Saturday, August 25, 2007

Charles Simic - Poet Laureate

Charles Simic assumes his duties as poet laureate on Sept. 29.

Evening Talk

Everything you didn’t understand
Made you what you are. Strangers
Whose eye you caught on the street
Studying you. Perhaps they were all-seeing
Illuminati? They knew what you didn’t,
And left you troubled like a strange dream.

Not even the light stayed the same.
Where did all that hard glare come from?
And the scent, as if mythical beings
Were being groomed and fed stalks of hay
On these roofs drifting among the evening clouds.

You didn’t understand a thing!
You loved the crowds at the end of the day
That brought you so many mysteries.
There was always someone you were meant to meet
Who for some reason wasn’t waiting.
Or perhaps they were? But not here, friend.

You should have crossed the street
And followed that obviously demented woman
With the long streak of blood-red hair
Which the sky took up like a distant cry.


Here is a collage of Simic’s answers to questions from an interview in the AWP Writer’s Chronicle from back in 1999:


Question: What definition of poetry, by another poet, do you find most revealing?

Charles Simic: Nicanor Parra’s “When they ask for apples, give them pears.”


I’ve lived too many places, loved too many different cultures and peoples to have any clear sense of my own identity. Super patriots are always ready to jump up and shout that they are happy to be this or that. Not me.

Mark Twain has a short essay entitled “How to Tell a Story” in which he says the following: “To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art.” That seems true to me. Ashbery, Edson, Tate also have that outlook, and so do I.

I don’t care for Chaplin's self-pity. Keaton vaccinates us against sentimentality, as Bunuel said. His comedy is reflective. A funny guy who never cracks a smile, an average nobody trying to better himself as he tries to make sense out of an illogical world—in short, a comic Sisyphus. Chaplin can get tiresome after repeated viewing, Keaton never. He remains forever inscrutable, forever entertaining.

I suppose a typical Charles Simic poem leaves out a lot. The premise of my poetry is that the reader’s imagination and intelligence must not be underestimated, so I don’t need to spell out the various implications and meanings. Otherwise, a three-ring circus is what I like; many different acts taking place at the same time.

I don’t like grownup fables very much, nor do I feel to be part of any fabulist tradition. Allegories bore me and so do parables. My preference is a mixture of genres and styles, a fable that suddenly turns into hard realism and vice versa. I need multiple points of view to make sense of things and that includes various imaginative strategies plus an open-eyed look at the world.

The photographer Brassai echoing Flaubert says, “Life provides us with only the accidental, it’s our own talk as artists to transform the accidental into the immutable.” The disorder is the given—you don’t have to seek it. It’s not so much that one puts it in order, rather one finds affinities between its various fragments. A form of a work of art is not something imposed, but something discovered. In any case, I myself prefer the long dirt country roads that lead to nowhere to the gravel paths of a well-designed and kept flower garden.

I’m an unbeliever asking the questions a believer would ask since I think they are the ultimate questions, the only ones worth asking. I suspect that it is possible to go beyond us and experience the transcendent and unknowable One. However, the attributes Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans give to it, make no sense to me. The One is nonintelligible. But yes, on rare occasions we do stand outside ourselves and can feel an affinity with some higher reality.

Clearly, the appearance of man was such a shock to the universe it figured it better quickly find a way to scare him. If not for the fear of dark rooms, human beings would be even more smart-alecky than they are.

. . . [N]ature’s great secret is its laziness. Look at any sunset. Sentimental mush out of a painting in some department store basement. Don’t let earthquakes and hurricanes fool you. Nature likes things to be predictable. Every human being has to croak and no exceptions to the rule, no improvisations. I find such a chicken-shit mindset appalling. Now you take Picasso, there was a fellow who took chances . . .

The plain truth is that we are going to die. Here I am, a teeny speck surrounded by boundless space and time, arguing with the whole of creation, shaking my fist, sputtering, growing even eloquent at times, and then—poof! I am gone. Swept off once and for all. I think that’s very, very funny.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Neil Young Album - October 16

New Neil Young Album: "Chrome Dreams II" Set for Release October 16th
23 August 2007
Market Wire

BURBANK, CA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- Aug 23, 2007 -- The new album by Neil Young, "Chrome Dreams II," will be released by Reprise Records on October 16th.

Speaking from a vacation retreat with his family, Young says it's "an album with a form based on some of my original recordings, with a large variety of songs, rather than one specific type of song."

It comes at a creative peak for the artist, following the "Greendale," "Prairie Wind," and "Living With War" albums, and a summer 2006 tour by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young that concert audiences are still talking about.

In many ways, "Chrome Dreams II" is the ultimate example of what Young does best: most of the songs were written recently and came quickly, and the "live" recording sessions in northern California were over before they were announced. The album includes all kinds of music, and taken together, offers a complete picture of where Neil Young is today.

"Where 'Living With War' and 'Everybody's Rockin'' were albums focused on one subject or style," Young says, "'Chrome Dreams II' is more like 'After The Goldrush' or 'Freedom,' with different types of songs working together to form a feeling.

Now that radio formats are not as influential as they once were, it's easier to release an album that crosses all formats with a message that runs through the whole thing, regardless of the type of song or sound."

On the sessions for the album, Neil Young was joined by Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina, pedal steel guitarist and dobro player Ben Keith ("Harvest," "Comes A Time," "Harvest Moon") and bassist Rick Rosas ("Freedom," "Living With War," "This Note's For You"). Most of the recording was done at Feelgood's Garage studio near Redwood City, California, with two vintage gas pumps out front and vintage studio gear inside.

On the music itself, Young says, "Some early listeners have said that this album is positive and spiritual. I like to think it focuses on the human condition. Like many of my recordings, this one draws on earlier material here and there. I used to do that a lot back in the day. Some songs, like 'Ordinary People,' need to wait for ! the rig ht time. I think now is the right time for that song and it lives well with the new songs I have written in the past few months. I had a blast making this music."

The new album's title refers to an earlier planned release that never came out. In fall of 1976, the album "Chrome Dreams" was announced for a November release. However, that date came and went and no album ever appeared.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Donald Hall - On Workshop & the McPoem

From Donald Hall’s “Poetry and Ambition”

The following are collaged bits from Donald Hall’s rather famous (well it was when I was first in college, way back when) essay “Poetry and Ambition.” It was delivered at an AWP conference, I think, in 1982. It was then in the Kenyon Review, and later re-published in the AWP Writer’s Chronicle.

