Saturday, October 31, 2009

John Cage - SILENCE

I had a copy, years ago of John Cage’s “III. Communication” from Silence, but I’ve never had a copy of Silence, or of any of his other books. I’ve now rectified that. His influence on the arts has been massive, and one can hear echoes of his process in much that is now. (Even though yes of course Dada and Gertrude Stein were obvious influences on Cage. The question still remains the answer. Or as e.e. cummings would say, “the answer is the more beautiful question” or something like that.)

For instance Michael Palmer’s Notes for Echo Lake.

So to honor my new, old things, here’s the opening snippet from “III. Communication”:

What if I ask thirty-two questions?
What if I stop asking now and then?
Will that make things clear?
Is communication something made clear?
What is communication?
Music, what does it communicate?
Is what’s clear to me clear to you?
Is music just sounds?
Then what does it communicate?
Is a truck passing by music?
If I can see it, do I have to hear it too?
If I don’t hear it, does it still communicate?
If while I see it I can’t hear it, but hear something else, say an egg-beater, because I’m inside looking out, does the truck communicate or the egg-beater, which communicates?
Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?
Are the people inside the school musical and the ones outside unmusical?
What if the ones inside can’t hear very well, would that change my question?
Do you know what I mean when I say inside the school?
Are sounds just sounds or are they Beethoven?
People aren’t sounds, are they?
Is there such a thing as silence?
Even if I get away from people, do I still have to listen to something?
Say I’m off in the woods, do I have to listen to a stream babbling?
Is there always something to hear, never any peace and quiet?
If my head is full of harmony, melody, and rhythm, what happens to me when the telephone rings, to my peace and quiet, I mean?
And if it was European harmony, melody, and rhythm in my head, what has happened to the history of, say, Javanese music, with respect, that is to say, to my head?
Are we getting anywhere asking questions?
Where are we going?
Is this the twenty-eighth question?
Are there any important questions?
“How do you need to cautiously proceed in dualistic terms?”
Do I have two more questions?
And, now, do I have none?





Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hadara Bar-Nadav - Show Me Yours

We here at The Laurel Review are pleased to announce that the judge of this year’s Midwest Chapbook Series, Martha Collins, has chosen, Hadara Bar-Nadav’s chapbook Show Me Yours, as this year’s winner. Here's a section from one of the poems from the chapbook:

From “Night, White, and Gold for Louise Nevelson”
6. Assemblage with Night

I’ll make room for you in my bed. Bed of maple, oak, ash, or my sweet favorite cherry. I kneeled in the dust, smelled it on his clothes. My father owned a lumberyard, which means wood was home. Familiar, though I plunged each piece into paint—black, white, and gold—to unhinge the familiar, anonymously at home. Later there was aluminum and steel. Whole monuments storeys and stories high. High stories, stacking one story on another. Each box with letters inside. I turned to Lucite, epoxy, and glass to be closer to the light. I wore silver armor around my neck and walked through the day thinner than light. Darling, I was disappearing. Wind passed through the thin room of me. A tumor inside the room of my mind. So light and thin I could feel my skull lifting at the seams. At last my mind released me. The boxes watched.

A wall full of stories. A wall like a letterpress, like letters being set. Leading like leather and setting. Kerning like kernel and keening. A wall to lean on, simple as hope. Either you would stay there or cut your throat. Such mercy inside shadow and form. Each box, a loving alphabet of its own. Each wall, an assembly of letters left behind. Discarded, I found them on the streets at night.

Look at time and it passes. Like a twitch. In the end, even fabric and paper were knit. The pieces, ready-made and willing to hinge. Assemblage, montage, collage, architectural debris, detritus, free, found on the street, offal, piecemeal, a meal in pieces but a meal nevertheless. Piecing is feminine. I saved each piece to hinge and knit. I gathered each and myself into the landscape. Salvaged a doorknob and a day.

The finalists were:

Jason Bredle, The Book of Evil
Jerry Harp, Creature Confidential
Megan Kaminski, Favored Daughter
Amanda McGuire, The Round of It
Trey Moody, The Quiet Room
Chad Parmenter, His Negatives of Leaves
Adam Peterson, The Flasher
Carter Smith, White Sky
Sathya Sridharan, A Practical and Detailed Account of How to Play Hamlet

A word about the contest: The entries are read blind by the editors of The Laurel Review, and then sent to the outside judge. Because of the regional focus of the chapbook series, and the relatively small pool of chapbooks (this year there was under 150) it is inevitable that several of the finalists will have some connection to the editors of The Laurel Review. (I know Hadara Bar-Nadav and Chad Parmenter quite well, for example. As well, we’ve published some of the finalists in The Laurel Review in the past.)

Devin Johnston - Aversions

I’m finding such wonderful things in my big pile of books.

Devin Johnston


Some find it dangerous
to analyze the dead:

they shut a collie in
the cote, then find him gone—

or else, the blackest plum
proves bitter on the tongue;

an unequated remnant
lodges in the head.

When venturing abroad,
they tilt each name and date

against their silhouettes,
and looking up, take aim:

the landscape loses depth,
collapsing near and far

as plumbing groans when taps
are turned, emitting air.

The bed is hard, the room
is cold, and some have found

the dead, though well-attuned,
are slow to understand.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As You Can't Have Too Many Books

Part III

I know what you’re thinking. You're thinking this is getting absurd. Yes, yes it is.

