Friday, March 30, 2007

Chocolate Jesus

For all the news hounds out there, a little mood music.

Another Way to Think of It

Three paintings by Jules Olitski

When we read texts in poetry workshops, we tend to read toward a revision of the poem that yields a story that all can follow. Toward a narrative, a certain coherence, or clarity of purpose. But when we talk of the poems we ourselves love, the ones we return and return to, we often speak as one haunted, as one enthralled.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wishing I Were a Painter

Jasper Johns, False Start

Visual artists always have it over poets, I’m deciding. And I know it’s not a very new or original thought.

The same things that happened in the late nineteenth century, and then cascading through the twentieth, happened as much for poets as they did for visual artists. But, visual artists have been able to move much more freely with their medium (mediums!) than poets have. Paint, or color, will always have its elemental attraction to the senses that words just can’t match. So as Name Your Movement (etc.), and onward, captured the post-photograph freedom from figuration and narration for artists, there has been only a shadow of that kind of experimentation in poetry.

Rightfully so, I suppose, as words are not paint (video, etc.). But still, I can’t help but wonder if poets aren’t under-experimenting. And I’m not really thinking about imitation here, but I can’t help thinking that there must be more. Michael Palmer does well, I’m thinking, with this sort of experimentation. And Martha Ronk. And John Ashbery, in another way.

It’s just a thought, to take me into the weekend.

A thought like “What would Jasper John’s False Start look like as a poem?” Its pleasures as well as its movement within and away from the ordinary and the unrealizable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Clean Lines

So, anyway, there are many forms of beauty. That's thought one, and not terribly deep. The other is this: What is the poet for in America today? What is the poet to do, in and with language?
And for whom? "Yada-yada," is the first answer that comes to mind.
Ah, sweet little questions to take us into this spring Tuesday.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Neil Strikes Gold

From the department of "Every once in a while I like something that a lot of other people like as well":

Neil Strikes Gold With Archival Release
March 22, 2007, 12:00 AM ET
Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.

Neil Young has been a consistent presence on The Billboard 200 since the late 1960s, but only once has he ever debuted higher than the No. 6 position enjoyed this week by the Reprise set "Live at Massey Hall," taped in Toronto in 1971. Young previously reached No. 5 with the 1995 album "Mirror Ball," a collaboration with Pearl Jam.

"The tricky part with marketing an artist like this is, how much do you focus on the initial launch and then also save something for afterward?," says Reprise VP of marketing Peter Standish. "We also worked hard to decipher where his audience aggregates and how to reach them in a cost-effective manner."

Standish declined to go into detail about the different strategies the label employed to raise awareness of "Massey Hall," but concedes, "We've been on and off with print in terms of how heavy to advertise, but we decided to be aggressive with it this time and I'm glad we did. The marketplace is changing so rapidly -- a plan that worked six months ago is irrelevant today."

Indeed, there was a concerted effort to promote "Massey Hall" in advance of the September or October release of "Archives Vol. 1," a mammoth boxed set that has been in the works for 10 years and is something of a Holy Grail for Young fans. The project, which covers Young's career from 1963-1972, will feature eight audio CDs, two DVDs and a 200-page book of photos and memorabilia.

"Massey Hall" and last fall's "Live at the Fillmore East" will be included in the box as bonus discs. The remainder of the chronological collection features material cut with Young's early Canadian band the Squires, recordings from the period during which he lived in Topanga Canyon, Calif., scores of previously unreleased studio tracks and a live disc drawn from a week's worth of concerts from the Toronto venue the Riverboat.

"This really is an audio biography, not a boxed set," enthuses Standish, who says three additional "Archives" boxes will follow. "The photos in the book are unbelievable. Those in and of themselves are incredible pieces of art."

The notoriously press-shy Young is expected to do some interviews in support of "Archives" but for now is not planning a tour around the release. "A lot of people don't realize how extensive and intense the Freedom of Speech tour he did with Crosby, Stills & Nash was," says Standish. "I think Neil is taking a little bit of a break at the moment. But you never know what's around the corner. If the muse moves him, anything can happen.""

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Disclosure 101

Ah, so there is more to life than all this fiddle, as they say. There's always television. Which brings me to the disclosure of the day:

My favorite TV show: Dirty Jobs.
My second favorite TV show: Myth Busters.

That pretty much says it all.

New Son Volt / New-old Neil Young

OK, so if you've ever liked anything Son Volt has ever done, you'll like this one. And while you're at it, you'll want to get the thing off of itunes (and you'll get eight extra tracks that are just as good as the rest).


