For all the news hounds out there, a little mood music.
Searching for a Heartbeat in Poetry & Music
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.""
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.
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.
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.”
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"
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 amazon.com. 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.