Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Four Way Books - AWP - Table 90

-suitable for framing-
Four Way Books
Table 90

Stop by and visit Martha Rhodes, Sally Ball, Ryan Murphy, Lytton Smith and many Four Way Books authors.

Book Signings on Friday



Ellen Dudley

John Gallaher


Deborah Bernhardt

Catherine Bowman

Forrest Hamer


Jeffrey Harrison

C. Dale Young

Lots of Books. Discount Prices. Information.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Laurel Review - Table 9


The Laurel Review

AWP Bookfair Table #9

AWP special: $5.00 for a one-year subscription.

Recent Contributors include:

Rae Armantrout / Christopher Arigo / David Baker / Angela Ball / Mary Jo Bang / Bruce Bennett / D. C. Berry / Linda Bierds / Wendy Bishop / Michelle Boisseau / Jaswinder Bolina / Sharon Dolin / Michael Burkard / Paula Closson Buck / Kathryn Stripling Byer / Maxine Chernoff / David Citino / Joan Connor / Matthew Cooperman / Stephen Corey / Philip Dacey / Elizabeth Dodd / Wayne Dodd / Sharon Dolin / Stephen Dunn / Angie Estes / Kathy Fagan / Donald Finkel / Stuart Freibert / Elton Glaser / Albert Goldbarth / Ray Gonzalez / Arielle Greenberg / Linda Gregerson / Mark Halliday / Michael Heller / Paul Hoover / Joy Katz / Laura Kasischke / Claudia Keelan / Sally Keith / Joanna Klink / Noelle Kocot / Joshua Kryah / David Kirby / David Dodd Lee / Rachel Loden / Susan Ludvigson / Michael Martone / Louise Mathias / Richard Meier / Nils Michals / Heather Ross Miller / Wayne Miller / Hadara Bar Nadav / Amy Newman / Tom Noyes / Sharon Olds / Mary Ann Samyn / Carol Simmons Oles / Greg Pape / Kathleen Peirce / Simon Perchik / Carl Phillips / Kevin Prufer / Bin Ramke / Donald Revell / Martha Rhodes / Stan Sanvel Rubin / Mary Ruefle / Martha Ronk / Mary Ann Samyn / Katherine Soniat / Reginald Shepherd / Cole Swensen / Ann Townsend / Diane Wald / G. C. Waldrep / Sharon Oard Warner / Charles Harper Webb / Dara Wier / Joshua Marie Wilkinson / Nance Van Winckel / Jonah Winter / Jon Woodward / Charles Wright / David Young / Dean Young

Mary Biddinger – Prairie Fever

Mary Biddinger – Prairie Fever

Here’s another book that I don’t have yet, but that I’m hoping to pick up at AWP, at this event:

Friday, March 2

BOOK SIGNING: Along with Steel Toe poet Jeannine Hall Gailey, Mary Biddinger will sign Prairie Fever at the Steel Toe Books booth at AWP in Atlanta, Georgia, 1PM to 2PM.

I found this poem the other day. I admire its energy and trajectory, as it keeps the forward thrust of imagination closely tied to the original impulse. In other words, it is able to mean and be. Anyway, I found it on the Internet, so I’m not sure of the formatting.


There were four rooms. There were eight. You were in corners and under furniture, near my knees, reflections of your back in stainless steel. Suspenders, Florsheims and avocado linen. There was limestone halfway up, and I knew I’d crash into it if I could move fast. You thought it was a cold place. The light bulbs? It was all like helium to me at that point. I said someone should be taking pictures, the way we were sprawled on the hardwood or propped up on rattan sofas. One time in the airport we were both small and spun together in a leather chair chained to the ceiling. You touched my leg. Nobody was taking pictures, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or that we weren’t in Frankenmuth five years later, at connecting tables but kept separate. A shed behind the school, or that storm sewer at the dunes, past the grasses, left of concession, the sand that felt like clay, like slip, how blond you had become, I hardly recognized. If you were here in this room you’d remind me of the guitar, the train platform, the silver Cutlass containing me and continuing on past it all. You said we’d go back. I was always a good runner. You said: the smoothest skin ever. We’d seen the skyline from two dozen taxis, our own legs on the bridge, from the grass, from the grass again, in the grass on my front lawn, lit by the cheap plastic solar lamps, from deep past the buoys of Lake Michigan and into the waterways connecting. We knew where we had come from, had that in common. In college I looked out the laundry room window and saw you between leaves, in a corduroy jacket. We’re here, you said. There were blue sheets I used instead of curtains. Later I’d be in a hundred rooms with tin ceilings and slim wine glasses, or rectangular tables and cinderblocks and papers. In the subway window I’d look nothing but tired. I would try everything from milk to cactus in hope of turning you to milk and cactus and dark rafters and back again, so when I closed my eyes it was heat and every other color we described. The nights kept us like ants under plastic. I kept you in places that were cool and uncovered. You touched my face like it was years ago and just starting. I was busy fending off letters and drinking green tea and lying in a cool bath. By noon, everything was back where it had been. We’re here and we’re living, you said.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Joshua Kryah - GLEAN

