Saturday, April 14, 2007

Gil Ott Tribute & the First Annual Gil Ott Book Award

Sunday, April 15th, 3pm
Robin’s Bookstore
108 S.13th St., Philadelphia

More than any other individual, Gil Ott is the person responsible for the strength of the poetry community in Philadelphia over the past 30 years. His skills as a poet & prose writer, as an editor, publisher & arts administrator, and as a community organizer, proved to be a unique combination. A small “d” democrat, Gil led by example, usually denying that he was doing anything other than just being himself.

Tim Peterson is the recipient of the First Annual Gil Ott Book Award for his book Since I Moved In (Chax Press, 2007), selected by series editors Charles Alexander, Eli Goldblatt, Myung Mi Kim and Nathaniel Mackey.

We will also be celebrating Gil Ott's work and life as told and read by a few of his many friends and admirers. Those participating include:

Alicia Askenase
Julia Blumenreich
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Ryan Eckes
Kristen Gallagher
Eli Goldblatt
Chris McCreary
Jenn McCreary
Bob Perelman
Ken Rumble
Joshua Schuster
Frank Sherlock
Ron Silliman

Click HERE for a video of Gil.
Click HERE for Gil's last interview.
Click HERE at WIKIPEDIA, they're looking for help creating Gil's page.

This blog note seriously plagiarized from CAConrad’s work at PhillySound.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I know Ken Rumble originally from his participation in the Lucifer Poetics group of North Carolina, very possibly the liveliest poetry community not integrally a part of a major metro in the U.S. The director of the Desert City Poetry series – the title refers to the series’ origin in Winston-Salem & the role of the desert in the advertising for that mini-metro’s most famous product, Camel cigarettes – has been one of the prime movers in making that scene what it is today. So I was surprised to discover that not only was he born in Washington, D.C. & raised nearby in Chevy Chase, Maryland, but that his first book, Key Bridge, just published by Carolina Wren Press, is in some way an homage of sorts to that other resident both of D.C. (as an employee of the OSS, that WW2 pre-CIA) & North Carolina (first as teacher, then rector at Black Mountain College), the poet who first put place into displacement, Charles Olson.

The Key in Key Bridge is Francis Scott & the structure in question is the Route 29 crossing of the Potomac from Washington into Rosslyn, Virginia. Key’s home once was near the northern edge of the D.C. end of the bridge in Georgetown. It’s not that Key Bridge is “about” the bridge itself, per se, tho it does figure in, more in the sense of being a major character, an organizing principle. Rather, Key Bridge understands both the words of its title as terms rich with metaphoric potential. Rather, not unlike much of Olson’s work, this book – I’m tempted to write this poem – is about many different things, including the poet’s youth (or, as Wordsworth had it, the growth of a poet’s mind), the city of D.C. qua city, one of the most unique – not always in good ways – in the USA, including aspects of the experience that are otherwise inescapable, race foremost among them.

I said “tempted to write this poem” because in many ways Key Bridge feels like exactly that, a project that is so tightly knit together that to call it a collection seems obviously inaccurate. For one thing, most of the poems – or sections – here don’t have titles but simply dates, presumably of composition, where one would expect to find “the poem’s name.” Yet it’s not strictly chronological: you find, say, 4.december.2002 between 26.february and 5.march. The table of contents isn’t any help here, because in one sense there isn’t one, but rather a work entitled “A Way In” that looks like a table of contents & appears where one would expect to find it. It even goes up as far as page 71, just like the book itself, but rather than listing titles & page numbers, it offers lines taken from the page – not the first lines of individual sections either – and page numbers. Further, no page has more than one such (26 in all are listed), tho many pages have more than work or section. Thus, in what may be the most Steinian section, “18.march.2001”

the bridge bridged the bridgeable river,
bridgely bridging the bridged

is. It is.
The bridge exists, is exits,
exists/is, is ex-
the bridge occupies,
colonizes, engages, conquers, invades, seizes,
maintains, captures, pervades, takes over, storms,
grasps, extends, is

time & space –
indivisible time, space & form: the bridge:
the fluid form of intangibilities. The
bridge is.
Bridge be.
Bridge be bridging.

– it is the last line that shows up on this non-table of contents.

Many of the poems or sections are short here also, very much in the same way as some of Olson’s later Maximus Poems. Thus “15.february.2002”:

            — we missed each other in inches

Or, further down the same page,


subject’s abuse

Or, many pages earlier, “4.june.2000” in its entirety:

An other, an out there, away

very much recalling the final line of Maximus.

