Saturday, May 27, 2006


Democracy for America is the organization that originally began as the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004. With Governor Dean off running the Democratic Party & providing a balance to the centrist impulses of Nancy Pelosi et al, DFA’s chair is now Jim Dean, Howard’s brother. Tom Hughes, a one-time aide to Al Gore & longtime Democratic operative, is the executive director, running an organization that still reflects its roots as the first major national political campaign to find its most powerful expression on the web.

One thing that DFA does that I think makes tremendous sense is pull together a list of candidates that it endorses and for whom it raises funds. There are other Democratic groups out doing the same thing these days but… but DFA’s group is clearly the most progressive, and its DFA-List is the first I’ve seen where a donor can pick the individual campaigns he or she likes and make donations to several of them all at once. There are some Democratic groups that will channel your money to the likes of Bob Casey, a pro-war, pro-NRA candidate who says he wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned & has no place for stem cell research while he’s at it. Not the DFA-List.

Some of the candidates whose campaigns I’ve contributed to include:

Ned Lamont, who is challenging Joe Lieberman for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate in Connecticut. Now that Zell Miller has gone, Lieberman is the most reactionary Democrat in the U.S. Senate (tho he won’t be if Bob Casey is elected in Pennsylvania this fall). Lamont got enough support at the state Democratic convention to force a primary this year, and is campaigning as a progressive, antiwar candidate. This is an important race for all antiwar activists.

Francine Busby, running in a special election to replace jailed GOP congressman Duke Cunningham. Busby finished first in the initial special election and has an excellent opportunity to convert this seat from the far right to the progressive left next month.

Bernie Sanders for the Senate in Vermont. Sander is the most independent progressive in Congress today and will be the most progressive member of the Senate since Paul Wellstone died.

Lois Murphy for Congress in my own district here in Chester County. Murphy lost by just two percent to Jim Gerlach, a one-term Republican who had actually George W. Bush come here last Wednesday for a fundraiser. Since we just elected a Democratic state senator in Chester County, the heart of the district, in a landslide in spite of a 2 to 1 disadvantage in registration and decent GOP turnout at the polls, everyone recognizes that Gerlach is the congressman most likely to lose his seat in an anti-Bush backlash. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Those are just four of the 26 candidates you can support in a single internet transaction, if you so choose. You could do a lot of good with a $215.34 or thereabouts. To reach the DFA-List, click on the link, click on the logo. This Memorial Day weekend, do what you can.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Andrew Schelling replies today to Eliot Weinberger, noting the gender issues evident in the New Directions catalog.

Hi Eliot,

Looking at your ND list I see they didn't really miss a generation Focusing closer, I'd suggest though, they came rather late to people like Rosmarie Waldrop, Susan Howe, and Nate Mackey, who all were in their late fifties or even their sixties before joining the list. Aside from their antipathy for language poetry, it's evident that they missed the shift in gender balance that became noticeable through the nineteen-seventies and eighties. Of ND's eleven new poets in these two decades — from your list — only two are women, with HD dead in 1962.

Your suggestion that without Rexroth around, there was nobody to advise Laughlin — this sounds right.

Adding only a few poets a decade, ND could have chosen women such as Scalapino, Hejinian, S. Howe, F. Howe, Bev Dahlen, Kathleen Fraser, Rachel DuPlessis. There were also Niedecker, Kyger, di Prima, who were knocking around the small press world with no single publisher committing to any of them. This is probably the gap I sensed when I went through books on my shelf. From 1960-1990 (thirty years) it appears ND only took up three women: HD, Levertov, and R. Waldrop.

