Thursday, May 31, 2007

Heading into the Country Feedback

I'm going to Louisville for a week or so, and I'll leave the blog with one of the best songs and performances of all time. There's a tone that R.E.M. is able to capture that stands alone in contemporary music. Leonard Cohen is able to go there, from a different direction. Enough said.

R.E.M. "Country Feedback"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Desire The Stance Build Yourself Wings The Poem

Wings of Desire

Perhaps that’s all there is,
wings of desire: the girl
on the swing, and what the dead are up to
this year.

And when we do these things,
it’s a gesture. It’s the trees

and sometimes sun.

“Art is beautiful but it is hard, like a religion without a purpose.”

Well, that presupposes that religions actually have a purpose beyond the purposeless purpose of art, of which, personally, I’ve yet to be fully convinced.

But, taken on (ahem) faith, there’s still this other question, “hard” in what way specifically? The need to constantly create? The need to constantly push against some boundary of some sort? the constraints of echoes that surround all new art? The need to encounter the presence, the IS, but to allow desire, the reality, to rise? Perhaps all these, and more?

It's kind of a brainstorm, perhaps, but instead of trying to compose a poem, I’m wondering if it might be profitable to think about it as composing a stance, some hypothetical (possibly real and believed as well) way the world beings itself forth. In this contemplating of the stance, it’s not the object, not the thing itself, that’s the question, but the positioning of the artist in relation to all things in the presence of the object, the thing itself, that forms the poem, so that the poet is already half ready to compose the poem, as the stance and the world are already in play, just waiting for the object to arrive. Perhaps, in this conceptualizing of it, sentences and poems will come more readily, unbidden even. It's the project of being rather than of a trying to write poems.

Is there any clarity to this? I don’t know. I’ve always thought of the THING as paramount, and that the poem begins in attention, in attending, the thing. I still do think this, but perhaps, rather than thinking of the attention toward the thing, perhaps what I should be thinking more about is the preparation of the artist to receive the thing. Ok, so I was raised Catholic, what can I say.

“I don't develop; I am.”
—Pablo Picasso

“I produce music as an apple tree produces apples.”

According to Picasso and Saint-Stevens, it seems the artist should not try, but be, so that the artist embodies the art. It’s always conceptual, in this way. It’s always periods, seasons, and it’s rarely what we say it is when we speak about it. It’s really about creating a metaphor for our primary relation to it. Where “it” is always indeterminate.

To the tree, the apples are not a question, they simply are. It seems a beautiful almost one-ness, so there is no question of attending, as the attending is a natural outcome of one being fully who one is, in and with, the world.

“The artist need not know very much; best of all let him work instinctively and paint as naturally as he breathes or walks.”

So then it’s a call away from intention and even attention, and toward the body and the livingness of the artist. The being in the world, and the totality of the possible. But how can the artist be ready for totality when the artist is always going to be only capable of what the artist is capable of?

“The nature of the work is to prepare for a good accident.”

Because we’re really just looking to position ourselves for a happy accident. Because if what the artist produces is from the planning mind of the artist it will not rise above what the artist knows. The little the artist knows will become all there is, then, and the work will be unable to be more than the artist. Are these contradictory impulses, the “apple tree” above and the “good accident” here?

“Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
—Howard Aiken

“The triumph of anything is a matter of organization.”

“Sanity is perhaps the ability to punctuate.”

That seems a healthy mixture of the two impulses. One doesn’t reductively plan, one produces art like an apple tree produces apples, while hoping for the good accident, the mistake that is more than what the artist brings to the composition, and then the artist must be positioned to understand what has just happened, the artist must organize the accident back into the artist’s conception. And the form, the punctuation, brings the thinking mind, the sanity, back to the accidents, which allows for this next thing to make sense, both for the artist and the person receiving the art:

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

But practically, though, what is to be taught in such an economy of apples and accidents? How does one cultivate a stance, and what is a stance anyway? This idea that keeps creeping up around art, this finding and losing at the same time (or better, losing and finding at the same time, but perhaps that's splittinf hairs) sounds nice, but what do we actually take back to the composition from it? Is this just another way of saying that we should strive for the accident (getting lost) and the unification of composition (being found)?

I suppose, together, we're called to a place, a stance, or the getting to a place or stance, where whatever one does is art, through a certain attention to collage, through chance operations, through the happy accidents of context and random selection perhaps, if not to become the art, to at least texture or influence the art.

