Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Personality of the Poem

What an interesting waiting room.

And while you’re waiting for the doctor to see you now, there’s an interesting question you can ponder about your condition, though one that I’m not sure carries any real meaning for the production of art; namely, what is the correlation of the personality of the artist and the personality of the art?

In time, no one knows, or really knows, how close the experience of knowing an artist is to knowing the work of the artist: What was Wallace Stevens really like? Sylvia Plath? You?

Sometimes one reads a book of poetry and gets a feeling that the poet is the poetry. It’s an old fallacy, of course, encouraged by the “I.” Sometimes, though, we meet a poet after reading that poet’s work, and find that the poet is exactly what we would expect from reading the work. And sometimes not.

So far, that’s not too helpful.

The question for me rises out of the production of the work itself: what part of the poet’s personality does the poet write from?

What part of my personality, and how much of my personality, do I compose from out of? And why? Toward what end?

And what about you?

Wayne Dodd once said to me that poems should always be smarter than the poet who writes them. That idea appeals to me. And then, extending it, we have many words we could exchange with “smarter.”

“More,” is going to stand in for all of them for me. The poems should always be “more.” That seems a nice thing to compose from out of.

More what? Well, that’s an interesting place to start.

And then it becomes an interesting way to read one’s own poems. “In what ways are my poems more than me?” “What parts of me am I not taking to the production of my poems?”

That’s an interesting thought to take back to revision, or to take to further poems . . .

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cooperman / Kryah

We hosted Matthew Cooperman (first picture) and Joshua Kryah (second picture) here this week. Wish you were here. Chad Parmenter was (third picture).

Wailing and lamentations were on offer as they left
(fourth picture).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mark Bibbins - Sky Lounge

A friend of mine told me recently that I’d most likely like the poetry of Mark Bibbins. She was right.

Bibbins’ poems have a strong propulsive force and surface energy, but there’s a remarkable undertone as well, that things are at stake, as his poems are constantly inventing new ways to get to meaning. Here’s a poem from sky lounge, which came out a few years ago.

Mark Bibbins

Why, then, the sun where it should hang at noon
as a TV mother carves a roast for dinner?

And why the crack of thunder hours
before the lightning hits?

Furthermore the whole sky
mad with smoke and ash

from a single tree struck.
Why does he read over my shoulder when

he’s got his copy open to the same page?
As one inhales it’s him

and not the mother
and it’s turkey and it’s frozen.

Breathe out, he leads a song in the terraced
garden, all the girls on cue—but the one

in back is now in front and weren’t
they all arranged by height?—singing, Mother

is it turtle soup again?
They scatter when
they hear the caterpillars’

grinding in the trees.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Seacrest Aesthetics

Ryan Seacrest, dressed as the spokesperson of the age.

The post “trying hard isn’t cool” generation, into the “well, we know better, but really, trying hard just doesn’t feel cool” generation. Making fun of being belated, though, is perfectly ok. That way everyone knows we know better, and by that we are released from actually having to mean anything, or to try. And it sure is fun, though one might get a cramp from all the winking.

It’s a wonderful post-post-modern move. Once pastiche has brought us past the weeee of simulacra, what do we say?

We say this, as Ryan Seacrest said it, as host the other night on the Emmy’s, talking about famous Emmy past hosts:

“Sure, they were brilliant, if that’s what you’re into.”

It seemed to me a defining statement of the age. Irony? Sure, we’re masters. Meaning? Look how clever we are! Of course we saw it coming, but we see so many things coming . . . and it’s a frequent criticism of the arts, and one that paints an overly broad stripe.

Go in fear of overly broad stripes. Especially if they’re horizontal. They make you look fat.

Just sayin’.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sarah Vap - American Spikenard

Sarah Vap, American Spikenard

So anyway, I’ve been enjoying Sarah Vap’s Dummy Fire for the past week, and then I started reading her other 2007 book, American Spikenard, and was taken immediately by the power of her poems’ fragility.