Joshua Kryah - Glean
I got Glean at the same time as Matthew Cooperman's DaZE, and perhaps for that reason, I have them linked in my mind. But it seems to me they bring the same sort of unwavering attention to their subjects, the same seriousness of purpose, through near opposite answers to the question of how a line can sound.

Glean is just out, winner of the 2005 NIGHTBOAT POETRY PRIZE, chosen by Donald Revell.


Swallows fly through a fresco.

What hems in around them is the air.

And the days seem happier
because they pass, pieced together
to resemble a habitable pattern.

Part real, part conjecture, we are about to become this
ability to touch.

There is no other resolve but to fill in.

Down from the sky / Came Eros taking off his clothes / His shirt
of Phoenician red

The closest possible rendering.

To have drawn such luck from the beggar’s bowl.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Matthew Cooperman - DaZE

Matthew Cooperman – DaZE

One of the things I hate about making lists of books is that I’m always missing something. DaZE came out in 2006, and I completely missed it.

Now I’ve made up for that. I have a copy, and I’m finding it thoroughly intriguing. One of the things I’m finding so compelling about this book is its near anti-lyric lyric nature. It’s an amazingly difficult project, to write a book of poetry where one of the foundational blocks of reception, of enjoyment, is being pushed back against, but DAZE is captivating.

Some of my favorite bits are turning out to be the bits that are the furthest from lyric, the pieces that become, or nearly so, little associative essays that turn out to have wonderfully lyric shadows.

Versions of Progress

Seeking the old kingdom of quiet he enters the hall and takes a seat. Takes, as in time, the occupying tendency, as enters might mean plunge. “It’s a halo glow from a filmic descent of icons over Los Angeles.”

This is one way to say practice, practice. This is one way to show distance.

There’s a notion to sitting of progress, but the years go by as separate breaths. Or the years go by and the breathing continues. Who is he to demand a sense of achievement? We live in dreams that are next to other dreams.

Hegel suggests the swirl, the upward thrush flying always to the celestial nest. Is there a we in a storm of atoms? Let’s start with specifics: autumn, weekend, refuge, asses, the lotus meaning labeling of mind. The film motif turns out to be missing, something physic employing drift. But then

it’s conflation, a girl’s life with his own, the odd sense of arriving here or there in a how town. Buddhas, yes, and preconceptions, the now some liquid amber turning gold against a courthouse.

Counting bricks . . .

We count thoughts but they don’t turn into kingdoms. “A dove-cote of perception,” so says Plato. We have ideals but they don’t turn into achievement. The labeling “if I’m lucky” is a way of seeing progress. It’s just Los Angeles, people in a room, fidgeting.

Slow walking mudra, twenty pigeons on the sill . . .

“The head is connected to the neck, and to the ass, there being a primal magic to the spine.” He thinks of this as a vestigial tale, as impending love or past lives. There is enough here to say we are delicious, people try real hard.

Let’s forget Hegel and assume practice. Taking a seat is a good picture of work. The capital we fund is the building across the way. It’s Doric in the way your neighbor is Doric, standing in his yard supporting the sky.

Your neighbor nods on her cushion. Angels, the city, angles. It’s a quiet you just might buy. He tries this out as Sunday. His left hip aches from the weight. Despite the static from the film, the pigeons, this trying turns out to be.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sam Witt - Sunflower Brother

I had the opportunity to read with Sam Witt at The Writers Place in Kansas City on Wednesday evening, which reminds me yet again that my favorite reading experience, both as a reader and as an audience member, is for there to be two poets reading.

