Monday, December 24, 2007

Overlooked Albums of '07

Seeing all the lists around of best albums of 07, many with some very good albums mentioned, as this has been a good year for music, has made me want to add a few, that I wish were being mentioned more often. I think Neil Young's Chrome Dreams is very good, no surprise there, but others are noticing that as well. And Lucinda Williams, and Wilco, and all that, but here are three that I think should be on those lists:

Son Volt - The Search (the full 22-song version is really, really good. I don't know why people aren't more interested in it. If you search around [Amazon or itunes], you can also find some excellent live Son Volt tunes [which have better versions of "The Search" and "Highways & Cigarettes" than the album does] for pretty cheap. Stand out tracks: "Circadian Rhythm," "Methamphetamine," "Exurbia")

The Waterboys - Book of Lightning (you can get it as an mp3 album from Amazon for around $8.00, and it's also really, really good. Stand out tracks: "Everybody Takes a Tumble," "Strange Arrangement," "She Tried to Hold Me")

Ian Hunter - Shrunken Heads (everyone seems to have forgotten this one! And it even got some press when it came out... Stand out tracks: "When the World was Round," "Words [Big Mouth]")

Just my 2 cents from warm Austin, Texas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Enough of '07, We're ogg to Texas

So it snowed and then ice, and then all the trees broke, and many people lost their power and then more snow (after this picture was taken: Say hi to Natalie!), and so we've decided to go to Texas.
Next stop Austin.
Ciao, baby.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Context Is Everything?

"What is the context of this poem?"

This is one of the things I hear in workshops now and then. Another of those muddy, general words that seems to change meaning even as it’s being asserted. That’s always the case, really, when talking about art, it seems to me.

So, context, then.

Context as the writing situation? The site of reception? Where one might need to theory up the reason why this thing that’s being said is being said... ?

Or is it simply the scene of the poem itself? So we can see where the action is unfolding?

I suppose it’s a bit of both. Make it a little checklist of the poem:

Do I have my rhetorical situation defined? The “why.”
Do I have my scene adequately described? The “what.”

I’m not much interested in checklists, however useful they are. They make me feel I’m in a business-writing course. But, inside such motivations is a desire to be generous to the reader. The reader does want to know why he or she is reading the poem, and, along with that, what the poem is “about.” The “about,” and then the “what the ‘about’ is about.”

Can one have too much context?

It’s one thing to see the “context as scene” in, say, “The Red Wheel Barrow,” and quite another to then have to sit through the whole story behind the poem, right? Is that second, that added context, really adding to the poem, or is it overly placing the poem in a singular context? And why do people keep telling the story?

I dislike the story behind “The Red Wheel Barrow.” For me it over defines, it reduces, the “so much depends / upon” to one thing, when I want it to remain “so much.” the second story, the one with him at the farm house window, is not imporant to me (however it might have been to the child, and to the creation of the poem). This aspect of “context” I feel gets over relied upon in most poetry. It just feels so narrowing to me. (I would also argue that this narrowing is also a move into sentimentality, where we all can sit around and worry [without real worry] about a sick child, and leave the poem entirely.)

On the other hand, I really like the presentational quality of language. “Chair.” “Window.” That sort of thing. Context as scene. But I’ve always been a big fan of strong images in generalized situations.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cate Marvin - Fragment of the Head of a Queen

Full of the energy of destruction and imagistic warpages through the absurd, Cate Marvin’s Fragment of the Head of a Queen has been everything I hoped it would be, having enjoyed World’s Tallest Disaster very much. It’s taken me a while to get through however, as I’ve lost it twice. But it’s back now, and I’m nearly to the end, so it looks like I’m going to make it, which seems to fit the mood of the book well.

