Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Zachary Schomburg - Scary, No Scary - Presale Event

From Black Ocean:

Only 100 copies left of Scary, No Scary!

Dear Lovers of Life, The limited edition hard cover of Zachary Schomburg's new Scary, No Scary (with the special letterpressed mini broadside from Brave Men press) will start shipping in just a couple of weeks! There are now only 100 copies left of this extraordinary little package. Trust me: these items are beautiful and you will cherish them until you die. They will also probably be worth a lot of money someday; much more than the $30 you paid to add them to your special library. There are only 200 of these babies that will be in existence, and half of them have already been adopted. Act now or regret it forever...and ever.

Scary, No Scary, the follow-up to Zachary Schomburg’s acclaimed first collection of poems The Man Suit, is a book of skeleton gloves and skeleton keys—at once dark and playful. With loneliness and levity Schomburg takes the reader on a tour through a liminal world of dream-logic, informed by its own myth and folklore. Here there are new kinds of trees and new ways of naming the ages; jaguars and an abandoned hotel on the horizon. This book will crawl inside your chest and pump lava through your blood.

We are offering a very special foil-stamped hardcover publication of Scary, No Scary in a limited run of two hundred editions. The textless dust jacket will also feature different artwork from the softcover version. Each copy comes with a fine letter pressed miniature broadside as well, courtesy of Brave Men Press, containing the title poem from the book. These hardcover packages will only be available directly from Black Ocean, and are being offered for $30 with free shipping. All preorders will ship as soon as the books become available in August. These are sure to sell out, so order your copy soon!


One night, when
you return to your childhood
home after

a lifetime away,
you'll find it
abandoned. Its

paint will be
completely weathered.

It will have
a significant westward lean.

There will be
a hole in its roof
that bats fly
out of.

The old man
hunched over
at the front door
will be prepared
to give you a tour,
but first he'll ask
Scary, or no scary?

You should say
No scary.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SALT Summer Sizzler

From SALT:

August Summer Sizzler

The JustOneBook campaign continues with a further sensational August deal. In order to keep Salt on track through the wet British summer, we're offering you another special deal throughout August. All Salt books are available from us at 33% discount yet again. That's a third off all Salt titles, and free shipping on orders with a cover price of over £30 or $30.

Offer ends 31 August 2009. Simply enter the coupon code HU693FB2 when in the store to benefit.

As before, all we ask is two things—

1. Buy one book. Or perhaps another one ... go on.
2. Pass it on. Share this offer with everyone who loves gorgeous books and likes a bargain (whilst saving independent literature).


Might I suggest you check out:

Designated Heartbeat
by Bruce Andrews
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Home and Variations
by Robert Archambeau
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Evolution of the Bridge: Selected Prose Poems
by Maxine Chernoff
Paperback / softback
Read more …

World: Poems 1991–2001
by Maxine Chernoff
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by Matthew Cooperman
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by Catherine Daly
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Drafts: Drafts 39-57, Pledge, with Draft, unnumbered: Précis
by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Torques: Drafts 58-76
by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Paperback / softback
Read more …

The Blue Rock Collection
by Forrest Gander & Rikki Ducornet
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Periplum and other poems1987-1992
by Peter Gizzi
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by David Hamilton
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by Jerry Harp
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Urban Flowers, Concrete Plains
by Jerry Harp
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Exigent Futures: New and Selected Poems
by Michael Heller
Paperback / softback
Read more …

American Incident
by Brian Henry
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Braided River: New and Selected Poems 1965-2005
by Anselm Hollo
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Rehearsal in Black
by Paul Hoover
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Ring of Fire
by Lisa Jarnot
Paperback / softback
Read more …

OK, so you get the picture. SALT has published a ton of books. Now go check them out. Want me to go on? I could you know:

by Ethan Paquin
Paperback / softback
Read more …

My Thieves
by Ethan Paquin
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by Mark Salerno
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Aleatory Allegories
by Susan M. Schultz
Paperback / softback
Read more …

And Then Something Happened
by Susan M. Schultz
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by Don Share
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by Ron Silliman
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Recollections of Being
by Nathaniel Tarn
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Source Codes
by Susan Wheeler
Paperback / softback
Read more …

That's just a sample of their books from the Americas. They have other lists, including:

Heart Print
by John Tranter
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Studio Moon
by John Tranter
Paperback / softback
Read more …

by John Tranter
Paperback / softback
Read more …

Urban Myths: 210 Poems
by John Tranter
Paperback / softback
Read more …

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic EP

For everyone who hasn't sneaked it already:

The FLAMING LIPS digital 3 song EP, "SONGS FROM THE FUTURE ALBUM EMBRYONIC" will be available at all digital retailers TODAY!Featuring these brand new tracks from the band's first studio album in over 3 years!

“Convinced of The Hex”

“The Impulse”

“Silver Trembling Hands”

Full album will be available this FALL!

I have a copy of this and I like it.

Flarf Poem of the Week

Alaska Poem

Tweet Poem

William Shatner on Conan O'Brian

Because flarf isn't just for unicorns anymore:


by Sarah Palin

And getting up here
I say it is the best road trip in America
soaring through nature's finest show.
Denali, the great one, soaring
under the midnight sun. And then the extremes.
In the winter time
it's the frozen road that is competing with the view
of ice fogged
frigid beauty,
the cold though, doesn't it split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs?
And then in the summertime
such extreme summertime
about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago,
than just some months from now,
with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers
that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here,
Mother Nature wins. It is as throughout all Alaska
that big wild good life teeming along the road
that is north to the future.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lisa Jarnot - They Loved These Things Too

Wedding poems have come a long way, baby. I went to a wedding yesterday, and read this poem, below. I like it.