Sam’s new book, Sunflower Brother, is just about available . . . he had some advance copies, one of which is now happily in my possession.

Here’s one of the poems (from Sunflower Brother) he read:


I kissed your wrist,
your faintly burning page,
I kissed the sun to sleep—
What a little ocean I hold in my palm,
three stars and a sharp moon, what a little surf
burying itself wave after wave . . .
into coils of concertina wire, they freeze.
I can feel it, if I listen, if I close my eyes,
I can feel it, this breeze lifting its shadow
from the shadow of your hair,
on this coastline of skin anything can happen.
Your lips divide my ribs one by one.
The sun comes and goes with our name
on its lips, my fingers in love with the instant
it takes your breast to be there,
under my tongue. I wanted to believe
I could fold it into my pocket, this vacant lot,
this harvest of baby’s breath and broken glass, look,
the sky is touching the sky, O blue vein
buried alive in the neck: my kiss.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Spring Collection - Four Way Books

Ellen Dudley

Terri Ford

John Gallaher

Forrest Hamer

C. Dale Young

As well, Four Way Books is running The Levis Poetry Prize from January through March 2007. Open to all poets who are U.S. citizens. The judge is Tony Hoagland.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Paige Ackerson-Kiely - In No One's Land

Every now and then I’m simply floored by a completely new find. Such is the case with the poetry of Paige Ackerson-Kiely. And I don’t even have the book yet.

But a quick google revealed nearly a dozen beautiful poems. So I can safely say that her new book, In No One’s Land, from Ahsahta Press, is going to be one of my favorite of the year.

She’s able to balance her tendencies amazingly well . . . mystery, image, scene . . . the poem from the Ahsahta catalogue (more about the catalogue, as it pertains to John Barr, later in the week) is a good example of what I’m finding so wonderful in her work.

Spring Thaw

Spring with your disheveled mouths beginning
to open. Glad I am for doorways.
For a simple frame.

In winter I allow you to guess correctly
that I am sleeping. The paw of me
placed over the snout of me. My friends
the dead flowers in a windowbox
nowhere I knew where my friends were.

I allow you to guess correctly. The confidence
you will gain will make speaking—
a tomcat sprays the dogwood—blooming.

Hello. I was forgotten. When my jaw at first
unlocks I will say no one has loved me as much.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Neil Young / Son Volt / Wilco / Lucinda Williams

First, Neil Young:

Neil Young live and solo at Massey Hall, 1971 is almost here. If you’re interested, here are a couple video sneak previews, well worth the visit (Point your favorite media player to: http://rustradio.org:8000/ while you're at it. You'll thank me!):


Second, Son Volt:

They’re streaming thirty second snippets of a few of the songs from the new album, The Search (due out on March 6th), over at:


So far, I’m thinking it sounds pretty good, though I’m still not sure about the horns.

Third, Wilco:

Wilco have unveiled the tracklisting for their forthcoming new
album Sky Blue Sky, which will be out on May 15 in the US.

The tracklisting is:

'Either Way'
'You Are My Face'
'Impossible Germany'
'Sky Blue Sky'
'Side with the Seeds'
'Shake it Off'
'Please Be Patient With Me'
'Hate it Here'
'Leave Me (Like You Found Me)'
'What Light'
'On and On and On'

Fourth, Lucinda Williams:

West, the new album, has been out awhile. There’s a little video up at amazon.com. It sounds all right . . . I haven't liked her recent work nearly as well as I liked Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, but this is something of a return. At least that's what I'm thinking so far.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

MLA, bye bye

Paul Guest writes to finish off his tale of the MLA job search process.

Which reminds me of something I’d forgotten about:

While at MLA, on a little tour through the tension, I was listening to my mp3 player and the song "That's Life" as sung by Frank Sinatra, came on. I was walking toward the bookfair at the time, through the vast convention center, nearly empty but for the stragglers, looking like they were looking for something. I was passing a woman taking pictures of attendees and I had this vision of all of MLA, of the great overwashed hoards of us attending fruitlessly, rising up with a shout. Some sort of Flannery O’Connor, broken multitudes in the midst of a revelation, thing.

The show tune to end all show tunes. The great MLA theme song. So here it is, if you haven’t heard it, go someplace and get it. It’s glorious and it’s priceless. And it goes out to all of us. Take it away Frank:

That's life, that's what all the people say.
You're riding high in April,
Shot down in May
But I know I'm gonna change that tune,
When I'm back on top, back on top in June.

