Friday, April 27, 2007

Hey Hey My My

I'm off to Ohio and then New York. Here's a video clip to keep you company. Neil Young, 1985. Primo.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

May Not Have, But Must

Matthew Thorburn tagged me to add to this:

"Here are five poetry collections you may not have read but certainly must. (Note: The collections, for whatever reason, should be a bit off the beaten path. And need not have caused the earth to open and swallow you whole.)"

Thus tagged, here are five quite recent books that really should be mentioned much more often than I hear them mentioned, in no particular order:

Martha Ronk, Eyetrouble
Joel Brouwer, Centuries
Suzanne Wise, The Kingdom of the Subjunctive
Zachary Schomburg, The Man Suit
Scott Minar, The Palace of Reasons

Trust me. (And in all honesty, they actually did cause quite a stir in the earth beneath me.)

I'd be interested to know what Mary Biddinger - the word cage , C. Dale Young - Avoiding the Muse , and David Dodd Lee - Seventeenfingeredpoetrybird would add to this list . . .

South Bend - First Prayer from the Poem a Day Project

So anyway, I’ve not wanted to post my own poems on the blog (why, I don’t know really, I’ve just not wanted to), but since I wrote this on the plane(s) to South Bend, and since I’ll not be doing anything with it for awhile (this poem a day thing is OUT OF HAND), I thought I might as well give it to the ether.

For South Bend, First Prayer

Because, we say. We say
because and because. We say it
and we say it, until it sounds like the ocean
or the wind, because and because.
Until it doesn’t sound like anything at all,
ripping the covers from the books.
Or pictures of horses in the snow.
An example of that where there are no examples.
And then to add a title to make it coherent.
“First Prayer.” Or clothes strewn about the room.
What it felt like, pressing up, to end
as raw material. The saline sky,
approaching Cleveland from the north this morning,
and what I look like now, as there’s a problem
with the jetway. It tastes like a bloody
tooth. And they’re making arrangements,
crawling up the scaffolding. You can ask them
which is the first prayer. The fawn
taken by ants. The blind fawn.
The thousands of ants.
You can call out. And call.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Poem a Day and South Bend

Today I’m on the 50th day of a poem-a-day project, and I’m finding it’s overcome my imagination. My goal was to get to 60 next Saturday in New York City, but right now I can’t imagine ever stopping. It’s a kind of mania I’m finding I love feeding.

Eleven days ago, two others here in Maryville, Carling Futvoye and Jason Pratt, began a poem-a-day project as well (without knowing I was also doing it), and they are also finding it quite, what’s the word? Fun? Or something? I don’t know, they haven’t said much to me about it.

Also, I remember Matthew Torburn once wrote something about doing a poem-a-day project a few months back? Do all poets do this a some point? I did the same thing a year-and-a-half ago and went for 60 days then, as well. Do you have a poem-a-day story? I’m curious. Tell me.

Last night I looked over my document, and it felt like looking at sediment in drill ice. I can feel the way my daily project went into and out of what I was reading and experiencing, through little groups of poems. Like looking at studies for paintings. What a pleasant way to be crazy, I thought.

I was worried this last weekend that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it, as I was visiting South Bend, and I’ve begun to lean very heavily on my workspace here. I actually found, though, that the trip made me even more productive. I was able to steep in their hospitality and positive energy, everything from putting me up in the Bronte room of a local Bed & Breakfast, to one of those kitchen conversations I so enjoy (you know the kind, where we talk about writers we admire, and jobs and experiences, and where I get to work in a Neil Young reference).

While there, I picked up the university journal, Analecta, which was impressive. As were the editors. Special thanks to Neil Kelly for hosting the party after the reading.

And then on Sunday, I had the opportunity to spend several hours kicking around South Bend with David Dodd Lee. If you ever get the chance to kick around South Bend with David Dodd Lee, I suggest you go for it.

I got bumped off my flight that night, but it ended up just fine, as I got to spend more time in a hotel and further airports, both of which I rather adore. I made it quite a bit of the way through the new Ashbery book, as well as David Berman’s Actual Air, which David Dodd Lee suggested I get, and I’m glad he did.

So now I’m back in Maryville, much the richer for it. “It” meaning a generalized, referring to the whole thing kind of it.

What next? Oberlin, then Cleveland again, and then off to New York City with C. Dale Young. I’m greatly looking forward.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

John Ashbery - Old-Style Plentiful

I tend to get over-enthusiastic when new things by poets (musicians, etc) I follow come out, so I will have to revisit what I’m about to say in a few months, but, that said, the new book by John Ashbery is perhaps his best book in twenty years. He has all of his conversational strength here, but he’s able to focus it down much more tightly than usual. What this yields is a book of, by and large, shorter poems with shorter lines, and more imaginatively centered. His aesthetic, and his imagination, are still ranging and encompassing, but here, in A Worldly Country, he’s playing it more unified, and the outcome is as focused, and powerful, as his poetry’s ever been.