Anyway, I’m below posting some bits of it that directly address the Workshop experience, and the “McPoem.” Ah, the famous McPoem. Two things about that. As this essay is 25 years old now, it’s important to remember these were the (rather) early days of MFA programs. A lot has happened since. Specifically, wonderful poetry has continued to be written . . . even as the idea of the “McPoem,” though it’s now referred to mostly as “The Workshop Poem,” has continued, defined generally, and with so many caveats and exemptions to be nearly useless as a term. But (but but but) it’s always good to think about, to ponder, the criticism of the workshop, aimed, as we are, at continuous quality improvement. Naturally.

Just to keep it straight: I do not endorse the following. In fact, I rather strongly disagree with nearly all of it. But, even in its over zealous criticism, there is a point. Something to keep in mind, at least.


The United States invented mass quick-consumption and we are very good at it. We are not famous for making Ferraris and Rolls Royces; we are famous for the people's car, the Model T, the Model A-"transportation," as we call it: the particular abstracted into the utilitarian generality and two in every garage. Quality is all very well but it is not democratic; if we insist on hand-building Rolls Royces most of us will walk to work. Democracy demands the interchangeable part and the worker on the production line; Thomas Jefferson may have had other notions but de Tocqueville was our prophet. Or take American cuisine: it has never added a sauce to the world's palate, but our fast-food industry overruns the planet.

Thus: our poems, in their charming and interchangeable quantity, do not presume to the status of "Lycidas"-for that would be elitist and un-American. We write and publish the McPoem-ten billion served-which becomes our contribution to the history of literature as the Model T is our contribution to a history which runs from bare feet past elephant and rickshaw to the vehicles of space. Pull in any time day or night, park by the busload, and the McPoem waits on the steam shelf for us, wrapped and protected, indistinguishable, undistinguished, and reliable-the good old McPoem identical from coast to coast and in all the little towns between, subject to the quality control of the least common denominator.

And every year, Ronald McDonald takes the Pulitzer.

To produce the McPoem, institutions must enforce patterns, institutions within institutions; all subject to the same glorious dominance of unconscious economic determinism, template and formula of consumerism.

The McPoem is the product of the workshops of Hamburger University.

Poems have become as instant as coffee or onion soup mix.

Anyone editing a magazine receives poems dated the day of the postmark. When a poet types and submits a poem just composed (or even shows it to spouse or friend) the poet cuts off from the poem the possibility of growth and change; I suspect that the poet wishes to forestall the possibilities of growth and change, though of course without acknowledging the wish.

If Robert Lowell, John Berryman and Robert Penn Warren publish without allowing for revision or self-criticism, how can we expect a twenty-four-year-old in Manhattan to wait five years-or eighteen months? With these famous men as models, how should we blame the young poet who boasts in a brochure of over four hundred poems published in the last five years? Or the publisher, advertising a book, who brags that his poet has published twelve books in ten years? Or the workshop teacher who meets a colleague on a crosswalk and buffs the backs of his fingernails against his tweed as he proclaims that, over the last two years, he has averaged "placing" two poems a week?

The workshop schools us to produce the McPoem, which is "a mold in plaster, / Made with no loss of time," with no waste of effort, with no strenuous questioning as to merit. If we attend a workshop we must bring something to class or we do not contribute. What kind of workshop could Horace have contributed to, if he kept his poems to himself for ten years? No, we will not admit Horace and Pope to our workshops, for they will just sit there, holding back their own work, claiming it is not ready, acting superior, a bunch of elitists...

The poetry workshop resembles a garage to which we bring incomplete or malfunctioning homemade machines for diagnosis and repair. Here is the homemade airplane for which the crazed inventor forgot to provide wings; here is the internal combustion engine all finished except that it lacks a carburetor; here is the rowboat without oarlocks, the ladder without rungs, the motorcycle without wheels. We advance our nonfunctional machine into a circle of other apprentice inventors and one or two senior Edisons. "Very good," they say; "it almost flies.... How about, uh... how about l.,m wings?" Or, "Let me just show you how to build a carburetor...."

Whatever we bring to this place, we bring it too soon. The weekly meetings of the workshop serve the haste of our culture. When we bring a new poem to the workshop, anxious for praise, others' voices enter the poem's metabolism before it is mature, distorting its possible growth and change. "It's only when you get far enough away from your work to begin to be critical of it yourself"-Robert Frost said-"that anyone else's criticism can be tolerable " Bring to class only, he said, "old and cold things " Nothing is old and cold until it has gone through months of drafts. Therefore workshopping is intrinsically impossible.

It is from workshops that American poets learn to enjoy the embarrassment of publication—too soon, too soon—because making public is a condition of workshopping. This publication exposes oneself to one's fellow-poets only—a condition of which poets are perpetually accused and frequently guilty. We learn to write poems that will please not the Muse but our contemporaries, thus poems that resemble our contemporaries ' poems-thus the recipe for the McPoem... If we learn one thing else, we learn to publish promiscuously; these premature ejaculations count on number and frequency to counterbalance ineptitude.

Most poets need the conversation of other poets. They do not need mentors; they need friends, critics, people to argue with. It is no accident that Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey were friends when they were young; if Pound, H.D., and William Carlos Williams had not known each other when young, would they have become William Carlos Williams, H.D., and Pound? There have been some lone wolves but not many. The history of poetry is a history of friend ships and rivalries, not only with the dead great ones but with the living young. My four years at Harvard overlapped with the undergraduates Frank O'Hara, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Peter Davison, L.E. Sissman, and Kenneth Koch. (At the same time Galway Kinnell and W. S. Merwin attended Princeton.). I do not assert that we resembled a sewing circle, that we often helped each other overtly, or even that we liked each other. I do assert that we were lucky to have each other around for purposes of conversation.

We were not in workshops: we were merely attending college. Where else in this country would we have met each other?

The American problem of geographical isolation is real. Any remote place may be the site of poetry—imagined, remembered, or lived in—but for almost every poet it is necessary to live in exile before returning home—an exile rich in conflict and confirmation. Central New Hampshire or the" Olympic Peninsula or Cincinnati or the soybean plains of western Minnesota or the lower East Side may shine at the center of our work and our lives; but if we never leave these places we are not likely to grow up enough to do the work. There is a terrible poignancy in the talented artist who fears to leave home—defined as a place first to leave and then to return to.

So the workshop answers the need for a cafe. But I called it the institutionalized cafe, and it differs from the Parisian version by instituting requirements and by hiring and paying mentors. Workshop mentors even make assignments: "Write a persona poem in the voice of a dead ancestor." "Make a poem containing these ten words in this order with as many other words as you wish." "Write a poem without adjectives, or without prepositions, or without content" These formulas, everyone says, are a whole lot of fun. They also reduce poetry to a parlor game; they trivialize and make safe-seeming the real terrors of real art. This reduction by-formula is not accidental. We play these games in order to reduce poetry to a parlor game. Games serve to democratize, to soften, and to standardize; they are repellent. Although in theory workshops serve a useful purpose in gathering young artists together, workshop practices enforce the McPoem.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bob Hicok - On Workshops

Bob Hicok
from The Writer’s Chronicle

Bob Hicok: I’m happily hostile to workshops. I think they’re wonderful in a lot of ways, particularly given that there’s no alternative in this country. You have a couple of years to work on writing without having to face too many people who doubt the value of what you’re doing with your life.

