Monday, October 22, 2007

Took a Trip to Colorado 5

And then it was a drive for home for Kevin Prufer and John Gallaher. It was great to meet so many people. A little bit of a blur though. Oh well. Thanks to all, especially Matthew Cooperman and Jake Adam York, and Kevin, who did the driving. Even in the snow and through the tornado alert.

Ft. Collins had amazing light across the little houses. I want desperately to have this shot as a book cover. The crisp edges. The little planned yards, canted.

And then it snowed most of the way through Colorado.

And Bhanu Kapil made for a grand total of something like 18 poets (counting hosts, that is, and Dan Beachy-Quick and Sasha Steensen).

Took a Trip to Colorado 4

Alex Lemon made it 12, or 13, counting our gracious host.

After Denver, a few of us headed up to Fort Collins for the Grayrock Poetry Festival, hosted by Matthew Cooperman (right). Completing the picture is Amy Catanzano (center left), a guy whose name I didn't catch, apologies (far left), and me (center right).

Joshua Kryah, flanked by posters. It was a great venue.

And Wayne Miller just about completes the set.

Took a Trip to Colorado 3

Hadara Bar-Nadav, the newest poet in Kansas City . . .

And Kevin Prufer . . .

Janet Holmes

And Joshua Kryah as Carnac the Magnificent . . .

I Took a Trip to Colorado 2

Zachary Schomburg, in a bit of a blur.

Bright lights are not good for people like John Gallaher, who have thin hair.

Eliot Khalil Wilson, preaching to the choir.

Wayne Miller, who it seems I never get to read with . . .

Took a Trip to Colorado 1

I took a drive to Colorado this week where there were something like 2,000 poets. Here's a picture of Mathias Svalina with a few of them.

First was the Denver Mint Poetry Festival, hosted by Jake Adam York, above, who walked around mysteriously in the dark.

Kate Greenstreet was there . . .

. . . as was Adam Clay, above. It was a busy few days. And bright lights.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Richard Hugo - On Creative Writing Workshops

Richard Hugo (1923-1982)

The Triggering Town, was the first book on Creative Writing I ever read, over 20 years ago now. People don’t talk about Richard Hugo much these days, but they should. The scope and activity of his poetry, and the warmth and honesty of his prose should both stand as models.

Here is an excerpt from his 1980 Address to the AWP Conference

Why are we writing? A silly question, granted. We write because we can’t stop, or as Bill Stafford says, for the same reason we talk. But there’s an even more serious answer, and it is one that has evolved in our time. We write to validate our lives, our relations with the world and with each other. Literature will have to take care of itself.

In Bill Stafford's fine essay, “Whose Tradition,” he points out quite rightly that today we do not come to our own writing through literature but rather come to literature through our writing. The idea that reading precedes writing always struck me as silly anyway. Now that is becoming clear. As Stafford puts it:

“Today students all over the country are entering poetry, the reading and writing of it, as an immediate part of their lives. They lavish around in the lines; they swim in the language. They are finding their own central impulses and inventing their own felt sentences in ways other than assumed in the past. It is simply not true, for instance, that young students rely on a knowledge of 'literature' to enable their entry into poetry—rather, it is the other way around. They rely on talk, their own, and the talk around them. Their writings, and speakings, are like little explosions of discovery, and they delight in those little explosions in talk and in writings of those ignorantly delighting around them.”

Despite the accuracy of Stafford’s paragraph, obstacles to good writing remain. The very things one must do to write are things discouraged, no matter how inadvertently, by the world in which we live. Perhaps that accounts for the growing interest in writing. Ortega y Gasset has pointed out that modern societies manage to perpetuate themselves by preventing the individual from taking a stance toward the world. And it seems that our relationship with our world is jeopardized in a thousand insidious ways that were not the inventions of any one mind, nor governmental plots, but simply evolved from many circumstances, one of those circumstances being the sudden increase in world population. Literary tradition, which must survive if we can help it, is not all that may be threatened by demographics and complicated social forces. It’s hard to take a stance in an overcrowded and constantly changing world: where are we?

