Saturday, February 06, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron
is at the Tin Angel
in Philly this weekend

Me and the Devil
is from his new CD
I’m New Here,
due out later this month

Scott-Heron interviewed by Sean Jones

Winter in America

Talking with Gil Scott-Heron

Friday, February 05, 2010

Roberto Bolaño often is characterized as a poet who wrote novels, no doubt because poets & poetry figure importantly in his books. The Romantic Dogs, however, suggests something different, that Bolaño is a novelist who began as a poet, not unlike Michael Ondaatje, or Paul Auster, or (to look not to the novel but to music) the way Patti Smith started as a poet, or Laurie Anderson as a short story writer. The Romantic Dogs is an important book because it’s a book by Bolaño, the book in fact on which the myth of Bolaño-the-poet must be mounted, not because it’s an important or earth-shattering book of poems.

If it is not an especially good book of poetry, however, it is a book of some very good poems. The difference lies in the fact that this is a grab-bag of works that show few signs of ever having designed to fit together into a single manuscript and that, without the original Spanish facing the English versions by Laura Healey, would have been not much larger than a chapbook. Not a lot of poetry to show for a life’s work, especially alongside such mountains of fictive prose as 2666.

The pose of Bolaño-the-poet may well be more important – and certainly more powerful – than the fact of the poems themselves, but what might be most useful here is to note the whole notion of Bolaño posing. The unifying – indeed distinguishing – element of these poems, written in a post-Beat free verse that might be closest in English to Lawrence Ferlinghetti or Ray Bremser, is the consistency of the pose: the intellectual as tough guy but one who is, at all moments, hard as nails & deeply sentimental. Think of upper limit Jean-Paul Belmondo in the films of Godard, lower limit Charles Bukowski (not as Mickey Rourke so much as Johnny Depp or, had he lived, Heath Ledger). Imagine Kerouac mixed with Camus.

This pose, which you can find in the novels as well, has its attractions. Just ask any gal or guy who ever has fallen for a bad boy, one they knew secretly had read everything & cared about what he read. Think, if you can, James Dean crossed with Eliot Weinberger. Or the figure Dylan wants you to buy, especially in the Village chapters of Chronicles. Or the one that flickers throughout I’m Not There. Perhaps when they get around to making a film about Bolaño’s life, the lead won’t be played by Gael García Bernal after all, but by Cate Blanchett.

One can see instantly in these poems both why Bolaño has become such a phenomenon since his death in 2003 & why also there has been a growing backlash against the work in the past year or so. He’s a very effective advocate for his conception of the poet as outsider and as a critical intelligence. It’s visible even in the poems where Bolaño doesn’t appear as a figure at all. Consider for example how the following poem both does and doesn’t sound just like Jack Spicer:


Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver in a lake.
Poetry, braver than anyone,
slips in and sinks
like lead
through a lake infinite as Loch Ness
or tragic and turbid as Lake Balat
Consider it from below:
a diver
covered in feathers
of will.
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver who’s dead
in the eyes of God.

That poem alone is worth the price of this book. And it’s not the best poem here. It is, like so much of Spicer, a poem about poetry, in which poetry itself is embodied in the figure of the diver, not heroically, going deeper for the truth, but at once a figure that is both tragic & comic, sinking like lead but covered in feathers. The feathers no doubt invoke Icarus (hence feathers / of will), which makes the image of the diver instantly ironic, an irony that is matched by the pairing of Loch Ness with the more obscure “Hungarian sea” that the Roman’s once named “shallow lake.” Picking a lake that will not be recognized by Spanish readers, at least in Bolaño’s native Latin America, is a deft, almost typical touch, precisely how Bolaño likes to show off his learning & breadth of experience.