I was thinking, reading Dummy Fire, that her poems threatened to disappear into the world, in enigmatic and powerful ways, gestural ways. I’ll stand by that for Dummy Fire, but American Spikenard is something of a different creature, at once moving toward the ephemerality of Dummy Fire, but with a longer line, and in that, a longer dwelling in the moment of her attention. The way that the closest attention is always going to be childlike.

Or something like that. Here’s a poem that occurs early in American Spikenard, as I’m only about half way through right now.

Second Daughter

Couldn’t you verify what I sense: that there’s no reason
to be disappointed by any particular

outcome. Describe a beautiful pattern—

amazing. I call it elegance. Single. But pattern is feeble
compared to attraction

which makes it or breaks. I’m trying to account

for all the sisters’ wildly
different strengths, and hurtling down to the center of the earth. I heard a voice say

Personalize this, Sweetheart.

That could be a battle for me—a doddering, sympathetic figure wishing
both symmetry and chance.

I heard my little sister speaking

with mother and father for hours—their rented house by the water;
seawater, diving puffins. They had

a nice conversation. I shouldn’t have minded. It had to do

with what I would have said to them. I’d say there must be choice
at subatomic levels—eventually,

the smallest things in me will make the same choice.

I’m sorry
I’m so far away right now. This is all I can say: there’s a chance that I could pass

through something solid.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Graham Foust - Necessary Stranger

Graham Foust – Necessary Stranger

Graham Foust is interesting me quite a bit these days. In Necessary Stranger he’s enacting time as much from the interior of the voice of the poem as in what the voice is engaging. It’s rather elemental in this way. Or fundamental. How his poems almost evaporate into the voice. Quite a bit differently than Sarah Vap, who’s also interesting me these days. Her poems seem to nearly evaporate into the world. But that’s for another day.

As well, and just to clinch the deal, he mentions Neil Young in a poem . . . Here are a couple (non-Neil Young) poems from Necessary Stranger:


Things’ll get
all right,

the infield strangely green.

I can’t tell you
who’ll win,

who’ll suffer,

how old
I wish I were.

It’s always this—

just shoved into something
I never could have made.

Number One Hit Song

The above is leaf-math,
a high
block of cottonwood.

I am for volume.
I am for tubes in and out of the sick.

If heaven were only
where only
you could hurt you,

I would touch its dead and broadcast
their entire range of breakage.

I would breathe to within
a skin’s-width
of my sleep.

I would make a little nimbus there,
a clear heart for moths to toss against.

Late and unancient, inexact
as hands, I would move
as if by choice into my life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What a Flaming Lips Concert Means to Me

OK, so anyway I saw The Flaming Lips in Kansas City last night.

What do I say?

I think the metaphor for the night would be about three quarters of the way through, when the very last huge orange balloon was bouncing around the pit, Wayne Coyne said we should aim our lasers at it. Lasers having been distributed earlier. The band wasn’t playing. We were all watching. The theater went dark, and the red lasers surrounded and illuminated the balloon. It was quite beautiful as it bounced through the crowd.

Wayne Coyne said we should toss it up to the balcony, as they didn’t have any balloons up there all night. At this the crowd on the balcony cheered. It became the thing to do. Get that balloon up there. We all wanted it. We wanted to help. We turned away from the stage and concentrated our efforts.

Many tries and several minutes later the balloon made it up there, still illuminated by laser pointers. A woman caught it, and raised it over her head like a trophy. We had accomplished something. We felt that we had just been a part of something important. Glorious.

We had gotten the balloon to the balcony. It felt like hope.

That, in essence, is the spirit of a Flaming Lips show.

They also played a lot of very good songs, opening with, predictably, “Race for the Prize,” and playing all the songs people knew (“Waiting for Superman,” “Do You realize??”), with a couple covers (Rolling Stones and a riff from Led Zeppelin), and a few lesser known tunes (“Mountain Side” and “Riding To Work In The Year 2025 [You’re Invisible Now]”) . . .

It was carnivalesque, with confetti and glow sticks raining from the sky, costumes and Martian cheerleaders . . . and comments from Wayne Coyne along the lines of, “Death is here to my left telling me to play another song.”

Which also, in its way, felt like hope.