Here’s a poem. See what you think.

John Ashbery
Old-Style Plentiful

I guess what I’m saying is
don’t be more passive aggressive
or purposefully vague than you have to
to clinch the argument. Once that
happens you can forget the context
and try some new bathos, some severity
not seen in you till now. Did they
send the news of you? Were you forthcoming
in your replies? It’s so long ago
now, yet some of it makes sense, like
why were we screwing around in the first place?
Cannily you looked on from the wings,
finger raised to lips, as the old actor
slogged through the lines he’s reeled off
so many times, not even thinking
if they are tangential to the way we
slouch now. So many were so wrong
about practically everything, it scarcely seems
to matter, yet something does,
otherwise everything would be death.

Up in the clouds they were singing
O Promise Me to the birches, who replied in kind.
Rivers kind of poured over where
we had been sitting, and the breeze made as though
not to notice any unkindness, the light too
pretended nothing was wrong, or that
it was all going to be OK some day.
And yes, we were drunk on love.
That sure was some summer.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Happy 420

For all those for whom such things are of interest: Happy 420. Celebrate responsibly.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Edge / The Center / Vonnegut

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”

—Kurt Vonnegut

Yes, but what is “the edge”? How each artist will define this is up to the artist. The edge of thinking. The edge of experience. The edge of life. The edge of sexuality. The edge of good taste. The edge of tasting good. Desire. On the edge of desire I will stand and reach one hand. The edge of reason.

And what view is gained from the edge? The edge that looms over the unexplored, the wild. Where there be dragons. Yes. And danger to some aspect of who we are, or thought we were.

And what is the center, then? Obviously, it’s the comfort zone. The wise thing said from long experience. The edge is not a place of long experience. The edge necessitates travel. The center abides. And abiding is what we want for ourselves most days . . . but where is the living in that? Can one live as a lion and as a lamb?

And from the edge we take a bit of that energy back to the center, because we cannot live on the edge. We don’t build our homes on the edge, or we shouldn’t. We build our homes in the protected center, where we hang pictures over our couches of the edge.

And what is the edge for our great 20th Century poets? Yeats? Stevens? The bird singing in the palm at the end of the mind? And Dickinson?

And now, in 2007, where is the edge for us? Is there anything left to us that isn’t already the center? Is the center accessibility? Is the edge the border of inaccessibility? Where we’re called to, and warned from?

And how to go there? And how to return? How to return with some of the real of having been there, of stealing some of the edge back to the center? Is it a gesture? A manner of engagement? Or is it a real and physical movement. Remember John Barr wants poets to go hunt wild game in Africa. Is that the edge, or the cartoon of the edge?

Am I on the edge right now? It doesn’t feel like it. I’ll try later. Go stand on my porch. The edge of withdrawal. The edge of distance. Maybe I’ll text someone.

It’s a condemnation of complacency, isn’t it, this call to the edge? But it’s also a warning against staying on the edge. Going over is not healthy. Of course. But neither is the slow death of the center. Of petrifaction.

And it’s an easy metaphor, in the end. Easy to twist to our benefit. And we can make of it what we want. One can treat it like tourism, perhaps. Or treat it like colonization, perhaps. So that for one the edge becomes so easy to navigate it's just another word for the center.

Make it new, right? Make it a new edge then?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007

Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday at 84
I haven't kept up with Vonnegut's work for quite some time. But back when I first started reading books on my own, 1975 or so, Vonnegut was one of my favorites. At that time it was mostly due to the fact that I was young, and his books had what I thought of as "dirty" parts . . . but it's his antic nature of dealing with real questions that made him one of my favorites. I miss those times of constant discovery. See ya, Kilgore. So it goes.
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at age 84

By CRISTIAN SALAZAR, Associated Press Writer
Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died Wednesday. He was 84.

Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

The author of at least 19 novels, many of them best-sellers, as well as dozens of short stories, essays and plays, Vonnegut relished the role of a social critic. Indianapolis, his hometown, declared 2007 as "The Year of Vonnegut" — an announcement he said left him "thunderstruck."
He lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people.

"I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations," Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater as transparent vehicles for his points of view. He also filled his novels with satirical commentary and even drawings that were only loosely connected to the plot. In "Slaughterhouse-Five," he drew a headstone with the epitaph: "Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

But much in his life was traumatic, and left him in pain.

Despite his commercial success, Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job.

"I think he was a man who combined a wicked sense of humor and sort of steady moral compass, who was always sort of looking at the big picture of the things that were most important," said Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, a liberal magazine based in Chicago that featured Vonnegut articles.

His mother killed herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs created a firestorm that killed an estimated tens of thousands of people.

