Wednesday, March 31, 2010

AWP Off-Site Events Insanity

Seriously, have you seen the list of AWP off-site events for this year?

Here is the complete list from AWP:

(Just scroll down the page to see all)

There are many worthwhile events, way too many to list out. For instance, I was tagging things that looked good to go to, and this is what I tagged for JUST THURSDAY. You know? What’s a person to do?

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Gulf Coast / Bat City Review Reading

Location: Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street

Cost: Free

Please join us for an afternoon of poetry, prose, and general merrymaking. Featuring Matt Bell, Lillian Bertram, Mark Bibbins, Adrian Blevins, Arna Bontemps Hemenway, Christopher Merkner, and Brian Oliu.


Colorado Writers Reading

Location: Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, Denver, CO 80205; (303) 294-9281

Readers include: Eleni Sikelianos, Noah Eli Gordon, Julie Carr, Michael Friedman, Maureen Owen, John-Michael Rivera, Tim Roberts, Sara Veglahn, Eric Baus, Steve Katz, Arda Collins, and others


Copper Nickel Presents 8 Debut Poets

Location: Tivoli Turnhalle, 900 Auraria Parkway

Cost: FREE


Readings by Dan Albergotti, Jericho Brown, Stacey Lynn Brown, Michael Dumanis, Farrah Field, J. Michael Martinez, Alison Stine, and Allison Benis White, with a reception to follow.



Location: Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street; walking distance from the conference

Cost: Free

You should definitely come to this reading of six small presses: Birds, LLC; Brave Men Press; Harp & Altar; Immaculate Disciples Press; Mississippi Review Poetry Series; and New Issues Press. Poets include: Julia Cohen, Brian Foley, Elisa Gabbert, Kate Greenstreet, Dan Magers, Justin Marks, Linnea Ogden, Christopher Salerno, Kim Gek Lin Short, Sam Starkweather, Janaka Stucky, and Chris Tonelli.


Action Books, Litmus Press, and Nightboat Books poetry reading

Location: The Thin Man Tavern, 2015 E 17th Ave Denver (just a quick cab ride or take the 20 bus at 17th Street & Welton Street, get off at 17th Street & Race Street)

Featuring Paula Cisewski, Brenda Ijima, Sandy Florian, Lara Glenum, Johannes Göransson, Dawn Lundy Martin, Laura Moriarty, Abe Smith, Stacy Szymaszek, and Edwin Torres.


The Girls of Saturnalia Books & Painted Bride Quarterly

Location: William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street (between 10th and 11th Street) Downtown Denver, just a 15 minute walk (or 5 minute drive) from the AWP Convention Center

Sexy, saucy, sassy, smart, seductive, spicy, and just plain sick. Saturnalia Readers: Sabrina Orah Mark, author of The Babies and Tsim Tsum; Sarah Vap, author of American Spikenard, Dummy Fire, and featured in Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics; Catherine Pierce, author of Famous Last Words; Kristi Maxwell, author of Realm 64 and Hush Sessions. PBQ Readers: Lynn Levin; Teresa Leo; Elizabeth Scanlon; Robin Beth Schaer. *WINE will be served* Sponsored by Painted Bride Quarterly and Saturnalia Books.


Wave Books, Canarium Books, Ugly Ducking Presse & Octopus Books Presents

Location: Benders Tavern, 314 E 14th Ave

Cost: Free & Open to the Public!

A Poetry Reading & Party Featuring: John Beer, Heather Christle, Dorothea Lasky, Paul Killebrew, Dan Machlin, Geoffrey Nutter, Alex Stein & Matvei Yankelevich. Directions From the Convention Center: Walking (1 mile): go east on 14th St, right on bannock for two blocks & left on 13th Ave up four streets. Or it's a $6-8 cab ride.


Alice James Books and Four Way Books Reading

Location: Common Grounds Downtown Coffee, 1550 17th St, Denver, CO

Cost: free

"Lightning Flash" readings by Alice James Books and Four Way Books authors: Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, Joanna Fuhrman, Frank Giampietro, Kevin Goodan, Tom Healy, Meg Kearney, David Dodd Lee, Lesle Lewis, Mihaela Moscaliuc, Jamie Ross, Chad Sweeney, Sandy Tseng, and Monica Youn



Location: Turnhalle of the Tivoli Student Union on the campus of the University of Colorado-Denver. Address: 900 Auraria Parkway, Denver, CO 80204-1991

Cost: No charge for the event

Please join Free Verse Editions for a reading which will follow the Copper Nickel poetry reading from 6:15-7:30PM. The readers will be: Molly Bendall, Brenda Hillman, F. Daniel Rzicznek, Cole Swensen and Jon Thompson

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

AWP 2010 Denver Colorado April 7 - 10 Decision Time

It’s AWP decision time, folks. Next week will be here in a matter of days. Seven, to be exact. The schedule has been up awhile on the AWP website:

A quick looks reveals that there’s plenty for everyone, and, as usual, a tremendous overlap of events I would like to go to. Here’s a quick overview of some things I find interesting (I’m sure I missed some in my cursory glance).


10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m.

Room 207
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

R136. A Tribute to Reginald Shepherd. (Brad Richard, Robert Philen, Catherine Imbriglio, Timothy Liu, John Gallaher) Join us to celebrate the life and work of Reginald Shepherd (1963-2008), a major poet (Some Are Drowning, Wrong, Otherhood, Fata Morgana), anthologist (The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, Lyric Postmodernisms), and essayist/critic (Orpheus in the Bronx, A Martian Muse [forthcoming]). His brilliant lyricism, intelligence, wit, and generosity are sorely missed. Our panelists, including Shepherd's partner, Robert Philen, will discuss his legacy as writer, editor, and friend.