Lisa Jarnot
They Loved These Things Too

The sun the moon the stars the polar ice caps and the ice
cream cones the city streets the side streets and the small
TV the curve of flesh around the food the road maps and
November and the tiny birds and also certain people and
they loved the special chairs and also stuffed things and the
carnival and big rings and the o rings and they loved the
oranges in bags and Florida and Texas and the hotel room
and they loved the chili on the highway that they loved as if
they loved the onramp and the way that people called and
the natural forces of destruction and the sea they loved the
sea and also boats and sailing ships and whales they loved
and sea birds in varieties and then they loved the choice
of drinks to drink and also beer they loved the times that
others liked them that they loved and also they loved things
all shaped like tigers and they loved the zoo.

Friday, July 24, 2009


The Internet’s getting awfully Flarfy these days. “Flarfiste!” they’re calling and yelling. Because you know that when Poets & Writers

. . . and Poetry Magazine end up on the same thing at the same time, it’s got to be something . . .

So what is the current issue of Poetry Magazine going to do for/ with/ around/ because of/ Flarf & Conceptual Writing? Does it mean something other than the editors of Poetry Magazine wanting to do something different? (It’s only one issue, right?)

I’ve no idea, of course. No one ever does. Here’s the TOC, for reference:

You can read the poems online (if you missed the issue)!

Jordan Davis
Mel Nichols
Sharon Mesmer
K. Silem Mohammad
Nada Gordon
Drew Gardner
Gary Sullivan
Christian Bök
Robert Fitterman
Kenneth Goldsmith
Craig Dworkin
Vanessa Place

So I’m thinking of the Objectivist issue of Poetry, a million or so years ago. And before that, the Imagist wanderings in and around.

Well, Imagism had Pound, and (along with his million or so failings) he was an energetic, hungry sort, casting a wide net around writers barely unified (except as one could say, in opposition to Longfellow and Tennyson, I suppose). It was a great marketing tool.

Objectivism? Well, that didn’t flare up quite as well. Maybe it was the lack of a poster child. Or the authority of a few really aggressive, high-profile writers. Unfortunately. I really liked it. And what if Objectivism had been as big a hit as Imagism? (Among poets or whomever.) What would have come out of that?

Well, maybe it’s all one tradition anyway, as Oppen and WCW seem to get tossed into a line now, but it cost several interesting writers from getting the notice they deserved.

But anyway, Flarf & Conceptual Writing. Huh. It’s not much of a surprise for me to admit that I’ve always like of liked Flarf, in general. How could you not like something that allows you to say, “That’s Flarfy!” Many of those Flarfy things don’t work, or course, but many do.

And the word searches and replacements and recontextualizations of Flarf, we’ve had with us a long time. I write that way, though I’ve always thought of it more in terms of Cage’s “Chance Operations.” As (from Wikipedia):

In a 1957 lecture, Experimental Music, he described music as “a purposeless play” which is “an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living”

A lot of my friends write that way. Though I’d call it more like “purposeful play,” where the culture adds the actual “thing itself” to the construction of the poems. Very in line, I would think with the “direct treatment of the thing” form Pound, though, I think it was Barrett Watten , who said something like there is no direct treatment of the thing possible, unless it’s the things of language. Word searches allow that to happen in interesting ways.

And the mixing of high and low? One could talk about the Waste Land and quite a few poems by Ashbery (one could even talk about Kenneth Fearing, as well . . .).

But two things are unmistakable: 1. Flarf hit critical mass. 2. Name it something and it has a much better chance of being talked about. (In a way, I'm quite envious. I would LOVE to edit a section of Poetry Magazine. Who wouldn't? But what would I call it? Poetry I like? [that's mostly what Pound did, after all] I demand a named movement! Alas. Alas.)

[ADDENDUM: I've been thinking since I first posted this, and I've now, sadly, realized no named movement is going to be forthcoming. Who could I join up with? Kevin Prufer, Wayne Miller, and Hadara Bar-Nadav? We could call ourselves the Midwesternists? And then who would write the manifesto? Are people in the Midwest even allowed to write manifestos? The Heartlandists! How wholesome. You know? I think I must be going about this all wrong. Someone help me out?]

And now, once again, the material for poetry production has opened up. There’s always energy when things open up. And energy is a good thing for the art. And, well, it’s far better in my estimation, if the energy and press is going to something like Flarf & Conceptual Writing, than if it’s going to anthologies by Garrison Keillor.

Gary Sullivan, "Am I Emo?"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Robert Archambeau: We're still shopping at the Romanticism Store

Welcome to the Romanticism Store!

I’ve made it something of a habit not to deal much with poetry written before 1911 or so (really, more like 1922 probably). And sometimes I like to irritate my friends by saying things like, “Poetry didn’t start until ‘Prufrock.’ ” They really like that one. It betrays all my biases and my fundamental lack of depth.

And then someone comes along and says something that as soon as I hear it I feel that little snap of inevitability, that little click of the future and the past (the future in the past). There have been many over the years. Sometimes it’s a book of poetry. Michael Palmer’s Notes for Echo Lake. Jorie Graham’s Region of Unlikeness. Sometimes it’s an essay. Ron Silliman’s “The New Sentence.” Stephen Burt’s “The Elliptical Poets.” Don Gifford’s The Farther Shore: a Natural History of Perception (which prefigures much of Archambeau's main point [up to 1984, that is]). And each time the past comes back, and it’s us.