“Which country is real, mine or the teacher's? My wish is that we might progressively lose our confidence in what we think we believe and the things we consider stable and secure, in order to remind ourselves of the infinite number of things still waiting to be discovered.”

“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.”

So we often say things like, “Art cannot be taught but it must be learned,” etc. When what we really mean is, “I’m really not sure how it all works but I sure do like sitting around talking about art all day and getting paid for it.” Maybe it’s as simple as saying that we can teach the forms of art all day, but if you’re not getting the stance, the learned / unlearned stance, the Apollonian / Dionysian stance, or the wallowing in uncertainties stance, whatever, the forms will have nothing to hold onto. It’s this half-goofy, half-religious, stance that allows for the productivity of learning to unlearn.

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

“I'm afraid that if my devils leave me, my angels will take flight as well.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

And then we have the life surrounding the stance, the artist perusing obsessions. The artist, in preparing a stance of open possibility, who is aware that any “no,” healthy as it may be to the life, is anathema to the art. How valid is this? How open should our open possibilities remain? At the very least, this seems true to me:

“Talent's like a baby. Wrap it up in wool and it goes to sleep.”
—Oscar Levant

And there’s a wrapped in wool aspect to a lot of our lives. How hard should we be on talent? How many demons and angels should we wish upon ourselves and each other? Perhaps no more than each of us already has, but, rather than ignore them, as we’re taught to do, we could word them. If that might be the case, what do we have, or what can we have, to bring to the art?

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.”

So one is to be in constant awareness of one’s life, one must attend one’s life, but what does this mean, really? Certainly not simply the facts of one’s life. Facts are as cheap as the visible. Facts are not reality, they are just the trace reality leaves in passing. So what is it one must attend? This seems to be an integral unifying force to the stance. It is the experience of living a life that brings the apples and accidents under one umbrella. That makes them coherent.

There is, therefore, no such thing as inspiration in this way of conceiving of things. There is no pool you draw from, as pools imply depletion and recuperation, and in this conception, the only lessening would be when one stops the unifying of apples and accidents, when one feels one has answered something, when one feels these are no longer open questions. The fear is becoming one who stays at home in mind and spirit:

“There are so many dreams beyond your night, and so much sunshine beyond your grey walls. But you can't see it because you stay at home. There is so much sky above your roof. Is your door so old that it won't open, or are you staying at home because you're afraid of catching a chill.”

On the other side of this equation then, is the conception of the fearless artist:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Is the fearless artist a cliché? And since we’re dealing with Anais Nin, is courage equated with sex? That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But the courage seems to be less about the sex itself, the tying someone down with neckties, than it does the writing about it. The courage is less about action in life than it is action on paper. Hopefully we’re all courageous in life already. It makes for a more interesting world that way, as it bangs along. And if one can imagine it, why not imagine it? But artists go further than this:

“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”

Ah, Rumi, what a punk. But why is it that this sort of advice keeps popping up? How closely do artists align the possible to do with the possible to say or depict? Or, in another way, what is the possible artistic benefit in destroying one’s reputation, of being notorious? Is this simply a call to be restless, or is this a call to truly live a dangerous personal life?

Do artists let themselves off the hook too easily with conceptualizations such as this? Is too much freedom too much freedom? Where is the control in all this?

“Each one of us, in his timidity, has a limit beyond which he is outraged. It is inevitable that he who by concentrated application has extended this limit for himself, should arouse the resentment of those who have accepted conventions which, since accepted by all, require no initiative of application. And this resentment generally takes the form of meaningless laughter or of criticism, if not persecution. But this apparent violation is preferable to the monstrous habits condoned by etiquette and estheticism.”

It’s about limits and outrage. I can see that. Art is never (at least that I can think of) outrageous or aggressive. It doesn’t actually reach out and punch you. It’s the person receiving it that invests it with the power to be aggressive or outrageous. So what should we, as artists, strive to do? Should we really go live in a dangerous place and do outrageous things? For me, this has more to do with the conventions of thought and expression than it does with actual behavior. Still, I suppose I’ve been mildly scandalous from time to time, as we all have been, or are. But mostly I just sit here writing. This always makes me think of Wallace Stevens, the poster child for an extreme imagined existence and the ultimate in safe, comfortable, reduced of possibility personal lives. His work though, is a constant attempt, a constant wording of his desire to live in the abstract, futile and beautiful as that is. His limits were existence itself.

