Monday, October 30, 2006

Free (Market) Verse - Steve Evans

If you're hostile or sympathetic to this take on the poetry world, it's still a very interesting read:

By Steve Evans.

A teaser:

"Through men like Dana Gioia, John Barr, and Ted Kooser, Karl Rove’s battle-tested blend of unapologetic economic elitism and reactionary cultural populism is now being marketed in the far-off reaches of the poetry world. A curiously timed gift from a pharmaceutical heir who, before slipping into four decades of crippling depression, had submitted a pseudonymous item or two to Chicago’s Poetry magazine, which politely rejected them, has bankrolled the unlikely effort."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Art of the AWP Schedule

So how many times has this happened to you? You're going down a conference schedule, checking off panels that look interesting . . . you pass over some day parts totally, and then get to one day part where you're checking off EVERY PANEL. And you think to yourself, self, what can I do?

This happens with me at AWP a lot.

Anyway, the conference schedule is now up on the web, and it looks mighty fine:

And then I started checking off panels . . . alas. Am I really going to finally get a chance to hear Rae Armantrout read and then miss it?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Quick Muse

This is an interesting place to go and spend fifteen minutes.

As they say:

QuickMuse is a cutting contest, a linguistic jam session, a series of on-the-fly compositions in which some great poets riff away on a randomly picked subject. It's an experiment, QuickMuse, to see if first thoughts are indeed the best ones. We're not entirely sure about this, but we suspect QuickMuse will bring readers closer to the moment of composition than they have ever been before. Best part: our "playback" feature lets you watch the poems unfold, second by second. Or as Thlyias Moss says, it's "the chance for a poem to find its/audience fast," in which words don't "have as much/time to stale, pale/lose the relevance of the moment" to which they belong.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Louise Glück - from Averno

Louise Glück

There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you’ve been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.

You’ve stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you’re in the world again.
At night, on a cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see how far away
each thing is from every other thing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Campbell McGrath on Poetry

It's always interesting to see what Poetry Daily will put up on Tuesday. This week, it's an interview with Campbell McGrath from Fugue.

Here are some interesting snippets:

I've never believed that there were some topics “unfit” for poetry; if you change the form, you can make them fit. It hasn't always worked, of course, but it has taught me a lot to try.

Poetry is a schizophrenic art form. In MFA programs we spend our time analyzing the text, in poetry slams people are bowled over by the sonic power . . . But poetry exists in their intersection – it is the music and the message.

Poems are not like organic beings, they are organic beings. They begin like a little seedling popping out of the soil. The poet’s job is to grow that into a plant. But some poems are tomato plants, some are oak trees, and some are weeds. At first, most poets spend a lot of time trying to turn weeds into oak trees. But eventually you learn to differentiate, to learn from the poem what it is likely to become and nurture it in that direction. But one should err on the side of generosity and positivism. Never throw away a draft, a stanza, a line – someday you may wake up realizing the rest of the poem it belongs to, or how to fix it, or what transformation if might be subject to. That is, poems that appear to be tomato plants sometimes grow into oak trees. And even weeds may turn out to be dandelions – which are beautiful things in summer.

“Closure” is a great word, and one of the most important in the craft. Everything ends, but not everything has closure. The unexamined life, the war in Iraq, the sound of a car alarm – these are things that will end without closure. Closure is a musical and thematic idea in poetry, it derives from syntax and from rhetorical structures, from the ideas or emotions of the poem working their way towards their necessary culmination. Barbara H. Smith’s book Poetic Closure lays out the various categories – it’s a dry but useful guidebook. Closure is usually one of the last things a poet learns, and many poets never really learn it, if you ask me. If you pick up a literary magazine, nearly all the poems start off well, but not that many end that way.