To write we must take a stance and that stance must endure for the duration of the poem or story we are writing. I would have said years ago that to write a good poem from circumstances that were emotionally loaded with the personal feelings of the writer would take a long time, years of accumulating technique until the technique became a part of the poet and the poet could forget technique because it would now be there when needed. How many times I’ve been surprised by young poets who can write solid poems out of deep personal losses and experiences fairly soon after the loss or experience has occurred. To write such a poem you must either discover your relations with the “subject” and then have the courage to stay with those relations for the duration of the poem, or you must create those relations and then stay with those. Either way you are taking a stance in a world that is telling you not to.

Just how much we, as creative writing teachers, […] help student writing is problematical. If not one good piece of writing ever came out of a creative writing workshop, the workshop would still be important if it allowed students to bring their lives and their relationships with the world and each other, and to realize that those lives and their relationships mattered.

A poem from the immediacy of the poet’s life, as Bill Stafford says. So our new responsibilities I hope become clear to us even if I’ve but touched on them here. The new responsibility of helping to perpetuate English departments and the traditional teaching of literature. And that is a new responsibility. And the other responsibility, really an ongoing one, and in some ways as old as poetry itself, but new in its present form because of changing circumstances in our lives and in the traditions of education: the responsibility of creating and maintaining a place where people can bring the immediacy of their lives and language, and can create or discover a stance that will enable them to create out of those lives and words.


Here’s one of my favorite poems by Richard Hugo:

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?

Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II - Preview

OK, so Neil Young’s new album is Chrome Dreams II.

In includes a very old track, “Ordinary People” which is available to listen to through Rolling Stone dot com. At 18 plus minutes, it’s quite an experience.

I’ve also had the opportunity to listen to the track, “No Hidden Path” which clocks in at 14 plus minutes, in which he gets to play a lot of “Change Your Mind” style electric breaks.

And now here are two more interesting previews, via YouTube:

Neil Young, “The Way”

Neil Young, “Spirit Road”

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Second Poem

Uh-oh, this room sure is getting crowded.

I write a lot. Call it some obsessive-compulsive disorder, or some terror of not being able to write, or what you will, but the truth of the matter is I just write a lot.

And part of writing a lot is this question:

What do you go in search of after you’ve written many poems?

When the first idea is gone, or THE idea, or what you can conceptualize, is gone? It happens to everyone at some point (and often gets folded into the work itself as a floating anxiety, as well as overt content), and it’s often called the waning of talent. But that’s too easy. It’s more like the waning of subject matter. Or the waning of a stance. Or just that the room you’re sitting in starts getting old and falling down.

There are some lucky ones (John Ashbery, for instance) who are so connected to process itself, that continuance doesn’t seem to be much of a bother (that we can see)—but for others, which is, most of us, the choices of each poem, the open possibilities of the next poem, continually narrow as we write more poems.

What to do?

1. Repeat yourself
2. Do something new

Most of us opt for repetition. And who would blame us? We can always say that we’re further investigating the space of a looking. And there’s some truth to that. There are many examples of just this sort of focused looking over time. And those who opt for something new are just as likely to utterly fail as to achieve anything much.

Who wants to start at zero continually?

The idea being that there are no new thoughts, just new combinations of thoughts. In that way, we’re always starting at near zero anyway . . . so maybe we should opt for a large newness, not a honed furtherance of investigation.

One of the things that’s always fascinated me about this very old dilemma is, thinking positively, how can one draw a line between repetition, and genuinely new work, if each poem is a narrowing of possibility for the next?

I’m reading Wallace Stevens again. Harmonium was an amazing book, and in its achievement, it cast quite a shadow across his later work. He had to grow old before he found a way into a stance that could add to Harmonium, and not just follow its nuances.

Robert Lowell, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, John Berryman all were able to make a jump from one success to another (at least once), and then what?