But if one can’t conceive of breaking limits, then it’s possible that one’s art will be reduced by cultural norms. This much seems reasonable. Art is a field of possibility, and to limit that possibility by proper behavior, damages the possibility of art. As they’re always saying, the outrageous of one age is the norm of another. So maybe artists conflate the life of creation with the living life a bit too much, but I’d rather err on the side of bad behavior than be reduced by convention.

What do you say let’s all go do something scandalous then? Meet me by the water tower at midnight. Bring a typewriter and a bottle of vodka. Wear nothing but a smile. Forget the paper, I’m crazy about you.

“Lesson Six: Build Yourself Wings. Fly straight ahead. Walk a straight line. Visit. Leave a special sign on the door. Make a gift of words. Mark your path with books. With clothes. With food. Join two distant places. Two rocks. Two people. Bridge a river. Build a city of sand. Raise up a mound.”

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another Bank of Clouds

This boat doesn't go anywhere. It just stays here.

You can enjoy your time.

I certainly didn't know that.

The sun is gone but there's a little bit of blue.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Desire Love The Visible Reality The Poem

Desire as a creative force and love as a maintaining force . . . I enjoy conceptualizing things in such ways.

I hope this is helpful, or at least interesting. It will be in two parts. This is part one. Part two, if it ever actually happens, will be later. I, perhaps rashly, put in a course title for this coming fall, which is Poetry As Mystery, now I’m trying to work up how I will actually present such an unwieldy thing. I’m brainstorming.

I’m interested, currently, less in the compositional process from blank paper, than I am the compositional process of revision. That seems to me a profitable place to think about mystery. It’s obvious that there’s mystery to a blank piece of paper, but usually in the revision process we hear words like “clarity,” etc. “Clarity” is a great word, as it reveals “clarity of design,” but I think rather than that, “clarity” usually gets reduced to “Make it Clear” in the Lowest Common Denominator of public speech sort of way. “Make it Clear?” I look around me, and, though the images of the yard are “clear,” they are not in any way “clearly meaning” one thing, they simply are, and in their beingness, they contain large amounts of mystery. Mystery of human interaction, mystery of simply being there at all. So how does one keep oneself open to such mystery, without it being a trick or a who-done-it? Or, equally problematic, how to factor in the true difficulty of being without falling into aphasia? The two sides equally threaten, as one tries to negotiate, in some honest way, the mystery inherent in living.

If the primary composition of a poem is a journey of discovery, then, in some ways, revision (though still hopefully discovering things along the way) is more concerned with setting the poem, with maintaining the poem. Desire & love, perhaps. In this way, it’s interesting to think about what the world is, or how the world reveals itself to artists, so that whatever discovery or journey the poem has taken, or is taking, can be placed back into that world, to become a full thing of that world, not simply an image of it, or a reflection of it.

Toward that, what I’m going to do is to link together many statements on the artistic impulse, and then try to talk my way through them. My hope is that what rises is a general sense of the thing, and not one directed to one way of actually producing an art object, so that I may get something of the stance for as many possible manifestations of art as I can. This, therefore, will be rather general, but it’s the gesture in which I’m interested, not necessarily the end product. Not what to write, but how the action occurs. I’m not sure of it’s going to work.

So how does the world manifest itself, generally, to artists? For me, the primary method poems have of composing themselves is through the visual. There are other ways to think of this, but for me the visual is convenient, as it allows me to use many quotes from visual artists, who are, by and large, very good on this subject.


“The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.”
—Lucian Freud

So what is “real” is something more than what is visible. I think we’d all agree with that to some degree. But then:

“There comes a moment... When imagination gives out and Reality leaps forth. It is frightful!”
—Edgar, in Strindberg, Dance of Death.

So what is this fright? This fright of the primary encounter with “Reality” after one has taken “the visible” into one’s imagination? This moment of discovering the first cause. So one looks at one’s poem and one asks it questions, through looking at an object (define it your way), abstracted into the imagination until “Reality” leaps forth. So one writes something that gives one the shock of the new reality, and asks, “OK, so I’ve said this thing, in what way does it relate to turning back to the world?” Is this a primary encounter or am I just making things up? And in what way is it more than just “the visible” reflected? Where is the essence?

“What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things . . . it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.”