You have to tell the truth in poetry. You have to be willing to say what you think, and be wrong, and fall on your face, and have jaded sophisticates laugh at your naiveté, and have cool populists laugh at your pompous elitism. Whatever, dude. You have to respect the deep seriousness of the act of writing a poem and be willing to stand behind what you have written before some kind of grand tribunal that might beam down from the Elysian Fields to check up on us. I don’t mean biographical truth – poetry is not memoir, not autobiography. Truth to the language, the form, the emotion, the history, the belief-whatever that’s the poem’s central concern, it must be handled without hypocrisy, chicanery, or general bullshit.

That’s all we have in poetry land: the truth. We are not well paid, and we are not respected in our land or time, but we can tell the truth. We don't have to accede to the hypocrisies and half-truths that surround us. We are not driven by a market economy whose rewards bend and corrupt us. That’s a great gift and worth the economic trade off.

The state of our poetry is not unlike the rest of America today. There’s too much of it, nobody agrees on its basic principles, it’s got factions and partisans destroying its innate sense of community, it’s got some visionaries and some hacks, some hard-working citizens and some cynical careerists. It’s a chaotic, overly-rich grab bag, which is its charm. The continuing expansion of MFA programs means there’s more poetry written now than ever – thousands of books a year get published, thousands more seek a publisher. Critics point to this and say – look how much bad poetry gets published! True. But that ignores the good and even great poetry being published, which is likewise greater than ever. America believes deeply in excess, and it took a while but poetry has finally joined that club.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wayne Miller - Only the Senses Sleep

Wayne Miller
from Only the Senses Sleep

For the 20th Century


Now that it’s dark, I can say
thank god my piece of you went down with the sun—
that ancient Christ-like ship—.


Our past hums red
like a blood slide held up to the light,
a thin wash of cells. The body we keep opening
to spill its contents for a closer reading.
Days drift behind the blousy curtain . . . .


Our years in a house with an all-sunset view—
we kept the shades drawn tight. Nothing to do
but rearrange the furniture
and play the boardgames for keeps.


Why not brush on another layer of red?—
memory’s erasure—the immuring scrim of all we know.
History’s alchemy will explain away the big stuff,
while the interior of a life
cups its soul in its callused palm.


When I wake before morning
I let the booklight fill the night silence—my room,
the tiny part of you I lived. Outside,
the stoplight keeps cycling over
in the held breath of its empty intersection.


Each living cell numbered on the calendar—
blood in my body’s sponge. Looking back,
I must admit I’ll miss you.
I know you won’t ask me to explain why.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

W.S. Di Piero - On Poetry

W.S. Di Piero, a poet with whom I'm not very familiar, and who, from his recent essay in Poetry, I doubt would find much value in my poetry (the list of people to whom NOT to send review copies is growing!), writes:

"Poetry doesn't have much to do with other arts, but there are coordinates. I'm bored by theatrical prophecy, by poetry that makes one fraught statement then another, without shapely sound or rhythm, without an availably complex density of phrasing and patterning, and I'm bored by poetry that achieves its effects only tonally or by clever invention."

I guess he and I wil just have to sit on opposite divides on this one. What is "shapely sound or rhythm"? For me, that sounds like Rae Armantrout, though I doubt that's who Di Piero has in mind. And what is "clever invention"? Isn't that craft? You know, the "machine made of words"? And how might he and I argue over the "only" that he places next to "tonally"? But, that aside, what I found most interesting is where he goes next:

"A coordinate: De Kooning's brushstroke enshrines its own passage: in its moist, elided, sumptuous impasto we see color broken down and surging. We get, as in certain kinds of poetry (Weldon Kees, Alan Dugan, Louise Bogan), both dreamily episodic eruptions and the entire shapely course of the surge, the rush and flush of the whole."

