Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New and free e-chapbook - GUIDEBOOK - John Gallaher

Blue Hour Press has free e-chapbooks that can be read with a very nice interface.

When I was putting together what became Map of the Folded World, I decided not to put any of the “Guidebook” prose poems that I’ve written into it, as I had in The Little Book of Guesses. That was all well and good, but those poems kept weeping bitterly in a drawer, so, with the wonderful talents of Justin Runge, they’ve now found a home.

Go here and check them out (Remember it's free), and browse Blue Hour Press’s other chapbooks as well:


Or, here’s a direct link to the post:

I am proud to announce our newest and most ambitious chapbook yet, John Gallaher's Guidebook.

With Guidebook, John Gallaher invents an idiosyncratic mythology of small town America in which driveways yield to carnivals, interstates wind their ways to the edges of cliffs, and circuses erect themselves in backyards. Gallaher lights homes with refrigerators, clouds forecasts, and signs divorce decrees, puppeteering the lives of a gargantuan everyperson cast as he explores equal amounts of wishes and disappointments. Reading like a novelization of a Fellini film by Sherwood Anderson, Guidebook mixes genres, dizzies itself in language, politely makes meta, and affirms Gallaher as one of the most perceptive, poignant, and surreal minds participating in America's contemporary literature.

Please read, and please please let us know what you think, either here or by email. New chaps will be released in the coming month, so subscribe to the RSS feed or mailing list and stay in the loop.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Martha Ronk - On Poetic Composition

Martha Ronk
from “Poetics of Failure”

Below is a bit from Martha Ronk’s introduction to her work from Reginald Shepherd’s well-done and (in the face of the attention American Hybrid is getting) somewhat over-looked Lyric Postmodernisms. One of the elements I like is that not only are the selections from each poet generous, but each entry has an introduction written by the poet. I have great sympathy with Martha Ronk’s introduction, and as it incorporates shades (in the hue as well as ghostly sense) of Ron Silliman’s new sentence and Robert Bly’s leaping poetry, perhaps it is a specific example of what one might mean by hybridity:

* * *

In his book In Quest of the Ordinary, Stanley Cavell states, “The everyday is what we cannot but aspire to, since it appears to us as lost to us.” I have tried to create poems that read in a seemingly temperate and straight-forward manner, but that unsettle the reader by intense, shifting, or confused focus, by a swerve toward the unexpected even if highly recognizable. The “quotidian” seems somehow a possible counter to skepticism, a check on self-involvement and a refusal to admit that there is anything other to confront than oneself. Such poetry has the potential to map and blur the ground between self and world, past and present, local and abstract. It can reach for the uncanny, can approximate something both ordinary and utterly odd, in an alternation and oscillation that maintains both. This luminal space may appear, for example, in the area between two images such that the eye/mind moving from one distinct image to another finds itself in a transitional space that undoes, unhinges, opens, slips. I am perforce drawn to the visual. In Lee Friedlander’s book, Black/White/Objects, there are two juxtaposed photographs, one of a man of wood (a crucifix) and one of a man of air (a balloon manikin in a Macy’s parade). As one’s eyes cross back and forth from the image on the left to the image on the right, one’s mind flutters, not only seeing the two as one, not only overlapping them, but also not being able to do this. The operation fails and in this splendid moment of failure, tied by slender thread to success and the released spark of juxtaposition, I would hope to locate my work. . . . .

The restless question, “why,” stands for me at the center of poetics: questioning why things are as they are, why standardized versions dominate: insisting, suspending, moving into fluidity and failure. . . . .

My work exists in the interrogative mood, whether or not a question mark appears at the end of a line.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Germans Are Coming!

Leave it to the Germans!

Choo! Choo! Where you "examine the life like it is real..."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cal Bedient - Days of Unwilling

A friend of mine sent this poem to me the other day. I like tremendously.

Cal Bedient
from Days of Unwilling

Figures undifferentiated from their ground,
like hair curlers and a paper-towel-
flowered-patterned nightgown in the pubic kitchen

dusk? Like the languishing theory
of pogroms, seeing that “an object of history
cannot be targeted at all

within the continuous elapse of history”?
Was that the question, dear?

Yes, even if it’s female of the landscape
to sway into forms, like a well
trained soprano’s scream, a scream

is still a scream. The ground of things
shivers under the jerked-out texts

of the guns, of which
the shivering is the message, don’t you agree?

I base my thinking on Benjamin’s
Arcades Project and how glass

architecture is a late stage of development,
scholastic and deceptively open,

compared to which
a woman’s love is “luxuriant sap,” which is why

the branches twist, compared to which
“barbarism lurks in the very concept of culture.”

Made by burning, the building is burning.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's it all about, Alfie?

