Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Not the School of Quietude: Williams with cat, Rutherford, NJ, 1916

(Front row, L-R: Alison Hartpence, Afred Kreymborg, WCW, Skip Cannell
Back row, L-R: Jean Crotti, Marcel Duchamp, Walter Arensberg,
Man Ray, R.A. Sanborn, Maxwell Bodenheim)

Billy Joe Harris notes – and is quite right – that Spring & All is printed in its entirety in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I (1909-1939) edited by A. Walton Litz & Christopher MacGowan, and that this version doesn’t have any of the crowded page disadvantages that render Imaginations unnecessarily reader unfriendly. It’s also worth noting that it’s a good looking book, always a bit of a miracle at New Directions.

The Descent of Winter, Williams’ prose & verse linked diary – I doubt that he knew the word haibun – is also included in this volume. Unfortunately, Kora in Hell: Improvisations, the third volume of poetry from Imaginations, is not. Kora appears to be out of print in its City Lights Pocket Poets edition as well. Like the Frontier Press edition of Spring & All, the 1958 City Lights edition is the one that had a dramatic impact on my generation of poets. It’s still hard to find a book of prose poems as radical as this one Williams penned in 1920.

Kessinger Editions of Whitefish, Montana, a publisher of rare book reprints, has however republished Kora. Kessinger has also published three other early Williams volumes: Sour Grapes (the book immediately prior to Spring & All), Al Que Quiere, and The Tempers. In short, all of Williams’ work that is now in the public domain. This doesn’t solve my problem with the lack of a stand-alone Spring & All, and I haven’t seen these editions, so I can’t tell you how well or badly they’ve been done. But I’m very glad to see that they exist.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I could tell you I’m taking the day off, it being my birthday & all, but the truth is that I’m on my second business trip in as many weeks and just too darn busy.

Monday, August 04, 2008


photo by Kaplan Harris

Andy Gricevich on the work of Barrett Watten

Watten’s talk on
”The Expanded Object of the Poetic Field;
or, What is a Poet / Critic?”
(PDF)

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Gricevich & Carrie Etter on Chicago Public Radio

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is dead

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The house of John Ashbery

Ashbery in Italian

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Poetry and Public Language:
the book

 “Poetry is slow politics

On Poetry and Public Language

No Way Out

No hope for the disappeared

On misusing history

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Terence Winch on Tim Dlugos

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My nightmare

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Mark Nowack on Bill Griffiths

“A working-class hero is something to be”

Alan Gilbert takes the bait

Gilbert on
art and/or propaganda

Freestyle or fakin’ it

Dreams as the brain’s Draino

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Otoliths

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Sharon Mesmer on the “I” in flarf

flarf strikes back?

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Alejandro Aura has died

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Sonnets and Comedies

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Defending O’Hara’s Collected

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Oranges & Sardines

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Summer camp with Bernadette Mayer

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The growing world reputation of
José Garcia-Villa

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Marianne Moore & Magic Johnson

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From A to Zyxt

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Small Press Traffic
is looking for a leader

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Reading Hejinian Slowly

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Reginald Shepherd on Jack Spicer

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“the Jerry Seinfeld of American poetry”

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On difficulty, real or feigned

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Michael Palmer’s selected essays

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The Irish-American anthology that never was

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“World’s first poetry anthology…
by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans
Christians

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Third Word:
Post-Socialist Poetry

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Southern Appalachian Poetry

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Lucia Perillo on Kenneth Patchen

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Natasha Trethewey’s Canadian roots

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Coconut

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A poetry bookstore in Beacon, NY

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Pierre Berès has died

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Andrew Crozier & literary connection

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Poetry’s back in Baltimore

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Why D.A. Powell isn’t a critic

Catholic (big C) tastes in poetry

Powell on Alice Dunbar-Nelson

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Juvenilia for Spring & All

Ginsberg on Creeley & Williams

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Alvin Feinman has passed away

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The Epithalamium of Harry Matthews

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Rejecting Bill Knott

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The Pigeon Poetry Project

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Emily Dickinson & radical Tom

A new reading of Emily Dickinson

Alberto Mancini’s ED-based paintings

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More poetry of Radovan Karadzic,
this time from
Iowa City

The Bad Poets’ Society

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Helping a bookstore expand

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Terence Winch on Doug Lang

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“Untouchable” poetics

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Mary Karr on Etheridge Knight

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Restarting the rep of Felicia Hemans

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Going back with Christopher Wiseman

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Two books by William Michaelian

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Roberto Bolaño’s “Clara”

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Kipling’s elegy for his son

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The science of satire

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Horsies!

& more horsies!

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Poetry & medicine

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LA bids farewell to
Scott Wannberg

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Rereading Tipton’s Sophocles

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What is literacy, anyway?

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Kay Ryan’s wild ride

Assessing Kay Ryan

malnourished,
under muscled,
simply lifeless
 and still as a rusty coin in a cushion crack

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Al Young’s latest collection

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On David Orr’s Baraka

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Dave P. Fisher has won
the Will Rogers Medallion

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Anne Stevenson’s latest foreword

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A Better Class of Doggerel

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Aussie books want trade protection

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Literary geography

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Scruffy is unamused

He’s the bookies’ favorite
in the Mann-Booker long list

Fatwa memoir forthcoming?

A Salman Rushdie podcast (MP3)

On writing Midnight’s Children

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A novel-a-day for 3 months?