Bernadette Mayer. Poetry State Forest.
Ted Berrigan. The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan.
Ron Padgett. How to Be Perfect.
Bin Ramke. Theory of Mind: New & Selected Poems
Jack Spicer. Hokku Notebook (Chapbook)
Barbara Guest. The Collected Poetry of Barbara Guest.
Donna de la Perrière. True Crime
Leslie Bumstead. Cipher/Civilian
Kaia Sand. Interval
Kevin Davies. Golden Age of Paraphernalia
Anselm Berrigan. Free Cell
Noah Eli Gordon. A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow
Gordon/Wilkinson/Saterstrom. Figures for a Darkroom Voice
Joshua Marie Wilkinson. The Book of Whispering in the Projection Booth
Ray Gonzalez. Cool Auditor
Gustaf Sobin. Aura: Last Essays
Ernest Farrés. Edward Hopper
John Koethe. North Point North: New & Selected Poems
Noah Eli Gordon. Novel Pictorial Noise
Devin Johnston. Aversions
Donald Revell. The Bitter Withy
David Shapiro. New & Selected Poems (1965-2006)
Jesse Ball. March Book.

On Editing:

The Fact-Checker’s Bible
The Copy-Editor’s Handbook
Bill Henderson. The Art of Literary Publishing.
The Chicago Manual of Style
15th Edition.
The Public Domain
Adobe Creative Suite 2

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Make Embryonic a Good Album

How to make The Flaming Lips’s Embryonic into a good album:

First, relax. If you’ve ever liked The Flaming Lips in the past, you’ll more than likely like this album. You might even love it. You just have to find it. In order to do that, you have to buy Embryonic. You will get:

1. Convinced Of The Hex 3:54
2. The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine 4:10
3. Evil 5:38
4. Aquarius Sabotage 2:10
5. See The Leaves 4:24
6. If 2:04
7. Gemini Syringes 3:41
8. Your Bats 2:34
9. Powerless 6:57
10. The Ego's Last Stand 5:40
11. I Can Be A Frog 2:14
12. Sagittarius Silver Announcement 2:58
13. Worm Mountain 5:21
14. Scorpio Sword 2:01
15. The Impulse 4:06
16. Silver Trembling Hands 3:59
17. Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast 3:44
18. Watching The Planets

OK, now, step two. Look around on for the non-album tracks. You will find three. As a Lips fan, you should know this already. The Flaming Lips always have extra tracks floating around. Often these tracks are as good or better than most of the tracks on their actual albums. This year is no different. Buy them. They should be these:

Anything You Say Now, I Believe You (Amazon MP3 Exclusive)
What Does It Mean? (Non-Album Track)
UFOs Over Baghdad (Non-Album Track)

This will cost you $2.97.

Good. Now it’s time for step three. Take these tracks off the CD:

4. Aquarius Sabotage 2:10
7. Gemini Syringes 3:41
11. I Can Be A Frog 2:14
14. Scorpio Sword 2:01
17. Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast 3:44

Two of them are short, freak-out instrumentals, two are ambient instrumentals over a spoken text from a scientist-sounding guy worried about things such as whether or not there is a beginning to things and how many options there are in any given situation, and one is a sort little ditty where Wayne Coyne sings a duet of sorts with a woman on a telephone who imitates animal noises. All these songs are interesting enough and worth your time, but we’re out to make this a good album, and in order to do so, eggs must be broken.

OK, now mix the three new tracks into the line-up like so:

1. Convinced Of The Hex 3:54
2. The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine 4:10
3. Evil 5:38
Anything You Say Now, I Believe You (Amazon MP3 Exclusive)
5. See The Leaves 4:24
6. If 2:04
What Does It Mean? (Non-Album Track)
8. Your Bats 2:34
9. Powerless 6:57
10. The Ego's Last Stand 5:40
12. Sagittarius Silver Announcement 2:58
13. Worm Mountain 5:21
UFOs Over Baghdad (Non-Album Track)
15. The Impulse 4:06
16. Silver Trembling Hands 3:59
18. Watching The Planets

Now you have a good album. Some might want to make an even better album, by taking off track 15. The Impulse 4:06, but I think that would be going too far. I consider this track to be the hidden gem on he album. Granted the vocal is almost totally obliterated by a synth effect (maybe The Flaming Lips borrowed Neil Young’s vocoder from the early 80s?), but this allows the listener to make up his or her own words and sing along, or to at least, as the song seems to be saying, “try and try and try and try and try, oh yeah.”

When you are done, you should have a 16-track, very good album, which should cost as little as $12.00, depending on how you purchase it, and an album much more in line with how the Lips first envisioned it, where it was going to be a mix of heavy drum and bass over-compressed freak-outs along with some Lips-style pop numbers.

Stand out tracks: “Convinced of the Hex,” “Silver Trembling Hands,” “What Does it Mean?,” “Worm Mountain,” and “Watching the Planets.”

It’s worth the effort. Trust me. Remember, one must suffer for one's art.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Rather Daunting Pile of Books

I’m rather daunted with the massive pile of books I have across my desk and little table and window sill. It’s going to take a long time to make my way through this pile, which also includes several books I got this summer, before the BIG BUY began. And I have more on the way. MORE ON THE WAY. Oh my.

Well, I’ve finished the Padgett, and enjoyed it so much I ordered two more books from him, along with some Marjorie Welish and a book on the “second Generation New York School” that Kevin Killian recommended on I’ve found I like most everything Killian recommends.