Ah, Alfie. And of course the too-easy title. But I am thinking about that today as a few things I’ve read lately keep bugging me. The first is from a Bookslut interview with Christian Wiman:

+ + +

Even in the way she [Simone Weil] died, made me feel, “Oh well, that’s hopeful.”

Not a good model. Seamus Heaney said in an interview we ran recently that he thought a poet’s life really did matter in terms of how you view the work. I wonder. I want to agree, but there are some poets I love who as people were pretty lousy. Like Larkin. Gosh, there are so many examples like that.

It seems this romantic idea of the poet destroying himself in order to produce the art… I don’t know how I feel about that.

It’s usually shit. So many people use that to excuse lousy behavior. So many mediocre poets finding a license for their “wildness.” Especially middle-aged poets. Especially middle-aged male poets.

+ + +

And then the second is all this stuff about Matthew Dickman that’s been floating around the Internet the last week or two, culminating in an interesting moment from Johannes Göransson:

+ + +

I read this book (unlike Mr K), and I didn't find it as terrible as Schiavo does. I just thought it was an all around average book in the Tony Hoaglund average-ist school of writing, loosely influenced by American poets who depoliticized Neruda once upon a time. So it makes sense that it was published by Copper Canyon, which is that kind of press. And it makes sense that it was picked by Hoaglund for some kind of contest, because it's the kind of poetry that does well what Hoaglund does, thus totally un-threatening to him. But I've read far worse books and far better books (even as recently as yesterday).

And as far the twins getting awards and such: There are tons of awards given out and they're seldom given to poets that I find interesting. Awards tend to go to unthreatening, mildly original writers. That's what they are for.

+ + +

How to tie these together? Well, I can come out of the closet and say I’ve now read Matthew Dickman’s book, but that’s all I really want to say about it. It’s not the sort of poetry I seek out, so any reaction I would have to it would be as much a reaction to its method as to the value of specific poems. Perhaps I agree with Göransson.

But in another way I want to disagree with both of us then. I want to say that stepping away from the book, as I’m doing here, is wrong, and that there should be an active engagement with the text, that the art itself calls us to stand against some things as much as we stand for others, even if that opens us to the charge or moralizing (which Goransson tags Schiavo and Klassnik for).

One of the more lively exchanges I’ve had over the last few years is with Mark Halliday. I respect Mark Halliday and I like a good number of his poems. I think he respects me, but I know for certain that he actively dislikes nearly every poem I’ve ever written. We’ve had pleasant exchanges at AWP and through email where we’re tried to change each other’s minds, to no avail. But one exchange sticks out in my mind. About two or so years ago, Halliday wrote in an email that it wasn’t as much my poems that he was against, but the world that they represented. He just didn’t want that to be the world. He said, I think, something like “I’m morally opposed to that world.” I’m probably at least slightly misremembering, but the point still stands. There is a moral dimension to the world-disclosing aspect of art. This is how one can say that one’s poetry is political. And that what poems do is something real in the world. When Schiavo rails against Dickman I feel this. As well, in his own way, when Klassnik rails against Schiavo, I also feel it. (This is not to agree with either of their points, by the way. I just want to make that clear. I find, for example, in my own moralistic way, much of Klassnik’s attack to be an emptying out of the possibility of art to actively engage what happens in the world, which troubles me.)

When I rail against some poets, as I do now and then, I do so mainly because I think that the world in their poems is essentialized in cheapening ways. I feel when I’m reading some poems that the world there is untrue, either through the sorts of reductions that rendered stories can bring in, or the sorts of nihilism that ironic play can allow.

In that, and back to Wiman’s point, does a poet’s life matter in how one views the art? I want to run screaming from that question, and do as little prying into the real life of the artist as I can. I don’t want to consider that perhaps Milan Kundera might have turned someone in to the police back in 1950. And I don’t want to consider some personal demons of the artist when I encounter the art.

So if Hitler painted roses and did it well, would I put it over my couch? No. Once one knows the context it forever changes the art. And now, all of this surrounding the poetry of the Dickmans, is distancing me from any kind of a reading of either of their books. When I read All-American Poem this week, all I could hear were blogs.

But what if the poet places his or her life in the center of the art, as Matthew Dickman has done? (Or that others have done through the sorts of questions they ask in interviews, etc?)

Ask me in a year or two.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Just Because I WIll Always Love David Hockney's Work

What would these look like as poems? Who writes them?
Or is it something only painting can do?
The feel of the water rising between the two of you. And how are you there over the water?
David Hockney, Swimming Pool

David Hockney. My Parents, 1977

The impossible straightness of things. The impossible perfection of color. Cleanliness.
The mirror that seems twisted, reflecting how it shouldn't. The father with his heels lifting from the floor.