Today’s little snap of inevitability comes from Robert Archambeau. Granted, he’s not saying something that hasn’t been said before (which is always the criticism whenever someone says anything it seems – so the disclaimer), but when I’ve heard it or thought it in the past, it was always general, like “Ashbery is really a Romantic poet with a magician’s hat.” That sort of thing. (I’ve also heard similar things about Stevens, but that’s beside the point at hand.) He puts a little more flesh on that skeleton:

“In many ways, I think some of the most thoughtful poets of the last few decades have been practicing a kind of modified or inverted version of Romanticism. Think about elliptical poetry: so much of it is all about the lack of formal coherence that you think it'd be the farthest thing from Coleridge’s organic form or its New Critical offshoot, the well-wrought urn. But the deliberate incoherence of elliptical poetry is really out to accomplish the same sorts of things Coleridge outlined. First of all, elliptical techniques are all about differentiating poetry from prose, about upholding what Barthes called “the discontinuity of language.” Poetry is different, we see, because it doesn’t try for prose coherence. And in the deep ambiguities and incoherencies of elliptical verse, we’re looking at effects similar to those Coleridge saw as belonging to the symbol: we avoid paraphrasable meaning, we escape the utilitarian logic of means-and-ends. Some see this as purely a matter of beauty, some see it as a critique of a society that relies on a logic of language to support its logic of power. Again, all of this is very much in line with the general trend of thinking that runs from Coleridge through Mallarmé, and even through the New Critics.”

Here’s a link, in case you haven’t already seen it:

To add to his point. Don Gifford, as I mentioned above, back in 1984, wrote The Farther Shore (published in 1990). In it, he traces historical perception from the far shore of Gilbert White’s end of the eighteenth century through the midstream of Thoreau’s time (where Walden Pond was more Walled-in Pond) to the near shore of how we perceive now. From the careful edges of 1789 to the edgeless era of the just then (1984 remember) burgeoning Internet. It’s a wonderfully written and closely observed book. I recommend it highly, even as it only takes us so far. The story now, from Wordsworth to (insert name) is fuller. Anyway, one point – if I’m remembering correctly – places Romanticism as the first chapter in the story of who we are now. Anyway, perhaps it's a rhyme with the Archambeau . . .

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stephen Burt - Close Calls with Nonsense

Stephen Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry concludes with a fun little pastiche of ideas called “Without Evidence.” I really like little general fragments about poetry. What follows are some of my favorite of his fragments, and some of the things they got me to thinking. (His are in quotes, mine italics.)

“One can demonstrate to skeptics the explicit rules that govern a skill, or a game, but not those that govern an art. Skeptics thus suspect art forms of possessing rules that are trade secrets, or rules that are really table manners …”

And often those skeptics are other poets, who should know better.

“Writers in difficult, or ‘innovative,’ modes appear more likely than others to make large claims for the (political or intellectual) importance of their art: to justify greater effort on our part, we may require the promise or hope of a correspondingly greater reward.”

That seems to be an older configuration, one that had more to do with the poetry wars of the 80s than it does now. I think, anyway (I’m not sure though), that most of the poets Burt would consider difficult or innovative don’t make such grand claims?

“What if the ways in which we can think . . . about lyric poetry do not depend on our tacit acceptance of a liberal individualism . . . , but instead support . . . it?”

Nice. The whole instance vs. occurrence configuration. I’m already a fan! And then, with that, here’s a fun question for each of us, all the time:

“How much does the art that you yourself practice, or make, share with what Sappho made? With what Richard Lovelace made? With what Gertrude Stein made? With what Edward made? With what these writers thought, or said, they had made?”

Which causes me to wonder: how much does the art that you yourself practice, or make, share with what the great poets not yet born will make? With what these writers will think, or say, they have made?

“. . . . Reflecting our own time, depicting what’s going on now, being ‘absolutely modern,’ is one project for which past masters offer the present-day poet no competition.”

I disagree with this assertion, to an extent, as the poets from the past are always giggling and pointing. They think we’re cute with our “newness.” It’s a terrible thing to awaken one day finding Wallace Stevens at your bedroom window, giggling and pointing at you.

“New poetry must ‘create the taste by which it is to be admired’ (Wordsworth). But not ex nihilo: to distinguish typical from exceptional examples of a new style or school, we appeal tacitly or explicitly to older, or at least other, ways of reading, which the new ways will later modify.”

This is the problem our age is in right now, I feel. Poetry is being written (and has been written) that resists classroom taxonomy. It can’t be taught the way we were taught to teach literature. So what do we do? Mostly, we ignore it. Talking about a lot of new poetry now, is not available to nearly anyone who currently teaches poetry in High School or college. And we’re not doing much to educate those going into education. I think this is a new problem. New Criticism allowed us a very straight-forward “system” of reading. Something a teacher could verify. The sorts of performances that a lot of new poetry seems to call for from a reader is fundamentally different. Am I overstating this?

“Consider a language of criticism that described only successful effects, only what a poem actually managed to do (rather than what it wanted to do, or what it resembled); in such a language, describing bad or mediocre poetry would become impossible, since about such poems there would just be nothing to say.”