So many of the surface features of an Olsonian poetics are here – the short poems with oblique points, incomplete elements of bracketing, use of ampersands – that the differences are striking. First, Rumble, who was born a few years after Olson’s death, avoids, with a couple of notable exceptions, the Poundian use of abbreviations that Olson (& Duncan, Blackburn & a host of other Projectivists, even including Creeley on occasion early on) adopted. More importantly, tho, the Olson Rumble’s interested in is not the singer of outsized asthmatic song, Olson’s particular brand of melopoeia, but rather Olson the cognitive poet, the lover of complexity, the poet who never underestimates the intelligence of his audience.

This is especially palpable in the longer pieces, such as these two which appear back to back just past the mid-point of the book:

2. September.2001

Why do you think you & other African American tenors have had a hard time breaking into the opera world?
Because the tenors get the girl.

monochrome, monoculture, monotone,
mononucleosis, mano y mano y no hermana o hermano

Ahh, my city, today I missed you
where I would”ve gone?
you’re a nest to me always next to me
a palm a mind a diamond – I’d walk
the streets I drive the desk down
like in the movie I don’t remember the name of.
Even your rats tumbling over each other along
the footpath along
Potomac a long
a way.

Don’t be delicate.
Use a whip,
a note, a rhythm, or not

The poem addresses the city directly, something relatively few poets can do without sounding too self-conscious, as well as uses three variations of the list (one of them partly in Spanish) to demonstrate its multi-pronged point.


Pierre L’Enfant & Ben Banneker
walked the Aves the Blvds the Sts the Rds & Circles
they drew the lives they made

saw or dreamed lives
walked & saw fountains in circles angles edges interstices

North/south the numbers go:
16th, 14th, 12th, 19th
east/west the letters:
N, P, F, S, M, U
then two-syllable names alphabetically:
Fuller, Girard, Irving, Quincy

then three syllables:
Allison, Delafield, Jonquil, Rittenhouse – all by alphabet
up to the north tip
            (spent rage for order
until the pattern is left in a tangle
of Redwood Spruce Sycamore Tulip & Tamarack
            (before that: Arcadia

the Capitol building
the center the Cyclop’s eye
my dear dear little monster:
this balance this grid slashed
NE/SE with state names, this monster

dreamed into swamp land
L’Enfant & Banneker walked through
seeing city all around not

the web the veins the branches not
the swamp the fractured glass not
the palm lines not the spokes the city

the city, the city, seeing all
the city.

If you hear an echo here, not of Olson, but of Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, that’s probably not an accident. Overall – and this is very Olsonian – the intelligence of this book lies less in its individual sections (or poems), great as it often is there, & most powerfully of all in the relationship between poems, in the book as a whole. As complicated & accomplished as each section might be, each is primarily a facet, one aspect of a far more complex thing. It’s in this sense that Key Bridge is a far better poem than a bridge, within which you will find not one, but many keys to the way(s) we live now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Talking collage
with John Ashbery


Patchen Fest!


A great little note
on the origins
of the
School o’ Quietude

Andover, NH


A profile of Artie Gold,
the late, great
Anglophone poet of




“away with buttons lips underwater”

Noah Eli Gordon
Clark Coolidge’s
Bond Sonnets

You can find
Bond Sonnets
online here


Chris McCreary on Graham Foust


Mark Scroggins & John Latta
The Grand Piano


Talking with
Martín Espada


Same national poetry month,
different nation


A celebration of the centennial of
Parvin E’tesami,
a major woman poet
from Iran


My reign is done
& you can now
The Poet Laureate
of the Blogosphere 2007

Jilly Dybka & I,
as previous winners,
are not eligible


The Poet Laureate
of New Bedford, MA


An omnibus review
that covers
all the bases –
Michael O’Brien, Franz Wright,
Charles North, Elaine Equi
& more –
by William Corbett


Stephen Burt
The Imaginary Poets


A review of
Pam Rehm & Michael O’Brien


“While Ochester
is proud of the poets he's published,
he's not about to anoint any
of them as being
for the ages”


The eco-poetics of
Helen Dunmore


"it's a metaphor, you know,
it's not literally a novel about poets.
It's about poetic temperament in the world.
It's romantic.
It's about young idealists
coming up against
corruption and tragedy."