I’ve gotten a little way into Bernadette Mayer’s Poetry State Forest. I’m quite envious of her ability, along with Padgett’s, of such an easeful voice. They make me want to relax. Maybe they even make me relax. Or help. Anyway, I’m feeling relaxed, even in the face of this daunting pile of books (and of course my usual work—why can’t people just give me a pass on all this work, so I can get to my reading?).

I’m also reading the current, MFA issue, of Poets & Writers. The only thing that’s really struck me so far is the little essay from Dean Young, from a forthcoming book of essays on poetry. That’s some interesting news of which I wasn’t aware.

Here’s another poem from Ron Padgett’s How to Be Perfect:

Elegy for No One

Time passes slowly when you’re lost in paradise,
then gradually slows down to a disappearance

but only for a moment, as if inside a footstep
that pauses on the stair to wait for its shadow

to catch up, for it had not yet vanished as
the other had, and you have the idea you

wanted to have had when
the candlelight took away the distance,

leaving only the residue of dimness and fading
falling to one side and off. Time goes past or you

go past time, the outcome is the same if you think
of it that way, but if you don’t think at all

the footstep will have existed on the stair
without you, as it always has, and perfectly so.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ron Padgett - How to Be Perfect

I’ve fallen in love with the poetry of Ron Padgett. I was aware of his work only generally, having (I think?) seen something in one of the Best American Poetry anthologies. So I put him on my big “to buy” list. I, fairly randomly, chose his 2007 book, How to Be Perfect. I started reading it last night, and I've gone all crazy with it.

Here are a couple poems at random:

For Morris Golde

It might have been when
I was standing in front of
Kierkegaard’s grave thinking
that his name means
churchyard that Moris
Golde was breathing his
last in St. Vincent’s, where
Jimmy died too, and what
was I doing then—and
what am I doing now?
Death throws everything
into high relief, itself
the highest—its uppermost
crag is where we sigh,
relax, and stretch out as
far as the mind can go.
I’m partway there is
A “deep” thought I can do
without, though I just
had it. I wish it would
get lighter faster. If it
were two weeks ago it
would be bright outside
instead of blue-gray.
Morris, you old thing.

Bastille Day

The first time I saw Paris
I went to see where the Bastille
had been, and though
I saw the column there
I was too aware that
the Bastille was not there:
I did not know how
to see the emptiness.
People go to see
the missing Twin Towers
and seem to like feeling
the lack of something.
I do not like knowing
that my mother no longer
exists, or the feeling
of knowing. Excuse me
for comparing my mother
to large buildings. Also
for talking about absence.
The red and gray sky
above the rooftops
is darkening and the inhabitants
are hastening home for dinner.
I hope to see you later.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rae Armantrout's Poetry

I’ve been a fan of Rae Amantrout’s poetry for years, so I was excited to see Versed as a finalist for the National Book Award. I’ve had a close relationship with this book this year, as I was starting to write a review of it for Jacket, when Rae Armantrout chose my poems for the Boston Review contest. My friends told me it wouldn’t do her book service to have me publish a review of it right after my poems chosen by her came out in Boston Review. After a little bit of thinking (I’d already started the review . . .), I realized they were right. I also realized I could easily toss parts of the review up here on my blog. So here goes. This was the basic approach I was going to take:

Rae Armantrout’s poetry enacts a doubled vision, as it turns both outwardly to the things and events of the world, and inwardly, to the closeness of human desire and being. Or, perhaps said a better way, she brings a “direct treatment of the thing” as straight-on and direct as I’ve ever seen. The things of her poems are the things of the world, and of being in the world. The was a caveat of after “direct treatment of the thing,” in the Imagist directives, and I think this is where Armantrout’s work can be seen as a unification of tendencies, the caveat goes: be it “objective or subjective.” This “objective or subjective” bit is where Armantrout is truly amazing, as her poems tend to change this “or” to “and,” existing as both objective and subjective, in a constant state of assertion and interrogation. This makes for a richly complex perspective, one teetering at the very brink of elusiveness, a vantage point of seeing and saying that is truly hers alone.

And here’s one of the poems to which I was going to want to pay attention:


“Widely expected,
if you will,

Things I’d say,
am saying,

to persons no longer

Yards away trim junipers
make their customary

“Oh, no thank you”
to any of it.

If you watch me
from increasing distance,

I am writing this


People are often talking about Armantrout as a funny poet. That her poems are funny. Sometimes her poems are funny, yes, but I think it’s in poems where she’s anything but funny, that her achievement can be seen most clearly. How she can be both objective and subjective at once, as in the above poem, where yes, if one were to recede from the scene of her writing at the speed of light, one could theoretically remain in the presence of her writing this. It incorporates wit, yes, but it's as chilling as it is funny.

This same sort of objective clarity can be seen in this poem:


Time is placed
to draw itself
permit itself
pendulous loops,

to allow them

this meaning,

as it goes


Chuck and I are pleased
to have found a spot
where my ashes can be scattered.
It looks like a construction site
but it’s adjacent
to a breathtaking, rocky coast.
Chuck sees places
where he might snorkel.
We’re being shown through
by a sort of realtor.
We’re interested but can’t get her
to fix the price.


“The future
is all around us.”

It’s a place,

where we don’t exist.