Noon.-1:15 p.m.

Rooms 301, 302
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

R160. Poetry & Memorability. (Joshua Kryah, Jill Bialosky, Mark Irwin, Claudia Keelan, Paul Hoover, Laura Kasischke) A majority of the art that survives is memorable in one way or another. Heidegger has argued that art, to a certain extent, "forces being out of forgetfulness" and thus creates truth. What makes a poem memorable? We will examine metaphor, form, imagination, concept, image language, mystery, and radical gesture as it leads toward producing works of art that are finished to the eye, but unfinished to the heart.

1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.

Rooms 301, 302
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

R183. Poet in the Desert / Desert in the Poet. (William Stobb, Claudia Keelan, Donald Revell, Christopher Arigo) From a cognitive/aesthetic point-of-view, deserts are landscapes with the middle ground removed. Present are the near-at-hand and the distant. The poem becomes the middle ground, while the poet in the desert internalizes vastness. Enacting a time-honored tradition, four poets return from the desert to offer their vision to the tribe.

3:00 p.m.-4:15 p.m.

Room 207
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

R204. Poetry After the '00s: What Comes Next? (Tony Hoagland, Laura Kasischke, Donald Revell) Poets and critics advance, retract, and debate the multiple and overlapping states of American poetry after the '00s—after the end of the old schools (New Narrative, post-avant, flarf, Ellipticism, neo-Objectivism), what poets, poetry, poems look now like useful examples, and why? The arguments in Stephen Burt's Close Calls with Nonsense may serve as starting points; present with him are poets discussed in the book, and critics—some of them poets themselves—likely to give his positions a vigorous dispute.

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.

Centennial Ballroom
Hyatt Regency Denver, 3rd Floor

R234. The Poetry Society of America Centennial Celebration: 100 Years of American Poetry. (Alice Quinn, Matthew Zapruder, Jean Valentine, B.H. Fairchild, Joy Harjo, Kimiko Hahn, Cyrus Cassells, Diane Wakoski, Gary Young) A reading celebrating the 100th anniversary of the nation's oldest poetry organization, featuring recent PSA Award winners reading their own works as well as important American poems of the past century. Hosted by Alice Quinn, PSA Executive Director.


9:00 a.m.-10:15 a.m.

Room 201
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

F111. Hybrid Aesthetics and Its Discontents. (Mark Wallace, Arielle Greenberg, Craig Santos Perez, Michael Theune, Megan Volpert) Recently, numerous writers and anthologists have tried to move beyond distinctions between mainstream and avant-garde poetry that from the 1950s well into the 1990s often dominated discussions about new directions in poetry. This panel considers if and how this work has changed the aesthetic, cultural, and ideological implications of the mainstream/avant-garde distinction, looking at the extent to which boundary-crossing hybrid aesthetics have or have not been truly transformative.

10:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

Rooms 401, 402
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

F140. National Book Critics Circle: The Practice and Purpose of Poetry Reviewing. (Kevin Prufer, Matthew Zapruder, Craig Morgan Teicher, Nickole Brown, Timothy Donnelly) Poetry books sell in small numbers, yet the poetry publishing scene is booming with new books. Readers' enthusiasm often takes the form of book reviewing—in literary journals, on blogs, and in the pages of newspapers and magazines. There's some debate about what the point of poetry reviewing really is: to explain esoteric writing? To keep the art form from getting sloppy? To please the poet under consideration? In this panel, poetry reviewers, publishers, and poets will debate these questions.

Noon.-1:15 p.m.

Centennial Ballroom
Hyatt Regency Denver, 3rd Floor

F167. Writing In(to) the Age of Obama: Poetry, Politics, and the People. (Rachel Zucker, Cate Marvin, Major Jackson, Patricia Spears Jones, Brian Teare, Matthew Rohrer) Poets who participated in Starting Today: Poems for Obama's First 100 Days (originally a blog, now a forthcoming book) will describe the anxiety and pleasure of writing an Occasional, political poem. They will discuss what makes a poem "political"—is it content, tone, intended audience, authorial motivation?— whether poetry should be more or less political than it is, whether all poetry is political, and how poetry has changed since Obama's election.

Mineral Hall
Hyatt Regency Denver, 3rd Floor

F169. Gurlesque Poetry: A Reading. (Lara Glenum, Cathy Wagner, Dorthea Lasky, Danielle Pafunda, Cathy Park Hong, Elizabeth Treadwell) Five poets will read from their works as featured in Gurlesque, a new anthology of contemporary women poets and visual artists now out from Saturnalia Books. Gurlesque poets perform their femininity in a campy or overtly mocking way, drawing on burlesque performance, girly kitsch, and the female grotesque. Their often humorous work assaults the norms of acceptable female behavior by irreverently deploying gender stereotypes to subversive ends.

1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.

Rooms 301, 302
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

F183. Jean Valentine, Poet. (Celia Bland, Kazim Ali, C.D. Wright, Catherine Barnett, Miguel Murphy) Jean Valentine speaks with a prophetic authority of the inner life, plumbing the visible and the invisible–the red candle of "find it," the chimpanzee of longing, and the cliffs of the mind. Join us as poets discuss the pleasures and challenges of Valentine's poems on the occasion of her 75th birthday, followed by a reading by Valentine.