Two More Videos About the Current Situation

Neil Young - Cough Up The Bucks

Neil Young, “Cough Up the Buck$”
From the forthcoming album, Fork in the Road

Neil Young - Light A Candle

Neil Young, “Light a Candle”
From the forthcoming album, Fork in the Road

Neil Young, thinking in two directions about what he sees going on, because there are always at least two directions. Always worth noticing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Money Enough & Time

Here are a few books that I don't have yet, that I'm looking forward to getting with my AIG bonus. This is a seriously long list. And I still haven't gotten very far at all with the 15 or so books I picked up at AWP.

Sestets: Poems
by Charles Wright

by G.C. Waldrep

Multiversal (Poets Out Loud)
by Amy Catanzano

Skirmish: Poems
by Dobby Gibson

by Richard Greenfield

Sunny Wednesday
by Noelle Kocot

Take It
by Joshua Beckman

Poems 1959-2009
by Frederick Seidel

It Is Daylight (Yale Series of Younger Poets)
by Arda Collins

Breakfast with Thom Gunn (Phoenix Poets Series)
by Randall Mann

Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (New California Poetry)
by Keith Waldrop

by Ben Doller (who apparently has changed his name [was Ben Doyle])

Lisa Roberton's Magenta Soul Whip
by Lisa Robertson

Areas of Fog
by Joseph Massey

Sight Map: Poems (New California Poetry)
by Brian Teare

something has to happen next (Iowa Poetry Prize)
by andrew michael roberts

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems
by Mark Doty

Or to Begin Again (Poets, Penguin)
by Ann Lauterbach

The Brother Swimming Beneath Me
by Brent Goodman

Assorted Poems
by Susan Wheeler

The Plum-Stone Game (New Series)
by Kathleen Jesme

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What Would Neil Young Do?

Anyway, I found this article (below) through this blog post:


So here it is: Martin Herbert on the singer-songwriter's curious influence on contemporary artists the world over.

What Would Neil Young Do?
By Martin Herbert
Published: March 1, 2009

("What Would Neil Young Do?" originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Modern Painters.)

What would Neil Young do? That’s the punch line of an anecdote in the Canadian musician’s authorized biography, Shakey (2003). Faced with any tricky business decision — whether to do a commercial or a TV show, say — Young and his manager would always ask themselves: "What would Bob Dylan do?" There comes a day, though, when the torch of cantankerous rock-star integrity must pass. Says the manager: "Years later I’m managing Bob, and some decision came up, he turns to me and says..."

"What would Neil Young do?" is also a phrase that a lot of people took away from the Frieze Art Fair in 2006, since it was printed, in large serif caps, on an eponymous give-away poster by the British artist Jeremy Deller — a work designed, he says, to tap the social dynamism of fairs by getting an encouragement of idiosyncrasy out to a big audience. It was perhaps offered up with slightly malicious intent, too, since Deller esteems Young’s happily self-sabotaging tendencies; the man fans call "Neiler" was, after all, surreally sued by Geffen Records in the 1980s for making music not representative of himself (Geffen lost). To that end, Deller confessedly wishes that "lesser talents would do that and then never recover." Regardless, to judge from the decadelong quiet swell of artworks — from practioners as geographically and tactically disparate as Sam Durant, Tim Lee, Melanie Schiff, and Deller himself — referencing or paying sideways or full-on tribute to Young, it’s a phrase increasingly booming in the crania of contemporary artists. Why? Most obviously, Young is a creative type who visibly enjoys — to echo the title of his 1989 album — freedom. Last year he released Chrome Dreams II, a sequel to an album he recorded but didn’t release 30 years ago. "He rocks, he’s a folkie, he did all those bizarre records in the ’80s: punk, rockabilly, techno, heavy metal..." says the LA-based Durant. "He’s pro-gun but in other ways very liberal," adds Lee, a young Vancouver artist who was born in Seoul. "He was anti-Vietnam and a big Reaganite and anti-Bush. You can’t really encapsulate his political ideology. And every album he does seems like a reaction to the last one. And he does sloppy things and perfectionist things." Young publicly changes his mind, yet his very waywardness is consistent. He’s also a living symbol of sorts. Deller, who notes that Young’s "been around a long time, and come to represent the times he’s witnessed," has used the musician as a marker on several occasions, not least in "Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Me." That curatorial project, for the Aspen Art Museum in 2008, was intended, Deller says, as "a visual representation of a song [Young] wrote." Spinning off from a line from 1978’s delicate ballad "Pocahontas" (referring to buffalo slaughter and Native American rights), Deller’s show ruminated associatively on American history, its embedded brutalities, and its people’s drawn-out divorce from their natural landscape. Accordingly, it moved from ledger-book drawings by Native Americans through ’60s-era photojournalism of Black Panther rallies (featuring Brando campaigning for civil rights) and recent photographs of US military exercises in California’s Mojave Desert.