It is not the poet here who is being equated with Icarus, but poetry itself. It is poetry that is dead / in the eyes of God. Whatever bravery poetry entails clearly is not rewarded, making it a fool’s errand. One wonder’s just how well Bolaño might have known Spicer’s work – those short lines, and especially the pregnant one-word line, are virtually signatures of the San Francisco poet who died young from a different kind of drowning than the one posed by Bolaño here:

un buzo
envuelto en las plumas
de la voluntad

Spicer’s death at 40 is tragic because it was unnecessary. There’s no indication here when “Resurrection” was written, but it’s just the third poem in this book whose work is said to have spanned 20 years. Bolaño always wrote like somebody conscious that he himself would die young, tho there is no credible evidence that his death at 50 from liver failure could be explained by the sort of excessive living that felled Spicer. Rather the tone one gets here of doom is closer to his fascination with the fictional archetype of the detective, again the tough guy as researcher.

None of which, I should note, explains that plaintive title “Resurrection.” Is that what a poem is, its relation to poetry itself? At the least, this is what Bolaño seems to be suggesting, the deeply sentimental side that softens his stance. But if you read the title cynically, as ironic, you serve only to confirm the poem’s point. All of which makes Bolaño a fascinating package of contradictions, whose success – especially in English – seems as much a consequence of his being safely gone as it does the idea that a post-avant writer, especially a neo-Beat, might have been this good.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Photo by Diane Church

Café Trieste, SF 1975: (L-R) Allen Ginsberg, Harold Norse, Jack Hirschman, Michael McClure, Bob Kaufman

17 reasons why
I love the work of
Michael McClure

My complete reading
& concert with Marilyn Crispell

in Tucson, Saturday night,
including our collaboration
(135 MB)

The awesome POG / Chax
reading archives

also breaks files down
by reader / performer

Rae Armantrout
& the “poetics of WTF

Thursday in Chicago:
Rae Armantrout vs. Gertrude Stein
events at the same time

Jessica Smith on women in poetry

Craig Santos Perez on Smith’s complaint:
“Why don’t more women do blog-centered writing?”

Gender, (Race), and Poetry

Laura Eve Engel & Mark Wallace
on gender & poetry

The same question
from a slightly different angle

Peep Show: 10 Women,
starting with Kate Schapira

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Bunch of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger

National Portrait Gallery
hauls his portrait out of storage

Look closely

Remembering Jerome David Salinger

A lifelong pen pal looks back

Salinger’s widow thanks Cornish

The New Yorker’s collected remembrances

Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter:
How I sorta met Salinger

Salinger’s house

What’s in Salinger’s safe?

Salinger at Valley Forge

John Timpane on Salinger

First documentary due this Spring

Now that he’s dead,
he can’t sue

Why did Salinger hide?

What scarred Salinger?

In memory of the brand

Raise high the PR blitz

The one that got away

Why Hapworth never became a book

Hapworth 16, 1924

1997: “Salinger Book to Break Long Silence

Salinger’s poets

J.D. Salinger & R.H. Blyth

Finding the spiritual in his writing

Rick Moody on Salinger

300 E. 57th Street

Catcher in the Rye
in 60 seconds

Contemplating what young people think
of Holden Caufield
without asking any of them

Salinger on film

Jay Parini on Salinger

Jonah Raskin, driving by

“These are the sounds of silence

Salinger in the 60’s:
photos of him as a father

To catch a Salinger

Official NY Times obit

Letters to the editor of the NY Times

SF Chronicle

Washington Post

The Guardian

LA Times

A grab bag of reactions

A voice against bourgeois privilege

The first rock star: Holden Caufield

Heirs to Holden Caufield

Holden Caufield is a phony!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Recently Received

Books (Poetry)

Hugh-Alain Dal, Les Poèms d’une Vie Perdue / The Poems of a Lost Life, preface by Jean-Michel Renaitour, translated by Atoine Bargel & Thomas Rain Crowe, La main courante, La Souterraine, France, 2009

Howard Altmann, In This House, Turtle Point Press, New York, 2010

Macgregor Card, Duties of an English Foreign Secretary, Fence Books, Albany, NY, 2009

Thomas Rain Crowe, Radiogenesis, introduction by Jack Hirschman, Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC, 2007

Thomas Rain Crowe, The Thief of Words, a poem for $1.00, no publisher, location or date listed.

Vincent Ferrini, The Pleroma, Tiger Moon, Bangalore, India 2008

Thomas Fink & Maya Diablo Mason, Autopsy Turvy, Meritage Press, San Francisco / Saint Helena, 2010

Dominque Fourcade, It, translated by Peter Consenstein, La Presse, Iowa City & Paris, 2009

Bill Griffiths, Collected Earlier Poems (1966 – 80), Reality Street, Sussex 2010

Jessica Grim, Vexed, BlazeVOX, Kenmore, NY, 2009

Michael S. Hennessey, [static], Satellite 7 Press, Cincinnati, 2009

Shane Jones, Light Boxes: A Novel, Penguin Group, New York & London, 2010

Shirley Kaufman, Ezekiel’s Wheels, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, 2009

Douglas Kearney, The Black Automaton, Fence Books, Albany, NY, 2009

Joseph Massey, The Lack Of, Nasturtium Press, Providence, 2009

Jess Mynes, Sky Brightly Picked, Skysill Press, Nottingham, UK, 2009

Elizabeth Robinson, Also Known As, Apogee Press, Berkeley, 2009

Andrea Selch, Boy Returning Water to the Sea, Cockeyed Press, Chapel Hill, 2009

Joel Sloman, Off the Beaten Trakl, Gy Gist Press, no location given (but Astoria, NY), 2009

Michelle Taransky, Barn Burned, Then, Omnidawn Press, Richmond, CA, 2009

George Tysh, The Imperfect, United Artists, New York, 2010

Catherine Wagner, My New Job, Fence Books, Albany, NY, 2009

Elizabeth Marie Young, Aim Straight for the Fountain and Press Vaporize, Fence Books, Albany, NY, 2009


Books (Other)

Robert Buckeye, Against the Forgetting: Frances Frost / Paul Blackburn, Quarry Books, East Middlebury, VT, 2009

John D’ Agata (editor), The Lost Origins of the Essay, Graywolf, St. Paul 2009. Includes Antonin Artaud, Francis Bacon, Matsuo Bashō, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, John Berger, Aloysius Bertrand, William Blake, Jorge Luis Borges, Kamau Braithwaite, Thomas Browne, Michel Butor, Dino Campana, Paul Celan, Julio Cortázar, Marguerite Duras, Ennatum of Akkad, Natalia Ginzburg, Peter Handke, Ana Hatherly, Heraclitus of Ephesus, Edmond Jabès, Yoshida Kenkō, Velimir Khlebnikov, Li Shang-yin, Li Tsun-Yuan, Clarice Lispector, Stéphane Mallarmé, Michel de Montaigne, Octavio Paz, Saint-John Perse, Fernando Pessoa, Francesco Petrarch, Mestrius Plutarch, Francis Ponge, Thomas de Quincy, Lisa Robertson, Arthur Rimbaud, Bernardin de Sahagún, Lucius Seneca, Sei Shōnagon, Christopher Smart, T’ao Ch’ien, Theophrastus of Erressos, Azwinaki Tshipala, Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Yourcenar & Zisusudra of Sumer

Zachary German, Eat When You Feel Sad, Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn, 2009

Dale Pendell, The Language of Birds, Three Hands Press, Hercules, CA, 2009

Siobhan Phillips, The Poetics of the Everyday: Creative Repetition in Modern American Verse, Columbia University Press, New York 2010



Lutheran Forum, vol. 43, no. 4, Winter 2009, Delhi, NY. Includes Kirby Olson’s “Pierre Klossowski’s Pauline Aesthetics”

n+1, no. 8, Brooklyn, Fall 2009. No poetry in the issue, but fiction from Imraan Coovadia & Juan Villoro

Monday, February 01, 2010

I have noted on occasion that, in the Middle East, one can watch poetry contests conducted in the fashion of an American Idol (or, in the UK, Pop Idol, Simon Cowell’s original show in this format). I have seen the show called both Million’s Poet & Prince of Poets & am not certain if in fact that is one show or two. But if one hunts around on YouTube for a bit, you can find some examples. Not knowing the language transforms it into a mode of sound poetry, but even in those terms one can get a sense of the verbal devices & tone of the poems. It’s a fascinating mode of music.

Sunday, January 31, 2010