Saturday, October 28, 2006

Against lemmings


Good news for Salt

(It’s not every day
I find my name in
The Guardian)


Salt’s web site
has received
over 1,000,000
hits this month
& over
7,000,000 hits
over all


The sound of silence




A contemporary poet
of ghazals


Of poetry
in Persia


Desolation Row


Buzzard poet


Be true
to your strange


The mood in Armenia
as seen from its poems


Paul Muldoon
interviewed by an Irish daily

who writes rock lyrics
on occasion,
neglects to mention
a work of the same name
by one
Jim Morrison)


A piece on Howl
on All Things Considered


My note on archives
to include
the very great collection


the Archive of the Now
inform me
that I undercounted
the number of poets
for whom
they have recordings

J.H. Prynne
John Wieners


Friday, October 27, 2006

The top 40
magazine covers


And for 2006


This being
“the premier trade association
for consumer magazines


Penguin Books
gets virtual
with a
Second Life


Katherine Dreier
Marcel Duchamp


Inventing the kwansaba


The winners
of the Whiting Award
are announced


The book thief
who got probation

Thursday, October 26, 2006

In addition to a wonderful tribute to Barbara Guest by Peter Gizzi, and a rather puffier one for Stanley Kunitz by Michael Ryan & Gregory Orr, the fall issue of American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, departs from its usual presentation of poetry as a genteel affair (an essay by Albert Goldbarth, Paul Muldoon close reading Elizabeth Bishop, a “manuscript study” presentation of a handwritten text by John Berryman, a selection of “poems from recent releases” that includes Mark Levine, Sandra M. Gilbert, Seamus Heaney, Carl Phillips & Floyd Skloot), to offer up three “emerging poets,” younger writers who have not yet had a big book out, introduced by a sponsoring poet. Sherman Alexie presents S.G. Frazier, Rodney Jones presents Phebus Etienne & Rae Armantrout presents Joseph Massey.

Some family responsibilities kept me from getting to Massey’s reading in Philadelphia a week or two ago, so I was pleased to see him featured here, partly because I’m pleased to see that Armantrout shares my own enthusiasm for his work. The feature includes three poems of Massey’s & one of Armantrout’s. Massey’s poems all come from Property Line, a chapbook from Jess Mynes’ Fewer and Further Press of Wendell, Massachusetts. Property Line is, in every sense of the word, not yet a big book, what with a press run of 250 copies and pages that are just six inches high, 3.75 inches wide. In addition to a gorgeous cover (art by Wendy Heldmann), the books pages use a dark red ink that is surprisingly effective. Perhaps it’s the deep maroon sheets between the covers and the slightly buff pages of the text itself that pulls it altogether, but as book design it really is elegant. The first poem in the book is the same as in the magazine feature:

Hill’s red
edge –

that numbed
your tongue

It was the sound of the poem that carried me through it the first time I read it (in the journal before the book, in fact), all those parallel ĕ sounds & that almost subterranean d. Yet a few days later, what lingers more is that one word that semantically stands ajar, slightly out of line with the rest of this otherwise impeccably realist depiction: tethered. In what way (or ways) might a hill be tethered? When I first read the poem, I know that my mind substituted at least the meaning of the word deckled – as in irregular, notched, almost fractal – for tethered. But that’s my mind, and I’m savvy enough about the inner workings of the parsimony principle to know that the reader will supplement whatever details create, for him or her, the simplest, neatest explication. Beyond which, of course, there is an echo of weathered. But that’s not it either. Literally tethered means tied down, a meaning I can’t fit quite with the presence of a bush or a sense of a hill’s horizon. And it’s that not fitting, that imprecision in a work that seems to be exactly a monument to the precise, that gives this poem its depth over time.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What Nikki Giovanni said


Steve Evans
Poets for Bush


The passing of
a linguist of the old school,
Bill Bright,
(also the father of Susie)


Multimedia Friendships:
A panel on
Nam June Paik & John Cage
Saturday, October 28
in Paris


Microsoft signs deal
to compete with Google
in the “digitize everything”


70 years
after Millay’s fire


The value of
Robert Bly


Alice Quinn
stuck in the Wayback Machine
Galway Kinnell & Phil Levine


Who sets the curriculum?
(U.K. version)


More people write poetry
than go to football matches”