This coupling of Young with compassionate militancy — which his 2006 song Let’s Impeach the President suggests hasn’t paled over time — is what first attracted Durant, who used Young’s music in a body of work he describes as a "constellation of American violence and culture," made between 1997 and 2000. The spur for Upside Down and Backwards, Completely Unburied (1999) was the fact that Young had written Ohio — about the killing of four students by the National Guard during an anti-Vietnam protest at Kent State in 1970 — just shortly after Robert Smithson completed his Partially Buried Woodshed, a structure cracked under tons of mounded dirt, at the same university. Durant’s artwork — which deftly synthesizes the events — is a scale model of Smithson’s sculpture containing three CD players, synchronously and cacophonously spooling out the Rolling Stones’ "Gimme Shelter" (memories of Altamont); Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit"; and the Neil Young song "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)" (which, heartbreakingly for Young, Kurt Cobain quoted in his suicide note) from the 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. Durant connects that last title to "Smithson’s obsession with rust and decay." Indeed, the whole of Durant’s piece hitches the older artist’s cosmic formalizations of entropy to the specific drift of the US into brutality (and, from this historical vantage, the reversal of its, and Young’s, ’60s ideals), with the musician doubly referenced as both mourner and involuntary chronicler.

Tellingly, Rust Never Sleeps seems to be contemporary artists’ Neil Young disc of choice. In 2007, when Lee joined the hidden dots between Young and Steve Martin by taking up the American comedian’s assertion, on his 1977 comedy album Let’s Get Small, that "you can’t play a depressing song on the banjo," it was Rust’s opening track, "My My Hey Hey (Into the Blue),"that he essayed in bluegrass style, the piece ending up as a sound installation and 12-inch single. The gulf between the original acoustic lament and the stormily electrified version of it that closes the album (the one used by Durant) is, for Lee, emblematic of Young’s uneasy, heartfelt transformations during his career (and, to an extent, those of the stand-up comic turned actor turned novelist Martin, too). In a pair of associated photographs named after the two tracks — and emblematizing a practice that’s consciously deflected into emulatory considerations of other practitioners’ approaches — Lee pictures himself lit from above, holding first an acoustic guitar, then an electric, with the long shadows he projects immediately calling to mind the familiar slouch and stance of Young himself.

That kind of willed projection, born out of abiding admiration, is taken a stage further in Melanie Schiff’s tender photograph Neil Young, Neil Young (2004). In it, a figure’s head is obscured by the cover of Young’s debut solo album, with its life-size carbon-dated psychedelic portrait of the musician. "It’s about fandom, genius, and awe," says the young Chicago photographer. "He was 23 when he recorded it, and I just found — and find, now that I’m older than that — it incredible that someone of that age can make something so amazing. It was a way of making it my face, because it’s me in the photograph, like a cover song or a tribute or a wish." The line between admiration and analysis is consciously hazed; Schiff, like the other artists I talked to, can happily spiel till sundown about Young, which points to a degree of investitment that exceeds callow referentiality and shades into something greater and more deeply seated. "I don’t think of him as a musician, I think of him as an artist," says Lee. "His work has a conceptual quality to it, and he’s not afraid to experiment and lose fans in the process," says Deller. He has, for Durant, "incredible integrity and authenticity."

If you need one more reason why artists might love Neil Young — aside from the fact that the heart-cracking obliquity of "Cowgirl in the Sand" (1969) is more deeply art than almost anything this writer can think of — look at the artworld circa right now. Consider the obvious: the gilded toxicity, the petty snobberies, the encouragement of stylistic conservatism (at least once the lucrative moves have been ascertained) to which so many artists scared of losing status bow down, subconsciously or not. As the market burps out ever more bilious decadence, Young’s holographic presence in contemporary art assumes a ghost-at-the-feast quality: summoned as a scold, he is an exemplar of self-knowledge and audacious bloody-mindedness with few coevals in the artworld itself. "He’s managed to sustain an idiosyncratic career in a horrible business," says Deller, meaningfully. As if to say: if artists are looking to Neil Young, it suggests they’re thinking one thing, urgently, above all: How do I do that?

Melanie Schiff, "Neil Young, Neil Young" (2006). C-print, 30 x 40 in.

My Addendum:

So that was an interesting read. I remember once Bruce Springsteen talking about being jealous of Neil Young, how the Neiler could just flip from a fairly heavy Crazy Horse grunge thing into a rather nice little acoustic thing . . . and I remember being struck at the time that it’s not some magic recipe, it’s not something that’s difficult to figure out, you just do what interests you. That’s the positive side of the Neil Young Icon. There’s also a negative side, where Neil Young just walks away from things and people. His loyalty is to his vision, but his vision is often skewed and could use some assistance.

Also, as I was thinking yesterday, there’s almost a complete lack of irony in Neil Young’s vision. I’m not sure what part that plays in allowing him the total freedom to follow any good or bad idea that he has, but I would expect that a lack of irony and a measure of unselfconsciousness are of paramount importance. And he knows some of his ideas are bad. And he rather likes that. Put the good out with the bad, as it’s all one song, is something of his motto. And technical brilliance is a deal breaker. Somehow, technical brilliance smacks of lack of passion and is to be distrusted.