Room 304
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

F185. Collages & Collisions: A Braided Reading. (Sarah Maclay, Gail Wronsky, Louise Mathias, Molly Bendall, Holaday Mason, David Dodd Lee) Recent experiments with the braided reading have led us to The Uberbraid: three pairs of poets involved in ongoing collaborative projects will join one another in a completely collaborative reading involving all six at once. Beyond traditional call and response, we will lend our voices to one another's already collaborative work, further erasing boundaries while magnifying chance connections at the level of line and image, as well as whole poem. Format fatigue? Try our sound-collage.

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.

Rooms 301, 302
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

F226. Colorado’s Innovative Writers Past and Present. (Julie Carr, Noah Eli Gordon, Eleni Sikelianos, Bhanu Kapil, Dan Beachy-Quick, Matthew Cooperman) This panel includes five writers currently living and teaching in the Front Range, whose writing reflects the vibrant history of innovative writing in the area. Each participant will speak about a particular writer or group of writers who lived in Colorado and who has influenced his or her own work. The participants will then speak toward and briefly read from their own work in order to demonstrate this lineage.


9:00 a.m.-10:15 a.m.

Rooms 102, 104
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S102. The Colorado Prize for Poetry: A Reading by Recent Winners. (Stephanie G'Schwind, Rob Schlegel, Craig Morgan Teicher, Jaswinder Bolina, Endi Hartigan, Karen Garthe) The Colorado Prize for Poetry, judged every year by a different senior poet, is an aesthetically diverse book series. Winners from the past five years read from their award-winning collections.

Room 207
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S113. Flarf and Conceptual Poetry. (K. Silem Mohammad, Christian Bök, Katie Degentesh, Vanessa Place, Mel Nichols, Yedda Morrison) Are the transcriptional blankness of Conceptual Writing and the deliberate awfulness of Flarf really the only relevant contemporary poetic options, as Kenneth Goldsmith has recently declared? Have they rendered both mainstream practice and what passes these days as experimental poetry obsolete? Six prominent Conceptualists and Flarfists explain why resistance is futile. And when they're done with each other, they're coming for you.

Room 304
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S117. Hot/Not: A Panel on Sentiment. (Joy Katz, Sally Ball, Mark Bibbins, Jenny Browne, Sarah Vap) Are performance, surprise, irony, and other forces acting against sentiment in contemporary poetry? Which poems now risk sentimentality most boldly—as Richard Hugo said all good poems should—and how do they do it? Hear five poets with wide-ranging aesthetic sensibilities talk about these questions, discussing their shifting citizenship in the lands of irony and sincerity and their models of what might be called Muscular Sentiment.

10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m.

Rooms 103, 105
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S123. Criticism for Its Own Sake: The Rewards of Writing (and Reading) Reviews. (Dinah Lenney, William Giraldi, Sven Birkerts, Amy Gerstler, Dana Goodyear) Panelists will discuss the role of the critic as it informs the culture, as well as the art of critical writing, and when it's most rewarding for readers and writers. Do we need critics? What are their obligations? Do they deepen or enhance our understanding even when we disagree with them? Does criticism stand up as literary nonfiction, entertaining, enlightening, or offensive in its own right, regardless of its subject.

Room 303
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S138. jubilat 10th Anniversary Reading. (Robert Casper, Dara Wier, Lisa Olstein, Jen Bervin, Peter Gizzi, Cathy Park Hong) A reading to celebrate the past decade of publication by the venerable poetry journal, featuring editors and contributors reading their own work as well as selections from jubilat's history.

1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.

Mineral Hall
Hyatt Regency Denver, 3rd Floor

S185. Poets Past and Present at the University of Denver. (Eleni Sikelianos, Bin Ramke, Cole Swensen) This reading by three poets who either teach now at the University of Denver, or have taught there in the past—Bin Ramke (at DU since 1984), Cole Swensen (at DU 1996-2002), and Eleni Sikelianos (at DU since 2003)—will showcase the history of engaged, innovative poetry that has been present at DU for the past twenty-five years. In addition, the deep, long-lasting, creative relationships between these poets will be brought to light.

3:00 p.m.-4:15 p.m.

Room 207
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S196. Tupelo Press 10th Anniversary Poetry Reading. (Jeffrey Levine, Ilya Kaminsky, Elena Byrne, Karen Lee, Joshua Wilkinson, Joan Houlihan) Tupelo Press celebrates ten years of publishing with a reading that, in turn, celebrates several astonishing new and emerging voices. Come and hear award-winning, provocative, and innovative Tupelo Press writers read from their work.

Rooms 210, 212
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S197. BOA Editons: American Reader Fiction Series. (Jessica Treat, Martha Ronk, Joanna Howard, Daniel Grandbois, Anthony Tognazzini) BOA Editions, a long-standing preeminent publisher of poetry, recently introduced a new series: the American Reader Series in Short Fiction. Four of the first writers from the series, whose works straddles the line between poetry and prose in unexpected ways, read from their new collections and discuss the nature of their work as well as the making of their books.

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.