Another way to put it: you couldn't imagine the Beat decades or Black Mountain years without New Directions. But of shifts in American poetry through the eighties and nineties, ND is far less important than numerous other presses — such as Sun & Moon, Black Sparrow, and eventually North Point.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Eliot Weinberger, who has himself attempted to persuade New Directions to publish William Carlos Williams’ Spring & All as a separate edition; wrote to Andrew Schelling after I ran Andrew’s meditation on the role of New Directions as a post-avant publisher (and Andrew’s assertion that one could, in fact, base a bookstore’s poetry collection on New Directions, at least a couple of decades ago). Eliot cc’d me and the two of them eventually gave me permission to run Eliot’s email here. All ellipses are Eliot’s, and I corrected just one date, that of Duncan’s death.
Hi Andrew —
I read your letter about New Directions on Silliman’s blog, which got me wondering whether there really is a 20-year "gap" in ND’s commitment to "EP/WCW/HD" tradition. So off the top of my head, I made a list...
Bearing in mind that they only publish about 40 books a year, mainly prose (they are not primarily a poetry press) and that they were publishing a lot of poetry in translation — the list seems pretty impressive.
One problem was that it was difficult to take on new people while still keeping up with new books by their old people. In the 60's they added quite a few people — probably too many (in terms of ND’s size, not the worthiness of the individual poets) and a bunch of them ended up going to Black Sparrow.
It’s safe to say they had no interest in the NY School and subsequent generations (Berrigan, Padgett, etc) — until Bernadette in the 90's. And they had no particular interest in Langpo — but let Messerli do that (pretty bad) anthology in the 80's.
But what I don’t see is your idea that they neglected an entire generation. Certainly there are individuals they missed over the decades. Sometimes because they simply didn’t have the opportunity; sometimes because of a mix-up (Bunting, notably); sometimes because of personal animosity toward Laughlin, or vice-versa (Zukofsky) It would be interesting to know who they actually rejected. (The only poetry book Laughlin told me he made a mistake in rejecting was Blackburn’s "Proensa."Around the office, they most regret the Niedecker and Rexroth collecteds.)
It’s true that the list loses steam in the 80's, in terms of new people. Perhaps this was because Rexroth was dead and Laughlin didn’t have anyone he really trusted to talk with about the new poetry. (Most of the new people in the 60's and 70's were Rexroth enthusiasms.) And of course he was getting old, and less receptive.
So here’s the list. I’ve kept it to "EP/WCW/HD trad"and New Americans, ignoring some one-shots, and some odd regulars like Edwin Brock in the 60's and 70's, and Allen Grossman and John Allman later on. And I’ve probably forgotten some....

Continuing: Pound (d. 1972), Williams (d. 1963), Rexroth, Levertov, Ferlinghetti, Merton (d. 1968).
New people: Oppen, Rakosi, Duncan, Everson, Reznikoff, Olson (d. 1970), Tarn, Snyder, Jonathan Williams, Corso, Bob Kaufman, Carruth.

Continuing: Rexroth (d. 1982), Levertov, Ferlinghetti, Everson, Oppen (d.1984), Snyder, Corso, Carruth.
New people: Creeley, Rothenberg, Antin, HD (d. 1961, pub by ND posthumously), McClure, Corman.
[Rakosi, Reznikoff, Everson, and Tarn go to Black Sparrow. Oppen & Laughlin decided "Primitive" was too small a book for ND — you can’t say he was "dropped" by ND, as they published everything else. Corman goes to many presses, comes back in 90's with one book.]

Continuing: Creeley, Rothenberg, Antin, Duncan (returns from silence; d. 1988), Levertov, Ferlinghetti, McClure.
New people: Sobin, Weinberger (since you mentioned me, though hardly a poet), R. Waldrop, David Hinton (as translator), Peter Dale Scott.
[Snyder goes with his friend Shoemaker to North Point. ]

Continuing: Creeley, Ferlinghetti, Rothenberg, Antin, Levertov, R. Waldrop, Weinberger, Sobin, Hinton, McClure, Peter Dale Scott. [Plus one book by Corman.]
New people: Palmer, S. Howe, Gander, Brathwaite, B. Mayer. [Plus one-shot Bronk and Tomlinson Selecteds.]
[Sobin is dropped after three books; d. 2005]

Continuing: Creeley (d. 2006), Ferlinghetti, Rothenberg, Palmer, S. Howe, Gander, Brathwaite, R. Waldrop, Mayer, Weinberger, Hinton.
New people: Mackey, Thalia Field.
Continuing posthumous publications: Pound, WCW, Rexroth, Oppen, Duncan, Levertov, HD, Merton. [Creeley, just before his death, bizarrely decided to go to Univ. of California Press.]
Adding the non-avants, and various strange one-shots, in any given decade they published about 15 living English-language poets, as well as unpublished/uncollected books by the dead, and many foreign poets. In the 60's there were maybe half a dozen more — but of course books were cheaper then. So it's hard to say that a "generation" is missing. Regardless of what one thinks of the individual choices, the living poets on the list right now are in their 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, and (Ferlinghetti) 80's. 
Well, that kept me up!  Hope you saw the anthology ("World Beat")  I just did of all the foreign and some of the Americans ND has been publishing in the last 15 years...
all best —

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006


When I began the project of this weblog back in 2002, I had multiple models abstractly in my mind of what I might want to do. My nephew, Dan Silliman, had shown me the possibility by posting his philosophy papers on his blog, or at least making them accessible through it. And there were at least three different models of critical writing that floated about in my head. One was Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia, another the short essays of Robert Creeley’s first collection of prose, A Quick Graph, and the third the reviews of Gilbert Sorrentino, collected into Something Said.