I said that's life, and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks,
Stompin' on a dream
But I don't let it, let it get me down,
'Cause this fine ol' world it keeps spinning around

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king.
I've been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself, flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race.

That's life
I tell ya, I can't deny it,
I thought of quitting baby,
But my heart just ain't gonna buy it.
And if I didn't think it was worth one single try,
I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king.
I've been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself laying flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race

That's life
That's life and I can't deny it
Many times I thought of cutting out
But my heart won't buy it
But if there's nothing shakin' come this here july
I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die
My, My

Around and About on Valentine's Day

Luna is back and looking for poems!

This from Ray Gonzalez:

On the tenth anniverary of the magazine, I am proud and pleased to say that Luna is back in business and will continue to publish in a smaller format. Our committment to fine poetry and translations is stronger than ever because, in these times of political darkness and a literary atmosphere where too many poets are constantly jockeying for position, it is good to find honest people who are committed to working on a fine publication. It comes down to being professional editors, to loving poetry, and for making the efforts to find the best possible work out there. This means not fitting into any one "school of poetry" or promoting one group over another. I look forward to the further development of this site and to future issues of Luna that will truly represent our efforts to bring you a wide panorama of fine poets, young and old and poems that transcend boundaries to allow the language to speak for itself.



Poetry Daily has been around for ten years now.


Over at poets.org they’re talking about a book that is said to be “a beautiful, accessible, and wide-ranging collection of poetry and prose.” Why do I keep coming across the word “accessible” these days in advertisements for books of poetry? What is this code for? Is this really the word the poetry-buying public is looking for? It’s by turns irritating and depressing, that “accessible” is the new Mother Nature taking over.




there's an interesting article about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.


2007 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival Confirmed Artists:

The Police
Widespread Panic
The White Stripes
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals
The Flaming Lips
Manu Chao
The String Cheese Incident
Franz Ferdinand
Bob Weir & Ratdog
Damien Rice
Gov't Mule
Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers
The Decemberists
Kings of Leon
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Regina Spektor
The Black Keys
DJ Shadow
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
Keller Williams
Sasha & John Digweed
Old Crow Medicine Show
The Hold Steady
North Mississippi Allstars
Fountains of Wayne
Hot Tuna
Hot Chip
Lily Allen
John Butler Trio
Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys
Aesop Rock
The Richard Thompson Band
Dierks Bentley
Xavier Rudd
Gogol Bordelo
Junior Brown
T-Bone Burnett
Mavis Staples
Cold War Kids
Dr. Dog
Paolo Nutini
Brazilian Girls
RX Bandits
The Nightwatchman(Tom Morello-RATM/Audioslave)
The Slip
Girl Talk
Railroad Earth
Martha Wainwright
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Tea Leaf Green
Sam Roberts Band
Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Charlie Louvin
Sonya Kitchell
Mute Math
Apollo Sunshine
Uncle Earl
James Blood Ulmer
The National
The Little Ones
Ryan Shaw

Lewis Black & Friends
Dave Attell
David Cross



DAZE. Matthew Cooperman
The Wife of the Left Hand. Nancy Kuhl


Love. The Beatles

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Andrew Feld - The Seattle Review - Inclusiveness

Andrew Feld is the author of Citizen, a 2003 National Poetry Series selection. His poetry has appeared in The Canary and other journals and has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes and included in the Best American Poetry series. He is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Washington and Editor-in-Chief of The Seattle Review.


Where he has this to say:

<The Seattle Review, I hoped, would be a place where young formalists bumped against old experimentalists, and the well-wrought narrative would be placed next to the jagged, new-fangled difficult poem. Since as a reader I don’t have to choose between Oppen and Merrill, there seemed to be no reason why as an editor I shouldn’t be able to publish (ideally) Lyn Hejinian next to Gjertrude Schnackenberg next to Phil Levine. In practice, however, the difficulty is: how much democracy can a journal contain before it dissolves into chaos? If you give up the vibrancy and drive that a journal derives from being the public forum of a lively community, how do you give your journal a sense of vital energy? How can you make the journal cohere?>

