Saturday, March 06, 2004

Today, my favorite page on the internet – the whole internet – is right here. Kyle Schlesinger has done a terrific job.


The joy of a new book, beautifully designed, really doesn’t change or diminish at all over the years. For me, it triggers a very primal response . . . close to what I felt (or at least wanted to feel) on Xmas morning as a kid. Jack Gilbert used to talk of sleeping with Views of Jeopardy, his Yale Younger Poets volume, under his pillow, after it came out.


Since ® came out in 1999, I’ve had four books published, all reissues of earlier volumes: Tjanting; Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps; In the American Tree; and most recently Xing. The idea that one needs not simply to get one’s work into print, but to figure out how best to keep it there is something I’ve had to learn, as I suspect all poets do if they stay active as they grow older. When I was a kid, I had this idea of the books existing in eternity, or at least permanently in print. Little did I know . . . .


Books are like poems in that they have histories and we, who write, edit or otherwise cobble them together, have histories with them. One’s emotional response to a reissue – especially when, as in all four cases here, it entails in a transformed design, ranging from the move to perfect binding for Xing, to complete reworkings of the other three books – is extraordinarily complex, but no less intense than to an altogether new volume. I now have copies of Tree with four different covers: the original matte finish paperback, the limited edition hardback that accompanied it, an interim edition with a black & white photograph of the branches of a tree for its cover, and now the new edition, with great typesetting & a cover I love.


Woundwood is a poem from VOG, a section of The Alphabet. Each section of The Alphabet is in some manner different from all the others, or at least I fantasize that this is true. VOG – that title is the only one to employ an acronym – differs in that it was conceptualized as “a book of ordinary poems.” In short, something I haven’t written in a very long time – over 30 years. When Kyle suggested doing Woundwood as a chapbook, it made perfect sense to me from the framework of this project, even though I’m not yet 100 percent certain of the order or final makeup of VOG.


The relationship of any poem to whatever book it appears in is flexible, not fixed. Often, especially when we are young, we think of the works in the books we fall in love with as “obvious” or “right” for the project, when in reality almost all of them could have been done some other way, in another order. Would it have made a difference? Of course, at some level. But just  how much of one is something that you have to think about almost poem by poem, let alone book by book. One of the most important things we don’t know about Emily Dickinson is what her books would have looked like, had she gathered her poems together thus in her own lifetime. I feel like I’m still thinking this through, learning as I go. Hoping to.


The other night in New York, I listened as Miles Champion mentioned Woundwood in his obsessively thorough introduction of me at St Marks, pronounced the title as though the first syllable was the past tense of the verb wind, rather than as a synonym for injury. I thought to myself, “Well, you learn something new every day.”