But I do find myself wondering why workshops are so consistently set up the same way. Why so little variety—always the circle, the mute poet. It’s a received form, one I’m trying to renovate.

Jeanie Chung: How?

Hicok: I’ve worked a lot more with how my students read poems. I ask them to examine the structural issues. To determine what the poem is trying to say, rather than just jumping in with their reactions.

The first time I taught a group of people, I sat down and realized I had no idea what to do. I had no idea what goes on in workshops; I had never been in one. So I talked to people about their poems. The strangest thing for people in that moment was that I expected them to talk, too. One woman asked, “You want me to talk?” and my response was, “Well, you wrote the poem.”

Chung: I’ve noticed in fiction—and I imagine it’s the same in poetry—that the workshop can sometimes end up being a referendum on the piece being presented—“I liked it. I didn't like it.” And really, what good does that do the writer?

Hicok: Right. The tendency is to speak to preference, rather than ascertain what the object is that’s been presented. But if you haven’t assessed it, it’s very difficult to determine if it has succeeded. For example, if you’re trying to write a surreal poem, but you’re doing it in a linear way, that won’t work. Likewise, it makes no sense to criticize a lyric poem for its lack of story.

Chung: How has that approach worked?

Hicok: It has been well received, but it was difficult. It takes effort to get students to move away from jumping straight into like/don’t like, or minutiae—“I thought maybe the poem could use a squid, but I just like squid”—or, most commonly, describing how they would have written the poem. It’s no one’s business to make people write a certain kind of poem, but we can all give a sense of what has been achieved, or not. This clarifies, for the poet, what they’ve done, and broadens everyone’s sense of what might be done.

Chung: You would think that creative types wouldn’t be so rigid.

Hicok: I think a lot of it is a failure on the part of the faculty. If we don’t put the work in with the first-year students, or with the undergrads, then when they become grad students, they’re going to think that they know how a workshop should be run, that it’s primarily about conveying pleasure and displeasure.


I have a few quibbles with Hicok’s take on Workshops, but nothing major. I’ve seen workshops turn into some sort of lopsided popularity contest, or cult of personality. But even then, I’ve seen some profit from that. There’s always something interesting for me in seeing reaction to something I’ve written, or that others have written. I tend to read my things my way, so hearing something, even “I liked it / I didn’t like it” can be instructive if I know enough about who is making the comment. Workshops are such intimate environments.

But yes, that is the least a workshop can do. Likewise with the “how I would have written it” response. That can be quite telling. And can lead to interesting new ways of seeing one’s way into the work at hand, but it can also just reduce the whole enterprise down to workshop friendship gestures.

Thinking of Hicok’s example of the Surreal poem above . . . I would very specifically think that a “linear way” of writing a surreal poem would be a wonderful idea. It sounds like a great description of some of Charles Simic’s work, specifically. Perhaps I’m just not very trusting of “artistic intent.” I’d much more rather predicate the writing of the poem and the revising of the poem on a bit of chance event and method, than the directed approach of “The Is a Surreal Poem [etc.].”

As well, by that same token (One fare: ride all day!), the descriptive/structural approach, which Hicok is favoring here, can be just as unhelpful (or helpful). Just because the artist is trying to do something, doesn’t mean that something is worth doing. Description alone won’t address value. (Which is an aesthetic minefield, of course, so perhaps it’s best we stay away from it—but this is why workshops and artists are always being criticized for not having standards.) We can have bad ideas as well as good ones. Along with that, wouldn’t any suggestions offered (if suggestions get offered in a descriptive space), be, as they are coming from another writer, suggestions about how that writer would proceed?

So the thing kind of undoes itself theoretically, but practically, on a day to day basis, saying that one is stressing a “let’s talk about what this poet’s project is” is much more likely to get interesting responses than “so, hey, did you like it or not?” But don’t we all try to do maintain that approach anyway? Is there someone out there who would argue against this approach in general?

Neil Young - New Album Rumors and Tidbits

More tidbits on the new Neil Young album are floating around the Internet.

This, from the RustList, from what a WB promo guy wrote to one of the list members:

"I got to listen to the newly finished Neil Young record Chrome Dream this week with Neil Young himself. It was quite a thrill as you might imagine. There are some serious jam outs on this record. Looking forward to being able to send it your way."

And this, reported by another list member:

“I was listening to Jam On (Channel 17) on sirius just before 6 tonight. Stef Scarmado (Warren Hayne's wife) . . . mentioned Neil was going to tour in the fall. Then, she said she thinks it might be an acoustic tour because Neil is booking 3000-4000 seat rather then the big 20,000 seat arenas.”

And finally, the super sleuths on the RustList, uncovered this exchange:

A gear tech named Brad Lunde wrote:

“Had the pleasure to provide ATC 150 loudspeakers and be on hand for Neil Young's first ever playback of Chrome Dreams 2 (working title?) at Warner Bros Records on Wednesday for all the record company execs.”

With a little prompting, he added:

"Niko Bolas..... told me he used VERY little limiting. This definitely sounded raw and "live". Recorded live in a car garage....."

"Supposed to October/November? Sounded great! Ordinary People sticks in my head and there were a couple of tracks that were quite different, one with a childrens choir. Pretty cool stuff and Neil was very proud of course."

So “Ordinary People” really will see the light of day, finally. It’s one of Neil Young’s most famous unreleased songs, dating back to his blues influenced phase in the late 80s. How interesting. There’s confirmation below that he uses a horn section on this record as well.



Ben Keith: guitar, steel, dobro
Rick Rosas: Bass
Ralph Molina: Drums

These are all old friends of Neil Young’s, so it should be a pretty comfortable sounding affair. On the flip side, I always like Neil Young records when they have a fuller sound. One of the things I’ve been disappointed with lately (Greendale and Living with War), is that he’s used such a spare sound on his electric work. I hope that Ben Keith plays more guitar than steel or dobro on this outing.