But yet the visible is the base, here. And upon this we have to conduct, to reveal, a reality. So when we’re looking at our poems we have to ask if the images we’re presenting are allowing the base of the visible to become reality. Distorted from the simply visible then, into the essence of something more.

“That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity — that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”

And what is the distortion? It’s the mystery of being in time that we bring to what is flat to our eyes. It is the essence that comes to us in competing waves from the simply seen. It is the words themselves, and the denotative and connotative aspects of those words that arrive in competing waves with that to which the words refer. And in this way, I think, it becomes a project of inscribing the world back onto the world, by flaring it back up into its existence.

“The visible is how we orient ourselves. It remains our principal source of information about the world. Painting reminds us of what is absent. What we don’t see anymore.”

So perhaps it’s only a distortion because we’ve allowed ourselves to become complacent with the world we inhabit. We’ve worn our seeing into the taken for granted, so that the artist must reintroduce us to ourselves. It’s as true for poets as it is for painters. So perhaps “distortion” doesn’t bend away from reality as it bends away from the visual, but toward a higher reality, some essence of things. So that this next movement is possible, or potential:

“There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.”
—Pablo Picasso

Is this true? That the world we possibly see becomes that world through the mediation of it having been inscribed by one’s imagination? It’s our conceptions of the thing (through attention to the visible) that become the thing? In physics it’s called the observer effect, I believe. So we take this back to our poems, right? This tension between the visible and that which we intuitively feel must be within it. Even the Imagists had to admit that much. So then we revise, and we want to revise toward reality, toward the mystery that is living in the world. And we have to be reminded of this:

“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

And so we revise toward images that reveal more than what they simply present. And this is, finally a tonal issue. What is the feel of the thing? How is it meaning itself? Images that arrive in their reverberations, so that the poem will have a balance between Image & Disclosure. Image=The thing seen. Disclosure=The thing said.

And this journey of attending the visible so that it turns wobbly until it snaps back into clarity transformed into Reality will take a different spin for each of us, as we attend with different, though hopefully complementary, imaginations, because the fullness of being in time has to be larger than that one poem or painting, but that one poem or painting, can, as a prism, suggest that fullness.

That sounds like a worthy goal, and a decent way of conceptualizing it, but, I have to admit, on a daily basis, more than a little daunting. Anyway, we still have our goals, and the desire that is the creative force and the love that is the maintaining force to help us toward those goals.

That. Or something like that.

Friday, May 25, 2007

It is the celestial ennui of apartments . . .

John DeAndrea, Female Figures

In art, desire seems to trump love, doesn’t it? What is there to say about that? Oh well. Desire is a wonderful thing. It’s the creative force. Love is the maintaining force. Artists will always revert to the creative force. And why not? The only thing artists owe us is art.

It is the celestial ennui of apartments
That sends us back to the first idea, the quick
Of this invention; and yet so poisonous

Are the ravishments of truth, so fatal to
The truth itself, the first idea becomes
The hermit in a poet’s metaphors,

Who comes and goes and comes and goes all day.
May there be an ennui of the first idea?
What else, prodigious scholar, should there be?

The monastic man is an artist. The philosopher
Appoints man’s place in music, say, today.
But the priest desires. The philosopher desires.

And not to have is the beginning of desire.
To have what is not is its ancient cycle.
It is desire at the end of winter, when

It observes the effortless weather turning blue
And sees the myosotis on its bush.
Being virile, it hears the calendar hymn.

It knows that what it has is what is not
And throws it away like a thing of another time,
As morning throws off stale moonlight and shabby sleep.

--Wallace Stevens

Or, in another way, one of my favorites:

Bill Knott
(POEM) (CHICAGO) (1967)

If you remember this poem after reading it
Please go to Lincoln Park the corner of Dickens Street and sit
On the bench there where M. and I kissed one night for a few minutes
It was wonderful even if you forget

Well, was it?

Marcel Duchamp : was this the defining work of the 20th Century?
John Gallaher : Only yes or no answers are allowed.

I have nothing to say and I'm saying it and that is poetry

This morning I was looking around on the web for stuff on Cage & Duchamp (above), and came across a page of helpful quotes. I found many of them to be quite nice, and on art, so I’m reproducing those here.