I love what Feld says here. First, the laudable desire for a radical inclusiveness in a literary journal. The literary journals I enjoy the most are the ones that have a certain diversity of work. But on the other hand, the thought that an editor would want to place Hejinian, say, with Levine, strikes me funny. It strikes me as funny, as in ha-ha, as well as funny, as in strange. What a weird reading experience that would be. As Feld says, potentially chaotic, or actually chaotic. But on the other hand, if an editor has the desire to do something like this (this radical inclusiveness), and then actually does it, perhaps rather than chaos, there would be a larger unity, a unity of representing the contemporary poetry scene in its fullness. It might just turn out to be more useful and interesting than any worry about considerations of coherence or chaos. I would be interested in reading such a presentation the way one might read a newspaper. To see what’s happening in the world today.

Inclusiveness is a goal a lot of journals have; I’ve talked about it a lot with many editors. The whole idea of “good poems irrespective of aesthetics” in so many journal guidelines is a nod toward this inclusiveness. But we can only publish what is sent, which keeps a lot of the diversity out of our hands. It’s such a worthy goal, though. Will The Seattle Review be able to exhibit this sort of radical inclusiveness? I hope so. Or should I hope so? What do you like best about the journals you read? Aesthetic focus? Inclusiveness?

Here’s a poem by Andrew Feld, from VQR, reprinted in Legitimate Dangers:

On Fire

Having been taught by fools, how else could I have ended up
but as I am? a man who panics at the sound of his own voice,
a blusterer, afraid that within the five-pointed maple leaf there lies
another name he never knew; ready, always, to be found wrong.

Listen: in my tenth year they put me in a room where one plane
watched another plane fly over a city. It was morning in both
places. In black & white at first the explosion looked like water
rising. Captured, they say, on film, as in: pulled out of time

so we can rewind it and watch it happen again, as in a memory,
as in: this is a memory we all have, these are our family pictures.
There was that kind of shame. As if the fire really had been stolen.
And sitting on the floor there was one boy who even earlier

that year came home to find his mother hanging from a rope
in the kitchen. What didn't he know that he needed this film
to teach him? Already what he knew was enough to terrify
the teachers, so that they couldn't look at him. But they also

couldn't not look at him. As if he was an obscene pleasure.
And he was beautiful. Complete. But what he carried in him
seeped out as hate for anyone of the same sex as his mother.
It was that simple: even a fourth-grade mind could understand.

So the girls stayed away. And from the other side of the common
room, where the books full of numbers being added, subtracted
and divided were kept, our new teacher watched, helpless, knowing
he also needed this knowledge, but she couldn't give it to him.

Which might be why she let me touch her. Because she couldn't
get near him and my head against the antique white lace of her
dress was a good enough almost. Her hair was light brown, if I
remember correctly. Innocent is supposed to mean free from hurt

but it can also mean you don't know what you're doing. As when
I felt that touching her wasn't enough and I wanted to press closer,
until someone felt pain, or until I passed through her dress and found
myself inside her. It didn't matter if she was an adult and I was ten:

what I wanted wasn't sex. Or not what I have learned to think sex
is. Her dress was made of a material called vintage, which meant
that although it had managed to avoid all the minor catastrophes
of red wine stain and hook snag, along with the major disasters

of history, no one had treated the cloth with chemicals, to make it
flame retardant And on the whole length of the hand-sewn inner seam
that started at her wrist and ran all the way down to her ankle,
no one had remembered to place even one small label warning:

if you touch the sleeve of this garment to the still-hot coils
of an electric stove, it will explode. Which is what happened.
There's the land of scream you hear in movies. What I heard
twenty-seven years ago didn't sound anything like that. It was

sharper and can't be recorded. No matter how many times
you rewind the film. You keep going back and each time
there's a little less there. Until the memory has become
the event. And how you feel about the memory. The materials

have burnt away. There was so much fabric and all of it on fire.
Her hair too, which was long, as I remember. She came running
from the faculty kitchen, as if she could escape what she was
turning into. But all she did was excite and encourage the flames.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Me and Dilbert

So which of us looks more comfortable?
Go here for the full story, with quotes and everything:

Labels: ,

From the Notebooks: January

Lovely picture, isn't it?

So anyway, I'm putting another little notebook into the box. Goodbye little winter notebook. Mostly it was notes toward an Ashbery paper I'm trying to write, but I found a few odds and sods that I don't know what to do with. Perfect material for a blog, I'm guessing.