Ordinary People - Neil Young

Neil Young, circa 1988

Ordinary People

Neil Young’s new album, Chrome Dreams II will be out in just over a month, but Rolling Stone is making one of the songs, “Ordinary People” available for a listen here:

It clocks in at 18:12, and it gets really electric and loud, so go there when you have some time to spare.

The song was first recorded in 1988, and there’s been quite a bit of discussion among Neil Young fans who’ve heard it, whether this is a new recording or a release of the original 1988 recording.

You’ll hear why when you listen.

Either way, it’s a great song. It's been something of a Holy Grail for Neil Young fans. Again, you'll hear why when you listen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Books Ordered

So I received a bit of money for books, and sent off a large order to Some of them I was curious about, a couple I’ve lost and wanted to replace, and a couple are new and I’ve been hoping to get. Here's the list. I still have a hundred dollars or so, but I thougth I'd save that for AWP.

What fun it was to order a bunch of books of poetry, at least one I know I like quite a bit, and at least one I'm certain I'm going to dislike quite a bit . . .

North True South Bright
By: Dan Beachy-Quick

By: Dan Beachy-Quick

Upon Arrival
By: Paula Cisewski

Fragment of the Head of a Queen: Poems
By: Cate Marvin

The Pictures
By: Max Winter

Necessary Stranger
By: Graham W. Foust

Sky Lounge
By: Mark Bibbins

Vertigo: Poems (National Poetry Series Books)
By: Martha Ronk

American Spikenard (Iowa Poetry Prize)
By: Sarah Vap

Spell (New Series #5) (New Series (Ahsahta Press), No. 5.)
By: Dan Beachy-Quick

At the Drive-In Volcano
By: Aimee Nezhukumatathil

The Book of Funnels (Kate Tufts Discovery Award)
By: Christian Hawkey

Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century
By: Michael Dumanis (Editor), Cate Marvin

Dummy Fire
By: Sarah Vap

By: Christopher Salerno

Anabranch (Wesleyan Poetry)
By: Andrew Zawacki

Citizen of
By: Christian Hawkey

Disclamor (American Poets Continuum Series,)
By: G. C. Waldrep

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Clean Part Reading Series - Not Yet

So anyway, The Clean Part reading isn't happening. An airplane never took off, Mathias called, and now I’m sitting here in Maryville all dressed up and nowhere to go. So this goes out to Mathias Svalina, all alone in Lincoln.

The Clean Part

You’re traveling around but you’re always
in the same place. Car. Highway.

The landscape is starting to look
obsessive. I don’t know what else to say.
Maybe some red?
Maybe some new form to the bridges
or railing?

“It’s the little things,” the little things
keep saying. But why trust them? The big things
can seem so persuasive
in their silence.

There’s a situation. Your mother and father
are discussing it long
into the past. You can make a note of it
in your little notebook.

You can say, “Spin me around. Spin me around
and around.”

Because it’s all the unknown,
really. And the telephone ringing there.
No flights out.
And you get to be suddenly older.

Just to stand there as long as you want,
and to look at yourself
in your decorum. In your eventual getting up
and going away,

like anything else you can’t explain.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Joyelle McSweeney - The Clean Part

Joyelle McSweeney, Johannes Göransson, & John Gallaher
September 8, 7pm, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery
Lincoln, NE

There are two posters for the event, it seems. Which one do you like best?

The Clean Part Blog

I’m on my way to Lincoln tomorrow, where I will have to opportunity to meet Joyelle McSweeney. Funny how time works, half the time I’m thinking it’s going very fast, half the time I’m surprised by how slow it’s going, and half the time I’m sitting around looking for something to do. Anyway, The Red Bird came out in 2002. I was surprised by that, as I thought I’d had it for much longer.

Here’s the opening poem:

Joyelle McSweeney
Still Life w/ Influences

I stood at the modern knothole,
my eyes on the pivoting modern stars and naphthalene green
turfs and surfaces.

Behind me the stone fleur-de-lis
sank back over the horizon,
carving a fleur-de-lis-shaped track in air
that spread into a bigger hole.

