’s worth thinking about what that means in terms of American poetry, what social conditions emerged during the years in which those poets came into their lives as poets. It’s also worth noting that of the 63 poets, just two – Kaufman & Anderson – are African-American. The most obvious is that these are poets, especially those born in 1925 onward, who escaped WW2, but got to reap the benefits of economic prosperity & a rapidly expanding educational system, that both democratized post-secondary education after the war and ensured that pretty much anyone who wanted to could get a teaching job.

Second, not one, but both traditions in American writing underwent profound transformations in the 1950s, with the New American Poetry arising out of a strand that had mixed roots in both modernism & an Americanist tradition that could be traced further even than Whitman, while the neo-colonialist Anglophile poetics of the more genteel tradition likewise saw a hard rupture in the revolt of The Fifties, as Bly, Wright, Merwin, Rich & even Hall moved away from their own heritage of closed forms to embrace aspects of European literature & a more open poetics. What’s notably absent from Carruth’s list (& my expansion of it) are direct descendants of the agrarians: Randall Jarrell, Robert Penn Warren et al. James Dickey & Jonathan Williams are the only real southerners here, neither of whom could be so described. The closest you might get are indirect descendants, all students of Robert Lowell’s. Indeed one might say that the disappearance of the agrarian strain in American poetry is nearly as dramatic as that of the Objectivists, except that the Objectivists returned circa 1960, while the closed verse poetics of the agrarians simmered underground before returning as the New Formalism of a decade later.

So in the 1950s you had this clash between these two traditions – the raw & the cooked, as Lowell himself put it – but even the cooked poets were offering a version of nouveau cuisine, each side with its own variants. Phil Levine is as unlike Sylvia Plath as Gregory Corso is to Jonathan Williams. The degree to which these poets were their generation is worth underscoring. If I pick up one of the big double-issues of Poetry from that period, such as the October-November 1963 number, every single American poet born between 1920 and 1933 comes from the list above. All but two of the rest are older poets: John Berryman, J.V. Cunningham, Jean Garrigue, Randall Jarrell, Lowell, Charles Olson, Henry Rago, Theodore Roethke, Karl Shapiro, Elizabeth Bishop, Vernon Watkins & Louise Zukofsky. There is one poet who is younger, Ronald Johnson, born in 1935, and one British poet from this period, Charles Tomlinson. The 1965 double issue has fewer poets who are older (Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Ernest Sandeen & Ted Weiss), and two who were born after 1933 (Ronald Johnson again, and Wendell Berry, born in 1934). Again there are two Brits, Tomlinson & Gael Turnbull, and nine poets from my expanded list: Carruth, Creeley, Kinnell, Koch, Levertov, Rich, Sexton, Snyder & Whalen. There is however one not on my list but from that generation, David Posner, born in 1921, educated at Kenyon & Oxford, who taught for awhile at the University of Buffalo & at the University of California (it’s not clear at which campus). Posner’s status within the canon, which is pretty much nil, tells you everything you need to know about the boundaries of this list.

The degree of prominence that so many members of this “greatest generation” earned was not solely because they were fabulous (some were, some weren’t), but because they were it, pretty much the sum of what was available by writers in that age cohort during those years. In 1960, they were the poets between the ages of 27 and 40. Ginsberg, for example, was just 34.

But by the middle 1960s, you already had the kudzuing of MFA programs across the land, meaning that there were an increasing number of writers everywhere. If you look at my expanded roster, one thing you will notice is that most of the poets who did not teach, or at least not teach much, during that decade, came primarily from the post-avant tradition: Eigner, Ashbery, O’Hara, Schuyler, Corso, Ginsberg, Spicer, Blackburn, Whalen, Corman. Ashbery & Ginsberg would go on to teach later, but not during that critical decade. So that even tho the numbers of post-avants and quietists are almost even in that expanded list, ten, fifteen years hence creative writing programs would acquire a distinct orientation – and reputation – they are only now fully outgrowing.

By 1975, the number of poets had already grown substantially. We were already beginning to experience the Babylon effect of having several different tendencies in poetry, each with several dozen members between the ages, say, of 27 & 40. Another 15 or so years, and these scenes had expanded all that much further. The 1993 Writing from the New Coast anthology presents the work of 119 poets from post-avant side of the street, 70 or 80 of whom I suspect would be every bit as recognizable to readers of this blog as that the names from that original list by Hayden Carruth. And here’s the secret: many of these poets are every bit as good as their elders. Plus there were at least as many post-avants excluded as included in that volume – the scale was already impossible for any attempt at completism. And very probably just as many non-post-avants as well. That 119 is just the tip of the iceberg.