That the poem has a center is not something that should please a poet.

A center is a reduction of possible centers.

How does one push back against the reductiveness of having a center?

The poet and the artist are most alive on the open field of possibility.

If possibility is excluded, we have only reductions.

Description of the age: Great at form and technique, but missing a rising idea.
Description of the age: Some with bad notions, some just with bad haircuts.

The broken sentence is not the difference. The sentence is not broken. The words are not erased. The voiceless are not speaking. Fragment is only an agreed-upon definition.

The idea that things always come back as parody no longer holds.

Description of the age: Is there any way to know? No. There is no way to know.
Description of the age: It would be a particular sort of tragedy for one to prepare one’s last words, and then to be dying and to deliver them, and then to recover.

And what of the other poem? The one behind the one you’re writing? the mystery of the poem beneath the poem. The catacomb poem.

The irrational nature of assertions in art. About art. And to assert they’re something other than that, or that some assertions are somehow more defensible than others. To know this on one level, but then to say no, in the face of the real, some assertions regarding art do hold where others do not. The irrational nature of assertions about art. In art.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Michael Palmer - Voice and Address

We all have our own personal anthology, the anthology in our heads. This morning, I'm thinking of that anthology. My anthology.

This is one of the poems to which I return and keep returning. No surprise to people who know me, that it's by Michael Palmer. It's from First Figure, reprinted in his selected poems, The Lion Bridge.

For me, in reveals wonderfully the difficulty of our present. And the beauty of its enacting. What a difficult balance that is. How to say, when saying complicates itself into near opacity? Opacity of connotation . . . of competing desire.

Michael Palmer
Voice and Address

You are the owner of one complete thought

Its sons and daughters
march toward the capital

There are growing apprehensions to the south

It is ringed about
by enclaves of those who have escaped

You would like to live somewhere else

away from the exaggerated music
in a new, exaggerated shirt

a place where colored stones have no value

this hill is temporary
but convenient for lunch

Does she mean that the afternoon should pass

in such a manner
not exactly rapidly

and with a studied inattention

He has lost his new car
of which you were, once,

a willing prisoner

a blister in your palm
identical with the sky’s bowl

reflected in the empty sentence

whose glare we have completely shed
ignoring its freshness

The message has been sent

across the lesser features in the glass
where the listeners are expendable

The heart is thus flexible

now straight now slightly bent
and yesterday was the day for watching it

from the shadow of its curious house

Your photo has appeared
an island of calm

in a sea of priapic doubt

You are the keeper of one secret thought
the rose and its thorn no longer stand for

You would like to live somewhere

but this is not permitted
You may not even think of it

lest the thinking appear as words

and the words as things
arriving in competing waves

from the ruins of that place

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stevens, Williams, & the Future

Ah, yes, who knows what the future is going to look like?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, how poetic reputations vacillate over time. Eliot, Auden, Moore, Lowell, Plath, Sexton, Bishop . . . Stevens, Williams. And more recently? It might be just me, but I’m thinking that Stevens’ reputation and influence has now risen over that of his contemporaries. Am I right in thinking this? And if so, how and why has it happened?

In my imagination, I imagine it has something to do with John Ashbery, and, more recently, this “middle range” aesthetic between the extremes of Language poetry on the one side, and autobiographical realism on the other. His whole "the poem must resist the intelligence almost sucessfully." Is this what it is about Stevens that began speaking to us again in the run-up to the new century?

Anyway, here’s Richard Eberhart speaking, in the mid 1970s, about Stevens, and poetic reputations:

“My admiration for him fro the first time I read Stevens, which must have been in the middle thirties, was enormous. The more I read, the more I liked his mind and his poetry. As the literary climate established itself, the world was dominated for decades by Eliot and Pound. And, I must say, I was a great lover of Eliot. But as time went on, I came to think Stevens was the mountain peak of those times. The reputation of Eliot sank enormously for very complex reasons. One of these reasons is because his art was so aligned with Christianity. As the world has de-Christianized itself, people have tended to like either Stevens or Williams. It seems obvious that Stevens has no followers; he hasn’t produced a school of Stevens people. It is also obvious that Williams has had an enormous number of followers, even while he was alive. I think that’s because Williams was an objectivist and because he believed in America, the America of commotion and motion, the whole zany part of America that people can relate to. Whereas Stevens became more and more aloof, more insular and more wound up in his own imagination. Williams, as a matter of fact, had more impact on the poetic language than did Stevens. Williams tried to invent new forms; he was always more inventive than Stevens. Stevens was a more monumental mind; that gave him a kind of grandeur. I’d never use a word like that for William Carlos Williams. The reason Stevens will last hundreds of years, though (in contrast, say, to W.H. Auden), is because his mind was not enmeshed in the goings on of the day; it was on more central aspects of reality.