Old poets in
The New Statesman


The “other woman
in the life of
Ted Hughes


Reading report:
Charles Dickens


Translating pidgin English


On Englishness,”
a top ten
list of books
chosen by
Billy Bragg


The “885
greatest artists
of all time

(on which
Billy Bragg
is 295)


If you can get the cops
to read, then…

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Archive of the Now is, on day one, the most significant new site for poetry I’ve seen in well over a year. It is a perfect complement to the Archive of the Then, Andrew Motion’s slick gathering of so much that is kitsch, the Bathos of Britain into which he & his colleagues have dropped a few token gems to dress the dross, with its megalomaniacal “world's premier online collection” claim on its home page. Mostly it’s a shill for hawking some old CDs, containing only two-thirds the number of poets available for free already, and in much greater depth, at PENNsound.. In unmistakable contrast with Motion’s slickness, Archive of the Now simply seems intent on becoming

an online and print repository of recordings, printed texts and manuscripts, focusing on innovative contemporary poetry being written or performed in Britain.

What a breath of fresh air! And what resources already in place. The Archive already has in place some materials on the following 44 poets:

Tim Atkins

Andrea Brady

Ceri Buck

Stuart Calton

Vahni Capildeo

Adrian Clarke

Kelvin Corcoran

Emily Critchley

Ian Davidson

Andrew Duncan

Ken Edwards

Kai Fierle-Hedrick

Allen Fisher

Roy Fisher

Harry Gilonis

Chris Goode

Bill Griffiths

Alan Halsey

Robert Hampson

Michael Haslam

Ian Hunt

Elizabeth James

Tom Jones

Christine Kennedy

David Kennedy

Michael Kindellan

Tony Lopez

Peter Manson

Tim Morris

Geraldine Monk

Peter Larkin

Redell Olsen

Maggie O'Sullivan

Out to Lunch

Ian Patterson

Neil Pattison

Reitha Pattison

Simon Perril

Peter Robinson

John Seed

Simon Smith

Keston Sutherland

Lawrence Upton

John Wilkinson

For someone who has been complaining, as have I, that I have some difficulty hearing the work of many British authors, this site is a patent & blunt challenge to me to put up or shut up. If I want (need) to listen, it’s right here. In fact, I shall. Roy Fisher’s poems here have already sent me out to find the one lone bookshop in Chester County that had a copy of his collected poems, The Long and the Short of It, but I’ve done so & thus I’m diving in.

Is the site perfect? Hardly, but this appears to be mostly because it’s just getting under way. It has, as of this week, 44 poets in contrast with the Archive of the Then’s 133 & PENNsound’s 196.. So the obvious immediate need at Archive of the Now is for more authors. Some of the obvious enough omissions at present include Thomas A. Clark, Lee Harwood, Drew Milne, Tom Pickard, J.H. Prynne, Tom Raworth – Raworth, in fact, can be found on Motion’s site, which is selling a CD of him reading.

Like the Electronic Poetry Center, the British Electronic Poetry Center, Ubuweb, the Academy of American Poets, Modern American Poetry, PENNsound, & even Motion’s slickness, Archive of the Now is part of the new encyclopedic impulse on the web itself, poetry-specific offshoots of the same impulses that lie behind Wikipedia and Google. Further, zines & reading series themselves are beginning to understand the value of same, for example Jacket, How2 & MiPoesias. We stand at the cusp of a period in which an enormous number of resources for the enjoyment & study of poetry over the past century, especially the last half century, are about to explode exponentially. Indeed, we are rapidly approaching the moment when some smart person is going to start pulling together an index of such resources, thus noting, for example, sites concerning Allen Ginsberg (often with sound files) on

The Academy of American Poets

Archive of the Then

The Electronic Poetry Center


Modern American Poetry



Not to mention Ginsberg’s own home site. Just multiply that level of detail for each of the 10,000-plus English language poets now publishing – not to mention those who, like Ginsberg, have come & gone before – and you begin to get a sense of simply the scale of what is out there already. And what should be out there (and will be, soon enough).

Thus, to Andrea Brady, who appears to have done the bulk of the work in getting Archive of the Now up & running, we can only say welcome & huzzah. May the project live long & prosper.

Monday, October 23, 2006

There is an advantage to being the guy who gets the most mail in town – the postal people recognize your name. Meteoric Flowers made it to my house in spite of the fact that it was sent to an address where I haven’t lived in over a decade – and no forwarding address appeared anywhere on the package. Obviously I was meant to get this book.