And as long as I'm making unqualified endorsements this morning, if you liked After the Goldrush and Harvest, or just acousic Neil Young in general, you'll want to rush out and pick up Live at Massey Hall, 1971 as quickly as wheels get you there. Trust me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reginald Gibbons - Our Present American Context

Reginald Gibbons, writing in APR, on Russian Meta-Realism, takes this detour into American poetry, and titles this little trip: "Our Present American Context for "Difficult" Poetry" (I know I’m somewhat decontextualizing this by quoting, so apologies):

. . . I can’t help believing that whatever it is that poetry does, with and in and to and against language, it is one of the most vitally human activities that we have, and that our culture, far from destroying it, has instead nourished it—but it has done so in a context of media and consumerism that is forever emptying poetry out, pushing it to confess something and urging it to keep itself readily understandable or inviting it to take a very oblique angle to ordinary language and to make sure that it is easily recognizable as not understandable. Resisting both this push and pull seems to me the stance that some poetry, at least must take, which means that it has to insist on thinking in its own ways.

Because mainstream American poetry tends toward demotic speech—however sequined and spangled in some quarters, of late, or however meandering and erudite in its documenting of sources and of poetic consciousness itself—and the autobiographical lyric (in a startling variety of modes), perhaps we poets and teachers haven’t encouraged in general readers a pleasure in language that is more complicated and a serious interest in subjects and poetic stances that are less personalized. Such pleasure, and such impersonality, can make for a difficulty that is worth the reader’s trouble, among other difficulties that are not. Antonio Machado—and ardent advocate of a certain kind of poetic clarity, to be sure—said in the early twentieth century that

“To create enigmas artificially is as impossible as to attain absolute truths. Yes, one can manufacture mysterious trinkets, little dolls which have, hidden in their bellies, something which will rattle when they are shaken. But enigmas are not of human confection; reality imposes them, and it is there, where they are, that a reflective mind will seek them out in the desire to penetrate them, not to play at amusing itself with them.”

From this, I’m not sure he would have liked the poetry of Mandelshtam, Tsvetaeva, or Pasternak, if he knew it; but I think he would have sensed that it does seek out, in serious play, genuine mystery both in reality and in language, and does not manufacture mystery for its own sake.


Several things here are of interest to me.

Is there a pressure in American poetry, “pushing it to confess something and urging it to keep itself readily understandable or inviting it to take a very oblique angle to ordinary language and to make sure that it is easily recognizable as not understandable”?

On the one hand there is Ted Kooser, with his “Make it Understandable To the People in the Office” dictum, and yes, John Barr’s Poetry Foundation seems to be involved in Mass Clairty . . . but beyond that? Is the other pole of “easily recognizable as not understandable” really in play?

Honestly, while at AWP, I found neither to be the case. Maybe I just hang around poets who are those who are “resisting both this push and pull.” But what poet (besides Kooser, and maybe two others) wouldn’t want to resist? Don’t we all want to write poetry that “has to insist on thinking in its own ways”?

I’m not sure what distinction, if any, Gibbons is really making here in American poetry, but I think this obscures his better point, the point about enacting mystery, a true mystery, in poetry. One that “seek[s] out, in serious play, genuine mystery both in reality and in language, and does not manufacture mystery for its own sake.”

I won’t rise to the bait of naming names here, because I feel Gibbons and I would come up with very different lists of poets who enact genuine mystery, and those who manufacture mystery for its own sake. But still, this little point has me interested today. More profitable mystery! More difficulty that’s worth the reader’s time!

And this admission is one I wish people would listen to:

“. . . perhaps we poets and teachers haven’t encouraged in general readers a pleasure in language that is more complicated and a serious interest in subjects and poetic stances that are less personalized.”


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Reginald Shepherd - One Art

Reginald Shepherd is a one-man publishing empire these days. And wonderfully so for the rest of us. I picked up his excellent (OK, I’m only a quarter of the way through it, but I’ve signed up) brand-new book Fata Morgana, at AWP, and his book of essays is in the publication process, and now this essay is available to all of us, for a week, at Poetry Daily. This is one of the best statements on the art of poetry in our time that I've yet come across. Give it a read. Share it with John Barr:

“Dominated by the twin poles of earnestly mundane anecdote and blank-eyed, knee-jerk irony, much contemporary American poetry is embarrassed by passion, by large gestures, and by major aspirations, as if they were immodest at best, dishonest at worst. As Jorie Graham has said in an interview with critic Thomas Gardner, "we have been handed down by much of the generation after the modernists – by their strictly secular sense of reality (domestic, confessional), as well as by their unquestioned relationship to the act of representation – an almost untenably narrow notion of what [poetry] is capable of." This inheritance still dominates the poetic mainstream, despite the many and diverse openings of the field since then. American poetry still tends to dismiss or ignore those possibilities which cannot be neatly packaged and contained. Among poets who reject the mainstream mode that Graham describes, including those who see themselves as experimental or even "oppositional," too many retreat into easy, evasive sarcasm and tidy, self-congratulatory ironies. (Joshua Corey calls this "phrases meeting cute").”