Room 203
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level

S211. The Iowa Review at Forty. (Christopher Merrill, Marianne Boruch, Nami Mun, Lee Montgomery, Matthew Rohrer, David Hamilton) Founded in 1970, the Iowa Review enters its fifth decade ready to reinvent itself while keeping its traditions in mind. To celebrate the acclaimed literary magazine's 40th birthday, and as a tribute to retiring editor David Hamilton's thirty-two years of tireless dedication to writers and writing, advisory board member Christopher Merrill hosts a lineup of outstanding contributors reading work that has been published in the Iowa Review over the years.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Blurb As Argument Platform II

Part One is here:

Part Two, Then 

What he wrote on the back of the book:

“With complete dedication and seriousness Michael Dickman has absorbed his influences and taught them to work hand in hand with his own unique genius to produce a style like no one else's, one as instantly recognizable as that of poetic masters such as Dickinson, Follain, and Simic. To me, he is one of the younger American poets who are hiddenly heralding the end of the randomness, the glib irony Rilke strenuously warned against, the gratuitous non sequiturs and obscurities for obscurity’s sake which have been fashionable in our poetry for the past couple of decades, and which make it so difficult to determine whether or not a poet has talent or anything significant to tell us. His work achieves all that is most valuable and most difficult in writing: simplicity, clarity, specificity, mystery, primal sincerity, and emotion as Pound used the term, that is, artistic allegiance to whatever is universally shared and unalterable over time in the human experience. With the utmost gravity as well as a kind of cosmic wit, Dickman gives a voice to the real life sorrows, horrors, and indomitable joys that bind together the vast human family.” —Franz Wright

My reaction to what he wrote:

The first sentence: “With complete dedication and seriousness Michael Dickman has absorbed his influences and taught them to work hand in hand with his own unique genius to produce a style like no one else's, one as instantly recognizable as that of poetic masters such as Dickinson, Follain, and Simic.”

OK, so first he writes that Dickman is like no one else, and then he names off three poets who are somewhat like him in their recognizability? (And it’s not just their recognizability he’s thinking of here, as he’s using poets recognized for a spare, open line, with whom Dickman has been compared in other places.) It’s not a terrible thing to say, but it has at least the tone of contradicting itself, which is a very common thing for a blurb (and for most reviews). First, say the author of the book is utterly original, and then name some poets that writer resembles. Ah, what sweet irony…

Speaking of irony, it’s the second sentence that I want to concentrate on. It’s an unnecessary straw-man argument over the back of a book:

“To me, he is one of the younger American poets who are hiddenly heralding the end of the randomness, the glib irony Rilke strenuously warned against, the gratuitous non sequiturs and obscurities for obscurity's sake which have been fashionable in our poetry for the past couple of decades, and which make it so difficult to determine whether or not a poet has talent or anything significant to tell us.”

I really can’t stress it enough how much this kind of thing irritates me. Why does Wright need to do it? Does he really need to make Dickman the poster-child for an argument with a segment of American poetry? Who are the friends he’s trying to win? Who are the enemies he’s trying to make?

An argument against many poets could be made, sure, but “glib irony” isn’t going to do it. We all make arguments all the time about what’s good and bad in poetry (I’m doing it right now). I’m not against Wright making an argument, just its location in a blurb on the back of a book, where there’s no room to make a real argument with support and examples. So it just sits there, a call to arms without saying who the enemy is, just a kind of wild “they’re out there and we know who they are” mistiness.

What I’m saying here is I understand Wright’s motivation to want to fight with a lot of poets, mostly younger, who he feels are going awry. In this, he joins a growing group of male poets (including Tony Hoagland, David Wojahn, and others) who seem to be making something of the same argument (I think) against (I think) the same younger poets. It’s an interesting sociological study. Is this just a boy thing? I wonder. When I do find examples about what’s wrong in American poetry (mostly from Hoagland), they are all (or nearly all) male. And now the corrective is also male. It’s fascinating.

And while I’m on the subject, why not list out these poets who’ve been writing for a couple decades with this “glib irony” thing? I’d be interested in that list. If Wright is going to make an argument, I wish he’d just make it, and not euphemism his way around it. If there’s going to be a fight, there should be a fight, but not in jacket blurbs.

Depending on what he’d say in return, I might possibly agree with him (OK, I’m sure I wouldn’t, but as I haven’t seen his list, I don’t know), but as it is, I strongly disagree, because I’m guessing he’s talking about all (assuming totality, which is, of course, absurd) the poets published by Verse/Wave, Fence, Action Books, Octopus, Black Ocean, Ahsahta, Letter Machine Editions, and many of the poets published everywhere else. That’s a pretty big net. Of course, he can’t mean all of them, so the accusation just kind of floats out there, swinging wildly.

But, even so, all those presses are fairly new still. Twenty years takes us all the way back to the end of the 80s, which is right about when what was called “Elliptical Poetry” started up. So is Wright blaming all this on Jorie Graham? Or was she one of the names? I get so confused by it all . . . which is precisely what happens in this kind of “blurb as argument” situation: since no one really knows who is being attacked, they just fill in whatever names they want. Some glib, ironic X. I consider it a useless argument, both hyper-aggressive and rather powerless.

So then, knowing that I like many of the books published by the above presses, I receive Dickman’s book as if hostile fire, and I didn’t need to receive it that way. The publisher should have never let the book go out without editing that blurb down.