It came from Helvetica


A profile of
Erica Funkhouser,
one of the new
Guggenheim Fellows

Funkhouser’s PBS moment


Another Cody’s
bites the dust


In Atlanta,
the aptly named
Chapter 11
goes from 16 bookstores
to just one


Putting Baudelaire
into iambic pentameter


Ada Limón’s
big verse narrative


Brad Leithauser
on the social functions
of poetry,


Cat sells autobiography
for $1.25 million


Just getting to an open reading
can be an event


(aka Bill Cohen)
has a big collection
of mostly signed
Poetry-in-Motion posters
& is running one a day
for the month of April

(click on them
to see versions
large enough to read)


Keats in love


Dante the detective


Ovid, Bob Dylan
Best New Zealand Poems


"It's not the same old coffee house folk crap"


40 years of college freshmen


An appreciation of Sol LeWitt
with a good slide show
of his work

plus a detailed obit
sans pics
from the LA Times

an even larger obit
from the
Hartford Courant

& an excellent blog by Tyler Green

A forthcoming retrospective
at Mass MoCA

Phyllis Tuchman
on the
New York 12


The arts scene in Omaha


In Montreal,
a retrospective of Maurice Denis,
the modernist time forgot


Painting Madonna


A review of Ballets Russes
(which I agree is
a must-see documentary)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

“It must be hard getting out of graduate school without a book contract.” That sentence, which was spoken publicly at a party a few years back by a poet who has received both a Pulitzer & a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, is still the single dumbest thing I’ve ever heard said about contemporary poetry by somebody actually involved in the practice. Most poets, even School-o-Quietude prima donnas, don’t get out of grad school with book contracts – the speaker here meant by a trade publisher like FSG, since indie presses seldom bother with contracts at all & university presses for the most part work on a book-by-book relationship. A poet with an ongoing relationship with a university press, the way Alan Dugan was situated with Yale, is rare and noteworthy.

That sentence came roaring back into my head for the first time in awhile over the weekend as I pondered what, in fact, it might mean for two more or less simultaneous anthologies to appear with 193 poets between them, 180 of whom must all be instances of the School of Quietude, while sharing just four poets who appear in both volumes. Now obviously there are differences between the two volumes that go well beyond the fact that one is well edited, the other rather poorly so, or that the Poetry Daily website has a fondness for the patterned poetics of so-called new formalism that Pittsburgh editor Ed Ochester doesn’t share. The simple reality is that of the 149 poets included in the PD anthology, just four were from poets included by Ochester in his misleadingly titled American Poetry Now.

So it’s worth taking a closer look at how each book was edited. PD picked 149 poets who had appeared on its online Poem-a-Day web feature since an earlier anthology in 2003. That suggests that its editors had maybe 1,000 different poets to choose from – and this no doubt is partly why the book has a shapeless Noah’s arc feel to it – it was just trying to represent too much. The Pitt Poetry Series that Ochester has been editing now for forty years prints four books a year, meaning that he had something akin to 160 possible books to choose from. If I go on the PD website, I can look at the archive for just the past year – another bad editorial decision from Boller & Selby – so that I can see at most about one-third of what the editors had to work with. If I go on the Pittsburgh Press website, I can find a catalog for the Pitt Poetry Series that lists 128 titles, a few of which are listed twice (presumably because these volumes came out both in hardback & paper bound editions), so maybe 120 or so books overall, with a list of exactly 80 authors. One of those, tho, is Ed Ochester for editing APN¹ itself. Whether or not this represents the entire series is impossible to tell, tho I suspect that there may be at least some older volumes that are out of print and thus not listed.

In any event, in picking 47² poets for this anthology, Ochester also omitted at least the other 31 listed in his catalog, including Allison Joseph, Carol Muske, Odysseus Elitis³, Lyrae Van-Clief Stefanon, Gabe Gudding, Gary Gildner, Aaron Smith and Rick Hilles. Going through the catalog, I don’t think there was a general principle determining who did or did not get included, beyond say the fact that those poets with multiple Pitt volumes – Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Robin Becker, or Alicia Suskin Ostriker – are all represented. The real reason is, I suspect, Ochester’s sense of how many pages he wanted to allocate to each poet and the size volume the press could afford.

There are, as it happens, some Pitt poets in the PD archives who did not make it through the much tighter funnel in that anthology. One case in point is Penn State professor Robin Becker, whose poem “Sound View” appeared on the Poem-of-the-Day website on August 7 of last year, excerpted no less from her most recent Pitt book, Domain of Perfect Affection. The poem begins with the sort of labored simile & hyperactive verb phrase that seems to parody the notion of “creative writing” itself:

Like driftwood,
        a deer
foams toward shore.

It’s impossible not to guffaw at an opening sentence like that. Unfortunately, the rest of the poem makes plain that this isn’t a satire on bad writing, but rather is the real deal itself. Reading Becker’s selection in APN, however, suggests that “Sound View” represents some sort of lower limit of bathos toward which her work might descend. It’s not that Becker’s not given to ludicrously figurative language –

I like to watch
your breasts float like two birds
drifting downstream

– but rather that, at her best, she’s not a poet of figurative language at all, but rather of relationships. Indeed, in “Adult Child,” likewise in APN, the only false notes occur precisely where Becker uses metaphor as filler:

Now that my parents are old, they love me fiercely,
and I am grateful that the long detente of my childhood
has ended; we stroll through the retirement community.
My father would like to call the woman who left me
and tell her that I will be a wealthy woman someday.
We laugh, knowing she never cared about money
but patiently taught him to use his computer and program
the car phone. In the condo, my mother navigates
a maze of jewelry, tells me the history of watches,
bracelets, rings, pearls. She says I may sell
most of it, she just wants me to know what’s what.
I drive her to the bank where we sign a little card
and walk, unaccompanied, into the vault, gray boxes
stacked like bodies. Here, she says, are the titles and deeds.