Well, for one person. It seems that one’s conception of success is not universal. As I look around, I’m continually befuddled by why some people like bad poetry so much. And I’m sure many others feel the same way. And if we were to share lists of names, they’d be incompatible. We will always have this with us.

“By the way, who are ‘we’?”

Seriously! And here’s another homework question for us:

“Must a poet, nowadays, entertain an unsustainable notion of poetry’s importance (to the poet herself, to a community, to the future, to somebody else) in order to put in the time to develop the craft that will make other people, later on, want to bother to reread her poems?”

I don’t think so. I think most poets write and think in what I would call “thrall” where such questions are immaterial. But there must be times where one questions? A crisis of faith moment? This question is far from me. I don’t have access to it. Can someone help me?

“On the one hand, the insistence that poets need to acquire some hard-to-acquire knowledge, and to learn, by practicing, their art . . . here we find a professionalism . . . .” On the other hand, the insistence that poetry is that which cannot be pinned down, that which cannot be reduced to technique . . . here we find a kind of amateurism . . . .” Thus the pressure on poets—once we can no longer see ourselves as apprentices, nor as students—to be amateur and professional at once: to be both, in each poem, with each word.”

That’s a nice way to end, calling us to the page with a dual intelligence. Now for the tricky part:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New Orleans Review 35:1 - Oni Buchanan

There’s a little portfolio of work from Oni Buchanan in the current New Orleans Review. Another example of some of the current tendencies in poetry done well.

Oni Buchanan
The Worms

The worms were tapping on my forehead.
They tapped with the blunt ends of their mouths.
They were testing the sturdiness of the ground.
They were testing the quality of the sediment.

Two worms crawled down my face to line
the lower edges of my cheek bones.
They drew a string they held between them.
A third worm plucked the string.
They were testing the pitch and tuning
of the gauntness of my face, of the tautness
of my skin across its scaffolding.
They were warming up the chorus and the soloists.

One worm shimmied under the string.
One worm hung its trousers on the string.
One worm balanced on the string holding a parasol.
One worm used the string to shoot an arrow up into the sky.

Shoot at the sun, shoot at the sun,
one worm bellowed into its megaphone.
One worm belted field positions.
One worm preached a sermon.
One worm placed a catalog order, artisanal handiworks.
One worm struck a hard rubber mallet on its metallophone.

Some worms listening to the sermon lay writhing on their sides.
Some shrieked like terrible children.
Some worms listening to the sermon lay draped limp over the dirt pews.
A worm listening to the metallophone tried to wedge its way
under the instrument, for an “intimate experience of the music.”
A worm in the dirt manse embroidered crosses on a worm stole.

I was lying on my back in the fluorescent
nurse’s room, a curtain drawn around my cot.
A worm-voice over the high school loudspeaker
interrupted the broadcast of my favorite
patriotic anthem. A crackle in its voice
made me long for dry cereal with profound
emptiness and irrational desire. The worm-voice said,
“Will Oni Buchanan please come
to the main office.” “Oni Buchanan.”
“Come to the main office.” Go
to the main office, the school nurse
said to me.

Friday, July 17, 2009

James Shea - Star in the Eye

I thought it might be nice to post some recent poems from young(er) poets. Here is a poem from James Shea’s first book, Star in the Eye. It came out last year, but I just came across it recently (I miss a LOT of things!). I think he studied with Dean Young at Iowa, and I don’t think he sounds anything like what Hoagland says all these young male poets sound like (though the book won the Fence Modern Poets Series, selected by Nick Flynn). He has a very kōan sensibility that I admire. Here’s a fairly representative poem:

James Shea
The Sad Whole

He is composed of infinite acts.
Examine him from the outside
and you’ll see he doesn’t think.

He was a wild boar and inside
that boar he was a lilac bush.
These things alive within him.

He always moves and through
that moving he is always still.
And he contains and is composed

of the figure of a man himself.
You may feel at home with him
and breathe more fully now.

If we are of his gestures,
there is no one to forgive.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tony Hoagland's "Dean Young Effect"

In the new issue of APR, Tony Hoagland is back at it again, talking about the new poetry, and saying how it’s derivative and not worth much.

Before I start quoting:

I’ve talked about this sort of thing before:

I’ve nothing against Tony Hoagland’s poems. I don’t own any of his books, but I don’t’ have anything really negative to say about them. He does what he does. I’m not very interested in it, but I can see that others would be. But, I can’t go very far through one of his essays before I just want to start ranting. And also, I’ve nothing against the poetry of Dean Young. Actually, I like his work, and have several of his books.

What I find so annoying about Hoagland’s essays is that he tends to use examples from very young writers to say very general and large things about some much larger group. This time, he’s saying the group is the Cult of Dean Young. It’s very unfair to go after a few young poets, especially ones who haven’t published much (excepting Mark Yakich, who I think Hoagland intentionally misrepresents), to make statements about a whole generation. If you’re going to start throwing stones, you should throw them at more established writers, otherwise it makes the argument look like what Hoagland’s argument looks like to me: an easy puff piece. Also, it’s, well, absurd to make generalizations about a generation of writers, to call something the new poetry, when all your examples are male. In Hoagland’s economy of the new poetry, women don’t seem to exist. That, in and of itself, is enough to make me want to throw his argument out. It’s also a heterosexual thing, full of heterosexual eros.

His thesis: Dean Young is a genius, and all these young male writers out there who are younger than he is are writing in his shadow and are not geniuses.