Up on the hill,
a white tent had just got unsteadily to its feet
like a foal or a just-foaled cathedral.
Down on the beach, ten black whales were crashing

slowly, through themselves,
draped in wet bedsheets.
The bedsheets smoked into the air.

I opened my palm. A green edifice opened there.
It seemed to breathe but that was air breathing for it,
lifting a corner or a column.

Goodbye, my thirteenth-century.
I folded the money away.
What do ye do when ye see a whale?
I sing out.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II -

Neil Young, Chrome Dreams II
I'm happy about so much these days. Yep.
1. Beautiful Bluebird 3:30
2. Boxcar 3:15
3. Ordinary People 18:13
4. Shining Light 4:33
5. The Believer 2:38
6. Spirit Road 5:01
7. Dirty Old Man 2:52
8. Ever After 3:32
9. No Hidden Path 11:31
10. The Way 5:15

The Flaming Lips in Kansas City

Next Wednesday, September 12. The Flaming Lips in Kansas City

Race for the Prize

What is it that makes a Lips show special? Well, for me, it’s the fact that I’ve waited nearly 20 years. That, and wondering how long Wayne Coyne’s voice will hold on . . .

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, folks. I wish I had a bunny suit or something.

Monday, September 03, 2007

OSU / The Journal Award in Poetry

The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry
The Charles B. Wheeler Prize 2008

The Ohio State University Press and The Journal, the literary magazine of The Ohio State University, invite submissions for the 2008 Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award. Each year, a readers' committee of OSU poets and a final judge select one full-length poetry manuscript for publication by The Ohio State University Press. The winner also receives The Charles B. Wheeler Prize, a $3,000 cash prize made possible by the generosity of the family of the late Professor Emeritus of the English Department.

Entries of at least 48 typed pages of original poetry must be postmarked during the month of September. Entries postmarked later than September 30 will not be accepted. Clear photocopies are acceptable. All identifying material is removed before manuscripts are passed to the readers. Please supply two title pages: your name or other identification should only appear on one.

Manuscripts must be previously unpublished. Some or all of the poems in the collection may have appeared in periodicals, chapbooks, or anthologies, but these must be identified on an acknowledgments page.

Include a nonrefundable handling fee of $25.00 (U.S. dollars) with each manuscript (check or money order payable to The Ohio State University). If you wish, include a stamped, self-addressed postcard to confirm receipt of your manuscript, and a stamped, self-addressed business-sized envelope so we can notifyyou of the results. OSU Press assumes no responsibility for lost or damaged manuscripts. Manuscripts will not be returned.

All entrants will receive a one-year subscription (two issues) to The Journal. The winning entry will be announced by January 15, 2008. For further information about the Contest and rules for submission, please visit The Ohio StateUniversity Press website -

2007 Winner: Mark Svenvold for Empire Burlesque

Mail to:
Poetry Editor
The Ohio State University Press
180 Pressey Hall
1070 Carmack Road
Columbus OH 43210-1002

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Simic as Laureate

Another bit on Simic. It's such good news that he's going to be the laureate for the next year. What he says about poetry is always interesting. His essay "Negative Capability & Its Children" is one of my favorites.


Keep the meter running:
America's newest, and foreign-born, poet laureate has traveled a long way

By David Mehegan, Globe Staff August 18, 2007

STRAFFORD, N.H. -- When he got the call from the Library of Congress, telling him he had been nominated as poet laureate of the United States, Charles Simic was hesitant. He recalls thinking, "Do I need this?" He told the caller he was honored to be asked but wanted to think about it, then talked it over with his wife, Helen. "She said, 'You've got to do it -- it's a big honor,' " he said during an interview at his home. "My children said, 'You'll regret it if you don't.' " A few hours later, he called back and accepted.

In the context of his writings, aesthetic outlook, and early life, Simic's reserve is in character. The one-year laureateship (often extended for a year) might appeal to a blowhard who craves a stage. But Simic, 69, while far from an outcast, is a sort of natural outsider: a consummate individual who is suspicious of group thinking, looks at things from an arm's length, and is reluctant to be official. In his 2000 memoir, "A Fly in the Soup," he wrote, "Poetry is always the cat concert under the window of the room in which the official version of reality is being written."