And yet my taste has been to favor Stevens, just because he is more private, more imaginary. I think he has a richer and more sensual and sensuous gift with words. There were whole decades in my life when I felt comfortable with Stevens . . . . I felt I belonged in his ambience, to his view of the world, and I took pleasure in that realization. I remember, for instance, every time I would go to New York, I would think of New York City from a Stevens point of view, not from a Williams point of view.

Yet now, in the last few years, I regret to say that I think that’s all fallen apart. The world has changed so much that Stevens is now a man of history. I don’t think he speaks to the young people today . . .

One of the most provocative things that Eliot said was that in poetry there is no competition. In a sense there is no competition, say, between Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. I mean, we’ve got them both; you don’t have to say one is better than the other. On the other hand, from a practical point of view, it seems there is nothing but competition in the arts and in poetry. You can say the prizes and all that are not a good thing, and there is a lot bad to be said about them. But another, more charitable, way to look at it is that a big prize draws the attention of many people to a good book.”

Friday, February 09, 2007

Infinity Is a Long Day

Mary Connelly, Love's Illusion

In the way that Hamilton's collages seem a bit too urban, this might be a bit too rural to capture the suburban under-tone, but, as I currently live in rural Missouri, I'm sympathetic. Perhaps that's one of the major tones of suburbia, as a liminal imagined space between the interiors of the urban, and the deeper mystery and mortality of the rural.

Therefore I've come full circle, and am back to thinking John Ashbery captures the tone of the suburbs, if he knows it or not, most fully, in his poetry. And, by the way, he has a new book out. Mr. Postman, where's my copy?

The above painting graces the cover of the Spring 2007 issue of PHOEBE, which also has a nice feature on some contemporary Chinese poets, and a nice mix of poetry, fiction, art, and etc.

Here's a poem from Ashbery's new book:

Yes, "Señor" Fluffy

And the clouds fretted and flew, as though
there was a reason for their acting distraught.
There may have been, of course, but at this distance,
better to act dumb and accept the inevitable
as a long-anticipated surprise. Then if what lands
on your plate stares angrily at you and the other guests
"can't wait" to hear your reaction, why, it's checkout time
at the gazebo and no one will forget you too heartily
as the next-to-last spectator always glimpsed on the premises,
feigning the concern for the victim that marks you as the killer,
for sure. As for being in touch with you guys
another time, we'll take it under advisement.

So this moment's tremors mingle with others
on the departure platform. Who knew it would be this silly,
and so dense? Nevertheless, we have a right to know,
to have our impulses regulated and calibrated in the
interests of farther and fainter reaction-shots. Sure,
you'll get your rights read to you and sooner
than you may have counted on. Let the monotonous
group of listeners pump you for details, we'll provide
backup and terminal ecstasy at the way stations.
It couldn't have been any other way. You knew that.

What's your name down there?
Despite misgivings, the story clicks to a halt,
as always. The credits surge. People rush to leave.
The shiny cars of another era are coming
to take us where we wish to be taken, lest we
outstay our welcome and sink in the embrace
of another mood.

John Ashbery

A Worldly Country: New Poems


Thursday, February 08, 2007

What They Said. What We Have to Say.

Richard Hamilton
Tone is the hardest thing.
The natural world is argument enough.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Suburbia Is a Noun

What is your reaction to this photograph?

What would it look like as a poem?

Who would write it? Who has written it?


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, one side might argue. 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, of course. But "suburbia" is a noun.

We make the texture:

Backing up a little further from a field of Campbell soup cans, one can see the ordered beauty of Mondrian. The beauty of the lines. This is the true ambivalence of the contemporary.

The nothing happening is the goal.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Henri Cole - Blackbird and Wolf

Henri Cole, to whom I'm very grateful these days, has a new book coming out in a month or so, titled Blackbird and Wolf . . .