Here’s a bit from Andy Greene, from the Rolling Stone website:

Thirty years after shelving Chrome Dreams, Neil Young has taken to his official Web site to announce plans to release a new album entitled Chrome Dreams II. The forthcoming album — which was previewed for Reprise Records last week and is due October 16th — contains ten songs, three of which were previously written. Two of the tracks are epics, clocking in at 18:30 and 13:00. Young’s current backing band on the record includes Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Rick Rosas and pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith. The Blue Note Horns are on one track and a children’s choir is on another. Young will launch a North American tour to support the album that kicks off around October 13th. After the original Chrome Dreams was put aside, many of the songs appeared on subsequent Young albums, such as “Like a Hurricane,” “Powderfinger,” “Sedan Delivery” and “Pocahontas.” What does this mean for the twenty-years-in-the-making Archives: Volume 1 box set, due out February 14th, 2008? “This doesn’t push the box set back, according to [Neil Young’s manager] Elliott Roberts,” a spokesperson for Young says. “But don’t make me sign a blood oath on that one.”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bin Ramke - Tendril - Accessibility & Difficulty

Bin Ramke’s ninth book of poetry is coming out in a few weeks. It’s called Tendril, published by Omnidawn, which has a growing list of excellent books (check them out here:, and it’s available for preorder at .

I’ve always wondered why Ramke’s poetry hasn’t gotten more attention than it has. Its movements are large (as is his thinking about poetry in and about poems) and should be indispensable to all interested in poetry.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from an interview conducted by Sandra Meek, published a few years ago is the Writer’s Chronicle.

Sandra Meek: Let me take this in a slightly different direction for a moment—the kind of dizzying openness you mention seems an important aspect of that contemporary poetry we consider "postmodern." The resistance to closure evident in your recent poetry, and in the language poets, and in poets such as Ann Lauterbach, John Ashbery, and Jorie Graham, has itself met with much resistance in the American (U.S.) poetic community, which is perhaps as divided as it has ever been regarding ideas about what poetry should be and do. I've heard several poet-professors whose work is more "accessible," more linear-narratively, lyrically-lament the "takeover" of their creative writing programs, and contemporary poetry in general, by "language poets"—a term by which they often mean to indicate not just the language poets but really all those poets who see language as opaque rather than transparent, and who find that inspiring rather than something to resist. In fact, one well-known poet and editor lamented to me that your particular artistic development has been a kind of disappointing turn to the dark side—as he said, you used to be “a lyric poet in the Stevens’s vein” (which brings up a whole other set of questions we’ll have to come back to!), but now he just “doesn't get” what you are doing. Do you think this division in the poetic community is inevitable? Is there a way to reach across this divide, or should bridging the gap even be a goal? In other words, do you feel “accessible poetry” can have value for those who work with the opacity of language, and can “difficult poetry” ever make a connection to the larger, “mainstream” poetry audience?

Bin Ramke: How intriguing. I am pleased that there is someone out there who is so aware of my poetry at all, of it having an earlier manifestation that could be considered violated by the later work. But I know you want the question to be larger than me, just my own work. I think there are many divisions, many oppositions in whatever community is aware of poetry, makers and readers and publishers of it. There has been for some time this unfortunate division as to “accessibility.” But it seems to me art, and science for that matter, has always been roughly divided between a kind that saw itself needing to connect to a broader community, needing to do work out there in the world in a direct sort of way—painters doing commissions in the Renaissance and in the present, scientists trying to solve medical or engineering problems, and writers who were aware of what large numbers of readers want and who try to find ways to provide it. Some of these are great artists, scientists, and poets. Robert Frost is a major poet, and I do not claim he only tried to satisfy a market, but that he did try to make work which responded to what readers expected, then he would carry those expectations further, or even subvert them.

But simultaneously with Frost, there was Stevens. It is interesting that Stevens can now be seen as a lyric poet who, presumably, is “accessible.” The New York Times review of the second publication of Harmonium condemned it utterly, saying the work won’t last because it isn’t serious. I am not trying to use the cheap consolatory stance of “If they don’t understand me it is because I am destined to be seen as Great in the Future.” Quite the contrary, I AM disturbed by the fact that even after publishing seven books of poems my books make no real mark in the world. Since the publication last fall of Airs, Waters, Places, there has appeared only a single review, a small one in the Village Voice which was quite laudatory, but also needed to point out that my work is “difficult.” This idea of “difficulty” needs to be examined: I have to say I make my own poems as clear and easily accessed as possible. But what I seem to be working with is material so ambiguous and multivalenced that in the end, when I have finished listening to how the words were speaking to each other, letting them all have their say, the final piece may take some getting used to.

But let me approach this question differently, and more problematically. Richard Howard is a poet whose work has mattered to me since I first began writing, and it still does. No one is more aware of language as language than Richard, no one has a more nuanced ear—a line of his that I keep going back to is, “What a relief, to find it in the language at last.” His work is a search in language for, well, whatever we are all searching for I suppose. Salvation? Pleasure? Consolation? Community? And then there is Jorie Graham, who writes an often convoluted, always elegant form of poetry which is in fact clear, straightforward in many ways, often with gorgeous references to art and culture, work which reverberates with language, a sort of lushness that is available because Jorie is essentially trilingual, being at home in Italian and French as much as English. Both of these writers SEE language, deal with its opacity and bring an esthetic of language to bear—and yet are seen by some, perhaps even each other, as incompatible. If we actually look at what James Tate writes, and put it alongside the work of John Ashbery, we find they are after rather similar (at times) effects—and both can be quite funny. And yet Tate is considered accessible and Ashbery famously difficult.

Rae Armantrout has a little moment from a poem called “Writing”: “If I were lying in a hospital bed, would I get pencil and paper to jot down passing thoughts? Not likely. I, myself, was always a forwarding address.” Now, what's that? Is it “accessible”? Yes, indeed—but then what. You’ve accessed it and now you still have a problem—the language looks obvious, but it keeps complicating itself. I think that passage (as I recall it’s a poem in prose, but I will look it up) has a light-handed density which is most remarkable. Then there’s Mark Strand, whose work has always been important to me, who has always found ways to teach me, and in fact I myself can point out moments and passages in my own poems where his influence is clear. Yet Michael Palmer—another from whom I have learned much, and whose work I even quote directly in several poems—might well be considered diametrically opposed to Strand, and while I have no idea whether they are friends or not, I suspect they tend to be seen standing across that divide you speak of.

My point is that when we get down to individual cases, poets, and poems, there seems no clear demarcation we can count on, no certain set of characteristics that account for the existence of warring camps. I mean, take Susan Howe for instance: her project is complex, difficult, at times absolutely exasperating to the reader, and yet it is so clear that the work needs to be the way it is, what it is, that she may be the most difficult poet to read who is the most easily defended. Language is a social construct, and it can be manipulated in various ways to push back at the society that constructed it—all poetry does this. The more self-conscious the poet is about the extractable, reducible “meaning” of her poems, the less that poet is open to the random exuberances and the accidental grandeur that the language makes available to us. It is a trade off, and some negotiation is always possible.