[NOTE: in the above poem, lines 3 (the single word "out") and 11 (the single word "along") are to be indented to the drop point of the lines above them. I couldn't get my formatting to make it work for some reason. Apologies. When I get it sorted out I'll come back and fix it. I've gotten it to work in the past.]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roman Jakobson on Metaphor & Metonymy

Matthew Zapruder mentioned Roman Jakobson in regards to my post of a clip from Rosmarie Waldrep’s Dissonance, so I went looking for it.

I found this description of Roman Jakobson’s “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Disturbances” from “Jakobson, method, and metaphor: a Wittgensteinian critique”:

In his well-known essay "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances" Roman Jakobson presents a theory of language based on certain empirical observations and discoveries. Jakobson examines aphasia, a disorder of language use, which he characterizes as consisting of two more fundamental types of disorder. These coincide with what he considers to be the bases and underlying processes of languages as such. These are the metaphoric and metonymic processes that govern all verbal activity and indeed even human behavior in general. Every case of aphasia involves an impairment of the metaphoric or metonymic activities, and every case exhibits at least one of these traits. Normally these two processes occur continuously and interactively in language, though the individual speaker places greater emphasis on one or the other in accord with his or her preferences and predilections. Metaphor and metonymy are the defining poles of language: all linguistic expression lies somewhere between these extremes.

Looking around a bit further, I found this, a messy scan from the 1971 revision of the essay (I think), available here:


The varieties of aphasia are numerous and diverse, but all of them lie between the two polar types just described. Every form of aphasic disturbance consists in some impairment, more or less severe, either of the faculty for selection and substitution or for combination and contexture. The former affliction involves a deterioration of metalinguistic operations, while the latter damages the capacity for maintaining the hierarchy of linguistic units. The relation of similarity is suppressed in the former, the relation of'" contiguity in the latter type of aphasia. Metaphor is alien to the similarity disorder, and metonymy to the contiguity disorder.

The development of a discourse may take place along two differ­ent semantic lines: one topic may lead to another either through their similarity or through their contiguity. The METAPHORIC way would be the most appropriate term for the first case and the METONYMIC way for the second, since they find their most condensed expression in metaphor and metonymy respectively. In aphasia one or the other of these two processes is restricted or totally blocked - an effect which makes the study of aphasia particularly illuminat­ing for the linguist. In normal verbal behavior both processes are continually operative, but careful observation will reveal that under the influence of a cultural pattern, personality, and verbal style, preference is given to one of the two processes over the other.

In a well-known psychological test, children are confronted with some noun and told to utter the first verbal response that comes into their heads. In this experiment two opposite linguistic pre­dilections are invariably exhibited: the response is intended either as a substitute for, or as' a complement to, the stimulus. In the latter case the stimulus and the response together form a proper syntactic construction, most usually a sentence. These two types of reaction have been labeled SUBSTITUTIVE and PREDICATIVE.

To the stimulus hut one response was burnt out; another, is a poor little house. Both reactions are predicative; but the first creates a purely narrative context, while in the second there is a double' connection with the subject hut: on the one hand, a positional (namely, syntactic) contiguity, and on the other a semantic similarity.

The same stimulus produced the following substitutive reactions: the tautology hut; the synonyms cabin and hovel; the antonym palace, and the metaphors den and burrow. The capacity of two words to replace one another is an instance of positional similarity, and, in addition, all these responses are linked to the stimulus by semantic similarity (or contrast). Metonymical responses to the same stimulus, such as thatch litter, or poverty, combine and con­trast the positional similarity with semantic contiguity.

In manipulating these two kinds of connection (similarity and contiguity) in both their aspects (positional and semantic) - select­ing, combining, and ranking them - an individual exhibits his personal style, his verbal predilections and preferences. In verbal art the interaction of these two elements is especially pronounced. Rich material for the study of this relationship is to be found in verse patterns which require a compulsory PARALLELISM between adjacent lines, for example in Biblical poetry or in the Finnic and, to some extent, the Russian oral traditions. This provides an objective criterion of what in the given speech com­munity acts as a correspondence. Since on any verbal level ­morphemic, lexical, syntactic, and phraseological - either of these two relations (similarity and contiguity) can appear - and each in either of two aspects, an impressive range of possible configurations is created. Either of the two gravitational poles may prevail. In Russian lyrical songs, for example, metaphoric constructions predominate, while in the heroic epics the metonymic way is preponderant. In poetry there are various motives which determine the choice between these alternants. The primacy of the metaphoric process in the literary schools of romanticism and symbolism has been repeatedly acknowledged, but it is still insufficiently realized that it is the predominance of metonymy which underlies and actually predetermines the so-called 'realistic' trend, which belongs to an intermediary stage between the decline of romanticism and the rise of symbolism and is opposed to both. Following the path of contiguous relationships, the realist author metonymically digresses from the plot to the atmosphere and from the characters to the setting in space and time. He is fond of synecdochic details. In the scene of Anna Karenina's suicide Tolstoi's artistic attention is focused on the heroine's handbag; and in War and Peace the synecdoches "hair on the upper lip" and "bare shoulders" are used by the same writer to stand for the female characters to whom these features belong.