Look how much nicer it could have been, for all concerned:

“Michael Dickman’s work achieves all that is most valuable and most difficult in writing: simplicity, clarity, specificity, mystery, primal sincerity, and emotion as Pound used the term, that is, artistic allegiance to whatever is universally shared and unalterable over time in the human experience. With the utmost gravity as well as a kind of cosmic wit, Dickman gives a voice to the real life sorrows, horrors, and indomitable joys that bind together the vast human family.” —Franz Wright

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Soundtrack & Bookshelf

A few things that have my attention this week


These new albums have been playing a lot so far this spring:

Bill Callahan – Rough Travel for a Rare Thing (I’m new to his work, only slightly knowing about his former incarnation as Smog, and I’m glad I finally started really investigating his work)

Clem Snide – The Meat of Life

Broken Bells – Broken Bells (This one came out of nowhere, and I love it)

Eels – End Times

And a few upcoming albums that I’m waiting for:

The National – High Violet (This might possibly be my “album of the year” pick. What I’ve heard from it so far is simply wonderful. See video below)

Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame (I loved We All Belong, but only liked Fate)

MGMT – Congratulations (I’m really not a huge fan, but I like having them around now and then)

Bookshelf (more on these next week)

Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Selenography (with polaroids by Tim Rutili of the band Califone)

Molly Brodak, A Little Middle of the Night

Christopher Salerno, Minumum Heroic

Ryan Murphy, The Redcoats


Zucker & Greenberg, Eds., Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days (If you’re going to AWP there’s going to be a huge reading that Saturday with 25 or so of the poets present)


Court Green (with a nice dossier on the 70s)

Octopus 13 -

Here’s one of Bin Ramke’s poems from Octopus 13

Living in Weather

It is an economy unfolding
of leaf of leaves into trees leaving of winter
and agonies of spring; fold and unfold

reading and reading leaves leaves
the mind implicated in its body, world:
it thinks, wild the epigraphy:

they shall beat their coins into cookware

pennies flattened serve roof repair

otherwise wilderness catches calligraphy

snares a bitter mind among mountains.
The loud clouds come falling
from air from the mountains.

Falling air and fair weathers
wash us of our sins any season.
Here how it happens—a measure:

the beetle imago crawling two
dots on its back shiny as dew
under the murderous eye of sun
I of sunlight sizzling the morning as

as and we wait again a health. For health.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rae Armantrout - Versed - NBCC in Poetry Winner

First off, congratulations to Rae Armantrout for receiving the NBCC award for Versed. It’s a brilliant book, and a deserving win. And also, a nod to the other nominees (Louise Glück, A Village Life; D.A. Powell, Chronic; Eleanor Ross Taylor, Captive Voices: New and Selected Poems, 1960–2008; Rachel Zucker, Museum of Accidents).

For several years now, the NBCC has had the most interesting list of finalists and winners, and I’m quite excited with the possibility of where such things might be headed, as this year the National Book Awards list was also quite exciting (Rae Armantrout, Versed; Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again; Carl Phillips, Speak Low; Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval; Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy).

[Sidebar: I predict that Kay Ryan is going to win at least the Pulitzer next year (I think it’s written into her Laureate contract), but, outside of that, the lists are shaking up and moving away from completely safe, predictable choices.]

When John Ashbery, in 1976, won the triple crown (as they said at the time), it was for what was the most “gettable” of his books, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, mostly due to the long title poem that is an excellent, but also one that is ekphrastic. And with the art on the cover, it allowed people an Ah-ha moment into his work. It’s “accessible” even, they say, or almost accessible.

I say this, because the two books that have recently won the NBCC that have gotten me the most excited, Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy and Rae Armantrout’s Versed, also share this nod to content that Ashbery’s use of the Parmigianino (above) did. The give people a jumping-off point, an umbrella definition that they can file the “experimental” bits under. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror is one of the best of Ashbery’s books, and anything that brings readers to it is fine with me. It’s allowed a way in. It’s a friendly way to think of Ashbery’s work in general and has spilled over into his other books: yes, he is writing about things, real things, but in slippery, sideways glances. The more content available books teach people how to read the rest of the books. 

The same sort of thing is available in the Bang and Armantrout books. The death at the center of Bang’s Elegy and the cancer at the center of Armantrout’s Versed, allow readers who wouldn’t normally find a way into these books or authors a context, and while that context might tend to reduce these books (the bad thing, as these books are about more than just the base upon which they were conceived), it also allows readers to allow themselves into the work in general (the good thing). You can see this dichotomy in action here, in the most complete citation I could find from the NBCC on Versed:

“for its demonstration of superb intellect and technique, its melding of experimental poetics but down-to-earth subject matter to create poems you are compelled to return to, that get richer with each reading.”

It’s just this sort of reading that people don’t often allow themselves with poets like Armantrout. There’s this myth out there that “experimental” poets don’t have a center, or a reason to be re-read. Books like Versed or Elegy or Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (or Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies, to add another current award winner), could, if they’re not just token wins (the cynical reading of this is that the awards cycles are tagged by method, and this was the year “experimental” poetry’s number came up).

All this is to say that this year’s win by Rae Armantrout, who I think of next to Ashbery as a fundamentally important poet, thrills me. It just completely thrills me. It’s a long-overdue and deserving win.

And to close, here’s this, from the Buffalo News:

Versed moves toward a deceptively simple, almost lyrical concision, but always in service of probing the dizzying discontinuities in language and thought. In its two long sections "Versed" and "Dark Matter," she writes unsparingly and unsentimentally on the occurrence of cancer (her own) not only as a physical ailment, but also as a crisis of representation for the language of illness, the body and the self. The poet-critic Ron Silliman has described Armantrout's work as ‘the literature of the vertical anti-lyric, those poems that at first glance appear contained and perhaps even simple, but which upon the slightest examination rapidly provoke a sort of vertigo effect as element after element begins to spin wildly toward more radical (and, often enough, sinister) possibilities.’”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Schneiderman Defends the Workshop (with a sidebar on Kitsch)

Jason Schneiderman, in the March/April 2010 APR, has a lengthy article on the creative writing workshop, titled, “The Phenomenological Workshop: Notes Toward a Theory of the Workshop.”

When I started reading it, I was initially thinking it was going to be a memoir, but then it shifted to more of a general theory of how a workshop should be conducted. I say should, because this is something of a Workshop Manifesto. Agree or disagree, it’s worth your time to look it up.