Is that a good example of integrity? Possibly. I’m one of those huge fans that has been following Neil Young since the 70s. The first album I purchased was Rust Never Sleeps, perhaps the best example of Neil Young at his best in all the areas of grunge, acoustic, good ideas and bad ideas (“Welfare Mothers Make Better Lovers” anyone?).

Neil Young has never won a grammy. He had one Billboard #1 song (“Heart of Gold”). And yet he’s lasted, and his reputation has grown even as he’s produced some of the most uneven albums in rock and roll.

I think that’s all part of it as well. He’s somehow achieved great by jumping right over the top of good. His forthcoming album, Fork in the Road is going to be a good example of that, how his openness to any idea is the key to his longevity even as it messes up nearly every one of his albums. I can see why everyone is a little jealous of him. He goes by continuing to go.

That potentially says a lot to the way most artists today operate. Neil Young is really, really wealthy. He made a mint back in the early 70s with the massively popular (over time) albums Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, and Harvest. Most artists these days are not famous and rich. Most artists these days have day jobs, and a large number of those day jobs are teaching. Something about teaching infects us. It makes us creatures that fill out forms. Neil Young does not fill out forms. Such things chip away at that “whatever” attitude he survives by, where, no matter where he is or what he’s doing, if he has an idea, he just wanders away to follow it. Other people fill out forms for him.

But there is an important way, I think, that his example still holds for us. As artists, and specifically, as poets, we’re doing something with so little cultural value, it would be really absurd not to do whatever one wants with one’s art. Neil Young as creative icon calls us to throw ourselves at it un-ironically and unselfconsciously, and with passion. To follow every idea, because who knows? You go by continuing to go. That even sounds like fun.

A few things I'm looking at this morning

There’s a call out. Did you hear the call?
Caffeine Destiny
Open to submissions in March 2009Guidelines

Other poetry web news:

Check out these free e-chapbooks:
Blue Hour Press

Are you aware of what’s been going on at the Raleigh Quarterly lately?
The Raleigh Quarterly

Are you checking in daily to the poetry response to Obama’s first 100 days?
Starting Today: Poems for the First 100 Days

Everyone’s anti-something. What are you anti?

And then this, for the print world:
Ah, the 1970s, when they had mother nature on the run:

Submissions: Court Green 7
Call for SubmissionsDossier: The 1970s

We welcome submissions of poetry for the journal and the special dossier section each year from February 1 through May 1.

Each issue of Court Green features a dossier on a special topic or theme. For our seventh issue, we will feature a dossier on The 1970s. We would like to see poems on all that decade entailed, as well as the legacy thereof. We are as interested in poems that invoke the icons of and engage with the stereotypes of the 1970s as we are in poems that explore more tangential or atypical aspects of the decade. Poems of all styles and modes—historical, personal, political, confessional, formal, experimental, regional, global, nostalgic, critical, hybrid, and especially those styles and modes the editors have not yet foreseen—are welcome.

We will respond by August 31.

Submit to:
Court Green
English Department
Columbia College Chicago
600 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605

For information about ordering copies of Court Green, please see our contact page.

And finally, there are just a few more days for this:

Judge: Mary Jo Bang

Submission Dates: January 1 – March 31, 2009 by email or regular mail
Awarding publication of a book-length collection and $1000.00

Open to any poet writing in English, regardless of publication history.
Submissions accepted on-line (preferred) and by mail.

Please read the following instructions carefully.

Online submission: Submitting to us online is easy, saves you money, and saves trees.

• Fill out our online entry form and follow the directions for online credit card payment on our secure site.
• You will be assigned an online entry number. You will then submit your manuscript through our online submissions program.

By mail:

• Submit a previously unpublished, full-length poetry manuscript by regular mail (USPS only).
• Please include a completed Entry Form. Click here to download the Entry Form (PDF format). (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print the Entry Form.)
• Include one cover page with the title of your work and all of your contact information, including your email address if you have one. Your name and contact information should not appear anywhere else in the manuscript.
• You must include a second cover page with just the title of your work, no other contact info.
• No more than one poem per page, please. More than one section of a poem can appear on a page, of course.
• No page limit, but we recommend a length of between 48 and 80 pages of poetry. This page limit does not include your title page, notes, etc.
• Do not include art work.
• Please use a legible font of at least 11 point.
• Include an entry fee of $25 with your submission, by check, made payable to Four Way Books. A stamped self-addressed postcard may be included to confirm receipt of manuscript. Multiple submissions may be mailed together. If you submit more than one manuscript, please supply contact info for both and an increased fee ($25 per submission).
• Please let us know immediately if your manuscript is accepted elsewhere.
• Material in your manuscript may have been published previously in a chapbook, magazines, journals or anthologies, but the work as a whole must be unpublished.
• Translations and previously self-published books are not eligible.