Cate Marvin
Cloud Elegy

The world felt bad. Every leaf looked
like it needed a cigarette. Gutters took
cups strewn at their lips, turned them
upright to offer tiny pleas for change.
Windows enacted a communal decision
to condense, despite the consistent lack
of rain. All lungéd things grew asthmatic,
did not know whether it was the smog
or sheer anxiety rendering them unable
to breathe. Doves, those trusted symbols
of fidelity, engaged in the most tawdry
affairs, could not have told you where
their hearts lay, even if you could have
pointed them out, say, in that ditch over
there. And although the sex was great,
being both untoward and ill-conceived,
the world was relieved to get a prescription.
The clouds became patients and allowed
their numb griefs to occlude our skyline.
Streets suddenly looked so tame, so placid
outside the bleary windows. And with just
a pill, millions of pills, the world didn’t
mind how awfully anxious and American
things had gotten. So what if our lives
were rotten? We were ready, anesthetized,
to face another century, the clouds a little
less gossamer, a little less reminiscent
of the shapes we had wished to take.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bin Ramke - tendril

I’ve been following Bin Ramke’s work closely for nearly 15 years, so I was excited to hear he had a new book coming out this fall. I finally have a copy (and I bought one for a friend as well), and I’m not disappointed. I never have been disappointed by his poetry, his close investigations of language and experience, keeps him as close to the text as he is to the life. It’s a wonderful combination, where, “About is all they walk / in silence.” Isn’t that just a glorious line? Not to mention how jealous I am that Ashbery has a nice note on the back . . .

Here’s the opening poem of tendril, his eighth collection.

Bin Ramke
An Esthetic (Ars Poetica)

A window, this window onto my courtyard
where snow flies upward windblown; none
should assume beyond his own isolation;

a lake is green, a local sky blues into gray,
any horizon darkens blue and green shades
into a wish, a wash of winter . . . it is snowing

which is a way out of his own silence; he feels
the abrasion of too many words flakes escaping
every mouth a whir a weather. “Beautiful”

someone said: aye, but buy, eat. Beauty
is as beauty used. Does its duty. Did. Used to:
be a duty. If into anagrams you add a letter,

a dull entry into the eager ledger, “beautiful”
becomes a form full of future, or could if
you would have it. Is a claim to future, a wistful list:

the history of future is a version, aversion is a kind
of aesthetic. As if. The beautiful is a form of that.
A clean room, a table, a window beyond, and beyond

that, green of trees and a lawn through the window
into the room the green of the room the air
the weather of the room of the lawn no the weather

underneath the snow the green of a past still
cool and quiet; a wall well woven into the mown
landscape is art, a wall made to be seen not used

scraped by air, wind snaking among long trees
loyal ally, long allée. Every sound its own silence
like light a shadow, Echo and Narcissus

home in their reflections still the lake
and the snow a wall of stone a long valley
visible from this window, the threatening

chlorophyll considerable against retina. Retained.
No one talks, no one about. About is all they walk
in silence. If he needs to think he needs to think of

as in, “to think of the granular feel of light
falling into gardens this morning, this a light
insidious morning”; it may not be needed, nor desired,

this light this morning. “A world” the boy said
to himself—a kind of thinking, to say, as in, he said
to himself, “the world is bigger than I thought,”

when the boy wandered into the garden among granular
bodies of light such a morning, this morning, that last morning
of his past, who was soon to learn a little future.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Year End Day One: G.C. Waldrep

Welcome to the end of the year countdown!

It’s been a hard week here in Missouri, and now some winter weather to move us further into December . . . so, to help us out, some poems from books of poetry from 2007!

First up, day one, the first poem from G.C. Waldrep’s Disclamor. A good poem to start the December countdown, for its holly, yes, but more the question. The desire past that single point.

Cloud of Witnesses

Day’s cage again and this time I try for a breeze,
I open a window to the east and a window to the west and I think
that this is something like the holly that lifts its blood-
fruit bright to the morning sun, to the afternoon sun,
to the evening breeze though with less fervor,
and I think the phone will ring. It always has. It is not ashamed of this,
its function, like the hollyberries in their naked plenty
which bob and weave, the bees which,
seeking their gilded herm, their bone-skep pene-
trate and stop at one single point, as light in certain media.
I crave this aftersilence. Angry buzz as night falls:
that artificial sun, a carnegie of lovers. I had rather been weeping.
It is beautiful. It is almost fearfully beautiful.
It is most fearsomely beautiful. I am still thinking, I am still waiting
for the phone to ring. The holly plays host to its spare nation.
If I believed you what would change. Tell me.