Saturday, March 07, 2009
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 Allenginsberg.org)
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
The “20 women poets” who have had the most profound influence on my writing, in alphabetical order –
Lee Ann Brown
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Beth Baruch Joselow
Pam Rosenthal / Molly Weatherford
C.D. WrightRead more »
Labels: Women writers
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
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
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 “
Labels: Andrew Motion
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Monday, March 02, 2009
Fanny Howe’s The Winter Sun
Lyn Hejinian’s Saga / Circus
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
The mainstream avant-gardist
It’s go in horizontal: Selected Poems
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
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
Jack Kerouac’s The Sea is My Brother
Why conference papers mostly suck
20 books through which
to fall in love with poetry
The traveling concept of narrative
Philip José Farmer is dead
Find the nearest indie bookstore
A place for poetry
Reviewing the new Kindle 2.0
Save the news,
not the newspapers
An industry staggers
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?
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
In Our Time
Stephen Spender’s politics
Tho it neglects to mention his patron
Selections from Episode Three (PDF)
Talking with T.C. Boyle
The linguistic construction of happiness
If you insist on writing
Can the Dodge Fest be saved?
Letters from Norman Mailer
Stephen Dobyns’ dog
to keep the
David Constantine’s latest collection
First NY Times review
of Brad Gooch’s Flannery
NY Time’s 2nd review
NY Times interview of
Talking to Gooch in
Life at the AWP
New work by Robert Bly
A half-century out of date
at the Huffington Post
review’s O’Driscoll’s Heaney
The best music event in America
next Friday in
Barry Schwabsky on
Marlene Dumas & Barkley Hendricks
1,389 photos from
Marginal Arts Fest
Combat censorship in
Felix Bernstein’s review
Watching Zack Snyder
Can there be
a good film adaptation
of a book?
Frank Gehry at 80
Justify the humanities?