To get, finally, to the very specific questions at the end of your question: “do you feel ‘accessible poetry’ can have value for those who work with the opacity of language?” Yes, absolutely, depending upon what is accessible and what is not and why. To deliberately obfuscate is pointless, but to use words the way a painter might use color—not to pretend to trick us into thinking we are where we are not, but to make us look at color and maybe enjoy it, or to make us hear how the words sound and enjoy it—this is a kind of accessibility anyway. It is only confusing if we believe the work is doing something it isn’t trying to do. (Anyway, we all need to go back and read some John Donne when we start accusing each other of being inaccessible: I know, I know, the accusation isn’t about being necessarily convoluted and complex, but is against being random, “indeterminate.” Still, there is work to be done in reading any seriously good poem.) “Can ‘difficult poetry’ ever make a connection to the larger, ‘mainstream’ poetic audience?” No. This is a misleading answer, but I think it unlikely the audience for, let us say, Billy Collins (and his work is essentially intended, I believe, for performance, with all the complexities of how audience response builds through the performance and how the social bonds become associated with the wit and the amiability of the performer), is being trained by listening to his work not to pay the other, different kind of attention the work of Elizabeth Willis, Cole Swensen, or Paul Hoover requires.

It is possible some of this poetry—and by difficult at the moment I am just thinking about work that requires us to simultaneously let go and attend closely, this is the real trick—that some of this poetry will, with time, acquire a kind of familiarity and not seem so threatening. Picasso’s work no longer threatens anyone in the museum—except, of course, those who actually pay attention. The other possibility is something I personally do try for: to make the work “beautiful” enough to attract the esthetic attention, and let whatever else is happening happen. I don’t know quite what the word “beautiful” is supposed to mean, and the whole question is certainly interestingly vexed at the moment—the return of the esthetic? the politics of the beautiful? But my own personal interest is in work that has less political agenda about it and more openness to the grandeur, delicacy, even decorum, than mere display of preconceived idea.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II


NY Times, August 16, 2007

Continuing a tradition that goes back to 1969, Neil Young played his latest recording for Reprise yesterday. The recording was played for about 100 people in Burbank. Produced by "The Volume Dealers," NY and Niko Bolas, the recording runs 60+ minutes and includes two giant songs that time in at 18:30 and 13:00, respectively.

Drawing from three songs written previously, and 7 new songs, the latest Neil Young is a very diverse recording. A release date is unknown at this time. The title is Chrome Dreams II.
Chrome Dreams is a legendary NY album from 1977 that had originally been scheduled for release but was shelved. The original cover for Chrome Dreams was created by Neil's long-time producer and friend, the late David Briggs. Unfortunately, all original documentation and art for this album was lost in a fire that destroyed Neil's Malibu home in early 1978.


A few added bits:

From the rust list (the best place for news on Neil Young and many other bands), via

New cd Chrome Dream tentatively scheduled Oct. 16. Touring for 7 weeks beginning Oct. 13. Performing at Farm Aid Sept 9 & Bridge School Oct 27-28. To be determined date in 2008 cd & dvd archive set includes 8 cds, 3 dvds, & 160 page book in box packaging.


There’s much speculation as to what the three previously written songs are that are going to be included, with mentions of “Ordinary People” (considered by many to be one of Neil Young’s best songs, it dates from 1988, and has never been released), “Live to Ride” (sometimes referred to as Dream Machine), and “Sixty to Zero.”

Speculation is fun, but I doubt “Sixty to Zero” will be on this CD (I’ve been wrong about things like this sooo many times) as quite a bit of it was excerpted to make “Crime in the City” on neil Young’s 1989 album Freedom.

“Ordinary People” and “Sixty to Zero” have been targeted because their running times in concert were near 13:00 and 18:00 respectively, though there’s no reason to believe that the long running times mentioned would be for the previously written songs.

Whatever this all means, when Neil Young’s songs stretch near (and/or past) the 10:00 minute mark, they’re always interesting.
If I were to speculate, I would guess that Neil Young is calling this album Chrome Dreams II, because it has a similar attitude as the 1977 Chrome Dreams, which would be a very good thing, because that album reportedly had a great mix of electric songs ("Like a Hurricane," "Homegrown," "White Line," and "Sedan Delivery") as well as great acoustic and intimate songs ("Will to Love," "Pocahontas," "Powderfinger," and "Star of Bethlehem").

October, hurry up.

PS. Reprise: if you send me an advance copy I promise to blog about it for a whole week.

PPS. Double promise.


Crystal Lake

So Grandaddy is no more. They never did find the success of somewhat similar bands The Flaming Lips, Built to Spill, and Mercury Rev. It’s too bad, because I’ve liked them. I’m sure Jason Lytle will continue on in some fashion . . . one can hope.

So You’ll Aim Toward the Sky (live)

“Where I’m Anymore,” from the last album, 'Just Like The Fambly Cat' . . .

Grandaddy was always kind of all over the place, somewhere between suburban angst and scifi dream . . . ah, what a niche . . .

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Liam Rector

Louise sent me an email informing me that Liam Rector committed suicide yesterday in his Greenwich Village apartment.

Here’s a poem of his from the anthology Night Out: Poems About Hotels, Motels, Restaurants and Bars

The Remarkable Objectivity of Your Old Friends

We did right by your death and went out,
Right away, to a public place to drink,
To be with each other, to face it.

We called other friends—the ones
Your mother hadn’t called—and told them
What you had decided, and some said

What you did was right; it was the thing
You wanted and we’d just have to live
With that, that your life had been one

Long misery and they could see why you
Had chosen that, no matter what any of us
Thought about it, and anyway, one said,

Most of us abandoned each other a long
Time ago and we’d have to face that
If we had any hope of getting it right.