The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.
--Lucian Freud

Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.
--James Russell Lowell

You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
--Mark Twain

The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.
--Abraham Lincoln

I'm afraid that if my devils leave me, my angels will take flight as well.
--Rainer Maria Rilke

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.
--Henri Matisse

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.
--T. E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia

...the neurotic is nailed to the cross of his fiction.
--Alfred Adler

I have nothing to say And I'm saying it And that is poetry
--John Cage

Someone once asked me where I lived and I said, 'On the periphery'
--Oscar Levant

Talent's like a baby. Wrap it up in wool and it goes to sleep.
--Oscar Levant

I don't develop; I am.
--Pablo Picasso

There comes a moment... When imagination gives out and Reality leaps forth. It is frightful!
--Edgar, in Strindberg, Dance of Death.

Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.
--James Joyce

Life is given to painful awareness. Now is the task to endure.
--Rod Milgate, from Pictures At An Exhibition.

I do feel like a fraud a lot of the time because I've never been interested in people who say 'I'm a writer', 'I'm an artist'. Too much is made of the role and not enough of the work. We are such a celebrity-driven age and a status-driven age, that the status becomes more important than the actual work.
--Richard Flanagan, 1996

I would rather have torment than annihilation. If I was in hell, I would always feel I had a chance of escaping.
--Francis Bacon

It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure.
--Oscar Wilde

There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.
--Pablo Picasso

A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.
--Abraham Maslow

Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
--Howard Aiken

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What was the number one song on the day you were born?

1965 ... "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles

This was the Billboard number one song on the day I was born. Aw shucks. I have to admit, that’s pretty cool.

Here’s the website you can check to see what the Billboard number one song was for any date for which you might be interested.

Poetry Books of 2007 & Bob Dylan is 66

First off: May 24, 1941 . . . Happy birthday Bob Dylan . . .
Poetry Books of 2007
I've started making a list of the books of 2007 that I've purchased. It's already turning out to be a big year for new poetry purchases (this isn't counting the many books I've missed in years past that I'm just now buying).

John Ashbery, Worldly Country
Donald Revell, Theif of Strings
Zachary Schomburg, The Man Suit
Paige Ackerson-Kiely, In No One's Land
Jaswinder Bolina, Carrier Wave
Rae Armantrout, Next Life
Reginald Shepherd, Fata Morgana
Charles Wright, Littlefoot
Joshua Kryah, Glean
Hadara Bar-Nadav, A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight
Matthew Cooperman (2006), DAZE
Cole Swensen, The Glass Age
Nancy Kuhl, The Wife of the Left Hand
Albert Goldbarth, The Kitchen Sink
Michael Dumanis, My Soviet Union
John Koethe, Sally's Hair
Rebecca Aronson, Creature, Creature
Steve Fellner, Blind Date with Cavafy
Matthew Rohrer, Rise Up
C. Dale Young, The Second Person
Forrest Hamer, Rift
Ellen Dudley, The Geographic Cure
Terri Ford, Hams Beneath the Firmament
Sam Witt, Sunflower Brother
Rebecca Aronson, Creature, Creature
Mary Biddinger, Prairie Fever
Laure-Anne Bosselaar, A New Hunger
Suzanne Cleary, Trick Pear
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Becoming the Villainess
Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North
Henrietta Goodman, Take What You Want

And I’ve also purchased many copies of my own book, of course, so I'll add it to the list:
John Gallaher, The Little Book of Guesses

Currently I'm going through Revell's Theif of Strings for the first time, and enjoying it quite a bit. My imagination is still reeling from Ashbery's Worldly Country, though, so I might have to go back and re-read it soon.

In other news, there are several close friends of mine (who are also exceptional poets) on this list, so I’m very glad I don’t have to give out any awards this year. Whew, dodged that bullet. But I do want to mention three books that made a very strong impression on me, by poets I’d not known before:

Jaswinder Bolina, Carrier Wave
Paige Ackerson-Kiely, In No One's Land
Zachary Schomburg, The Man Suit

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Do You Realize??

Is it the second question mark that does it? Or is it all the smiling and crying? Or is it that there's a sleepy beauty to your face that I find so beautiful I just don't know what to do? (Or is it the tone created by the direct address?)

There's something about this song, and this video, that just seems perfect. The Flaming Lips had me a long time ago though, when, nearly 20 years ago, I first heard "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain," with the lyric: "I was born on the day they shot a hole in the Jesus egg." How could you not love a band that comes up with lyrics like that?