"The firebombing of Dresden explains absolutely nothing about why I write what I write and am what I am," Vonnegut wrote in "Fates Worse Than Death," his 1991 autobiography of sorts.
But he spent 23 years struggling to write about the ordeal, which he survived by huddling with other POW's inside an underground meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five.

The novel, in which Pvt. Pilgrim is transported from Dresden by time-traveling aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, was published at the height of the Vietnam War, and solidified his reputation as an iconoclast.

"He was sort of like nobody else," said Gore Vidal, who noted that he, Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were among the last writers around who served in World War II.

"He was imaginative; our generation of writers didn't go in for imagination very much. Literary realism was the general style. Those of us who came out of the war in the 1940s made it sort of the official American prose, and it was often a bit on the dull side. Kurt was never dull."

Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, a "fourth-generation German-American religious skeptic Freethinker," and studied chemistry at Cornell University before joining the Army.

When he returned, he reported for Chicago's City News Bureau, then did public relations for General Electric, a job he loathed. He wrote his first novel, "Player Piano," in 1951, followed by "The Sirens of Titan," "Canary in a Cat House" and "Mother Night," making ends meet by selling Saabs on Cape Cod.

Critics ignored him at first, then denigrated his deliberately bizarre stories and disjointed plots as haphazardly written science fiction. But his novels became cult classics, especially "Cat's Cradle" in 1963, in which scientists create "ice-nine," a crystal that turns water solid and destroys the earth.

Many of his novels were best-sellers. Some also were banned and burned for suspected obscenity. Vonnegut took on censorship as an active member of the PEN writers' aid group and the American Civil Liberties Union. The American Humanist Association, which promotes individual freedom, rational thought and scientific skepticism, made him its honorary president.
His characters tended to be miserable anti-heros with little control over their fate. Vonnegut said the villains in his books were never individuals, but culture, society and history, which he said were making a mess of the planet.

"We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard... and too damn cheap," he once suggested carving into a wall on the Grand Canyon, as a message for flying-saucer creatures.

He retired from novel writing in his later years, but continued to publish short articles. He had a best-seller in 2005 with "A Man Without a Country," a collection of his nonfiction work, including jabs at the Bush administration ("upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography") and the uncertain future of the planet.

He called the book's success "a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life."

In recent years, Vonnegut worked as a senior editor and columnist at In These Times. Bleifuss said he had been trying to get Vonnegut to write something more for the magazine, but was unsuccessful.

"He would just say he's too old and that he had nothing more to say. He realized, I think, he was at the end of his life," Bleifuss said.

Vonnegut, who had homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons in New York, adopted his sister's three young children after she died. He also had three children of his own with his first wife, Ann Cox, and later adopted a daughter, Lily, with his second wife, the noted photographer Jill Krementz.

Vonnegut once said that of all the ways to die, he'd prefer to go out in an airplane crash on the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. He often joked about the difficulties of old age.

"When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more like a semicolon," Vonnegut told The Associated Press in 2005.

"My father, like Hemingway, was a gun nut and was very unhappy late in life. But he was proud of not committing suicide. And I'll do the same, so as not to set a bad example for my children."
Associated Press writers Michael Warren, Hillel Italie and Chelsea Carter contributed to this report.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Standards of Excellence: Accessibility?

Jeff Koons, Mound of Flowers
Standards of excellence?

Written about Paul Zimmer:

“Who else writes poems as accessible and conveys our common stumbling with such understanding and forgiveness?” (Brendan Galvin)

Now, I don’t have anything against Zimmer or Galvin, but I’m still wondering why the first thing a lot of people are writing in blurbs these days is “accessible.”

Why is “accessible” this great word to help sell a book?

And what does it mean, really? Who is and who is not accessible?

I think about this a lot when looking at, thinking about art. Is Rothko accessible? “Like television for Zen Buddhists,” is how it’s been described. I suppose the answer is no.

Is Jeff Koons’ work accessible?

(WARNING: most of the images in the above series are pornographic. Mound of Flowers, is not representative, except metaphorically. Ahem.)

Well, yes, in its way. If revealing all is the same as accessibility. If kitsch and pornography is accessible. But doesn’t accessibility contain its own questions? Like “why is this being depicted?” Like “Why am I being told these things?” Is there anything that is really accessible, then?

I think the notion of accessibility is a fabrication. And it seems particularly suited to discussions of poetry. I wish we’d stop talking like this.

In other thoughts. It seems to me so odd and interesting that in the art world, some of the biggest names, and most expensive works, are the most transgressive, while in poetry it seems just the opposite is the case.

Oh well. (As I’m really not much of a transgressive sort anyway, and I rather dislike Koons’ work, except metaphorically.)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

2007 Midwest Chapbook Series Award

The Laurel Review / GreenTower Press

The 2007 Midwest Chapbook Series Award

Final Judge: Ray Gonzalez

The contest is open to anyone who is living in, from, or closely associated with the Midwest, excluding close friends and former students of the editors, as well as employees and students of Northwest Missouri State University.