The alternative predominance of one or the other of these two processes is by no means confined to verbal art. The same oscilla­tion occurs in sign systems other than language.25 A salient example from the history of painting is the manifestly metonymical orientation of cubism, where the object is transformed into a set of synecdoches; the surrealist painters responded with a patently metaphorical attitude. Ever since the productions of D. W. Griffith, the art of the cinema, with its highly developed capacity for chang­ing the angle, perspective, and focus of 'shots', has broken with the tradition of the theater and ranged an unprecedented variety of synecdochic 'close-ups' and metonymic 'set-ups' in general. In such motion pictures as those of Charlie Chaplin and Eisen­stein,26 these devices in turn were overlayed by a novel, metaphoric "montage" with his "lap dissolves" - the filmic similes.

Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard - The Flaming Lips

This week I’ve gotten two new albums I’m pleased with:

Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard
One Fast Move or I’m Gone

For me, Jay Farrar is the most infuriating figure in contemporary music. I think he’s the best songwriter of his generation, and yet, his performances of his songs leave a lot to be desired, mostly in the fact that he sings EVERYTHING the very same way. His phrasing is predictable and monotonous.

If Farrar would get (or would have gotten) the covers treatment Dylan and Leonard Cohen got back when they were starting out, I think he’d be a household name in both Country and Rock circles.

One Fast Move or I’m Gone is a great example. Farrar, from what I’ve been able to find out, wrote 11 of the 12 songs on this album (Gibbard wrote one, and all the lyrics are derived from Jack Kerouac), though he and Gibbard trade off on the vocals. And the expressiveness of Gibbard’s delivery makes his tracks stand out, sounding at moments like lost acoustic tracks from The Grateful Dead, and, freshening Farrar’s vocals, making the album simply beautiful. This album is better, in similar ways to the wonderful Monsters of Folk album, than albums by its individual members (Death Cab for Cutie which mostly gets too sweet and pop for me, and Son Volt, which I love but find monotonous by turns).

Stand out tracks: California Zephyr, One Fast Move or I’m Gone, These Roads Don’t Move, Big Sur, Sea Engines, Breathe Our Iodine

The Flaming Lips.

It’s too long, of course, which seems to be part of the project. As well, it’s quite aggressive in its arrangement and production – a lot of furious drums that come and go, along with a buzz-saw guitar and heavily-processed vocals. And then, for all that (in spite of? Because of?), it’s quite effective, by turns. It seems like an intentionally imperfect album, which fascinates me.

Stand out tracks: Convinced of the Hex, The Ego’s Last Stand, Silver Trembling Hands, and Watching the Planets.

Quick Top 10 Recommendations (so far this year):

1. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
2. Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard – One Fast Move or I’m Gone
3. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
4. Son Volt – American Central Dust
5. Clem Snide – Hungry Bird
6. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
7. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
8. A Camp – Colonia
9. Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, the Commuter
10. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cal Bedient - Days of Unwilling

Currently I’m bedeviled by Cal Bedient’s Days of Unwilling. What a tour de something or other. Every time I think I’m on board, I find myself instantly adrift. Whenever I think I’ve grasped the tone, the tone escapes and builds a little bonfire out of my assumptions. Am I in contention with this book? Well, no, not exactly, it’s more that I’m witnessing something amazing, but what it is, I’m not sure. An investigation of perversion, maybe? Or investigation as a form of perversion? It’s fascinating, whatever it is.

Examples from the text don’t equal the experience of the totality, but here goes a poem anyway:


Water in its ruins I would surely sponge what I could.
But leaving out the differences on Friday there is some sense in that.
General or particular, you choose, dear, I have to sit down a minute
in the wounded operating sound of this breathing.

You ask, “Can you look into the eyes of a cornered rat
and listen to its chitter as you pick up a stone
without yourself becoming something small and terrified?”
Today, anyway, let me rest like metal strings softening to the rags

of a clavichord’s bing bung, so reminiscent, don’t you think,
of musical glasses, in their “plaintive, disembodied, melancholy” tones?
Yet even if breathing’s a pile in sequence, like rain,
shouldn’t one try to connect up extremes in a mention like sailing

when, suddenly, the mast leans down and gulps salt
water without considering a single person’s feelings?
I have an ache of excellent bits of many things, like a letter
for all the family, also days when no boat approaches to signal

your particular beauty on a background so purely unbreathing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Big Pile Of Books Pt. 2

Well, I’ve not made it very far at all into my pile of books, and yikes, in comes another huge batch. Here’s the second batch below. One more batch, I think, to go, and then I’m going to go back to not having any money for books for a long, long time. For this one moment in time, though, I can pretend to be well-read. As you can see, I’m trying to plug some holes that go back a little ways, with the Silliman and O’Hara and Spicer . . . and Oppen . . .

One thing I’ve wanted for a long time is the Kenneth Fearing Selected Poems. I giggled opening it for the first time the other day. Good times. And why three books by Lars Gustafsson? That, my friend, was a mistake. I didn’t know which one or two I should get, and I accidently ordered all three.

As well, having the Waldrop arrive today was excellent after yesterday’s news about the National Book Awards finalists. This is the first year in a long time where I actually like a majority of the finalist batch. Very nice. It caused me to go back to Rae Armantrout’s excellent Versed for a while this afternoon. It’s such a good book. But, you knew I'd say that, as I’ve been saying such things about her work for years. This is a good week.