In short, he may be perfectly qualified. "He's the person who should be poet laureate," said Tree Swenson, president and executive director of the Academy of American Poets, which announced that Simic is the 2007 recipient of the academy's $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award, on the same day as the laureate announcement. "Despite his having been born elsewhere," Swenson said, "he has a streak that is typically American. He represents something essential in American poetry."

The poet laureate gives at least two readings at the Library of Congress, selects the poets to appear in the library's year-long poetry series, and chooses the two recipients of $10,000 Witter Bynner Foundation fellowships. Recent laureates have also worked -- with the help of a $35,000 stipend and a $5,000 travel allowance -- to raise the profile of poetry in society. Simic (he pronounces it like the word "mimic") doesn't yet have a plan for his term, which begins in October, but says, "All those sentences that begin with, 'Poetry must . . .,' 'The purpose of poetry is to . . .,' 'Readers of poetry should . . .' -- I will not complete any of those sentences."

Surprising moves

Seated on a sofa in his house in the woods near Bow Lake, Simic was energetic, affable, and expansive as he talked about poetry and his world and life. He read two of his poems aloud with intensity, as if a large audience were listening. Paintings are hung everywhere, and others lean against the walls at the floor.

He has published 18 collections of poetry, and his various anthologies, memoirs, translations, collections of essays, and one biography (of the artist Joseph Cornell) add up to more than 60 books. The winner of numerous awards and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize (1990) and a MacArthur fellowship, he is professor of creative writing and literature emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, where he taught from 1973 to 2006.

Though he says he loves ornate language, Simic's poetic words are almost always plain and concrete. Not that his poems are simple. Many have dreamlike sequences and turns of vision that bend and twist the ordinary sense of things. "He writes remarkable poems, symmetrical on the page, and always surprising," said Donald Hall, the current laureate, who also lives in New Hampshire. "He makes moves during his poems that you can't anticipate, and therefore is constantly shocking you and keeping you awake."

"There was a time when I wouldn't sit down to write a poem without reading Simic for five minutes," said Billy Collins, the 2001-03 laureate. "Not that I wanted to write like him, but that I wanted to be reminded of what wild things can go on in poetry. He uses a very simple vocabulary, and with that simple palette he can achieve amazing imaginative effects."

An immediate affinity

Simic was born in Belgrade in 1938. His family was caught in the maelstrom of war among Germans, Russians, communists, fascists, and other warring armies and factions. They lived first through German bombing and, later in the war, American bombing. He was twice blown out of bed by bombs that fell nearby. Near the end of the war, arrests, killings, and hunger increased, and bodies appeared in rivers and the streets. Playing with other boys in a cemetery, Simic came across two dead German soldiers. Without hesitating, he grabbed the helmet of one, without looking at the face.

In 1944, his father, an engineer who had done business with American companies before the war, crossed the Yugoslav border into Italy and eventually made it to the United States. Simic, his little brother, and his mother, who was a voice teacher, stayed on under the communist government until 1953, when they went to Paris. A year later, they immigrated to the United States.

In "A Fly in the Soup," Simic writes of getting off the Queen Mary in New York, to be met by his father: "It was all incredible and wonderful! The trash on the streets, the way people were dressed, the tall buildings, the dirt, the heat, the yellow cabs, the billboards and signs. . . . It was terrifically ugly and beautiful at the same time. I liked America immediately."

They moved to Chicago, where Simic hungrily absorbed literature and American life, though he began with rudimentary English skills. "In addition to the books I got in school," he writes in his memoir, "I discovered the public library. I couldn't believe that one had the right to take all those wonderful books and records home." After graduating from Oak Park High School -- Ernest Hemingway's alma mater -- he took night classes at the University of Chicago while working as a proofreader at the Chicago Sun-Times. At first, he wanted to be a painter, but soon turned to poetry, publishing two poems in the Chicago Review, only five years after his arrival.

