Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Michael Dumanis - My Soviet Union

Michael Dumanis

There comes the point
in every story
when I panic,

there comes this panic,
I catch myself clutching
a wrench at a Wal-Mart,

a wren in a field,
clutching a wrist
near a radio tower,

or someone’s key
I had not been aware of,
turning the knob

of a make-believe door.
Body the contour
of jazz in a speakeasy,

body the texture
of gaps in a gangway,
why I keep letting

you down is beyond me.
I’ve taken pains.
Practiced synchronized breathing.

Counted past ten.
Talked with zeal about things.
Even summoned the nerve

to look fetching in amber.
But can’t get past
that which rattles inside me.

Try to think back:
was I going
to flash you or juggle.

Or was there a story
I needed to tell you.
Was it important.

Could it have swayed you.
I meant to give objects
totemic significance,

refer to a childhood,
invoke certain towns.
And would I have broken

one heart or another.
It was the story of my life,
it would have started

with the note la,
then a couple of llamas.
Sometimes, a window fan

would, in it, pass for an eye.
Trust me,
it would have been riveting.

- - -

Michael Dumanis’s My Soviet Union is relentless. It has the sort of obsessive energy that I admire, feeling more forged than constructed. Smelted, not carved. Anyway, it’s a swinging for the fence book, and I’m enjoying that.

The book reminds me, more in its power than in its voice, a bit of Mark Strand. Or am I imagining that?

I’ll take it with me on a trip tomorrow, and re-read it. I’ll think about it some.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Caffeine Destiny

Caffeine Destiny

fall 2007

arlene ang
mary biddinger
ryan collins
john gallaher
anne heide
david lehman
reb livingston
rebecca loudon
john morrison
susan stewart

I’m coming to the Internet party late, I know, so forgive my obvious comments, but I’m very enthusiastic about the speed of online journals. With print journals, even with quick reading cycles (say, Denver Quarterly, for instance), the work that comes out, when it’s published, is often a year or two old (dating from submission, if you want to go back to composition, things get exponential). In literary terms, that was always considered fast, I know, but no more.

I thought the same thing when Pilot Poetry published a couple very recent poems of mine. Likewise, the poems of mine that Susan Denning has just published are more than just recent, they’re immediate. The last three were written the week I sent them (the last one, I believe, was from that very day), and that was only a little over a month ago.

Sign me up for the revolution.

- - -

This goes for chapbooks also: Beard of Bees has a new one up from Paul Hoover, and there are others, of course.

- - -

One of the things I admire about Caffeine Destiny is, within a small group of poets, how one is able to find quite a bit of aesthetic diversity. Arlene Ang is such a different poet than John Morrison, for instance. And that is how it should be. (I think, at any rate.)

Onward to the ramparts!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wichita Speed Trap

Open Letter

There are several kinds of speed traps. The small town with a leg out to a piece of highway. The speed limit signs hidden behind shrubbery.

What I’m thinking about today is what happened to me the other morning in Wichita, Kansas. I entered a construction zone heading away from where I wanted to be heading, so I needed to make a left turn (or a U-turn, actually). Unfortunately, it was a large construction zone with “no left turn” signs everywhere, so I ended up making a right turn, then a U-turn further down the road, then through the intersection, and U-turn, and back to the red light, to make my final right, to head back out of the mess.

I made my right turn, from a stop, and went about 50 yards to where cops were pulling car after car over. They said I was doing 51 in a 35.

A few things about this. I went from a dead stop to 51 MPH in 50 yards in a loaded down 4-cylinder Toyota Highlander? Turns out, one can get some sort of deferment in Kansas from speeding tickets as long as one is not going more than 15 MPH over the speed limit.

That explains why I was going 16 MPH over the speed limit, I suppose.

Ah, you say, but it was a construction zone! One must be forced to drive safely in construction zones!

This little speed trap was set up at the very last cones, leading out of the construction zone and onto a highway on-ramp. I don’t even believe the cop ever actually pointed his radar gun at my car, they were so busy pulling people over. I call it more of a feeding-frenzy than law enforcement.

We’re supposed to respect the police (and teach our children that), and honor them for putting their lives on the line for the betterment of society. But what do we do with this kind of behavior? There were no police present in the actual construction zone, or leading IN to the construction zone, where their presence might have actually done some good. No, they were at the EXIT, at the end of the month, filling out ticket after ticket.