Buying Spree Pt. 2

Keith Waldrop. Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy
Kenneth Fearing. Selected Poems
Mary Jo Bang. The Bride of E
Lars Gustafsson. Elegies & Other Poems
Lars Gustafsson. The Stillness of the World Before Bach
Rosmarie Waldrop. Dissonance (if you are interested)
Don Share. Squandermania
Michael Theune, ed. Structure & Surprise
Peter Gizzi & Kevin Killian, eds. My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer
Richard Deming. Let’s Not Call it Consequence
John Tranter. Urban Myths: 210 Poems
Frank O’Hara. Selected Poems
George Oppen. Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers
Sasha Steensen. The Method
Oni Buchanan. Spring
Ron Silliman. the Alphabet
Beth Bachmann. TEMPER
Lars Gustafson. A Time in Xanadu
Brenda Hillman. Practical Water
Fredrik Nyberg. A Different Practice
Katie Ford. Colosseum
Michael Gizzi. New Depths of Deadpan
Dan Beachy-Quick. This Nest, Swift Passerine
Joshua Poteat. Illustrating the Machine that Makes the World
C.D. Wright. One Big Self: An Investigation
Frank Stanford. The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You

So what did I miss? What do I still need to get?

And what’s in that big third order that hasn’t come in yet?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

National Book Award Finalists

Nominated in the category for poetry were:

Rae Armantrout for Versed

Ann Lauterbach for Or to Begin Again

Carl Phillips for Speak Low

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon for Open Interval

Keith Waldrop for Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy

Rosmarie Waldrop on Metaphor & Metonymy

Rosmarie Waldrop sees a tension in American poetry, one that has been growing in recent years. I think what she says gets to the very heart of the matter. As she sees it, it’s a tension between two tendencies all poets share, the call to metaphor and the call to metonymy. As a primer, here’s Wikipedia on Metaphor vs Metonymy:

“Metonymy works by the contiguity (association) between two concepts, whereas metaphor works by the similarity between them. When people use metonymy, they do not typically wish to transfer qualities from one referent to another as they do with metaphor: there is nothing press-like about reporters or crown-like about a monarch, but "the press" and "the crown" are both common metonyms.”

So now we’re ready. Here goes:

From Dissonance (if you are interested). U of Alabama. 2005.


In the beginning there is Gertrude Stein, for whom composition is explanation. I could also say, in the beginning is Aristotle: “the fable is simply this, the combination of the incidents.”


I don’t even have thoughts, I say, I have method that make language think, take over and me by the hand. Into sense or offence, syntax stretched across rules, relations of force, fluid the dip of the plumb line, the pull of eyes . . . . No beginnings. All unrepentant middle.


And none of these forms are “organic form.” None rely primarily on metaphor, though from the Romantics on poetry has been more or less identified with it.


Olson has called this vertical tendency of metaphor “the suck of symbol.” Metaphor as hotline to transcendence, to divine meaning which casts the poet in the role of special being, a priest or prophet. We know these ideas very well. They have dominated the thinking about poetry from Romanticism to the present.


Now it happens that these two emphases, on metaphor or on metonymy, are not simply differences between two styles, but coincide with the two dimensions of every speech act, selection and combination . . . . Words always have a double reference: (1) to the code and (2) to the context.


. . . literary language tends to divide according to an emphasis on one axis or the other. In rhetorical terms, an emphasis on metaphor or an emphasis on metonymy (also in the large sense: any relation by contiguity). Some writers are more concerned with finding “the right word,” the perfect metaphor; others are more concerned with what “happens between” the words, with composition, exploring the sentence and its boundaries, slidings, the gaps between fragments, the shadow zone of silence, of margins.


I say “more” concerned because it’s a matter of emphasis. Of course we are always concerned with both. And what makes our moment now so interesting is that we seem in a period of tension between the two emphases.




If we now look at the current pull away from organic form that began with Stein, toward an emphasis on combination, the implications are very different:

(1) Nothing is given. (Though all the elements are: there is nothing new under the sun.) Everything remains to be constructed.

Creeley: “a world that’s constantly coming into being . . . [the poetry is] in the activity” (in analogy to action painting).

(2) The poet does not know beforehand what the poem is going to say, where the poem is going to take her.

Barbara Guest: “The dark identity of the poem.”
John Cage: “The importance of being perplexed.”

The poem is not so much “expression” as a cognitive process that, to some extent, changes even the poet.

So the poem is not so much a mirror as “a window, opposite direction, lean out, not thrown back on yourself. A window, a lens gathering language [as the Objectivists meant it], a focus to burn. Conjunction and connotation.

Form/composition is not an extension of content (Olson/Creeley), but is, on the contrary, primary. It is the form that generates the content.

(3) The aim is not unifying (the one right word, the one perfect metaphor), but to open the form to the multiplicity of contexts.

(4) The transcendence is not upward, but horizontal, contextual. It is the transcendence of language with its infinite possibilities, infinite connections, and its charge of the past. In other words, no split between spirit and matter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kenneth Fearing (1902-1961) - Selected Poems

Kenneth Fearing
Continuous Performance

The place seems strange, more strange than ever, and the times are still more out of joint;
Perhaps there has been some slight mistake?

It is like arriving at the movies late, as usual, just as the story ends:
There is a carnival on the screen. It is a village in springtime, that much is clear. But why has the heroine suddenly slapped his face? And what does it mean, the sequence with the limousine and the packed valise? Very strange.
Then love wins. Fine. And it is the end. O.K.
But how do we reach that carnival again? And when will that springtime we saw return once more? How, and when?

Now, where a moment ago there was a village square, with trees and laughter, the story resumes itself in arctic regions among blinding snows. How can this be?
What began in the long and shining limousine seems closing now, fantastically, in a hansom cab.
The amorous business that ended with happiness forever after is starting all over again, this time with a curse and a pistol shot. It is not so good.