It’s the latest work from Elizabeth Willis, not to be confused with the chapbook of the same name (and some of the same poems) issued awhile back by Atticus Finch. Meteoric Flowers is filled with brief, well-balanced, brilliantly written prose poems, interspersed with a few works in verse that serve, at least at first glance, as section dividers (or, perhaps more accurately, as bridges). Visually, your first sense (mine anyway) is that these ought to feel simple, even slight. But then you read one:

Glittering Shafts of War

Lost words are lost boys. These woods are combing the hair of paradise. You’re waking and thinking, an opera of our minor ways: Sweet William, Virginia. What we fear in fearlessness turns over the table. You don’t blame the lamp for what you cannot read, the fire in the match not struck. How many coats, by federal surprise, regard you from the banks? We think we see them through the screen, the darkest flower’s gabardine.

Seven straightforward sentences. They would be “new” sentences save for the way Willis binds them together through recurrent pronouns (we, you) and, right at the beginning, sound (words, woods – a play that echoes later both in the deadpan fear / fearlessness and the final whimsy of screen / gabardine). There is an enormous sadness in that first sentence, perhaps because of an allusion back to war in the title (& forward, if the eye has already picked up the forthcoming Virginia a couple of lines below), possibly because of the echo also back to Peter Pan. Throughout, this poem is filled with one terrific image after another – the only one that doesn’t completely convince me is federal surprise.

The text effects of a poem like this intrigue me. Willis here achieves something akin to a middle depth that is unique to her writing. The poem doesn’t live at the surface the way a typical lyric might (think of Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets or the greatest poems of Anselm Hollo), nor is Willis after the vertigo-invoking short poem that breaches the real (more characteristic of, say, Rae Armantrout or Jack Spicer), but rather reaches somewhere that strikes me as almost halfway in-between. That’s a difficult balance, precisely because it requires pushing & pulling away from either extreme – which is what the combination of devices outlined above (along with all the many connotative schema) conspire toward.

For what it’s worth, Willis’ source here isn’t, say, a recounting of the multiple battles of Manassas, but rather the work of 18th century polymath Erasmus Darwin, Charlie’s grandpop, Blake’s contemporary, and specifically his 1788 poem, The Botanic Garden. Like Darwin’s text, Willis’ alternates between cantos & a series of disruptions. Only Willis reverses the genre, using prose poems for each of the four sections entitled Canto – the poem above is not atypical – interrupted by verses carrying titles such as “Verses Omitted by Mistake.” The titles of individual poems come directly from Darwin. Here is the passage from which “Glittering Shafts” is drawn:

The GODDESS paused, admired with conscious pride
The effulgent legions marshal'd by her side,
Forms sphered in fire with trembling light array'd,
Ens¹ without weight, and substance without shade;
And, while tumultuous joy her bosom warms,
Waves her white hand, and calls her hosts to arms,

     "Unite, ILLUSTRIOUS NYMPHS! your radiant powers,
Call from their long repose the VERNAL HOURS.
Wake with soft touch, with rosy hands unbind
The struggling pinions of the WESTERN WIND;
Chafe his wan cheeks, his ruffled plumes repair,
And wring the rain-drops from his tangled hair.
Blaze round each frosted rill, or stagnant wave,
And charm the NAIAD from her silent cave;
Where, shrined in ice, like NIOBE² she mourns,
And clasps with hoary arms her empty urns.
Call your bright myriads, trooping from afar,
With beamy helms, and glittering shafts of war;
In phalanx firm the FIEND OF FROST assail,
Break his white towers, and pierce his crystal mail;
To Zembla's moon-bright coasts the Tyrant bear,
And chain him howling to the Northern Bear.

What is the relationship of this passage to Willis’ poem? Is Ens a lost word? Or, for that matter, Zembla, a version that has subsequently disappeared from English, which has shifted to something closer to the original Russian, Zemlya, tho the word still appears as Zembla in Dutch & of course in Nabokov’s Pale Fire. There is, of course, a peculiar irony that Darwin here in the 1780s should actually write this of the future site of the largest nuclear (test) explosion in history. Glittering shafts indeed!