I suppose such an argument could be made. But it could be made in any age around a strong poet. There were essays I remember about fifteen or so years ago saying much the same thing about Jorie Graham. All this proves is that Dean Young is going to get a Pulitzer prize soon. Probably within a couple years. And Hoagland’s essay seems an attempt to set that stage. That’s all well and good, but why the pot shots at all the younger (male) poets? What’s the benefit?

Well, I think it has to do with the kind of stage Hoagland is setting for Dean Young. Hoagland’s Dean Young is a domesticated Dean Young, more like Keats than Ashbery. In other words, Dean Young is OK. He’s one of us. We can let him in without letting in all those “elliptical” poets to whom we’re in opposition

Blah. Such an argument might be great for the canonization of Dean Young, but one has to be careful to cherry pick his poems to make the argument.

Nevertheless, I’m fine with Dean Young getting a Pulitzer prize. Like I said, what I’m finding so inexcusable is Hoagland’s characterization of the next generation. What this all means to me is that Tony Hoagland is greatly under read in the poets he’s talking about. His support for the assertion that these poets are emblematic of the next generation, is that “any teacher-poet who has read manuscripts for competitions, or screened applications for prizes or graduate program admissions of the last ten years, can recognize [them].”

I consider this pretty thin anecdotal evidence. What he’s really saying is that he’s that “teacher-poet,” and it makes sense to me that he would see these sorts of manuscripts, because poets who write this way are often aware of his work, and they think he might be sympathetic. His next book, due out in January, is titled Unincorporated Persons of the Late Honda Dynasty, after all. That could easily be the title of a Dean Young book.

Next Hoagland puts Dean Young up as the thing that is to be wholly emulated, so that Young’s attributes can become the bar that others are to get to—he’s the controlling genius, but Young, as well, is a combination of tendencies, as Hoagland admits, but fails to understand. Dean Young, according to Hoagland, sounds like Billy Collins, John Ashbery, Robert Hass, and Kenneth Koch, by turns. There’s no attention paid to a counter claim that Dean Young, as well as many other poets, though constantly being influenced back and forth, might all be responding to something in the culture, and that others are not participating in cheap imitation born of envy. Weren’t Russell Edson, James Tate, Charles Simic, John Ashbery, etc, doing much the same thing 40 years ago (to keep the examples only on boys, as Hoagland seems to want us to do)?

I also dislike the way he talks about Surrealism, by the way. In fact, I don’t much like the way he talks about anything in this essay, or in previous essays I’ve read by him.

OK, I’ve said my piece. I’m now going to let Hoagland have his say at describing the next generation, the Cult of Dean Young:

+ + +

“The American modifications to the imported surrealist aesthetic (which to some extent have turned Surrealism from theology into a fashion statement) have been two [. . .] ironic tonal deflation and a certain kind of cartooniness in the use of image. American surrealism (consider Strand, Tate, and Lux) usually has a kind of auxiliary self-conscious goofiness, and acknowledgement of the difference between the literary reality of France in 1915 and the 20th-century American culture. [As if Surrealism only comes from France?] [Dean] Young’s poetic incorporates these American features, but retains the essentially heroic mission of Surrealism proper.”

So what Hoagland is setting up is that Dean Young is like (but more pure) these older male poets who are already established and incorporated into the canon, and fundamentally unlike the younger poets who admire him. This is the bedrock of his argument: Dean Young is one of US, not one of THEM. He’s the end of a tradition, and everything after him in this lineage is not good. It’s an old argument, isn’t it? Doesn’t every generation make it? I’ve heard Stevens talked about in this way years ago when people were trying to say he was great but that Ashbery wasn’t . . .

Ah, time! The cluttered march!

“We are living in a time of poetic explosion; the university creative writing systems have not just trained a lot of young poets in literary craft, they have fermented these young artists in a broth of language theory, critical vocabulary and aesthetic tribalism, which the age apparently demands.”

Boy do I hate when people take this approach. Oh, the horrors of learning things! Oh, how much better we are, who don’t need to have our minds cluttered with all that mumbo jumbo! And tribalism! How wonderful that our tribe doesn’t do that! You know?

“The New Poetry, called by some “ellipticism,” can be generally characterized as stylistically high-spirited and technically intensive, intellectually interested in various forms of gamesmanship, in craft and “procedure,” acutely aware of poetry as language “system.” These young and not so young poets have invented a whole vocabulary of techniques for disassembly, deflection, ventriloquism, miming, theatricality, misdirection, and feinting. The self, in their manifold species of poems, is more theatrical than confessional or meditative; their sense of “voice” is not so much an organic extension of self, but more an artifice, a fabrication of vocabularies and rhetorics. Such a poetic voice proves itself by constant and erratic motion, throwing off guises one after another.”

OK, a couple things. One, isn’t “their sense of “voice” is not so much an organic extension of self, but more an artifice, a fabrication of vocabularies and rhetorics” simply a definition of how “voice” is constructed in a poem? It would seem to be as true for Keats (no matter what he’d say about it) as well as Poet X of the New Poetry? And second, doesn’t this paragraph describe The Waste Land as well as Book X of the New Poetry?

He goes on:

“But there is a downside as well as an upside to imitation. To begin with, Young’s admirers have a difficult act to follow. It is a bitter fact of life that the neural associative capacity of a Dean Young is pretty rare. His method suits no one as well as Dean Young. The nets of association whose spaces he adroitly negotiates, others fall through. The transformative associative cornucopia that tumbles out of his poems by the bushelful seem, not the result of will, but of a born and cultivated genius. Elliptical as they might be in presentation, Young’s poems have the intrinsic strength of arising from a unified psyche.”