I’m not sure what I’m saying with all of this.

But the question is always open at the start of the second poem, there in the space filled by the first. For us, the mortals, how do we find our way to new work? How does one continue to investigate reality, or investigate the room of one’s ability to perceive, without repeating the gestures into hollowness, or the poems that first allowed the room to open?

Change the lighting?

The wallpaper?

Look for a new room?

Open a window?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Martha Ronk - Vertigo

Martha Ronk is one of our great poets, along with Michael Palmer and few others, of the economy of perception. The way the sentence changes in just the way—or an enactment of the way—our perception changes regarding the scene, so that the reader is continually waking through the veils of that place:

One tries to get through, French doors somersaulted into,
the door as a way into it was about evening then.

It’s a project of elemental engagement with being in the world, within the actions of being in the world. And it just thrills me, like a rollercoaster ride through a still life.

Her newest book is Vertigo.

“The grayness of the early hours lasted almost until noon”

The crows are always there if this is where one lives.
So much for the principal parts of the story.
But it was not until two weeks later
I wrote about the birds, getting no response,
whereas in fact all is determined
by the most complex of interdependencies.
I told her they always woke me up when I was there
and she noted them but said she always slept through.
Then she began to acquire a bit more definition
later in the day and after I moved where the crows
from the gray cloud had done everything together
in the most ominous way. The association of the two
seems to have to do with sleeplessness,
with how so much earlier keeps hanging on.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Laurel Review - Summer/Fall 2007

OK, so it actually is the "Summer" issue, but with most of us being gone most of the summer, we're thinking we should maybe start calling it the fall issue . . .

If you would like to subscribe, drop me a line at, and we'll set you up at the rock bottom introductory low price of $5.00 for two issues . . .

The Laurel Review
Summer 2007


David Baker, Clean Blade

Linda Bierds, Dürer Near Fifty

Paula Closson Buck, The Smallest Man Carries the Candle
The Heart Is
Elegy for My Novel

Catherine Daly, Tectonic

Shira Dentz, 3 Sexograms

Angie Estes, Takeoff

Kathy Fagan, Leap of Faith

Albert Goldbarth, A Two-Day Trip in 800 Years
The Mailbox

Linda Gregerson, De Magnete

Thomas Heise, Examination

John Hoppenthaler, College Town
Still Life with Signed Iris DeMent Poster, Infamous Angel on the Stereo

Catherine Imbriglio, Light Be There Let

Cat Jones, Lex Olifantus

Aby Kaupang, Strom days are roses

Sally Keith, Without Hurry

Jesse Lee Kercheval, 4:15

Joanna Klink, Vireo

David Lazar, On Canal

Matt Mason, Decades Later, He Recalls the Terrors of Birth

Christopher Matthews, Family Reunion

Richard Meier, Of Which This Answer Is The Continuance
Stéphane Mallarmé
The Loft (Negative Capability)

Jeanne Stauffer-Merle, Within an Inch of Your

Carl Phillips, Wingbeat, Hoofbeat

Emily Rosko, [Accoutred as I was plunged in]
[In thy dumb action will I be as perfect]

Steven D. Schroeder, Fifteen Ways to Finish Fish

Jason Tandon, Morning on Snake Mountain

Jonathan Weinert, Fair Affair of the Little “I”

Greg Wrenn, Onto
Poem Found in Rothko’s Papers

Jean Valentine, Even all night long
[The white-washed walls, the chair]


Charles Heiner, Miss Kristinsen

Catherine Kriege, Miracle

Daniel T. Smith, The Mission


Maxine Chernoff, Homeland Security

Wayne Miller, A Defense of John Ashbery

J.D. Smith, Salt Water

Mark Spitzer, Garuminations

Brian Jay Stanley, The Lonely Race

Holly Welker, Priming the Pump


Peter Makuck, Master And Mistress of Shine: on the poetry of Anele Rubin and Michael McFee

Scott Minar, Undying Nature: A Review of Mark Strand’s Man and Camel