Though his father supported his writing, Simic recalled, "My mother would say, 'What is going to become of you?' In her last four years, she was in a nursing home. I would come to visit her, and she would say, 'Son, do you still write poetry?' I would say yes, and she would shake her head and say, 'No good. You are going to get in trouble.' She would not have liked this poet laureate business."

Sharing the adventure

He moved to New York in 1958, and after a two-year stint in the Army (he was drafted) he graduated from New York University in 1966, and published his first book, "What the Grass Says," in 1967. Despite having no graduate degree, in 1970 he was hired to teach at California State University in Hayward, then was invited to join the faculty of UNH. Married in 1964, he and his wife have two grown children.

So demanding is poetry for Simic that he was taken aback when asked whether he is grateful for all that poetry has done for him. His answer, after a pensive pause, had the kind of unexpected twist that one finds in his poems: "I have never said to myself anything like that. Most of the time poetry, as it exists in the mind of this poet, is a huge pain in the [rear], a huge annoyance, because you are always thinking about it and worrying about things you haven't done well." Then he added, "I am happy it's there. I couldn't imagine my life without this constant annoyance, anxiety, obsession."

Whatever he does in the next year, Simic is experienced in bringing poetry to skeptics. "I enjoyed [teaching] because you are a kind of enthusiast," he said, "trying to convince students, many of whom are resistant, that this is worth reading, that it has something to do with their lives, that this is an imaginative and intellectual adventure for us as we read this poem or story together."

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Clean Part Reading Series - Sept 8

The Clean Part Reading Series does such nice posters!

Christian Wiman Interview


It’s not an earth-shattering interview, but it has a few revealing moments worth the seven minutes it will take to read. I still maintain that Poetry is not a good journal (due not to their inclusions, but to their exclusions), but now that their circulation is up to 30,000 units, I think it can be said that they have a very big voice.


P&W: Let me ask you about that article by Dana Goodyear in the New Yorker, followed by David Orr’s sharp response to it in the New York Times. What was that all about?

CW: I can’t get my mind around it any more than you can. I thought it was unfortunate. Look, the New Yorker had a great occasion to focus on poetry and they didn’t—much.

P&W: The piece seemed to be harking back to the Keillor debate—the idea of popularizing poetry versus maintaining standards.

CW: It’s a very simplistic distinction. What I believe, and what we believe at the Poetry Foundation, is that there are a whole lot of Americans who are perfectly capable of reading serious poetry, complicated poetry, and what’s happened is that there’s been a breakdown between the poetry that gets written and the people who read it. Our argument is that there has to be some way of healing this rift. We believe that if we put good poems in front of people, they’ll want to read them. Some people interpret that as dumbing down poetry, that you have to put bad poems in front of people for them to read them. We just don’t feel that way.


He says the split between popularizing poetry and maintaining standards is a simplistic one. I agree. But then he says the Poetry Foundation believes that if they “put good poems in front of people, they’ll want to read them.” Indeed. But who gets to define “good”? And why should someone interpret that as “dumbing down poetry,” unless it’s a reflection on The Poetry Foundation’s notion of “good.”

Maybe, here and there, Christian Wiman could listen to some contemporary version of Ezra Pound, for a different version of “good.” Perhaps Poetry might someday be known for something other than how much money it has, or what it published nearly a century ago.

A “whole lot” of Americans find out what’s going on in American poetry from Poetry and the Poetry Foundation. There’s a wonderful world of poetry they’re not seeing. On the other side of that mountain range, is a great country, where they speak a language The Poetry Foundation doesn’t understand. I think a “whole lot” of Americans would like a tour. Some might even want to move there.


Here’s a poem from Christian Wiman:

Rhymes for a Watertower

A town so flat a grave’s a hill,
A dusk the color of beer.
A row of schooldesks shadows fill,
A row of houses near.

A courthouse spreading to its lawn,
A bank clock’s lingering heat.
A gleam of storefronts not quite gone,
A courthouse in the street.

A different element, almost,
A dry creek brimming black.
A light to lure the darkness close,
A light to keep it back.

A time so still a heart’s a sound,
A moon the color of skin.
A pumpjack bowing to the ground,
Again, again, again.