* Please do not submit to this contest if you are close enough to Mary Jo Bang that her integrity, your integrity, and the integrity of Four Way Books would be called into question should you be selected as the winner. You may query us if you have questions regarding this matter. We will allow you to submit to us outside of the contest if you feel that you are treading deep water in this regard. Please query by email to editors@fourwaybooks.com.

• Mail submission and entry fee to:

Four Way Books
POB 535 Village Station
New York NY 10014

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Map of the Folded World is Live! - Amy Casey Content

The University of Akron Press page for Map of the Folded World has just gone live! You can check out the first 19 pages, the cover text, and order direct from the publisher...

I just wanted to post once again the fine painting by Amy Casey, “An Abundance of Caution,” that is on the cover of the now available (just about) Map of the Folded World (if you prefer the amazon.com ordering location). Another of her fine paintings, “rigging,” is on the wall of my living room. I got it for $125.00. Quite a bargain!

There’s a nice piece on her work with plenty of large images here, including "rigging":


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Neil Young - New Song - Johnny Magic

Neil Young
"Johnny Magic," from the forthcoming album Fork in the Road, due out in April.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Your Help Needed, Please

I’m looking for a listing of internet (or hybrid) journals. These are the few I have, and enjoy visiting. I’m wanting to get a more full list and put it on my sidebar. Can you help?

Caffeine Destiny
Hobble Creek Review
No Tell Motel
Octopus Magazine
The Raleigh Quarterly
Poems for the First 100 Days

Some additions, so I don't forget:

Action Yes
Big Bridge
Caffeine Destiny
Cipher Journal
Double Room
Drunken Boat

Friday, March 06, 2009

Negative reviews and 20 books

Two large negative reviews this week. Michael Schiavo on Matthew Dickman, and Ron Silliman on Andrew Motion.

Negative reviews are as necessary as positive reviews. OK, that was too easy. But I think that one of the reasons poetry has fallen into a cultural black hole is that there isn’t much conversation going on around it. The fact that the Dickmans, for instance, were known before their first books were published is because of their non-poetry aspects: they are twins who write poetry. Poets and Writers, The New Yorker, wherever, you name it, they all just love stuff like that. It’s a way to talk about some poets (because they all do kind of want to talk about poets a little—poets do seem interesting in some way) without all that messy stuff of having to say anything much about the poetry. Talking about the poetry is messy and no one really knows what to say about it because contemporary poetry is all so elusive, yada yada.

If there were more of a conversation about poetry, and that conversation was something people could find some interest in, then they might start to actually talk about the poetry itself. Even if it's just the way we talk about bands.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Think of The New Yorker, the way it talks about movies and music (and fiction writers here and there). Imagine those writers knowing and reading poetry. I read a blisteringly negative review of “The Watchmen” in the current issue. It seems to me that the same thing could have been written about Matthew Dickman’s All-American Poem.

What does this have to do with the 20 books meme that went around? For one, those 20 books are still very much in Ron Silliman’s imagination. First, he was criticized for not having many women on his list, so he posted a new list of just books by woman, and then he was criticized for not having any books from before 1900 on his list, so now he has another post up in response to that. It was not a meme about what you consider the best books of all time, it was a meme about what you first found. And how do we find what we first find?

These two issues might not be related, but in my mind they are.

When I was putting my list together a few days ago, I had to sit a bit and think to myself about what my core texts actually were. The books that “made me fall in love with poetry.” I fell in love with poetry, I believe, in junior or senior year of High School, in an honors English class (the only honors class of any sort I’ve ever taken) where we read cummings and Eliot and Stevens and Bishop, among others. I was fascinated. I picked up The Caterpillar Anthology and Chief Modern Poets of England and America (I think it was called). So I started off with only contemporary (-ish) voices. And only on accident, due to wandering into the library and finding a library book sale.

When I went to college, I went as a journalism major, with a writing minor. I didn’t take courses on “the classics.” I’m still quite happy I didn’t. I’m also very happy I came to poetry at a time when the voices of women were finally being “allowed” in.

So here’s where it all links up in my mind: The first single-author book of poetry I bought with my very own money was Robert Lowell’s Selected Poems. Mid-1980s. And if it wasn’t for my own curiosity, and the fact that I’d read The Caterpillar Anthology (if you don’t know what that anthology was, just follow the link and look around!), I might well have stopped there. Robert Lowell was still the big name at the time. No one told me much about the wider world of poetry because they didn't know it themselves. It wasn't a plot. It was just that this other world, this huge world of poetry that I would come to love, wasn't able to be talked about in the way Lowell was able to be talked about, so it was ignored.