My Weed

On the path to the water, I found an ugly weed

growing between rocks. The wind was stroking it,

saying, "My weed, my weed." Its solid,

hairy body rose up, with big silver leaves

that rubbed off on me, like sex. At first,

I thought it was a lamb's ear, but it wasn't.

I'm not a member of the ugly school,

but I circled around it and looked a lot,

which is to say, I was just being, and it seemed to me--

in a higher sense--to represent the sanity of living.

It was twilight. Planets were gathering.

"Mr. Weed," I said, "I'm competitive,

I'm afraid, I'm isolated, I'm bright.

Can you tell me how to survive?"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Negative Models

Jessie Fisher Red Hood 2004

PLEIADES 27:1 is now available. In it is an interesting essay by Reginald Shepherd on the poetry climate, titled "One State of the Art." It's well worth checking out. And it gets me to this question:

Who do you write against?

What an interesting question. It was asked of me a few weeks ago, and I didn't really have an answer, or perhaps I didn't really want to answer. "Against" is about as oppositional as one can be, and I'm really not the oppositional sort.

But I've been thinking, and I've decided that there are a few poets who, for various reasons, make me wish I were someplace else.

1. Ted Kooser. Have you seen his book on writing? I don't understand how people, even people who really like his poetry can get through what he has to say about poetry. And then there's the poetry itself. (Kooser here also stands for Dana Gioia, by the way.)

2. Ron Silliman. He and I share a favorite poet, Rae Armantrout. His writing on the new sentence was formative for me twenty years ago. For these two reasons alone I should honor him, but for the fact that the way he talks about poetry for quite some time now robs it of everything, or nearly everything, that makes it pleasurable.

So that's my tiny, too easy, list of two poets who, I think, let themselves go.

It's a difficult public question, isn't it? So who do you write against? Or, as I don't really write against anyone: What poet (poets) does your poetry stand against? Who are your negative models?

In a related issue, was also asked, the same day, about the creative writing workshop: should the moderator, the person in charge, strive to be supportive of the projects of the participants or should the moderator be more oppositional . . . coach or gatekeeper. Of course, that's a reduction, and a binary (I hate binaries), but it's also a tough question.

Oppositional stances are as important to the growth of the artist as are supportive environments and shared endeavors. My answer was that one should work closely with someone who supports one's work and its direction, but that one should look for an oppositional respondent as well. To sharpen the edge. To force one to defend what one is doing.

For me, this person is Mark Halliday. He's a fine writer, and a willing correspondent, but he doesn't much care for my poetry. I enjoy talking with him.


Frank Sinatra, "That's Life"

Grandaddy, "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot"

The Replacements, "Talent Show"

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jaswinder Bolina - Carrier Wave

A couple books have come in this week that have completely thrilled me. The first is Jaswinder Bolina’s deft and masterful first collection Carrier Wave, winner of the Colorado Prize (chosen by Lyn Hejinian). I saw this collection in manuscript form, and knew it was going to be good, but now, to hold the book in my hands, more than fulfills my expectations. Bolina is not yet well known. I expect that to change shortly. You heard it here first, folks. Throughout, it’s just such a friendly book. Here’s a poem. You’ll see what I mean.

Employing My Scythe

I’m standing in field 17 of the long series, employing my scythe.
Sometimes a conceptual dog bounds
past me, though it’s never my conceptual dog.
Occasionally future laureates gather for colloquium,
though they’re rarely my future
laureates. Thus, evening proceeds precisely
the way the handbook describes it:
as a proceeding: a runnel: shallow and babbling.

Into it a stranger appears. He looks like my friend.
I ask him, Are you my friend? Gravity telegraphs
its heavy message through the lolling
vines. The stranger says, I’ve sold all my clothes
and am considering, for a career, perpetual suffering.
The sun slides a tongue down the nape of the grain elevator.
Lowing cattle. It’s the fourth of July. In Spain.
I say, You are most vague and mysterious, friend.
The dog paces. I set my scythe aside and tell him,
I have employed this scythe mercilessly all my life and still
everywhere these stalks extend. He says,
Someone is always worse off than us
even at our most pitiable. Yes, I say. I read it once
in a magazine. And we laugh, let our enormous bellies jangle.
It is good to laugh with my friend and let the scythe cool, I say.
Yes, he says. Good.