· 20-30 pages (typed, single-sided, one poem per page).
· Individual poems may have been previously published. You may include an acknowledgements page if you wish, though one is not required.
· Include two cover pages: one with title only, the other with name, address, email address, manuscript title, and a short note establishing your connection to the Midwest.
· Your name should ONLY appear on the cover page, which the staff will keep on file. Manuscripts will be read blind.
· Reading period opens March 1 and ends May 15, 2007. Late entries will be returned unread.
· $10.00 reading fee. Please make checks payable to GreenTower Press. Reading fee gets you a one year subscription to The Laurel Review, starting with the summer 2007 issue.
· Entries will be judged by the editors of The Laurel Review along with the outside judge.
· The winning chapbook will be published in an edition of 300 copies. Winner will receive one hundred copies. Additional copies offered at 40% off the list price.
· Winner also will also be invited to give a reading as part of Northwest Missouri State University’s Visiting Writers series, which includes an honorarium of $500.00.
· All entries will be considered for publication in The Laurel Review.
· Winner will be notified by email or telephone, and will be announced on our website ( in July, 2007.
· If you’d like an acknowledgement of receipt send a SASP; please do not send a SASE.

The 2006 Midwest Chapbook Series Award winner, chosen by Reginald Shepherd
Instructions for a Painting, by Molly Brodak
Coming in April 2007

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

Please send your entry to:

GreenTower Press / Midwest Chapbook Series Award
Department of English
Northwest Missouri State University
Maryville, MO 64468

Questions may be addressed to the editors of The Laurel Review at:

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hurt - Kermit the Frog

Define the tone.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gerald Stern on Corruption in the World of Poetry

from Number Your Answers: An Interview with Gerald Stern
Lia Purpura
March/April 2007

Stern: . . . But at the same time there is so much corruption in the world of poetry. I guess there’s corruption in every world, but I’m embarrassed by it. Because poetry is holy, and we confound it with corruption—and there isn’t even much money involved. If you want to make money, go out and make real money, not be a famous poet. I guess it doesn’t behoove me to get into details, but I watch the careers of people who start magazines and, typically, get people to do favors, who scratch backs, who write letters—and I get a lot of these letters—who are relentless, and finally they make the connections, and get their books published. They do it endlessly! Do I talk about this too much?

When I lived in western Pennsylvania, we had rats in the cellar. We couldn’t get rid of those fucking rats, and we had to move away. We gave the house to the rats. Some of us have to move away from the house of poetry because the smell of rats is, as they say in French, partout. Everywhere. It’s absolutely revolting. I’m in my last decade, or next to last decade… I don’t how long I’m going to live… I watch this, and I know all the moves that people make but it does poetry no good. Why don’t we say anything to each other? Why don’t we say, “Shame! Shame!” Does nobody say, “The emperor has no clothes.” Am I the only one who says it? You say it, too, I know. All right, go ahead, next question. Enough of that.


If it were up to me, I'd ask Stern to go back to this little bit and be more specific as to his actual complaint here. I have to admit I’m not sure to whom he’s specifically referring with the rant about journal editors writing him letters, but whomever it is, I’m glad to know not to send him one. On the other hand, I’ve sent out plenty of letters and emails to poets, and the goal has not been for me to publish a book. The goal has been for those poets to send poems to The Laurel Review for consideration.

I mean, who wouldn’t want a poem by Charles Wright or Jean Valentine?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fools kicks of National Poetry Month!

So anyway, I signed up for the Academy of American Poets poem a day email for April, thinking it was going to be Wordsworth, or somesuch. I was happy to see they're going a contemporary route with it. (Poem-a-Day: A new poem in your inbox every day to celebrate National Poetry Month. Sign up for a daily dose of new work from John Ashbery, Eavan Boland, Henri Cole, Grace Schulman, Kevin Young, Carl Dennis, and many more.)

Today's poem is from Noah Eli Gordon, with a poem from A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow, just published by New Issues Press.

An exact comprehension of the composer’s intent

by Noah Eli Gordon

Cloudless sky, a tendril root, a chord begun
as unfolding duration & one’s lost words,
a red lexicon, an empty definition

gathering its discourse—the flow from content
to perception: language is a translation of grace.
Say the body, say the heart, a composition in blue,

the passing energy, cell, motion, inevitability;
an impact until meaning wears through
the mind’s opulence, its spindle—a white thread.

Tethered to conviction, one says moon, one, emotion
—the recurrence of night: a door will open,
shifting from anonymity to intellection—a translation

of sight with speech, awoken not by voice
but what precedes it: the worldliness, wordless;
a measure of sound or movement to song.