The number of poets from the New American generation & the one following who could reliably write poetry, fiction and criticism are exceptionally few: Creeley, Kerouac, Kelly, some folks would say Dorn. But hardly anyone seemed as completely ambidextrous – if that’s the word – as did this guy from Brooklyn. I know the poetry fairly well – I like all of it – and seem to have been stockpiling the novels for years – I have a copy of Mulligan’s Stew that I got as a present when I left Hospitality House in 1981 – waiting for the proverbial “right moment.” But my favorite of Sorrentino’s critical pieces are almost certainly not the ones he might have chosen himself¹ – they’re medleys of mini-reviews run together that appeared first in Poetry. One is a chronicle of ten chapbooks. His list of authors, in retrospect, tells you a lot: Aimé Césare, Clayton Eshleman, Paul Blackburn, Frank Samperi, David Antin, Richard Brautigan, Robin Magowan, Ted Berrigan (with drawings by Joe Brainard), Jim Brodey & Bill Dodd, in that order. 38 years after that piece first ran in Poetry, Dodd is the only one with whose work I don’t still feel an active engagement.

Not that Sorrentino loved those works uniformly. While the first five authors all were associated with journal Caterpillar, Clayton Eshleman’s journal that shared Sorrentino’s post-Projectivist/NYC perspective, Sorrentino didn’t much have time for the New York School. Here’s the entire review of the Berrigan book:

Not much to say about Living with Chris, because it’s a picture-poem; a few lines of verse to a page, each page also containing a drawing, comic-strip genre, by Joe Brainard. Berrigan is a second-generation “New York school” poet, author of The Sonnets, a notable book, and this is a puff. Whatever value it has is inseparable from its presentation. It cannot be reviewed.

It’s worth underscoring here that, yes, Poetry magazine did call The Sonnets “a notable book” as early as 1968, by virtue of this passage. And that may be why Sorrentino thought to include that pamphlet.

Even in the works Sorrentino ultimately dismissed, he often took the time to ask what the poet was trying to accomplish, considering it on its own terms, rather than simply his. His passage here on Magowan’s Voyages recognizes that Magowan is an inherently uneven poet – something I’ve always thought was the consequence of not taking a position as to where he stood with poetry & its schools & histories – citing some of the very strongest lines in the book, acknowledging them as such. His section on Dodd here may well be the most serious consideration that poet’s writing ever received in print.

Many of the essays or chapters in Something Said aren’t essays, as such, but rather bundles of multiple shorter pieces published in different magazines. It gives his consideration of Paul Blackburn & Jack Spicer – he was one of the first reviewers to take both seriously & actively promote their work, writing an elegiac remembrance for Poetry for Spicer in 1965 – the feel of blog notes, except more carefully crafted. That, I think, is exactly what I was imagining when I was wandering around the foggy environs of Brier Island, Nova Scotia, in August 2002, contemplating this project. Something Said is still one of the very best critical books on the writing of the New American generation ever written.

Sorrentino never got the big ticket acknowledgement for his accomplishments that he deserved. His fiction has too many layers for an age that thinks Philip Roth is serious writing, and he himself generally avoided the poetry scene. In all the years he was at Stanford, I never once saw him up at an event in San Francisco. Indeed, I know writers who matriculated at Stanford & claim never to have seen Sorrentino there either.


¹ Indeed, in Barry Alpert’s interview in Jacket 29, Sorrentino suggests that if he had to do it all over again, he might not write criticism at all.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006


There is a hinge of sorts in Charles Olson’s argument in “Projective Verse,” and I’ve learned over time that one should pay close heed to these moments. When Olson, having laid out his three simplicities and his claim for the importance of breath, concludes

I take it that PROJECTIVE VERSE teaches, is, this lesson, that that verse will only do in which a poet manages to register both the acquisitions of his ear and the pressures of his breath.