Jaswinder Bolina - What Awaits the Thunder

Jaswinder Bolina
What Awaits the Thunder

Is a decided stillness, a silence that could overwhelm the artillery,
though the war wears on unflinching. I turn to you and say,
It’s so difficult to be in love in wartime. We view no photographs
of the dead, but bombers dive like whales in the sky. I pursue them,
their symbolic, until you tell me, Knock it off, until it becomes so
difficult to behave myself. The telephone whimpers in disconnecting.
Our ears in silence hang like sails in no wind. I grow blind
in one eye, we sleep beneath a palmetto, our legs overlapping
in a too warm bed until you kick me. In morning, news
from the front dribbles thick milk into the dishes of satellites,
and we sip from these without any idea what the clamor is about.
We only want them to forgive us and send coffee beans.
This reminds you of a story in which the father says,
What happened before won’t ever happen again,
and tearfully, the boy accepts this, because he desires so much
to accept and forgive and embrace his father again. By then,
he’s a grown man and isn’t ashamed of openly weeping.
I weep openly and sight returns to my bum eye. The garden grows
stereoscopic in the murky and shuddering light. A familiar
anxiety disperses, and a new anxiety resounds in its place.
I feel claustrophobic in the hailstorm. I grow murderous in the fog.
You say knock it off. I say it’s so difficult to be in love.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

GreenTower Press - Announcement

The Laurel Review / GreenTower Press
The Midwest Chapbook Series Award

We are pleased to announce that this year’s judge, Ray Gonzalez, has chosen Rumit Pancholi’s, Anatomy of a Ghost, to be published in the spring of 2008.

Runners-up were Erin M. Bertram’s, Bestiary with a Broken Window & a Thin Though Not Unkind Smattering of Light, and John Cross’s, Staring at the Animal

Finalists include:

G.C. Waldrep, Erin Malone, Jeffrey Bean, Noah Eli Gordon, Alison Palmer, Greg Wrenn, Allison Joseph, Chad Parmenter, Jen Town, and Aby Kaupang

Thank you to all who entered. A press is only as good as the quality of its submissions

Last year’s winner, Instructions for a Painting, by Molly Brodak is currently at the printer, along with a chapbook, ITINERARY, by contest judge, Reginald Shepherd

Mary Jo Bang - Elegy

Mary Jo Bang
The Game

Begins with hints of menace, birth violence first, then
Struggle ensues until: At last,
The hero or heroine pulls a sword and then
There is the blood that signs the end

Of life as we knew it—afraid and more
Afraid. Darling sleep and Doris Day
Cheerfulness now follows
Us to the other end

Which is happy and handholding.
But eventually we wake to No (know)
It’s only sleep so must be done again.
The story circles

Its tail, just missing its mouth, over and over,
A moving production of At last, At last, At last
Each At Last followed by waking
To a day and dodging the enemy which looks like a face

In a mirror—two ears, two eyes, and an act.
Until we get to feeling
Who cares anymore
About virtuosity and we lay down the sword

And say to the ghost we are given it up,
We are stopping. And we do
And finally we are happy after—and finally
Fatally so. Please close the game board.

Please hide the little pieces.


Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy is almost out ( says October). I’ve been eagerly awaiting it since I first started seeing the poems appearing in journals. “The Game” is from LUNA. You can find out more about LUNA here:

Here’s what Graywolf (the publisher) says about Elegy:

Mary Jo Bang’s fifth collection, Elegy, chronicles the year following the death of her son. By weaving the particulars of her own loss into a tapestry that also contains the elements common to all losses, Bang creates something far larger than a mere lament. Continually in search of an adequate metaphor for the most profound and private grief, the poems in Elegy confront, in stark terms and with a resilient voice, how memory haunts the living and brings the dead back to life. Within these intimate and personal poems is a persistently urgent, and deeply touching, examination of grief itself.

Here’s what I say:

Mary Jo Bang has been one of the poets I’ve been reading closely for something like ten years now. Her poetry has always been working to extend the edges of perception into the shifting areas of self and other. Louise in Love, with its characters, and the ekphrastic The Eye Like a Strange Balloon, most notably. The poems I’ve seen so far (about fifteen or so) from Elegy feel at once like poems written by Mary Jo Bang, and yet unlike poems from any of her previous books. I’m looking forward to October.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Matthew Zapruder - American Linden

Matthew Zapruder
American Linden

When you’d like to remember the notion of days,
turn to the barn

asleep on its hill,
a red shoulder holding the weight of clouds.

You could stand still for so many moments.
So little is over and over required,

letting the wind brush your crown.
The lathes of tobacco swing into autumn.

Swallows already discuss the winter.
I know you are tired of imagination.

All that clumsily grasping the sunlight.
Aren’t you tired of bodies too?

Whenever it rains, they fall from the sky
and darken your window.

Clutching each other they call out names
while you sit in the circle thrown by a lamp

and pretend they are leaves.
The potatoes cringe and bury their heads.

Do you see them?
They know where to return when hoofbeats come.

Like you they were not born with pride,
they were born with skins made of earth.

Their eyes are black, and they sing out of tune,
quietly, under the snow.


I’m finally starting to put together a personal anthology of contemporary poems. I’ve heard of others doing this, and it’s a great idea, but I’ve just never gotten myself started. Well, here I go. My own personal canon of what contemporary poetry is capable of.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Workshop - Modes & Strategies

Can stance be considered a form?

I think that’s what hovers behind a lot of poets when they’re writing and talking about poetry. Think of the obvious example of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, before it became Language poetry, and then, now, just people who use language in dislocating or experimental ways. If it ever was a movement at all, it had political concerns, it wasn’t just interesting things to do with words. But now, most everything started as LANGUAGE has been folded into another method, an interesting writing prompt. It’s been incorporated into the kit bag, our little bag of tricks.

It’s understandable that some poets might find that a lessening of intent and/or potential.

Similarly, and more famously, I suppose, surrealism. But we rarely talk about its roots in political oppression these days.

But I didn’t intend for my thoughts to become a catalogue, I’m simply wondering how one can talk toward – in poetry workshops mainly, but in other places as well – the idea that word combinations are more than simply interesting, they create a world that makes emblematic a stance, of politics, of metaphysics, etc.

So to say that a workshop is simply a space for forms, and we should all get along under the “poetry” umbrella, is, while in some instances possible, even probable (as friendship bonds are stronger in abstract situations than are bonds to aesthetic belief), it is by no means any more easy than the shaky alliances of interfaith communities.

Every poet I’ve ever met, with whom I’ve spoken about such things, has admitted at least one poet (and more commonly many) or school that he or she holds in contempt. Not just displeasure, but contempt.

It’s very similar to talking with people who worship in different religions. For them to accept others outside of their belief system, they must ignore many of their core values (at least in contact situations).

Different ways of writing are different ways of believing, they create different worlds. Different worlds are competing worlds. Of course, different worlds can also be seen as supporting each other toward some larger whole (which is the foundational idea behind interfaith communities), but to follow this line of thinking subverts the primary nature of the art, or believing, act.

Artists don’t tend to like that. But as the stakes are somewhat lower than those in the religious arena, artists rarely find the motivation to start wars over the issue.


Stance, as in an artist’s stance toward the world, can be seen, and often is seen in creative writing workshops and writing prompts, as a form, or a mode, or strategy, or method (depending upon how one talks of such things), but at the same time, we ask – well, we suggest, or assign as homework – that poets develop a voice. A voice is simply an enacted stance, right? And if we play up the clothes-changing nature of artistic stance, we’re going to end up with an art that is simply a patchwork of competing possibilities without a center.