Of course every occupation has its own form of bureaucratic evil. The person at the desk who could help you, but legally doesn’t have to so you talk to the hand. The teacher. The real estate agent. The car salesman.

But there’s something very dispiriting when it’s a cop scamming for tickets. It is in no way helping the world be a better place. It eats at our respect for all public officials. All police. Society.

Now back to better things, as I fill out my check and then lick the envelope.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Kate Greenstreet - case sensitive

case sensitive
Kate Greenstreet


How many times can you bang one small body,
he said, and have it not
be a form of torture.

Up a lot last night—waiting for the pain
to move. With the now discredited
fever, “traveling fever.”

When you notice that huge
parts of your

are missing. I made it out of what it looks like.
Ivory black, lamp black, mars
black, words from a book.

He’s gone to Rome, it’s his favorite city.
I call it “my black velvet”—that
day. That night, or day.

Several books came out last year that I’ve had a difficult time getting through, not because I don’t like them, I do, but simply because they are so long. Kate Greenstreet’s case sensitive is a good example (another is Richard Meier’s excellent Shelly Gave Jane a Guitar, but there are several). I like this book quite a bit, and the above poem tremendously. But as the book is 118 pages long, I have this terrible tendency to browse when I should be reading. I’m sure this is my failing (I also like poetry readings when they’re fairly short.), and others might talk about the wonderful experience of really sitting with a book when it’s long, but my feeling is that the longer the book, the more the individual poems can get lost in the blur. I would have preferred that this book were two books, as I like to read poems slowly and many times. I would have purchased both.

None of this diminishes what Greenstreet is able to accomplish here, in this poem and book. The tightness of the fragments. The lyrical smoothness above the disquieting possibilities . . .

Friday, July 27, 2007

David Lowery - Deep Oblivion

David Lowery, “Deep Oblivion.”

You can check out this song, as well as a few others at


I have a slightly different version (which I like a bit better as the electric guitar is featured more) of “Big Life” that I downloaded from Crackersoul.com a couple years ago, that I’ve always liked quite a bit. The other songs here are also quite good: “Please Don’t Give it Away” and “Those Girls Meant Nothing” . . .

What can I say about David Lowery? He’s been one of my favorite songwriters (with a little help, here and there, from his friends) for a long time now, and both of the bands he’s been in, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, are, well, equally interesting to me (with a slight edge to Cracker, because of Johnny Hickman’s guitar).

There’s a way that Lowery can sound both ironic and sentimental at (nearly) the same time that’s always intrigued me, and has felt very consistent, no matter the band or the context. One instance of this is one of my very favorite Lowery songs, “That Gum You Like Is Back in Style” that he co-wrote with Hickman [from Cracker], but recorded with Camper Van Beethoven. I read somewhere that he thought the song felt more like a Camper Van Beethoven song, but, like these four songs on his myspace demo page, I think of it as something of a distinction without a real difference.

That said, I look forward to getting copies of these four songs (or three, if you discount “Big Life” which I kind of already have a copy of) in whatever incarnation they end up presented in. Or he could just send me a CDR? I’ll even trade a book for it.

I’m easy to find.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bookstores and Poetry and Search Engines

A funny thing happened to me on the way to pick up some tropical fish yesterday. Perhaps it’s a question for anyone who’s published a book:

I walked into a Barnes & Noble, and went to the poetry section. There, for the first time in my life, I found, on the shelf, a copy of a book that I’ve written. What a weird sensation. One of those “look around for the camera” moments.

At the checkout counter, I mentioned to the clerk (well, I simply HAD to tell someone) that my book was there. She asked me if I wanted to sign it. So, of course, I did. Now there’s a copy of The Little Book of Guesses with a “signed by the author” sticker on it at the Arboretum Barnes & Noble, in Austin, Texas.

What an odd little scenario. Do you know what I’m saying?

In other, slightly related news, I’ve come across a new search engine:


It’s powered by Yahoo, and they say that for every search you perform, they’ll donate a penny to the charity of your choice. How interesting. I typed in “Four Way Books,” and, well, I suppose I’m donating a penny to Four Way Books every time I search for something now. So far I think I’ve donated something like five cents.

I don’t know how this works, but at some point I’ll ask Four Way Books if they’ve gotten the check.