So, all you poets out there, Hoagland is saying, who I think write like Dean Young, you better cut it out, because I know Dean Young, and you, you young male poets, are no Dean Young. He’s a genius, and you’re not. He’s more like us that he’s like you, so cut it out, I’m warning you. His brain is better than yours. If you persist, I’ll make examples of you, you un-unified psyche-boys.

“Even if the energetic hijinks of Young’s style can be simulated, the coherent under-discourse is less easy to emulate . . . . [H]is poetic nephews and nieces often manage only to portray a speaker who is entertainingly baffled and dismayed. They are better able to fracture than to put together.”

“. . . . For al the potential richness of “hybridity,” such splicing can be a dysfunction as easily as a function. The acquisition of speech gestures is part of what imitation, and writerly apprenticeship, is all about, but not to be able to attach those gestures effectively, or excitingly to one’s own psychic necessity, is to remain only a technician, not a poet.”

Once again, he brings in some internal, scientific-sounding, thing: “psychic necessity.” I’ve no idea what he’s talking about, and I’m pretty certain he doesn’t either. If he’s really talking about broken psyches and psychic necessity, how he’d be able to look inside the poets to know is beyond me, and if he’s really just saying that Dean Young writes better than grad students, he should have realized that before he started writing, and chosen some other subject entirely, for such a realization should be not much of a realization at all.

“Is it possible that manners can be acquired without a sense of their original, originating context, and their tonal implications?” Hoagland asks. It’s a similar point Jorie Graham made years ago talking about the students she was seeing. Something to the effect that they saw all the moves 20th-century poets made outside of the politics behind those moves. But how is Hoagland to know that poets don’t know the “originating context”? All he can know is that they don’t exhibit a knowledge of this “originating context” to Hoagland’s satisfaction, much like Strand, Tate, and Lux (to continue his examples) were criticized for “appropriating” Surrealism years ago . . .

“Absurdism has a kind of seductiveness, we know, and obliquity can resemble—in fact, can be—daring. But how can there be daring when there are no stakes?” he goes on to ask. I respond by saying that he, by writing aggressively against these poets is creating an atmosphere of stakes, so this very writing that he says has no stakes now has stakes as it courts his dismissal. Granted, no one’s standing in front of a tank here, but still, cultural capital isn’t nothing. Hoagland has it, and he’s spending it.

Here’s how he dispatches the style:

“Poetic values don’t just wax and wane, they rotate and calve and invert. To read much of the New Poetry (this is the only name that makes sense to me) is to realize how undervalued quiet (different from minimalism) is right now, and how conversely attractive obliquity and hyperactivity have emerged as poetic values. But constant motion in a poem provides no resting place for emotional fullness. Surface agitation is not inauthentic, but is only effective at communicating certain kinds of sincerity—anger or anxiety. Ironically, the epidemic proliferation of the New York School voice, itself humanist in spirit, has been another contributing agent to the New Poetic whimsy. The decibels of whimsy have been turned up, the decibels of humanism down. If it is idiosyncratic and disheveled, if it is manic, strange, and verbally bright, it might, we reason, be poetry.

“Most profoundly, in their emphasis on style and subversive forms, in the enshrinement of idiosyncrasy, too few of the New Poems aspire to the most ambitious mission statement of what poetry can do—to extend the range of our experience and the reach of our imagination.”

Are there no quite poems being written by poets who like Dean Young? What about Zachary Schomburg (just as one boy example)? Does “constant” motion in a poem really preclude emotional fullness? Maybe to Hoagland. And maybe he and I have different definitions of motion and emotional fullness? Does “surface agitation” only allow anger or anxiety? What about brio? What about joy? What about horror? Ecstasy? Thrill? You know? And is "surface agitation" all that's going on? I dont' think he's right about that either.

And yes, to Hoagland, in the end, it’s the New York School voice that is at fault, and universities . . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Best Albums of 2009?

Albums of 2009 (So Far)

I saw a list of the 50 best albums of 2009 on Amazon (Best Music of 2009, So Far), and I thought I’d counter with my favorites so far. I didn’t listen to 50 new albums this year. In fact, I had to stretch to get to 20. But here they are from first to worst, the 20 albums of 2009 I’ve listened to.

The biggest surprise for me was A Camp, and the biggest disappointment, M. Ward.

1. Son Volt, American Central Dust
2. A Camp, Colonia
3. Jason Lytle, Yours Truly, The Commuter
4. Clem Snide, Hungry Bird
5. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (Various Artists), Dark Night of the Soul
6. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
7. Cracker, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey
8. Andrew Bird, Noble Beast
9. Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels
10. Gary Louris and Mark Olson, Ready for the Flood
11. Leonard Cohen, Live in London
12. Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Beware
13. Neil Young, Fork in the Road
14. Sonic Youth, The Eternal
15. Bob Dylan, Together Through Life
16. Wilco, Wilco (the Album)
17. Iron & Wine, Around the Well
18. M. Ward, Hold Time
19. Coconut Records, Davy
20. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest

Special Mention:

Neil Young, Neil Young Archives Vol. 1
If you have the old CDs or albums, the CD version is worth it for the remastered tracks alone.
So what have I missed?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Art In The Brain: The Peekaboo Principle

Jeff Koons, Puppy

In the current issue of Psychology Today, there’s an article on the “artistic mind” that deals with how painting (sculpture as well, but the examples are from painting) works with the eye and brain. It’s interesting.