Here's a poem to go along with it, one of my favorites:



One night,
when you return to your childhood
home after

a lifetime away,
you'll find it
abandoned. Its

paint will be
completely weathered.

It will have
a significant westward lean.

There will be
a hole in its roof
that bats fly
out of.

The old man
hunched over
at the front door
will be prepared
to give you a tour,
but first he'll ask
Scary, or no scary?

You should say
No scary.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Interpreting the World

"The true materialistic interpretation of the world cannot exclude the one who reports it."

-Paul Eluard

I feel like goin' back

Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I'm overcome by the field of time, as it unfolds less and less as we get older and our questions stop being so open . . . I'm just about the age Neil Young was when he made this video, and I understand there's always this blur to wanting, and a sympathetic nostalgia, back where there's nowhere to stay.

See the sky about to rain? Rain all over you?


Thief of Strings, Donald Revell.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Gestures of Speaking & of Meaning-making

The poem as a gesture of its speaking and the gesture of its meaning-making?

So how is composing a poem like talking to someone? Seriously, and for real, and not in the Ted Kooser way, with his faux-genial pretense? This has been at the very heart of what I've been grappling with recently. How are these sentences trying to do something and how are they trying not to do something? Right? I mean, if we mostly don't understand each other in regular conversation, how much more difficult must talking through art be? So why would anyone try? But then again, we are really just talking to each other, aren't we? So? What do we, as artists, really do with this IS / ISN’T of language as communicative tool?

I'm vexed by communication (in all contexts, usually). I don't know if this means anything much to anyone else, but one of the things I really like about some poems is how they come to inhabit their speaking, and if that’s a profitable way of looking at poetry, or some poetry, then this idea of composing by "what might I want to say to someone" might be profitable, at least for me, at least to get a thought started in the compositional process. But along with that goes the idea of the poem really just being about the action of the poem unfolding. Which is, the true subject of art is the process of the art getting made, right? The frame isn't about the art, the art is about the frame.

I love sentences like that, which is one of the main things I love about art, the way it inhabits the gesture of its meaning, but in the end for rather non-practical aims. But to say a word like “aims” means that there might BE an aim, and if so, a purpose. And the idea of a purpose flies directly against much of what I’ve used in my compositional practice. When poets talk about their “purpose” it usually leaves me reaching for a rope to hang myself.

And this other idea of purpose, the purpose toward the poem revealing the poem: how might the poem be about the poem unfolding? Ashbery seems to do this a lot in his work, and Michael Palmer, and, in the past, Jorie Graham, the way they have the gestures of “what’s going on here is” folded into the content of the poem unfolding. And of course, this gesture can be overused, and become as hollow as “Dear reader, oh woe is my poem unfolding,” but, I believe, all poets, to some degree, inhabit this gesture (though sometimes through a rather willed evasion of the gesture – which may be cheating on my part here I know), which is just the same conversational gesture we all inhabit with each other, right? “I’m the kind of person who…” or “what I mean here is.” It’s a gesture that’s as old as the invocation of the muses, isn’t it?

There’s a radical kind of ongoingness to this gesture (in its contemporary manifestation), this conversational and self-reflexive gesture. And there’s a terror in its existentialism, its constant passing of toll booths, and the way that there is a destination implied by it all, a totality, that could turn solipsistic way too easily (and often does, right?), but there’s also a way that some poets just play with it as a sort of juggling act without consequence, which becomes its own sort of solipsism.

This idea of conversational onoingness (I’m also thinking of Charles Wright here, and Martha Ronk) is fraught with real consequence, though at moments it often appears slight . . . and then another but, as in, if you look at any of our lives, slicing off a moment, chances are it’ll look rather slight (“life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” as John Lennon sang it). It’s a gesture into ongoingness. The whole becomes the one. (“They all sound the same. It’s all one song.” As Neil Young sang it).

What all this is leading up to I haven’t a clue, but it seems more about poetry than poems, more about a fidelity of attention to what words do and are, and less about making the one great poem that workshops seem hell bent on pointing us at. Donald Revell, at the panel on John Ashbery that I was on at AWP said, in answer to a question from Mark Halliday regarding the value judging of Ashbery’s individual poems, said, “I’m tired of great poems.”