In other, further other, news:

New books on the horizon I’m excited about:

Bin Ramke, Tendril (Omnidawn, due in September)
Mary Jo Bang, Elegy (Graywolf – in hardcover!)
Cate Marvin, Fragment of the Head of a Queen (Sarabande)
G. C. Waldrep, Disclamor (BOA)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book News: Jennifer Militello and Kent Shaw and more

There were two unpublished manuscripts I came across last year, one from Dan Kaplan, and one from Jennifer Militello, that I was so convinced needed to be published soon, I wrote something to that effect on this blog (December, maybe?).

Almost immediately (or perhaps already, and I just didn't know about it yet), Dan Kaplan’s Bill’s Formal Complaint was picked up by The National Poetry Review Press, and now it’s a sweep, as Jennifer Militello’s (currently titled) History of the Always Pain has just been announced as winner of the 8th annual Tupelo Press First Book Award, in conjunction with the journal Crazyhorse (which remains [and now even more so!] one of my very favorite literary journals).

Congratulations to Jennifer, this is wonderful news about a very deserving collection.

Book publishing is hard on poets. Where to send? And how long it takes (years!), in most cases: the sending out and the wait, and the seemingly inevitable letter . . . the money, the time, the writing and the rewriting. In my own story, I have five manuscripts on my shelf, as my writing life has, well, gone more quickly than my publishing life.

But on the other hand, over the past couple years, nearly everyone I know who was circulating a manuscript, has had it accepted. And they’ve been very good manuscripts: Wayne Miller (Only the Senses Sleep), Hadara Bar-Nadav (A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight), Joshua Kryah (Glean), Rebecca Aronson (Creature, Creature), and also Kent Shaw, who was just recently announced as the winner of the Tampa Review Prize for his book, Calenture, which will also be coming out in 2008. Congratulations to Kent, for this well deserved news.

I’m going to use all this positive vibration, then, and say that I’ve seen the recently completed second manuscript from Kathleen Ossip (whose first book, The Search Engine, won the APR prize a few years back), and I simply adore its relentless mix of tones and approaches. Dear Presses, can I get a witness?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Good Reads

Interesting place of the day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Poetic Projects & The Flaming Lips

I had a bag I could fill with books for my trip to Texas. I decided to bring books I’ve read and re-read, and keep coming back to, as well as a couple new books I’m not done with yet.

I brought
The Library of America edition of Wallace Stevens’s collected work
Louise in Love, by Mary Jo Bang
The Worldly Country, John Ashbery
The Oval Hour, by Kathleen Peirce
Notes for Echo Lake, by Michael Palmer
Littlefoot, Charles Wright

These books are keeping me busy thinking about “projects.” The difference between a project in the Mary Jo Bang, Louise, sense, and a project in the Wallace Stevens sense. Both types of projects are very interesting to me, in their obsessive investigations.

In other news, I got a tattoo. Yes. And I like it very much, even if it has nothing to do with poetry. Take me swimming, and you'll see it.

As well, I just picked up tickets for The Faming Lips show in Kansas City in September. I’ve followed their work for nearly 20 years, and this will be my first Lips live show . . .

Friday, July 13, 2007

Baby Manifesto No. 1

There’s a sublimity to multiplicity that hasn’t been thoroughly investigated.

Just saying.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

John Ashbery & Charles Wright

New books this year from Charles Wright & John Ashbery . . .

I've always linked these two poets in my imagination, though I imagine that they wouldn't link themselves in their own conceptualizations of the thing.

There's something in their continuances that fascinates me, and gives me hope of a way out of "poems" and into the engagement of "poetry." That's always been something of a goal of mine, to get into and out of writing "poems." There comes a time when I weary of poems, with their starts, middles, and stops. I weary of the continual up and at it.

So I'm thinking of the failure of poems in Ashbery and Wright. The failure, yes, and the larger success of the poetry itself. Ashbery, who is so epiphany haunted that his poems are always concluding, and Wright, with his presence/absence haunting, that cause his poems to continually ephemerate . . .

The older I get, the more important these two moves become to my thinking.

And both are failures of the goal, as it seems to me. In Ashbery, the failure of the attempt that the imagination can live forever in its continuous present, and in Wright, the failure that there is something inherent in this present that can live us into the future . . .

And both, it seems, continue with the simple, but profound on a daily basis thought that in the face of the failure of attaining the goal, perhaps the looking for the thing suffices to become the thing.

At least that's how I'm thinking of it this summer, reading these two wonderful books.

John Ashbery, The Worldly Country
Charles Wright, Littlefoot