So my point is this: what made the generation of the 1950s special were three things. First was breaking out of the doldrums of the Second World War; second was the presence of multiple kinds of new poetry in lively (& often bitter) debate; and third was scarcity. That third item is at least as important as the first two. Even in my expanded list, the number of 34-year old poets in 1960 was a grand total of ten. Fifty years later, I’d be curious to know just how many of today’s poets were born in 1976. I’ll wager that the number is much greater than ten, and I’ll wager further that the best of them are every bit as good as the poets born in 1926.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

 

Marilyn Monroe & Carl Sandburg
photos surface

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Whiteout at the Poetry Society

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Robert Grenier’s
Cambridge M’ASS

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The secret life of Emily Dickinson

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the most underrated poet in America

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Eleanor Antin: “Geography”

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Armantrout is to Ashbery
as to who is to who

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Tuesday, February 16
in New Haven:
The Wallace Stevens Anthology,
with Susan Howe, Richard Deming, Dennis Barone,
James Finnegan & Clare Rossini

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Geoffrey Hill:
“To William Cobbett: In Absentia”

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Rafael Millán has died

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Why live without writing?

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Not Why poetry?
but Why language?

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What is innovation in art?

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Jean Daive,
walking with Paul Celan

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Graham Foust’s A Mouth in California

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Steve Fama on Mairéad Byrne’s State House Calendar

All 49 Dusie 9 PDF chapbooks!!!

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Talking with Michael Nicoloff

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A Kimberly Lyons extravaganza

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In which The Grand Piano Collective
competes with
Werner Herzog, Marilynne Robinson & the Yes Men
(among others),
& the prize goes to Mary Ruefle

The 10 Greatest Essays, Ever
(23 lists thereof)

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Robert Hass:
“September Notebook”

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Dana Ward on
Bruce Boone’s Century of Clouds

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The “greatest generation” of poets??

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Anne Tardos: “Nine”

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Talking with David Shapiro

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Women’s Innovative Poetry:
a huge London conference
coming up in July

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Billy Collins on
Trout Fishing in America

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Does a literature of the homeless exist?

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Achebe: “Africa is people”

Not scholarly,
but filled with wisdom & passion

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Flying from Australia to SF
just to visit Specs?

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Salinger & women

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Robert Kelly:
“A Simple Room”

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Thomas Lynch’s Apparitions
& Late Fictions

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Why I’m an e-book convert

Update on the e-book war

Kindle rivals please publishers

Anne Rice partners with Vook

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Poetry in New Media:
A User’s Guide

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Vanessa Place & 750910-2155:
Lorazepam and the Valley of Skin:
Extrapolations on Los Angeles

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Diabetes (& US healthcare)
renders a poet homeless

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SF gentrification
could kill Marcus Books

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2 conferences to celebrate
Faiz Ahmed Faiz

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A universal translator
still has many
linguistic rivers to cross

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Translation problems

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In praise of blurbs

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The dull new global novel

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Sunday, February 21
in Portland, OR,
Bill Berkson is reading

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Erik Anderson on
Beverly Dahlen’s A Reading 18 – 20

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Revell’s Rimbaud

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Michael Scharf:
“The Res Poetica”

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Not the Olympics:
The Galiano Island Literary Festival,
British Columbia, starting Feb. 19

Versions of Vancouver

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Remembering Millie Niss

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Meet Tina Chang – Brooklyn’s new laureate

Weaving poetry into the life of Brooklyn

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Wendell Berry’s
Imagination in Place

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CA Conrad’s
“Instructions for Sex with Trees”

CA Conrad & Frank Sherlock
real & imagined

The CA Conrad / Vladimir Zykov reading
(which got snowed out)
has been rescheduled for
Thursday, Feb. 18

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Take the Poetry Noir challenge!

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Reviving Harry Stephen Keeler

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Love poems
register in the blood

On love poems
& other one-horned beasts

The linguistic
peacock-tail
of love

Mimetic desire

§

Travis Nichols’ Iowa

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Paul Pines on
the death of posterity

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The Call:
An Anthology of Women’s Writing

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Art is competition for the real

§

The inadvertent poetics of
Google Voice

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David Foster Wallace
imagining moral fiction

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Somalia:
where poetry is revered

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Yoknapatawpha diary

Insight into Faulkner’s ground

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James Baldwin on J.D. Salinger

11 Salinger letters surface

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A noted Indian English poet

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Aase Berg’s With Deer

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Bin Ramke’s Theory of Mind

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Publishing giants
win a round
re pricing via Google

A new message from
John Sargent of Macmillan

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The Nook finally ships

§

Elizabeth Marie Young’s
Aim Straight at the Fountain
and Press Vaporize

§

Robert Creeley’s
library for sale
(D-L)

§

Gary Snyder
writes a MacPoem

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Don DeLillo
& the curse of self-parody

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Lots of recordings available
from this year’s
Key West Literary Seminar

§

Claudia Keelan’s Missing Her

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Carol Ann Duffy’s Love Poems

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Indiana Pacers’ owner
rescues Kirkus

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The Station Bookswap
(we have one
at the Paoli SEPTA/Amtrak stop)

§

Dennis Maloney’s Just Enough

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The Guardian celebrates
cowboy poetry

§

Eleanor Wilner:
“Encounter in the Local Pub”

§

Remembering Dave Christy

§

David Antin talks in Philly,
Tuesday, February 16:
Rethinking Freud – Taking Freud
Out of Psychoanalysis

§

Rachel Zucker, Joan Houlihan & Brenda Hillman
viewed from afar

§

Mathew Timmons’ Credit

§

How many “great books”
go unfinished
?