Olson then moves, instanter as he would say, to this:

Let’s start from the smallest particle of all, the syllable. It is the king and pin of versification, what rules and holds together the lines, the larger forms, of a poem.

What Olson does not say here is that breath – that which flows in vowels & abrupts or grinds in every consonant – leads to, causes, or otherwise inscribes the syllable. Indeed, that isn’t where Olson is going in “Projective Verse” at all. In the final phrase of that previous paragraph – the acquisitions of his ear and the pressures of his breath – it is the ear to which Olson will pin the syllable, not the breath.

King and pin of versification: it is worth keeping in mind that Olson does not appear, here or elsewhere, to have seriously studied linguistics, for the syllable hardly is the “smallest particle of all,” but rather is a construction – one whose architecture is always evident – out of such truly smallest particles, phonemes. One-syllable words are themselves most often marvelous schemes of conjoined phonemes, so that it is rare to find one – I, oh, possibly you – that is coterminous with a lone phoneme. Be, after all, contains two.

Olson’s perception of the syllable has a historical dimension –

verse here and in England dropped this secret from the late Elizabethans to Ezra Pound, lost it, in the sweetness of meter and rime, in a honey-head. (The syllable is one way to distinguish the original success of blank verse, and its falling off, with Milton.)

– but it is not the historical that principally concerns Olson here, so much as the dynamics of the syllable in sounding the poem:

It would do no harm, as an act of correction to both prose and verse as now written, if both rime and meter, and, in the quantity of words, both sense and sound, were less in the forefront of the mind than the syllable, if the syllable, that fine creature, were more allowed to lead the harmony on.

Leading the harmony on, because

In any given instance, because there is a choice of words, the choice, if a man is in there, will be, spontaneously, the obedience of his ear to the syllables. The fineness and the practice, lie here, at the minimum and source of speech.

This is an argument for melopoeia over logo- and phano-, Pound’s old troika, and worth considering, especially when one thinks of that branch of Olsonian post-Projectivists (Paul Metcalf, say) who envisioned The Big O as permission for a logopoetics of the archives. Again, tho, we note that return to the idea of syllable as “the minimum” and – this is new and troubling – “source of speech.”

But to those who would let the syllable lead the harmony on, Olson issues

this warning, to those who would try: to step back here to this place of the elements and minims of language, is to engage speech where it is least careless – and least logical.

The idea that the least careless should also, at the same moment, be the least logical is worth thinking about. Even as he clumsily wades through his homegrown linguistics, Olson here echoes Jack Spicer’s Martian radio, insisting on the importance – and formal inclusion – of some aspect of the irrational:

For from the root out, from all over the place, the syllable comes, the figures of, the dance:

After which colon, Olson inserts an unattributed quotation identifying etymological sources for common English one-syllable words that propose more weighty philosophic dimensions, such as “’Is’ comes from the Aryan root, as, to breathe.” From folk etymology, Olson moves very rapidly to folk physiology (the ellipses in what follows are Olson’s):

I say the syllable, king, and that it is spontaneous, this way: the ear, the ear which has collected, which has listened, the ear, which is so close to the mind that it is the mind’s, that it has the mind’s speed . . .

it is close, another way: the mind is brother to this sister and is, because it is so close, is the drying force, the incest, the sharpener . . .

it is from the union of the mind and ear that the syllable is born.

The mind chooses what the ear hears – that seems to be gist, that there should always be this privilege. But what is most fascinating here is the metaphoric family invoked by Olson in which the king is born of brother & sister. Which in turn makes me very curious about that list at the end of that second paragraph: the drying force, the incest, the sharpener . . . To my mind, that is perhaps the most mysterious single sequence in all of Olson’s writing. Trying to figure out not only how ear & mind are siblings & equals (having thus to resist my own instinct that what Olson calls the ear is always already a part of mind, just as is recognition of shapes & objects in sight – there are no innocent senses beyond the age of what? three?), but also how those three cognitive domains include one another or at least overlap.

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Monday, May 22, 2006


Breathe, say all manner of meditators. Tho he was obviously interested in the work of Carl Jung, it’s hard – impossible – to envision Charles Olson, all chain smoking, chain drinking six-foot-nine of him, sitting Zazen. Olson is nothing if not the antithesis of the stereotype of the mellow Zen acolyte dressed in natural fibers, nibbling tofu with chopsticks or else engulfed in the presentness of inhaling, then exhaling, with no further agenda than being here now.