It’s really not Billy Collins’, or Mary Oliver’s, or whomever’s fault that they are so popular. They, and maybe Dickman in a few years, are the big names of our time, because they are the easiest to read and to, cringe, “understand.” OK, fine. If I were a young poet starting out today, I’d probably be ordering something from Billy Collins on amazon. The problem is that, culturally, our conversation stops there, except for brief forays into stories about poets who happen to be twins, and who were once in a Tom Cruise movie.

Exceptions are all over the place. Yes, there are reviews of new books of poetry, worthy books, in The New York Times, now and then. And yes, John Ashbery is talked about a lot suddenly, as is Rae Armantrout. These are good things. All is not doom and gloom. It’s not like there is NO conversation. It’s that I find the conversation to be thin, at the cultural level.

There will be more people at one single show by Wilco than there will who will buy any one single-author book of poetry this year. (Unless I’m wrong about that. But it’s a pretty safe bet.) More people will attend the worst bomb of a movie in history (probably not “The Watchmen” but maybe) than will purchase all books of poetry total this year. (Also, I could be wrong. I’m totally guessing here.)

Poetry is as good as the movies. (Ah, where is Frank O’Hara when I need him?) Poetry is as good as music. I believe that. If it were talked about differently in school (Imagine a class on The Beatles in high school as flat as most high school classes on poetry, what would THAT do to the possibility of anyone loving music?). Maybe if it were talked about differently in The New Yorker (or wherever), maybe then it would be talked about differently everywhere. It's all about how we value something. In what way we value it. That forms how we talk about it. Poetry and poets are valued in society, but mostly for being poets at all. Poets are valued as curiosities, and mostly the culture is interested in them then as beings, not for what they create. So today it's Twins Who Write Poetry. Tomorrow it will be some other slice of biography.

Just saying.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Michael Schiavo on the Dickmans (mostly Matthew)

This is not Whitman containing multitudes that contradict nor New York School abstraction of logic or language. This is just a bad poet writing about a subject with which he has no connection.

Wow. This is, I believe, the most persuasive ultra-negative review I’ve ever read. I’m just floored by it.

Here’s another little snippet:

“In that they are a confidence game, yes, these poems are very American. But even then, Dickman lacks the invention to keep the dupe’s (reader’s) attention like a true bunko artist should. He bores you by the end of the first poem and by the end of the first section, you get the idea. Dickman admits his deceitful ways in an interview when he describes how he and his twin tried to scam Dorianne Laux to get into the University of Oregon: “‘We called her and pretended we wanted to apply to grad school,’ he said. ‘We met in her office and within 20 minutes, tops, she knew we were full of it. She could see we were kind of hustlers but we loved poetry.’” It’s one thing to love poetry; it’s another to be able to write it. The key word, though, is pretend: pretending to be interested in others, pretending to be poets.”

And then he turns to a larger, even more fascinating, point:

“I’ve spoken about the poetry, given numerous examples of how inadequate it is (you can open up to any page and find similar or worse passages), but you now ask: Why bring up the personal aspects of the poet? This is out of bounds. Should we not judge the poetry on its quality alone? Yes. And while it is our fervent wish that bad poetry will bury itself under the weight of it’s own practiced sincerity, we must have counter-voices to those who promote this kind of work, which is: simplistic argument delivered by a monotonous, inconsistent voice that gives no attention to the details of language, image, tone, or emotion.

And in this very particular case, we must talk about the personal, the how-the-book-came-to-be, for the Dickman twins have put their life story, not their poetry, front and center, have made that the reason you should find them interesting. I will say now that I have not read Michael Dickman’s first book, The End of the West, but I have read some of the poems it contains. Michael seems to know how to break a line and use the page better than his brother but what kind of praise is this? Like saying of a basketball player: “He sure knows how to dribble.”

You can’t stop a person from putting down his private thoughts in a notebook. But you can certainly discourage him from inflicting them on the public. Perhaps more galling than the fact that Matthew Dickman was encouraged with so much time and money to write such bad poetry is that Tony Hoagland—who judged the APR/Honickman contest and wrote the book’s introduction—and Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, and Major Jackson—who give the back cover blurbs—are all established poets who should recognize from the first few lines that Dickman’s poetry is not just incompetently crafted but is juvenile in all other respects as well. Really: these are people who teach PhD students at the University of Houston, edit poetry at the Harvard Review, and instruct undergraduate and graduate poetry students at the University of Vermont, Bennington, North Carolina State, Warren Wilson, Sarah Lawrence, Columbia, and NYU.

Poetry progresses on the master-apprentice relationship, on finding contemporaries with whom you have rapport, as all arts do and should. Master artists see in apprentices the gift to advance the craft and they help them to do this through their own instruction as well as their advocacy to entities, both public and private, that support artists who will contribute to their field.”