Nevertheless, though we know it all and cannot be fooled, though we know the end and nothing deceives us,
Nevertheless we shall stay and see what it meant, the mystery of the packed valise,
Why curses change at last to kisses and to laughter in a limousine (for this is fixed, believe me, fixed),
How simply and how swiftly arctic blizzards melt into blowing trees and a village fair.

And stay to see the Hydra’s head cut off, and grown again, and incredibly multiplied,
And observe how Sisyphus fares when he has once more almost reached the top,
How Tantalus again will nearly eat and drink.

And learn how Alph the sacred river flows, in Xanadu, forever to a sunless sea,
How, from the robes of simple flesh, fate emerges from new and always more fantastic fate.

Until again we have the village scene. (And now we know the meaning fo the packed valise)
And it is a carnival again. In spring.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Aase Berg - Remainland

Remainland: selected poems of Aase Berg
trans Johannes Göransson

It’s all a matter of tone, that elusive tone that winds through Aase Berg’s poetry, or through her poetry as translated by Johannes Göransson. It continually recedes from me as I approach. It fascinates me. The cartoonlike horror (most pronounced in With Deer, from which "In the Guinea Pig Cave" is taken). The broken language, welded together that runs through all her work.

In the Guinea Pig Cave

There lay the guinea pigs. There lay the guinea pigs and waited with blood around their mouths like my sister. There lay the guinea pigs and smelled bad in the cave. There lay my sister and swelled and ached and throbbed. There lay the guinea pigs and ached all over and their legs stuck straight up like beetles and they looked depraved and were blue under their eyes as from months of debauchery. My sister puked calmly and indifferently, it ran slowly out of her slack mouth without her moving a single nerve. And the cave was warm as teats and full of autumn leaves and beneath the soil lay the arm of a mannequin. There lay the guinea pigs and ached and were made of dough. There lay the guinea pigs beside the knives that would slice them up like loaves. And my sister with lips of blueberries, soil and mush. In the distance, the siren bleated inhumanly. That is where the guinea pigs lay and waited with blood around their mouths and contorted bodies. They waited. And I was tired in my whole stomach from meat dough and guinea-pig loaf and I knew that they would take revenge on me.

from Transfer Fat

Cut the keel
in harebroad pool
cut fin in fat

Let time rock calmly in hare
let carry and hold the calm hare
let skull rock calmly in the skeleton bowl

In the shell runs the nerves’ thin ghost
In the shell the nerves’ thin ghost clears time for fat
it will take many thousand years to raise fat

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Buying Spree

Buying Spree Pt. 1

I’ve gotten a little pile of money for books and things, so I’m on a buying spree. Some are books I’ve wanted for a while. Some are replacements of books I’ve lost over time. Some I’m just curious about (that have been suggested by various people in Denver, Ft. Collins, and Chicago [and facebook, etc.]). Below is a list of what I’ve gotten so far. Another very large batch is on its way.

It’s great to just read. That said, I have another $500 left that needs to be spent by January first. I’m looking for book suggestions. What books of poetry (or books related to poetry or editing) have you loved, that you think I should own?

John Koethe. Ninety-fifth Street
Dara Wier. Selected Poems
Aase Berg. Remainland: selected poems (trans. Johannes Göransson)
Aase Breg. With Deer (trans. Johannes Göransson)
Cal Bedient. Days of Unwilling
Graham Foust. Leave the Room to Itself
Norma Cole. Selected Poems 1988-2008
Russell Edson. See Jack
Jay Wright. The Presentable Art
Jay Wright. Polynomials
Karen Garthe. Frayed Escort
Will Alexander. The Sri Lankan Loxodrome
Jake Adam York. A Murmuration of Starlings (this is to replace the one I bought last year that never made it home with me for some reason)
Amy Catanzano. Multiversal
Eleni Sikelianos. Body Clock
Bill Berkson. Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems
Michael Robins. The Next Settlement

G.C. Waldrep. ONE WAY NO EXIT (TS Press, 2008)
Adam Clay. In a World of Ideas, I Feel No Particular Loyalty (Cinematheque Press, 2009)
Saltgrass Issue 4

(FYI reading update: A couple of the books I’ve read so far, I really don’t care for, while a couple others I’ve rather adored. One I will go on record as being very disappointed in: See Jack. One I’ll go on record as really enjoying: Ninety-fifth Street.)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Bernadette Mayer - Poetry State Forest

This poem was up on Poetry Daily a few days ago, and I keep going back to it. So I thought I’d put it up here. Now I can keep going back to it even more easily. I just ordered the book. I’m looking forward.

All Aboard

Tumbled down an incline at Bash Bish
Broke many things; it was still spring

Clouded over, it was too rainy to walk annually
At Bartholomew's Cobble; a coneflower appeared

As did a lupin, even some alyssum
Be forewarned: the eternal perennial

Is not immortal, though rooted in the ground
& coming back, it might disappear

In a wild fire, tornado or apocalypse
Or move over in a spring flood

Or earthquake; you move over & you'll see
The same thing you saw yesterday, maybe

It's the welcome wagon, here's
A cherry pie; the cherries are eternal

Bernadette Mayer
from Poetry State Forest
New Directions, 2009

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why does Ted Kooser drive me nuts?