§

Fuck yeah NYRB Classics!

§

Beyond the Words:
a linguistics conference in Leipzig
in May

§

M.L. Liebler,
promoting Detroit’s literary scene

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Talking with Kevin Sampsell

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Applying a calculus of writing
to a classic

§

Displaced agency in social space

§

The poetry of place

Poem on the Range

§

Alfred Corn on
Borges’ Buenos Aires

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Anne Caston’s Judah’s Lion

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Talking with Vera Pavlova

§

Remixing the Odyssey

§

Poetry in medicine
(& vice versa)

§

How Twitter changes writing

& how “creative writing” does likewise

The problem of endings

§

Restoring books in Mumbai

§

Lisa Olstein’s Lost Alphabet

§

The Fairy Tales of Herman Hesse

§

Bob Hicock:
“i am the ventriloquist, dummy”

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9 poems by Steven Manuel

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Phony author signatures =
$120K in fines &
33 months in jail

§

Sampling & Axolotl Roadkill

§

Peter Handke’s
cerebral Don Juan

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PoetSpeak,
a DIY audio poetry site

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Tolstoy: the renunciation artist

Tolstoy on Lincoln

§

TC Boyle’s “rollicking” Wild Child

Boyle, Jim Harrison & Amy Bloom

§

Best books of the 21st century
(mostly Quietist perspectives)

§

Talking with Wayne Miller

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Brooks Thomas,
who fought against “fair use” & won,
has died

§

Split This Rock
poetry festival,
Washington, DC
March 10-13

§

Talking with Papo
(Jesús Papoleto Meléndez)

§

A capsule version of
A Clockwork Orange

Literature’s best drugs?

William Burroughs & the Rolling Stones

§

How Stanley Elkin
predicted Rush Limbaugh

§

In New York, February 24,
a tribute to Max Blecher (1909-1938)

§

Listening to erotica

The erotic salon

Martin Amis’
boring sexual revolution

§

Book jacket of the year, already?

The uncensored version

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Books banned by the Texas prisons

Iran blocks GoodReads

Watching anti-censorship
chase its own
tail

Use a flash card,
go to jail

Censorship &
Thomas Merton’s
Seven Storey Mountain

What to do with the N-word
in Huck Finn?

§

Nevile Shute & Eric Amber

§

The deadline for submissions to
Steampunk Reloaded
has passed

§

Muldoon to give Turnbull lecture
at Johns Hopkins

§

Norman Mailer & food

§

Six digit print runs
for new graphic novels

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A photograph of Larry Leavis

§

Nico Vassilakis:
towardS

§

The New York Times’
Nifty 50
up-&-comers
mostly in the arts

§

Yosi Sergant
& the art of
right-wing hysteria

§

Avatar’s font
has its critics

Donna Haraway on Avatar

§

Talking with Natalie Merchant

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Eliot & music
in Starkville, Mississippi

§

The return of Gil Scott-Heron

Forefather of rap

§

Sam Shepard:
aiming to be less “clunky”

§

Vonnegut as theater in Toronto

§

Wes Anderson’s
Spiderman reboot

§

The Istanbul Film Festival
offers several films free on-line
with English subtitle

§

American Psycho,
the musical

§

Ruslan & Ludmilla,
based on the poem by Pushkin,
with English subtitles
(in multiple parts on YouTube)

§

Cross-dressing
& the new media avant-garde

§

Chuck Close
joins Obama arts’ advisors

§

A gallery of photographs by
Linh Dinh

§

In Rome,
contemporary art in an old brewery

MACRO

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Gorky comes to the Tate

§

A painting by Gregory Corso

§

Robert Smithson:
Learning from New Jersey
& Elsewhere
(reg. req.)

§

Homage to JG Ballard
at the London Gagosian

§

Using math
to detect art fakes

§

The fate of the art work
of Haiti

§

A symposium on
The Art of the Steal

§

Up for auction:
the Polaroid collection

Instant, but timeless” –
a slide show

§

Ice House

& critique

§

Alexander McQueen is dead

The dark star of internation fashion

Remembering Alexander McQueen

NY Times video

What McQueen meant

§

A profile of Jeff Beck

§

Edmund White on Patti Smith

§

Islamic women
who love rock & roll

Finding god in a rock guitar

§

Zinn-ophobia at NPR

§

Bernard Henri-Lévy’s “botulism” problem

§

Arthur Koestler
(with a revealing aside
re Walter Benjamin)

§

Philosophy Talk:
the radio program that questions everything,
but your intelligence

§

Who poisoned Descartes?

§

Christopher Hitchens has no clothes

§

New nouns
in the vocabulary of
atrocity

§

On the Road – the real story

§

The world of Facebook

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