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The Forward Prize shortlists

India roots for one of its own

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Orwell’s diaries

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Shakespeare in your brain

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20th century poetry,
from a Tamil point-of-view

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A visit with Sam Cornish

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Mary Ann O’Gorman’s Life in This House

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Pitching every woman’s book as “chick lit

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Talking with Charmai Lai Chaman

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Talking with Doris Lessing

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Milwaukee’s team readies
for the National Slam

Madison readies for 76 teams

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Updating campus bookshops

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In Edinburgh, James Thin bookshops
are set to disappear
tho the bookstores themselves will survive

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Poetry & the origins of fly fishing

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More regulations coming
on file sharing at school

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Poetry & the material world

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Murder at the book warehouse

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A literary renaissance in Point Reyes?

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Remembering Zbignew Herbert

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Henry Gould & All

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Pasternak & creativity

Poetry & the Russian Soul

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Poetry vs. poetics
plus a game
plus a forthcoming conference

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Not George Bush’ poet laureate

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E.M. Forster, Middle Manager

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Poetry at the Calgary Fringe Fest

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Dear temperamental adjective

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A unique writing program in Arvon

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A television prop
comes to life

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Microsoft adds tools
for academic publishing

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Ishmael Reed’s “informed rant”

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Talking with Ray Bradbury

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The heritage of gout

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This is a break-even proposition
if & only if
Tao Lin’s novel makes $31,250
worth of royalties
(do the math here)

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vomitous stupidity

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Art + kitsch = ?

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Buildings have a short list too

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Apollinaire & Picasso

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The films of Ish Klein

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Peter Schjeldahl on “After Nature”
at the New Museum

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Ad Reinhardt at the Guggie

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The London art market

& the dysfunctional one in China

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Hirst’s first – a blow
to the gallery system?

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Henry Darger’s room

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Harold & Clement

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Saving Pollock’s Mural
in the
Iowa City flood

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Saving rock art

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Great art disasters

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Robert Irwin
on the
Getty Gardens

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The “Mr. Big” of indigenous art

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Dance + Visual Art = performance??

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Said on music

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Does post-genre music really exist?

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Gilberto Gil chooses
art over politics

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New Albion goes to Bard

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Don’t forget Comic-Con

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The comic art of Gary Sullivan

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Dissing anthropology

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The Antikythera Mechanism

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Kevin Bacon rules

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Unfortunately, so does Main Core

Friday, August 01, 2008

There is an exactness, both of vision and execution, in Martha Ronk’s Vertigo that literally alters your sense of perception, as if after months or years you’d put on new glasses through which the world instantly snapped into a newer, sharper focus. She is the kind of poet who is willing to risk perfection, often I think a foolish gamble but never once so here. There are moments in this book where she comes ridiculously close to achieving just that.

In a way, it’s doubly interesting to come on Vertigo right after reading Geoffrey G. O’Brien, since Ronk also reflects some influence on the part of John Ashbery, but in her case the presence & impact is quite different – it’s as tho you’re getting to see where Ashbery’s patented logic might lead, say, a century hence. A good example might be this poem, from the first of the book’s three sections. Note that the quotation marks are part of the title itself:

“It seemed similar to choice, although in an adjacent register”


Ferns and jewelweed fanning the air too slowly for the coming shift
as if the package as yet unwrapped had already arrived
in another time zone, the desert hot and dry.
Anticipation veiled what could be seen from the window.
We remained seated for about a quarter of an hour
counting the number of trees in order to put off the inevitable,
in order to see the effect the change would have before it happened
giving up what perhaps needn’t have been given up,
selecting pain as one of the necessary elements,
not to lessen its effect, but to notice the precise moment of selection.

A poem like this is very careful in not naming whatever it might be about. The word it in fact is easily the most important term, yet only in its last – and possessive – occurrence can we even say exactly what it is. What we get instead, as with so many third-way poets – Vertigo was selected for the National Poetry Series by C.D. Wright & includes front-matter blurbs from Donald Revell & Cole Swensen – is what I sometimes think of as the new symbolism. At its best, and Vertigo certainly is that, such poetry plays on the reader’s emotions with extraordinary impact, scenes that reek of loss, ennui or despair, such as the way the desert landscape here is associated with a pain one might choose.

Yet exactly which pain is that? If I have any hesitation here, it’s the same one I have with most of the new symbolism, that it tends to occur almost entirely at the limit of naming and typically in the frame of a certain class. Where, for example, does the following poem take place?

“Whenever she speaks to him in that voice, an infrequent enough occurrence”


What’s the difference between trying to lift an arm and lifting an arm,
between desire and that other thing. I’m glad to hear you’re coming.
I am glad to hear you think you’re coming despite the fact
she does take up the entire conversation, expressive as her dress
coming off in colors near the edge of every year she’s ever been in.
Yet she talks during the entire playing of the cello piece
displacing it into what she wants us to hear and into the silence
written on her when she takes on your voice at dinner
when you’ll arrive and now she speaks out of her beautifully disjointed face,
out of her hair wet from the pond, never in the voice she came in with.
When he lost his hearing, he heard only the cello’s low notes
and what he heard changed his way of hearing the piece forever.

This poem is full of terrific small effects – the way the ear picks up the pun in coming, a word repeated three times, the ambiguous gender of you, or the far more mysterious presence of he in the final couplet, which teeters on the razor-thin border between profound & profoundly obvious.

Ronk is really good & I’m impressed by how many times in this slender book¹ she not only takes risks like that last one, but manages to pull them off. There are no false notes anywhere. She’s a poet I’ve been vaguely aware of for some time – she’s had seven earlier books, plus three chaps, over the past 18 years – but maybe I needed the nudge of C.D. Wright on this volume to get me to pay closer attention. I’ve learned over the past quarter century that C.D. is one of the smartest people in poetry, indeed one of the smartest people period. I’ve benefited from C.D.’s advice on who to read more than once, and I owe her again for making this book happen.

 

¹ It uses the blurbs as well as both notes & acknowledgements to puff it up above 70 pages.