This is why Ted Kooser drives me nuts. First, he’ll say something that I think sounds fine, like this:

Q: Do you have a definition as to what a poem is?

A: A poem is the record of a discovery, either the discovery of something in the world, or within one’s self, or perhaps the discovery of something through the juxtaposition of sounds and sense within our language. Our job as poets is to set down the record of those discoveries in such a way that our readers will make the discoveries theirs and will delight in them. My teacher, Karl Shapiro, once said that the proper response to any work of art is joy, and if we can give joy to our readers, that’s a fine thing.

* * *

OK, so that sounds jolly good! Art aspires to the transfer of joy. It’s not what I’d say, but it’s a fine way to begin to talk about the possibilities of poetry. And it’s about discovery. That sounds like he’s advocating an art that would be open to possibility, to play, to experiment. But then he goes on to say this:

Q: There are many kinds of contemporary poetry being written: innovative, received forms, free verse, political, humorous, and so on. Is there an area of poetry you see as neglected or of which you would like to see more?

A: Not in a particular form or manner such as you describe, but I’d like to see poetry that pays more attention to how it may be received by a reader. I believe in being considerate of my readers, and not talking down to them or throwing things at them that they don’t have the ability to catch. A more generous poetry takes the reader into consideration.

* * *

Bleh. Why’d he have to go and ruin it? You know? What a dumb thing to say, to suppose that the poet is this focus group, middle manager: “throwing things at them that they don’t have the ability to catch”? Seriously, Ted Kooser has these abilities to do things that he doesn’t think people would have the ability to catch? So he brings himself down to our level? Lobs us the easy ones? Please. It’s just this kind of stuff that’s full of just the kind of “talking down to” that he says he’s avoiding. No, thank you, art is not a game of catch with a two-year-old. I dare Ted Kooser to throw a fast pitch, just once. I’d like to see that.

And that’s not the only subject he’s ready to be dumb on, here he is, talking about those Internets things:

Q: What are your views concerning online versus print magazines? Do you think poetry aesthetics will change when they are no longer just a matter of printed words on the page but also words on the screen?

A: The advantage of traditional literary magazines is that the number of pages is finite, and decisions as to which poem to publish have to be made with that limit in mind. So if a traditional little magazine has room for, say, twenty poems, just twenty get selected and presented. It’s my feeling that since the internet has infinite capacity, anything goes.

* * *

Spoken like someone who does very little reading of web-based journals. Why? Well, if he did, he’d notice that Web-based journals, by and large, publish greatly fewer poems that print journals do. So there goes his “anything goes” argument. Far be it from me to let him end on so simplistic a note. Here he is, working to redeem himself:

Q: You’ve said that you would like to see public school teachers given resources so they can more effectively inspire students to enjoy poetry. What is one way in which to engage a student’s interest in poetry?

A: I think teachers need to emphasize the pleasures of poetry and quit talking about the MEANING. If students can find pleasure in reading poems, they’ll go on reading them. But to treat a poem like a problem that needs to be solved is no fun, and discouraging.

Part of the pleasure of poetry is auditory, and I recommend that teachers be sure to read poems aloud. Some students learn to read in such a way that a word symbolizes an idea, and there’s no auditory step. Thus those students don’t understand that poems have a lot of music. It helps immensely to read them aloud.

* * *

Good words to end with. Too bad he doesn’t see the implications of what he’s saying. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Here’s the link, if you want it:

Monday, October 05, 2009

Kevin Prufer on Poetry Daily

So anyway, I’ve been critical of Poetry magazine here and there. It’s mostly been about its retrograde tone, and less about its inclusions than its exclusions. But I’ve noticed a change recently. Not a huge change, but it is more inclusive. Like today, for instance, on Poetry Daily, I came across this poem, which I like quite a bit. (Disclaimer: Kevin Prufer is a friend of mine. Even so, it’s a very nice poem. Just thought I’d share.) (PS. Does this mean there's hope for The New Yorker?)

In a Beautiful Country

A good way to fall in love
is to turn off the headlights
and drive very fast down dark roads.

Another way to fall in love
is to say they are only mints
and swallow them with a strong drink.

Then it is autumn in the body.
Your hands are cold.
Then it is winter and we are still at war.

The gold-haired girl is singing into your ear
about how we live in a beautiful country.
Snow sifts from the clouds

into your drink. It doesn't matter about the war.
A good way to fall in love
is to close up the garage and turn the engine on,

then down you'll fall through lovely mists
as a body might fall early one morning
from a high window into love. Love,

the broken glass. Love, the scissors
and the water basin. A good way to fall
is with a rope to catch you.

A good way is with something to drink
to help you march forward.
The gold-haired girl says, Don't worry

about the armies, says, We live in a time
full of love. You're thinking about this too much.
Slow down. Nothing bad will happen.

Kevin Prufer

October 2009

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Spicer Thoughts?

I’m not much for Martians, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Jack Spicer anyway. And now I’ve this question. I have the Robin Blaser edited The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. Is there any reason to get the new collected, My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan Poetry) by Jack Spicer (Author), et al. that everybody keeps going on so about?

And since I’m on the topic, here’s number XII from Fifteen False Propositions Against God:

Millions of meaningless toys
If the child isn’t born soon we’ll have to close the toyshop. The second
Joyful mystery.
They make them out of trees and rubber bands and place them in stockings and cradles
No one
Knows how to play with them.
At his birth
As he is
They are not his toys or our toys we must play with. They are
Our toys.