Ignore détente and stacked like bodies and this is a decent piece of writing, concise & perceptive. The two metaphors don’t add anything – they really are filler – but they’re not so wildly inappropriate as to cause more than an instantaneous wince. And this poem is much more characteristic of what Ochester has chosen to represent of Becker in his anthology – and indeed even from Domain of Perfect Affection on the Pitt web site. So the mystery is not why did Boller & Selby not choose to include Becker in their anthology, but how did that particularly garish & silly piece get chosen for Poem-of-the-Day in the first place.

Again, I think this may come down to Ed Ochester being a better editor than Diane Boller & Don Selby (tho, I suppose he could have done Becker an even bigger favor by just getting her to drop “Sound View” from her book). In trying to represent a much broader view of American poetry than Ochester, Boller & Selby lack a perspective that enables them to select out what’s best about a poet whose work might differ from their own aesthetic. There are poems in their anthology – Ron Slate’s “The Demise of Camembert” for one, Meghan O’Rourke’s “Anatomy of Failure” for another – every bit as embarrassing as “Sound View.” Ochester at least makes a case as to why Robin Becker is a serious poet & why I might want to read more of her writing. That really is his job as editor and he executes it consistently. With its one-poem-per-poet for all but two of its contributors, PD leaves everyone pretty much exposed to whatever the individual poem might happen to be. In some cases, that’s a fatal mistake.

Although Ochester himself argues in the introduction against “poetry gangs,” it’s the certainty of his vision that makes his book work. In general, Ochester likes poetry that is straightforward, narrative & not too given to literary flourishes – he himself notes the presence of humorous poems here, and it does sound as if the one participant of the New American Poetry he actually enjoyed was Frank O’Hara. There’s also a lot of writing by people of color here, to such a degree that I went through Ochester’s omissions to see if he was upping the quota to give the end product more of a multicultural feel – he’s not, Pitt really does have good track record in this regard. It may well be the single best publisher of conservative poets of color in the country.

The end result is a Pitt poetics that is as internally consistent from one poet to the next as anything you could want from any movement, including language poetry. Indeed, I think the range here is quite a bit more narrow than one finds in In the American Tree, let alone something more recent & post-avant like Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics. So in what way is this not a cabal? Is it because it theorizes itself as not one? Or because the poets just aren’t in touch with one another? Because they don’t support each other in the development of their work? Because they don’t find ways to build on one another’s insights & perceptions? In what way here is not having a community an advantage? It’s hard for me to figure this one out, other than to say that “not being a group” is one very important feature of this very cohesive gang of poets.


¹ Ochester doesn’t publish himself in the series, although nobody would think less of him if he did. He may feel that there is a value in having an outside editor for his work. Autumn House, a Pittsburgh-based press that mostly focuses on School of Quietude poets from Pennsylvania, has been his publisher in recent years. Although I live in Pennsylvania, I’ve never seen an Autumn House book in a bookstore. Four of their books are available through SPD. At least if Ochester published his own work, we’d be more apt to see it.

² On Friday, I characterized American Poetry Now as including “four dozen poets,” and the back cover lists 48 contributors. However, Muriel Rukeyser, tho listed on the cover, does not show up elsewhere in the volume.

³ Arguably the author of the single best volume ever published by the series. Given that Axion Esti is an outlier for this series, which generally doesn’t publish poetry in translation, the omission makes sense.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Guggenheim Foundation President Edward Hirsch

Among this year’s recipients
of Guggenheim Fellowships are
Nick Spitzer, host of American Roots
Choreographer Joe Goode
Daniel Alarcón (for fiction)
Fiction writer & editor of Conjunctions
Bradford Morrow
& Russian translator Michael Wachtel

plus these poets:
Christopher Buckley
Greg Delanty
Erica Funkhouser
Fenton Johnson
A. Van Jordan
Dana Levin
D. Nurkse
Kathleen Peirce
Lawrence Raab

It would appear that
just maybe
not one
post-avant poet applied

(Sure is a good thing
that the division
the Mainstream & the Other
tradition doesn’t exist any more…

this list of poets
just by itself
might cause one
to feel queasy
as to the integrity
of the Guggenheim process)