There’s something in that that I deeply admire. It’s a throwing off of the impulse of the Grecian urn, and toward living the thing out. At some point, you just have to start talking. It sounds like freedom to me. I feel released from something I didn’t know I needed to be released from. And into talking, even if I don’t really have a clue what that is.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Poetry Daily Project & Random Photos of Poets

Here are some pictures that I had on my camera from my recent trip to NYC. I just feel like sharing this morning. I'm a giver, what can I say?

1) Matthew Thorburn, who made the trek over to the Bowery: Here's his blog for more.

2) Lytton Smith, who took some great pictures for me: For an interview and poem, go here.

3) Kathleen Ossip, author of The Search Engine. She has also just finished a new manuscript. You heard it here first.

4) Ryan Murphy, whose wonderful Down with the Ship has just been reprinted. Go here to find out more.

5) Sally Ball, who paid for the cab! Her book of poetry is Annus Mirabilis, go get it.

In other news:

Andrew Shields has an interesting poetry throw down going on over at his blog, check it out. I'm sure you'll do the right thing:

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reginald Shepherd's on Poetry Daily today

A friend of mine, yes, but I knew of his poetry before that, which is how we ended up meeting. Which brings to mind the topic of poets who are friends. Most every friend of mine who is a poet (except people I've met through school, I suppose), I first knew of through her or his poetry.

Seems there should be more of a comment I could make about that. Something about poet friends being different than other kinds of friends. But what are other kinds of friends like? I'm friendly with the guy across the street, Mark. But he plays the guitar, and we talk about music quite a lot. Does that make him a music friend, then, or does it just mean that we're friends with people with whom we share interests, and with whom we find it fun to talk? Well, obviously.

Well, nevermind, then, I guess there really isn't more of a comment to make. Oh well. Reginald's book is excellent. If you haven't gotten a copy yet, go to Poetry Daily and check out this poem, then go to and buy it. always has great deals. My book's something like $10.17 or something . . .

Today’s Poem

Eve's Awakeningby Reginald Shepherd
• from Fata Morgana
• University of Pittsburgh Press

Featured Poet

Reginald ShepherdReginald Shepherd is the author of four books of poetry: Otherhood, a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Wrong; Angel, Interrupted; and Some Are Drowning, winner of the Associated Writing Programs' Award.

Featured Book

Fata Morgana"Fata Morgana is a stunning collection by one of our most fiercely intelligent lyricists of myth and imagination.”—Bruce Beasley

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Coney Island in the Sun

Wandering NYC for five days with nothing to do until the evenings, I had the opportunity for several little walking trips. On the subway platform at Kings Highway, waiting for a connecting train down to Coney Island, I saw a guy getting arrested. It happened quickly.
Ah, New York. I went to High School out on Long Island, and hadn't been back to the area since. There's always something to see in New York.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

5 Songs

Gary McDowell tagged me to list five songs that knock my socks off.

Neil Young: Like a Hurricane
The Flaming Lips: Do You Realize??
Talking Heads: Heaven
Harry Nilsson: Everybody’s Talking
The Beatles: Tomorrow Never Knows

It seems the only time I ever tagged somone, they'd already been tagged. But I'll try it again with C. Dale Young, Matthew Thorburn, and Mary Biddinger.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Shipwrecked House

Well, oh well. It seems I've returned home to a very wet Missouri. The close to nine inches of rain that fell on my house were a bit too much for the basement, it seems. I'll be scraping up and sneezing mold for quite some time.

Does anyone have some nice shipwrecked house poems for me? I had myself thinking of Oppen this morning, down there with my gloves and a crowbar.

Anyone want pictures?

Does anyone have an aspirin or two?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reading Between A & B

Picture one: The outside of the 11th Street Bar located between Avenues A & B.

Picture two: John Gallaher -- I spent my days on little walking tours as the place I was staying turned me out every morning at 7:00. By the time od this reading I was sporting a bit of a sunburn. And very red eyes. You can see just a bit of Mary Austin Speaker in this shot. She was co-host of the event (along with Kaveh Bassiri), and introduced my reading.

Picture three: C. Dale Young -- Now that I've read with him these three times, it's going to feel odd when I read without him. Would anyone like to host us both? Keep the drive alive? (How, by the way, does one spell "Shazaam"? Is that correct?)

Picture three: Linda Gregerson -- I hadn't met her before. She has a very good reading delivery. And she was very nice to talk to after the reading.

Picture four: There's my book and reading notes!