So here's a voice from the other side of the argument, from Major Jackson in The Boston Review, followed by one of Dickman's poems, selected, I suppose, by Jackson.

Matthew Dickman’s melancholic portraits of impoverished white teenagers dazzle me into the always painful, yet easily forgettable, awareness that many people suffer psychically under the knife of American prosperity. Outside the frame of these poems lurk the children of female-headed homes; parents who work two or more jobs; teenage moms who live in “Drug-Free Zones” and “Urban Renewal Zones,” unkempt neighborhoods whose parks are normally full of drugs; teen addicts slumping toward oblivion; and fathers for whom the closest thing to therapy is domestic abuse. The anger of dejected youth is almost always a cliché) in art, and in mainstream culture that anger among the ruins and squalor is usually black and/or Latino. Matthew Dickman hails from a neighborhood called Lents, a largely white underclass suburb in Southeast Portland, Oregon. He knows something about the sorrow of this world, its call for a kind of toughness of spirit and a sensitivity that must go underground if one is to survive and, more importantly here, the violence that such poverty recreates and echoes in the lives of the dispossessed. His authority is that of the native, unwavering and resolute. But it is his artfulness and large spirit, telescoping without sentimentality the single outlook of a speaker who has escaped such conditions and now looks back, as bluesy as such projects go, that gives his poems a universality of feeling, an expressive lyricism of reflection, and heartrending allure.

—Major Jackson

Country Music

When the dogs in my neighborhood go wild
over the patrol car’s red and blue scream, the lights hitting
someone’s window like electric tickertape
and I know some of those dogs are biters
because I was someone they bit,
I begin to think about the lives of men
and how we carry the heavy load of muscle, the rumble and ruckus,
without a single complaint
while vulnerability barely lifts its face from the newspaper.
But I’ve been drinking. I’m a little messed up
and there’s something about cigars and bourbon I no longer want
to be a part of. I remember how Kate would slip out
of her jeans, her bra. How she appled my body;
all that sweet skin and core, the full mouth and pulp.
She was like a country song
playing underneath an Egyptian cotton sheet, the easy kindness
of her body finding its way into mine.
But I have a father somewhere. I have a way
I’m supposed to walk down the street like a violent decision
that hasn’t been made yet.
I don’t care how many hours you put in
weeding the garden
or how much you love modern dance. You’ll still slip back
into your knuckles.
You can carry your groceries home in your public radio tote bag.
You can organize a book club.
You can date an Indonesian hippie with dread-locks
but you are never far from breaking someone’s jaw.
When I was twenty-three I went to a party,
drank two Coronas, and slapped my girlfriend across the face.
I wanted someone to beat me.
I wanted to get thrown into the traffic
I had made of my life,
to go flying over the couch
where two skater kids were smoking pot out of a Pepsi can
and talking about a friend
who ollied over a parked car the same day he got stabbed
at the mall.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Poetry Stimulus

So I’m sitting here wondering where the bottom is going to be on the world economy, and wondering what this will mean for artists in general.

I’ve decided on my own little stimulus package, where (unless something drastic happens) I’m going to buy two books of poetry a month for the remainder of the year. I bought quite a few at AWP, and I have quite a few that I’m waiting for later this year (Kocot, Ramke, etc), so finding two a month to buy shouldn’t be difficult.

First up, I just got a copy of Zach Savitch’s Full Catastrophic Living. Seems appropriate to the times. When will I get to reading it, I don’t know, as I’ve only read one of the books I brought back from AWP so far—Allison Benis White’s wonderful Self-Portrait with Crayon—and I’m a little way through Lytton Smith’s also wonderful The All-Purpose Magical Tent (disclaimer: though I don’t know him well, I’ve known Lytton Smith for a few years, so I’m not completely impartial—but I am really enjoying it, even so).

The next book I’m going to get will be Ron Silliman’s massive 952 page The Alphabet that’s currently ranking #165,087 in books at amazon, which, for poetry, is a big deal. Most books of poetry rarely get much lower than 700,000 or so. Anyway, I can’t imagine reading it cover to cover. How does one do that with a book this size? So I’ve been putting it off. 952 pages. I’m completely daunted. But I’m going to dive in.

I’m also looking forward to finally getting a copy of Dan Kaplan’s Bill’s Formal Complaint. I had a copy in manuscript, and somehow never got around to buying a final copy. I’ll fix that next week.

So those are my two for March.

Anyone want to join me in diving into The Alphabet (and/or Bill’s Formal Complaint), or, more generally, in trying to buy at least one book of poetry every month for the remainder of the year? Email me. Let me know how it’s going.

Together we can be the change we’re waiting for.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout audio.

(I snitched it from Ron Silliman's blog. Which reminds me [yet again] how important Ron Silliman has become to the conversation around poetry. Agree or disagree with his positions and comments, the man has become a wonderful clearing house for links to interesting things.)