Yet no other poet of his generation – or any other, for that matter – has so directly connected poetry to the physiological process of breathing itself. Listen to him, in 1950, writing in his most famous essay, ”Projective Verse”:

If I hammer, if I recall in, and keep calling in, the breath, the breathing as distinguished from the hearing, it is for cause, it is to insist upon a part that breath plays in verse which has not (due, I think, to the smothering of the power of the line by too set a concept of foot) has not been sufficiently observed or practiced, but which has to be if verse is to advance to its proper force and place in the day, now, and head. I take it that PROJECTIVE VERSE teaches, is, this lesson, that that verse will only do in which a poet manages to register both the acquisitions of his ear and the pressures of his breath.

It’s worth keeping in mind where precisely this fits into the logic of Olson’s poetics. He’s concerned here with defining what he alternately calls Projective or Open verse or Composition by Field, “as opposed to inherited line, stanza, over-all form, what is the ‘old’ base of the non-projective.” Which is to say that Olson is very much proposing this as a poetics of all that is alternative to the School of Quietude, a claim that both empowers and limits his argument, ultimately (e.g. Olson will thus write prose poetry out of his picture, regardless that it is equally opposed to “inherited line, stanza, over-all form”).

From which foundational claim – this will account for all that is anti-SoQ – Olson then proceeds to stake out what he calls “simplicities that a man learns” – his language is hopelessly sexist – “if he works in OPEN,” this phrase never to join up with an ultimate noun. The “simplicities” are, as I read them, three underlying dynamics, true of all poetry (or so he claims), the second being the most famous, Creeley’s dictum: “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.” But the first, what Olson calls “the kinetics of the thing,” includes an actual definition of the poem:

A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself, must, at all points, be a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy discharge.

This is one of the most overlooked claims in the recent history of poetry, given just how much attention has gone to other parts of Olson’s project, and to all the work by others (not just Creeley & Duncan, say, but virtually everyone who came in contact with any of the three Projectivist musketeers). The most important single word here, I swear, is the simplest: Okay. Olson’s prose, not unlike his verse, perpetually twists & turns, rushing propulsively forward, often sounding quite breathless in the process. This one word interjection is exactly not that. It’s a pause, a punctuation, an emphasis. He wants us to take that claim in: A poem is energy transferred.

What does he mean? Why must the poem, at all points, be an energy discharge? This is a far cry, actually, from Pound’s dichtung = condensare. Until you consider that condensare just might be a necessary compacting process required to amp up the voltage so that energy is maximized through pressure. Olson very carefully declines to define this energy – we know only that it will have some several causations – nor to tell us, here at least, how this pseudo-electrical current gets from writer to reader.

Then, after Creeley’s dictum, comes the third “simplicity,”

And I think it can be boiled down to one statement (first pounded into my head by Edward Dahlberg): ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.

This, it is important to note, is antithetical to the traditional rules of exposition. Olson is not only arguing for a particular mode of writing, but against another, in this instance the sort of thing that could be crafted into an outline, converted into a series of topic sentences, then laid out in an orderly, but definitely hierarchical structure. Olson’s argument is the absolute opposite of such hierarchy. The only moment to consider is neither the proposition at the start of the argument, nor the conclusion at its end, but rather now. In this way, Olson again anticipates the present-centered strategy of a whole host of Eastern practices, even tho, the advice he then gives, as consequence & example, sound about as unholistic as one might get:

get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split-second acts, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen.

That sense of constant & frenetic motion is a characteristic of Olson’s writing, even as, with that articulation of the third simplicity, the adverbial phrase IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY keep Olson’s key verb phrase from immediately & directly completing itself. One might think of this, as David Saffo suggests in the latest issue of H_NGM_N, as a rhetoric for phenomenologists.

It is impossible, to my ear at least, to see that term, simplicities, without hearing Olson’s words elsewhere, in “Maximus, to himself”:

I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.

Olson actually calls his “simplicities,” “the dogma.” This is the set up for the first of his claims “inside the machinery, now, 1950, of how projective verse is made,” which leads us directly to Olson’s claim for breath.


Sunday, May 21, 2006


The latest book from Jawat Haidar, a Lebanese poet two years older than the late Stanley Kunitz.


A two-sentence article in the Washington Post today on the subject of backwards books, or, as the subtitle has it, “skoob sdrawkcab.”


Turbulence: the house Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Richard Tuttle had built for them by Steven Holl. And the problems they’ve encountered.


Click on the pic

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