Here are a few interesting moments. First, here’s Schneiderman on Kitsch (which is not central to the essay, but I’m interested in it):

“My favorite piece of writing on artistic values is Clement Greenberg’s essay in which he draws a distinction between Art and Kitsch. For Greenberg, Kitsch is a representation that makes no demand on the viewer. Like a Thomas Kinkade painting or a Steven Spielberg film [there’s a note here to specify a couple Spielberg films deemed NOT Kitsch], the meaning of Kitsch is already clear. There’s never any doubt about how to look or what to feel. Art, on the other hand, calls upon the inner resources of the viewer.” (p45)

Granting the larger point, I’m still made nervous by this definition (and all such performative [use-value] definitions of aesthetics), as it’s been my experience that most people, in regarding Art, really don’t feel much of a demand is being made of them, and they don’t seem to inhabit any space of questioning about how to look or what to feel, they just kind of wander by, not passive so much as touristic. Which is: Art makes no demands upon anyone. It is the viewer who must demand to encounter the Art. And once a viewer demands the site of encounter, it’s a slippery slope into infinite encounter (as in: Kitsch can also be encountered and questioned: i.e. theorized).

Sometimes, to attempt to be provocative, I assert that there is no such thing as Kitsch, that the whole concept is a performance of its own undoing, a kind of Performance Art that can be quite lovely, if rather pointless. Sometimes that gets people going, or at least it used to. In these Post-Flarf times people are less easily provoked by such comments.

More seriously though, I’ve found this Art/Kitsch distinction (as well as other distinctions) especially difficult to navigate in the creative writing classroom, where much that is encountered is less a problem of Art or Kitsch than a kind of generalized—unnuanceable—experience that the viewer then fills in.

After this, there is an interesting turn Schneiderman makes that I rather like. Rather than encountering the work on a primary level, one can encounter it on the secondary:

“We can say, ‘People who like this poem like it because….’ We can dispose with teaching them the right way to read, and begin to show them different modes of reading, making no secret of our own biases and preferences.” (p45)

Even as I rather like that formulation, I find myself cringing at what sorts of language acts such a situation might call forth. But still, it would be instructive as (at the very least) an exercise in empathy.

Anyway, all this dancing aside, Schneiderman presents a four-point list that (though I have a lot of little caveats and counter thoughts of my own [for example, how, inclusive as it is, this list still tends to privilege a certain type of poetry that is not the only type of poetry] that I’ll not bore you with right now) seems a good place to begin a creative writing syllabus (as he’s reacting to the old cliché that “creative writing can’t be taught”), as I’m guessing many people already do:

1. The history of poetry can be taught. The student can be made aware of the different ways that poetry has been approached in different times. The student will then have access to a history that is broader than the current moment.

2. The structure of poetry can be taught. We can look at the ways that structural devices impact the poem. I think of poetic forms (pantoums, ghazals, sonnets, etc.) as a specialized form of more general structuring devices (line, meter, rhythm, repetitions, etc.).

3. The rhetoric of poetry can be taught. We can look at metaphors, similes, metonymy, repetition, etc. If the structure of poetry is unique to poetry (lines, stanzas, etc.), the rhetoric of poetry is part of language, available in all writing and speaking.

4. The analysis of poems can be taught. We can look at poems and take them apart and analyze their component parts and learn a vocabulary to discuss the way that they achieve their effects. Here is where we can address the bigger picture of the poem—how does it work, what does it do, how do we experience it?

Cute doggie!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton has died

Big Star
September Gurls

Alex Chilton has died (he was 59). When I was in High School, Big Star was one of my favorite bands, though by that time they were already no longer a band. Big Star came out with three albums in the early-med 70s, all of which were included on the Rolling Stone top 500 albums of all time.

Big Star

Sunday, March 14, 2010

92 nd St Y (Part Two) [Some photos of the event from Lawrence Schwartzwald]

I got to see some people at the reading (and a bit before), but didn't get any pictures. Kate Greenstreet was there, and Mark Bibbins, and Matthew Thorburn . . . next time, then, I'll get pictures (otherwise I'll have to trust to memory, and, well, we all know how that can be). The pictures below were taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald, who works for the New York Post.

[c 2010 Lawrence Schwartzwald]

L-R (or R-L!) John Gallaher, Robert Elstein, Marcella Durand (and John Ashbery in the far background)
[c 2010 Lawrence Schwartzwald]

John Ashbery signing the same book many times.
[c 2010 Lawrence Schwartzwald]

Proof! (Even if I look a little lumpy. I blame it on the shirt.)
We didn't have much time for talking. There was about 20 minutes before the reading where the four of us chatted in the green room, while a photograph was taken and we all signed the reader log.
Ashbery was very nice, though he was being rushed around. And I got to meet his partner, David Kermani, who I instantly liked a lot.

Robin took this one. Thank you, Robin!

[c 2010Lawrence Schwartzwald]

I make this face a lot. I'm not sure why. Maybe I should stop, but it's so hard to tell while making it. You know?

We got to feel special for a while. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The three of us were all rather overcome by it all.

I would very much like to do it again.

NYC 92nd St Y (Part One)

Robin and I went to NYC a couple weeks ago for an event at the 92nd St. Y, with very few pictures to show for it, but here they are.