What Willis shares with Darwin is a perspective concerning the integrity of poetry & serious discourse – it was, after all, the views Erasmus Darwin expressed in another poem, The Temple of Nature, that first set grandson Charles off to demonstrate the dynamics of evolution. The idea that poetry is one of the central serious disciplines available to thought & thus not separated from science or philosophy or history is perhaps the deepest belief in this book. And Meteoric Flowers³ is first of all a book, which is to say that individual poems are sections of a larger whole. And that at some level, it makes no sense – or only a crippled sort of one – to try and discuss a single section like this, letting it stand, synecdoche for the whole of Willis’ project.

Yet I don’t think you need to know anything about Erasmus Darwin to “get” Meteoric Flowers – I certainly was sans clue until I came to a note positioned appropriately as an afterword. But if you do, or if you are willing to dig a little once Willis hands you the key, it reframes the text, tho (for me) only to make it more of what it already is.

Willis published the final section, along with others, in No: A Journal of the Arts. It’s entitled “Primeval Islands” and says it better than I could:

This I, this me, I’m speaking from a book. That brain that taught me delicious things, forgivable trains, a signal business. I don’t want to be tragic, even to the goldleafed bug. I, Walt Whitman, with Texas in my mouth. Dismiss this fantasy in favor of our startled shade. I remembered my tricks and what they did. Even apples aren’t free. Our life against the midnight lens: poor Crusoe on Mars. I’m walking through this wall of air to comfort my senate.


¹ The OED defines ens principally as being a philosophical term that specifics a being or entity as opposed to an attribute. It was a synonym for an obsolete sense of the word essence.

² Daughter of Tantalus, Niobe wept for her slain children and was turned to a stone that kept weeping.

³ A phrase that does not appear in Darwin, tho discussions of meteors certainly do, while flowers carry many adjectives, including luminous, musky, saffron, honey’d, mellifluous, insect, pendant, radiated & enascent.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

For decades now, the international community of electronic writers has been expanding the notion of what constitutes literature. Operating in circles as seemingly disparate as the academic community and the world of video game design, electronic writers have been producing award-winning and ground-breaking works that have re-defined our literary world. This conference, to be held at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kelly Writers House and the Slought Foundation galleries, offers Philadelphia a concentrated yet personal method for checking this stuff out.

Thursday, October 26

1:00 - 2:30 PM in the Arts Cafe: DISCUSSION
A conversation about writing and literature in the digital age, featuring:

Charles Bernstein (University of Pennsylvania)
Jena Osman (Temple University)
Bob Perelman (
University of Pennsylvania)
Ron Silliman (Silliman's Blog)

Electronic literature available for reading and discussion throughout the downstairs area, with guided tours at
3:30pm and 4:30pm. Electronic literature is accessible on computers for interaction and reading throughout the first floor of the Writers House.

3:30 and 4:30 PM: "GUIDED TOURS"
of selected works by Electronic Literature Collection, vol 1 editors:

Stephanie Strickland
Nick Montfort

4:00 - 5:30 PM in the Dining Room: WET DIGITS WORKSHOP
An introductory digital writing workshop for newcomers to HTML, led by Nick Montfort (
University of Pennsylvania). RSVP required. Contact to reserve a place.

5:30 - 7:30 PM in the Arts Cafe: READINGS & PRESENTATIONS
of Electronic Literature Collection contributors. Special Guests include:

Mary Flanagan (Hunter College)
Aya Karpinska (Brown University)
Stuart Moulthrop (University of Baltimore)
Noah Wardrip-Fruin (University of California, San Diego)
Aaron Reed (Salt Lake City)

Friday, October 27

10:30 - 11:30 AM at Slought Foundation: TOUR OF THE SLOUGHT FOUNDATION
Slought Foundation broadly encourages new futures for contemporary life through public programs featuring international artists and theorists. Guided by: Aaron Levy (Slought Foundation Executive Director)

1:00 - 4:00 PM in Room 202: ELECTRONIC WRITING JAM
With LOCAL and REMOTE participants. New digital work will be composed and implemented on the spot! Writers will have a chance to informally discuss the forms, techniques, and technologies they use.

Hosted by: Jim Carpenter (University of Pennsylvania) Daniel C. Howe (Brown University) Brian Kim Stefans (Richard Stockton College of New Jersey)

With remote guests: N. Katherine Hayles (University of California, Los Angeles) Marjorie Luesebrink (Irvine Valley College) Jason Nelson (Griffith University) Scott Rettberg (University of Bergen, Norway)

RSVP required. Contact to reserve a place.

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The Kelly Writers House 
3805 Locust Walk  
Philadelphia, PA 19104


Slought Foundation
4017 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, Pa 19104