What a great series this is. Go to their website to read more, including poems from most of their readers (which includes some from Mary Austin Speaker as well -- as she's redaing there this week!)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Readings on the Bowery

Reading this past Sunday at the Bowery Poetry Club & Cafe was wonderful. I got to meet some people I'd only known through their work (Matthew Thorburn & Mary Lou Buschi, and others), as well as several people associated with Four Way Books (but more about that some other day). I've now figured out the subway system, which is pretty easy but for two things: one, they change up quite a bit after 11 p.m., and two, finding the actual entrances to the subway is sometimes difficult for the novice. Since I was there from Friday through Wednesday, I had plenty of time for little walking tours (Up from 96th Street and then down through Central Park -- Central Park is beautiful right now, across Houston Street and around the Bowery, up to Union Square and The Strand, around Tribeca and then down to the Staton Island ferry, and a nice little walk around Coney Island.)

Manhattan is a crystal. There's always everything going on.

Lytton Smith took these pictures.

Picture one: The outside of the Bowery Poetry Club & Cafe (I took this one)

Picture two: John Gallaher (I think the red eyes here make me look fancy, what do you think?)

Picture three: Kimiko Hahn

Picture four: C. Dale Young

Picture five: Lynn Emanuel

Can you tell how much fun we were having? (A lot, in case you can't)

That said, here's Part Two: What They Say About Us

I’ve always been mildly shocked when anyone, for any reason, characterized anything about me. More a shock of, “huh? Someone noticed?” than anything else. Do you know what I mean? Personally as well as in poetry.

I remember the same thing back when I was taking workshops, I was less shocked by what they said about my poetry than the fact that said anything at all. I still get that feeling. At readings, this spring, David Dodd Lee and Mary Austin Speaker both said things, characterized my poetry, while introducing me, making me feel all loopy walking up to the microphone. (I don't meant this in a bad way, but in the way that people see things in my work differently than I do, so that when they say things to me it's gets me all thinking about it from this other perspective that makes me all thoughtful. That's probably a good way to be before reading, I suppose.)

The same thing happens with reviews, doesn’t it? The thought that someone actually read the book, in this age of prose . . . it’s less the positive / negative qualities than the engagement that comes out of the association. Of course, one wants such an exchange to be positive, but I’m not here thinking of my own narcissism than I am thinking of the process itself. That said, there’s been a review posted by Kevin Killian on of my book that has me fascinated. They're closer to home, of course, when they are about us, but it also happens that I read reviews of books I've enjoyed or disliked, and often get shocked by, not just the different take, but the completely different angle.

And on a different note, it’s always interesting for me to see the poems of mine that others tag, or mention to me, or mention in a review, or to post on a blog, or Verse Daily or Poetry Daily. It’s all so fascinating. And ephemeral as well as permanent.

And, if we read these things, or listen to them when spoken to us, what do they do to us? Do we gravitate toward wanting to be what people say of us? Do we run screaming from the room? And then, what do we think of what we’re doing? As this is a conversation in monologues, what do I, or what should I, say to myself about what I want from what I’m writing . . . or what I’m trying to do?

And then, how much overt awareness of such things is important, and how much is it distracting from the engagement of the process of art . . . or is such awareness, or attempts at awareness, the true gesture of art? Something like that?

Can I get a witness?

Friday, May 11, 2007

I've been on the road

I just got back from a little series of readings in Oberlin (with Kevin Prufer and Wayne Miller) and NYC (with C. Dale Young, Kimiko Hahn, Lynn Emanuel, and Linda Gregerson).

Anyway, what does one say after such a thing? C. Dale and Jacob are wonderful, friendly people . . . but then again, everyone I met seemed a wonderful, friendly person. Am I going soft?

Anyway, the above pictures are from Oberlin.
Picture one: Pamela Alexander, Kevin Prufer, Martha Collins.
Picture two: David Young, Martha Collins.
Picture three: John Gallaher, Wayne Miller

And what to say of the reading? Wonderfully hosted by David Young in a little museum off the town square. A nice audience. And Martha Collins. What more could three boys from Missouri want? Well, alcohol, for one, so David brought some.

Oberlin has to be the prettiest town in Ohio. And I should know, I used to live in Athens, which is also pretty.

Just to add this: Kevin and Wayne are great readers. If you live in the Ohio area, be aware, the three of us will br driving through in August.