Before the event, we got to mill about awhile. (L-R: Gallaher, Durand, Ashbery, Elstein)
There was a photograph taken before the event, of the four of us, but I don't think I'm allowed to post it. There was something in the contract about not posting photographs or video (They made a DVD of the event!).
We had a little time in the afternoon to walk around.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Blurb as Argument Platform

Yesterday I saw a blurb on the back of a book of poetry that, in praising the book at hand, leveled a charge to the rest of (or “most” of) American poetry. I’m always intrigued by blurbs that do such things. The most common is a version of “this poet is one of the best poets of the generation” thing, which we’ve all learned to just kind of tune out and go on.

But this one was of a different order, as it leveled a direct charge at pretty much the whole of American poetry. I’m having to edit it a bit, as I don’t want to name the book, because I don’t have an argument with the book itself, and I don’t want to name the writer of the blurb, for the same reason. What I’m interested in is the charge itself. Here it is:

“In [this] masterful … collection [the poet] is concerned, above all, with the ramifications of a new global culture that most American poets have thus far ignored and neglected, partly out of incomprehension, partly out of fear. By setting [himself or herself] against such timidity, [the poet] offers [his or her] most sustained and experimental reckoning with matters of cultural and social witness.”

It’s high praise, and perhaps this book is up for it, I don’t know, I haven’t read it yet. But the rest of the blurb, where the blurb writer chastises the rest of American poetry, has me wondering. Is it correct?

Homework Questions

1. Should all American poets have “the ramifications of a new global culture” as their direct subject matter?

2. If they don’t have “the ramifications of a new global culture” as their direct subject matter, is it because they find it partly “incomprehensible” and that they are partly “fearful”?

3. Are American poets “timid” in this respect (and by inference, timid in general)?

4. Are “the ramifications of a new global culture” the only way to reckon with “matters of cultural and social witness”?

There’s an argument going on in this blurb. So, then, what do you think of the issues raised? Is the blurb writer correct? Is it simply hyperbole? Should we ignore it? Well, then why is it there as the first blurb on the back of the book? The publisher must want is to read it and to take it seriously. Right? (Even if, by inference, most of the rest of that publisher's catalogue is part of the problem that this book is here to correct.)

I haven’t done a statistical analysis of American poets to be able to get to the specificity of what “most” means. I mean, who could really know what most American poets write without reading all the books by American poets, which is statistically impossible. But I feel intuitively that the blurb writer is wrong, especially with the “ignored” and “neglected” bit. In a lot of the poetry I read, I feel there IS an engagement with “the ramifications of a new global culture” going on all over the place. Perhaps there’s a specific way that the writer of the blurb thinks such things should be witnessed, that the writer doesn’t see going on. That could be true. But that’s not a lack of engagement, that a manner of engagement.

I want to open a new book of poetry either positively or neutrally, but not while thinking a blurb on the back is putting this book forward as a corrective to “most American poets.” I doubt that the author of the book would want that. It might be true that a lot of artists think that the rest of the artists don’t have a clue what’s going on, and therefore want to enter as The Voice, but few, I think, would want to have that written on the cover of their books. I mean, if it’s true what they say, that only poets read poetry, well, you’ve just kind of called most of your audience wimps and made fun of their shoes.


And then there’s, of course, the question of the role of poetry in general, as in question number one, above.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Video As Art Object

OK GO – This Too Shall Pass

This video makes me almost deliriously happy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

David Dodd Lee - The Nervous Filaments

David Dodd Lee’s The Nervous Filaments is just out. I’ve known about this book awhile, and I’ve been waiting for it eagerly. So now here it is in my hot little hands. My little pink paddy-paws. It's excellent. It's really, really good. I'm wonderfully envious of the gesture, the sketch-like surety of it.

Here are a couple poems to illustrate:


Here is your
story, in my

horizonless competence,

a nevertheless fine
kettle of


I could see ambulance spelled

I could see the eels spilling
out of the horse’s head

a crawdad sits in a cold
pool importantly praying

(cumulous nimbus)

and here is your

coming from a different direction

a couple of shaved ideas



You were born with a moral sense

which is why they dry colored leaves
swirling in autumn
bring tears

one by one they burdened the enormous blocks
closer and closer to heaven

a wick of blood for your name

you can see it in the bubbles in this rum and Coke

I only felt a peculiar sense it was something
like an island, the Cape

the softest murdering
reason has invented

the way the arm breaks off

buried in the ocean floor

the sound of money
reproducing itself
in a vault under carpet in the northwestern-most


They have a floor but no eyes

you boil them alive

who wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mark Linkous - Sea of Teeth

Suicides of artists like Mark Linkous or Vic Chesnutt (the list is long, including Curt Cobain and Sylvia Plath, Virginia Wolff, Vincent Van Gogh, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Paul Celan, and many, many more) make their final act become something like a thesis for their lives. What a terrible thing that is. What a terrible way to organize a life. 

Mark Linkous, as his suicide is the most recent, has me thinking what a disservice to his art his suicide will be. For him - as for others like Vic Chesnutt, who create art from the center of their difficulties - there might be real pain they're creating from out of, but once it's rendered into art it becomes metaphorical. Suicide, however, tends to make it autobiographical, as if the Sparklehorse albums were all part of a long suicide note. It makes our interest in the music seem prurient (in the way that many read Sylvia Plath’s poetry to participate in the personality of Plath rather than to participate in art).

It doesn’t have to seem prurient, of course, but there’s always that last act, that last page of the biography to deal with. A friend of mine the other day was saying that if one is contemplating suicide, one should make it look like an accident. It saves a lot of mess. 

Whatever else, I admired the work of Mark Linkous very much. “Seas forever boil, trees will turn to soil” he sang on the song “Sea of Teeth.” And so must we all.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Peter Davis - Double Room - Poetry! Poetry! Poetry!