Early on, the author (Jonah Lehrer) writes, using the example of Picasso (and specifically his portrait of Gertrude Stein) to say, “Distortions often make it easier for us to decipher what we’re looking at, which is why we can identify Richard Nixon in a cartoon portrait faster than in an actual photograph.”

This interests me for so many reasons. Perhaps I’m stretching (apologies if I am), as the arts all work in different ways, but the possible cognates for writing fascinate me.

First, the selections a writer makes, of what to include and what to deny, become versions of hyperbole, distortions of what is seen or heard. That’s easy enough to imagine, but what it means is (once again) that there is no “realism” possible in language art. But hyperbole—like a caricature—helps people realize the essential nature of moments. This seems self-evident to me. So what do we mean when we talk of the “realism” of a language act? What is “realism” in poetry (which of all the language arts, seems to me the most “selected”)?

I would think that collage would have as much claim on realism as something manipulated to conform to a notion of what the real looks like. The Boyer Rickel poems I posted yesterday, or the fragmentary way that a poet like Rae Armantrout composes would seem to me to have as much a claim—or perhaps a stronger claim—to realism than, say, a poet like Ted Kooser does. And look, I’m right back to my usual examples. But still, that’s just description, not evaluation. I’ll leave evaluation to hover in the white space.

But, ignoring that, as it just shows me back in my vortex anyway, I’m interested in the way fragments work—and might continue to work, as collage, as disjunction, or as realism.

Ron Silliman currently has a little about the disjunction (or maybe it’s displacement) aspect of this over on his blog:

There is never nothing there. When a painter leaves blanks (Cézanne) or collages (Picasso, et al), there is always going to be a tension in that space, or more literally, canvas. Back to Psychology Today:

“Cézanne’s blank spots force the brain to engage in perceptual problem-solving, as it struggles to find meaning in the brushstrokes. ‘A puzzle picture (one in which meaning is implied rather than explicit) may paradoxically be more alluring than one in which the message is obvious,’ observe Ramachandran and Hirstein. ‘There appears to be an element of ‘peekaboo’ in some types of art—thereby ensuring that the visual system ‘struggles’ for a solution and does not give up too easily.’ In other words, the search for meaning is itself rewarding: the brain likes to solve problems. We actually enjoy looking for Cézanne’s missing mountain.

“The ‘peekaboo’ principle explains why subtle erotica (a supermodel shrouded in lingerie) is not only more alluring than hardcore pornography but also has much in common with the fractured forms of cubism. Both compel the mind to assemble reality out of its shards. In both cases, the effectiveness of the pictures depends on their ability to inspire our imagination, to create a sensory problem that our brain wants to solve.”

So in FLARF one might have Peekaboo Rainbow Unicorns wearing masks and doing hardcore, and then suddenly I’m distracted from my point. Wait, what was I looking for again? It’s another form of peekaboo in a post-Koons economy. But back to things a little closer to my home, this idea of the peekaboo principle is interesting and helpful when dealing not only with FLARF, and obviously fragmentary writing (like the Boyer Rickel poems I posted yesterday), but also in dealing with Rae Armantrout and John Ashbery, and a whole host of others. Armantrout’s highlighted realism of language and Ashbery’s fragments without spaces both call on the reader to approach with an open perceptual problem-solving consciousness. As I've said before, and as others have said for a long time, the action of "assembl[ing] reality out of its shards" is how the brain works on a daily basis with the world. Art that causes one to model overtly this behavior is not nearly so weird as some would have us think.

Or not, if one doesn't want to join. There’s plenty of poetry, etc., out there that doesn't function in this way, if one prefers a different engagement with art, one where the reader can be more "sure" of things. (Even if surety is a fantasy.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

TIGHT 5 - Boyer Rickel

The new issue of TIGHT is now available:

I’m fascinated by it. And it’s reintroduced me to the work of Boyer Rickel. I’d seen a few things of his over the years, but this time his work caught me at just the right angle, or something. Anyway, here are a couple of his poems from the issue (there are five total):


The desperate will consider a boat made of ice.

The one in love, the fool, for whom the boundaries have disappeared.

The teacup spoke, the chair, the brass doorknob, the child ascribing consciousness to every object in the room.

You feel as though you play the role of nothing, that you fail to show up for your own life.

Having seen the stars once (the clouds closing over), the old man sailed (what else could he do?) as though he knew the coordinates.

Glass houses.

“I was a bit like paint or plaster—living matter, that which allowed him to create,” said the model.

And what does this word suffering taste of?

The survivor said she’d escaped death only to discover she was no longer alive.

Streets with their knowable ends; roads inviting us to leave.

Your change of tone a shock, like missing a step.

+ + +

I just love the rapid perspective changes of these poems. It’s a way he’s been writing for a bit of time now, and (though I’ve just ordered it so I can’t say for sure) other poems in this form can be found in remanence, which came out from Parlor Press in 2008.

Here’s what Rae Armantrout writes about it:

“As Ron Silliman has written, ‘Attention is all.’ The poems in remanence are supremely attentive to the world-or rather to the traces it leaves in our brains. They also make a study of misperception and error. This is a form of meditation. Much of the book is composed of five-line poems, each long line a semi-separate thought, a probe. Each a kind of echolocation. Gently, insistently, they bring us news of our position.”