Read the whole essay, from Pleiades:Reginald Shepherd's "One State of the Art"

Monday, March 12, 2007

The World on a Monday

The world on a Monday:

C. Dale Young reports that the Four Way Books Spring collection has moved from pre-order to 4-6 weeks delivery status on They’re almost here!

As well, he has a link to the dust up between The New York Times and The New Yorker. Poetry Daily also has a link to both:

· Dana Goodyear's article. (From The New Yorker).
· David Orr’s riposte to Dana Goodyear's essay. (From The New York Times.)

It’s really worth your time to read both of these articles. As well, the John Barr article is available on line at POETRY’s website.

And then read the AWP retorts:


Why is all this important? Well, the arguments back and forth really come down to money, power, and visibility. Mostly, no one would notice or care much about John Barr’s thoughts on contemporary poetry if he weren’t the president of a foundation worth 200 million dollars. 200 million dollars puts a lot of advertising smack behind one’s views. As well, David Orr has a bit of criticism of Dana Goodyear and The New Yorker, for the way poetry is treated there . . . visibility. The repeated story becomes the story. And the story of contemporary poetry is being written over our heads by a bunch of people with wide circulation and quite a bit of money.

Here’s my open call to John Barr: Mr. Barr, if you really care about the dissemination of poetry of all kinds, as you said at AWP, then you should also put some money behind an alternative press. Or an alternative press prize. As of now, you’ve put a lot of time and money into a very narrowly defined conception of poetry. It’s time to open the table to more guests.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Home Again from AWP

The light wasn't good, but this is the only shot I have of the table crew all together. From left to right, Amanda Meyer, Brenda Lewis, and Rosetta Ballew.

Four Way Books at AWP

Another one Rosie Ballew took. Suitable for class adoption.

Waiting, in my superhero pose

Will sign books for money

I didn't think I could get my grin that big

Rosie took this one. I'm not used to grinning that much.
My face still hurts.

Claire Bateman & Albert Goldbarth

Which is which?

Joan Connor & Albert Goldbarth at AWP

Which is which?

Kevin Prufer at AWP Atlanta

Kevin Prufer! He held still long enough for a photograph!

Wilkinson, Svalina, Wrenn at AWP

Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Mathias Svalina, and Greg Wrenn

Mark Halliday at AWP Atlanta

Mark Halliday as Mark Halliday

I didn't get many pictures from AWP . . . I kept forgetting I had a camera until it was too late. But here are a few.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Observable St. Louis

Jon Woodward, John Gallaher, and Wayne Miller

Ah, St. Louis. Thanks to Aaron Belz for a wonderful evening. A serious case of red eye on this shot turned Jon Woodward into a very dark-eyed man. As well, my expression here is tied to the fact that in order to grab these two, I had to stnd on my tippy-tippy toes.
I enjoyed it, even with all that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Observable Readings - Woodward, Gallaher, Miller

Wayne Miller says, "Only the senses sleep" . . . Find out tomorrow night!


Time: 8 p.m.

Cost: free!

Location: Schlafly Bottleworks (directions), St. Louis, MO

More info: or join the mailing list

March 8, 2007:
Jon Woodward, John Gallaher, Wayne Miller

Jon Woodward was born in Wichita, Kansas. He currently lives in the Boston area and works at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. His first book, Mister Goodbye Easter Island, was published by Alice James Books in 2003. His second book, Rain, was published by Wave Books in 2006.

John Gallaher is the author of Gentlemen in Turbans, Ladies in Cauls (Spuyten Duyvil, 2001) and the forthcoming The Little Book of Guesses (Four Way Books, 2007) winner of the Levis Poetry Prize. He is an editor of The Laurel Review.

Wayne Miller is the author of Only the Senses Sleep (New Issues, 2006) and What Night Says to the Empty Boat (GreenTower, 2005), translator of I Don't Believe in Ghosts (BOA), by Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo, and co-editor of the forthcoming anthology New European Poetry (Graywolf). Miller teaches at Central Missouri State University, where he co-edits Pleiades.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

AWP Atlanta: Make it "Newfangled"

Was it just me of did the bookfair look like some form of prayer circle?