Peter Davis!

I missed these until just today. These poems are wonderfully fun. I kept thinking, OK, this is great, but it can’t continue, right, and then it continued.

Twelve poems from POETRY! POETRY! POETRY!

Here’s a taste:


These things can wait. This is a very good poem and you’d be myopic to lose sight of that simply because some of your baser needs are asserting themselves. I’ll keep this short, but you should exercise some control, okay? Stay with me here. Allow this poem to carry you beyond yourself, transcending your silly flesh, wedding you with all the beauty that is just piling up here.



I’m sorry you’re being forced to read this; on the other hand, I’m glad it’s come to this.




Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) Is Dead

I don’t really have words for this one. I want to be as quiet as I was when Vic Chesnutt killed himself and when Jay Bennett (probably or maybe) killed himself, but the number of musicians I really admire who are dying is really getting to me.

I’ll just paste it in from Rolling Stone:

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous has committed suicide, his publicist confirms to Rolling Stone. Best known for his acclaimed work with Sparklehorse, who released four albums of imaginative ambient psych-folk, Linkous also produced Daniel Johnston’s 2003 album Fear Yourself and collaborated with Danger Mouse on Dark Night of the Soul. His exact age is unknown, but he was in his forties. “It is with great sadness that we share the news that our dear friend and family member, Mark Linkous, took his own life today,” reads a statement from his family. “We are thankful for his time with us and will hold him forever in our hearts. May his journey be peaceful, happy and free. There’s a heaven and there’s a star for you.”

Linkous’ dramatic, lush music often came from a place of pain. In 1996, Linkous actually died for two minutes after ingesting a dangerous mix of Valium and antidepressants while on tour in the U.K. behind Sparklehorse’s 1995 debut Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. He recovered, but the incident left him crippled — he laid unconscious for 14 hours, cutting off circulation to his legs. He suffered a heart attack when medics attempted to straighten his legs, and underwent seven surgeries to save his damaged limbs. But after the incident, he recorded 1999’s Good Morning Spider, 2001’s It’s A Wonderful Life and 2006’s Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. “For a while there, I was really scared that when I technically died — which I guess I did for a few minutes — that the part of my brain that allowed me my ability to write songs would be damaged,” he told Rolling Stone in 1999.

Linkous most recently teamed up with Danger Mouse and director David Lynch on Dark Night of the Soul, a multimedia project that was tied up in legal issues with EMI; just this past week, Danger Mouse and the label resolved their dispute and agreed to let the album come out as it was originally intended. The last time Linkous spoke with RS in July 2009, he explained how after he and Danger Mouse worked together on Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, he brought the producer an instrumental track called “Revolution.” “I just couldn’t sing it,” Linkous told Rolling Stone, “and I thought that it should be an anti-war song, but I’m not that good at writing literal lyrics.” Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals added lyrics and vocals and the song, retitled “Just War,” kicks off Dark Night of the Soul. “That was the egg for the entire project,” Linkous said.

Linkous’ publicist confirms he was nearly finished with a new album that was due on Anti- Records.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Texture Notes - Sawako Nakayasu

Chris Martin, Glitter Painting (2007)

A nice list of books is coming out this spring. I doubt I’ll be able to keep up. But, I’ll do what I can.

First off, Texture Notes, by Sawako Nakayasu, just out from Letter Machine Editions.

It took me awhile to ease into it, or to figure out the relationship I was having with it, but once I did, somewhere about ten or so poems in, I was hooked.

Here are two pieces:


After stepping out of the room chock full of sneakers, and the need for fresh air.

Something compels us towards the room of eyeballs. It is either that time of year again, or somehow they have managed to become ‘all the rage,’ ‘the hottest thing,’ ‘cutting edge,’ ‘in.’

And in we are, a room, a wondrously giant room, filled to the rim with a lifetime supply of eyeballs, equally giant as befitting the room. ‘Eyeballs as big as your head,’ I’d heard mention of in a guidebook for some far away country. It made me feel like a hick for all those burritos ‘the size of my head’ I used to eat, back in San Diego.

Whose eyes? What kind? Tuna, we naturally decide, as we swim merrily along through the muddle of vision, every which way a stare, a gaze, no body part immune from regard, no part free from that external, organic, dead and steady pulse.


The pain of seeing something beautiful.

Is layered as such, the first layer of it being thick, of substance, I can’t say which sort, but of being matter and matterful, or rather, a person for whom I have spent a great deal of time and love, and this layer would be this very time and love, in whatever physical form it may take shape.

The there are many layers of something else, everything else, the world, for example, or more likely simply a space of time or geography or perhaps a curtain or a collared shirt or a person or several, various degrees of people and objects.

The last layer is the something beautiful, which lays itself down quietly on top of all these layers, none of which were waiting for this to happen, except that only by the happenstance of the arrival of this layer are the other layers actualized as such; a distance, a thickness, a slightly twitching texture is created between the first and last layers, a measurable distance that surfaces out of nowhere but an internal and external longing for a presence or good word.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Photorealism Thursday - Glennray Tutor

I rather adore the work of Glennray Tutor. Here are four reasons why:

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Laurel Review Is Looking for Reviewers

The Laurel Review is revamping!

It’s starting with the website:

There’s not much there yet. But we’re moving in the right direction.

In the future we’re hoping to get work from past issues up, as well as reviews we’ve run, and that sort of thing. And pictures! Which reminds me: we’re currently looking for people to write reviews. If you’re interested, email us: