Saturday, March 07, 2009


Doris Evans, Krishna’s mother, passed away late Friday afternoon.


Friday, March 06, 2009


L-R: Allen Ginsberg, Lew Welch & Robin Blaser 1963,
 probably the same day I met Dean Rusk & Adlai Stevenson
in my capacity as “lawn boy” to Rusk’s in-laws in
three weeks before the assassination of JFK
(photo courtesy

I’ve noticed of course that there are even fewer “classics,” i.e. books published before 1900, on my first list of the 20 books that caused me to fall in love with poetry than there are even of women. I wouldn’t agree with Georgie’s comment in my note stream that there was “NO ‘classic’ work” on my list save in that historic sense. You can’t tell me that Tender Buttons, The Cantos & Howl are not classics by any definition other than the “written before 1900” threshold. Actually, you can’t tell me that about a lot of the others as well – Spring & All not a classic? – but this morning I’ll just go with the three that I don’t think anyone can make a credible argument against.

Read more »


Thursday, March 05, 2009


Pam Rosenthal

The “20 women poets” who have had the most profound influence on my writing, in alphabetical order –

Kathy Acker

Rae Armantrout

Sandy Berrigan

Elizabeth Bishop

Lee Ann Brown

Abigail Child

Jan Clausen

Beverly Dahlen

Tina Darragh

Lydia Davis

Jean Day

Emily Dickinson

Lynne Dreyer

Hilda Doolittle

Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Kathleen Fraser

Judy Grahn

Carla Harryman

Lyn Hejinian

Joyce Holland

Fanny Howe

Susan Howe

Erica Hunt

Lisa Jarnot

Beth Baruch Joselow

Joanne Kyger

Lynn Lonidier

Bernadette Mayer

Laura Moriarty

Harryette Mullen

Rochelle Nameroff

Pam Rosenthal / Molly Weatherford

Leslie Scalapino

Gertrude Stein

Cole Swensen

Rosmarie Waldrop

Diane Wakoski

Diane Ward

Hannah Weiner

C.D. Wright

Read more »


Wednesday, March 04, 2009


The question posed by Andrew Motion’s The Mower, out any minute now from David R. Godine, is: Has Britain’s most recent poet laureate always been a dreadful writer, or is this just the case of a talented young man who believed his own press clippings & slouched into a life of unrelenting clichés passed off as profound thoughts? A third conceivable argument is that he intends to be awful, an instance of flarf avant la lettre. How else might one explain the following?

Earth’s axel creaks; the year jolts on; the trees
begin to slip their brittle leaves, their flakes of rust
and darkness takes the edge off daylight, not
because it wants to – never that. Because it must.

Four hackneyed images of time passing followed by a line that could only read aloud by placing the back of one’s hand against one’s brow before yielding the most histrionic pathetic – seriously pathetic – fallacy I can recall. It is hard to imagine reading this to an audience that did not double over in laughter. There is not one phrase here that is not overwritten, not one image that is not stiff with rigor mortis.

The second half of this little ode, entitled “Mythology,” is even more appalling just because it is in such bad taste:

And you? Your life was not your own to keep
or lose. Beside the river, swerving underground,
the future tracked you, snapping at your heels:
Diana breathless, hunted by your own quick hounds.

A poem of mourning for the late Princess Diana. Motion does at least reach for polysemy in the final sentence, jumbling together the image of goddess of the hunt with the real-life woman chased by paparazzi through the streets of Paris. But Motion apparently can’t help himself, calling the photogs “the future” & turning the image into one last cliché of the hunt. Just for good measure, Motion’s muddled grammar has the river, rather than Diana or the photographers, swerving underground. The Seine does no such thing, and the mythological Diana is of course a hunter, not prey.

Intellectually this poem would be an embarrassment for a college freshman. Motion wasn’t yet the laureate when Diana died, so this isn’t something he was required to do. In one sense, it may even have been an audition. Ironically, this poem is toward the end of the book’s “Selected” portion, which is to say Motion thinks it’s a keeper.

Was it ever thus? The book’s second poem, “In the Attic,” is every bit as committed to the hoariest clichés & unfathomable overwriting. The speaker in the attic paws through the clothes of the deceased, kneeling:

My hands push down
between hollow, invisible sleeves,
then take hold and lift:

a green holiday, a red christening;
all your unfinished lives
fading through dark summers,
entering my head as dust.

It is not the sleeves that are invisible, one wants to shout, but rather the presence of the dead. This book is chock full of such cringe-worthy moments.

The one thing Motion does excel at is his sense of measure, particularly the use of iambics to slow the text down & lend it a sense of gait. Still, he suffers, as do so many “new formalists,”¹ from the occasional need to add unnecessary language just to keep lines even, as in “square of” in

With storm light in the east but no rain yet
I came in from mowing my square of lawn
and paused in the doorway to glance round
at my handiwork and the feckless apple blossom

blurring those trim stripes and Hovver-sweeps²
I had meant to last.

I actually like feckless, in part because the trochee works there, and the emphasis on one-syllable words in the first line is effective. But inflating the second line to keep thing consistent gives the passage as a whole – this is the first sentence of the book’s title poem – a bloated feeling, every bit as blurred as the trim stripes of Motion’s lawn.

Trite imagery (green holiday / red christening), vague thinking, padded metrics, overwriting everywhere – what exactly are the values that Britain’s version of Official Verse Culture is trying to champion? If ever one wanted to construct an argument that the British were incapable of serious thought, here is exhibit A. Yet Britain has often had brilliant poets & has many now. They are obviously quite apart from the inbred world of received culture that Motion represents, which feels like the 18th century gone to rot.


¹ Who are not formalists at all, but rather pattern obsessives for whom the creation of new form is something of a taboo.

² My guess is that Motion means “ Hoover.” The phrase “Hovver-sweeps” never appeared on the internet until this review.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Henry Rago in the 1950s

There is a meme going round – identify the 20 books that first caused you to fall in love with poetry. I first ran into it on Javier Huerta’s blog & have since seen it several other times. That’s an interesting, nagging proposition. It’s quite different, actually, from the question posed by Peter Davis in his Poets’ Bookshelf series, which asks about those books that have most influenced you, although obviously there is going to be overlap. But the question here seems more to be what got you here in the first place, what work made poetry the art you love.

I tried to come up with a list of twenty, and as you can see below, couldn’t really do it. Any item off the list below would fundamentally falsify the list. It has 31 lines and since one line consists of three items, my roster comes to 33. These aren’t the first books of poetry I read (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Frost, Oscar Williams & Alan Dugan would be on that list – Dugan is the only one of the four I still read with interest today). And I could do another circle around this of other books from this same time period – basically 1960s into the earliest part of the ‘70s – that certainly did not hurt, including volumes by Roger Shattuck, Donald Finkel, George Starbuck or Robert Sward that might surprise you. David Ossman’s collection of interviews, The Sullen Art, Ed Dorn’s North Atlantic Turbine. I thought long and hard about adding the Genesis West issue partly devoted to Jack Gilbert (it is still his best publication) or a second Oppen book (in this order: Discrete Series¹, The Materials, Of Being Numerous), but such volumes are really ancillary to the list below. If I added one more name, I’d suddenly have to let in a whole bunch of the New York School (Starting in this order: Ashbery’s Rivers and Mountains, Ceravolo’s Spring in This World of Poor Mutts, O’Hara’s Lunch Poems & Meditations in an Emergency, David Shapiro Poems from Deal), and the first books of my immediate peers, beginning in this instance with David Melnick’s Eclogs & Barrett Watten’s Radio Day in Soma City. So I will keep my list of 20 just to the 33 volumes below, listed here in alphabetical order.

Donald Allen (editor), The New American Poetry

Paul Blackburn, The Cities

Robert Creeley, For Love

Robert Creeley, Words

Robert Creeley, Pieces

Robert Duncan, Roots and Branches

Robert Duncan, Bending the Bow

Jack Gilbert, Views of Jeopardy

Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Allen Ginsberg, The Fall of America

Ronald Johnson, The Book of the Green Man

Ronald Johnson, The Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses

Robert Kelly, Finding the Measure

Robert Kelly, Axon Dendron Tree

Robert Kelly, Twenty Poems

Robert Kelly & Paris Leary (editors), A Controversy of Poets

George Oppen, This in Which

Charles Olson, The Distances

Ezra Pound, The Cantos

Henry Rago (editor), Poetry double issues (Fiftieth Anniversary, Oct.-Nov. 1962; Works in Progress – Long Poems – Sequences, Oct.-Nov. 1963, Works in Progress – Long Poems – Sequences, April-May 1965)

Jack Spicer, Book of Magazine Verse

Jack Spicer, Language

Gertrude Stein, Writing and Lectures 1909 1945 (esp. Tender Buttons)

Gertrude Stein, Stanzas in Meditation

Philip Whalen, On Bear’s Head

Jonathan Williams, Amen, Huzzah, Selah

William Carlos Williams, The Desert Music

William Carlos Williams, Spring & All

Louis Zukofsky, “A” 1-12

Louis Zukofsky, “A” 22-23

Louis Zukofsky (editor), Poetry (The “Objectivist” issue, February 1931)

I’m very conscious just how very white and very male this list is. My argument would be that it was the time. I had hoped that meeting Denise Levertov when she came to Berkeley would cause me to get over my resistance to her poetry, but instead it showed me why I was better off trusting my instincts. Joanne Kyger’s The Tapestry and the Web isn’t my favorite volume of her poetry, and Bev Dahlen wasn’t yet bringing out books. This list I think shows just how profound & radical the impact of HOW(ever) has been, but that journal didn’t start until 1983 when I was already 37 years old. Similarly, the first two poets of color whose work I genuinely would love – Erica Hunt & Lorenzo Thomas – were really unknown to me at the time. Erica may still have been in high school.

The situation of Bev Dahlen also points to another feature of this list – it’s book-centric. Poets like George Stanley & David Gitin had a profound impact on me in my early years, but not because of any specific books of theirs that were available then. Ditto John Gorham & I don’t know that this once-upon-a-time student of Robert Kelly’s ever had a book published.

Looking at that list today, I don’t think there’s one bad book on it. I still think those two Norton volumes are Ronald Johnson’s best work, even though they aren’t the ones people focus on most today. And it’s interesting to me to realize that only one collection by Charles Olson – and not of Maximus – would be on this list. I have a deep interest in Olson, but until the complete Maximus was in print, that volume seemed scattered. Another very conspicuous absence is Larry Eigner – I loved his work wherever I read it, but that was as apt to be in journals as books (or, for that matter, on postcards), and even if he’s one of my half-dozen favorite poets, I don’t have anything like a favorite book.

Another surprise might be Jack Gilbert, whom some will read as the only School of Quietude poet on this list. Jack’s Yale Younger Poets’ volume, Views of Jeopardy, really is the Gilbert of Jack Spicer’s Magic Workshop as much, if not more, than it is the protégé of Gerald Stern & Stephen Spender.

It might also surprise people to see four separate issues of Poetry here, given that I haven’t been all that wowed by the quality of that journal’s work over the 40 since Henry Rago had a fatal heart attack while on a sabbatical. The 50th anniversary issue brought together – in alphabetical order – many of the best known poets in the US, starting with Conrad Aiken & Ben Belitt & ending with Richard Wilbur, William Carlos Williams, James Wright & Louis Zukofsky. In practice, the issue also functioned as an announcement by Rago, who had been the journal’s editor since 1955, that he no longer was going to focus exclusively on the academic poets of mid-century & while the issue has Robert Lowell, Robert Frost, Robert Graves, Randall Jarrell, Stanley Kunitz, James Dickey, James Merrill, W. S. Merwin, Howard Moss, Howard Nemerov, Delmore Schwartz & the other usual suspects, it also includes Ezra Pound, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Kenneth Koch & e.e. cummings. Koch, it might be worth noting, is the only New York School poet here, and the Beats are likewise conspicuously absent. This issue had the first Berryman “Dream Songs” I believe I ever read & it wouldn’t shock me to realize that I bought it for the Alan Dugan therein. By the 1965 double issue, post-avants made up exactly half of the 18 poets contained in its 172 pages, including Creeley, Duncan, Johnson, Koch, Levertov, Olson, Gary Snyder, Gale Turnbull & Phil Whalen. The conservative poets included Wendell Berry, Hayden Carruth, Galway Kinnell, David Posner, Ernest Sandeen, Anne Sexton, and Theodore Weiss. One could argue either way about the last poet, Charles Tomlinson (tho these are eight poems from his American Scenes period, his work most deeply influenced by Creeley & Williams). Am I the only one who would argue that the posties have aged much better over the last 44 years? Turnbull – a fine poet – is the only postie who has not yet achieved some sort of canonic status. Posner & Sandeen, on the other hand, have disappeared entirely from view, and Carruth & Weiss, whatever their relative merits, are no more widely read than Turnbull.

There is a liveliness to the Rago double issues that they share with two of the other anthologies on my list, The New American Poetry & A Controversy of Poets. Like the Kelly-Leary anthology, Rago’s trifecta does try to include all kinds of American poetry. The first – and to my thinking, still the only serious – attempt to heal the wound between the two traditions of American verse.

When Rago died, his interim replacement, Daryl Hine, took over – this was more akin to losing Obama & getting Gov. Palin in his place. Hine & his successors have generally kept the coup intact. Even though the Poetry Foundation – by now the more important institution over there – has emerged as a heterogeneous site for American poetry, the verse actually printed in the journal, with a few notable exceptions (vispo!), still covers the waterfront mostly from A to B as if we were still living prior to 1962.

When I see the other lists that are emerging on the web of people’s 20 books, I realize just radically different the world has become from what it was in my youth. There are relatively few times when I envy younger people, but the greater diversity of what any young poet was reading who came up in the 1980s or ‘90s strikes me as a mode of richness we should not underestimate.


¹ Discrete Series is a volume that has had a greater impact on me over time, but I never would have gotten to it without This in Which.

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Monday, March 02, 2009


Fanny Howe’s The Winter Sun

Poetry & spirituality


The oldest words in English


The New Yorker
has excerpted
David Foster Wallace’s
last, unfinished novel


Lyn Hejinian’s Saga / Circus


Four poems by John Ashbery


Kit Robinson’s Ice Cubes


The hand-printed book in historical context


Susan Howe’s Souls of the Labadie Tract


Leevi Lehto’s latest essays


Women mentoring women


The mainstream avant-gardist

Barthelme in Buffalo


Leslie Scalapino’s
It’s go in horizontal: Selected Poems


Close-reading flarf

#s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


The sanest comment on greatness yet

Adam Fieled takes up Amy’s challenge


Remembering when Robert Lowell
was considered important


If I ran the NEA


A hidden history of English poetry


Jackson Mac Low’s Thing of Beauty


In favor of anthologies


The problem of Knut Hamsun


Dancing with the dead:
language, poetry & translation


“We don’t want to be
in that small-press translation ghetto


SoQ translations all sound the same


Charles Bernstein’s Girly Man


Reconstructing Dorothy Wordsworth

Searching for Bill & Dorothy

Digital Wordsworth


3 bad books


Jack Kerouac’s The Sea is My Brother


Why conference papers mostly suck


The Alphabet


20 books through which
to fall in love with poetry


The traveling concept of narrative


Philip José Farmer is dead


Best book of 2009


Find the nearest indie bookstore


A place for poetry


Reviewing the new Kindle 2.0


Save the news,
not the newspapers

An industry staggers

Newspaper death watch

The Rocky Mountain News shuts down

Newspaper convention cancelled

Did blogging kill newspapers?

Or was it Facebook?

Is it the end?

From no profits to non-profits?

If papers die, who will write about it?

Flash: newspapers
are not losing money


On the demise of publishing,
reading & all else


The ABA reduces its dues


Derek Fenner & the art of stalking


Jack Gilbert & his triangle


Poetry & politics
in the 1930s & now


Ilya Kaminsky’s
In Our Time


Stephen Spender’s politics

Tho it neglects to mention his patron


Amish Trivedi’s
Selections from Episode Three


Lobster, steak & vispo


Talking with T.C. Boyle


The linguistic construction of happiness


If  you insist on writing


Can the Dodge Fest be saved?


Chinese whispers


Letters from Norman Mailer


Stephen Dobyns dog


Looking elsewhere
to keep the
School of Q intact


David Constantine’s latest collection


First NY Times review
of Brad Gooch’s Flannery

NY Time’s 2nd review
of Flannery

NY Times interview of
Brad Gooch

Austin American-Statesman

Talking to Gooch in Savannah

All beak and claws


Life at the AWP


New work by Robert Bly


A half-century out of date
at the Huffington Post


Adam Kirsch
review’s O’Driscoll’s Heaney


The best music event in America
next Friday in


Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club


On repetition


Barry Schwabsky on
Marlene Dumas & Barkley Hendricks


1,389 photos from
Roanoke’s 2009
Marginal Arts Fest


Combat censorship in Mexico


Zorn + Foreman

Felix Bernstein’s review


Starbuck speaks!


Watching Zack Snyder


Can there be
a good film adaptation
of a book?


Frank Gehry at 80


Wittgenstein’s family


Badiou’s Sarkozy


Justify the humanities?


Electronic theses & dissertations


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