A few random AWP experiences:

John Barr went in a chicken suit. Well, mostly. He was listed in the program as going to deliver a version of his essay (and I use the term loosely) that was published in the September issue of POETRY. Instead, he got up and told us that since he published it, and there was reaction and “reaction to the reaction,” that we were most likely quite familiar with the whole thing, he felt no desire to do a retread. (Or a revision or recantation or justification. For any of which I was hoping.)

So he tossed a 20 minute “verbal brochure” (as the person with whom I was sitting, Rosie Ballew, termed it) at us. At one point he even had us all applaud for ourselves and the publishers and editors doing “the good work for poetry” downstairs. And then he said something about “newfangled” poetry and left the stage before any questions could be asked.


I told Matthew Zapruder that my mother-in-law sent me his The Pajamaist for my birthday, to which he replied: “That’s the strangest sentence I’ve heard here.”

As he turned to leave, he said, “Thank your mother-in-law for me,” to which I replied: “That’s the strangest sentence I’ve heard here.”


Strange realization: There are many poets who have no idea how dismissed John Ashbery is, especially in the universities in the center of the country.

Strange realization number two: Most everyone I know already knows most everyone else I know.


I spoke with several people who agree that it’s a particular emergency that Jennifer Militello’s wonderful first book hasn’t yet been published.


Four Way Books (apologies to the rest of the bookfair . . .) is the most exciting and friendly and wonderful press. I had tremendous fun hanging around their table making a general nuisance of myself.

In the same way, it was great to meet (if all too briefly) the other Four Way Books authors who I bumped into: Deborah Bernhardt and C. Dale Young (who we all agree has the best laugh of AWP—and the most to celebrate with what he’s been through in the publication process of The Second Person) and Ellen Dudley and Jeffery Harrison . . .


I find that I got to bed, and therefore wake up, much earlier than Wayne Miller.


Some books I left with:

In No One’s Land. Paige Ackerson-Kiely
Shade, edited by David Dodd Lee
Rise Up. Matthew Rohrernew one
The Kitchen Sink. Albert Goldbarth (Also the heaviest book I lugged home from AWP as well as the one with the funniest inscription and the most practical premium: a drain stopper)
Hams beneath the Firmament. Terri Ford
Fata Morgana. Reginald Shepherd (who now sports a beard!)
The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World. Paul Guest
Things That Never Happened. Gordon Osing
Wayne Miller. Only the Senses Sleep
Rift. Forrest Hamer
Prairie Fever. Mary Biddinger
Becoming the Villainess. Jeannine Hall Gailey
The Second Person. C. Dale Young
Incomplete Knowledge. Jeffrey Harrison
The Geographic Cure. Ellen Dudley
Conviction’s Net of Branches. Michael Heller

I was worried about my suitcase (I only travel with a carry-on, so I don’t have much space) filling up, but, even with that, I can’t believe I left without Donald Revell’s wonderful new translation of Rimbaud, or Christopher Arigo’s new one, or Rae Armantrout’s, or Zachary Schomburg's The Man Suit . . . back to my amazon wish list they go . . .


I had a wonderful time talking with any people about any things. It was great to meet people I only knew through emails and blogs: Paul Guest, C. Dale Young, Mary Biddinger, Charles Jensen, Jeannine Hall Gailey . . .

And the talented contributors to The Laurel Review, like Greg Wrenn . . .

And to meet people doing fun and innovative things, and then, with that, as all AWP trips, the whole thing just dissolves into a long list of names . . . Infernoesque, I’ve decided. The level of the winds.

I will just say this: I had a good time. It was great to be able to talk about, and hear others talking about John Ashbery (the panel I was on). It was a particular joy to be at the Four Way Books table. It was fun, even at The Laurel Review table. And having a drink here and there with who and whom.

Monday, March 05, 2007

AWP Atlanta 3

While I mostly hovered around the table looking confused, Rosie Ballew took care of the smiling and being friendly. Besides the two of us, Amanda Meyer and Brenda Lewis kept the table running.

AWP Atlanta 2

Well, AWP was a crazy planet this year. Mostly I hung around with my bottle of Coke at The Laurel Review table. Here I am with Mathias Svalina on the far right, and, I believe, Doug Van Gundy in the middle.

AWP Atlanta

We arrived to our table to find a note from RHINO. It was Mary Biddinger saying hello. We shared our little area with The Black Warrior Review. They were sporting a huge new issue (close to 200 pages) with beautiful art. They were also very friendly. All is as it should be.
They say AWP is getting larger every year and I believe them.