Some reviewers have said we’re already there. Others say a lack of identifiable center is a political position. Competing worlds.

Strong world views don’t seem to be much in fashion these days (in art, that is), unless it’s an obvious political party world view (Poets Against War, etc.). What I’m thinking about here is that a compositional practice is a world view, and though it is not a specific political party view, it is a world view. Sharon Olds and Dana Gioia almost certainly belong to different political parties, but neither of them sees the world of Michael Palmer or Lyn Hejinian when looking out the window.

In workshop we’re supposed to ignore this and be supportive of each other’s aesthetic direction. We do it, by and large, because getting along is nice. But perhaps there’s a way, a more contentious way, but perhaps a better way, to proceed?


Whatever motivation occasioned the art aside, it begins to inscribe itself upon us at the moment of reception. The moment of encounter.

If we are in a different historical circumstance than the artist, then there’s no reason I can see that convinces me I must join the artist’s circumstance to be moved by the product. Historicism is interesting, but if the art needs it to be art, then it’s not really living, it’s just an interesting historical document, right?

If the artist’s motivation is a clearing away of a pressed down rhetoric (the culture – the politics of time and place), then the artist is simply choosing, or believing into, a clearer reality than the fabrications from above, and if that product stands, then of course it will fold back into the future’s notion of reality.

In that way all art objects are competing at all times, as they press themselves into the moment of reception. Some of these competitions are the sorts of competition team members might have, as they head toward the same (or similar) goal. But some competitions are diametrically opposed.

Some art moves us immediately, some art has to convince us (or drag us along), and some we will forever feel excluded from.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jonah Winter - Octopus Books

Jonah Winter
The Continuing Adventures of Andrew, the Headless Talking Bear
Octopus Books


Dead human bodies, in a sense,
being the snow-covered road you take to an island
where all the palm trees and postcards suggest
something’s coming to an end:

the world, dark as a Caravaggio
Christ being lowered from the cross
upside-down, at night, no sign of God
or light – and yet, something illuminates the faces,

something coming to an end, a candle,
for instance, we’re not allowed to see – “Ah!”
you say, disrupting my slide show. “But isn’t
the artist an orchid juxtaposed against

a black wall? Or am I in the wrong
century? Why’s it so quiet?


Octopus Books put out a series of chapbooks this year, and I’m finally getting to spend some time with them. I know I’m getting to the party late, but these are seriously good chapbooks. Tonight I’m reading Jonah Winter’s chapbook, a long poem of sonnet-like poems in two sections, extending to 36 pages. I’m having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Laurel Update

We’re sending the next issue of The Laurel Review to the printer on Monday, it will include poetry from

David Baker, Linda Bierds, Paula Closson Buck, Catherine Daly, Shira Dentz, Angie Estes, Kathy Fagan, Albert Goldbarth, Linda Gregerson, Thomas Heise, John Hoppenthaler, Catherine Imbriglio, Cat Jones, Aby Kaupang, Sally Keith, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Joanna Klink, David Lazar, Matt Mason, Christopher Matthews, Richard Meier, Jeanne Stauffer-Merle, Carl Phillips, Emily Rosko, Steven D. Schroeder, Jason Tandon, Jonathan Weinert, Greg Wrenn, and Jean Valentine

Fiction from:

Charles Heiner, Catherine Kriege, and Daniel T. Smith

Essays from:

Maxine Chernoff, Wayne Miller, J.D. Smith, Mark Spitzer, Brian Jay Stanley, and Holly Welker

and Reviews from:

Peter Makuck, on the poetry of Anele Rubin and Michael McFee, and Scott Minar, on Mark Strand’s Man and Camel

Here’s a snip of what’s to come:

from “Homeland Security” by Maxine Chernoff
The Laurel Review 41.2, Summer 2007

Thus, the continued attention to difficulty is one outcome of a long cultural struggle. As critic Steve Evans states in an article in Baffler 17, “the distinctive project shared by Gioia at the NEA, Barr at the Poetry Foundation, and their partner in several recent projects, Kooser, can be summarized rather simply: to deny, disrupt, and discredit existing networks of poetry production which are seen as pathetically small, disgustingly smug, and like subsidized farming—crypto-socialist, and to restore to his rightful place of preeminence the reader, referred to as `common` or `general,` who validates good poetry by actually paying for it on the open market and who never did have much use for the linguistic shenanigans of modernism and its successors.”

More tellingly if these efforts succeed, as Evans explains, gone would be “all traces of social movements that made such vigorous use of poetry. . . .Gone the gay writers and readers, gone the advocates of civil rights and multiculturalism. Gone finally and most satisfyingly, the cities, those unpredictable points of contact and collision that inspire vernacular poetries, cosmopolitan avant-gardes, and everything in between.”

The poetry simplifiers, as I call them, will have eradicated all that they don’t prize—suppressing it, essentializing it—all under the guise of making poetry healthy again and useful to “the people.” Populist interests will have been used to serve the goals of a powerful and conservative elite that wishes to win back poetry as a tool for its social agenda.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Poetry as Mystery?

John Ashbery and James Tate, of course, are the two poets that so many poets get compared to these days. There’s a way that Ashbery and Tate inhabit mystery (with irony, humor, fractured sensibility, etc) that does seem to be emblematic, or an overview, perhaps, of what a lot of poets are up to these days. But the tendency is much larger, I think, and includes poets as diverse as Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, Lyn Hejinian, Russell Edson, Michael Palmer, Charles Simic, Charles Wright, and the list goes on, of poets who foreground mystery, not just as subject matter (mystery [unknowing] as subject matter is common for all poets), but in their process.

I think this is why Wallace Stevens has become the poet so many poets are now talking about (much more so than in the 1980s and earlier, it seems to me), as his poetry can be seen to, within his constant investigation of imagination as subject, but also as process, contain a primer on this stance. But one could just as easily trace it back to William Carlos Williams, and the “so much depends upon” that hovers over the scene, or, more obviously (deceptively so), Gertrude Stein, who, when you look at the arc from Three Lives to Tender Buttons, you can get something of a feel for the gamut of the stance.

Mystery’s not the best word for what I’m thinking about. “Unknowingness,” or “Process Unknowingness,” seems more descriptive. Or, as their critics would term it, a sort of muddy, non-specific, generalness. Unresolvable tenor. Or perhaps it can be thought of as embracing the idea of “Necessary Fiction.”