I got curious, and went looking around, and found this (below) from an interview with Boyer Rickel on remanence, posted on: Christopher Nelson's Poetry Blog:

“In this case, I aimed to write poems that were broken, that were discontinuous, that had gaps, that had ellipses. Line break was critical to momentum in forty-five figures, so for the new poems I wanted the sentence to be the line. And because I wanted the material to collect, to accrue, to accumulate, not to move rapidly and be connected, I needed a space between each of the poem sentences. Then titles became extremely important. I had to have titles because the individual sentences, I had decided, would be as different as they could be from one another: some would be very abstract; some concrete in detail; some might have a personal pronoun; some would not; there wouldn’t be a story or argument offered. Each sentence was to work off the title and have some resonance internally. So then I found myself in patterns: for example, I reached a point where I would write second sentences that answered ironically, or even in some direct way, first sentences. But I gave myself the right to revise, and I simply moved the sentences around. Sometimes I would have my five sentences, but it would take me a very long time to determine their order.”

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Crazyhorse 75

Just about every time I see a print journal advertised, it’s somehow “the best” or “the most important” or it publishes “the best” or the “most important” things. It reminds me just how subjective “best” and “most important” is. Maybe in hindsight there will be something like consensus, but for now, such things are highly personal. (And as so many journals and newspapers and aspects of our print culture move to the web, what will be around for the future to look back on seems something of an open question. But that’s a thought for another day . . .)

What are your favorite print journals?

More often than not, I’m finding Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Pleiades (especially the huge book review section), Denver Quarterly, and Field to be the journals I look forward to the most. There are many others that are quite wonderful, but these five continue to be the ones I can count on. Others, like Black Warrior Review and Gulf Coast, have had some really excellent issues, but journals that change editors every year or so are inconsistent, though that very inconsistency also is a reason why I look forward to them very much, which I do. So make my list of five a list of seven, then.

Anyway, this was all brought on by Crazyhorse putting up a free pdf of selection from the new issue, Number 75:

Click here to download a PDF sampler of selected Number 75 stories, essays, and poems. Editor: Garrett Doherty / Poetry Editor: Carol Ann Davis / Fiction Editor: Anthony Varallo

Here’s one of the interesting surprises I found in this issue, which reminded me once again how much Dubie’s way of working the dramatic monologue has contributed to the style of so many younger poets writing today:

Norman Dubie
The Magnesia Caesar

I killed the big wharf rat
with the rack of my abacus,
many red numeral beads
appeared in the rue and poppy spray—
I took the paper poppy of trade,
I took the opportunity
to inventory missing sacks of grain
for poor towns in Palestine,
for the messengers of the nearer towers
of rubies and glass—
those future cities, little Miza and Puy.
Awk, but

I’m haunted by the illustrated houses
of the magnificent christians—
the faces even of their old women;
sure they’re a pain in the ass
but the colors
of their sunsets behind skull hills
are an actual visitation of the future . . .
This is not my sickness
flaring, thank you very much. Dearie,
put the wine there. I am
shaking inside this morning. Agreed,
their sunsets
can not be forgiven by me.

Their blood is not everywhere.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Art Is as Irrational as Football

Like Rational Caramel!

The more I read about human systems, the more I see versions of the dichotomy between the intuitive and the rational, or novelty and categorization (right brain and left brain), etc.—where we flit between the motivations to act and to plan—and this works as well for understanding artists and the reception of art as it does the contemporary economic situation. Which is, we keep supposing that left-brain, rational, categorization, and planning are to be found when we approach things. And we act as if that’s true long past the point where it seems obvious it is not.

There was a false-rationality present in the beliefs of how the economic system was working and would continue to work. The failure of that model is a bad thing. But (transition!) in the model that I know more about, the way we talk about poetry, the false-rational model has been destructive in very different ways.

We want the economic system to be rational. Rational is good in the public shpere. But in art, what’s the benefit of a rational model?

I’m still thinking about “accessibility” here. And I think this is just another way at the problem.

Many people see art, in my estimation, through the false-rationality handed down from mid-20th Century approaches to “studying” poetry, so that now large numbers of people expect to “get” something rational from poetry, as if a poem were communication in the way an essay on a subject is thought to be communication.

I’ve no problem with art communicating. But when we go to art with that expectation first, it privileges a narrow definition of what a poem can do. It’s a very American notion, I believe, and I think it is why people in this country, by and large, flock (if anyone can be said to flock) to a certain kind of poem, one that looks more rational, and planned. In short, more left-brain-ish. Other countries don’t approach things in this way. Americans traditionally haven’t put forward “intuition” as a national definition. Perhaps it felt feminine or something? Insufficiently manly? Who knows.

It’s my contention that poetry (and the other arts) is only rational in the way that football (or any other game or sport) is rational. One of the large hypocrisies in contemporary culture is the complete lack of realization that sport is highly irrational. Perhaps because sports make a lot of money? Or because they have a rule book and judges? Anyway, sports are not rational endeavors, as the arts are not rational endeavors.

I think this is an important distinction, because I think the biggest problem we face in the arts is this cultural delusion that there is a rationality to them. Accepting this and talking about this (rationally!) would be a good way of anchoring the arts: how to begin thinking about them differently, in the hope that thought carries over into actions. Namely, accepting the arts as an experience of the irrational carried over into language full of the alternate world-creating possibilities of language and reflection. In short: play. But meaningful play. Play with consequences. Even if those consequences are as hard to define as those of football.

Or something like that.