De Kooning! He and I both, apparently, like De Kooning! This just goes to show that what one says about one art doesn't transfer well into another. I would never think to link De Kooning with Alan Dugan, Weldon Kees, or Louise Bogan. Is that what a De Kooning looks like to Di Piero? Even though he's not interested much in what tone can build in poetry (and I think tone is job # 1 of poetry), I still can't see how he could miss everything about De Kooning except the color . . . first, wouldn't that be tone? The way TONE can ATTEND past the rational, past the reductive actual, to the blossoming actual. The mystery of place joined to the fact of place. To me, that's what "enshrines its own passage" means. Enshrining one's own passage sounds to me like a tonal, cleverly inventive act . . .

Anyway, Di Piero goes on to write:

"Most days, writing takes on the emotional lucidity of dream life, its bite and garish clarity, but it's also bereavement, tracing or tracking what's no longer among us. The more you write, the more you feel something is missing, will always be missing; that ache makes you want to write more, inviting more of the same. So bereavement is a kind of grotesque bounty. Some mornings, gulping the oxygen of waking life out of a dream's suffocation, I feel bereft, though I can't remember what exactly has been lost, other than the dream state I wanted to escape, can't remember any shape of face or body, just an ectoplasmic force, the spirit of the human presence in the dream now transformed into a felt compulsion. Write it down, then. Write it out. Getting older, I don't so much want to remember things in poetry, I want to keep them."

Is this true for me? Does writing take on "the emotional lucidity of dream life"? If so, what would/could such a poem look like? I think I'll never get it, the way some people talk about poetry and the arts . . . De Kooning and dream life . . . and then, with all that radical mystery and open possibility available, not only available but openly stated, and then takes all that energy and reduces it down to the sort of poem I suspect he's endorsing here. The sort of poem that Silliman would label, if I'm remembering correctly, the "school of quietude," or somesuch. I'm open to enjoying a poem of this variety, after all, one of my first poetry loves was Robert Lowell, but I'm still waiting on an explanation of how this kind of poetry enacts anything like a De Kooning, or Klimt, or some enacted dream state.

An aside: Poetry is the most boring literary journal in America today, not because of the value of what they publish, but because of the value of what they do not publish. I define it by its exclusions.

The only thing I can think of is that Di Piero is only talking about the state of writing the poem, not the state of the poem's existence. That somehow depresses me. It makes the state of poem making superior to the state of the poem itself existing. Or am I missing something?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Jon Woodward - From Rain

Jon Woodward
from Rain

[the bomber swept lower and]

the bomber swept lower and
lower in concentric circles we
felt bad about ourselves we
felt like dirt we had
poor self esteem the bomber

thanked us all for being
there but the way the
bomber said it made us
think he disagreed with himself
we added the bomber’s name

to the list of people
we couldn’t stand we also
were on that list and
at what point did the
bombs begin to fall exactly

Friday, October 20, 2006

Roethke Pep Talk on the Poetry Workshop

Chilly Friday looking over notes for things.

This, from Theodore Roethke, stands as the most succinct statement of the value of a creative writing workshop that I’ve come across:

“A few people come together, establish an intellectual and emotional climate wherein creation is possible. They teach each other—that ideal condition of what was once called “progressive education.” They learn by doing. Something of the creative lost in childhood is recovered. The students (and teacher) learn a considerable something about themselves and the language.”

I would stress two aspects of Roethke’s remarks. First, the establishing of a climate, a space, where creation is possible. It’s a tonal issue, how the class is going to feel to the students. Poetry is the show, or should be the show, not us, not our personalities.

The second thing I’d like to stress is that all participants in a creative writing workshop can learn a valuable something about the language and about themselves. Or perhaps, blending it a bit, they (we) can learn about themselves (ourselves) in and through language. It's important for us to hear the words in front of us as “real presences,” to quote the title of a book by George Steiner that I’ve used in the past. The words on the page are instructions for performance, and the poems are only fully poems when they are read, when they are lived.


Only the Senses Sleep. Wayne Miller.


Greenland. Cracker.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Joy Katz - The Garden Room

Joy Katz is finding dislocations in the ordinary, unlike anyone else writing to day. Her new chapbook, The Garden Room, is just out from Tupolo Press. An excellent little book.

Color of the Sheets.

Far from the dominant science of white
I found this white
                          in continual pour.

In the midst of this ordinary place, the bed.

Flooding the space between my eyes.
A sudden clearing, and then a floating at waist level.
Neither putting itself gaily forth as a sail
nor sequencing itself like a pencil.

Shall I hand you such a noblesse?

It makes my heart clutch out
to see a thing so long moored finally commence.

Will I see it fail, in your sights?
In the midst of an ordinary place, whiteless?

I weep at how I can count on it,
such unreasonably good fate in the midst of a life.
Even a small satan like myself it will accept.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mark Strand - New Letters 72.2

Mark Strand
New Letters Vol. 72 No 2

Exerpts from the interview:

It could also be that the old, worn-out situations that one encounters in a lot of poetry—poems about growing up, or having a hard time, or my mom did this, or my dad did that—get kind of stale after awhile.

I think often a poem will take the place of something lost. It could be the recovery of the sensation of loss. . . . I think, maybe I write to recover a sensation or the feel of an experience. It’s usually so abstracted that I can deal with the feeling and not reconstruct the original scene, but make a new one.

What I mean to say is, it’s not the story of my life, but it’s the character of my inner life that is projected into these poems. I don’t want my poems to be confused with what’s generally considered the life I live. That’s why I make up my poems.

I believe that certain poets—the poets I really like—create a world, and that’s a world that is wholly dependant on the language they’ve made their own. When you read Wallace Stevens, you’re in the world of Stevens. Not the world of his everyday affairs but the world that he’s managed to make up. It’s a metaphorical world, a world that can stand beside the world of actual events and not be diminished by them. And not necessarily be dependant on them by making reference to them. A lot of poets tell stories, and they move back and forth between the actuality of their lives and the poems that they write; I’d just as soon leave the actuality of my life, or of my external life, out of my poems and try to create an environment for the actuality of my inner life.

. . . there are certain poets who satisfy their need for convenient markers to tell them exactly where they are in the poem. People want to hear stories, and there are a lot of poets who say, I went to the store today and I . . .

Language sets off so many things. It’s a conduit for so much, and the care that poets bring to the writing of poems, the scrupulous attention to sound and sense, is something that helps keep language alive, but not only alive, it helps keep language honest and responsive to what we feel we must say at our human best.

. . . if my poems were circumscribed entirely by my interest in poetry, they would offer very little to people.

I was probably an easier person to interview years ago. My opinions are merely opinions. I don’t know why I write, except that I enjoy writing and believe in the ultimate value of poetry.

I wish I had written more poems . . .


I like what he has to say here about "reconstructing the scene," etc. One can think of the importance of, and much has been said and written regarding, the reconstruction of scenes . . . and now here's this other view. The view that says the reconstructed scene, the reconstituted scene, is secondary, and therefore belated . . . while possibly the constructed scene can stand as a primary world. The alternate world, yes perhaps, but a world unto itself.

I like that idea. It goes well with Stevens' Necessary Fiction, and much of what he termed the ongoing history of the irrational in poetry.

The world we manage to salvage from the interior life of this world, not the simulacra of this world. A world.

Anyway, that's how I read it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Irrational Imagination 5

Here's a partial list of poets who write around what I'm trying to talk toward in American poetry. (Thanks to David Dodd Lee for steering me toward a few of these.) That this list keeps growing, and seems to weave among other tendencies, keeps tapping me on the shoulder.

Rae Armantrout
Ralph Angel
John Ashbery
Paul Auster
Mary Jo Bang
Hadara Bar-Nadav
Robin Behn
William Bronk
Michael Burkard
Priscilla Becker
Joel Brouwer
Laynie Browne
Robert Creeley
Sharon Dolin
Norman Finkelstein
Wayne Dodd
Dobby Gibson
Robert Hass
Brenda Hillman
Paul Hoover
Saskia Hamilton
Laura Jensen
Joy Katz
Claudia Keelan
Noelle Kocot
David Dodd Lee
Rachel Loden
Thomas Lux
Sarah Manguso
Malinda Markham
Gretchen Mattox
Louise Mathias
Nils Michals
Jennifer Militello
Susan Mitchell
Amy Newman
Kathleen Ossip
Michael Palmer
Kathleen Peirce
Kevin Prufer
Geoffrey Nutter
Bin Ramke
Martha Rhodes
Martha Ronk
Mary Ruefle
Donald Revell
Matthew Rohrer
Mark Salerno
Frederick Seidel
Reginald Shepherd
Jon Woodward
Gustaf Sobin
Mark Strand
James Tate
Lee Upton
Jean Valentine
Susan Wheeler
Dara Wier
Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Jonah Winter
Suzanne Wise
Charles Wright

Who else should be on this list?

Names added so far:

Sarah Maclay
Alice Notley
Larissa Szporluk
Karen Volkman
Rosmarie Waldrop
C.D. Wright
John Yau

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Louise Belcourt - Cedar #17

Louise Belcourt, Cedar #17
Louise Belcourt: "My battle has always been between landscape and abstraction."

Louise Belcourt's work always flares my imagination. She's called a "Subjective Abstractionist" by BorderCrossings. I think of a lot of her work as something more like "Abstract Realism," myself. But what's in a name?

The main thing is I love the solidity of her objects, the extrapolated color. The above paining is going to be on the cover of my book. I'm so pleased by the association I can barely contain myself.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A New Online Literary Journal - Front Porch

Front Porch Journal

The first issue is not yet up, but until it is, you can "sit back and listen to interviews with Tim O'Brien, Denis Johnson and Aimee Bender in Quicktime format." And forthcoming audio will include Richard Ford, Heather McHugh, and Charles Wright.

They are accepting submissions:

Sounds good to me.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A New Literary Journal - /nor


From the just up website:

"We are particularly, though not exclusively, interested in experimental and cross-genre work that blurs conventional boundaries and resists easy definition."

The new literary journal, /nor, is based out of Ohio University's Creative Writing department. It follows the exit, last year, of Hotel Amerika, which followed the closing, in 2001, of The Ohio Review, when its editor, Wayne Dodd, retired.

Some of my fondest memories, and most closely held lessons on poetry, stem from my time working for The Ohio Review, and with Wayne Dodd, in the late 90s.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Irrational Imagination 4

It is through the poetry of the Irrational Imagination where we find the contemporary shock of the sublime, the extremes of which can be mapped from Charles Wright, through Jorie Graham and Anne Carson, to Michael Palmer. Though any aesthetic position that has both Charles Wright and Michael Palmer as examples is predictably widely encompassing, there still can be seen certain sympathies, certain denials, that are made in the poetry itself—not a masking of story (or narrative), but a meditative unmasking that will never complete itself, an unmasking known to be futile, known as failure, but necessarily undertaken. Which is why, I believe, so many contemporary poets keep mentioning Stevens.

I am bored with the term postmodern, and I have little use for schools of poetry, and I'm tired of paeans to complexity, but I do think it's important to hold together, if only for a moment, poets and poems that attempt to go beyond the comfortable limits of understanding, who worry the edges of thought, and perhaps bring something back to show for their trouble. Poets who exist within and among knowns and unknowns, neither as far into the aphasic constructed/un constructed poetries of the leading edge of the avant garde, nor as far into the voice poem delivering learned truths as the post-confessional period style illustrates. But existing within, and in relation to, both.

Poetry, and here I’m speaking of poetry that holds itself open to its irrational elements, is the is that falls between the artifice of the too-well-wrought urn and the eternal and of journalism, between the staid and the unsettleable. And when confronted with the simplicity of that which is beyond us, it can only act As If. As George Steiner (among others) has said, the artist, when creating, is continually going toward the As If, the bargain one makes with imagination when confronted with that which is beyond knowing.

This type of poem is the poem of continuance: the poem as the journal of a tour. A tour that can exist only in reference to itself. On a tour, interruption and distraction can be as much the point as anything else. As Robert Duncan writes, “Everything that happens in writing the poem, as it belongs to the poem, must be acknowledged and undertaken as meaning.” The traveling is what gives points A and B meaning, is what gathers them together. One of the chief functions of art is to refuse limitation, both spatially and theoretically. The poem must move through discoveries, through layers, through attachments.

(new poetry = new way of seeing [point A, point B]).

Without a ground and a movement, we have no support for the sentences of our lives, we have a shapelessness of disordered, of willed, occurrences.

In the same way, then, this writing’s dwelling. Writing which isn’t heading for, or going after. Writing’s dwelling. Living in. Where everything that happens becomes part of the poem. Here one can think, as well, of Charles Bernstein’s “Artifice of Absorption.”

This poetry is aware within the poem that poetry can get no closer to signifier or referent than a middle ground. A tentative stepping out that aggressivity would rupture.

On the flip side: what does this hovering middle ground do with issues of actual time and temporality?

What the poem half creates by perception: that things as they are are not as the observer wills, but in the past remain so removed and colored by belief and desire that they pretty nearly are, is a difficulty that this poetry must continually face.

Poems of the irrational imagination are continually aware of the tonal power of grammar. How in seeing, by and through language, one is constantly in a tense relationship with that which has caused one to look in the first place. How intentionality tinctures one’s perceptions. Perceptions we hold and suspend at the same time, until that which propels us forward ceases, and we recognize, as Stevens phrases it, “our unique and solitary home.”

In this landscape, the parenthesis mark, as well as the material inside, is tonal design (—as is the dash: the colon, etc.). But it’s not willed —it arises out of the desperation one feels for wholeness, for a moment of unity. So the poetic use of punctuation is not toward the sentence but away from it, it resides outside of grammar but within it—post—so to speak.

For example: the parenthesis can make a place for ‘the other’—consider an old couple, long married, trying to get through a story —they support and supplant each other, they add but do not complete. This is the gesture of long acquaintance and competition, the desire to join in the telling. This is the manner of matter, of fragments, to coalesce. And in coalescing, to complicate matters, rather than simplifying them, rather than reducing them.

A) Stevens: A great disorder is an order.
B) Lyn Hejinian by way of Valery: Two dangers never cease threatening in the world: order and disorder.

The project of any poem is to find the principle of its regulation. To find its order. And for poems of the Irrational Imagination, the project is to find what exists one tick past order. When “things” haven’t fallen apart and yet no longer condition themselves as “whole”. To exist at the border of its disruption. And to find out how long one might reside in this liminal alterity. And then? One must strive to remain (for as long as one can) in the presence of that which is continuance. And in continuing, the poem must look for the individual code that the present circumstance calls for in its singularity so that the poem may center itself while decentering that which is taken for granted. But isn’t de-centering really just re-centering? This is the question that leads to further poems. This is the politics of art.

The poem must be aware that it is being enacted through a doubled voice (a self address, a personal utterance that is both objective & subjective). Through the poem the subject and the object merge as the many and as the one (“We have chosen the meaning/Of being numerous,” Oppen writes). One (as a noticer of stuff) has to discover what this page wants done. And move.

Charles Wright: . . . “listen to John, do what the clouds do.”

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Morning Coming Down


Rain, by Jon Woodward (pictured here at an Alice James benefit from a couple years ago). The thumbnail description might place his work (moreso in this book than the also very good earlier collection, Mister Goodbye Easter Island) half way between (early) Robert Creeley, in his line and emotional stance, and Frank O'Hara, in his voice. The more I sit with this book, the more I'm enjoying it.


Beth Orton, Trailer Park. I still think this is her best CD.

Thought for the day:

The power of distraction, many thanks to C. Dale Young, and Jacob.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Perfect Abums 1

Perfect Albums . . . well, I like making lists of things, so thinking "prefect albums" gives me an opportunity to look over my collection and pick out what I think are the most timeless of my favorite albums. A much longer list, by a more diverse group, would be a list of prefect songs. Another list would be jazz albums . . .

I'm realizing as I'm putting this together, how predictable most of the choices are. So be it then.

Anyway, here's where my head's at this morning:

Bob Dylan – Hightway 61 Revisited
Neil Young – After the Goldrush
Radiohead – OK Computer
The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2
Richard and Linda Thompson – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
Son Volt – Trace
Neil Young – Harvest
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Cocteau Twins - Four Calendar Cafe
Pink Floyd – The Wall
The Beatles – Revolver
The Beatles – Abbey Road
Lou Reed - Transformer
Cracker – Kerosene Hat
David Gray – White Ladder
Gillian Welch – Soul Journey
Neil Young - Rust Never Sleeps
The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man
Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
M. Ward – Transfiguration of Vincent
R.E.M. – Automatic for the People
The Beatles – Let It Be
Suzanne Vega – Suzanne Vega
Talking Heads – Remain in Light
The Thrills – So Much for the City
The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues
Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
Tom Waits – Mule Variations
Various – Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo

Friday, October 06, 2006

Thoughts for the Day

Neil Young, from "Falling from Above":

It seems like that guy singing this song
has been doing it for a long time.
Is there anything he knows that he ain't said?


Q: Why do writers dry up?


I interpret it as a symbolic act.


That the poem has a center is not something that should please the poet. A center is a reduction of possibility. Creation is most alive on the open field.


A: It's turtles all the way down.


There are no things but in ideas.


Content is nothing more than an extension of form.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Laurel Review - News

A little bit of business this morning.

If, by any chance, someone is looking for The Laurel Review, that someone will not find it at the old URL. The university switched servers on us, and has left us in something of a mess (as I slowly try to put the thing back together, starting yesterday . . .).

Here's the new link:

Still not very pretty, but better than the last one. You will notice most of the pages don't yet go anywhere. That will be fixed. That is my desire. But I did get the cover and table of contents up for our new issue . . . I'm very proud of it. Come by and see it.

And finally, here's a bit of TLR news from the summer:

The Laurel Review / GreenTower Press
The Midwest Chapbook Series Award

We are pleased to announce that this year’s judge, Reginald Shepherd, has chosen Molly Brodak’s, Instructions for a Painting, to be published in the spring of 2007.

Runners-up were:

Erin Malone’s, What Sound Does It Make
Chad Parmenter’s, Weston’s Unsent Letters to Modotti
Gretchen E. Henderson’s, Wreckage: By Land & By Sea

Finalists include work from:

Tony Trigilio
Jeffrey Bean
Amanda McGuire
Reg Saner
Aby Kaupang

All entrants to the contest will receive a one-year subscription to The Laurel Review, starting with our Summer 2006 issue (which is delayed, but coming out in the next two weeks, or so they promise).

The final judge for next year's chapbook award will be Ray Gonzalez. More details will be coming.

Thank you to all who entered, and we hope you enjoy your subscription to the journal. A press is only as good as the quality of its submissions.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Random Wednesday


Realism is nothing more than surrealism with one head.


Elegy on Toy Piano, Dean Young


Thelonious, by Fred Hersch

Monday, October 02, 2006

On the Irrational Imagination 3

Take Warhol’s Campbell soup cans and take Levittown and you have the Suburban dilemma: Is this scene pleasant or horrifying? The desire each of us has for creature comfort translates itself into middle class, machine-made lives. The desire each of us has for personal trimmings, for a spice of uniqueness within the comfortable, when seen from a middle distance, serves only to heighten the blandness of comfort. There is a disquiet in the tension between similar and dissimilar lives, the threat of being average within the solace of being unthreatened. There’s always TV. But backing up a little further from a field of Campbell soup cans, one can see the ordered beauty of Mondrian. This is the true ambivalence of the contemporary.

Habermas states what he considers to be the contract between the reader and the work of literature: “Since the quasi-speech acts of literature are not carrying on the world’s business—describing, urging, contracting, etc.—the reader may well attend to them in a nonpragmatic way.”

Taking this as a given, then, Habermas goes on to add: “neutralizing their binding and bonding force . . . removes [the poetic uses of language] from the sphere of normal speech, and thereby empowers them for the playful creation of new worlds—or, rather, for the unmitigated demonstration of the world-disclosing force of innovative linguistic expressions. This specialization in the world-disclosing function of language explains the peculiar self-referentiality of poetic language. . . .”

With this as a contract, and modernity as the poetic material, a Poetics of sense/nonsense (which is the irrational) seems the most accurate way poetry can exist as a polemics of being at this point in time. Here, where there is no everything (just as there is no nothing), no all encompassing possible in art, we rarely, if even briefly, extend past our limits of spot and reduction. This is the struggle. The struggle that the language arts (and poetry specifically) must wage with the twin desires of science and religion, of design and ecstasy.

But—and this is a big but—Don Gifford, in The Farther Shore, relates something of the problem facing the writer who would try for perspective in this modern situation: “when we attempt to focus this midrealm of ours through the lens of the big numbers, the approximations should trouble us even more because they leave so much that matters out of account, because they seem so much more fragmentary then elegant.”

The balancing act between that which is generalized and that which is specific has been the project of poets for a long time, but the particular use of the disjunctive, the fragmentary, has been the life and death of art in the twentieth century. It’s not much of a leap from considering Mondrian (or poets such as George Oppen and Robert Duncan) elegant to considering him (them) fragmentary. In this same way, any whole is a fragment of a larger whole, it’s just that some artists/writers acknowledge this within the productin of thir art. And what then of the spatial elegance of Edward Hopper (and in poetry, his tonal affinities with Elizabeth Bishop on the one hand and Mark Strand on the other)?

The true strength of this poetry, of this poem, is that it moves toward that which is not understood within the context of that which is understood. This is the irrational understanding that, in the end, knows that it will not understand. This is the steady gaze at a subject/object with all the pressures of its vital present tense—the seeing of what is, in its milieu, without the false solace of closure.

There is no closure, only reverberation.

The last meaning, the highest purpose, in this poetry seems to be to align the reader to the relationship between the one world he/she is regarding and the many worlds that he/she isn’t. The meaninglessness surrounding meaning(s). The purposelessness surrounding purpose(s). To hear the music of is, these phenomena. To inhabit these borders and find them at the point of losing their distinction, is the goal.

A politics beyond public policy. How fragmentation can be the energy of completion.

This is the fundamental movement of the poetry of the Irrational Imagination, and what I’ve been attempting to think with here.

One must have faith in the force of the world to speak from out of myriad worlds. That the world will indeed speak through and as the poem. The poem must attend this sensual world (in the midst). Simply stated, the poem of the irrational imagination must not forget the real world outside of language, that it (impossibly) must (and does) reverberate in the representational qualities of language.

The irrational imagination, then, is concerned with the play of the rational intelligence on the subjective apprehension of things—before (but within) story, before (but within) the human needs of the body—where the poet finds worth in the manner of matter to speak the day into sensual presence, while at the same time acknowledging the crisis inherent in any perception. The crisis of the eye in beholding.

First, some house cleaning: a thank you to uncle Ezra, aunt Hilda, and what’shisname Aldington for:

1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome. (How often these days poets do neither—)

A) With a revision by Bruce Andrews: There is no ‘direct treatment’ of the thing possible, except of the ‘things’ of language.

B) And a corollary from Stevens: Not all objects are equal. The vice of imagism was that it did not recognize this.