The next generation, which includes Martha Ronk, Bin Ramke, Donald Revell, Dara Wier, among many others, simply explodes into process mystery. And in the generation(s) after that, which include Matthew Zapruder, Reginald Shepherd, Susan Wheeler, Michael Dumanis, Zachary Schomburg, Jaswinder Bolina, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Kate Greenstreet, Joshua Kryah, and Joshua Marie Wilkinson, the stance is even more prevalent.

This list seems to have a lot of crossover with Stephen Burt’s “Elliptical Poets.” But he goes about his naming from a different direction (by how far one stretches the language as language or that which refers to a thing). What I’m interested in, here, is poets who do the dance of the veils.

And its not a problem of “things” for me, as things are often leaned on and asserted by poets who foreground mystery in their process. One can believe in, and assert, the veil, while knowing, and admitting, it’s veils all the way down.

There are, of course, many ways that poets can negotiate something as fundamentally large as unknowableness, as poets as different as Lucie Brock Broido and Martha Ronk attest, but I think there is something useful in the attempt, as both of them have much more in common with each other than either does with, say, Sharon Olds, or Philip Levine. And poets don’t fit neatly into categories usually, as they tend to mix and match ways of doing things in their own personal ways, as well, some poets move into and out of the tendency. Jorie Graham, for instance, is foregrounding this much less in her recent work than say, in the late 80s and early 90s.

But, even with that, there are two general tendencies through this stance that are interesting me right now.

Ironic Mystery (which is an enacting of mystery through fractured scene or narrative) – Which comes from John Ashbery and James Tate (among others), through Martha Ronk and Dara Wier (among others), to Matthew Zapruder and Cate Marvin (among others).

Earnest Mystery (which is an assertion of belief or philosophy into a vacant or unknowable sphere) – Which comes from Charles Wright and Jorie Graham (and others), through Donald Revell and Bin Ramkes (among others), to Joshua Kryah, Reginald Shepherd, and Joshua Marie Wilkinson (among others).

What is a fragment, but a leap through mystery?

What is a period, if not the same?

In that way, all poets deal with this stance in some manner, but what I’m thinking about is poets who foreground this stance, who hit it head on.

One can look at The Waste Land as a created ruin, or an assemblage shored against the ruins, but one can also look at it as an enactment of how perception really works, privately, associationally.

Anyway, I’ve thought of this tendency in the past as Poetry of the Irrational Imagination, but I’ve becomes less fond of the word “irrational.” Maybe I should just embrace it again.

Interesting anti-stances to this might be Albert Goldbarth and Mark Halliday, who use leaps of association and sensibility not to foreground mystery, but to reveal connections. Maybe?

Anyway, I’ll keep working on it. My thinking is still a bit rough. Perhaps it will always be so. And I wouldn’t want to describe it too well. That would reduce it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Questions for Further Study

The things you choose and the things that just happen. Poetry as mystery.

It’s one thing to say something along the lines of, “The best poems continue opening up to some point of mystery,” and another to turn that statement into something useful, or specific. Similarly to the way a lot of poets talk about “giving voice to the voiceless.” “Huh?” one might well say, “How can you tell?”

“What does that mean?”

The art that most interests me, that continues to draw me back, is the art that inhabits, that comes from out of, a position of unknowing, not one of knowing. Uncertainty, or between uncertainties, as Keats would have it. Certainty in art comes off feeling reductive to me, and not fully open to the weight of experience. Simply said, and so agreed upon it’s something of a contemporary cliché, but how can we talk about it past the nod? Past the jacket blurb?

And that said, I also adore assertions. And assertions would seem to be anything but mystery, anything but uncertain. It’s the tone, really, I’m thinking of. I’m thinking of assertions that feel more like working hypotheses than laws. I’ve never been good with laws. The way asserting an act of faith, “There are trees there,” or an assertion of emotion, “That sure was something,” can be both assertive and uncertain. Tone. As in the Dumanis poem I posted below.

Out, for me then, as a metaphor, is the machine made of words and its performative air (tone) of understandability, of practicality (no matter how Williams meant it) and in is the dance of veils, the seven veils of ambiguity. That’s what it feels like to me when I’m walking through Pittsburgh, or wherever. When people talk about “knowing” their place, really all they know is the thinnest veil of that place, the sensory presence of that place. We know so little about how things really work (though we’re very good at pretending).

Why is the center of the earth hot? What killed the dinosaurs, while leaving so many others? What do quarks act like that?

The easy way out of this knowing/unknowing, seems to me to be the move into irony, which is, for many of us, the signature move of the new century. Irony, though, for the sole sake of enacting irony, is the hollowest of gestures. But the air of desperate unknowing often behind irony, paired with the playful unknowing at the forefront of irony, is the salvation of many contemporary poets. “Desperate, but not serious,” as Adam Ant popularized it 20-something years ago. Many of my favorite poets inhabit a space infused by this.

Perhaps all I’m really saying is that they’re using irony well, by creating a secondary tone that makes me feel something is honestly at stake. To list their names would be inadequate, as I’m sure to forget most, but looking of the shelf next to my computer I can see books by Michael Dumanis, Matthew Zapruder, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Zachary Schomburg, and Jaswinder Bolina. A weird little list of energetic books, and necessary incomplete, as it’s only reflecting the random chance of what I’m currently reading (well, re-reading).

The way such things are always elemental.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Cheers from Gist Street, Pittsburgh, PA

My first Iron City beer. Do they need a new spokesperson? (This photograph was taken by Patrick Mullen. Thank you to him.)

Cleveland, OH

I forgot my camera for our reading at Mac's Backs, in Cleveland Heights, but I was able to get a few shots of the aftermath. Pictured: Wayne Miller, Mary Biddinger, and Michael Dumanis. I've met Dumanis and Biddinger briefly in the past (at AWP), but I've never had the chance to sit and speak with them at any length. It was a pleasure, even if Wayne couldn't find the ash tray.

John Gallaher, Kevin Prufer, Wayne Miller, and Michael Dumanis. Looking back on it, I think I should have worn my black shirt, but they were all way too polite to say anything about it, much. We stayed with Kevin's sister and her husband. I'm amazed by how nice some people are. They even made sangria, cake, and baklava. I don't think I spelled that correctly.

I love this picture.

Gist Street, Pittsburgh PA

Kevin Prufer and Wayne Miller in front of Gist Street. This is one of the best venues for the literary arts I've come across. If you live within a thousand miles of Pittsburgh, you really should check it out.

James Simon. He usually doesn't speak to people while weilding a large knife. We were just special.

Taking a break before my reading to sit with one of Simon's sculptures.

PA and OH

I took a little drive this week with Kevin Prufer and Wayne Miller.

They really enjoyed my conversation and were glad they brought me along.

The accomodations were state of the art.